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British Anti-Americanism

Page 4 of 14

Anti-Americanism clearly lives on in the strong opposition to the war with Iraq that was found in certain quarters in the UK. However British anti-Americanism, however, is not confined to opposition to US foreign policy. The American historian Richard Hofstadter famously stated that, ‘It has been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies, but to be one.’7 The United States inception and its history mean that the USA is not just another nation, and that attitudes towards it have as much today with the ideological standpoint of the person holding these views than with any specific US actions. There is also a popular anti-Americanism still surviving the UK, the type of comments one might hear casually expressed in a pub or on the train. These three anti-Americanisms – the popular, the foreign policy and the ideological – must be examined in turn.

Before doing this, it is worth asking how widespread such anti-American attitudes are in the UK? The circumstantial evidence is that they have a substantial constituency. Michael Moore, the left-wing American polemicist-comic whose films and books exhibit popular, foreign policy and ideological anti-Americanism in abundance, has had great success in the UK. His pro-gun control, anti-American capitalism film Bowling for Columbine was a surprise box office success, something unheard of for a polemic. His book excoriating US corporations and George W. Bush Stupid White Men has sold over 600,000 copies in the UK, competing with Dr Atkins New Diet Revolution in terms of sales figures and only comprehensively beaten by J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.

For a more scientific analysis of British attitudes towards America, the authoritative Pew Global Attitudes Project gives a good insight. This project, which is chaired by Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, conducts polls across nations to find out, amongst much else, the foreign image of the United States. Its survey of June 2003 found that 70% of people in the UK have a favourable image of the USA, and 80% had a favourable image of Americans as people.8 For comparison, these figures are considerably higher than those for Germany or France, where in June 2003 only 45% and 43% respectively had a favourable view of the USA, and 67% and 58% respectively had a favourable view of Americans. During the immediate lead up to the Iraq conflict in March 2003 these figures had plummeted in all three countries. Only 48% in the UK had a positive image of the USA then, although this was still higher than figures for that point in Germany and France where they were only 25% and 31% respectively. What is interesting is that in the UK, the image of the US improved rapidly after the Iraq war to almost the levels before its lead up. In 1999/2000 83%, and in Summer 2002 75%, of people in the UK had a positive view of the USA. These figures clearly show that in the UK, outside of exceptional circumstances such as the lead up to the Iraq war, a large majority of the population have friendly attitudes towards the United States. Only a minority, albeit a fairly significant one - somewhere between 20% and 30%, hold an anti-American outlook. This is a much lower figure than that for those exhibiting similar attitudes in, to give but one example, France. Even among those in the UK who do hold anti-American nostrums, there is a reticence to blame this on America in general. 59% of those who had a problem with the USA in 2003 said it was mostly with George W. Bush, 31% said it was America in general and 8% said it was both. This gives a figure for hard-core anti-Americans in the UK, i.e. those that admit that they have a problem with the USA per se, at around 10% of the population - still a significant, assiduous number of people but distinctly a minority taste.

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