It is eighteen months since the eminent British novelist Margaret Drabble wrote an article in The Daily Telegraph entitled “I Loathe America and what it has done to the rest of the world” (8 May 2003 edition). If you think the title is scary enough, the text of her piece is even worse.
And yes, it has been eighteen months, but with anti-Americanism skyrocketing around the globe in the midst of the terror war, it would appear ever so urgent to dissect the ingredients of this pathology.
My focus, meanwhile, is on the Hate-America illness in my own country. And at the moment, Margaret Drabble symbolizes it perfectly well.
Now, let me explain a few things: technically, Margaret is a fellow Brit and fellow novelist. I, too, am a published hardback fiction writer and I am also a British citizen. I have lived the vast majority of my lifetime in England and feel culturally close to the island race and to our national traditions such as the Glorious Twelfth, the appearance of the new Beaujolais, the onset of the cricket season, Wimbledon, and Bonfire Night.
So, it may seem odd to the reader that Margaret’s article provided the impetus for my alarm at the direction in which British society is going, and a vague feeling that I might wish to live elsewhere. After all, in two World Wars, Americans sacrificed their lives to rescue Europe from its seemingly interminable internecine wars. But, of course, Drabble doesn’t remember such sacrifices.
What so enraged me about the article was the novelist’s condemnation of things American: she detests “Coca Cola; burgers; Disneyfication; sentimental and violent Hollywood movies that tell lies about history.” She not only hates all these hallmarks of American culture; her hatred takes on truly titanic proportions: “my anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable…it has possessed me like a disease…rises up in my throat like acid reflux, that fashionable American sickness...I now loathe the United States.”
You may ask, what does it matter what an angry British lady thinks about the USA? The trouble is that people like me, who are proud citizens of Great Britain but who still have American accents, are at the receiving end of this vitriol to such an extent these days that it has made business and social life almost impossible to conduct. And this anti-American venom started before Bush the younger. I remember being at the receiving end of a stream of abuse about ‘American genocides and cultural destruction of the world’ from a crowd of people at a human rights conference in St John’s Wood when Bill Clinton was still in office.
The irony of it all is that Drabble is indeed in the grip of a sickness; her anti-Americanism doesn’t even have any rationale. She goes into a paroxysm of rage about the custom of putting a cartoon character and nickname on the side of fighter and bomber aircraft as if this is an atrocity curious to Americans. Having written about the women transport pilots of World War II but being too young to have lived in that era, I was astonished that Drabble, who is considerably senior to me, did not know that pilots have put such images on their aircraft since the very first men took to the air in World War I.
She refers to an unfortunate report on CNN that had suggested that the people of Vietnam are speaking “the language of Shakespeare” as “this squalid piece of revisionism.” I would like to remind Margaret Drabble that the two most reviled revisionists of the past fifty years, the Dowager Lady Birdwood and David Irving, were not Americans but our fellow Britons.
Drabble goes through the usual laundry list of atrocities committed in the name of American democracy as if Great Britain had exercised model behavior through our many centuries of bloody history. Does she remember the atrocious massacre at Amritsar overseen by our very own British Gen Dyer? Does she know that the very first Blood Libel against the Jews occurred in England? That the first expulsion of Jews in European history – to last shamefully until the time of Cromwell – and the York massacre, happened in gentle Merrie Olde?
Drabble brings up the issues of Guantanamo and of capital punishment in the United States. She adds that the British Army is better trained than the Yanks. (This is another mantra we USA-born expatriates are sick of hearing: the words ‘yellow,’ cowards’ and ‘incompetent’ are used by countless friends on the London dinner circuit to describe American GIs. If these fighting men are so useless, why are Brits not speaking Japanese or German?)
And her absurd list of grievances continues as she laments that the world has stopped noticing when suicide bombers are referred to as “cowards.” What would you like to call them, Miss Drabble? Heroic Jew-and-Yank-killers? Brave martyrs confronting the worldwide Zionist scourge?
At the end of her 2003 diatribe, Drabble is generous enough to acknowledge that there is “another America” – not the one she says is consumed by “American imperialism; American infantilism and American triumphal about victories it didn’t even win.”
Now that I have spent some time in the United States – not having visited for nearly eleven years – I can say to Margaret Drabble that wherever I have gone, from a remote Vermont village to rural Virginia to central Washington or Manhattan, I have met only thoughtful and articulate people with generous hearts and an extraordinary amount of unconditional love for Britain.
That is where I take issue with Margaret Drabble and with the long stream of people who for the past few years have felt it necessary to rant at me about the horrible country that spawned me: what right do Brits have spewing forth endless streams of bile about the United States of America? Where did most of our original settlers spring from? Where did instruments of torture and the stocks – not to mention the gallows – enjoy widespread use as recently as the nineteenth century? Where did slavery flourish? Except for Winston Churchill, when in recent European history have men as remarkable as Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton emerge and come together to inspire the rest of the world as they did at the 1776 Miracle in Philadelphia, my hometown? When has the United States spawned a Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot?
Drabble concludes that she “hates feeling this hatred.” What on earth would make anyone feel hatred towards the charming, generous and gentle ‘folks’ I have met across the eleven states I have visited? Yes, there are millions who hate the Bush administration. But I have a serious problem with my fellow Britons, who over the past few years have been filling newspaper columns and my own private breathing space with voluminous lists of ‘hatreds’ towards the USA.
Drabble refers to the Orwellian imagery of “a boot stamping on a human face.” Yes, this happened at Abu Ghraib and is shameful. But to have “almost uncontrollable” loathing of Americans is uncharitable and frankly insulting to Britain’s greatest and most energetic ally.
If there is one virtue in Margaret Drabble’s “I Loathe America” column, it is the fact that she inspired me to make the effort to journey across the ocean to find these loathsome, beer-guzzling, violent and vulgar Americans baying for the blood of the rest of the world’s peoples. What I have found instead are immaculate cities; hard-working people of all races and creeds who rise with the sun and uncomplainingly get just two weeks holiday the whole year. These are people who stay cheerful from dawn to dusk and will man a call centre in the wee hours with enthusiasm and ability. Incidentally, since being in the USA I have not had to spell my name and address four times running when contacting a call centre, as I have got so used to doing when ringing a British call centre. Where are these dumb Yanks, then? Wherever I have ventured in Washington, Philadelphia and New York I have encountered staggeringly forthcoming citizens who, seeing me hobbling on a stick, even at the height of the rush hour will bend over backwards to help me out. These are people who love family, gather for prayer on Sundays (Jews on Saturdays) and who celebrate Thanksgiving whatever their ethnic heritage.
Since being in the USA, I have had to get used to being called ‘Ma’am’ and addressing men in authority as ‘Sir.’ Thank you and ‘I apologize’ are de rigueur, and I have yet to be on the receiving end of the obscene road rage and abuse to which I have become resigned in central London.
I was once informed at a very posh dinner party in London that it is “such a pity America has no culture.” Well, I cry every night that I am unable to find the time to attend the stunning plethora of cultural events in Washington, Philly, Boston or New York.
Two weeks ago an elderly neighbor in London stopped me on our road in St John’s Wood to inform me that “your country” (he meant the USA even though people in my street know I am a British citizen) “is by far the most appalling influence on every aspect of the world.” I told him that I had just been to the United States for the first time in nearly eleven years and that I would give a black eye to anyone who criticized Americans. He turned puce and said “I am terribly sorry, but there isn’t anything about the United States that is to be admired. Wherever we go we are swamped by it and it is a horrifying thing to witness.” I could not change his view and refrained from giving him a black eye.
Drabble and her stock are indeed suffering from a dangerous disease, but this illness is of their own creation and has nothing to do with the greatness of the America I found, filled with fine and worthy people whose ancestors and recently-arrived families have built a magnificent and bustling universe that envelops visitors with its warmth and bounty.
When “loathsome” Americans buy your books, Miss Drabble, do you send the royalties back? I doubt it.
God Bless America. And in the words of the colonial flag, ‘Don’t tread on me.’