Epilogue A New British Empire

Part of the Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters book series (19CMLL)


In a speech at the United States Military Academy on December 5, 1962, Dean Acheson, former secretary of state in the Truman administration (1949–1953), architect of the Marshall Plan and enthusiastic proponent of the North American Treaty Organization (NATO), made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic by announcing the death of the United Kingdom as a world power. “Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role,” Acheson said, and “the attempt to play a separate power role—that is, a role apart from Europe, a role based on a ‘special relationship’ with the United States, a role based on being the head of a ‘commonwealth’ which has no political structure, or unity, or strength . . ., this role is about played out.”1 This gloomy declaration was especially unanticipated coming from Acheson, the son of English immigrants and known during his years at the State Department as an “unabashed Anglophile,” who had looked and acted “like the American version of a model British diplomat, sartorially and otherwise.” But while the Kennedy administration rushed to distance itself from Acheson and London tabloids fulminated against his “astonishing anti-British speech,” and “verbal kick in the teeth,”2 no one denied the truth of what Ache son said. T hey scarcely could , for a s 1962 drew to a close, it was clear that the United Kingdom really had lost an empire.


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© Matthew Schneider 2008

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