Monday, November 19, 2007

The Churchill Series – Nov. 19, 2007

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

I said I'd post today concerning anti-British feeling in America.

I’ll start with something that might have happened to one of you or to someone you know.

Somewhere in England during WW II a large contingent of American troops are standing at attention as England’s King George VI inspects them. Every so often His Majesty stops in front of a soldier, tells him to stand at ease and asks a few questions.

The questions are always simple ones meant to put the soldier further at ease and spread good will among his buddies who’ll later hear all about what the King said to the Private.

The King would often ask where the soldier was from. If he heard, “Chicago, Your Majesty,” he'd typically smile and respond: “I believe my father used to help one of your mayors win elections.”

The soldier knew what the King meant. Chicago’s Prohibition-era Mayor, William “Big Bill” Thompson, was legendary for promising voters of Irish and German extraction that if the King of England ever came to Chicago, Thompson wouldn’t welcome him but instead would “punch him in the nose,” a "pledge" which always drew loud cheers.

Thompson’s “campaign promise” is a reminder that for much of our history, anti-British sentiment was a fact of life in America.

Anti-British feeling was so strong throughout the 19th and well into the 20th century, that politicians in trouble with voters often resorted to “twisting the lion’s tail.” Almost anything would do, as Mayor Thompson knew.

World War II changed that so completely that many Americans today don’t know there was intense anti-British sentiment here even after Hitler had invaded the West and everyone who cared to know knew what the Nazis were like.

Throughout his career Churchill struggled to counter the anti feeling that many British and American people had for each other. That he did so is a mark of his greatness.


Insufficiently Sensitive said...

Roosevelt and Truman still spent plenty of energy 'twisting the lion's tail' at the end of WWII, helping to force an abrupt end to the British Empire and quite possibly contributing to the millions of deaths and chaos in governance that occurred in its former colonies.