The Anatomy of Anglo-American Relations
Opening Address by Sir John Wheeler—Bennett, KCVO, CMG, Chairman of the Council of the Ditchley Foundation.
Mr. Minister, Mr. Provost, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen;
This is a very moving and a very memorable day.
It is not given to many of us to witness the realization of a dream but that in effect is what is taking place here this evening. It is the dream of Ditchley come true.
Some four or five years ago, Mr. David Wills conceived the wonderful idea of making this house — certainly one of the most beautiful in England — into an educational centre for the study of Anglo—American relations by the conference method. It was a dream, the realization of which might well have daunted lesser men, but Mr. Wills is not only an idealist, he is a man of action, of inspiration, of persuasion, of courage, and of immense generosity. By the exercise of all these attributes he secured the co—operation and support of a number of friends and the Ditchley project began to get under way. It was during these first days of the Project that Mr. Wills received invaluable assistance from Mr. Robin Darwin who infused into its nascent thinking much of his own vivid imagination and glowing enthusiasm. The first chairman of the Council of the Ditchley Foundation was Lord Monckton, who was succeeded by Sir Roger Makins. It was Sir Roger Makins who brought the Project through its early amorphous period, giving it shape and form, using his wisdom and. his experience to delineate its policy, setting upon it the stamp of reality.
I need not describe to you the grave difficulties which beset any man who has the temerity to follow such inspired leadership. But, since I have the honour to be Sir Roger’s immediate successor, it is my great pleasure to tell you what a delight it is to welcome you all here on behalf of the Council. For, by your coming to attend this, the first of our Ditchley Foundation Lectures — and some of you have travelled six thousand miles to be here to-night — you have given us the spur and the encouragement of your approbation. We are deeply grateful to you.
From the first, the Ditchley Project has received the warm and wholehearted support of the United States Embassy in this country. Mr Jock Witney was one of the first Governors and also a member of the Council, The present Ambassador, Mr. David Bruce has succeeded him in these capacities and has been unflagging in his help and. interest. We thank him most sincerely, and we deeply regret that business of state has prevented his being with us to-night. We do, however, warmly welcome the United States Minister, Mr. Lewis Jones, who has come in his stead.
In any Project of this nature, much depends upon the character and personality of the first Provost, I can assure you that a great deal of thought and care went into our choice and I have no hesitation in saying that in Mr. Harry Hodson we have a Provost entirely in consonance with the Ditchley Project, with its aims, and — if I may use the term — with its ethos. His record needs no embellishment from me. It speaks for itself it is known to you all. We are indeed fortunate in having secured a man of his stature and his distinction to fill this important office.
There is always the danger at functions such as this, of the Chairman making the Provost’s lecture for him! I hasten to assure both h and you that I have neither the wish, the intention, nor — let me quickly add — the capacity, to do this. Nor shall I dilate upon the Ditchley Programme, for this information is already in your hands. But this I feel I must say. The importance of what will be done at Ditchley over the coming months and years lies in the fact that never was there a moment in history when a close and indestructible understanding between Britain and America was more vitally necessary, more desperately needed than it is today. No less a thing than the peace of the world may depend upon it and even, perhaps the survival of mankind. Whatever, therefore, can be done to further that understanding, to promote co-operation between our two countries, is of the greatest consequence. It is our confident belief that in fulfilling the policy of the Ditchley Project we can make a valuable and significant contribution in this direction.
To-night, at the moment of our Inaugural Lecture, we have reached a point where we can take to ourselves the last message of the dying President Roosevelt to the American people: “Let us mo forward with strong and active faith”.
I have great pleasure in introducing to you the Provost of Ditchley who will speak on “The Anatomy of Anglo— American Relations”.
The Anatomy of Anglo-American Relations
H.V. Hodson, Provost of Ditchley, formerly Editor, The Sunday Times.
It is a proud honour that has fallen to me to deliver the first Ditchley Lecture and to inaugurate the operational programme of the Ditchley Foundation. It is also a happy chance that tonight the American President and the British Prime Minister are meeting in Washington for frank and friendly talks in an atmosphere which we hope is as kindly as that which we inspire at Ditchley.
We are here in the service of a great ideal which is also an urgent practical objective, the furtherance of friendship, under standing and alliance between the United States and Britain, and, with her, the other nations of the Commonwealth. Like the air we breathe or the pulses of our hearts, these relations we are apt to ignore until something goes wrong, the air is fouled or a cardiac spasm seizes us, when at once we realise how our life depends on them.
It is part of the doctrine on which the Ditchley enterprise is founded that we must not take good Anglo-American relations for granted. They need constant effort, care and refreshment. To help in that task, by means particularly of study and conference, is the duty laid upon us by our munificent founder, Mr. David Wills, and those who have worked with him in bringing his far-sighted project to fruition — among whom I include our loyal and hard-working staff.
Where better could this be attempted than in this noble house? Ditchley — this house or its predecessor — was for three and a half centuries the home of the Lees and their descendants the Lee-Dillons, a family with a distinguished American branch to which General Robert E. Lee belonged. In the possession of Mr. and Mrs. Ronald Tree, who between them were three quarters American, its hospitality was opened wide to American and British guests. Within these walls the policy of Lease-Lend was hammered out by Winston Churchill and Harry Hopkins. This historic inheritance is our present capital; the dividends of British-American goodwill that we seek to earn with it will themselves accumulate to form fresh capital for our descendants.
My subject tonight is The Anatomy of Anglo-American Relations. The task of the anatomist is to describe the bones and inner tissues of his subject, to show what it is and how its elements are related. He must not be squeamish, nor must he have preconceived ideas drawn from the surface of his subject or from an idealist view of its nature. He must be scientific, not sentimental.
It is in this spirit that I propose to consider the anatomy of that living creature, Anglo-American relations. No laboratory specimen, this, no cadaver for dissection. It is in live history that the political anatomist must find his main evidence, here fortunately not the mere detritus of the past, the historical nail-parings and hair-combings from which scholars sometimes labour to reconstruct an antique society, but vivid, voluminous and animated history, much of it within the memory of living men.
What an unlikely phenomenon that lusty creature, Anglo-American friendship, is! As unlikely, it might seem, as affection in nature between two different animals of the jungle—like Akela the wolf and Bagheera the panther, who leagued against the lame tiger Shere Khan for Mowgli’s sake. Perhaps we British and Americans always need a Mowgli to love, an ideal to worship, as well as a Shere Khan to fight, a tyrant to oppose.
The basic geo-political interests of the United States and Britain are, on the surface, far more contrasted than alike. The one country is more than half a continent, stretched from the Arctic region to the sub-tropics, with relatively weak neighbours on either of its long land frontiers, and great oceans barring it from other continents to East and West. The other is a mere island, on the edge of Europe, with at least two neighbours potentially stronger than itself within easy range of what we now call conventional weapons—almost as if they had become ceremonial implements like cavalry lances or a naval officer’s sword.
The one nation, with an enormous area and huge resources to exploit, spent most of its energies for a century and a half developing its own interior, where its expanding frontier has lain, while the other was compensating for its smallness, its loneliness and its lack of many natural resources by spreading an empire across the globe, an empire of two main parts, of native peoples brought under white man’s rule, and of new nations founded in the near-empty spaces of the temperate zones.
Yet these contrasted pre-occupations of Britain and America in the nineteenth century were themselves a large part of the reason why they remained at peace and on the whole friendly (apart from the war of 1812, which was admittedly a blunder on both sides), though Britain fought France and Germany and Russia, as well as countless colonial wars, and the United States fought Spain and Mexico, and subdued every obstacle save one to its Manifest Destiny “to overspread”, in the words of John Louis O’Sullivan, the coiner of the phrase, “the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions”. That exception was Canada, a dominion of the British Crown—and in the war of 1812 there were Americans who hoped “not only to add the Floridas to the South but the Canadas to the North of this empire”(1). Each nation was too busy with its own expansion, interior or exterior, to seek conflict with the other. Each found foes in third parties who stood in the way of its nineteenth-century explosion across the map.
The clearest mark of this complementary imperialism and common interest in keeping others out is to be seen in the Monroe Doctrine. It was an American President, James Monroe, who in 1823 warned European powers that the United States would oppose any who sought thereafter to plant or extend an empire in the Americas, a policy that went back to Jefferson and Clay; but it was a British Foreign Secretary, George Canning, who had given the starting impulse to Monroe’s démarche in his correspondence with Rush, the American Ambassador in London.
Strangely enough, perhaps the finest portrait of James Monroe, by Vanderlyn, hangs in an English country house less than ten miles from Ditchley; come there not be a collector’s purchase nor by any random bequest but by direct family inheritance. Such treasured emblems of blood connection seem to me specially valuable in the fabric of Anglo-American relations, and I hope they will not be gradually diminished by the appetite of museums and galleries or the passion for moving things to what some tidy-minded person decides is their proper historical resting-place.
For the United States the Monroe Doctrine meant, in effect, “Latin America is our sphere of influence: Keep out”. For Britain it meant “We who hold India, Singapore and the Cape will brook no rival sea power based on a new American empire”.
So Britain and the United States were complementary, not conflicting, in this dynamic and therefore dangerous period of history. Let us remember, however, in passing, us who have been brought up to regard war between our two nations as “unthinkable”, how thinkable it was right up to the twentieth century. Let us not forget the Maine boundary, and “Fifty- four-forty or fight”, or the narrow margin by which we escaped an open conflict during the American Civil War. More than interest saved the peace at such moments. Statesmanship played its part, based on a growth of common ideals and a sense of community, itself deep-rooted in common culture and personal connections.
When the period of great expansion ended, when the West was conquered and the British Empire was replete, then the old mutuality of interest was upset. Still fired with the Puritan and Protestant tradition, American opinion, once the Red Indians were subjugated, became anti-colonial, successively pro-Boer, pro-Indian, pro-African, and to that extent anti-British; and corresponding suspicion and distrust grew up on the British side. This conflict is manifestly still with us today, erupting over the Congo, over Central Africa and elsewhere.
In a recent American symposium on “The United States and the United Nations”(2) I find in more than one contribution a clear recognition of the present conflict over colonialism and the damage it can do to Western unity, combined with hope that the rapid self-liquidation of European empires, led by Britain, will soon liquidate that conflict also.
“The end of the colonial era in Africa,” writes Mr. Lincoln Bloomfield, “will not end the problems for Western diplomacy . . . But the sooner that day comes, the sooner the West, the United States and the United Nations will be relieved of what has been a truly crippling incubus.”