The reverberations from David Cameron’s recent spate of apparently off the cuff remarks in various foreign cities continue to rumble on. I wrote last week about his remarks in Turkey, which greatly gratified his Turkish hosts but probably not many here.
But the remark which I suspect he will take quite a long time to live down was made in Washington. I don’t know if President Obama was particularly gratified to be told by Mr Cameron that the UK was America’s “junior partner”. But what “Dave” said as well, remember, was that “We were the junior partner in 1940 when we were fighting the Nazis.” (incidentally, a Catholic connection will emerge in the course of this post, though admittedly a tenuous one).
The fact is that you only make that kind of “slip” (Downing Street’s lame excuse) if you have a very sketchy grasp of the historical period you are talking about. And the fact is that the “junior” nature of the relationship of Churchill and Roosevelt, though certainly it led to the achievement of the great overriding objective, the defeat of National Socialism, led also to at least one great historical disaster. It also involved Churchill himself (despite his sedulous courtship of Roosevelt) in some bitter humiliations, especially, though not uniquely, at Yalta, where (as you may read in Nikolai Tolstoy’s classic account, Victims of Yalta), Roosevelt handed over Easter Europe to Stalin’s tender mercies, entirely ignoring Churchill’s opinions on the matter.
This is usually excused on the ground that Roosevelt was ill: the fact is, however that throughout the war, he demonstrated ignorance and arrogance towards his allies. He refused to acknowledge De Gaulle or the Free French (at once stage he actually forbad Churchill to allow De Gaulle to broadcast to France) and tried to hand over North Africa to the control of the Pétainist Admiral Darlan and then the Pétainist General Giraud even after Pétain had met Hitler and publicly agreed actively to collaborate with his war aims.
Roosevelt wanted to treat France after the war as an occupied country under American tutelage. He had the mad as well as arrogant idea of carving off a slice of North Eastern France and uniting it with Belgium to form a new country called Wallonia. He refused to involve the Free French in the Normandy landings, or even allow De Gaulle to be told about them until the last minute. This and many other humiliations of this great man are detailed in Jonathan Fenby’s brilliant new biography The General: Charles De Gaulle and the France he saved. (My excuse for saying so much about this here is that De Gaulle was a staunch Catholic who, for instance, after his famous triumphal walk down the Champs Elysées during the liberation of Paris went straight to Notre Dame, still under sniper fire, for a Mass of Thanksgiving).
However, as the General would no doubt have said, revenons a nos moutons. The fact is that Americans (and many Americans have said it to me) can be remarkably ignorant of and insensitive towards the world beyond their borders. I am not anti-American: I have always loved America and have addressed audiences in over half the states of the Union. But we would do well in future to treat this great nation as a friend but not necessarily a partner. There has been of late too much subservience. And the first thing Dave should do is to tear up the existing grossly unequal extradition treaty (under which our people can be subjected to their unjust judicial system for crimes allegedly committed here). That’s for starters. I’m sure many of you will have other suggestions.