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Margaret Thatcher, The United States and Why I Love The United Kingdom

April 10, 2013

I am an American. I was born in America. I have lived here all my life. I have only ever been to two other countries, Mexico and Canada. I would like to see more of the world but it is expensive getting there. I am painfully aware of my good fortune in having been born in the richest country in history. It is hard not to feel guilty about it.

Recently, I was discussing with a coworker an article I had read. It was about the United States embarkation into the world of unmanned drone strikes, particularly in regard to Pakistan. It was revealed that in order to gain access to Pakistani airspace, the US agreed to eliminate enemies of the Pakistani government. Meaning that they killed people who were not a threat to the United States so that they might kill people who were.

My coworker was not surprised by the revelation and wondered if I really thought that the United States had never participated in political assassinations. I have read enough history and political books to know that our country’s history is littered with bodies of the dead who were killed solely for political gain. Our government has been involved in more despicable acts under the guise of helping than I care to recall, with the result usually being further unrest and instability and creating enemies the world over.

I explained to my coworker that my problem was not with the cowardly murder of Pakistan’s political enemies by our government, though that is shameful and disgusting. My real problem is the oft-repeated notion that America is the “Greatest Country on Earth”. Because I know what Americans mean when they say that. It is the belief in American Exceptionalism. Americans believe that not only are we the best at everything ever, but that we are also the most moral, that in addition to being the fastest, the strongest, the smartest and the richest, we are also the most honorable and compassionate. While you may not hear anybody explicitly say it, it is clear by our reaction to criticism and attack from other countries that it is a widely held and deeply entrenched belief.  It is almost impossible for a great number of Americans to comprehend why or how anyone could hate us. Rather than face the fact that we are not exceptional and that the actions of our government throughout its relatively brief history show us to be rather despicable, we persist in the belief that we are somehow great. We are, in fact, a selfish, arrogant nation with very little compassion for anyone who lives beyond our borders. This latest revelation about the origins of our drone program is just the most recent evidence to prove it.

I ranted at my coworker, who has a son in the US military, about the many crimes of the US government over the years. She listened patiently.

“Where would you rather live then?” she asked with some annoyance when I had finished.

I did not hesitate for a second.

The United Kingdom. If I could afford to and if they would have me I would move there today. To anyone who knows me, that would not come as a surprise. I have a strange sort of fascination with the UK that began in childhood with the discovery of Monty Python. I have never been to the United Kingdom, but the Internet makes it easy to stay connected. Admittedly, my love of the UK is largely based on their comedy, but on a larger scale, I feel more of a connection to their country than my own. Besides, I think that most Britons would agree that comedy and humor is an essential part of understanding their culture.

“But wait a minute, Salomé,” you are probably saying. “Surely you are aware of the actions of the British government throughout history. If you are complaining about US involvement in foreign affairs, you can’t just gloss over hundreds of years of British empire.”

I am not. There are many dark doings in the history of the UK and their government, at times, like all governments, has overstepped the bounds of morality. The difference, to me anyway, is that the US government continues to pursue questionable policies without ever pausing for contemplation or public debate. The UK, as a people and as a country, has experienced humility. They have gone from a global empire to a small collection of islands. They held the line in two world wars that exploded on their doorstep. The country that emerged from the rubble of the Second World War was different than the one that entered it. Whatever their creed was when they began, in the end it became “We are all in this together.” The National Health was born and social spending exploded. And while taxes may appear exorbitantly high to your average cutthroat American, citizens of the Crown are assured that they will not fall through the cracks. The least is as important as the most.

That is the phrase that sums up the United Kingdom for me. “We are all in this together.” I’m sure there are many inhabitants of the UK that would disagree with me, perhaps members of the BNP or the SNP and the like, and probably the Tories as well.

My theory is that that is why Margaret Thatcher is such a reviled figure amongst so many Britons. What had largely defined their nation through most of the twentieth century, the notion that the common good was good for all, was swept away by her reforms. Jobs were lost, social spending was cut, families suffered, business succeeded. Where community had once been elevated to national priority, it was now replaced by selfishness and greed. Love of money took priority over the common good.

Try as she and her cronies might, they still could not destroy the bonds that bind Britons together, and the common good still has priority in the souls of the people. You will not find those bonds in America. Only once in my life have I felt that we were all in it together and that was in the months following 9/11 (or 11/9 for any UK readers.) The rest of the time we operate under the assumption that you’re on your own and the only thing that unites us is greed and indifference to our global neighbors.

It is disheartening to see that Thatcher’s destructive policies have been furthered along by the current “coalition” government. With hypocrisy that an American politician would be proud of, Cameron and his moneyed classmates have reduced social spending, cutting funding for libraries, hospitals and the arts, under the guise of promoting the common good. They have implemented baffling new taxes on the poor while cutting taxes for the rich. They have promoted a policy of austerity while somehow finding the seven to ten million pounds necessary to give their muse Maggie a state funeral. Of modern prime ministers, only Winston Churchill has been granted that honor. I think it is safe to say that he did much more for the common good than Baroness Thatcher, whose reforms seem to have benefited only a small number of people.

Anyway, while I am grateful and humbled, to have the good fortune of being an American, I deeply admire the British people and their nation. I worry that if their government is allowed to follow the path they are on, the citizens of the UK will find themselves becoming more and more like the US. Greed will swallow compassion and arrogant hypocrisy will replace civil discourse.

America has much to learn and a lot of growing up to do. It would be nice if we had an example of to look to. It would be nice if we became more like the UK rather than the UK becoming more like the US.

 

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