UK Is America's Aircraft Carrier

For one year from 2007-2008, Amar traveled around the world reporting on how people from all walks of life view the United States through text and video.  The following is one of a number of posts from England. For more, click here.

“The one right thing we did was to get rid of our colonies, all of them…just as America should get rid of its colonies,” Peter Underwood says as he stocks his canal boathouse. “America runs bombing missions out of Britain” using the isle as an aircraft carrier. It's hard to see how America represents freedom anymore, says Peter.

Peter spent forty years as a journalist covering crime and politics. He had a stint running a PR consultancy specializing in crisis management for big oil. But after a heart attack Peter chose to turn his hobby -- boating up and down England's canals -- into a way of life. He now spends half his time on his boathouse and half at the pub, where “talking politics is part of the fun.” What he hears from the other “laid back” canal-goers -- and what he firmly believes -- is that an arrogant America has become a true threat to global stability.

Britain suffered from the affliction of arrogance for centuries, but eventually acquired a belief in “individual freedom for people who were not part of our culture and belief system.” America did the opposite, "getting it right in the beginning" but increasingly trying to impose its will on others, Peter says.

Peter considers himself part of the class of British people who naturally allied with America for most of their lives, especially before Vietnam, in love with the ideals of “fairness and freedom.” Now he rebuffs the nation as a closed-minded bully. “Just the very idea that the CIA has the right to run around the world, pick up people they suspect…and beat the hell out of them; that’s not American is it? That’s worse than Saddam for Christ’s sake.”

I’ve heard these sentiments many times here: America is not living up to its ideals, America is too powerful for its own good, America is a great destabilizer, who disrupted the world by invading Iraq. But what I found particularly interesting about Peter Underwood was the way in which he relayed his feelings to me. While most people I’ve spoken to have carefully distinguished between the American government and the American people -- perhaps because I’m American -- Peter instead used the pronoun “you” when speaking of America as a whole. It was slightly off-putting at the time, as he went on “your arrogance…your bullying, your refusal to acknowledge world opinion.”

I set the video aside, focusing on Blackburn’s Muslims at the time, planning to come back to it and edit later. I wasn’t sure if I had enough material from our interview either, because with most interviewees I spend several hours if not a day, but I had less than an hour with Peter.

Peter took my delay as a sign of exactly the arrogance and cowardice he attributes to America. Under email headlines like “Lack of Courage,” Peter said I was censoring myself, unable to “swallow the bitter pill” that a whole class of British citizens now resent my country; I was yet another journalist adding to the “self-delusion” of the American people.

I was a bit shocked at how suspicious he was of my intentions. Crippling voluntary censorship? About criticisms of Bush? I’ve heard far worse, and far more often, from my barber in DC. But it was interesting that he was so convinced that I, along with the "American people," would systematically refuse to listen to him, voluntarily shutting him out, and instead focusing on targeted groups that can be dismissed as representative of a “special interest group” -- MuslimsIrishmenBMXers.

Perhaps that’s what Peter means when he describes American arrogance, an unwillingness to listen to people like him -- white, middle-class, long-time friends of America who have recently grown upset with the U.S. -- preferring instead to focus on the salable stories of extremists, protesters or pro-American bulwarks. Whether this post will assuage his suspicions or exacerbate them is yet to be seen. Once again, the comment thread awaits.

EnglandAmar Bakshi