Uncovered: American duplicity that finally explodes the myth of a 'Special Relationship': How US discussed 'blasting the hell' out of UK forces in the Suez Crisis... and other shameful betrayals of our historic alliance
- Peter Hitchens investigates 'special relationship' between the US and UK
- 'Nobody in Washington has ever heard of it,' says Hitchens
- The US were considering attacking UK forces to stop Suez attack
- Both John F Kennedy and Gerald Ford were against the US entering WWII
- The US offered Polaris missiles to France before it offered them to us
Britain and the USA have come far closer to open armed combat with each other in modern times than most people realise. In many ways, this was the biggest war in modern history that never happened.
Tired of being told about a ‘special relationship’ that didn’t seem to me to exist – and which nobody in Washington has ever heard of – I decided to look into what really went on between our two countries.
And I found plenty of things which will shock anyone used to the standard ‘shoulder to shoulder’ sentimental view of the links between London and Washington.
Not so special: Tired of being told about a 'special relationship' between the US and the UK that didn¿t seem to exist, Peter Htchens decided to look into what really went on between our two countries
And, as I researched the subject for a BBC Radio 4 programme, I came across a rare and long- hidden sound archive that will, I think, surprise all who listen to it.
In the silence of a library at America’s Princeton University, the ancient tape-recording begins to play, and the gruff voice of Admiral Arleigh Burke speaks from beyond the grave.
The librarian and I are the first people to have listened to it since it was made in January 1966.
Burke, one of the US Navy’s greatest fighting sailors, is recalling a conversation with John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State. Dulles has just wondered out loud if there is any way to stop Britain’s Fleet from launching its attack on Suez in 1956.
Admiral Burke describes his reply: ‘And I said, “Mr Secretary, there is only one way to stop them. We can stop them. But we will blast the hell out of them.” ’
Naval chief: Admiral Arleigh Burke America's Chief of Naval Operations talks to Prince Philip at the premiere of the film Yangtse Incident in London in 1957
‘He [Dulles] said, “Can’t you stop them some other way?”
‘I said, “No, if we’re going to threaten, if we’re going to turn on them, then you’ve got to be ready to shoot. I can’t give these people orders to do something. They can’t do it in the first place – no matter who gives them orders – to demand and then get laughed at. The only way you can stop them is to shoot. And we can do that. We can defeat them – the British and the French and the Egyptians and the Israelis – the whole goddam works of them we can knock off, if you want. But that’s the only way to do it.” ’
He then sent orders to the admiral in charge of the US Sixth Fleet, Cat Brown. ‘I gave him orders to go to sea, to be prepared for anything, to have his bombs up, to be checked out, so that we would be ready to fight either another naval force or against land targets, and to make sure of all his targeting data – a little cautionary dispatch – but it ended up to be prepared for any war eventuality.’
‘Cat Brown sent back, “Who’s the enemy?”
‘And I sent back, “Don’t take any guff from anybody.” ’
History records (though few know) that America’s Sixth Fleet duly stalked our ships, fouling our sonar and radar, and shining their searchlights at French and British ships by night.
Admiral Sir Robin Durnford-Slater, second-in-command of Britain’s Mediterranean Fleet, complained to his superiors: ‘We have already twice intercepted US aircraft and there is constant danger of an incident. Have been continually menaced during past eight hours by US aircraft approaching low down as close as 4,000 yards and on two occasions flying over ships.’
General Sir Charles Keightley, commander of Middle East land forces, wrote afterwards: ‘It was the action of the US which really defeated us in attaining our object.’ He complained that the movements of the US Sixth Fleet ‘endangered the whole of our relations with that country’.
Washington, in the end, pulled the plug on our Suez invasion by threatening a run on the Pound Sterling. But the naval clashes are barely known to the British or American public.
There is a wry footnote to this. Burke himself was honoured by having an entire class of destroyers named after him. And one of these – the USS Winston S Churchill – flies the British White Ensign alongside the Stars and Stripes, and usually carries a Royal Navy officer on her bridge.
We are so used to seeing those two flags flying side by side, that we forget they have not always done so.
The USA’s national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, actually describes a British bombardment of Baltimore in 1813, and a less-frequently sung verse uses the words ‘their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution’. To refer to us, the British invader.
Ancient history? Not really. Tough rivalry has been at the core of our relationship from the start. Border disputes about Canada and clashes in the Caribbean troubled both sides. After we built a commerce raider for the Confederates during the Civil War, the victorious North was so furious it demanded the whole of Canada as recompense – eventually settling for the equivalent of several billion pounds.
No help from JFK: John F Kennedy supported the America First movement, which campaigned for the US to stay out of World War II
In the years after the First World War, Britain was forced by a series of treaties to accept that the US Navy was catching up in size, power and global reach. In many ways the low point came in the 1930s. Many Americans, and most US politicians, mistrusted and disliked Britain as snobbish, untrustworthy and colonialist. They thought we had misled them into joining the First World War.
They were also angry that we had defaulted on our war debts. If we wanted to fight another European war, they said, we would have to pay for it ourselves – and they were not joining in. This was not – as now portrayed – the view of a minority of pro-German Nazi sympathisers in the isolationist Mid-West.
In fact, it began among liberal-minded college students at Yale. Two future presidents – John F Kennedy and Gerald Ford – were supporters of the America First movement, which campaigned for the US to stay out and leave us to stew in our own juice. Another supporter was Yale president Kingman Brewster, who later became American ambassador to London.
Oddly enough, Americans know this – it is all described in a powerful book by Lynne Olson, titled Those Angry Days, which was on US bestseller lists for months, but is unknown here. Not as unknown, though, as the secret drama which resulted from America’s cold indifference to Britain’s solitary plight in 1939 and 1940.
This episode is left out of all major histories. It concerns the transfer of the British Empire’s entire life savings to North America, in a series of secret and frantic convoys.
The money was not just payment for war supplies. In the end, this huge handover of wealth, in gold and securities, was first used to get round Congressional rules forbidding us to buy war material on credit. The first ultra-secret shipment of gold actually went in the warships which accompanied George VI and Queen Elizabeth on their tour of Canada and the USA a few months before war broke out.
Later, increasingly heavy payments, most of which are still in vaults in Fort Knox, were used to persuade a bitter and unsentimental US Congress that Britain was so broke that if Congress did not support Lend-Lease (under which the US supplied Allied nations with defence materials), Hitler would win and they would face an untamed Germany across the Atlantic.
Semi-secret records, uncovered in the 1970s by the veteran journalist Alfred Draper, record the rapidly increasing tonnage of gold, usually carried by heavily armoured warships in small, fast convoys, being hurried to the USA via Canada.
We may never know how much went to the USA – at least £500,000,000 at 1940 prices, an immense sum by any calculation of today’s values. But by handing it to the USA we completely altered the balance of wealth between the old world and the new, for ever.
One particularly bitter incident caused Churchill to rage privately that America was acting like a bailiff seizing the goods of a bankrupt. Britain was brusquely ordered by Franklin Roosevelt to hand over all the gold we had gathered in South Africa. The American cruiser Louisville was dispatched to collect it, carefully floodlighting her neutral flag as she made her way across the South Atlantic.
British businesses in the USA, including the very profitable American Viscose, were sold off at knock-down prices. Churchill described these actions as ‘harsh and painful’, and wrote later: ‘I had a feeling that these steps were taken to emphasise the hardship of our position and raise feeling against the Opponents of Lend-Lease.’
But at the time British diplomats in Washington had to use all their skill to persuade the premier to tear up a letter of great bitterness and reproach which he wanted to send to the President.
Canadian-born Lord Beaverbrook, then Minister of Aircraft Production and Churchill’s close friend, wrote to the Prime Minister: ‘They [the Americans] have conceded nothing. They have exacted payment to the uttermost for all they have done for us. They have taken our bases without valuable consideration. They have been given our secrets and offered us a thoroughly inadequate service in return.’ All this was the background to the moving meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt at Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, in August 1941.
The BBC was able to find very rare sound archives of sailors from both American and British Navies, singing the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers as part of a joint service held on the decks of mighty warships from both nations.
But the seeming unity was a fake. Churchill once again was frustrated and disappointed by the meeting. The ‘Atlantic Charter’ that resulted threatened Britain’s Empire and its Naval dominance, and the USA still would not join the war. In the end, in one of modern history’s most awkward and unexpected facts, it would be Hitler who declared war on the USA, not the other way round.
This bleak unsentimentality was not accidental or isolated. It continued throughout the war and beyond. The Bretton Woods conference in 1944 made it clear the USA would usurp Britain’s economic dominance once the war was over.
Britain’s John Maynard Keynes fought hard to save something from the wreck but the USA’s negotiator, Harry Dexter White, is now known to have been a secret Soviet agent who had no interest in helping Britain recover her former glory.
The interesting question is whether White would have behaved any less brutally if he hadn’t been working for Stalin as well as Roosevelt.
The USA accepted our vital help with developing the atom bomb, then abruptly shut us out of its own post-war nuclear secrets, claiming it could not find a co-operation agreement made by Roosevelt and Churchill.
And so it continued, through Suez, to the present day, obscured by modern nuclear and espionage co-operation which is far more one-sided and less generous than it looks – few realise that the USA offered Polaris missiles to France before it offered them to us.
And how much control do we really have over our modern Trident missiles. Are they even ours?
For me, the great revelation came one afternoon in Washington, back in 1994, when I took a phone call from a White House West Wing aide. She’d heard that I was worried about Bill Clinton’s policy of laundering Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein.
President Clinton had given him a visa to visit the USA, and so handed him the respectability to move into mainstream politics, which he has exploited ever since.
The aide said that surely I recognised that America had the right to intervene in other countries to make peace as in …Yugoslavia.
I tried hard not to swear. Did she really think, I asked coldly, that Britain, the USA’s greatest friend and oldest ally, was in the same category of countries as Yugoslavia?
In the long, embarrassed silence that followed, I realised that the answer was ‘Yes’.
I have never since heard the words’ Special Relationship’ without laughing.
The Special Relationship: Uncovered, is on Radio 4 at 8pm, on Monday, June 23.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2657873/Uncovered-American-duplicity-finally-explodes-myth-Special-Relationship-How-US-discussed-blasting-hell-UK-forces-Suez-Crisis-shameful-betrayals-historic-alliance.html#ixzz36hC4k9gg
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