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The Queen and the U.S.A.: The Future of the Special Relationship

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Epilogue by H. Edward Mann, excerpted from The Queen and the U.S.A. (Dementi Milestone Publishing, $35)

In 1946, Sir Winston Churchill spoke of a “special relationship” between the United States and Great Britain. This phrase has become something of a tradition, a part of the lexicon of British and American interactions. Though used frequently, it is like British common law – one would be hard-pressed to locate a precise definition. The “special relationship” has been used by many British and American policy makers as a point of justification and support for key policy decisions; and conversely, it has been used in deride policies and/or actions by politicians inconsistent with the “special relationship.”

What then should we make of this term, and is it one that has relevance?

In 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama reiterated many of the same points that Churchill had made nearly 65 years earlier when the President addressed the British Parliament in the Great Hall at Westminster Hall in London. Speaking to the application of these guiding principles, the President quoted Sir Winston Churchill when he said, “the…Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, and English common law find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence.”

The President reminded the world, once again, of the now centuries-long link between the United States and Great Britain and the shared commitment to democratic values and the ongoing efforts by both nations to serve as role models for similar, burgeoning efforts around the world.

Myriad instances in both American and British history belie both the intention and spirit of the democratic laws and principles which purport to undergird the governing systems of each nation. One need look no further than the institutions of slavery that were once prominent in both nations, to see that both have administered “democracy” inconsistently in the past.

Many of our respective leaders, indeed, founders of our respective democratic systems have behaved in ways that cause even our own citizens, let alone those of other nations, to search for consistency among the individual leaders and the ideas they espoused.

Bad manners are certainly have long been commonplace among the politicians and politics of the two nations. Keep in mind, the two nations have fought two wars AGAINST one another.

American politicians have, throughout our history, have spoken of monarchical government, generally, with contempt and have derisively referred to their political opponents or opposing parties as princely, or kingly or the like. And yet, Americans stood in line to catch a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth when she visited the United States in 2007. Tens of millions more, watched in rapt exhilaration when Prince William married Kate Middleton in 2011.

Kindness and gentility between or among our peoples have not served as the defining characteristic of the “special relationship.” What then is it?

The most graphic manifestations of the British and American collaboration have been the military alliances formed between Great Britain and the U.S. over the past 100 years, leading to the current effort to fight global terrorism. As members of the Allied forces in World War I and World War II, the militaries of the two nations worked together to stop the rise of corrupt nationalism and fascism. Although U.S. and British troops were not engaged in conflict together in the field, joint tactics, deployments and operations beginning with the Berlin Airlift in 1948-49 and continuing through the end of the Cold War in the 1980s were vital in curtailing the spread of communism.

New alliances, as embodied by joint task forces coordinated through NATO, give the U.S. and UK, together with other democratic countries the capabilities needed to meet new threats – threats like terrorism and piracy, cyber-attacks and the use of nuclear weapons by either rogue states, terrorist organizations or individual terrorists. Recent joint operations such as Iraqi Freedom, NATO support for Libyan rebels, and peacekeeping efforts with the United Nations, have thus far thwarted widespread anarchy and totalitarianism. President Obama summarized the role of the two nations with a straightforward and powerful line:

“We are the nations most willing to stand up for the values of tolerance and self-determination.”

In the 21st century, there is hope for expanded use of tactics beyond armed response and reflecting a shift towards ‘soft power’ rather than the hard power of military action. Yet the challenges that need to be addressed are sometimes extremely complicated and politically sensitive. As borders between countries become more porous, and with increasingly transient populations, a nations’ security is only one reason for precise determination of the citizenship of specific individuals. Shared values now replace traditional ethnic and cultural ties.

Yet with increasingly diverse religious, institutional and historic backgrounds, citizens in democratic countries become increasingly challenged to facilitate a common ground for political debate and dialogue. Both the U.K. and the United States have experienced the tragic consequences of citizens and/or illegal aliens who have not been inculcated to shared values and standards. The September 2001 attack on the U.S. and the July 2005 bombings in London demonstrate that attacks being only instigated by clearly defined enemies from outside one’s borders are a thing of the past. Therefore, nation-states need to do a better job of defining the terms of immigration – keeping doors open to those who seek a better life while impeding those who would seek to destroy their host.

When Churchill referred to the “special relationship” he did so in the following context: “Neither the sure prevention of war, nor the continuous rise of world organization will be gained without what I have called the fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples. This means a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States.” (Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, in March 1946 – more commonly called the Iron Curtain speech.)

In other words, Churchill suggested solidarity exists among nations because of their shared democratic values and, further, that the preservation of democratic institutions in both nations, indeed, throughout other parts of the world as well, could not proceed by unilateral action alone, but would do so only to the extent that British and Americans were united and that mutually-beneficial efforts toward peace proceeded conjointly.

Two other threats to democracy include apathy and indifference and there is strong evidence of both in the United States and Great Britain. A New York Times headline from May 2011 reported that fewer than half of American eighth graders who took a recent National Assessment of Educational Progress knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights, and only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches. At the same time, three-quarters of high school seniors were unable to demonstrate skills like identifying the effect of United States foreign policy on other nations or naming a power granted to Congress by the Constitution.

In response, Sandra Day O’Connor, the former Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court stated, “we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to civics education. We face difficult challenges at home and abroad. Meanwhile, divisive rhetoric and a culture of sound bites threaten to drown out rational dialogue and debate. We cannot afford to continue to neglect the preparation of future generations for active and informed citizenship.”

Yet the crisis is not only an American problem. The riots that started in London and raged across England in August of 2011 exposed an alienated disaffected youth culture that was bored and uncommitted to the values of its homeland. During an emergency debate in the House of Lords, The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams said the riots represented “a breakdown of the sense of civic identity, shared identity, and shared responsibility.”

“Over the last two decades, many would agree that our educational philosophy at every level has been more and more dominated by an instrumentalist model; less and less concerned with a building of virtue, character and citizenship,” he said.

Establishing a democratic form of government is, itself, an arduous endeavor; and sustaining such a system is require eternal vigilance. Indeed, democracy does not survive on words alone. To endure, requires a commitment from every new and succeeding generation not only the underlying principles upon which the system was founded, but, as important, to maintaining and strengthening the system. At any given moment in time, democratic governance is a perishable item, the health of which is directly reflective of effort, or lack thereof, put into preserving it. If ignored, left unattended, it can grow stale and putrid with lack of attention; replaced all too easily by systems that are less demanding of the public’s attention.

The need for civic education has been the concern of writers and political thinkers for thousands of years. Plato expanded upon the idea of a duty to our fellow citizens, expressed by the Latin word ‘communitas’ – commonly thought to mean merely a group of citizens in close proximity, sharing goals and aspirations. Yet Plato argued that in its fullest sense, communitas involves sacrifices and involvement on the part of an individual – and these sacrifices elevate the individual and enhance the well-being of the entire group. Democratic process – wherever it is utilized – is more than just a process. It is a symbol of a trust that citizens can work together to make a better world.

To maintain the process of democracy there needs to be a focus on exciting and innovative educational methodologies that promote the value of politics and the importance of civic engagement. Government works better when politics works better, and politics works better when citizens are informed and involved participants. Therefore, both the U.S. and the U.K. need to encourage citizens to actively participate in the political process and government; evaluate and promote the best practices in civic education not only for students K-12 but for citizens of all ages.

CORRECTION: The name of the Archbishop of Canterbury was originally mispelled. It has been corrected.

Outreach to international audiences also needs to be expanded. Over the past few years, the U.S. State Department and the British Foreign Ministry have encouraged governmental and non-governmental organizations to develop programs to facilitate citizen-to-citizen activism and dialogue in emerging democracies around the world. Supported by governmental agencies such as the National Endowment for Democracy and the British Westminster Foundation, many of these programs identify groups of international citizens to participate in workshops either in the U.S. or in their home country and consist of immersion programs that promote the core aspects of citizen engagement within democratic societies. The focus is on:

• Building civic participation skills and encourage public advocacy through peaceful and productive means;
• Identifying effective tools for and avenues of civic engagement;
• Promoting strategic and policy dialogue between government practitioners and marginalized populations;
• Establishing networking opportunities among democracy outreach programs.

The challenges to preserve and foster democracy around the world are daunting – but there are new institutions tools and personalities to facilitate promote democratic institutions. Ironic perhaps to some, the renewed interest in the British monarchy, due in part to the Queens’ Diamond Jubilee celebration, as well as the April 2011 marriage of the Prince William and Kate Middleton, create real opportunities to showcase democratic values around the world. Their charisma and youthful enthusiasm provide an opportunity for new personalities to inspire the next generation to rally around shared democratic beliefs as they take on the role as symbols of 1) the British royal family and 2) the continuity of Anglo American friendship and values. The fact is the reign of Queen Elizabeth II has served as a testament to the principles of democracy.

U.S. President George W. Bush, stated on May 14, 2007 – the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown – “Today democratic institutions are taking root in places where liberty was not imaginable long ago. At the start of the 1980s, there were only 45 democracies on Earth. There are now more than 120 democracies, and more people live in freedom than ever before ... [O]ur shared respect for the rule of law and our deeply held belief in individual liberty … are more than just American values and British values, or Western values. They are universal values that come from a power greater than any man or any country. These values took root at Jamestown four centuries ago. They have flourished in our land, and one day they will flourish in every land.”

Our “special relationship” hasn’t always succeeded in leading us in the right or even the same direction. But, fundamentally, we are guided by a shared belief in self-governance, and dedication to the principals of freedom and opportunity for ALL people. It is in the optimism of people who look out at the horizon and believe that tomorrow can be an even better day not only for our own respective peoples, but for people around the world.

There could not have been a more sobering example of the fragility of societal institutions than the terrorist attacks that have ensued around the world over past decade. Such attacks force conscientious people to realize just how much about society and the nation is taken for granted – that things once regarded as solid, permanent, and unwavering are in fact only as strong as the effort we put into building and protecting them. The same may be said of democracy.

The Arab Spring suggests ample evidence that despite its shortcomings and imperfections, democracy is preferred over other forms of government that limit personal freedoms and curtail individual opportunity.

As America begins a new century, every citizen committed to strengthening democratic principles must renew his or her pledge to responsible civic education – fostering a nationwide commitment to ensuring that Americans are taught and encouraged to become actively engaged in civic life. To do anything less jeopardizes the foundations of a free and self-governing society.

If democracy and the process of self-government are to endure and thrive, particularly among nations that are clamoring for change, democratic governments must stress the value and importance of civic engagement.

“The future is, as ever, obscure. The only certainty is that it will present the world with new and daunting problems, but if we continue to stick to our fundamental ideals, I have every confidence that we can resolve them. All our history in this and earlier centuries underlines the basic point that the best progress is made when Europeans and Americans act in concert. We must not allow ourselves to be enticed into a form of continental insularity. I believe this is particularly important now, at a time of major social, environmental, and economic changes in your continent, and in Asia and Africa. We must make sure that those changes do not become convulsions.”

-- Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in a speech before a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress May 1991

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