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International Coalition for British Reparations: People of the World, it's Time to get Paid.

Buckingham Malice

04.27.2007 - Radar

A part of me wants to love the United Kingdom; because I'm an American, I've always looked up to the UK. The British seemed like older, wiser siblings—a little stiff maybe, but friends who have stuck by our side through thick and thin.

Having seen too many a smug Englishman drag the name of my country through the mud, I've decided to fight back. I ask that you stand with me.

Then, all of a sudden, just when America began to come into its own as a 21st century superpower, the British started picking on us. No longer do I feel warmth in the UK when I introduce myself as an American. Instead it's anger, bitterness, a hollow superiority, and most of all, intense jealousy. Over polite business luncheons, I've been told that my president is an idiot. That my countrymen are dolts for electing him. That America is responsible for ruining the world.

I'm a patriotic man, and there's only so much abuse I can take. Though I hate to point fingers, Britain is in no position to be blaming the United States for the world's problems—problems they themselves created in the first place. Now, having seen too many a smug Englishman drag the name of my country through the mud, I've decided to fight back. I ask that you stand with me.
Below, just a handful of reasons her majesty's subjects might not want to throw stones, excerpted from author Steven A. Grasse's Brit-bashing jeremiad, The Evil Empire: 101 Ways That Britain Ruined the World (Quirk), in bookstores now.

THEY GIVE AWARDS TO COVER THEIR TRACKS - Cecil Rhodes sucked the diamonds out of Africa, seized lands to which he had no deed, and committed a series of massacres against the native hordes that were almost genocidal in their intensity. On top of that, he was an insufferable blowhard of a racist, famously boasting that "we" (the white English) "are the finest race in the world, and the more of the world we inhabit, the better it is for the human race." He was quite open about his desire to "paint the map red," a euphemism for taking over the globe.

Yet today, we hear "Rhodes" and think of a jolly and generous philanthropist. Like many a bloated British plutocrat, Rhodes was able to erase a lifetime of imperialist bloodshed with one gesture of charity, the Rhodes Scholarship, which has since been awarded to dozens of U.S. senators, cabinet members, and Supreme Court justices, all in the name of keeping up good Anglo-American relations. But this aura of prestige and benevolence disguises Rhodes's original motive. He was interested not in furthering the education of a few bright Americans with a full-ride scholarship to Oxford so much as bringing them back into the imperial fold. "Why should we not form a secret society," he wrote, "with but one object: the furtherance of the British Empire and the bringing of the whole uncivilized world under British rule for the recovery of the United States."

While the Rhodes Foundation has thus far failed to achieve this sick dream, Rhodes's investment has paid handsome dividends in the form of thousands of American Rhodes Scholars, most of whom grew up to wield tremendous influence in American public life while nursing warm memories of their Oxford days.

THEY PROPAGATED THEIR CONVOLUTED SYSTEM OF MEASUREMENT AROUND THE GLOBE - The metric system is a classic example of the British imperial strategy at work. First, the Brits use their "special relationship" with the United States to settle an old score with France. Second, we fight tooth and nail on the Evil Empire's behalf for decades, in a fight we don't even have a dog in, only to receive nary a word of thanks in return.

Invented shortly after the American Revolution by the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier, the metric system (or Système International d'Unités, as he called it) was designed to be a universal replacement for outmoded local systems. A foot, for example, is however long the guy holding the ruler says it is. A meter, on the other hand, is equal to exactly one forty-millionth of Earth's circumference, which is equal to a metal rod kept by the French Institute. Far more efficient than the haphazard British system of measuring things in caveman units like chains, stones, poles, links, furlongs, and even hogsheads, the new, clean metric family of units distilled distance to meters, mass to grams, and volume to liters. The British switched over in 1965, but America, famously loyal even to losing causes, has had a series of false starts, publishing a new report and convening a new board every ten years or so that this time, we're finally really going to make the switch.

Until then, the old British way of measuring things continues to cost our manufacturers millions of dollars a year. The worst casualty of the metric system may have come in 1998, when the Mars Climate Orbiter burned up in the planet's atmosphere because U.S. contractor Lockheed Martin had given a key measurement in English pound-seconds instead of metric Newton-seconds. As tens of millions of U.S. tax dollars lay in shambles on the surface of the Red Planet, you could barely discern the sound of laughter coming from the graves of the old British geometers who got us hooked on their backward system in the first place.

The British Museum in London is little more than a pirate's trophy case, showing off the results of various cultural rapes that red-coated lackeys perpetuated on ancient sites around the world. One of the most egregious thefts is the Parthenon marbles, taken from Greece in 1816 by Earl Thomas Bruce, who had them chopped off the oldest and greatest temple known to Western civilization, hacked to pieces, and shipped to his estate in England. After handing these treasures over to the British Museum, so-called conservators caused them further irreversible damage by scrubbing and scouring them, stripping away their natural, protective coating until they were as pale and vulnerable to the elements as the skin of a Welsh washerwoman.
Robert Anderson, director of the British Museum, has refused to return the marbles to their rightful place in Greece, or even lend them to the city of Athens for a brief tour. In his words:
Today's national boundaries and cultural mixes bear little relation to the ancient past. The restitutionist premise, that whatever was made in a country must return to an original geographical site, would empty both the British Museum and the other great museums of the world.

Sure. By that logic, I could burgle Buckingham Palace, steal Queen Elizabeth's crown jewels, keep them under armed guard in my basement, and then charge all comers ten bucks a head for a look.

THEY'RE WAY TOO POLITE - Americans aren't "conversationalists." We don't talk for the sake of amusement, we talk to get things done, and we say what we mean. Like the French, we're polite up to a point, knowing how to disagree without being disagreeable, which, Michael Moore and Ann Coulter notwithstanding, is at the heart of healthy civic debate. The British, on the other hand, are scared to death of coming across as insincere, blustery, or the slightest bit offensive. Trained to conceal their actual opinions since birth, they come across like Mr. Bean, a jumbled mess of mannered reactions, stock formulas, and misapplied rules from moldy etiquette books. Their graces are so stilted and studied, the schoolmaster's paddle seems to have whipped any natural, innocent charms out of them long ago.

This is bad for interesting dinner party conversation but even worse for literature and philosophy. Ever since we started keeping track of such things during the Enlightenment, the British have lagged far behind their French and German counterparts in producing thinkers of the first class. The Germans have their Nietzsche, Goethe, and Hegel. The French have Voltaire, Sartre, and Rousseau. The British have . . . who? Lord Byron? Francis Bacon?

Good, sure, but not great. The Germans have Faust. The English have Alice in Wonderland. Ashamed of their shoddy record in the world-class brains department, the Brits have had to import genius from around the world and claim it as their own. The Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey is filled with Anglo-friendly Americans (ringers!) like Henry James and T. S. Eliot, who were suckered into expatriating to artificially boost England's collective IQ.

THEY MADE MODERN ART INTO A CIRCUS FREAKSHOW - Who but Damien Hirst, an ambitious young British art school student, would have the nerve to submerge a dead shark in a tank of formaldehyde, call it The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, and sell the resulting abomination as art?

And who but Charles Saatchi, the famed British adman, would have the gall to buy such a thing and then bankroll the next ten years of Hirst's career? Not just Hirst's career, actually, but those of his equally pretentious Goldsmiths College buddies as well, allowing them to hang out all day smoking cigarettes in their studio spaces, spend Saatchi's money, and earn notoriety as the Young British Artists, or YBAs. Despite millions of pounds in patronage from Saatchi—who perhaps saw his own lack of craft and technique mirrored in the crudely storyboarded showpieces of these shock-art clowns—Hirst still had difficulties building anything that would last for the ages.

Since first being dipped in formaldehyde circa 1991, chunks of his $12 million shark have begun to rot and break off faster than the Royal Navy under U-Boat fire. And it smells.

THEY HUNT SMART ANIMALS WITH DUMB ANIMALS, FOR SPORT - The days when pasty pith-helmeted colonels could hunt Zulu warriors on the Rhodesian grasslands are long gone, as are the days when you could take out a two-ton elephant with your blunderbuss, chop off the head, and get it stuffed and mounted for the wall of your country estate. Foxhunting, however, survives, as one of the last of Britain's great aristocratic bloodsports and an enduring symbol of her disregard for suffering, be it human or animal. It is a microcosm of British society at the height of the Evil Empire, showing how barbarism and supposedly enlightened ritual can coexist and even reinforce one another.

Most Americans are only acquainted with foxhunting through prints hung on the walls of department store haberdasheries. They imagine a troop of men in gallantly regimented dress blowing trumpets and deftly guiding their horses through the woods. What they don't see is what happens when the hounds finally apprehend the fox and tear the poor creature limb from limb like a rag doll. They call it "sport," but the fox is grossly outmatched, surrounded by hungry hounds and men on horseback.

Disguised as a pleasant country outing, foxhunting actually reenacts the animal sacrifices high Druid priests used to perform in prehistoric Britain, as evidenced by the ritual fox blood that orthodox huntmasters will smear on the cheeks of young hunters. How do M.P.s look in the mirror after indulging in such needless cruelties and then criticize America's policy on the Guantánamo Bay detainees? Do they want a world where innocent foxes are killed for no reason while terrorists run free?

THEY MADE ELTON JOHN A KNIGHT - Elton John always loved attention. He chose the piano, a solo instrument, and gave himself such peacocking aliases as "Pinball Wizard" and "Captain Fantastic." But his career of limelight-hogging pretension reached its climax in 1998, when Queen Elizabeth II made this toothsome fairy a knight of the British Empire. No longer was he merely Elton John. Even though most of his swordplay was of the steam room variety, and his only valorous service to Britain was depressing a series of black and white keys for the amusement of his countrymen, he was now Sir Elton John CBE, Commander of the British Empire.

Knighthood is but one part of a larger system known as "honours," through which the monarchy seeks to ingratiate itself with everyone from Steven Spielberg to General Norman Schwarzkopf, Middle Eastern princes, and aging rock stars. It is an attempt to make the entire world of power and celebrity bow down before the majesty of the crown, otherwise known as the "fount of honour," and gradate their achievement according to a royal formula of titles, medals, and privileges. There are barons, dames, ladies, and knights. There are even "life peers," a title that permits its bearer to join the House of Lords. Just imagine an American president who thought he could personally mint senators by touching his old college buddies on the shoulder with a sword.

The American people wouldn't stand for such naked inequality under the law. But the British are in such thrall before her royal majesty that even the counterculture buys into her system of meaningless rewards.

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