In the comments on yesterday’s post, Rob Spear had this to say about Europe:
Americans absolutely should not do anything beyond giving support for the European nations undergoing this crisis. Part of the problem in Europe is a lack of national self-love caused by their liberation by the Americans from the Nazis. Europe would be a psychologically far healthier place if the Nazis had taken over, then been chucked out by resistance movements a generation or so later, after falling into decadence. The idea that your nation is so feeble it can only survive due to the benevolence of the kindly American super-power is not conducive to healthy patriotism.
Yorkshireminer offered this response (I have adjusted the punctuation and amended his typos; I hope he doesn’t mind):
I think it is about time I debunked a few myths. I am an amateur historian, somewhat of an obsession of mine. I have no formal qualifications; I do not need them, nor even want them.
I left school on my 15th birthday and went to work down the coal mines in Yorkshire the following Monday. I can’t let a day go by without having to read. Nearly fifty years later I have my own library — a somewhat pretentious word. I have my own room filled with my books, a good comfortable chair, a stool to plonk my feet on, a good reading lamp, and a small side table where occasionally reposes a cut glass whiskey glass full to the top with a good single Scottish Malt Whiskey.
– – – – – – – – – –
Some Americans seem to be under the delusion that they paid for all the war, not only materially but also in blood, and the rest of us Europeans should be grateful. As an Englishman, when I put all the facts in the balance, I take my hat off to you, and say thank you, America; without you we couldn’t have won the war. I say it also with a sense of deep affection for your country, but let us look at the facts. When we the British stood with our backs to the wall after the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 we had only the R.A.F. and a somewhat antiquated navy to defend ourselves with. Everything that we needed for our defence that we couldn’t produce ourselves had to be paid for in cash.
When the war started we transferred all our gold reserves to the Sun Assurance building in Canada. We used this gold to pay for our imports until these ran out, and when these ran out we had to liquidise all the assets the British had accumulated in America. These, by the way, were sold off at fire-sale prices — it was a buyers’ market; we were so desperate. The Americans even checked that we were not hiding anything from them — they even insisted that the last £50,000,000 in gold be transferred to America in a British Battleship from Cape Town when we were fighting for our lives, and needed every ship we had.
Have you ever wondered why America had such a large percentage of the world’s gold reserves sitting in fort Knox after the war? Now you know.
When we were literally bankrupt, the Lend Lease Act was passed. It wasn’t as most American think, a one-way street, that America paid the bill and the rest of the world got a free ride. It was certainly a two-way street for the British. While America provided £13,500,000,000 in lend lease the British provided £4,500,000,000. While in absolute terms America paid more, in relative terms the British paid the lion’s share. 1% of America’s gross national product was dedicated exclusively to lend lease; 15% of the British gross national product was devoted to lend lease, and the economy was distorted accordingly.
Another thing Americans should know is that machine tools were explicitly exempt in the Lend Lease Act. It was impossible for the British economy to modernise during the war. The capital stock of Britain was being degraded by bombs and overuse, and it was to cost Britain dearly — and also America — when the British economy collapsed during the winter of 1947, and America had to take over the obligations to certain countries in the Middle East.
Have you ever wondered why the British got out of Palestine so quickly in 1948? Now you know. Another fact you might like to know: when Marshall aid was offered to Europe, the goods bought had to be shipped in American ships, shipping that had been allocated to America to produce under the Lend Lease Act. It could just have well been allocated to Britain but it wasn’t. The British lost out there, when we needed as much foreign currency we could get to pay for the loan we had contracted with America to pay our way after they arbitrarily cut off lend lease after VJ day.
After the war Lord Keynes (if you don’t know who he was, google him) made an account of who had paid what and to whom during the war. It turns out that among the Allies Britain had paid 53%, while America had paid 47% of the total costs .
Rob, you might think that after this I am a rabid anti-American, but I am not. The reasons are twofold: while I might disagree what America does, I always feel that they are done for the right reason; there is a sense of common decency behind their motives; they might get it wrong but it is done for the right reasons.
The other reason is purely emotional: I was born in the middle of that bloody conflict and most of the male members of my family were up at the sharp end. My uncle died the night I was born flying Lancaster bombers over Germany, and another died at Anzio. We had very little and I remember very little of what was going on.
I have two distinct memories: one is the soldiers from our village coming back, and we had a parade. The other is my Mum receiving bottles of cod liver oil and concentrated orange juice. The cod liver oil was a gift from Canada, for which I am eternally grateful, the concentrated orange juice a gift from Florida. Can you imagine what it is like to be bribed with a teaspoon of concentrated Florida orange juice, when you are four or five, after you have ingested a teaspoon of cod liver oil, when the only fruit you have ever seen or tasted has been perhaps an apple or a pear?
For that pure transitory experience I will always be in America’s debt. I say thank you, America. But, Rob, please don’t get up and crow.
In Rob Spear’s defense: I doubt that he was thinking about the British when he made his comment. France is more likely what came to mind, with its quick surrender, its collaboration under Vichy, and its notorious ingratitude under de Gaulle after the war.
But I can understand what Yorkshireminer is talking about. When I was in Yorkshire, twenty years after the time he describes, Britain was still depleted and austere from the effects of the war.
Everyone was so much poorer than what I was used to. Even middle-class respectable people had to get by on a tenth of what I, as a pampered and privileged post-war Yank baby-boomer, took for granted.
As I studied British history in a British grammar school, I learned the same things that Yorkshireminer is describing. British wartime leaders knew what they were giving up by choosing to fight the Axis. They could have made a sweet deal with Hitler and consigned the rest of Europe to take its chances under the jackboot.
Instead, Churchill (and Chamberlain, too) chose to do what was right, to do the only decent and honorable thing that could be done under the circumstances. They realized what was at stake, that Britain was likely to be destroyed economically, and that the Empire would have to be relinquished, but they did it anyway.
For that they deserve the gratitude, not just of America, but of the entire free world. For all practical purposes, the United States inherited the British Empire. And, despite the humiliation of living under the evil hegemony of American corporate capitalism, few people would prefer to pledge allegiance to the heirs of Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo (not to mention Stalin).
Britain gave us the Anglosphere, which is all that stands between civilization and the murderous barbarism of the Great Islamic Jihad.
There are many arguments British and Americans can get into, and many bones we have to pick with one another. But it behooves all who claim English as a native language to remember that we began all this together, and we are in it together still.
And from this are our lives writ large
From the beach at Dunkirk
To Pickett’s Charge
And it’s hard to go back
After coming this far
Down the road
—Al Stewart, from “Three Mules”