KONGIs there still an innate assumption, a manifest destiny among the
major English-speaking nations that they have a Kiplingesque mission to bring
order to the world? Why is that Britain and Australia are almost the only
countries to be joining the United States in its attack on Iraq? Has the
dominance of English as the global medium of communication unconsciously led its
native speakers of the Anglo-Saxon tongue to assume a role out of proportion to
their position in the world?
The question was asked by an Indian
friend as fluent in English as in his own language. There is no easy answer.
It is easy enough to understand why
President George W. Bush wanted war with Iraq, whether or not it will harm
broader U.S. interests. But what is it that has made Britain and Australia so
keen to sign up for an uncertain agenda of "regime change" that may remake the
map of the Middle East?
Both countries have long labored under
the belief that they have a special relationship with the United States,
although that has seldom been reciprocated. Britain's Suez folly was - rightly -
cut short by the United States and for years Britain's dominant domestic
problem, IRA terror, was funded from the United States. Australia followed the
United States into the Vietnam mire but has since seen crucial economic
interests ignored by Washington.
In recent years Britain's major foreign
policy goal has been to deepen its engagement with Europe, Australia's to be
accepted as part of Asia. But these objectives have been cast aside in
enthusiasm to join in what must be viewed, even if it is justified, as a an
Britain's support for Bush is a huge
setback for Britain's role in Europe, as well as for Europe itself. In Asia, the
war is viewed as at best unwise at worst brutal and racist. Australia's
participation strengthens the perception that its loyalties lie with whites, the
West and Anglo-Saxons in particular, not with Asia. Australia conspicuously did
not consult Asian allies and neighbors.
Is this gut loyalty to the clan leader,
the U.S. president? It goes deeper than that. In the case both of Britain and
Australia, governments and much of the media are keener on war than the public
Among the media, the majority of those
with international reach in both countries seem to reflect innate assumptions
rather than the views of the wider world where they are seen and read. Rupert
Murdoch's empire, which encompasses a wide range of newspapers and television
channels on four continents, is particularly enthusiastic for war. So too is
that globally circulating oracle of received Anglo-American rightist wisdom, The
Economist. There is an almost missionary zeal to preach the righteousness of war
to a skeptical world.
As a perusal of local English-language
papers that play a major role in Asia would show, such sentiments are quite out
of touch with the non-Anglo-Saxon but English-reading world, let alone the world
of Asian-language speakers. Even the less committed international news media
based in the United States, Britain and Australia, including news agencies,
television stations and newspapers that offer diverse opinions, clearly reflect
national bias, though some purport to be neutral.
Governments in both Britain and Australia
like to try to "fight above their weight" in international affairs. Hence they
prefer to follow the United States into action rather than think first of their
broader interests. This is not just a legacy of imperialist pasts. It seems also
to reflect the assumptions that derive from the dominant role played by
English-speaking people in global media and in international organizations such
as World Bank and International Monetary Fund - and indeed the United Nations
itself. They have now just taken on themselves the right to judge and preempt
the United Nations itself. Often what is seen as U.S. supremacy is actually a
broader Anglo-Saxon linguistic and intellectual one, of which Britain and
Australia are an integral part.
The ubiquity of English has helped global
integration and the spread of knowledge. It has been a force for good. But
present combined actions by native English speakers are strengthening the views
of those who see globalization as imperialism.