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The Lion and the Unicorn and Uncle Sam

After reading GVDL's remix of Orwell's 1941 essay "The Lion and the Unicorn" and then reading the essay itself, I got to thinking about the analogy that many of us who support the war are fond of drawing between 21st century America and England in the 1940s. It's a comforting analogy, and provides us with plenty of snark to unleash upon the anti-war crowd, especially those in the media and academia. Like all analogies, though, it has some serious problems and those need to be talked about, because they affect the underlying pro-war dialectic in bad ways.

First of all, the United States in Iraq isn't comparable to the British Empire in 1940 after the fall of France and the evacuation from Dunkirk. This may seem so obvious as to elicit a "Duh!" from the Loyal Readership, but there are a lot of underlying social and historical factors that need to be hauled out and examined, and GVDL does us no favors when he lumps our modern American intellectualoids in with the marginalized leftists of Orwell's Britain. The Empire was critically damaged by the massive casualties suffered in the Great War, not only in the sense that thousands upon thousands of young men who might have gone on to build and sustain the Empire had been killed in the trenches, but in the sense that the bonds between Britain herself and the dominions had been severely damaged. Among the many dead were thousands of young Australians, Canadians, South Africans and New Zealanders who would never again blindly follow the lead of the generals sent out from London to command the far-flung armies. For all the damage done by Vietnam to the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, no sensible person would argue that they suffered the same kind of shattering losses experienced by the British at Paschendaele, the Canadians at Vimy Ridge, or the ANZAC troops at Gallipoli. There was none of the hesitation to get involved in Afghanistan and Iraq that Orwell observed in the ruling classes of England on the verge of WW2.

The political divisions in modern America are not what they were in England, either. While many academics support the Democrats and their anti-war policy, there is no corresponding devotion among the Republicans to the kind of anti-intellectualism exemplified by David Low's Colonel Blimp; quite the contrary, the careful study of history is highly regarded. (Cf. Victor Davis Hanson and Max Boot.) There is no aristocracy or class system in America as there is (and was) in England, and the very notion of government-appointed vicars and bishops (much less their nvolvement in government) has always been beyond the pale here.

To be continued.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
nornagest
Feb. 22nd, 2007 03:08 am (UTC)
Is the analogy between 2000s America and 1940s Britain really that flattering? Yes, Britain won the war, but it took the help of not one but two nascent superpowers (which present-day America doesn't have), and it lost the last of its empire in the process.
wombat_socho
Feb. 22nd, 2007 04:26 am (UTC)
The analogy isn't meant to be flattering so much as it's meant to be instructive. There are a lot of parallels drawn to Churchill, who spent the 1930s inveighing against Hitler and the Nazis from the Tory back benches and being derided as a stupid, reactionary idiot, and to the stubborn refusal of the Brits to quit in 1940 when the only allies they had outside the Empire were the Free French and the Poles. There are also comparisons made between the pacifist Left in England during the 1930s and our own antiwar Democrats.

All of these comparisons have some validity, but the point of my post (and the ones to follow) is that there are problems with the analogy which should make people wary of identifying America too closely with the British Empire in its twilight, just as they should be wary of people who draw analogies between America and the Roman Empire.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )