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When Englishmen abandon their Country, and RAF men dare to go out in uniform...
Last uploaded : Tuesday 4th Mar 2008 at 14:10
Contributed by : Carol Gould



4 March 2008

[Editor's Note: I wrote this article a few days before a remarkable row erupted in Britain: a Commanding Officer at an RAF Base has asked the pilots nto to wear uniforms when in town. This has caused a storm and inspired a wave of discussion on how badly British serviemen and women are treated by some of the citizenry. Dare I say Current Viewpoint was clairvoyant? See below.]

Whilst deployed in Afghanistan Prince Harry told the British media that he ‘does not like England much.’ Every Englishman has a right to complain about his homeland, and Harry’s bespoke excuse is the ‘shite’ ( his word) that is dispensed by the press whenever he so much as wiggles a toe. This is a valid grievance, but then again if he will don a Nazi uniform to attend a fancy dress party -- even if it was a charity fundraiser for a good cause -- and if he will spend nights imbibing with Hooray Henrys at Boujis nightclub, he must expect the tabloid consequences. I have to admit to being moved watching his activities in Helmand Province, one of the most dangerous regions of the perilous empire of the warlords.

For one brief shining moment I was proud of him and felt he had redeemed himself as something other than a directionless, hedonistic royal clubber.

Notwithstanding my ample and often passionate criticism of the state of British society in my columns, it was disappointing that Prince Harry, who is a representative of the British royal family and of England, should mutter ‘I don’t like England much;’ I am an American looking in from the outside and worry about the decline of British values. However, Harry is the future envoy of this country and as such should remain loyal.
I wracked my brain to think of any American celebrity or son of a President who would say, whilst in army uniform, ‘I don’t like the States much.’ As New Culture Forum points out in its 4 March leader editorial, there are several native-born America-haters in the public eye, but honestly, I cannot imagine even the dreaded Jane saying ‘I don’t like America much.’ Gore Vidal, who has spent the past decade denigrating American foreign policy, nevertheless settled back in the U S of A and seemed almost misty-eyed about his country in a recent CNN interview.

Lastnight I had a rather testy conversation with a London friend whom I have known for thirty-two years. She has never been to the United States but ‘loathes’ American accents and has missed hundreds of great films in her long lifetime because ‘the very sound of an American accent makes my skin crawl.’ (I guess I sound less American than the ones she loathes.) I told her that I had adored every moment of my six visits to the United States in the past five years and that five British friends have now kissed goodbye to their children for what will be eternity because all five fell in love with America and, like Prince Harry, ‘don’t like England much.’ She was horrified, not because they did not like England but because they love America. She was even more horrified that I was planning to return to the United States, saying she could not imagine anyone giving up London for ‘that place.‘ I sat down and thought hard about this: in all the years I have been abroad I have never, ever had a negative thought about my own country. In fact after an eleven year gap I returned to Philadelphia to find it had become an exploding mecca of culture and was full of gracious and ebullient natives, young and old.

I find the German and Japanese colleagues I encounter in the broadcasting industry have a deep love for their respective countries despite their appalling wartime legacies; for that matter could anyone reading this article imagine a high-profile Frenchman or Italian telling the press he does not like his country much?

All five of the young British emigres to the United States have told me how much they admire the fierce patriotism of Americans, be they left-wing Democrats or right-wing Republicans. They love the infectious enthusiasm of Americans for their national observances, from Martin Luther King Day to July Fourth to Thanksgiving. They love the fact that Americans adore new arrivals from these islands and treat each new English immigrant like royalty.

I tried getting my head around this and even trying to understand Harry‘s dislike of England: perhaps Harry does perceive a grim, nasty, anti-patriotic, multiculturally turbulent, church-loathing and carping social milieu into which he has been thrust. Indeed, the disgraceful hatred of the military and of Christian clergy that seems to have crept into British society like a communicable disease is enough to make me want to emigrate. When PD James was interviewed two years ago by Melvyn Bragg for ‘The South Bank Show’ she said her childhood was marked by three simple things: respect for the police, the church and the Royal Family.

Whilst queuing last summer I met an RAF officer at Wendover railway station, next to RAF Halton. He was in uniform and I did my American thing : ‘Oh, how wonderful to meet a serviceman! You go ahead of me.’ He was nonplussed and for a moment looked tearful as he said how much he envied American servicemen, who can walk anywhere in the States and be greeted with such warmth. He said he needed to get back to his car where his fretting mother was waiting; I was incredulous when he explained that she feared for his safety when he went out and about in uniform. (This was understandable during the long years of the IRA but nowadays this hatred is manifested by crowds of white yobbos and by young Muslim extremists.)

The five young British people I mentioned above who have now settled in the United States, all born to parents who grew up during Rationing and who gave them decent home lives, have one thing in common: they seem to hold a grudge against the United Kingdom. One was at the receiving end of endless sarcasm and verbal abuse whilst at art school in London; when she finally received admission to a school in Chicago ( they loved her portfolio and awarded her a three-year scholarship, a kind of Fulbright for art) she went to Illinois and has told her parents she will never return to London. Number two is a talented charity fundraiser who was sent to Washington to lobby for AIDS research funding. He went with dread to the USA with a deeply ingrained suspicion of Americans drawn from his peers. He has now been firmly ensconced there for five years, counts as his friends the great and the good of the Beltway; he will not be coming home. Number three works for the World Bank in Washington and will never come home. I saw him on a flying visit in January and he said he loved America because his feelings of self-worth had blossomed amongst even the most ordinary people. He said the cleaner at his office made him feel able to face the long day, whilst when in England he saw sullen, surly people who seem to hate being alive.

Number four had a miserable time growing up because of his severe dyslexia. At fifteen he could barely read or write and his parents, though of limited means, could not bear the idea of his ending up pasting watch faces in a factory or cleaning the streets. They worked tirelessly to find and pay for a place at an American school in New England. He fell in love with Maine, came alive, started reading and writing after a rigorous year in the special school and is now working for a newspaper in Boston and will be interning for a senator in Washington during his summer vacation. I saw him in December when he was visiting his parents in my London mews, and he said he adored my country and would never be coming back. His mother had that look that only mothers get when they know they have lost a child to an ocean’s length and breadth, but she has resigned herself that he must stay in a place that has transformed him.

Number five is a gifted and witty boy who was repeatedly beaten up at one of England’s finest schools because the lads discovered he was half-Jewish. Eventually his single mother sent him to California and he has since worked with Hanks, Spielberg, Zeta Jones and the rest. None of this has gone to his head and when he visits England he becomes the bullied lad, not keen to venture out in London. But when he is back in LA he is a different person. How could he want to stay here when of late Jewish men are hounded out of football stands with chants of ‘Turn on the gas?’

So, what does this all mean? I would have liked these talented and outgoing young people to have stayed in Great Britain. There are an estimated one million expatriate Briton living in the United States. There are so many that ‘Union Jack’ newspaper has had to open new regional offices across America. When England won the Ashes in 2005 I leaned over to a middle-aged British couple in a trattoria in Washington and told them I had just heard the news. The husband said, ‘We are not interested in anything about home. We left ten years ago, love this country and will soon be citizens. ‘ I found this sad and depressing.

Prince Harry has his own reasons for disliking ‘home.’ Like all children from an unhappy marriage he will always carry emotional baggage and bad associations as he walks the streets his late mother walked with him. Despite his privileged upbringing he will always be a troubled man. I hope the Ministry of Defence will re-deploy him and that he will be able to be back with the lads in a brigade where he feels needed and an equal. I hope Britain will somehow get back the excitement and graciousness it had when I first arrived thirty-two years ago and that one day its youth will not feel compelled to leave but to stay the course and turn it back into the great nation of Newton, Brunel, Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Yeats, Blake and Shaw that was the envy of the world.
Related story:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2008/03/09/do0909.xml .


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