Peter Sedgwick

America Over Britain


From Oxford Left, Michaelmas 1954, pp.4-9.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Peter Sedgwick, Balliol, is Secretary of the O.U. Communist Club and an Anglican Christian; he was co-editor of Oxford Left in Trinity 1954

LAST term 16.6 per cent of Oxford’s undergraduates decided that the world was menaced by the hydrogen bomb and signed a petition asking the Government to do something.

This term the world is still menaced by the hydrogen bomb. And particularly Britain is still menaced. There are in this country American servicemen and American atom bombs. Probably there are American hydrogen bombs. Quite possibly there is a stockpile of hydrogen bombs at a base a few miles from Oxford. If the United States drops hydrogen bombs on the U.S.S.R. or China, the Soviets will in self-protection drop some on the U.S. bases in Britain, perhaps near Oxford. This means that Britain, in Sir Winston Churchill’s phrase, is in the front line. And especially Oxford is in the front line.

We have the assurance that the United States will consult us before sending bombers from bases here; but this is not very heartening. Consultation between British and American politicians very often seems to result in the U.S. Government getting its own way. In any case, as part of the price of Marshall Aid, and at the insistence of Senator Vandenberg, the British Government was deprived of the right of consultation in the use of bases outside Britain (see Vandenberg Papers). If, for instance, nuclear weapons were launched by the United States from, say, Formosa, this could indirectly lead to retaliation on Britain in a consequent world war.

But there is worse. For besides the open declaration that in any future war the United States will use atom bombs first, we now have the announcement by Mr. Dulles of the principle of “massive and instant retaliation” in the event of “Communist aggression”. And it is clear from the remarks of Mr. Dulles and senior Washington officials at the time of Armas’ intervention in Guatemala (with U.S. pilots dropping U.S. napalm from U.S. P.47 bombers) that the State Department’s interpretation of “Communist aggression” is somewhat distorted. In this case, for example, the “Communism” of Guatemala consisted in its nationalisation of the United Fruit Company’s surplus lands, and its aggression in its being a mere 800 miles from the Panama Canal. This is McCarthyism extended to the sphere of foreign policy.

We have no guarantee that Mr. Dulles’s next interpretation of “Communist aggression” will not be equally perverse. We have no guarantee that Mr. Dulles will not then decide that the time has come for “massive and instant retaliation”.

After all, Dulles demonstrated the danger of “Communist aggression” in Guatemala by telling us that Arbenz had bought millions of dollars’ worth of arms from Eastern Europe. Many people believed him, and it took time, it took the pitiful defeat of the ill-equipped government forces to give the lie to that talk. But by then it was too late. On the eve of “massive and instant retaliation” we shall hear enough stories of Red plots and aggressions and atrocities to satisfy anybody who cares to believe them. Only this time none of us will survive to puzzle out the facts.

The hydrogen bomb no longer seems as dangerous as it did in those April and May days. There have been cultural, political, and sporting exchanges between East and West. Peaceful co-existence (that fine phrase of Lenin, Stalin and Malenkov now naturalised by Churchill) has been lauded in London and Moscow, in Delhi and Peking. Geneva has lost its pre-war function as a symbol of international bickering and impotence. Korea and Indo-China no longer make terrible headlines. Peace is beginning to break out.

But for none of these blessings can we thank Mr. Dulles or the U.S. Government. Not for Geneva; Dulles, having failed to extend the Indo-China war, did all he could to wreck Geneva. Nor for the improved political and cultural relations; the visits of Soviet dancers to Britain, of British musicians to the U.S.S.R., of Chou En-lai to India and of Mr. Attlee to China have sent the U.S. Press into hysterics. Nor for the recognition of peaceful co-existence; peaceful co-existence is now branded by a House committee as “a Communist myth”.

The bomb is still there. The U.S. Government’s policies have not changed. True, Eisenhower repudiates preventative war. Nevertheless Dulles and Radford, counsellors of nuclear “liberation”, remain in office; Chiang is given more arms and further guarantees, and a South-East Asian military alliance is pressed forward to the alarm of India, Burma, Ceylon and Indonesia, not to speak of China. True, Eisenhower calls upon the world churches to pray for peace. Yet, hours later, he tries to jolt France into ratifying West German rearmament. It is worth recalling here the words of the last Oxford Left:

“With the Washington-Bonn domination through E.D.C. West Germany could well start off a world war – dragging Europe with her. To rearm a divided Germany is to accept the inevitability of war ... It is to assume that German unity will only come through forcible reunification. It is to create a Korea in the heart of Europe.”

A Korea in the heart of Europe. In June 1950 they said there had been a Communist aggression. In October 1953, Rhee’s Ambassador to the United States told a television audience of millions that South Korea had started the war. You may not think this enough to prove Rhee’s aggression; I can produce more evidence, we can have a discussion. But it must be repeated: the next report of “Communist aggression”, be it in Germany or Asia, may inspire Dulles to “massive and instant retaliation”. We shall be able to have no discussion on that issue.

A U.S. Navy Department memorandum speaks of foreign air bases thus: “these bases may themselves be vulnerable to atom-bomb attack; but as long as they are there, they are not likely to be by-passed. In this respect the advanced base may be likened to the pawns in front of the king on a chess board; meagre though their power may be individually, so long as they exist and the king stays severely behind them, he is safe”. Britain the pawn to Washington’s king. Britain the “shock absorber”, Britain “the unsinkable aircraft-carrier”. That is how U.S. officialdom describes its allies.

Such expressions are indeed part and parcel of the general attitude of U.S. military strategy towards the “Atlantic Alliance”. Witness the words of Eisenhower in August 1951: “It takes a man and a gun to fight. The United States is providing the gun, Europe the man.” The ruling circles of the United States indeed provide the gun. And the bomb. And (if they are not stopped) the war. The rest of mankind supplies the lives. They call this mutual security.

The full story of the political capitulation to the U.S.A. will not be known until Whitehall’s post-war archives are laid open to the world; nevertheless some of the more serious cases of surrender are public knowledge. There was the curious conversion of Mr. Bevin, who declared in September 1950, before arriving at a New York conference, “German rearmament is unthinkable”, and who, on return from that conference, at once began to campaign for German rearmament. There was in 1950 the increase in Britain’s arms expenditure from an annual £880 million to a three-year programme of £3,600 million (subsequently £4,700 million) “in response”, as The Times put it, “to the American request”. There has been the persistent refusal to press for China’s admission to the United Nations. There has this year been our U.N. delegate’s vote on Guatemala’s appeal; and the case of Dr. Cort.

The Cort case merits a paragraph. Dr. Cort’s medical record (residual polio, residual T.B.) makes nonsense of the U.S. authorities’ claim that he was wanted in the Army. They were after Dr. Cort because he had been a Communist, because he had been “named” in a Congressional hearing as having been a Communist student. The Home Secretary said that there was no political persecution; that political refugees were only accepted if they came from Eastern Europe. Dr. Cort and his wife had to leave Britain. If they had not gone to Czechoslovakia they would have starved as outcasts in their homeland. This could happen to a man with a senior position in a British university. Nothing like it has ever happened before; and if we are not careful, it will only be the beginning. It will not be good if the state of academic freedom in British universities begins to resemble that in the United States.

These are a few examples of U.S. political bullying. There are other unpleasant things on the same plane which are not strictly political: the growing cultural penetration, for example, both on the scale of mass appeal, through Dulles-jingo films and Dulles-jingo comics, and in the more restricted circle of the intelligentsia (the “Congress for Cultural Freedom” and Encounter are only the thin end of a wedge being knocked in from across the Atlantic).

But it is necessary to go on and down into causes. All that has been said above is important, but it explains nothing. And it is only after explanation, only by understanding causes that we can hope to change the situation deeply.

It is clear that the British Government has not been compelled to give up national rights through sheer economic pressure from the United States. Sometimes there has been this pressure. But in other cases the rulers of Britain have displayed an extraordinary, almost masochistic zeal, to bow to the U.S. Government. For example, the enthusiasm with which the Labour Government agreed in 1948 to the stationing of B.29 bases here astounded the Americans themselves.

What is the compulsion which has driven two British Governments to make such appalling surrenders? After all, it is not as if Britain has always been subjected to the United States. Britain herself was once paramount in world politics, bullied other nations, had, and still has, a vast colonial Empire.

Think of that Empire. Read the articles in this issue on it. Multiply this degradation as many times as there are British colonies. Imagine the bitterness rising in the hearts of impoverished men all over the world. “We are great friends of the jolly old Empire”, said Herbert Morrison in 1946, “and are going to stick to it”. It is an expensive business, sticking to Empire, to a system which keeps men so low. There is huge Government overseas expenditure, mainly military. There is the need to export capital, for Empire is nourished by the export of capital. These are, in fact, the running expenses of Empire, and if at some time they cannot be met, say because there has been a war which sucked away the earnings from overseas investments, then it is necessary to borrow or beg; perhaps from another country whose capitalism has grown rich and fat from the war.

Between 1946 and 1951 the annual average of Britain’s overseas state expenditure came to about three-quarters of the average annual deficit in her overseas account. And every year a proportion of the productive effort to the value of far more than the remaining quarter was diverted to Empire capital investment. Thus the initial U.S. aid which filled the deficit was the price of Empire. The subsequent economic, military and political subordination of Britain was the price of successive British governments’ determination to suppress colonial revolt and arm against the Soviet Union and China (whose revolutionary liberation forms, from the standpoint of imperialism, a dangerous precedent).

The U.S. Government for its part has acted in no spirit of compassion towards Britain’s imperial crisis. Its aim has been to intensify Britain’s dollar-dependence. Thus it has constricted Britain’s trade outlets in the colonies and dominions, the U.S.S.R., Eastern Europe and China; it has revived German and Japanese competition; it has attacked sterling through the enforcement of devaluation and the demand for convertibility. Conversely it has aided the expansion of U.S. capitalism into traditionally British markets and spheres of investment. Anglo-Iranian has had to share its former monopoly of loot with U.S. oil companies. U.S. capital rules in Canada and Pakistan; and in large areas of the rest of the Empire the rate of American investment has long exceeded that of the British.

U.S. strategic expansion has been equally remarkable. Britain has been elbowed away from ANZUS; in Egypt, U.S. military aid has replaced British military occupation; Franco’s outcry for Gibraltar followed immediately upon the U.S.-Spanish Pact, and Nuri Said of Iraq, long the darling of the Foreign Office, calls for the removal of R.A.F. bases – while angling for entry into the U.S.-sponsored Turco-Pakistan Pact. The British jingoist anthem, “wider yet and wider shall thy bounds be set, God who made thee mighty make thee mightier yet” has become pointless as well as blasphemous.

It is hardly surprising that sections of Toryism and right-wing Labour now harbour a certain antagonism towards the policies of the U.S. Government. Sometimes these protests are futile, so much impotent froth, like the groans of the Suez rebels or the “chained crusader” imprint of the Daily Express. Such complaints result from reaction’s belated discovery that U.S. capitalism has not been running a benevolent foundation for the maintenance of British capitalism. Increasingly, however, the protests of the Right in many countries are becoming directed against the aggressive policies of Dulles and Radford. Here the initiative of Eden and Mendes-France, Attlee and Schmidt-Wittmack is warmly to be welcomed, springing as it does from a realisation of the necessity for peaceful co-existence. In our own university Conservatives with an independent attitude towards foreign policy have made, and will make, a valuable and specific contribution to the supreme cause of world peace.

On the other hand, the complete restoration of Britain’s national sovereignty involves a recognition of the factors which led to the loss of sovereignty. Since it is Empire which has brought us down, against Empire the blow for British independence must be struck. British and American imperialism are alike the enemies of the British people, as they are of the colonial people. And only a true and enduring alliance between British Labour and colonial movements can give the death-stroke to the forced and festering alliance of British and American reaction.

Marx repeatedly warned: “A nation which enslaves other nations forges its own chains”. Call it dialectics, or call it judgment: Britain the coloniser has herself become a colony. Surely we, living in a town the pavements of which echo to the tread of another nation’s troops, may know all the greater solidarity with the Cypriot and the Guianese, whose humiliation is now ours, whose triumph or defeat will be ours also; in a struggle where such triumph is ultimately the condition for survival, and extinction the consequence of such defeat.


Last updated on 5.12.2004