National Geographic : 1945 May
The United States and the British Empire BY LEONARD DAVID GAMMANS Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom I HAVE visited the United States three times since the war began, twice in con nection with international conferences dealing with the future of the Far East, in cluding those countries which are dependencies of European powers. I am convinced that on few subjects is the divergence of opinion on each side of the Atlantic more fundamental and apparently more unbridgeable than on the question of colonies or dependent territories. The British and American viewpoints hardly meet anywhere. This is all very unfortunate. If there is one truism in the world today it is that Anglo American understanding and, what is more important, common action of English-speak ing peoples, is a prerequisite to the establish ment of world security, or, for that matter, the avoidance of World War III. No cooperation between the two countries is possible if the American people believe that they are being asked to fight for the British Empire or to underwrite a colonial system of which they disapprove. The average American naturally approaches the question from the viewpoint of his own history. He remembers that the United States came into being as the result of a revolt from the British imperialism of the 18th cen tury. To him, it appears that the same sys tem still continues. He does not believe that any nation is fit to rule over another or that good government is any substitute for self-government. With his traditional sympathy for the underdog, he champions the cause of what he terms the subject races throughout the world. He con siders that Britain should grant the same freedom to her colonial countries as the Ameri can people won for themselves. Even if immediate self-government is not possible in some of the more backward parts of the earth, then a timetable ought to be fixed after which freedom becomes automatic. He has taken that course in the case of the Philippines, and he does not see why it should not equally apply to the British colonies. Added to this, he has at the back of his mind the feeling that Britain makes a good thing out of her colonies in some way or another, and he does not like that, either. Every Englishman would meet this view point by conceding the absolute sincerity of the American approach, but that is about as far as agreement goes. His first answer would be a purely debating point rather than one of principle. "Why is it," the Englishman asks, "you always seem to pick on the British Empire? The Dutch, the French, and the Portuguese have vast overseas territories. Within the U.S.S.R. are millions of non-Russian peoples with a low standard of culture and political experience. Within your own borders you have a colored minority, denied full social and political rights. In several South American republics there exist tyrannical despotisms." And so on. British Blood Shed in a Common Cause But the real case goes much deeper than that. I was in the United States when Winston Churchill made his famous declara tion that he had not become the King's First Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. Most Americans admired his candor and his vigor, but many were shocked at his words. In point of fact, Mr. Churchill was only voicing the opinion of practically 100 percent of his countrymen. There is today in Great Britain an almost overpowering sense of pride in the British Empire.* It could scarcely be otherwise when we remember the history of the war. When Britain stood alone in 1940 on the abyss of complete annihilation, no country was prepared to fight by her side except the peoples of the Empire. No Englishman will ever forget that Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, completely self-governing democracies separated by many thousands of miles from the battlefield, voluntarily declared war on the common enemy and shed their blood in a common cause.t It was the same in the nonself-governing parts of the Empire. If ever there was a moment when the "subject" races might have thrown off their "tyranny," this was it. But did they? On the contrary. * See "British Commonwealth of Nations," by Eric Underwood, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, April, 1943. t See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Canada's War Effort," by Bruce Hutchison, Novem ber, 1941; "Making of an Anzac," April, 1942, "Life in Dauntless Darwin," July, 1942, and "Sydney Faces the War Front Down Under," March, 1943, all by Howell Walker; "Busy Corner-the Cape of Good Hope," August, 1942, and "Cities That Gold and Diamonds Built," December, 1942, both by W. Rob ert Moore.