As I Please
Tribune, 17 December 1943
So many letters have arrived, attacking me for
my remarks about the American soldiers in this country, that I must return
to the subject.
Contrary to what most of my correspondents seem to think, I was not trying to make trouble between ourselves and our Allies, nor am I consumed by hatred for the United States. I am much less anti-American than most English people are at this moment. What I say, and what I repeat, is that our policy of not criticizing our Allies, and not answering their criticism of us (we don’t answer the Russians either, nor even the Chinese) is a mistake, and is likely to defeat its own object in the long run. And so far as Anglo-American relations go, there are three difficulties which badly need dragging into the open and which simply don’t get mentioned in the British press.
1. Anti-American feeling in Britain. Before the war, anti-American feeling was a middle-class, and perhaps upper-class thing, resulting from imperialist and business jealousy and disguising itself as dislike of the American accent etc. The working class, so far from being anti-American, were becoming rapidly Americanized in speech by means of the films and jazz songs. Now, in spite of what my correspondents may say, I can hear few good words for the Americans anywhere. This obviously results from the arrival of the American troops. It has been made worse by the fact that, for various reasons, the Mediterranean campaign had to be represented as an American show while most of the casualties had to be suffered by the British. (See Philip Jordan’s remarks in his Tunis Diary.) I am not saying that popular English prejudices are always justified: I am saying that they exist.
2. Anti-British feeling in America. We ought to face the fact that large numbers of Americans are brought up to dislike and despise us. There is a large section of the press whose main accent is anti-British, and countless other papers which attack Britain in a more sporadic way. In addition there is a systematic guying of what are supposed to be British habits and manners on the stage and in comic strips and cheap magazines. The typical Englishman is represented as a chinless ass with a title, a monocle and a habit of saying ‘Haw, haw’. This legend is believed in by relatively responsible Americans, for example by the veteran novelist Theodore Dreiser, who remarks in a public speech that ‘the British are horse-riding aristocratic snobs’. (Forty-six million horse-riding snobs!) It is a commonplace on the American stage that the Englishman is almost never allowed to play a favourable role, any more than the Negro is allowed to appear as anything more than a comic. Yet right up to Pearl Harbor the American movie industry had an agreement with the Japanese Government never to present a Japanese character in an unfavourable light!
I am not blaming the Americans for all this. The anti-British press has powerful business forces behind it, besides ancient quarrels in many of which Britain was in the wrong. As for popular anti-British feeling, we partly bring it on ourselves by exporting our worst specimens. But what I do want to emphasize is that these anti-British currents in the U.S.A. are very strong, and that the British press has consistently failed to draw attention to them. There has never been in England anything that one could call an anti-American press: and since the war there has been a steady refusal to answer criticism and a careful censorship of the radio to cut out anything that the Americans might object to. As a result, many English people don’t realize how they are regarded, and get a shock when they find out.
3. Soldiers’ Pay. It is now nearly two years since the first American troops reached this country, and I rarely see American and British soldiers together. Quite obviously the major cause of this is the difference of pay. You can’t have really close and friendly relations with somebody whose income is five times your own. Financially, the whole American army is in the middle class. In the field this might not matter, but in the training period it makes it almost impossible for British and American soldiers to fraternize. If you don’t want friendly relations between the British army and the American army, well and good. But if you do, you must either pay the British soldier ten shillings a day or make the American soldier bank the surplus of his pay in America. I don’t profess to know which of these alternatives is the right one.
One way of feeling infallible is not to
keep a diary. Looking back through the diary I kept in 1940 and 1941 I find
that I was usually wrong when it was possible to be wrong. Yet I was not so
wrong as the Military Experts. Experts of various schools were telling us in
1939 that the Maginot
Line was impregnable, and that the Russo-German Pact had put an end to
eastwards expansion; in early 1940 they were telling us that the days of
tank warfare were over; in mid 1940 they were telling us that the Germans
would invade Britain forthwith; in mid 1941 that the Red army would fold up
in six weeks; in December 1941, that Japan would collapse after ninety days;
in July 1942, that Egypt was lost and so on, more or less indefinitely.
Books have gone up in price like everything else, but the other day I picked up a copy of Lemprière’s Classical Dictionary, the Who’s Who of the ancients, for only sixpence. Opening it at random, I came upon the biography of Laïs, the famous courtesan, daughter of the mistress of Alcibiades:
She first began to sell her favours at Corinth for 10,000 drachmas, and the immense number of princes, noblemen, philosophers, orators and plebeians who courted her, bear witness to her personal charms. . . Demosthenes visited Corinth for the sake of Laïs, but informed by the courtesan that admittance to her bed was to be bought at the enormous sum of about £200 English money, the orator departed, and observed that he would not buy repentance at so dear a price. . . She ridiculed the austerity of philosophers, and the weakness of those who pretend to have gained a superiority over their passions, by observing that sages and philosophers were not above the rest of mankind, for she found them at her door as often as the rest of the Athenians.There is more in the same vein. However, it ends on a good moral, for ‘the other women, jealous of her charms, assassinated her in the temple of Venus about 340 B.C.’. That was 2,283 years ago. I wonder how many of the present denizens of Who’s Who will seem worth reading about in A.D. 4226?
The Estate of Eric Blair
Reproduced here under educational Fair Use law