As I write this, I can hear Hannity, O’Reilly, Coulter and Co. accusing the Left (er, make that “Lib’rals”) of making too much of the imbecility of Britain’s heir-apparent two steps removed.
It would be easy to dismiss the sordid judgment of bonnie Prince Harry, this wastrel and good-for-nothing, if he were merely another spoiled American celebrity -- a male Paris Hilton, for example. But he’s not that. He’s a potential King of England -- land of Shakespeare and Milton, Keats and Shelley, and crazy King George III against whom we had the good sense to rebel some umpteen decades ago.
The problem with letting Harry out of his golden box, free from his highly remunerated toady handlers, is that he rather baldly demonstrates the fairly precipitous decline of British “civilization”. The Brits invented the idea of a clash of civilizations long before Harvard’s Samuel Huntington. Kipling celebrated the clash in rather sophomoric poems like “Gunga Din,” and a slew of doomed First World War poets like Rupert Brooke ruefully embraced it: “If I should die, think only this of me: / That there’s some corner of a foreign field/ That is forever England.”
In the name of that civilization, the Brits waged two drug wars against the decrepit 19th Century Qing Dynasty. Lest our dodgy youth of Britain and America think that their forebears and Anglo cousins were well-intentioned, let’s recall that they were the Opium Wars (1839-42; 1856-60) when the never-sun-setting Empire forced the land of the “coolies” to import British opium (from India) in exchange for Chinese tea, porcelain, silk and other valuable goods.
Speaking of India, which the lovable jolly Brits ransacked for a couple of centuries (“but they built good railroads!” a red-state acquaintance informs me), let’s remember good old Empire-preserver Winnie the Pooh Churchill famously dismissing Gandhi as a “monkey in a loin cloth.”
The United States, suffering from a severe case of Imperial penis envy these past couple of centuries, has emulated and surpassed its former colonial puppet master. When Churchill and Roosevelt dreamed up this rather pathetic post-war world at Yalta, etc. their ambition was clearly to preserve the fruits of empire by securing the Anglo-American alliance. They would coordinate their power in order to contain challenges from the Soviet Union and the plantation states of the “Third World.” Under the guise of fostering democracy, they would, in fact, disseminate the conservatism of the “free market” economy, quashing global populist movements. They would marshal their considerable propaganda media, the machinery of “news” and “entertainment,” to conflate socialist (what used to be called “leveler”) movements with blatantly tyrannical communist movements, blurring distinctions in the public mind, reducing ideological nuances (even the word “nuance” was suspiciously French!) to good guys vs. bad guys, us against them.
The Master Plan came up a couple of shillings short, given shrunken England’s exhaustion after the Second World War (following so quickly upon the First World War, fought “to make the world safe for democracy”). The V-2 weary and wary Brits were wise to sack cigar-chomping, war-glorifying Winnie, but not wise enough to depose the Germanic tribe of royalty enthroned at Buckingham and Balmoral. Stiff upper lip, and all that jism.
At least the Brits managed to give the world some pretty good music in the '60s and '70s. The Beatles, primarily. There was also Twiggy for those who liked the Cold War, neurasthenic look. The road to a nuance-free world was “a long and winding road,” it appeared. The former slaves (read “colonials”) in the plantation states took the rhetoric of democracy seriously (even when the former slave-masters did not). To keep the edifice intact, to keep up appearances, the Empire would have to give something back. The promise of freedom, that most nuanced of ideologies, was in fact contagious. “Let a hundred flowers bloom,” jocular Mao sang, proving that even the (now drug-free) Chinese could get the rhythm right.
But what now? We’re back to our old tricks, backpedaling from froggy, francophiliac nuance faster than anyone can quote Chamberlain and say, “Peace in our time.” We’ve had Margaret (cigar-chomping?) Thatcher doing cheerleading cartwheels for Reagan. She practically swore that Reagan was not, in fact, an idiot, that she could do business with him! And we’ve got Tony Weapons-of-Mass-Destruction-New-Labor Blair looking into the lost, soulful eyes of President Howdy Doody Bush, and declaring that, yes, indeedy, he’s THE MAN!
Are these really the best allies we can find in our “War on Terror”? Must we kill and maim innocent Iraqis, Palestinians, Afghans in order to preserve the rank privileges of a gene-pool-challenged “royal” family and all the hangers-on in our celebrity-gawking, plutocratic cultures? Does the scion of these Hanoverians really find the regalia of the Nazi desert fox, swastika and all, such a hoot? Does his brother, heir-apparent minus one, think it appropriate to attend a “colonials and natives” costume party? Should Jews and Palestinians take comfort when Minister Blair salutes America’s invasion of Iraq with a side-winding, swindling promise to make peace in Palestine/Israel?
Speaking of which, wasn’t it Britain’s mishandling of its “mandate” in Palestine that helped get us into this imbroglio? Wasn’t it a British general who drew a semi-circle around the oil-rich lower portion of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), christened it “Kuwait,” and helped set up the chess pieces that fell inevitably towards tyranny, dictatorship and debacle in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Idiocy is rampant in the Anglo-Saxon world today, enshrined at the highest levels of government, finance, academia and the mass media in the U.S. and Britain. In the center of Global Corporate Empire, battalions of US high school students cannot identify the century in which the Civil War occurred, nor name the antagonists of the Cold War. Long division is a challenge and few have ever read a book to its conclusion.
But they can tell you whom Britney Spears is dissing now, and the so-sad state of affairs between Jennifer and Brad. In the “sceptered isle,” they cannot quote the Bard, but they can quote Prince William’s latest polo scores. Probably, like poor Harry, they don’t much understand all the brouhaha over World War II. Like, wasn’t that centuries ago? And, like, can’t they take a joke?
So we go spinning down the Imperial cesspool, hand-in-hand with the Limeys—those fog-enshrouded, monarchy-genuflecting, pink-faced, ruddy warriors who can’t seem to get it up for a good, Republic-establishing revolution in their own misty land, but have no problem bashing the brown-black-yellow-skinned natives while telling the rest of the world how they ought to live their lives.
Nothing like setting a good example, Harry, m’boy. Quaff a few warm stouts for the home team!
Gary Corseri has published 2 novels, 2 poetry collections, the Manifestations anthology [edited], and his work has appeared at Dissident Voice, CounterPunch,Common Dreams, Axis of Logic, The New York Times, Village Voice, Redbook and elsewhere. His dramas have been presented at PBS-Atlanta and elsewhere. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other articles by Gary Corseri