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British Anti-Americanism

Page 6 of 14

The Germans have not fared better in their portrayal by the British. The German as a figure of ridicule has until the 1990s been a mainstay of British television comedy. Popular images of Germany understandably often still remain tied up with the Nazis and their crimes nearly 60 years after the end of the war. Nicholas Ridley, who served as Trade & Industry minister under Margaret Thatcher, had to resign from the cabinet in 1990 when he compared German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s supposed economic ambitions and his support for European federalism with the Nazi’s invasion of most of Europe. Such sentiments can still be detected from time to time in some of Britain’s mass circulation newspapers.

British apprehension of Germany and its ambitions, of course, predates the Third Reich. In an aesthetic sense, perhaps the finest statement of British anti-German sentiment comes from the start of the 1st World War in the opening lines of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, For all we have and are.

For all we have and are,
For all our children’s fate,
Stand up and take the war.
The Hun is at the gate!

These examples go to show that the popular, mass expression of anti-Americanism in the UK should not be seen in isolation. British anti-French and anti-German sentiment may be more rational than anti-Americanism, since both those countries have at various times been much more of a threat to Britain than the United States has ever been. If considered in relation to British antipathies towards other nations, its anti-Americanism comes across as a much milder, less serious phenomenon than it would if it were taken outside of this context. Even the wider phenomenon should not be taken entirely seriously. A society made up of immigrants, such as the United States, cannot afford to be too disparaging of other nations in order to maintain its own internal coherence. Furthermore, due to its size and relative geographical isolation the United States has for much of its history been much more insulated from foreign nations. Britain has, however, to some extent defined itself through the semi-jocular disparagement of others, of ‘foreigners’. This is of course not to say that Britain has not been able to welcome and successfully integrate successive waves of newcomers into its society. Nor has it in general meant that such attitudes have affected how the Americans, the French, or the Germans as individuals have generally been treated in the UK.

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