A thoughtful yet partial history of the rivalry among nations that became a “Special Relationship.”
It was Winston Churchill who brought the phrase “English-speaking peoples” into currency, and Churchill biographer Roberts (Napoleon and Wellington, 2002, etc.) offers a continuation that is appropriately conservative. Britain and America—the English-speaking nations that count the most in the Churchillian scheme of things—have been strong when united, Roberts maintains, whereas they have been subject to disasters (Suez, Dunkirk, Vietnam) when acting independently. The scheme frays a touch when one considers Iraq. Roberts endorses the allied invasion, noting that under Saddam Hussein it was “the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism and an openly and oft-declared foe of the English-speaking peoples.” Others, of course, consider it a fiasco, and anti-American Britons have been trotting out a century-old note that the British prime minister is the American president’s poodle. But Roberts is undeterred, elsewhere quoting Horace Walpole’s observation, “No great country was ever saved by good men, because good men will not go to the length that may be necessary.” Great men (and a few women, such as Margaret Thatcher) abound in Roberts’s pages, along with some useless ones; plainly, Roberts has his issues with Edward Heath, “the only British prime minister since the Second World War to doubt the value of the Special Relationship,” who was the first of many leaders to surrender Britain to Europe, a decidedly non-Churchillian arrangement. Readers who weather volleys of opinion will find plenty of useful facts in the mix, touching on such things as the back-stabbings of Suez, the comparative scarcity of medals for bravery in World War II vis-à-vis the 19th century, the support of pro-Reagan Western states for the Equal Rights Amendment and Harold Wilson’s Nixonian penchant for bugging his political opponents. Yet the case always turns back to the manifest destiny of the English-speaking peoples to lead the world, and on the cheap, too, for Roberts argues that the present Iraq war is “one of the cheapest engagements of its kind in the past century”—a statement that is questionable on several fronts, not least of them statistical.
An arguable book, best suited to those who think Vietnam, the Falklands and Iraq were and are just wars.