During the inter-war years, American isolationism became the popular position and this was seen very much as an anti-British attitude. There were disputes over arms agreements and a succession of American administrations that were less than friendly to Great Britain. A critical moment came when the United States made it a condition of good relations for the British to break off their alliance with the Empire of Japan. The British Empire was itself divided on the issue. Canada, heavily dependent on trade with America, wanted Britain to ditch the Japanese in favor of Anglo-American solidarity. The Australians, however, near to Japan and far from Britain, wanted the Japanese kept on side. The British government decided to end the alliance with Japan, even though America offered no similar alliance in return, which caused the Japanese, who had long entertained anti-colonial enemies of the British Empire in Asia, to view all British possessions in the Asia-Pacific region as ‘fair game’. When Japan finally joined World War II alongside the other Axis Powers it would be with the claim that it was fighting to end western colonial rule, for “Asia for the Asians” and to eradicate the White population in East Asia.
|Ready to fight the U.S. invasion?|
Yet, once again, when Britain went to war against Germany a second time in 1939, the United States again declared neutrality. The American public was more isolationist than ever before, felt they had been burned by participation in the First World War and wanted no part of another one. Yet, Britain scarcely had a prayer of winning without American participation and so tried to rekindle the fires of Anglo-American kinship and solidarity. To some extent, this worked but they were opposed by the likes of the “America First” committee and by the socialists and communists who denounced the war as a capitalist crusade to benefit European imperialism. Naturally, they completely reversed themselves as soon as Germany invaded the Soviet Union at which point they became more interventionist than anyone else.
|Charles Lindbergh, America First Comm.|
The American public, however, remained stubbornly isolationist and Roosevelt realized he could do nothing unless he could provoke one of the Axis powers to attack the United States. Germany and Italy were in a position such that it was impossible to do any more to them than was already being done but Roosevelt could put the squeeze on Japan. After the Japanese occupied French Indochina, Roosevelt put sanctions on Japan which the British government and Dutch government-in-exile had no choice but to go along with. Japan would either have to back down or attack and the Japanese decided to attack. On December 7, 1941 the bombs rained down on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. declared war and the Axis powers were officially doomed. By 1945 it was all over and Britain and America were victorious. However, Britain was also so heavily indebted to the United States that the relationship had practically come full circle in terms of the power and influence of each. Thankfully for Britain, FDR did not live to see the end of the war, being succeeded at his death by President Truman who was at least not as anti-British as FDR had been.
|Prime Minister Clement Attlee|
Once Attlee was out, Churchill returned and he favored holding on to the British Empire but things became sticky under his successor Sir Anthony Eden in dealing with U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower. There had been talk of maintaining a smaller “third British Empire” focused on Africa but that was squashed when the Eisenhower administration undercut the British effort to hold on to the Suez Canal in Egypt. Eisenhower thought that by backing the Egyptians against the British, he could win their loyalty in the fight against communism. It did not work and this wishful thinking by American leaders would be repeated in numerous countries all to the same effect. The loss of Suez also seemed to completely break the morale of the British and ended any further desire to try to hold on to any vestige of the empire. The U.S. had also been rather put off with Britain over the refusal of London to back the French fight against communism in Indochina the previous year. However, Eisenhower later admitted that his bullying of the British over Suez had been the greatest mistake of his presidency. Too bad no one learned from it.
|Prime Minister Harold Macmillan|
Personal relations were better between President Nixon and Prime Minister Heath, but overall Britain became more anti-American and America became, in turn, more anti-British. When Heath took Britain into the EEC (forerunner of the EU), Nixon saw this as a move toward Europe and away from the USA and Anglosphere. When Heath later said he had to consult Europe on defense policies before America, the U.S. stopped sharing military intelligence with the U.K. for about a year. In the Middle East, during the Yom Kippur War, America backed Israel while the British refused. Britain stopped allowing America the use of British bases on Cyprus and in retaliation the U.S. again cut off intelligence sharing with the British. Things did improve after that though, particularly moving into the 1980’s when Britain and America each had leaders who liked each other and seemed to be on the same page in regard to their politics and worldview, these were, of course, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan. Nonetheless, a generally anti-American attitude continued to entrench itself among the British public and this showed itself in some rather absurd ways.
|Maggie & Ronnie, BFF's|
British and American forces cooperated in the First Iraq War and NATO campaigns against Yugoslavia, both of which were quick and victorious missions that came and went with little lasting fuss. However, British and American public opinion was about to be laid bare. In America, those on the right tended to like Britain for what it was but dislike Britain for what it is while those on the left tend to like Britain for what it is and dislike it for what it was. The British, on the other hand, just dislike America in general. Usually, Americans have lived in blissful, unconcerned ignorance of what other countries think of them but British, and European generally, views of the country came into public view in a big way after the 9-11 attacks and the subsequent “War on Terror”. While the government and Royal Family showed proper sorrow and solidarity, the American public saw that this was not a reflection of the British public. In the immediate aftermath, during a popular BBC political talk show, a former American ambassador was driven to tears by the British audience which was almost unanimous in basically saying that the United States had got what it deserved. The BBC was so embarrassed by this accidental reveal of British public opinion that it apologized and removed the episode.
|Bush & Blair, the toxic twosome|
The praise and adulation Obama had been given by the British public upon his election seemed to be fading. Aside from the oil spill fiasco, there were arguments over the release of a Libyan terrorist from prison by the Scottish government, British criticism of American treatment of captured terrorists and even the banning of a number of prominent Americans from British soil on the grounds that they were deemed “Islamophobic”. By the end of his presidency, when Britain was voting on whether or not leave the European Union, Obama had become so unpopular that his intervention, urging British voters to stay in the EU, was seen as a great boost for the “Leave” campaign. Obama even went so far as to threaten British voters with being put “at the back of the line” in trade agreements with the U.S. if they voted the wrong way. Right-wing Americans objected to this but also felt little sympathy, knowing that Obama was the President the British public had wanted. In the end, they voted to leave but Obama himself was soon gone as well.
|President "The Donald" Trump|
The British public, media and political class has been almost unanimous in their condemnations of President Trump with even the most favorable not expressing support but simply arguing that condemning and banning the leader of your closest ally and most powerful country on earth is not prudent. The U.K. was originally at the top of the list of countries Trump wished to visit but the vitriol against him in Britain, particularly combined with the vote to ban him from the country and threats of huge, potentially violent, demonstrations if he set foot on British soil, have caused his visit to the U.K. to be quietly and indefinitely postponed. Traditionally, new U.S. Presidents go to Britain to visit the Queen (I like to think so she can inspect them) but opposition to Trump has put a stop to that custom. Originally, the White House was still insisting that the visit would go ahead at some point but the summer is almost gone and no more is being said about the matter, nor have there been any further effusions of pro-British sentiment from the President.
|The Queen addressing Congress|
The British public, judged by the generally negative view of the United States, seems to think the “special relationship” was either never real or, if it was, is of no value, perhaps even detrimental. Likewise, the American public, increasingly sees no benefit to the current arrangement and isolationism seems to be on the rise. Whether one looks at Trump during his campaign, the views of the Libertarian movement or that of the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democrat Party, America seems to be moving in the direction of disengagement from its current commitments and network of alliances. In each country, I think this fits in with the overall disconnect felt by the people and their supposedly “representative” governments. Yet, contrarily, at the same time there is also the problem, I think caused by “representative government” that people seem largely incapable of differentiating between a country and its government. For America, this seems less of a problem to me because of the British monarchy, prime ministers come and go but the monarch remains and so illustrates that Britain is more than its government but for Britain, given the American system of government, this seems to be more of an issue.