Tag Archives: patriotism

I don’t know why I love Britain. But don’t call me an Anglophile.

anglophile

The most frequent question I’m posed, bar none, is “why Britain?” I get asked by British acquaintances who don’t understand why I love their country so much, and I get asked by Americans who can’t understand why I don’t love ours more. Britain’s broken, so I’m told, and who would want to leave the sunny states? They have a queen, I’m reminded, and bad teeth and even worse food. (Hey, I never said Americans were kind, or fair, or informed.)

Of course, I recognise the problems facing Britain. And of course I see great things in America. I’ve written about both. But the fact is I could never work for the CIA because I’m on record as saying “she is my Queen, and I’d gladly die for her.” More than once. On the same 4th of July.

To those of my friends stateside, this is my defining quirk. I’m the man who draped himself in the St George’s cross when England faced the USA in the 2010 World Cup. In university, I gave a speech defending the position of the Crown and decrying the Declaration of Independence as a treasonous document. I couldn’t sing past the second verse of “America, the Beautiful,” but by God I’ll sing through my sobs when “I Vow to Thee, My Country” plays.

For me, which country that is has always been clear. I can offer, at random, a litany of things I admire about the Brits-fair play, sturdy resolve, Jack Wills. But I have no explanation or understanding of how I developed a fascination with the UK as a child, or when that grew into a passion which has long since evolved into a full-blown obsession. Moving to Britain is, frankly, the only thing I care about, and I can’t even tell you why.

I’m not alone. There are countless Americans who, like myself, love the history, the culture and the landscapes of the British isles. We watch British telly, listen to British music, and read British books. We’re called Anglophiles, and we’re aplenty.

I’ve always found that term problematic, though, and have never felt it aptly described me. To begin with, it’s hopelessly restrictive. Anglo means English, but it leaves out the rest of the United Kingdom, which I love with just as much ferocity (except during the Six Nations Championship). And it’s not a pretty word. Anglophile. Ang-lo-file. It sounds like a tool my granddad would use to whittle away at a statue of Charles Townshend. The abstract noun, Anglophilia, is even worse, suggesting we somehow get our jollies from a phone box or Nigel Farage.

Yet many Anglophiles do fetishise the UK. Having read Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters as children, they fell in love with yesteryear. They see cobblestone streets and high tea and bowler hats. Don’t get me wrong, these are lovely aspects of British life, but they all emphasise the myth of Merry England, a utopian fantasy that never existed.

For the vast majority of them, their love stops there. They don’t recognise that the country gentry in Emma wouldn’t have associated with their sort, even if they did talk to Harriet. They don’t see that the class stratification presented in Downton Abbey is still very much a live and quite visible at the Lord Mayor’s banquet. They’ve never heard of Enoch Powell or Nick Griffin. To them, Stephen Lawrence is an adorable child star, not a murdered teen.

They long for a stereotype or a fiction, and while that means they fail to see the bad, it also means that they erase the reality of the millions of workaday Britons. Its these people whom I most admire, and whom enrich my love for their country.

This is why I’ve always shirked the label. Britain isn’t a fairytale, and British people don’t all live happily ever after. Sure, it’s glamorous; nobody does pomp and circumstance better than the Brits. But it’s also gritty and grimy, complex and diverse. Its history is proud, and I believe its future is bright, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been moral failings, and that there aren’t any now. As the advert for the BBC 2 comedy says, Hebburn is a place on earth. Heaven, however, isn’t.

Still, I am unseemly patriotic, especially considering my only claim to “Britishness” is a smattering of ancestors buried in the United States before there was a United States. I’ve dedicated my life to writing about Britain, extolling its strengths and promise while critiquing its shortcomings. I do this because I love that country, because I want to see it prosper and grow. I do it because I want, more than anything, to contribute to its success. It’s why I get up in the morning, and it’s what I dream of at night.

I certainly don’t expect anyone else to understand when I myself am at a loss. But if I were forced to give an answer, to reach into the deepest part of my soul and tell you why I love Britain, I imagine that answer would be simple and clichéd.

Why Britain? Because it’s great.

Advertisements

Has America forgotten to remember Remembrance Day?

Saturday night I had my friend Melinda over, along with her friend Jenny, in town from Sydney. Jenny noticed the portrait of Her Majesty, a commemorative token of the Diamond Jubilee, hanging in my apartment, complete with the flags of the Commonwealth countries. We got to talking about the ties that bind not just the Commonwealth, but the Anglosphere-our common language, common law, and common struggle against fascism in the 20th century. At one point, talking about Remembrance Sunday, Jenny asked that she be reminded to set an alarm so that she could observe a minute of silence for the ANZAC forces. It passed without a beat, but it left me something to mull, and raised Jenny very highly in my own estimation.

11 November is commemorated around the globe as a day of remembrance and reflection, of honoring the sacrifices of those who fought and fight for the freedom of humanity. It’s the official end of the First World War, which was thought and hoped to be “the war to end all wars.” History tells us it was, sadly, but the precursor to Europe’s darkest days and Britain’s finest hour. I’m always touched by the sombre, dignified memorials throughout the UK and Commonwealth, the tens of thousands of people who turn out at war memorials around Britain, regular folks who every year remind the world of the struggles for freedom, lest we forget.

I won’t say that we Americans forget, but the horrors of the World Wars are certainly not as vivid in our national memory. Not to reduce this to cultural tropes, but it’s always struck me that the normally reserved Brits offer more public displays of mourning than my compatriots. After all, we routinely wear our hearts on our sleeves and our flag on our lapels. Its not uncommon to walk up to a stranger in

Prime Minister David Cameron laying a wreath at the Cenotaph. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd for Getty Images)

Prime Minister David Cameron laying a wreath at the Cenotaph. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd for Getty Images)

uniform and thank her for her service or to buy a drink for the soldier at the bar. We sing the national anthem before every sporting event, pledge allegiance to the flag before the start of every school day, and unlike when the typical Brit sings “God Save the Queen,” when an American says “God bless America,” we mean it quite literally. So you’d think we’d have a more collective tradition of honouring our veterans.

Sure, the President routinely lays a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery. But if you Google “Veterans’ Day Commemorations in Chicago,” you don’t turn up much of anything. Some museum exhibitions, a brunch at a zoo, but nothing on par with the solemn pomp in Britain. You’ll see no crowds at war memorials, you’ll hear few bells tolling at the 11th hour, and for the most part, people go on about their lives with little to no regard for what happened 95 years ago today.

That we don’t really remember may explain why a nation so willingly swaddled in its own flag doesn’t make more of an effort. It could be that America didn’t experience the horrors of having its own cities obliterated. Maybe it’s not the physical scars at all, but the psychological scars of a nation that was quite literally fighting for its very survival that keeps the horrors fresh in the British consciousness. Or perhaps it’s simply that the scars of the World Wars have healed over, but that the memories of Vietnam and Iraq are still open wounds.

It’s likely all of the above, but I think it’s something more visceral, too, something intrinsic to the American character. If you take a look at Facebook, you’ll see thousands of status’ honouring American service personnel, often tagging the soldiers in our own lives, thanking them for their service. And that’s not all so surprising. Americans are famed for that stubbornly individualistic streak, and

President Barack Obama laying a wreath at the Tom of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo by Mark Wilson for Getty Images)

President Barack Obama laying a wreath at the Tom of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo by Mark Wilson for Getty Images)

perhaps that manifests itself most poignantly on this day. In so many ways, this is more fitting for the US. The poignancy of the British commemorations is that a nation so often shy of indulging in its own nationalism, for one day of the year, recognizes the valor of its soldiers and the sacrifices they made. As America shamelessly exploits its military to stoke patriotic fervor, what makes the British commemorations so powerful would make American commemorations feel trite, redundant, or disingenuous.

Besides, it’s not Remembrance Day here. It’s Veterans Day. The name itself invokes a sense of the soldier in the singular as opposed to a collective struggle. America, though fond of jingoistic displays, on this day takes a more reserved approach. We don’t remember as a group, but as individuals, paying modest tribute to our own loved ones. We don’t thank them all. But all of us thank them.

Land of Hopeless Tories? Why Peter Hitchens is Wrong About Britain

If you asked me at the tender age of seven what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered “British.” My love affair with your country began as a child, seeing the great houses of the countryside, the gritty streets of Walford on “EastEnders,” and the middle-class pretensions of Hyacinth Bucket. It grew as I did, introducing me to music via the Spice Girls, sport through David Beckham, and the grand ancient trappings of monarchy with Princess Diana’s funeral. When my father finally caved and our family went online, the first thing I did was go into a chat room and pretend to be British in order to talk to British people. Using the screenname “LondonLad,” I told people I was a 13 year old bloke living “near Parliament.”

It wasn’t until some years later that I realised how obvious a fraud I had been, but even now I chuckle happily at the thought. I wanted so badly to be British, even if only in some concocted fantasy played out in my mind. I would go on to study British history at a small American university, voraciously consuming anything written by Dicey, Pepys, or Churchill. When I finally visited for the first time, in 2007, I wept. I cried again when once more I left this past August. There is nowhere on this earth I’d rather live, nothing more I long to be.

This is all more saccharine than a Yorkie, I know. Of course, Britain is a country with many problems, some of them quite serious, all of them urgent. Unemployment, whilst having decreased, is holding rather steady at 7.7%-and is considerably higher for young people. The expenses scandal, Plebgate, the 2011 riots, Falkirk and the sheer need for the Leveson Inquiry all play well into the old Tory mantra of “Broken Britain.” I can only assume that this is the reason why, on last night’s Question Time, Peter Hitchens encouraged young Britons to emigrate. The message? “Anywhere’s better than here, mates.”

My blood boiled when I saw him quoted on my Twitter feed. For a man who routinely argues the hardline nationalist, Eurosceptic point of view, I was aghast to find out that he had such an abysmal view of his own country. You see, I’ve spent the better part of my adult life dreaming of ways into the United Kingdom. And along comes Hitchens, telling my British counterparts that they should give it all up, throw in the towel, and get out before it’s too damn late. The system is irreparable. The country’s in shambles. All is lost. Britain’s going down like the Titanic, and Hitchens is simply the orchestra playing you a fond farewell. Get off if you can; Hitchens, it seems, is himself resigned to going down with the ship.

From my point of view, across the pond, things are hardly that dire though. Britain isn’t the Titanic. Britain is more like the Trident programme-strong, proud, perhaps slightly past its prime in terms of infrastructure but nothing a little investment can’t rapidly improve. It is a nation with a proud history of liberty stretching back nearly a thousand years. Britain is a country that values fair play, that is pragmatic but compassionate, sensible yet idealistic. It is a nation constantly evolving in thought, striving to be fairer, to be kinder, to be better. A nation of witty banter, of overly polite commuters, of nosy but helpful neighbours who may peep across the garden hedges but will pop round in a pinch. Britain is a country that drinks Pimms in the summer, lager in the winter, and gin year round. It is a nation of industrious, ingenious people, who cracked the double helix and invented modern computing. It gave the world democracy, Shakespeare, and all five members of One Direction. It is a land that welcomes immigrants from around the globe, that adopted an Indian dish as its national supper, that in a generation went from Section 28 to celebrating a gay proposal at the Speaker’s house.

This is remarkable progress. And it’s progress I long to be a part of. I am sorry if Peter Hitchens thinks that his country is somewhat lacking, but I happen to think it’s quite fantastic. I can understand his concerns, but what I cannot accept is his attitude. It does no good to sit and bitch about everything that’s going wrong. If you’re not part of the solution, they say, you’re part of the problem. Peter Hithchens is most certainly part of this problem. Encouraging young people to flee the country not only creates a brain drain, but it is utterly insulting to the millions of Britons who are working to make their country better—like Brooke Kinsella, who since her brother was senselessly murdered in 2008, has been a tireless campaigner against knife crime, or Barnsley police sergeant Darren Taylor, who dashed into an unsupported mineshaft to save a suicidal man. In one snide, sardonic comment, Hitchens insulted the millions of Britons quietly working towards making Britain greater yet.

Of course Britain is facing hard times. So are we all. In case Hitchens hasn’t been paying attention, America isn’t exactly a stellar place to be either. Our government can’t even get a basic website to work, and one of our leading conservative figures wants us to celebrate Easter like Jesus did. Well, before I’m crucified and stabbed by a Roman, I’d like to live a little. And if I have my way, I’ll be living British. Being born American was a blessing, no doubt, but it was also a curse, in my case. My heart longs for Blighty, and if Peter Hitchens has such a dour outlook on its future, I will gladly swap him passports.