“The Lion and the Eagle” was the title of a programme for the International Television Federation – Intertel for short – which was transmitted simultaneously in Great Britain, U.S.A., Australia, Canada and New Zealand on December 7, the 25th anniversary of Pearl Harbour. The programme was written and narrated by alistair cooke who also wrote this article about the Anglo-American Alliance.
The photograph was taken at Divine Service on board H.M.S. Prince of Wales during the Atlantic meeting of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Premier Winston Churchill.
When Wendell Willkie, the defeated Republican candidate for the Presidency in 1940, visited the Kremlin, he returned to the United States with one unforgettable line. He remembered Stalin, breaking out of his calculating and impassive mood and pounding the table shouting: ‘If, when this war is over, I ever again hear the phrase “Anglo-American…”‘ He left the sentence unfinished, but the anger and frustration of it implied that the alliance of Britain and the United States was a special and powerful menace to the independent ambitions of the Soviet Union. As, indeed, it was to become.
For quite other reasons, ordinary Americans and Britons have often found the phrase ‘Anglo-American relations’ insipid or unfortunate. It suggests banquet toasts, sentimental travel ads., the necessary pieties spoken by a President coming to England or a Prime Minister dining at the White House. But by any other name it has been one of the great political forces of our time, and at no time has it controlled the destinies of the two nations so much as in the quarter century that this programme celebrates.
If this fact exasperated Stalin during the Hot War, it alarmed de Gaulle, more than any other European, during the Cold War. He came to attribute the persistence of the Cold War to the obstinacy of the Anglo-American partnership; in his view, it was a power combine, dominated now by the United States, which allowed little independent future to the nations of Europe. He referred to it, with suspicion and detestation, as ‘the special relationship’. John Kennedy took up the phrase from him and turned it into a compliment. For Kennedy, though himself the grandson of an Irish immigrant and surrounded at all times by professional Irishmen, knew very well the roots of the long relationship in the common law, the common language and literature, the common gift for self-government, the common reliance on the ultimate sense of the people when all the arguments were laid before them.
Pearl Harbour was not, of course, a beginning, nor is Vietnam, alas, an ending. But Pearl Harbour marked a new and dramatic simplification of a relationship that has been maintained down three centuries by an odd mixture of feelings: by affection, curiosity, envy, ridicule and admiration. Most Britons, according to a revealing public opinion survey taken a few years ago, divide the rest of the world into foreigners and Americans. When Americans are thought to be in the wrong, they are all the more to blame because they are still felt to be in the family.
These usual family feelings were obliterated by the devastating Japanese attack on the main base of the Pacific Fleet. From December, 1941, until V-E Day, 1945, the Anglo-American alliance was as firm as it would ever be. For its aim was grand and simple: survival and victory.
We could have made this part of our film into a roaring symphony of Anglo-American valour, heroic exploits performed with a flourish by all good men and true against the stolid background of ordinary people in Sheffield and Detroit stoking the furnaces and welding the tanks. We have preferred to go behind these heroics to scan the small circle of Britons and Americans – Roosevelt, Churchill, Hopkins, Eden, Marshall, Alanbrooke, Eisenhower – who debated and decided the strategy. Especially, we have dwelt on the curious band of cronies – an English country aristocrat and a harness maker’s son from Iowa, above all the heir of Blenheim and the farm boy from Kansas, who wielded the supreme power and made men from Glasgow and London work and fight together in good faith and harmony with men from Dallas and New York.
Before the war was over, a disagreeable but inescapable truth dawned on Churchill and Eisenhower more than the others. Britain was practically bankrupt from the outlay of her great resources in two world wars, and what the United States did not lease or lend to her allies she manufactured for their use. 1943 is a watershed, down one side of which British power declined, as up the other side climbed the new power of the United States. It was inevitable that the Americans should exert a corresponding authority. This was a very delicate stage in the alliance which was overcome by Churchill’s realism and by Eisenhower’s tact and total loyalty to the whole alliance.
The Cold War found Britain for the first time not only a debtor nation but a dependent, and in some ways a pupil, of the United States. The ‘fabric of European life’, as Dean Acheson put it, ‘had to be repaired.’ And the Marshall-Acheston plan was created to do it. The United States had never felt the impact of a bomb, except one dud that looped out of a Japanese submarine and fell on a vegetable field in California. The huge American industrial machine, mobilised as never before for a two-ocean war, now boomed beyond the dizziest expectations of Detroit, Wall Street or the Dow-Jones industrial index. Productivity teams, so called, crossed the Atlantic to learn modern industrial methods from the once despised prodigal son. Poor Britain had one aim: to get on her feet. Rich America could afford several aims. While expanding her technology and her nuclear know-how, she became alarmingly aware, as all rising powers do, of a rival. And though it was Churchill who coined ‘the Iron Curtain’, it was the Americans who responded to the phrase as to an ultimatum and braced themselves against the early possibility of a collision with the new empire of the Soviet Union. This was a testing time for the alliance, if only because America, having the weapons, was tempted to use them while Britain, having none, tended to belittle the threat.
Since the late Forties and early Fifties, other shocks have shaken or strained the alliance.
The McMahon Act, which denied Britain a share in American nuclear information. Suez. The debate over the potential of Communist China. The Cuban missile crisis. The healthy desire of a renovated and recovered Europe to enjoy her own character, to make her own decisions, to brush aside the protective umbrella of America’s missiles and her spreading armies of occupation.
In this hour, we have tried to chart the temperature, and perceive the problems of the alliance. We have tried to do this with visual acuteness, with an awareness of the life of the ordinary people, without sentimentality or half-baked pride or a prior belief that the alliance is the sheet-anchor of the foreign policy of both nations. We only hope this programme will make a lot of people examine again their own feelings, through the crucible of a 25-year memoir; will make them take a new look at an old theme; and make them appreciate that, whether for good or ill, the relations between the Lion and the Eagle have been, and remain, a very ‘special relationship.’