Posts Tagged ‘England’

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

With Armistice Day but a few weeks past, and the commemoration of President Kennedy’s life and short tenure as president only several days away, I nevertheless can’t help noticing how completely the immediate concerns of the present grab our attention whether it’s keeping us absorbed in preparations for a big Thanksgiving Day meal, or watching the drama of a malicious tornado swooping down on an innocent small Illinois town, or shaken by yet another story about a suicide bomber in Iraq killing fourteen people while walking on their way home. This absorption in the present is certainly understandable, yet it also entails a drawback for it inexorably leads us to forget our debts to past generations whose heroics made possible our comings and goings of the day.

Perhaps William Faulkner’s famous statement about the past–the past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past– helps a little in nudging us from the pressures of the present so we can better appreciate important past events. When Faulkner thought about the past, he was probably thinking mostly about the tortured events which played such a destructive role in the history of the south both before and after the civil war. Maybe Faulkner hung on to this past longer than he should have if he wanted to lead a happy life.

I believe our problem today is the exact opposite of Faulkner’s; it’s not that we hold on to the past too long, but that we don’t hold on to it long enough with the result that we lose the benefits that a tie to tradition brings anyone who wishes to cultivate it. What are some of these benefits? A sense of security from being part of a larger world rooted in a worthwhile past and a sense of hope that connects us to a future which will preserve the things we do today that we find so important.

One of my favorite ways of keeping alive a connection to the past is by recalling the remarkable life of Mr. Winston Churchill, one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century and a man who represents the unique tradition that comprises what he called the history of the English speaking peoples. At first blush, trying to establish a connection to Winston Churchill seems absurd for he was born and lived in circumstances very different from my own, and led a life which couldn’t be more different than the one I lead, or think I lead.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

Churchill was born into an aristocratic family which enjoyed an extraordinary reputation for patriotism and public service. Moreover, Churchill was a renaissance man interested in adventure, military exploits and innovations, and spending lots of time painting his beloved landscapes. He also cultivated a distinguished career writing for English newspapers while also becoming an extraordinarily successful political figure. Already in his early 20s, he fought for England in the Boer War at the same time he negotiated a contract to write newspaper columns back home as a war correspondent.

Finally connecting with Churchill seems like a formidable undertaking given that he’s such a complex difficult man who, while invariably successful at most tasks he undertook, also managed to attract lots of critics who enjoyed attacking him for a variety of shortcomings which most charitably could be lumped under a heading called impulsiveness.

Churchill enjoyed upsetting the apple cart. Of one distinguished member of parliament he remarked that the gentleman had no idea what he was going to say before giving a speech, no idea what he was saying while he gave the speech, and no idea what he had said after he ended his speech.

Still despite his shortcomings and some major disappointments which resulted from them, he also possessed remarkable abilities including a terrific sense of humor and a magisterial writing style inspired in part by Edward Gibbon, author of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. More importantly he was a courageous and extraordinary leader who spoke his mind, wasn’t afraid to voice unpopular positions, and to the toughest jobs, assuming full responsibility for their outcomes without blaming others for his own mistakes.

Churchill’s greatest legacy probably stems from the leadership he provided Great Britain and the United States especially during the darkest days of WWII following Hitler’s lightening fast military victories in 1940 conquering both Western and Eastern Europe in less than two years time. Immediately following these victories, Hitler wanted to launch a full scale invasion of England and England’s defeat seemed only a few weeks away. Hitler’s invasion plan was to start with a devastating series of attacks by the German Air Force whose planes outnumbered those of the Royal Air Force 3-1. Miraculously, the RAF successfully withstood the German air attack; as a result, Hitler decided to scuttle his invasion plan and instead turn his attention again to the East where he would soon begin an attack on Russia.

"In 1940, children of an eastern suburb of London, who have been made homeless by the random bombs of the Nazi night raiders, wait outside the wreckage of what was their home."

“In 1940, children of an eastern suburb of London, who have been made homeless by the random bombs of the Nazi night raiders, wait outside the wreckage of what was their home.”

After Hitler ended his efforts to conquer Britain, Churchill broadcast his famous praise of the RAF and its pilots. “Never in the course of history have so many owed so much to so few.” If one person were to be singled out for their role in saving England and defeating Hitler in 1940, surely Churchill would be that individual. And to give Churchill’s line a little extra “mo” possibly we could include ourselves in Churchill’s reference to “the many” owing so much to the brave RAF pilots whose sacrifices helped create a society which in the history of the world has never been more prosperous, more egalitarian, or more free.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

I am just going to put this right out there: It seems to me that football (I am talking about soccer, my fellow Americans) became the sport of the world as a result of English Imperialism.  Why this thought came into goal savemy head the other day, I have no idea.  But, when it did enter my brain, I thought about how this theory seems more than plausible; dare I say that it seems likely.  You see, evidently, games that were football-esque have existed from the earliest civilizations, but modern soccer (what I will use from now on, since most of the readers of this blog are American) is quite a recent invention. The modern rules of the game formed in mid-nineteenth century England.  During this era, soccer gained popularity in lock step with England’s superpower status. England’s naval strength and prowess, and it’s commercial, industrialized economy were central to its position at the top of the national pecking order.  But, what separated the isles from Germany, France, the United States, and other powers, was its massive empire.

English imperial power globalized English culture.  Even where the English empire did not reach, British cultural carriers in the form of English_imperialism_octopussailors, diplomats, explorers, and merchants did.  These nomadic sea-faring hordes in coats and top hats brought British goods, and British practices to much of the world.  Soccer was one such practice.  

Obviously, the European imperial relationship to the rest of the world during the nineteenth century was one of exploitation.  But we must remember that a great many proud imperialists of this era believed themselves to be paternal do-gooders.  These men and women rationalized imperialism by pointing to it’s purported benevolent core.  ‘Native’, ‘backward’, ‘primitive’ peoples benefited from the ‘superior’ cultures they were provided. Albert Beveridge, a US Senator from Indiana stated this quite clearly in 1898.  Running for reelection on a pro-Spanish-American War, pro-imperialist stance, Beveridge stated that,

Therefore, in this campaign, the question is larger than a party question. It is an American question. It is a world question. Shall the American people continue their march toward the commercial supremacy of the world? Shall free institutions broaden their blessed reign as the children of liberty wax in strength, until the empire of our principles is established over the hearts of all mankind?

Have we no mission to perform no duty to discharge to our fellow man? Has God endowed us with gifts beyond our deserts and marked us as the people of His peculiar favor, merely to rot in our own selfishness, as men and nations must, who take cowardice for their companion and self for their deity-as China has, as India has, as Egypt has?

Beveridge

Beveridge

Beveridge felt the American imperial experience would even outshine the British since, as he put it, America was ‘a greater England with a nobler destiny’.

In 1898, America was playing catch up to other European powers, and to England in particular.  England had brought its laws, its government, its religion, its commerce and its language to the world. England also provided the benevolent gift of soccer.

As the twentieth century commenced, many of England’s imperial holdings rebelled against English power, and often, English culture. But, soccer remained and flourished. Instead of rebelling against the imperial game, the peoples of the world embraced it.  They made the sport their own, creating specifically national styles of play.  This may be an example of cooptation and transformation of the European cultural hegemony that often marked the decolonization movements of the mid-twentieth century.  Rebels such as Ho Chi Mihn, Mao, and Che Guevera took European ideologies, transformed them, and used said ideologies against the imperial powers that be.  

Defeating the imperialists in the streets was necessary, but often deadly.  Defeating the imperialists on the pitch was safer, and undoubtedly almost as fulfilling. 

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I think soccer being understood as an imperial force may solve a major conundrum regarding the sport; why is soccer so popular everywhere in the world, except for the United States.  The general response most Americans give is pejorative.  Soccer is just too boring to watch, as this Simpsons clip humorously illustrates:

But, this explanation doesn’t hold water. Americans religiously watch boring sports all the time.  No matter what you think of baseball, it is hard to argue that the game is not one marred by hours of stasis.  Though for true purists of the game, pitchers’ duels that lead to 1-0 scores are the epitome of the sport, for those on the outside looking in, such a three-hour ‘spectacle’ can seem mind-numbing.

Boring soccer is not the answer as to why the sport never captured the American imagination. Instead, I venture that nineteenth century beliefs about American cultural exceptionalism may be behind Americans’ general tepidity towards the ‘beautiful game’.

During the time of soccer’s viral spread, as England ruled the waves, Americans were often quite distrustful, and even disdainful, of the ‘old-world’.  Cultural and political figures in America were a paradoxical melange of feeling historically inferior to Europe, and yet, socially/culturally superior to the old world. Americans viewed their nation, their people, and their land as different from the decaying world across the Atlantic. America was supposed to be exceptional. Our sports were no different.

Thus, baseball would become America’s game at roughly the same time that soccer was taking over the rest of the world. Baseball would become a symbol for America itself.

Even today, this prejudice against European and worldly culture retains its power for many Americans. As in the past, America feels Europe can keep its English invention of Imperial Football. We now have our own imperial sports to ‘provide’ the world.