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Harold Macmillan: “Greeks to Their Romans…”: Document: On the Twentieth Century Imperial Succession

Summary:
D.R. Thorpe: Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan [Harold] Macmillan dubbed Roosevelt ‘The Emperor of the West’, and Churchill ‘The Emperor of the East’. When Eisenhower paid court to Roosevelt, Macmillan said to Bob Murphy, ‘Isn’t he just like a Roman centurion?’ The classical analogy famously went further. To Dick Crossman, Director of Psychological Warfare at AFHQ, he said: We, my dear Crossman, are Greeks in this American empire. You will find the Americans much as the Greeks found the Romans – great big vulgar, bustling people, more vigorous than we are and also more idle, with more unspoiled virtues, but also more corrupt. We must run A.F.H.Q. as the Greeks ran the operations of the Emperor Claudius... The source Thorpe gives for this quote is the Sunday

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D.R. Thorpe: Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan

[Harold] Macmillan dubbed Roosevelt ‘The Emperor of the West’, and Churchill ‘The Emperor of the East’. When Eisenhower paid court to Roosevelt, Macmillan said to Bob Murphy, ‘Isn’t he just like a Roman centurion?’ The classical analogy famously went further. To Dick Crossman, Director of Psychological Warfare at AFHQ, he said:

We, my dear Crossman, are Greeks in this American empire. You will find the Americans much as the Greeks found the Romans – great big vulgar, bustling people, more vigorous than we are and also more idle, with more unspoiled virtues, but also more corrupt. We must run A.F.H.Q. as the Greeks ran the operations of the Emperor Claudius...

The source Thorpe gives for this quote is the Sunday Telegraph for February 9, 1964. Anybody found a longer description? Not in the biographies, and library does not seem to have Crossman's Backbench Diaries...


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Thorpe:

On 22 December, Macmillan was summoned to Downing Street. It was one of the turning points of his life. Churchill outlined the complex situation obtaining in North Africa. Macmillan’s importance, he emphasised, would lie in the relationship he could build up with Eisenhower…

 

As Macmillan prepared to travel to North Africa, Churchill telegraphed Roosevelt. ‘He will be, I am sure, a help. He is animated by the friendliest feelings towards the United States, and his mother hails from Kentucky’…

 

For Macmillan who, 12 months earlier, had been occupying a minor post in the Colonial Office, sending out memoranda about the Yeast Company of Jamaica, the opportunities in North Africa were an extraordinary transformation. He may not have been an Octavius Caesar, but he could lay fair claim to being a Maecenas or an Agrippa…

 

Macmillan’s… task was fourfold…

  1. Oil the wheels of the Anglo-American relationship at Allied headquarters…
  2. Serve as an informal head to the British civilian officials in Algiers…
  3. Act as the representative of His Majesty’s Government, dealing with the French. In this, his most important function was to persuade American colleagues, both civilian and military, to accept British thinking and policy regarding the French, and the eventual elevation of de Gaulle into the position of a de facto prime minister…
  4. Deal with Italian questions… as the Allied forces invaded Sicily and then pushed northwards through the Italian mainland.

Persuade the Commander-in-Chief, General Eisenhower, of the wisdom of the policy of His Majesty’s Government in the course of fulfilling those responsibilities…

 

Macmillan met Eisenhower… on…2 January.… ‘Considering that neither Washington or London had informed him of my appointment (which one of his staff heard by chance on the radio),’ Macmillan wrote home to Dorothy, ‘the interview was quite a success.’

It did not seem so at the outset. Eisenhower bluntly asked Macmillan who he was, and what he was going to do. Macmillan explained that he was to liaise between AFHQ and Churchill, but at present was not au fait with all the political problems. Eisenhower told him that he would have plenty to learn. In any case, Eisenhower said, Hal Mack was a wholly satisfactory liaison officer.

Seeking some kind of common ground, as the interview began to wind down dishearteningly, Macmillan asked Eisenhower if he knew his mother’s home state. Eisenhower, thinking Macmillan meant an English county, did not see how he could possibly be expected to know it. Macmillan then explained that his mother had been born in the town of Spencer in Indiana.

From that moment the tone of the meeting changed. Even though Eisenhower did not treat Macmillan as an equal, even as a British minister of Cabinet rank, he thereafter regarded him as a kinsman…


The Grand Strategy of the British Empire for Superpower Succession

From 1830 to 1900, Britain could out-manufacture any likely coalition of its European enemies. By 1913, that was no longer true—Britain was just one of many projecting power across the globe. Would the 20th Century be a British, a German, or a Russian century? The British Empire preferred that it be a British century, but it was not all-powerful.

In 1800, the U.S. was a developing country—the near-plaything of the superpowers Britain and France. By 1870, the U.S. was a “power”—with an army, a navy, and an industrial base to support them—but unable to project that power south of Mexico City or east of the Bahamas.

Nevertheless, there was a shift of Britain’s strategy toward the U.S. starting in the 1840s:

  • Unusually: making a deal with the U.S. over the Oregon Territory—a deal that gives the U.S. what is now Washington state and part of Idaho, which were British settled. (The usual British negotiating strategy would have been to send the gunboats to burn the U.S.'s capital, and then dictate terms.)
  • Cultural and economic contact: Rhodes Scholarships, dukes marrying the daughters of plutocrats, massive investment in U.S. industrial development.
  • One often-expressed hope was to find a way to bind together the English-speaking countries:
    • Maybe the U.S. would outsource foreign policy to the Mother Country?
    • At least a “special relationship”

This was very important. By 1913, the U.S. was a potential superpower. By 1939, the U.S. was the superpower:

 

Population: U.S. vs. British Empire (“European”):

1800: 4 vs. 17
1840: 13 vs. 28
1870: 33 vs. 37
1913: 83 vs. 59—largely due to the great wave of immigration

 

Manufacturing: U.S. as a percentage of British Plus Dominions:

1860: 30%
1880: 60%
1900: 100%
1913: 175%
1929: 300%

Bradford DeLong
J. Bradford DeLong is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was Deputy Assistant US Treasury Secretary during the Clinton Administration, where he was heavily involved in budget and trade negotiations. His role in designing the bailout of Mexico during the 1994 peso crisis placed him at the forefront of Latin America’s transformation into a region of open economies, and cemented his stature as a leading voice in economic-policy debates.

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