In this the week leading to 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 after the vote last week to leave the European Union the country’s geopolitical and economic profile has been damaged. England will no longer have as important of a place at the table in influencing the weighty matters that effect Europe and 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 of mine, and native of India, concedes that England not only gave his country a democratic political system but a common language that is now spoken throughout the nation – prior to that India was a jumble of different languages and sects.
In many ways, our American revolution was inspired by political philosophy first theorized in Europe and 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 in England, but the country was also among the first to raise objections and to outlaw the practice.
There have been many glorious moments in British history. No moment as great as during the years between 1939 and 1943 when England fought alone against the Nazi takeover of mainland Europe. With the mighty 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, the largest invasion force in the history of the world left from British soil, where the invaders trampled the countryside for training, and headed for Normandy.
For its effort, England was bombed throughout the war, not only from planes but by unstoppable rockets. Some of the enemy bombers met their end because of gutsy British fighter pilots and 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 … 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 theoretical battle. Yet theory is sometimes molded by war including the notion of a united continent that was inspired by the aftermath on World War II. From that hope came the European Union.
I can’t imagine the world, or the United States, being better off with the once mighty Great Britain weakened. There are dangerous days ahead. On the night of the 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 web sites.
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