After a lengthy discussion on the Key forum regarding the necessity (or otherwise) that the Battle of Britain should be part of Britain's history curriculum in school, it appears that Britain's new Prime Minister may need to attend remedial history lessons himself, to correct his poor understanding of his predecessor's 'finest hour' - given a gaffe made when in the USA.
When discussing the US-British relationship, it appears David Cameron, while acknowledging the junior role of the UK in relation to the US today said: “we were the junior partner in 1940 when we were fighting the Nazis”.
I trust this blog's readers won't need to be told (as Cameron soon was informed, and acknowledged) that America was very much neutral throughout 1940, and profiting from Britain's isolation by making military sales (the Battle pre-dating Lend-Lease) and the US only entering the war after the attack by Japan a year and a half later.
So much for 'Standing alone'* then and a 'finest hour'.
It's too easy to go on, but apart from getting one of Britain's most important global historical moments wrong, does it show the reality of the British Prime Minister's grasp of history?
What makes the gaffe doubly surprising is that Winston Churchill is one of Cameron's heroes.
But after Cameron's original remark on Sky News, it was shown that wasn't just a slip of the tongue. In a prior recorded interview on America's ABC, Cameron said: "We were the junior partner in 1940 when we were fighting against Hitler; we are the junior partner now. I think you shouldn't pretend to be something you're not."
What was also interesting was the British press' (somewhat predictable) reaction. The Daily Mail fulminated, the Financial Times was measured and ponderous, and the Guardian simply didn't regard it as important at all, while lumping anyone who thought it worth getting right with 'incandescent of Daily-Mail-land'.
The Daily Mail:
David Cameron faced a furious backlash yesterday for the astonishing claim that the UK was a 'junior partner' to America in 1940 - a year before the U.S. even entered the war.
The Prime Minister was accused of forgetting the sacrifices made in 1940 by those who fought in the Battle of Britain, the heroes of Dunkirk and the Londoners bombed out of their homes in the Blitz.
Downing Street hastily claimed that Mr Cameron had meant to refer to the 1940s in general. But by then the damage was done.
General Sir Patrick Cordingley, former commander of the Desert Rats, said: 'I am quite sure if Winston Churchill were alive today he would be dismayed.'
In Washington the previous week Mr Cameron did what he could to defuse American anger over BP and the Lockerbie bomber, and to strike a note of humility. But he over-egged it when he said that the UK was the junior partner in the Anglo-American relationship, just as “we were the junior partner in 1940 when we were fighting the Nazis”. As conservative commentators have reminded him to his cost, while the Battle of Britain raged the US was conspicuously and profitably neutral.The Guardian:
The Cameron bluntness was given a high-profile outing the week before in the US, though the victims that time were patriotic readers of the Daily Mail. In an attempt to recalibrate Anglo-American relations to a more realistic level, the prime minister said Britain should accept it is the "junior partner".History? It's just one misremembered thing after another. Or was that before another?
To illustrate his point, Cameron said that this was even the case at the height of the "special relationship" in 1940 when Britain and the US stood shoulder to shoulder to meet the Nazi threat. He later admitted his remarks showed a shaky grasp of history because in 1940 Winston Churchill was embarking on his year-long campaign to persuade Washington to join the allied war effort.
* Britain famously 'stood alone' but no-one would overlook the help given by the Empire and many other nations, as well a handful of volunteer American airmen.
[Note: The post is not a party political comment or particularly to do with current British affairs, politics or personalties, but simply a comment on a remarkable misunderstanding of a significant moment in history by the same nation's current leader. This post therefore does not reflect the author's political views, or the views of any associated publications.]