The British are an enigma to me. Perhaps, like most Americans, I was raised too much on Shakespeare so my view of the British is too heroic for the real thing.
Too often when I think of the British, I recall John of Gaunt in Shakespeare's Richard II speaking in iambic pentameter of his love of:''This royal throne of kings, this sceptered
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise This fortress built by nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house
Against the envy of less happier lands -
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this
Perhaps, rather than blaming the British of today for their less than heroic posture, I should forget my Shakespeare.
The frustration I feel with the British is compounded by the fact that I have been reading an excellent biography of Sir Winston Churchill by Piers Brendon.
I am certain that Neil Kinnock, who would like to move into 10 Downing Street as prime minister in a Labor Party governments, loves England no less than John of Gaunt. But this 44-year-old son of a Welsh coal miner, who would unilaterally remove all nuclear weaponry from the United Kingdom, sounds more like Richard II, who Shakespeare has say:
''Let's talk of graves, of worms and epitaphs, make dust our paper and with rainy eyes, write sorrow on the bosom of the earth. Let's choose executors and talk of wills."
Following World War I, Winston Churchill had a problem. The British, who had suffered devastating losses in the four-year war, withdrew into themselves. They were more intent on improving their own social welfare in England than in struggling to maintain their empire. They shirked from the struggle that goes with leadership.
The British had had enough with heroics and heroes. Sir Winston's problem was that he was both a hero and thrived on heroics. A former cavalry officer in India, later, while a war corre spondent, he escaped from prison after being captured in South Africa during the Boar War. He was brave to the point of being foolhardy. He just didn't fit in after World War I.
But though the British tried to run away from their responsibilities in the world, the world has a way of not letting you get away with that. Soon the fascists of Germany and Italy had developed a military might that threatened the very survival of England. Only then, when it was almost too late, did the British recognize the worth of a man like Sir Winston.
Winston Churchill set the tone for his administration in his first and perhaps his most famous speech as prime minister, made on May 13, 1940:
''I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat . . . . You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, a lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be."
Later on June 4, after the evacuation of the British Army back to England
from the continent at Dunkirk, he pronounced his celebrated litany of resistance:
''We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and strength in the air, we shall defend our island whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."
Shakespeare could not have said it better.
It has been said that those who don't know history have a habit of repeating it. Whatever the good intentions of Neil Kinnock, his desire to take England again through a unilateral renouncement of war will only guarantee that England will once again not be prepared when and if war comes. Such foolhardiness also will, perhaps, once again encourage others to undertake war.
The British need to recall something else that Mr. Churchill said: ''Nations that go down fighting rise again, but those that surrender tamely are finished."