Anti-Americanism in Britain during the Second World War

Historian article

By Kit Kowol, published 17th May 2023

The Second World War saw the development of significant anti-Americanism in Britain. This article locates the centre of wartime anti-Americanism in the politics of Conservative imperialists, who believed the USA was trying to deliberately dismantle the British Empire in order to fulfil its own imperial ambitions.

The Second World War and Anglo-American co-operation

‘Like the Mississippi, it just keeps rolling along. Let it roll. Let it roll on full flood, inexorable, irresistible, benignant, to broader lands and better days.’ So declared Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime prime minister, in the crescendo to his speech of 20 August 1940. In the speech, he explained the growing co-operation between the British Empire and the United States. Delivered in the context of the Battle of Britain, where the German air force attempted to gain control of the skies above Britain, the speech celebrated not just ‘the Few’ but also the so-called destroyers-for-bases deal. This provided the Royal Navy with fifty ageing American warships in return for ninety-nine-year leases on a range of British naval facilities across the Atlantic. Announced following the fall of France, the agreement was welcomed not just as a means to shore up Britain’s defences, but also because it ensured that for generations to come ‘the two great organisations of the English-speaking democracies’, as Churchill termed them, would be somewhat ‘mixed up.’ Helping to safeguard the British Isles, boosting the security of Canada and the West Indies, and ensuring that American ships did more than just rust away in port, the agreement was hailed by The Spectator magazine as ‘a splendid barter’ that went well beyond an isolated transaction...

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