Andre Siegfried noticed the peculiar relationship between Britain and the United States which was developing after the Great War victory over Germany.
England, which had always fought to establish and defend its supremacy in the world, was now seeking collaboration with another power in its post-War world. It was doing so through a tacit accord with the U.S. rather than a formal alliance. This, it was imagined might impose a Pax Anglo-Saxonia on the world like the Pax Romano of Augustus, through the power of two great navies.
Siegfried noted that the U.S. was suspicious of being taken in tow by Britain and it was reluctant to engage in the project England was mooting. The U.S. had become a world power in the course of World War One through its activity in relation to Britain and its failure to defeat Germany through its original allies. But then the U.S. had reverted to its original isolationist foreign policy of George Washington, presumably judging the moment to be premature to take hold of the world at that point. It was seemingly content to let Britain remain top dog for now, to blunder on and to weaken more, before the U.S. finally made its move.
Siegfried suggested that even if Washington was willing to engage in a Pax Anglo-Saxonia England was less likely to predominate in such a partnership and much more likely to become a junior party to the U.S. in any relationship that might be established under it.
Germany and the United States had arisen around the same time to complicate the world Britain had become mastery of. The U.S. emerged from its Civil War at the moment when Germany became a state through uniting itself against French aggression. In the last quarter of the 19th Century both Germany and the U.S. appeared on the horizon as potential challengers to British supremacy over the world. As the Century turned both loomed much larger as potentially threats to the unipolar world that had been established in the Hundred Years Peace.
Siegfried pointed out that Britain was behaving very differently toward one of her new rivals for world predominance than she had to her former rivals, incl:
“Britain sees with growing clearness that her supremacy is again contested, and now by the very power she is ready to associate herself. Since the U.S. became a world force, a logical and irresistible evolution has tended to shape its international policy on the same lines as England’s. Both are pursuing the same three-cornered programme: control of raw materials international finance, and maritime communications… This medley of interests and aspirations results in a maritime policy which endangers Britain’s supremacy. England can no longer institute a blockade except in agreement and active collaboration with America. Meanwhile the American Navy in turn is striving to control communications, or at any rate certain international routes. England is seeking an ally, but she may find a rival.” (England’s Crisis, pp. 237-8)
Britain had a habit of cutting any emerging rival down to size, and in other countries – including France and America itself – there was a presumption that sooner or later there would be a conflict between the old master and the young up-start. The United States was becoming the major obstacle to Britain’s world wide domination and the biggest long-term threat to its Empire. The United States potentially represented a far stronger industrial and commercial competitor than the country England had chosen to wage a Great War on and had shown its ambitions in the world with the construction of the Panama Canal. Germany was the British Empire’s best customer in the world and was the only country that bought from England nearly as much as she sold to the Empire. When Britain destroyed Germany commercially in 1919 it debilitated itself economically. It also owed much to German philosophy, which it had demonised during the Great War in its propaganda effort, and therefore deprived itself of an important intellectual prop.
The Great War on Germany seemed illogical from a purely British strategic point of view. Whilst Admiral Mahan was conceiving America as a worldwide naval power and Imperial force, Germany did not even have a credible navy and was merely a federation of states with a few small scattered colonies. But whilst Britain had developed a very aggressive attitude to its other Imperialist rivals, it shirked a conflict with its strong young Anglo-Saxon cousin and neatly sidestepped the incidents and disputes which would have been made occasions for war with other nations.
Two serious territorial disputes had arisen between Britain and America during the Unionist Government’s term of office. In 1895 Venezuela occupied a piece of British Guiana and when Britain threatened action, President Cleveland invoked the Monroe Doctrine to warn off the Royal Navy. Although Lord Salisbury rejected Cleveland’s right to do this he backed away from conflict and accepted the referral of the dispute to arbitration. In 1903, Balfour accepted arbitration again in a dispute over the frontier between Alaska and British Columbia. Astonishingly, the British arbiter decided in favour of the United States and against Canada – a decision that was very badly received by the Canadians, and who, from then on, determined on getting more extensive Dominion powers so that they could look after their own interests in the future.
It seems to have been instinctively realised in British ruling circles that the Empire was destined ultimately to give way to its younger Anglo-Saxon cousin as master of the world. That is the only explanation for the attitude of inferiority that British Statesmen – including Arthur Balfour, Philosopher and Prime Minister – began adopting towards the United States at the turn of the century. Joseph Chamberlain did not believe that the Empire would give way to the United States without conflict, and so determined on an Anglo-Saxon Alliance to prevent it. If the British Empire and the United States did not combine to dominate the world, their divergent interests would surely bring them into conflict when America, following Admiral Mahan’s vision, could only expand at the expense of the British Empire.
It was probably decided to indirectly capture the United States, rather than attempt to defeat it in war. And the building of an Anglo-American Establishment, so that the British Empire could live on within its great Anglo-Saxon cousin – the future master of the world – became a significant project for the most advanced Imperialists in England, centred around Lionel Curtis and the Round Table/Chatham House group.
So it was determined to deal with America peacefully and to go to Great War with Germany. And if it were ever contemplated to destroy America after Germany had been dealt with, the exhausting war with Germany – as a result of which the United States profited as a result of England’s difficulty – put paid to that notion. And a Second World War brought the U.S. to complete dominance.
Britain bungled its Great War on Germany and it was heavily in debt to the power that had bailed it out, both financially and militarily. In January 1923 an agreement settled Britain’s debts with the U.S. securing some independence for it, warding off the threat of an immediate move by the U.S. into the saddle. If this agreement had not been achieved the British economy could be devastated by any decision in Washington to call in its debts. But the debt was fixed at 33 million pounds per annum for 10 years and 37 million for the following 50 years – a price England was willing to pay to maintain its prestige and illusion of supremacy (Note: at that time the British Pound counted for nearly 5 Dollars).
At the close of the Great War the Royal Navy was the largest and most powerful navy in the world by a long way. It had 400,000 men and a post-War budget of 344 million pounds – seven times what it had been in 1912 at the height of the Naval scare and cries of extravagance by Liberals. Winston Churchill announced at the time of the Armistice that the Britain would not accept “any fettering restrictions which will prevent the British Navy maintaining its well-tried and well-deserved supremacy.”
But in 1919-20 hundreds of ships went out of commission and the manpower of the Navy was reduced by three quarters. The British Government voluntarily invoked the Ten Year Rule saying there would be no World War for another decade, to save it money to pay off Washington.
In 1921 with the President Harding administration taking office and the Anglophile President Wilson gone Lloyd George realised he had to come to terms with the Americans.
The American historian, Charles Callan Tansill, described the effect the changing power relations between Britain and the U.S. had on the conflict that was raging in Ireland between the democracy, which had emerged in the 1918 election, and Britain’s attempts to subdue it. This led to a forced retreat for British power in Ireland in early 1921 (footnotes included are Tansill’s):
“In London it was felt to be imperative that better relations be established with Washington. Lloyd George realized only too clearly that England was at the greatest crossroads in history. America had emerged from the World War as a great naval power that would soon successfully challenge British supremacy on the high seas. This war had seriously imperiled the financial structure of the British Empire, and it was obviously impossible for the British Government to enter upon an arms race with the United States. The best that Britain could hope to achieve was naval parity, and this could be arranged only if cordial relations were maintained with America. American naval construction had been curtailed by President Wilson in 1919 after his “deal” with Lloyd George, under the terms of which America would reduce the rate of naval construction in return for British support of Wilson’s project of a League of Nations (Harold and Margaret Sprout, Towards a New Order of Sea Power, Princeton, 1940, pp. 59-68).
“On March 4, 1921, the Harding Administration assumed office,and the British Government could no longer count upon the pro-British policy that President Wilson had consistently followed. It was imperatively necessary for Lloyd George to conciliate this new Administration in Washington. Large loans from the American treasury had enabled Britain to maintain financial solvency, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer ardently hoped that arrangements could be made with Washington that would ease the burden upon the British taxpayer. Heavy expenditures for new naval construction were out of the question, even though Winston Churchill in his most sonorous rhetoric announced that the British would not accept “any fettering restrictions which will prevent the British Navy maintaining its well-tried and well-deserved supremacy.” (New York Times, November 27, December 6, 10, 1918; R. A. Chaput,
Disarmament in British Foreign Policy, London, 1935, pp. 70-72.)
“Most British statesmen accepted the fact that British naval supremacy was a thing of the past, and soon even naval experts swung around to this viewpoint. On March 16, 1921, Lord Lee, newly inducted First Lord of the Admiralty, made a speech before the Institute of Naval Architects in which he proposed a naval agreement with the United States based upon the principle of parity. (E. J. Young, Powerful America, New York, 1936), pp. 47, 53-54.)
“A month later, Lloyd George courted favorable American press opinion by inviting Adolph Ochs, publisher of The New York Times, to breakfast at 10 Downing Street. (ibid., pp. 49-50).
“The Prime Minister was beginning an active campaign to establish a close Anglo-American understanding. He soon discovered that the price of such an understanding would be the scrapping of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance that had existed since January 30, 1902. At first he was very reluctant to pay this price.
“On June 20, 1921, an imperial conference convened in London. It was an unusually important imperial conference, because for the first time the Dominions were permitted to play a role in the formulation of British foreign policy. The role of Canada was particularly significant. Thanks to the support of Arthur Meighen, Prime Minister of Canada, the American Government had its wish gratified the Anglo-Japanese Alliance was formally abandoned by Britain. (John B. Brebner, “Canada, the Anglo- Japanese Alliance and the Washington Conference,” Political Science Quarterly, March 1935, 45-59)
“The stage was thus set for an Anglo-American naval accord. On July 8 Secretary Hughes sent a cablegram to Ambassador Harvey inquiring “whether it would be agreeable to the British Government to be invited by this Government to participate in a conference on limitation of armaments, the conference to be held in Washington.” (Secretary Hughes to Ambassador Harvey, July 8, 1921, Foreign Relations, 1921, I, 18.)
“Cablegrams were also sent to Tokyo, Paris, and Rome with similar invitations. Acceptance meant that a disarmament conference would begin its sessions in Washington on November 12, and Lloyd George believed that the fate of England was closely tied to the results of the conference. Conciliation of America became the keynote of his policy, and success in this regard was gravely menaced by the situation in Ireland. He could not afford to have this reign of terror excite American public opinion to the point where Anglo-American amity was reduced almost to the vanishing point. This is the reason why he swallowed his resentment against De Valera and arranged for the conference in London that was to convene on October 11. He made this decision because he thought it was expedient to do so. Humanitarian motives are seldom basic considerations in the formulation of British foreign policy.” (America and the Fight for Ireland’s Freedom 1866-1922, pp.423-6)
The negotiations with the Sinn Fein “murder gang” were the first sign of the weakening British supremacy in the world that forced it to behave itself, within U.S. toleration. But Irish America, despite supporting Michael Collins’s decision to sign the Treaty at the end of 1921, rejected his suggestion that the U.S. enter into arrangements with the British Empire that could enhance the autonomy of its members, like the Irish Free State. John Devoy replied to Collins in February 1922 setting out the reasons why a return to the policy of George Washington was the safest course for the U.S. at that moment:
“In re-suggestion that United States might enter Association of Nations of whose bona fides she was satisfied, American-Irish and many millions of other citizens are unalterably opposed to any Old World entanglements under any name whatsoever, knowing that highly-trained, unscrupulous British diplomats will overreach and hoodwink American amateurs… America’s only security lies in strict adherence to Washington’s policy…” (letter of 16.2.1922, in Tansill, p.439)
In 1922 the British signed the Washington Naval Treaty. In doing this England agreed to something it had gone to World War to prevent – naval parity with a foreign power. Admiral Beatty described it as abject surrender to the United States but he was forced to swallow the bitter pill. Beatty was conscious that England now had a vastly extended far-flung Empire to defend with a much reduced navy and one the same size as the U.S. which was still largely a continental/island power. The Americans also insisted on Britain ending their treaty with Japan, which looked after British concerns in its area of influence, aggravating relations with dangerous consequences. Singapore, the giant naval base, looked vulnerable.
In a controversial and very perceptive later book Siegfried wrote about the United States in the 1950s Siegfried described the American as being continental/isolationist but also
“… this same American’s interests are universal, and this is shown in different ways. In the first place by his Protestant moralizing, which is characteristically British, he looks at all problems from the moral angle and reserves for himself a privilege which gives him great satisfaction, that of passing judgment on others. If other people do not comport themselves according to his ethical standards, he reproves them as if they had committed a sin. It is a legal type of moralizing which shows the American’s sincere attachment to certain principles handed down from the eighteenth century; they include an optimistic conception of human nature, faith in democracy, respect for international law, condemnation of conquest and particularly colonial conquest carried out overseas; if it is carried out on land, it is merely expansion… It is not that the United States was not, before 1914, imperialist in her own manner, for indeed she was and did not attempt to hide it; but her expansion was limited to her own continent. When the Americans found themselves faced with world domination, they sincerely recoiled before the encumbrance of an empire; if destiny has finally imposed this responsibility upon them, it is against their wishes, unless, as the old saying goes, ‘L’appetit vient en mangeant’.” (America at Mid-Century, p. 337 and p.340)
Despite being orientated at the beginning to avoid foreign entanglements and to oppose colonialism what would happen when America conquered its continent? Would its British Protestant instinct take it further, moralising on its merry way? By 1955 the question was answered. It was becoming the “indispensable nation” that saw itself as “exceptional” in the world.
The British Government signed the Washington Treaty in 1922 because it feared the Big Navy men in the U.S., inspired by Admiral Mahan, would build a force that the British could no longer afford to build and it shied away from the other possibility – war – to settle the issue.
Siegfried put it like this in 1931:
“In order to preserve her supremacy on the seas, England has waged two great wars, one against the France of Napoleon, and the other against Germany under William II. In each case she was all but exhausted. To-day, in a mere decade, without a war, without a struggle, without seeming to care, this same England – is she the same? – has renounced her supremacy, at least in principle, at the request of the United States. We are forced to regard this renunciation as a loss of prestige. The English would have you believe that it is simply common sense, and that it had to be done. If they feel humiliated they certainly do not show it. Furthermore, Balfour and MacDonald, the two men who in 1921 and 1929 negotiated the agreements which led to the present solution, both returned home from Washington in triumph. How do the British really feel about it in their innermost hearts?
“Since the beginning of the century the British Government seems to have made up its mind never to oppose the United States. It invariably gives way, as if it had decided always to do so. One recalls the line of Corneille: ‘Ah, ne me brouillez pas aver la Republique!’ (Don’t mess with the Republic!)
“England finds that she is faced with a growing force against which frontal resistance counts but little. She also knows that in the case of conflict between the two nations, it would be difficult for Canada to take the side of the Mother Country…Little by little this reasoning is being applied not only to Canada, but to all British possessions lying within the American zone… In the whole zone covered by the Monroe Doctrine, the fiction of sovereignty persists, although it is no longer complete – simply, it must not be mentioned. The vase is cracked. Do not touch it.
“England feels that she is confronted by a sort of elemental force, and has therefore put to one side all thoughts of competition in armaments… In what spirit have the British people received this new attitude, so little in keeping with their traditional pride? It has not affected the masses, and in the upper classes an important section, probably the most important, has accepted the fait accompli without grumbling. We would be perhaps right in saying that in this matter England tolerates from the United States what she would never tolerate from any other power. ‘Needs must…’ the English seem to say…
“Perhaps they simply consider that the Empire must eventually dissolve into a greater Anglo-Saxon ensemble… If the Empire is destined to disappear, it could be replaced, to a certain extent, by a union of English-speaking peoples, which would bring the Anglo-Saxon race still more powerfully together…
“This reaction is difficult for the French to understand but… it represents a rooted conviction… The American of the Middle West, moulded by the Ku-Klux-Klan, and the Orangeman of Belfast, will often react in the same way, but both will always be incomprehensible to the French. This reaction to the United States partially explains Britain’s lassitude in not striving to retain by force her political control of the world. She is beginning to feel old. She naturally makes way for youth, especially since the youth is a member of her own family… By paying this price, the Empire can exist indefinitely in its present form, and British commerce can prosper.” (England’s Crisis, pp.238-43)
It seems to have been understood at the higher levels of the British State that the supremacy it had fought for in 1914 and achieved in 1918/19 was really an illusion. Britain had increased its Empire drastically in size but it was incapable of governing it as before or influencing the hinterlands around it (and these hinterlands were global). After expending so much blood and treasure in the pursuit of supremacy, England lacked the will to be the master of the world.
Britain realised its supremacy was an illusion – it was conditional on U.S. toleration. This was a result of its refusal to negotiate a settlement with Germany on good terms during 1915/16. The terms Germany was willing to accept were generous, given its military performance but England could not accept a draw at the conclusion of a Great War declared for world supremacy. A draw would be a defeat so only victory was tolerable. But victory turned out to be pyrrhic – Germany was beaten but Britain lost out to the U.S. in beating the Hun into the ground.
So in the 1920s and 1930s Britain was the World super power under the sufferance of Washington. And Washington refused to aid it in running the world it had won.
Siegfried seeing England gravitating toward the Atlantic did not believe that England could ever really escape Europe:
“England cannot cut herself entirely adrift from the Continent which lies so close to her, any more than Europe can consider herself complete without those two little islands which lie at her gates. Neither politically, economically, nor intellectually, can one long admit the thesis of a non-European England, out of touch with the Old World… Europe… is an irreplaceable market, and England realises that her prosperity rises and falls in sympathy with that of the Old World. It is sheer folly to think she can disentangle herself from Europe.” (pp.245-6)
He believed that rather than choose between the Anglo-Saxon world and Europe
“England will not choose at all. Faithful to her tradition and her genius, she will hover between the two groups, without giving herself completely either to one or the other. A European England is a dream… Vitality and flexibility have always been the strongest traits of the British nation… The Empire, and the spirit on which it thrives, have unlimited powers of adaption and life.” (p.251)
Andre Siegfried saw Britain, despite its volatile position, as a fundametally positive force for Europe. And yet England proceeded to flounder about the world it had won in its First Great War of the 20th Century, before declaring another – a Second World War – a few years later, with Continental Europe as its main battleground. Siegfried’s France was an early victim.
R.W. Thompson’s 1960 book The Price of Victory is an interesting read. It is about how D-Day marked the end of British power and the ascension of the U.S. It was preceded by a significant deal in mid-1940 in which the U.S. broke its neutrality in the war by illegally supplying Britain with a couple of hundred redundant, reconditioned destroyers in return for the surrender of British sovereignty to the U.S. in a number of territories, the first action of its kind since 1776:
“This day, the 6th June, was Britain’s Swan song. It had been implicit after the Arcadia Conference, when the United States turned her back upon George Washington and put ‘Germany first’. And steadily the ‘Bill’ had grown as it was bound to do, as Britain must have known it would. The ‘Destroyer deal’ hammered home the facts… The last British toe-hold on the Latin American Continent was threatened. Britain was not ‘side-by-side’ or ‘hand-in-hand’ with her great ally, but under her wing, finally under her thumb.
“General Marshall was not a semi-tone behind Stalin in clamouring for the ‘Second Front’ in 1942, in 1943. Perfidious Albion!
“In the Mediterranean, Britain fought a rearguard action for time, but time was not on her side. With the agreement on ‘Anvil’ her Balkan and Mediterranean strategy was in ruins; at Teheran the coup de grace’, ‘Uncle Joe’ and ‘The President’ keeping an eye on the wily old British with their ‘Imperial’ designs, their shocking ‘Colonialism’, their ridiculous delusions that their grandeur might survive.
“There was always a chance that the Germans might reach a point of near collapse to make ‘Rankin’ possible, but ‘Unconditional Surrender’ made that unlikely, and ruined the hope that the Germans might begin to put their own house in order, and deal with their maniac themselves. But ‘Rankin’ had not come off, and nothing had ‘turned up.’ No enemy is more ruthless than a friend.
“On D-Day Britain had paid, stripped to her uttermost farthing.’ But there was still a slender hope that a miracle might happen, that Britain might be ‘in at the death’, and have a hand in the shape of victory. A miracle might happen at Caen… if Caen had fallen, if the armour could have rolled out into the open countryside beyond, Britain might have prevailed before the American build up overtook her…
“It was, in the light of history, inevitable. On D-Day’ Britain ceased to be a major power in the world, no longer even to shape her own ends. The new Europe would not be hers, or of her making. George Washington might have trembled in his grave!” (pp.257-8)
This is the true story of Britain’s Second World War, stripped of its Churchillian salvage narrative. It describes a war being fought by allies for entirely differing reasons and a victory over Germany that was a triumph for the U.S.S.R. and U.S. and an utter defeat for British power over the world.
Thompson argued that having put the whole of her overseas financial assets into the bungled World War Britain declared on Germany she had, by 1944, ‘shot her bolt’. The New World arrived late to save the old, but its objective was not the maintenance of the old order.
Thompson pointed out that for Britain the Price of Victory was the loss of accumulated wealth and her reduction to second-class power status. For more than a year after the entry of the U.S. into the war Britain had to bear the brunt of the expansive War she had declared, in the Middle East, Malaya, the Atlantic and at home. It was thereafter inevitable that the initiative and the key decisions on grand strategy would pass into the hands of the United States and Russia.
Thompson saw the two decisive events in the struggle for power as being Roosevelt’s spontaneous decision to demand “Unconditional Surrender” of Germany, and D-Day, when Europe was invaded by an army under American leadership, with the military object of a pure defeat of the German armies, rather than a situation like 1918. But the corollary of this is the German willingness to fight for Hitler to the bitter end.
Operation Rankin was a series of contingencies made in Britain for an occupation of continental Europe in the event of a premature German collapse, presumably under the effects of Britain’s main offensive weapon of war, the strategic bombing of civilian areas. It was hoped that this would lead to the overthrow of Hitler and a second “stab in the back,” giving Britain the opportunity to win the war without the hard ground fighting it was incapable of performing.
A writer in the British Naval Review of 1960/1 assessing the book noted;
“Though the author does not say so, this divergence between the U.S.A. and British world aims has been made abundantly clear since the end of the war, and the book gives some understanding of how the United States have done more to bring about the downfall of the British Empire as such than ever the Germans did in two wars.”
Operation Anvil (Dragoon) is forgotten today. It was a very significant landing of U.S. and French armies on the southern Mediterranean French coast two months after D-Day. It was originally supposed to have been simultaneous with the Normandy landings but was cancelled and only took place when the Germans halted the advance in Northern France. The U.S. and French forces liberated Southern France and linked up with the Normandy landers, with minimal casualties in only 4 weeks, to form the 6th Army for an advance into Germany.
Anvil/Dragoon had the effect of rendering the Italian diversion (the British strategy for preventing General Marshall assaulting France in 1942 or 1943) meaningless. It also lengthened the American front in the West meaning a more substantial and collective force pressed the Germans, preventing British solo runs through the gaps created by U.S. fighting. Britain was not allowed to determine the Peace this time, by piggy-backing on U.S. effort.
Andre Siegfried wrote of none of this. But the fact he gave up writing about Britain and put his efforts into explaining the great Republic to the world says everything that needs to be said.