In this the week of our nation’s annual celebration of independence from England I am feeling sorry for the mother country. England’s historic greatness cannot be denied but the country is now at war with itself over the Brexit debate. Those who oppose the country leaving the European Union are concerned that England will no longer have as important of a place at the table in influencing the weighty matters that effect Europe and hence the world.
I am a big fan of Great Britain. The country, along with Rome and the United States, were the most important nations in developing the modern world. England spread democracy, healthcare and education throughout the planet. A friend who is a native of India and who can speak angrily about European colonization concedes that England not only gave his country a democratic political system but a common language that is spoken throughout the nation. Prior to that India was a jumble of different languages and sects.
Our American revolution was inspired in many ways by European political philosophy that was put into practice in the Americas where there was no burden of kingdoms and empires to stand in the way.
As with any conquering nation in the days before industrialization there was slavery, but England was also among the first to raise objections and to outlaw the practice.
There have been many glorious moments in British history none so great as during the years between 1939 and 1943 when England fought alone against the Nazi takeover of mainland Europe. With the mightily U.S. not yet involved, England, whose population base had already been depleted by World War I, was the lone sentinel as France, Italy, Scandinavia, Central Europe and North Africa fell.
On that historic morning in June 1944, when the largest invasion force in the history of the world headed for Normandy it left from British soil where the Allied forces had taken over the countryside for training.
For its efforts England was bombed throughout the war, not only from planes but by unstoppable rockets. Some of the invading bombers met their end because of gutsy British fighter pilots and because of radar technology honed by British scientists.
If wars were fought with words England would rule the world having produced some of the globe’s finest quotes including those spoken by Winston Churchill the wartime prime mister. (Churchill speaking after military success in North Africa: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”)
Most notable though were the passages attributed to William Shakespeare for whom some of the grandest words were about war such as King Henry V addressing his outnumbered troops on the eve of a battle against the French in Agincourt: “From this day to the ending of the world, … we in it shall be remembered- we few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother…”
England’s latest crisis is not a military war but a philosophical battle. Yet history is molded by war including the notion of a united continent that was inspired by the aftermath of World War II. From that hope came the European Union.
I can’t imagine the world, or the United States, being better off if the once mighty Great Britain is weakened. There are dangerous days ahead. On the night of the Brexit election the British foreign secretary lamented in a television interview that his country could be shifting from “Great Britain to Little England.” As Churchill might have said, let us hope that this is not the beginning of the end.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book websites.
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