The present British attitude toward the United States seems to me jittery and touchy beyond any thing I can remember in past visits and protracted stays in England. The American attitude on the other hand seems to me almost arrogantly complacent. The atmosphere, broodingly explosive as a July sky before a storm, has brought Churchill and Eden to Washington.
Take a concrete illustration. The State Department asked the right to search foreign ships to block aid to Guatemala. The New York Times, June 18, quoted the Department as saying it had held informal discussions with "the important non-Communist maritime nations," and that these were "favorable."
I was in London when the proposal came, and it fell on abraded sores like a pinch of salt. The proposal was regarded as incredibly cheeky. Few newspapers in America mentioned the State Department plan but in London it filled every afternoon late edition and led all the news in these newspapers next morning, by actual check: the Daily Telegraph, Express, Daily Herald, News Chronicle, Daily Mail and the austere Times. In Manchester the Guardian gave it the big play and followed it with a cutting editorial. "US Wants To Search Our Ships," said the Daily Herald.
It happened that I made the trans-Atlantic hop just ahead of the Churchill-Eden party. I am struck by the astonishing difference in mood between London and Washington. London has a near psychopathic obsession with the USA, America has a complacent attitude that it can take the British Commonwealth for granted, or ignore it. Americans pay only mild heed to the English; the English, on the other hand, raise the US in conversation like Mr. Dick and King Charles" head.
A reporter notices specific news handling. For example, the Chinese Communist, Choi En-lai, made a "compromise" offer June 16 at Geneva, the day after the. Churchill-Eden visit was announced when Anglo-American relations seemed improved. After seven weeks of Red stalling, the British were encouraged and their papers quoted the US delegate, Walter Bedell Smith, as calling the new proposals reasonable and sensible. But on June 18 everything changed. Bedell Smith had gone to Berne and Walter Robertson, Assistant Secretary of State, took his place and clashed with Choi En-lai over the same proposals. Again, practically every London paper played up this clash-—an incident that I hardly find mentioned in Washington and New York. The London Times referred to the incident in its Geneva dispatch as "surprising"; the News Chronicle's correspondent, Graeme Norwood, cabled, "Mr. Robertson took the extraordinary step of going back on Mr. Bedell Smith's statement on Wednesday that Mr. Chou's proposals were restrained and sensible." I am not arguing the facts. There have been plenty of US inconsistencies in the past, and plenty of English journalists to exaggerate them. But it illustrates the almost steady stream of news presenting the US in a bewildering light, sometimes with reason, sometimes with bias.
I confess I was not prepared for Mr. Dulles' unpopularity with the British. He scared them with sloganeering, talk of H-bombs, the "New Look," "massive retaliation," and with his runningabout before the fall of Dien Bien Phu. With the rights of the Dulles' position I won't deal; the fact is, I believe, he is as unpopular as any American Secretary of State in our time. Perhaps this is due to divergence of policy beyond his control— the US still takes the position when looking at Red China that it isn't there, and we still seem to think the way to win over an unconvinced India is to threaten it. Here is another situation. A New York Times Washington dispatch of June 17 gave some State Department reaction to the Churchill visit. Official circles, the dispatch said, discussed "European disillusionment" with Geneva, "from which Mr. Dulles never expected practical results." The Department seemed to feel that this "failure" of the conference would have accomplished some good if it made the British realize that "they had made a mistake." The incidents, cited are small; they are important as part of a stream. It is a sort of obsession. Take Guatemala. The average Briton asks if America doesn't have Communist jitters? British Honduras had a leftist drive, but London kept calm. Why shouldn't any nation, even weak Guatemala, have arms? Aren't arms the right of sovereignty? Why should the US search ships? Is the US going to keep its skirts clean of a suspected United Fruit Company "plot"? Why doesn't the USA show a hundredth part of the interest in helping low-paid, ill fed peons get better incomes that it does for the rich landlords and their vast estates?
Today in Britain there are danger signals of an irrational postwar irritation. It goes deeper, I believe, than even American mistakes justify. Britain is in the throes of an embarrassingly evident inferiority complex that requires compensation by a posture of moral superiority. Britain is worried, with some cause, about its economy and its leadership. Britain can't let America alone— even in talk about the bad weather ("hydrogen bomb, you know"). Postwar schemes like the "ground-nut" plan for Africa have gone awry. Britain built the jet airliner and American firms were about to buy when a couple of accidents occurred at Rome and they were grounded. "Was this sabotage?" I asked a well-known London editor. "You don't know the half of those stories," he replied, "some said it was American sabotage."
England can't get America out of her hair. London is dominated by American films and musical comedies. The Broadway hit, Teahouse of the August Moon, opened with acclaim in April and the New York Times cabled over critics' comments. "It owes nearly as much
(of its success) to their relief in the discovery that de spite current political hysteria Americans retain their ability to laugh at themselves," the Timesreported. Nearly every London critic commented on the fact "with surprise, wonderment and relief." The picture of a humorless, censored, witch-hunting America, brandishing the H-bomb with juvenile recklessness, seems preposterous to us. But to ignore its existence—and its causes—is folly.
Have the British lost a sense of proportion? Sir Winston congratulated the House of Commons the other day that Field Marshal Montgomery had kept for himself the German surrender document, adding that otherwise it "would have passed to the United States." I think a fair-minded Englishman, in normal times, would admit that such an equivalent statement, with roles reversed and made, say, in the US Senate, would have brought howls of anger from London. The US press almost ignored the Churchill comment. But ignoring an irritant isn't sufficient for good relations.
Some news cabled to London from Washington drops salt in the sores. The London Times, June 18, carried a Washington dispatch interpreting official reactions on the Churchill trip. "The most difficult issue" would arise over the problem of "colonialism," the dispatch read. America is restive, it explained, under the charge of "imperialism," and is getting ready to reply "by disassociating itself from British 'colonialism'." The Manchester Guardian, in an editorial headed "The New Colonialism," immediately denounced the US proposal to search British ships and demanded, "And who can talk of 'colonialism' now?"
What this stacks up to I don't know. But it is interesting to note one thing: for seven weeks at Geneva the Communists stalled during the period of Anglo-American disunity. The instant the Churchill trip was announced arid the gap seemed likely to close, the Communists made their first signs of concession. Nothing could point more clearly than this to the crucial self-advantage of the UK and USA in working together… if Washington can drop its arrogant complacency and London its cankering inferiority complex.
This article originally ran in the July 5th, 1954, issue of the magazine.