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Old Glory is not a Swastika
Last uploaded : Thursday 27th Feb 2014 at 12:12
Contributed by : Carol Gould




In February my American broadcasting colleague Charlie Wolf suggested to al Jazeera Television that I be invited to participate at the Oxford Union in a live-audience discussion of the wars
in Afghanistan and Iraq. The host of the event was Mehdi Hasan and the protagonist was General Sir Mike Jackson, former Chief of Staff of the British military.

Seated next to me was an elderly Englishwoman who seemed very agitated and who claimed to be a 'special guest.' The vast majority of participants crowded into the legendary Oxford Union chamber consisted of young Muslim men and women. Prior to the broadcast the woman next to me, hearing my American accent, immediately launched into the obligatory tirade about the ‘war crimes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.’ I explained to her that my late mother and aunt, who were at the time in the United States Army, had told me years later that military forces were being trained for the land invasion of Japan. In that context I reminded her that at that time the Allies’ sense of revenge was palpable considering the cruelty inflicted upon American, Australian and British POWs as well as the appalling treatment of the people of the Philippines. Had the bombs not been dropped, a land war could have lasted for thirty years. The guest glared at me.

What I thought was going to be a civilised discussion of the merits -- or none - of the Coalition’s invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq descended into an aggressive, protracted attack by Hasan on Sir Mike. I kept wanting to jump in and shout at him to stop discrediting this eminent military leader. Hasan kept shouting at the General that the military is rife with war criminals and that thousands of innocent people had been killed in the name of America and Britain. This went on for about forty-five minutes.

Sir Mike kept his dignity but physically shrank into the chair, protesting from time to time that he did not appreciate Hasan’s line of questioning and did not like being interrupted with accusations when he barely had time to respond.

At one point Sir Mike said that he had seen many a brave young man volunteer to come to the defence of the nation and then lose his life in battle to which Hasan quipped ‘Well I wouldn’t do that!’ which prompted me to mutter ‘Traitor!’ I believe from my research that he is actually British-born. Were Britain to come under threat and war to ensue would Hasan not be obliged to support his country ?

I raised the issue of dealing with a part of the world bereft of an Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. Sir Mike eloquently explained that it was hard enough just dealing with tribal leaders and complex factions within Sunni-Shia-Kurd-Taliban infrastructures.

After the event I thought it was typical of the generosity of spirit and dignity of a man like Jackson to go outside and field questions from a large group of rather unruly young men. Worrying about his personal safety I was relieved and rather touched that one of the young lads offered him a light for his much-needed cigarette and that they left him in peace.

Programme participants were ushered up to a private reception where I was confronted by yet another elderly Englishwoman, this one claiming to be from CND. (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament tell me there was no representative at the broadcast or reception so one has to assume she was an imposter.)

She told me she and her husband had been sickened by the spectacle of their son being ‘made to recite the Pledge of Allegiance’ at his school when they were based in the USA for two years. She claimed he was penalised for refusing to do this. She was horrified when I told her a small anecdote: ten years ago at the Lincoln Dinner in London my South African companion was moved to see the one hundred American guests crying as we recited, with hand on heart, the Pledge of Allegiance before dinner. This woman said ‘But that is so awful!’ It is the first step to Nazism !’

Things got worse. She said she thought the American flag was akin to a swastika inasmuch as it is used to display fervent patriotism. She said the obsessive use of flags by Americans was ‘one step short of approaching a Third Reich mindset.’ She went on to complain with alacrity about the ubiquity of the Stars and Stripes so I went over to my coat and whipped out my Stars and Stripes keyholder and coin purse. The look on her face was one of sheer disgust. A Turkish woman came over to us and said Turks love displaying their flag at home and when abroad but this did not placate the Old Glory-hater.

It was a disturbing and unsettling evening which made me feel that nothing much has changed since my book ‘Don’t Tread on me -- anti-Americanism Abroad’ was published some five years ago.

My flat in London is chock-a-block with Americana, one a framed image if my immigrant grandfather Harry Gold proudly holding a flag in 1905. Nobody is going to tell me this is some form of Naziism. Nor am I going to accuse football fans of Nazism when they chant ‘ENG -A -LUND !’ waving giant flags. I do recall a British friend telling me his village wanted to put Union Jacks outside during the Queen’s Jubilee but the council warned there would be a £1,000 fine. They decided to ‘do as the Americans do’ and put the Union Jacks outside. No penalties ensued. That is how it should be. God Bless the red, white and blue -- British and American -- and long may it wave!

Carol Gould is the author of ‘Spitfire Girls’ and ‘Don’t Tread on me -anti-Americanism Abroad,’ of articles in The Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Jewish Chronicle and has appeared on many radio and television debates.

Editors' Note:

The woman next to me claimed to be a ‘special guest’ from CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament UK;) but CND has since categorically told me they sent no-one to the event. They have said the same about the woman at the reception.
Carol Gould has written for the Guardian, the Jewish Chronicle and The Daily Telegraph; she is the author of ‘Spitfire Girls’ and ‘Don’t Tread on Me --anti-Americanism Abroad’ and has appeared on BBC ‘Any Questions?’ and many other UK broadcasts.


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