Give the English some credit

By James P. Pinkerton Published:

By James P. Pinkerton

According to futurist-strategist Herman Kahn, the most important fact about the 20th century is that America and Britain shared the same language.

But an upcoming movie, The New World, offers a look at the long-ago origins of that alliance -- and questions its moral implications.

What Kahn meant was that, because America and Britain had so much in common, the two countries inevitably found themselves on the same side of three great conflicts -- World War I, World War II and the Cold War. And, of course, the United States and the United Kingdom are on the same side on most world issues, including two wars against Iraq. Indeed, so robust is the friendship between London and Washington that many speak fondly of an Anglosphere to lead the world.

But theres a revisionist view of the past five centuries of trans-Atlantic development. The revisionists argue that the British, along with other European powers, committed an enormous crime -- beginning with a Spanish-funded voyage in 1492. As the American-Indian activist Russell Means once said, Columbus makes Hitler look like a juvenile delinquent.

This revisionist view has gained great momentum in past decades, especially within the scholarly community. One recent book -- 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles Mann -- argues that the indigenous peoples the Europeans discovered were actually far along in their development -- until they were devastated by conquest and contagious disease.

Now comes The New World, written and directed by the critics darling Terrence Malick, putting itself on the side of the revisionists and the antiwhite guilt-trippers. The film is set in 1607 as the first British colonists land at Jamestown. The contrast between the two cultures, Old and New, is stark.

The Native Americans are portrayed positively, and only positively. A narrator describes them as gentle, loving. Yet historians note that, in reality, Chief Powhatan, father of Pocahontas, had recently conquered rival tribes, creating Tenakomakah -- what we call Virginia.

But in Malicks movie only the English are violent and cruel -- and, in their rage, the Brits literally foam at the mouth. And whereas the Native Americans speak in gentle New Ageisms, waxing navel-istically about the God in me, the English characters speak harshly, in the stern language of the Old Testament: God has given us the promised land.

So is the world worse off because Europeans came to North America? Its hard to argue that the Native Americans gained, but there are other, larger factors to consider, too.

First, English North America was a haven for political and religious refugees. With some exceptions, the people who came to the New World in search of freedom were willing to extend it to others. That early impulse set an enduring tone for the United States: The Land of the Free.

Second, the establishment of a dynamic capitalist economy in North America created a competitive alternative to the backward-looking and unproductive tyrannies that blotted Europe and other continents. The mere existence of this attractive alternative forced other regimes to change their ways once they realized that much of their talent and capital might flee to America. And, of course, a rich Uncle Sam also has become the most generous foreign-aid contributor in world history.

And third, as noted, the New World, having built itself up into the United States, saved the Old World -- from the Kaiser, from Hitler and, finally, the Soviets.

So by a greatest-good-for-the-greatest-number calculus, the whole world is better off because the Europeans -- and not just the Europeans, but specifically the English, with their long tradition of rights and due process -- came to America.

Perhaps this is a ruthless argument to make, but the world and its progress have been built by tough realists. So if you see the film, you might give those Englishmen a little credit -- for what they ultimately have done for all of us, everywhere.

Special to Newsday

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