Viva Obama – Reply to Sean Gabb


Tormod

I wouldn’t go so far as to say Americans hate England or even that an adversarial stance toward England is necessitated by our sense of national identity. The official propaganda doesn’t like to touch on the American War of Independence very often, as the justifications given for that war were comparatively very minor grievances to those with which we are presently living. Consequently, they mostly ignore the subject altogether.

As far as films are concerned, in recent times I can think of only Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot” that depicts the war. There have been a few made-for-tv films like “The Crossing,” for example, but that film focuses entirely on the surprise attack launched the morning after Christmas on a Hessian camp. Or in another film, the name of which escapes me, the plot focuses entirely on Benedict Arnold’s path to treason. But the audiences for such films as those is never particularly high, and the films themselves aren’t well remembered.

Far more useful for the ruling class to start the clock in 1860 and then skip ahead to 1941. The Second World War, like for most European countries, is used as the primary origin story of postmodern neoliberal, enlightened, tolerant, multicultural civilization. And in that conflict, England was our ally. Winston Churchill is just as highly regarded as Roosevelt and Eisenhower in this country. Conservatives here have a soft spot for Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Liberals have a soft spot for, well, … Tony Blair.

It is true that in many films there is a British villain, but the fact of the villain’s nationality is, I would guess, incidental rather than deliberate. The audience is not meant to focus on the character’s Englishness, but instead on the fact that he is a white man with an accent that is either aristocratic or can be mistaken for aristocratic by an American audience. That is the message the propagandists are really trying to get across. The enemy, according to the narrative that I’ve had shoved down my throat since at least the first grade, isn’t “English.” The enemy is rich, old, arrogant, white men.

For American audiences, and I can at least speak for myself in this case, a leading British hero like James Bond is tolerated not because, as you say, the character is taking part in a junior role in an American-led project, but because an Englishman is an entirely acceptable character to rally behind in anything short of a direct confrontation with Americans.

In other words, if the English protagonist is fighting Germans, or other Europeans, or anybody else for that matter, including other Englishmen, he is interchangeable with an American actor in the minds of American audiences. The only situation where this does not necessarily hold true is when the contest is between the English and the Irish or the Scots, and that is simply due to the number of Americans with Irish or Scottish heritage and nothing more.

I might also add that two times in our history, already, the elites of this country managed to convince the population of the United States that getting sucked into massive wars in Europe would be worth the sacrifice by playing on the American peoples’ affections for their British cousins. Yes, they employed an awful lot of scare tactics about the Germans on both occasions, and we were informed of the Belgian atrocities in the first war and the lot of the hapless Poles in the second, but it was the imagery of English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh people caught in a tooth-and-nail, life-or-death struggle that first bent and then finally broke our isolationism.

A man can easily find reasons to resent his brother… until he’s in peril.

To this day, the rebuttal to anyone who even wishes to speak hypothetically about reducing America’s role in countless military entanglements is that “we cannot abandon our allies.” Now I may be a bit conspiratorial, but I can’t help but to surmise that the timing of Christopher Nolan’s new film about Dunkirk, coming as it does on the heels of a presidential election which dared call into question America’s commitment to policing the world, is no accident. Nor, I imagine, is the choice of event through which the desired message is to be delivered.

As for the rest of your essay, I am in firm agreement.

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2 comments

  • Are there not more Americans of English heritage than Scots or Irish? The latter often seem more numerous simply because they generally make more noise.

    • It varies by source whether Americans of Irish or English descent are more numerous. Part of that may depend on whether or not the Scots-Irish are included in the number of Irish-Americans and Scottish-Americans or are counted as a distinct ethnicity. Americans of Scottish descent make up somewhere around 2-3% of the population, while the English and Irish make up somewhere around 10-12% each.

      As I understand, Canada was a more attractive destination for Scottish immigrants and Gaelic was once the 3rd most-spoken language there until the dawn of the 20th century. It is still spoken a little bit on Nova Scotia.

      As a matter of fact, my Scottish ancestors came to America by way of Canada. The first of them to arrive in North America was one Norman MacLeod. He was an officer of the 42nd Foot, stationed in Canada in the 18th century. He wound up participating in the American War of Independence and then settled in Nova Scotia after the war’s end.

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