David Alan Johnson

The Declaration of Independence: Either a noble document or a treasonable manifesto, depending upon which side a person happened to be on. (National Archives USA)

The Friendliest of Enemies: The Love - Hate Relationship Between Britain and the United States (Work In Progress)


Chapter 1: Traditional Enemies -- The War of Independence and War of 1812 set the tone for future relations between Britain and the United States.

Chapter 2: One War At A Time -- The American Civil War triggers another crisis between Britain and the United States, and nearly causes the two countries to go to war yet again.

Chapter 3: Unfriendly Allies -- The First World War brings Britain and the United States together as allies, but the two sides are openly critical of each other.

Chapter 4: A Kind of Fascinated Horror -- American jazz and Hollywood films come to Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, much to the annoyance and dismay of many Britons.

Chapter 5: Foreign Entanglements -- The United States tries to stay out of the Second World War, which infuriates Britain. After Pearl Harbor, American troops stationed in the British Isles find the country strange and foreign.

Chapter 6: Overpaid, Oversexed, and Over Here -- The effects, for better and worse, of the GI 'friendly invasion' of Britain between 1942 and 1945.

Chapter 7: Uncle Shylock vs. The Freeloading Limey Socialists -- After the Second World War, the British resent being financially dependent upon the United States through Marshall Plan aid, while Americans resent sending financial aid to socialist Britain.

Chapter 8: Opulent Barbarians -- American influence in Britain, from television shows to rock and roll to military bases, is almost impossible to avoid. Britain is now without an Empire, while the United States and Soviet Union are superpowers.

Chapter 9: Rumblings -- Britain tries to break away from American dominance in the 1950s. But American opposition to Britain in the Suez Crisis makes it clear that Britain is junior to the United States.

Chapter 10: Dangerous Allies -- The British are as alarmed by the Cold War as the Americans. But the British press calls the United States 'trigger happy' and more likely than Soviet Russia to start a third world war.

Chapter 11: The Feeling's Mutual -- The Beatles and the Liverpool Sound invade the Uited States in the mid-1960s. The Vietnam war produces anti-American demonstratrions throughout Britain.

Chapter 12: Happy Birthday, Dear Stateside -- Britain reacts in surprising ways to the Bicentennial of American indepencence in 1976.

Chapter 13: Crooked Politics, As Usual -- The British regard American politicians as inherently corrupt and dishonest, while Americans tend to ignore British politics completely.

The remaining chapters will deal with British-American subjects that include: the two Gulf wars; Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan; immigration; tourism; George Bush and Tony Blair, and any number of other items that affect both countries.


During the Second World War, the newly-arrived GIs found the natives of the British Isles just as strange as the British found them.

'To me, it was the same as if we had been sent to Spain, or France. Or Outer Mongolia, for that matter.' An Air Force corporal, stationed in the English midlands, saw England as altogether alien. 'Everything was completely foreign to me,' including the language. 'There were some accents I could not understand at all.'

'We call England "The Mother Country" because most of us come from Poland or Italy,' remarked the professional American wit Robert Benchley. It is a famous wisecrack, but is also a true word spoken in jest. By the 1940s, only about one-fifth of the US population was of entirely British stock. Few GIs had any relatives living in Britain, or any family ties with the British Isles at all. England was not 'The Mother Country,' but just some foreign country.

Sometimes, an American's impression was already set before ever landing on British soil. Alan McDarby, an army private serving with a construction unit, knew nothing of the British except what he had learned in school and what his grandfather had told him. Grandfather McDarby had come from Ireland, and seemed to take particular delight in telling lurid stories about the oppression of Ireland by British soldiers, known as the Black and Tans. His stories were usually about beatings, shootings and unlawful arrests of Irish patriots. Private McDarby's feelings were anything but unbiased when he disembarked at Liverpool.

His first experiences in the country tended to verify his grandfather's opinion. McDarby's early impression was of 'an unpleasant climate, and even more unpleasant people.' During their first weeks in England, McDarby and his unit lived in tents while they were building their permanent barracks. It rained nearly every day, making living conditions miserable. During their first leave, they went into the town of Ipswich, Suffolk for some 'rest and relaxation' -- anything to get away from the mud and cold of camp.

As soon as they arrived in town, they headed straight for the nearest pub; McDarby thinks it was 'The Great White Horse.' While McDarby drank a pint of watered-down beer -- British wartime beer tended to be very weak and watery -- the others started an animated darts game. The locals did not approve, and expressed their feelings loudly and persistently.

'This used to be a nice place until that Yank mob moved in,' one voice complained. 'I wish the bloody Yanks would all go home,' a second voiced answered. All of this was obviously meant to be heard by the Americans. It went on for about fifteen minutes, which was as long as they stayed in the pub.

Deciding that they had endured 'enough English hospitality for one day,' McDarby and the others headed back to camp -- 'the shortest and worst leave in history.' Even the constant rain and mud were an improvement over the 'Limey treatment.'

The 'Limey treatment' was not just confined to pubs, McDarby noticed. 'When some of those characters looked you over, you couldn't tell what was going through their minds,' he recalled. 'Even some of the people who were friendly gave us some very funny looks. It made you wonder what they said about you when you weren't around.'

One thing every GI had to get used to was constantly being addressed as 'Yank' -- 'Well, Yank, what can I do for you?' It made no difference if the person being addressed was from the heart of deepest Alabama. To the British, he was a Yankee.

An American who visited Cheltenham, Gloucestershire in the early days of 1942, before American uniforms became a familiar sight, was stopped by a middle-aged woman and asked, 'Excuse me. Are you a Yankee? Or a Canadian?' For a moment, the GI thought she was going to ask, 'A Yankee or a Confederate?'

The word most often linked with 'Yankee' was 'typical.' 'Typical Yankee hustle' was a trait held in admiration. This item appeared in READER'S DIGEST. Instructions on how to remove a girdle contained this advice: 'It can best be removed by a good strong yank.' With the entry of the United Sttes into the war, the wording was changed: 'It can quickly be removed by a good strong jerk.'

If the British were surprised at the way Americans spoke, Americans were absolutely astounded by the accents of some native Britons. London dialects were usually thought comical, but at least they could usually be understood. Some dialects, particularly from Yorkshire and Staffordshire, were hard for Britons to decipher; for Americans, they were impossible.

American writer Mary Lee Settle, a volunteer in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, RAF, shared a railway carriage with a group of fellow volunteers from the East End of London. She called the London girls 'six small Eliza Doolittles.'

'I could understand very little -- a word here and a word there, as of a language not well known and spoken too fast -- of what the East Enders were saying,' she later remarked. 'What I heard was something like, "Coo, what a sayo -- a flippin tunup." This with a comfortable smile, was followed by an answer, '"We aint inem fer the lolly, sa bleedin sayo. Weyo we're bleedin forut naow," with a look of complacent agreement all round.'

Alan McDarby and a few of his fellow GIs visited a pub in Barham, Suffolk on their next leave -- they had no desire to return to 'The Great White Horse' in Ipswich. After being served, McDarby asked the barman, 'How much do I owe you?' The barman's reply could not be understood by any of the Americans, even after it had been repeated several times. Finally, everybody in the pub shouted in unison, 'One and six!' (one shilling and sixpence), to McDarby's embarrassment.

'I wish to hell they'd take the goddemn marbles out of their mouth!' was a frequent American cry of exasperation. One GI who had the uncomfortable experience of being stationed in North Yorkshire eventually gave up trying to talk to the local residents. 'They sure don't sound anything like the characters in English movies,' was another common complaint. Another frequent thought was expressed by one of alan McDarby's fellow sufferers: 'Stupid people don't even know how to speak their own goddamn language!'

Equally confusing were some English place names, which are spelled one way and pronounced another. Obvious names are the towns of Reading and Darby, but there were many other, more flagrant, examples: Prinknash ('Prinnich'); Beauchamp ('Beecham'); Belvoir ('Beaver'); and Wrotham ('Rootem'). GIs were known to make up their own names for places they could not pronounce. The Welsh town of Llanley was known to Americans as 'Slash,' and Middle Wallop became 'Centre Punch.'

American troops were put off by other aspects of British life, as well. One item that rubbed GIs the wrong way was what they perceived as the British concept of 'tradition.' One American described it as a
'stagnation mentality -- if it was good enough for Edward the Confessor ... it's good enough for us.'

A paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division was enthralled by the first English town he saw, the name of which he has long since forgotten. He recalls that it looked like a scene from a Tourist Authority postcard: 'There were little cottages with thatched roofs and rose vines.' After a closer look at similar towns, however, his enthusiasm quickly faded. 'Any kind of change was criticized to hell,' he commented. 'The landlords and the "upper crust" looked down their noses at everybody else, including the lowly Yanks. You can call this "tradition" if you like,' but it's more like ignorance and arrogance.'

Although the two sides were not enthralled by what they had seen of each other so far, they were about to get a closer look. In preparation for the invasion of the German-occupied Continent of Europe, more and more Americans were landing in the British Isles -- 76,000 landed in September 1943 and another 175,000 arrived during the following month. General Eisenhower referred to this build-up as the 'friendly invasion.' The British would soon agree that it certainly was an invasion, but many on both sides would be at a loss to see it as friendly.


'The end of the war was more than just a letdown, it was a disaster,' a British housewife remembered. 'We won the war, but what did we win?' she went on. 'All we had to show for it was bomb damage, bad food, and more "wartime austerity." During the war, at least we had peace to look forward to. After the war, we didn't even have that.'

On the other hand, a woman from New Jersey had this to say. 'When the war ended, my husband got a good job, a lot better than anything we had before the war.' She settled back in her chair and recalied the time with satisfaction. 'We bought all the things we never could afford before the war, including a new car. We were going to have a good life. We won the war, and we deserved it.'

Following the Second World War, the United States and Great Britain found themselves in completely opposite positions on just about every important item -- on their outlook for the future, on their view of the world in general, and especially on their economic position and their way of life. Life for most Americans improved dramatically after 1945. For Britons, life got worse. The gap between the two countries was even wider than it had been after the First World War.

The United States looked forward to affluence, prosperity and consumer spending. The postwar American attitude was: 'The war is over. Let's forget all about it and go back to work.' The country was twice as rich as it had been in 1941. American business and industry were fully prepared for the return to civilian life, ready to supply American consumers with everything they wanted -- and some things they did not know they wanted. Newspaper, magazine and radio advertisements gave the real picture of what the country had on its mind -- everything from Ford cars to Segram's whisky to Westinghouse refrigerators and even DuMont television sets. The war had been won, and Americans were determined to enjoy peace and everything that came with it.

The British faced a bleak future of continued rationing, shortages, the black market, and austerity. Britain had won the war, as well, but had nearly gone bankrupt doing it. In a letter to the PARTISAN REVIEW, George Orwell pointed out that ' ... life since the armistice has been physically as unpleasant as it was during the war.' He goes on to complain about the food - 'as dull as ever' - and all the shortages: clothing; fuel; and housing. Orwell's opinion was that 'the ending of the war ought ot have brought ... more colour and amusement.' Wartime restrictions on food and consumer goods not only continued, but actually got worse. Bread was rationed, which it never was during the war. Fuel shortages kept much of central London blacked out as effectively as German bombers had done during the Blitz.

The Second World War was the tipping point in the relationship between Britain and the United States. The British no longer had the luxury of looking down on the Americans as former colonials who got too big for their britches. The United States was now a world power, even though most Americans wanted nothing more than to go home and forget that the rest of the world existed, while Britain was a power in descent. The First World War, followed by the Great Depression, began Britain's decline as a world power. The Second World War completed the descent. 'Britannia was so battered by austerity,' said a commentator,' that it would be easy to assume that the island nation had lost rather than won two consecutive world wars.'

While Americans were trying to adjust to their new and uncomfortable role as a world power, the British were trying to come to terms with the fact that their power and influence had deteriorated all over the world. India became independent in 1947, Burma and Ceylon cut formal ties with Britain a year later, and Australia and New Zealand joined the United States in the ANZUS treaty in 1951. At the same time, Britain withdrew troops from the Middle East and were not able to send aid to Greece and Turkey.

One example of the shifting of influence took place in British Honduras. When Britain's economic troubles brought inflation and increased living costs, the native Hondurans retaliated for their newly-imported troubles by singing 'God Bless America' instead of 'God Save the King.'


Great Britain had all but ignored the Centennial of American independence in 1876. The loss of the North American colonies had still been too recent a blow to the British psyche, and the United states had been considered too minor and unimportant a country to be worthy of notice from the world's most powerful nation. By 1976, however, the relationship between the two countries had changed completely. The British could no longer remain smugly ignorant of their trans-Atlantic cousins. They were as aware of the American Bicentennial as the Americans themselves. In fact, British participation was so prominent that one American was moved to remark, 'I only find it odd that we are celebrating the Revolution as if we had been allies in it.'

There was certainly no repitition of the snub of 100 years earlier. The Bicentennial was observed, in various ways and ceremonies, in towns throughout Britain. (It was called the 'Bicentenary' in the British Isles.) An elaborate exhibition in Greenwich, called simply '1776,' was opened by the Queen. It was made up of guns and artifacts, momentos and documents -- including an original copy of the Declaration of Independence -- and was said by some visiting Americans to be better than anything they had seen in the United States.

But the remembering of 1776 did not stop with the Greenwich exhibition. THE TIMES ran the entire text of the Declaration of Independence as a feature, including all the grievances against George III. On July 4th 1976, Douglas Fairbanks jr. read the Declaration to the public from the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral. The reading was followed by Daniel Barenboim conducting Beethoven's ninth symphony.

A British historian had once said, 'For writers of any nation, let alone one with Britain's proud reputation, to admit that its armies were beaten by those of a third-rate power is to expect a miracle.' Britain's official recognition of the 200th anniversary of American independence may not have been miraculous, but it certainly came as a surprise to many on both sides of the Atlantic.

The official emphasis was to look at the positive aspects of the Bicentennial. Lord Montagu of Beaulieu propoposed this toast to George Washington: 'whose British characteristics of tenacity and courage brought victory to the United States.' (This is a variation of: the colonists were really British, so being beaten by your own men does not count.)

Not everyone went along with this approach. THE ECONOMIST satirically suggested that Britain join the Union. (In the late 1940s, a London show called 'The 49th State' suggested the same thing, that the United Kingdom apply for admission to the United States, getting in before Alaska and Hawaii.) As a Bicentennial feature, the magazine ran a tongue-in-check Declaration of Dependence, which 'disgruntled and rebellious Britons might like to sign.' It began: 'When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to forge Political Bonds linking them with another, and to relinquish their separate and equal Station among the Powers of the Earth, a decent Respect to the Opinions of requires that they should declare the Causes which impel them.'

Some of the causes, provoked by 'the Rulers of Great Britain,' include: raising the price of postage, 'thereby effectively levying a Stamp Tax;' devaluing the pound to $1.776, an 'excessively Bicentennial figure;' along with other 'Oppressions.'

'We, therefore, the Representatives of Great Britain, do solemnly Publish and Declare, That this Island is, and of Right ought to be, the fifty-first State of the United States and Great Britain.' This being done after appealing to 'our American brethren' to 'forgive and forget the Past, (What if we did burn down Washington in 1814?)

In reply to THE ECONOMIST'S Declaration, an American from Dallas, Texas wrote: 'the United States is in no position to accept any addtional financial responsibilities,' owing to a $64,000,000,000 budget deficit and other money worries. 'We must, therefore, reluctantly turn down the United Kingdom's application.' Sorry, but we can't afford you.

A Connecticut man only insisted upon 'certain formalities,' including adapting a state constitution. ('Don't worry, you can always copy one of the existing 50 state constitutions.) But some of the other considerations would not be so simple. For instance, the nobility would have to be abolished. However, the Connecticut man helpfully suggested, the Queen's grandsons could always be given the first name of 'Prince.' 'Such practice exists at present,' the man went on, 'although I am embarrassed to report that the name is used primarily for canines.' Also the salary of the British worker would have to be trebled, since American politicians live in constant fear of 'cheap foreign labor.'

The 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence also gave Britons a chance to ask, 'What makes America different?' -- which was the title of at least one magazine article. Another article dated July 4th 1976 started off by proclaiming, 'Happy birthday, dear Stateside, happy birthday to you. Two hundred years of life, liberty, and the pursuit of the fast buck.'

Selected Works

Civil War Non-Fiction, Psychology
How the backgrounds of Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant influenced their campaign against each other in Virginia in 1864 and 1865.
Abraham Lincoln's re-election in 1864 was decided on the batlefields of Virginia and Georgia as much as at the ballot box.
J. Edgar Hoover sends an innocent man to prison to save his own reputation. Includes chapter on the Bush Administration's use of this case as a precedent for military tribunals to try terrorist suspects.
The relationship between Britain and the United States has been long, frequently contentious, and sometimes comical.
How anti-Nazi Intelligence officers tricked Hitler regarding the time and place of D-Day.
Britain not only had to fight the German Luftwaffe, but also had to battle isolationism in the US.