Special Relationship – Brings People Together
it is said that the USA and UK have a ‘special relationship’ and are but two Nations separated by a common language.
There is another difference or in fact a number of differences that was brought to mind having shared the small island of St Maarten with 6,000 of them a week ago last Wednesday.
The first reaction when you see 6,000 Americans suddenly, and I use the word deliberately, being disgorged onto the jetty alongside where you’re berthed is dread.
It is a dread born out of an anticipation that they will take the place over turning it into a mini USA for the day with their loud and brash attitudes that we have come to expect if you believe everything you read in the media.
Good grief they don’t even know how to ‘queue’ correctly preferring to ‘wait in line’.
They weren’t on their ‘holidays’ but on ‘ vacation’.
For crying out loud, if you are going to call it English, then speak English.
I admit to being a compulsive people watcher and worse still to earwigging other people’s conversations.
The first difference between the Brits on the Ventura (an unsolicited plug for P & O) was that the Brits walked everywhere and took real interest in the town, looking up at the buildings and for all the world acting like people who are used to travelling and enjoy the differences and experiences they find.
In contrast, and yes this is a generalisation because I’m sure there are many Americans who have the same approach as the Brits, but the majority of those in St Maarten looked as if they were bemused at finding themselves suddenly in a country that wasn’t the States.
The best example I can give is that all of their conversations, or at least the ones I heard was all about money, looking in shop windows and saying “I wouldn’t pay that much, it’s cheaper at home”.
An example is when we followed a group into the local market and whose first reaction was “isn’t it cheap” which made the fact that they then started to haggle with the market holders over the price to save a few dollars.
Why would you do that?
Two other things drew my at attention to the difference
the first was a very angry and florid faced woman who complained that they were ‘charging a quarter’ to use the ‘rest room’.
Putting aside the fact that it is a TOILET and not a REST ROOM,
A rest room is where you stay to rest, if you hang around in a toilet you had better be violently and terminally ill or be prepared to be arrested.
The other was a group of young Americans who complained that they couldn’t find a McDonald’s and were so confused at there not being one I’m sure they thought it signified the end of the world.
It made me wonder whether the citizens of the USA understand that people who don’t live in the USA are different.
My faith was somewhat restored when I got talking to three who only can be described as ‘gnarled’ lifelong friends all in their late 70’s perhaps who had suddenly decided to up and go on an eight-day cruise.
What made them stand out was that they were wearing Vietnam Veteran baseball caps.
Now I’m in no way going to criticise them for being proud of serving their country and in fact only wish that the UK people showed some of the same level of patriotism that the USA shows, (of which more later).
I’m also not going to question the foolhardiness, and yes hindsight is a wonderful thing, of President Kennedy when he introduced what he called ‘only military advisor’s and not combatants’ into Vietnam which then grew to half a million combat troops at any one time being in South Vietnam.
The result of course was that the USA, whatever the hype and as the veterans explained it to me, lost the war and have suffered from the aftermath of the humiliation ever since.
It was an honest appraisal that I didn’t expect and nor did I expect their genuine feeling from experience of having served overseas that the majority of the American people just don’t understand why everyone wouldn’t want to be an American?
There is no doubt that the USA is the predominant military power in the 21st century, in fact it could be argued that they took the mantle in 1945 when following the Second World War the British Empire effectively ended.
OK, the Russians and former USSR may disagree but that’s another story.
The question is whether the USA alongside their military power also has the social and political power that the veterans believed that the majority of Americans wrongly think is their due.
When Britain ‘Ruled the Waves’ and had the ‘Empire on which the Sun never set’ the maximum UK population was just over 30 million of whom about 10 million were ‘stationed in the overseas colonies’ either in the armed forces or as civil servants.
Effectively the British Empire wasn’t so much held together by military force but by a band of administrators who recognised that they were effectively ‘occupying’ someone else’s country and set about turning it into a reflection of the ‘mother country’ in terms of political and administrative organisation.
They were supported of course by a whole host of missionaries.
It was by recognising that the majority of ‘foreign people’ didn’t want to be identical to the British but retain their own religions, customs and social identities that allowed such a small, at its peak less than a million civil servants to administer countries across the globe.
The point I’m trying to make is that with the growth of the USA involvement and intervention in countries across the globe,
Why is it that they seem unable to win the trust and confidence of nations especially when it comes to administration?
Surely this is the country of almost 300 million who are the bedrock of the modern management methods, so what goes wrong when they come up against ‘people in their own back yard away from USA soil’.
Which brings me back to the Vietnam Veterans who did understand the problem and who I would love to say were called Chuck, Buck and Rocky but were in fact John, Bill and Craig neither were they gun crazy exponents of the we went over there and kicked arse brigade.
Instead they were just three ordinary men, who met on their first day of training having what they called ‘received the draft’ and who were grateful to have done their duty, come home, raised a family and who now had grandchildren.
They were happy to talk about the USA and its role in the world and how not understanding why everyone doesn’t want to be an American brings with it a whole host of problems,
First of all it means that the usual USA management, organisation and administration methods just don’t work,
In fact their record on administering countries abroad is nothing short of being woeful.
Secondly, even though they were visiting a Caribbean Island, which by the way is one island and two countries which is currently approximately 50% Dutch and 50% French, they constantly referred to the local population as being foreign.
You are in their Country,
You are the foreigners.
Something they just couldn’t get their heads around.
Why not, it is very simple.
When you are away from home in a foreign country you are the foreigner, the clue is in the word ‘foreign”.
Thirdly, and of course this isn’t an exhaustive list, the history of empires built on military force throughout the ages has always ended in failure when the ‘occupied nation/s’ decide enough is enough.
The empires that lasted the longest were the ones where differences were understood and absorbed by the administrators into processes and systems of effective political control, the majority of which thankfully were democracies.
The former USSR was always doomed to fail for the very reason that they also didn’t understand that occupied countries such as Poland, Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia had a rich history and culture of their own and would not accept subjugation forever.
The USA perhaps need to learn from the errors of history and start trying to what is called ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of nations rather than relying on their military prowess.
And if they do what will the result be?
The same as every other colonial, imperialistic and interventionist empire of the past,
but failure where those who see themselves as being freed from their shackles will take what they consider to be the best of what the USA has provided and absorb it into their society and culture.
Heaven forbid it might even be McDonald’s!!!!
Only then will the USA find that they have true friends around the world and can stop worrying as the Vietnam Veterans were about why is it that so many countries appear to dislike and mistrust them.
The sad fact is that it is the politicians and their approach to foreign policy that is the problem not the 300 million US citizens, of who friends of mine who served in the Royal Navy are included having taken out American Citizenship.
So to the John, Bill and Craig thanks it was good to meet you, carry on being patriotic, being proud and stick to your view that the USA is a great country.
Which brings me as I said earlier about the issue of being patriotic which is something the Brits tend to be very reluctant to publicly display,
As we left St Maarten and the American Cruise Ship, the Veterans and their 6,000 compatriots berthed alongside us a remarkable thing happened.
The Brits suddenly turned very un-British and almost ‘All American’ in their patriotic fervour led by a team from the ship.
Brits on the upper decks waving Union Flags and singing national songs,
Girl from Belfast City for the Northern Irish,
A Welcome in the Hillside and the inevitable Delilah for the Welsh,
You Take the High Road and I’ll Walk 500 miles for the Scots and
Jerusalem and Wild Rover for the English.
All of course with Land of Hope & Glory et al suddenly turned our departure into the last night of the Proms.
What was even better was that the Americans joined in, including I suspect a large contingent of ex-pats who lined their upper deck.
Flipping Nora it even rained to make us all feel at home.
How’s that for timing.
What was nice was the reaction of the Americans who cheered as only they can,
We are two nations divided by a common language, and of course a bloody great ocean in between us, but no more so I suspect than differences between the Veterans from Buffalo New York and their friends in California.
Or between people from Glasgow, Belfast, Cardiff and London.
and Yes the USA may be the dominant power on the planet,
but for an hour the Brits were in charge of the agenda and our own local differences disappeared in a collective demonstration of national patriotism,
I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit, jingoistic as it was, that
We all bloody well enjoyed it.
I can’t help thinking that the current Conservative party in the UK has a similar attitude to the majority of Americans.
They to just cannot understand why everyone doesn’t want to be like them