The Lion and the Eagle: The Interaction of the British and American Empires, 1783-1972 – Book Review

March 23, 2021

The Lion and the Eagle: The Interaction of the British and American Empires, 1783-1972 by Kathleen Burk. (Photo: Book Cover)

By Jim Miles

(The Lion and the Eagle – The Interaction of the British and American Empires 1783-1972.  Kathleen Burk.  Bloomsbury, London/New York, 2018)

The 200-year historical span of Kathleen Burk’s “The Lion and the Eagle” shows the changes in the interactions between the newly formed United States and its imperial drive and the ongoing imperial drive of the British. In general, the former overtook the latter with the United States momentarily being the single superpower, but still with strong ties to Britain and the remnants of empire and the Commonwealth. Along the way, there were agreements and disagreements as well as many commonalities that pervaded both empires.

North America’s Dividing Line – The US-Canada Border

The first two chapters cover the not-so-well-known minor conflict between Britain and the US over the border between Canada and the US as they spread across the continent. The only actual war, although there were other skirmishes – including one in which the only casualty was a pig – was the war of 1812 which ended with both sides able to claim some kind of victory.

Apart from these descriptions the overriding theme became that of both countries not really wanting to go to war with each other in spite of political rhetoric. Britain was preoccupied with France and other European countries all striving for a ‘balance’ in Europe from which to control all the different colonial enterprises overseas.  The United States remained financially tied to Britain through various loans and debts, while the US navy for much of the time could not match the power of the British navy’s ability to blockade their former colony.

By the time the border was fully resolved (1903) the power differential between the two empires had shifted.  The U.S had settled many of its internal problems, and its navy grew to a strong enough position to negate any possible British threat. Throughout most of this time, while technically independent, “the US was a developing country, an economic and financial colony of Britain.”  The US industrial production grew significantly but Britain “did maintain its overwhelming supreme position…in finance.”  The pound sterling was the world’s “only reserve currency and the City of London was the world’s financial center.”

A discussion that was not developed was the manner in which both empires looked at the ‘new world’ and how they treated the indigenous people and the resources of the land.  For all the talk of freedom and independence, control of the land and the people, and power and money ruled the empires. This becomes much more evident in Burk’s discussion concerning China and Japan.

Empirical parallels

The histories of the “opening” of China and Japan are – or should be – relatively well known.  What stands out in Burk’s discussion, much of it extracted from original journals and government records is the arrogance and self-aggrandizement of both empires in their self-righteous roles to control the resources and people of the world.   Underneath it all lies the largest factor – racism.

From the Chinese perspective, “Any relationship between the Celestial Empire and a foreign country must be as one between supreme ruler and vassal…the uncultured barbarian would recognize the superiority of Chinese civilization…by bringing tribute and taking part in full Court ritual” – kowtowing.  The British of course refused to kowtow and expected to be treated as an equal and indeed saw itself as the superior power.

“The Chinese saw Western Ocean barbarians as warlike and dangerous and the British as the most dangerous of all. The Emperor warned…that ‘England is stronger and fiercer than the other countries in the Western Ocean. Since things have not gone according to their wishes, it may cause them to stir up trouble.’”

As for British cultural superiority, the first British ambassador, Viscount Macartney, after presenting British presents to the Emperor, “was taken from the pavilion to pavilion and realized just how relatively unimpressive were the objects that he had brought from Britain.”

Burk’s discussion develops the history through the opium wars, the intrusions of the other European powers, and more importantly for this work, shows how the US adventures in China more or less rode along on the coat-tails of the other empires, in particular the British.

Japan was different in many aspects, but the same racial arrogance from both empires becomes obvious, and the use of military power – at least the threat of using it – is one of the main bargaining points of  US diplomacy.  Japan was a unified country but at the time of initial US interventions, a power struggle was developing between the Emperor and the Shogunate.  At this point, the US “remained an economic colony of Britain”  and used mainly threats to coerce the Japanese into accepting trade relations.

The British in Japan showed the same arrogance towards the Japanese as they did the Chinese and their actions “were largely conditioned by Britons’ experience in China…assuming there were few differences between Asian countries,” and that “Japan had no right to prevent other countries from sharing its riches.”  At the initial stages the US “had substantial economic interests in China, not least in the opium trade, but relatively little diplomatic or military influence,” and was “running behind the British.”   British negotiations with Japan came mostly as military threats.

The Japanese were in a different position than China, and between the two factions, the one that succeeded to power wished to acquire “scientific and engineering knowledge” in order to push out the barbarians after they had mastered the technology.

Empires Reversed…

The last chapter covers a large span from 1897 to 1972.  During that period two World Wars and several financial crises affected the relationship.  World War II was the final turning point as one of the US’ goals was “significant control over international finance.”  The Bretton Woods agreement which essentially established this formally is only mentioned in regards to the financial havoc created by the US’ Vietnam War. The Suez Crisis and the Israeli attack on its Arab neighbors combined with the financial demise of the British pound, brought the US empire to full dominance militarily and financially. The US became the prime supporter of the colonial-settler state of Israel militarily and financially, while Britain remained as a military empire in its own right with 145 bases around the world to complement those of the US.

…Current Events

In her very short epilogue “Envoi”, Burk ends on a confusing note.  She talks briefly about the US empire of bases and then mentions the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Her next statement, her next to the last statement, reads, “As long as these countries can be protected without becoming protectorates, this American power will be welcomed, or at least tolerated.”  By the rules of grammatical sequencing, this refers to Afghanistan and Iraq, making the statement a rather sad wilfully ignorant ending as there is no way the US’ presence in either of these two countries is either welcomed or tolerated.

If it is an improper grammatical reference to 130 countries with military bases then its sentiment remains highly arguable.  The many countries with bases (which do include Afghanistan and Iraq) may have governments accepting US bribes, graft, and financial manipulation, but it is not likely the everyday citizen is as accepting of the US presence.

…And Beyond

That small point aside – and it is the only point in the book that I question marked – both empires have moved on.  The US is no longer the sole superpower, although it remains the most powerful military and financial empire. It uses both its military power (mostly – covertly and overtly) and financial power – sanctions mainly – vis a vis its control of the “Washington consensus” institutions (the IMF, World Bank, BIS, SWIFT, et al).

Britain remains within the US thrall, supporting the arrogance and imperial lies that sustain domestic support during the election cycles.  As a part of NATO, as a member of the “Five Eyes”, with veto power on the Security Council at the UN, and maintaining a recently renewed arsenal of 260 nuclear weapons, Britain is no slouch.

Concomitant with that is the residual power of the “City”, the London financial district.  The LIBOR, the London Interbank Offered Rate still powers much of the world’s financial interactions. Established much more recently, the LBMA, the London Bullion Market Association, comprises the largest gold and silver markets in the world. It would be unusual if these two organizations do not liaise with their US counterparts to maintain control of the current global financial position in which the US $ is now the world reserve currency.

Also important financially are the other polar elements of world power, China and Russia.  Both have mainly extricated themselves from direct US currency manipulations (it’s not all that easy) and both have accumulated large amounts of the “barbarous relic” – gold – which many of the world’s central banks are also accumulating or repatriating from New York and London.

With Brexit, with the COVID crisis, and with the US ‘recovering’ from four years of an overtly racist government, the entanglements between the two empires will continue with that racism and general arrogant outlook towards the rest of the world.  Kathleen Burk’s “The Lion and the Eagle” is an excellent history covering the events and attitudes of the politicians involved with this ongoing duet.

– Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles.  His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government.

The Assassin’s Creed: Murder As Israeli State Policy

By Jeremy Salt

Source

“If our dreams for Zionism are not to end in the smoke of assassins’ pistols and our labor for its future to produce only a new set of gangsters worthy of Nazi Germany, many like myself will have to reconsider the position we have maintained for so long in the past.” — Winston Churchill, November, 1944, from his address to the House of Commons on the murder of Britain’s Resident Minister in the Middle East, Lord Moyne, by two members of the zionist terrrorist organization, Lehi. [1]
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh Terror df757

Israel’s crimes against Iran in the past decade include the sabotage through the Stuxnet virus of the centrifuges in its nuclear development program,  the killing through missile attack of its militia members in Syria, the sabotage of its Natanz nuclear plant in July this year and the murder in recent years of five of its leading nuclear scientists,  most recently, a few days ago, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Each of these attacks would have been carried out at least with the approval of the US government, if not the active involvement at some level of both the US and its puppet Iranian terrorist organization, the MEK (Mujahedin e-Khalq). In reverse,  Israel would have been closely involved in the US assassination of  Qasim Suleimani in Iraq in January this year.  These murders might be state operations but are no different in their brazen nature,  their illegality and their brutality from hits organised by Mafia gangs.  In the case of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh,  a distinguished physicist,  he was apparently dragged from his car during the attack and finished off in the middle of the road.  The crime was so heinous that even voices usually hostile to Iran (including the New York Times and former CIA director John Brennan) were appalled.

Each of these attacks is a casus belli for war. Two can play at this game, which means that by these attacks, Israel is virtually inviting the assassination of its own political leaders and military commanders, or its senior representatives abroad. That Iran does not strike back, in the same way, is not necessarily a sign that it does not have the capacity to organise such retaliation.  Apart from the criminality and violations of international law that such actions represent,  Iran is never going to strike back at a time of Israel’s choosing.

Nevertheless, the government is under pressure from its own people to deal a devastating counter-blow, not necessarily against individuals but against Israeli infrastructure such as the port at Haifa.  Each of these provocations pushes Iran closer to the edge, as intended by Israel.  The repeated refusal of the government to respond is being criticised in Iran as a sign of weakness,  as the more Israel gets away with the more it will try to get away with. At the same time, even though Israel is responsible, an Iranian reprisal would trigger off a large-scale military response by Israel and full-scale war that no one in their right mind would want. It is a further sign of the moral void at their centre that Netanyahu and many of the fanatics around him do want such a war and are prepared to drop bombs on live nuclear reactors to achieve their aims

The general view seems to be that Israel did this so Biden would not be able to sign back on to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement from which Trump withdrew the US in 2018. That may be so, but Netanyahu might have calculated that this latest savagery would be the final spark igniting the war he has wanted for years.  Either of these outcomes would suit him.

There are always parallels in history and for Israel’s attempts to provoke an open war with Iran, one parallel would be Israel’s attempts to draw Egypt’s President Gamal Abd al Nasser into war in 1967.  This was no ‘preemptive’ war but another war of choice.  1948 was the first, because only through war could the zionists seize  Palestine, at least most of it.  1967 was the second,  launched to destroy Egypt’s armed forces, to destroy Nasser’s Arab world leadership, and to occupy the rest of Palestine. 

It was strikingly successful. All Palestine ended up under occupation and the Egyptian military was shattered.  Nasir’s pan Arab leadership was not destroyed but gravely weakened by Egypt’s failure to see the war coming and defend itself.

Just as Israel has been trying to draw Iran into the open through the assassination of its scientists and the sabotage of its nuclear plants,  so in the year before the 1967 war it set out to draw Nasser into the open through provocations along the Syrian armistice line.  These took the form of incursions by armored tractors into the DMZ, triggering off shelling by the Syrian army and then air attacks by Israel.  

Although Israel was determined to destroy any Arab nationalist government and to destroy Arab nationalism itself, the main target of these provocations was Nasser.  He was the foremost Arab champion and Israel wanted him where it could get at him.  It knew that sooner or he would have to respond to its provocations on the Syrian front by taking action on the Egyptian front.

When Israel shot down six Syrian planes in April 1967, the ball started to roll.  Israeli politicians talked of going further than ever before, of teaching Syria a lesson, and even of invading Syria and occupying Damascus, 15 years ahead of its invasion of Lebanon and occupation of Beirut. 

By the second week of May, war was regarded as inevitable.  Nasser moved troops and tanks into Sinai and called for the withdrawal of the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) from the armistice line.  Although Israel was the aggressor in the 1956  war, UNEF forces were inside Egypt because Israel refused to accept them on its side of the armistice line, and as usual, it got its way. 

On May 22 Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran, the entrance point to the Gulf of Aqaba, but without actually blocking them to Israeli shipping.  Under pressure,  however,  to stand up to the Israelis,  he had moved the final piece on the board that set the stage for war. 

Israel repeated the rhetoric of 1948.  İt was again being threatened with extermination and annihilation at the hands of an Arab ‘ring of steel.’ In fact,  it knew, and so did the CIA, that it would easily defeat any Arab army or combination of Arab armies.  Behind the panic deliberately set in motion among the Israeli population,  the generals could not wait to get going.   They vowed to be on the banks of the Suez Canal within a week. This was an opportunity  – one they had created – that Israel could not afford to miss. The military would deliver a knockout blow: according to Yigal Allon, “There is not the slightest doubt about the outcome of this war and each of its stages.”

And so it turned out to be.  On the Arab side, there is not the slightest doubt that Nasser did not want war. His threats were those of the Arab champion and his intended audience the Arab world,  but behind the scenes, he was looking for a way out of the crisis into which he had been maneuvered. An Egyptian delegation led by  Vice-President Zakaria Muhi Al-Din was due to fly into Washington on June 7 for talks to begin the following day on bringing the crisis to an end. On June 5, with the window of the opportunity for war about to close,  Israel attacked.

There is symmetry in all of these wars. Israel plays the role of the victim even while preparing to attack.  In 1948 Chaim Weizmann talked of extermination while assuring the Americans behind the scenes that the Arab armies counted for nothing. Israel’s arrogance was checked in the first week of the 1973 war, with humiliation at the hands of Hizbullah waiting in 2000 and 2006.  Yet if there is a learning curve Israel does not see it, an example of what long ago US Senator J. William Fulbright called the “arrogance of power.”

Israel applies the same tactics at the micro as well as the macro level.  On the West Bank and Gaza, it murders and massacres, and when there is a Palestinian response it has its rationale for more crushing blows.  On the West Bank, this usually takes the form of enlarging settlements or building new ones. 

From the Zionist point of view, this has been a good year.  Following the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel by the UAE and Bahrain, the UAE has gone as far as blocking entry visas to the citizens of a dozen Muslim countries while allowing Israelis visa-free entry.  Talks in Saudi Arabia between Netanyahu and Muhammad bin Salman – apparently arranged without the knowledge of the king – open the way to the establishment of diplomatic relations, although for the time being this is not expected.  MBS can give Israel most of what it wants without needing to come into the open, and as the nominal custodian of the two holy places such a move would enrage Muslims around the world,  with explosive consequences possible at the time of the hajj.

Israel’s strategic advances also include the commercial,  military, and strategic relationship it is establishing in the eastern Mediterranean with Greece and the Greek government of southern Cyprus, which has already allowed Israeli military units to train on the island because of the similarity of the topography to southern Lebanon. Successfully playing off fears of Iran in the Gulf,  Israel plays off Greek rivalry with Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean.  

Able to attack from the very centre of the central Arab lands – occupied Palestine – Israel is now steadily moving into a position that will eventually enable it to threaten Arab states and Iran from the periphery, from the gulf in the southwest and from the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean.  It has pushed these doors open and on the basis of all its past behavior, it will keep pushing until it gets what it wants.

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh has antecedents dating back to the barrel bomb murders in Palestinian markets in the 1930s, the assassination of Lord Moyne in Cairo on November 6,  1944,  the blowing up of the King David Hotel in 1946, the assassination of Count Folke Bernadotte in 1948  and the massacres and destruction that have marked the zionist presence in the Middle East ever since.  Whether the enemy is a state, an organization, or an individual,  the enemy must be destroyed.   The standing refusal of the international ‘community’ to punish Israel for any of these crimes only encourages the zionist state to go still further.

Speaking to the House of Commons after the murder of Lord Moyne, Churchill, a strong advocate of Zionism all along,  remarked that “If there to be any hope of a peaceful and successful future for Zionism  these wicked activities must cease and those responsible for  them must be destroyed root and branch.” [2] These wicked activities have never ceased, those responsible for them have never been destroyed root and branch, the smoke of the assassins’ pistols now hangs over an entire region and Zionism has produced generations of criminals fully worthy of Nazi Germany.    

No state can endlessly endure Israel’s provocations. Iran and Hizbullah are playing the long game, compared to Netanyahu’s greed for instant satisfaction but at some point, there will be a limit to what they can endure and then there will be war,  possibly if not probably the most devastating in the modern history of the Middle East.  What will the international ‘community’ say then? It will be far too late to regret that it should have done something to stop Israel earlier.

Endnotes

[1] Catrina Stewart ‘Sir Winston Churchill: Zionist hero,’ Independent, November 3, 2012[2] ‘Palestine (Terrorist Activities) in the House of Commons at 12am on 17th November, 1944.’ theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=1944-11-17a.2242.1  For more on Commons debate on the murder of Lord Moyne,  see also api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1944/nov/07/assassination-of-lord-moyne#S5CV0404PO_19441107_HOC_294  Churchill assured the House that the Zionists had lost a good friend in Lord Moyne.  According to Yitzhak Shamir, however, one of the architects of the murder, and a terrorist who later became an Israeli Prime Minister (like Menahim  Begin), Moyne was an anti-semite who did not believe in a Jewish nation or a Jewish people.  See Joanna Seidel ‘Yitzhak Shamir: why we killed Lord Moyne,’ Times of Israel, July 5, 2012. 

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