Pointless alliances with ignorant Americans

The other day Umar Lee posted his comments on the ignorance of provincial white Americans in response to the moronic remarks of the Congressman Virgil Goode, who wrote to his constituents in response to Keith Ellison’s intention to take his oath on the Qur’an that “if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran”, regardless of the fact that Ellison is not an immigrant but an African-American. This attitude from time to time makes itself felt, to me as a British citizen, in their attitudes towards their so-called closest ally. Two separate incidents serve to illustrate this.

In 2004, the London newspaper, the Guardian, ran something called “Operation Clark County”, encouraging their mostly liberal British readership to write to voters in said county in Ohio, which was a place where the votes were up for grabs, encouraging them to vote for Kerry rather than Bush. I did not think the plan was a particularly good idea, and a number of Kerry supporters said it could be taken up by the right-wing press and used against him. However, the responses of some Americans can be found here and they’re not edifying:

Have you not noticed that Americans don’t give two shits what Europeans think of us? Each email someone gets from some arrogant Brit telling us why to NOT vote for George Bush is going to backfire, you stupid, yellow-toothed pansies … I don’t give a rat’s ass if our election is going to have an effect on your worthless little life. I really don’t. If you want to have a meaningful election in your crappy little island full of shitty food and yellow teeth, then maybe you should try not to sell your sovereignty out to Brussels and Berlin, dipshit. Oh, yeah - and brush your goddamned teeth, you filthy animals. (from Wading River, NY)

Consider this: stay out of American electoral politics. Unless you would like a company of US Navy Seals - Republican to a man - to descend upon the offices of the Guardian, bag the lot of you, and transport you to Guantanamo Bay, where you can share quarters with some lonely Taliban shepherd boys.


There were sundry other references to how the Americans rescued us in two world wars, to our tea-sipping habits and to our health service. (We actually have one; better not fall ill in the USA if you can’t afford the insurance.) The plan was criticised by Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas/America?, in the introduction to the second edition of that book (which I don’t have; I bought the earlier edition), who said that branding liberals as effete, “European” latte-sippers was a standard tactic of the supposedly “humble” everyday Americans on the conservative Right (actually rich men, often with Ivy League degrees), and that attempts by Europeans to influence the election would lend more credence to this. This is a valid point, which would be more valid if the Europeans involved were French or German. They were not - they were British, and the British have recently assisted the Americans in their post-9/11 attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan, staying in Iraq after allies (notably Poland) left. Of course, substantial sections of liberal opinion opposed the wars (Iraq especially), but a substantial body of liberal opinion supported them also. I would have thought that a polite suggestion as to how to vote would be met with better than a volley of stereotype-laden racist invective.

Add to this, by the way, the fact that an American citizen - Rupert Murdoch - actually owns the biggest-selling British newspaper, the Sun, a major “quality” paper (the Times), as well as the only satellite TV service and the various Sky TV channels including Sky News. Yes, he may be Australian by birth, but he still took a US passport in 1985 in order to increase his media ownership in the USA (he did not have to do that here) and he also owns Fox News. The Sun is thought by some to have influenced the result of the 1992 British general election.

More recently, in fact this past week, a high-school marching band from Fort Myers, Florida, was finally able to come to the UK to partcipate in the London New Year parade after parents raised the money - £260,000 in our money - to bring them here over the objections of Florida’s education officials, particularly their consultant Herb Wiseman, who was concerned that they might get on a train which blew up. “We don’t have trains blowing up in America,” he observed. Of course, we haven’t had a train blow up here since July 2005 and virtually every year it’s suggested that there might be a terrorist attack at Christmas or New Year, but it never happens. Fort Myers, visited by 80,000 British tourists each year, has crime statistics considerably worse than London’s and it is prone to hurricanes as well according to the parade’s executive director Bob Bone.

Now, nobody would suggest that schools in Florida or anywhere else should be sending children to a place known to be dangerous, but if Herb Wiseman had bothered to check his facts, he would have known that, since February 1996 when the last IRA bombing happened (on a bus in Aldwych, killing only the bomber), there has been just one day when terrorist attacks were successfully carried out on the London transport system. The US State Department currently has no travel warning covering the UK, and does not advise against visiting the country on account of the July 2005 incidents (see their travel advice). The fact is that our recent assistance means so little to some Americans, including officials, that they are unwilling to do something as basic as checking the State Department website, where this information is readily available.

Of course, as one respondent to the Clark County appeal said, our problem is with our leaders, not the Americans’. Our leaders have participated in American wars twice in a very short time, apparently without giving much thought to what we might get out of it. It has not become easier for British tourists to visit the USA, for example; on the contrary, “security” measures have become more severe. Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe has some observations here on how the US treats another of its allies - Poland: by refusing its citizens visa-free entry despite the fact that Poland allows this to Americans, and despite the fact that even applying for a visa costs $100, which is a tenth of the average monthly income and is non-refundable, and refusing a quarter of all visa applications. In the case of Poland, what they get out of a US alliance (or think they get) is obvious: protection against Russia (although whether the US really would step in to protect Poland when the chips were down is debatable; they didn’t last time); what we get is less clear. As I’ve written here before, the European countries which participated in the US’s Iraq operations are the marginal ones with less ability to refuse American blackmail and bribery.

The UK - like Poland - has extensive personal connections with America. I have family there myself, although (unlike others in my family) I have never travelled there. People should not need to gamble their hard-earned money to just attempt to go and visit their families; they should be able to, without hindrance, unless they are demonstrably undesirable (and I am not talking about people with convictions for possessing small amounts of cannabis here). It is bizarre that British citizens can freely visit countries with whom we were at war within living memory (Germany), and countries which hold us to be in occupation of their territory (like Spain), with no trouble whatsoever, and do not require a visa for several Third World countries - but get none of this from our supposed closest ally. It is not an unreasonable conclusion that the USA does not value or respect its allies, although perhaps this is understandable given that its alliances are with rulers rather than with nations. It begs the question as to why our government has been so cringingly subservient to a US administration, whose support base is precisely the ignorant provincials discussed earlier (ironically the least in need of much security, living a long way from any potential terrorist target), which gives so little in return.

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