World War I and Anglo-American relations: The role of Philip Kerr and The Round Table Priscilla Roberts To cite this article: Priscilla Roberts (2006) World War I and Anglo-American relations: The role of Philip Kerr and The Round Table , The Round Table, 95:383, 113-139, DOI: 10.1080/00358530500389519 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00358530500389519
Published online: 19 Aug 2006.
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The Round Table Vol. 95, No. 383, 113 – 139, January 2006
World War I and Anglo-American Relations: The Role of Philip Kerr and The Round Table PRISCILLA ROBERTS
ABSTRACT As the 19th century drew to a close, an alliance between the USA and the British Empire dominated the thinking of a political elite in the UK. Milner’s ‘Kindergarten’ was attracted to the idea of the USA as a potential ally with whom Britain could establish an AngloAmerican world hegemony, and during World War I, Philip Kerr, ﬁrst editor of The Round Table, was in the vanguard of eﬀorts to make this vision reality. Later, as ambassador to the USA, Kerr was at the centre of eﬀorts to bring the USA into World War II and to ensure its continuing involvement in international aﬀairs once ﬁghting had ended. This outcome owed much to moves during and between both world wars by inﬂuential British ﬁgures and institutions, including Kerr and The Round Table, to persuade the American elite that their country should take on a far greater international role. KEY WORDS: USA, UK, Empire, The Round Table, allies, Germany
Introduction The experience of World War I was central to the emergence, with British encouragement, of a transatlantic elite committed to the maintenance of close collaboration and an international alliance, either de facto or informal, between Great Britain and the USA. Before 1914 relatively few on either the American or British side of the Atlantic subscribed to this outlook, although in both countries there existed a small number of inﬂuential men dedicated to the promotion of AngloAmerican concord. By the time the war ended their numbers had grown substantially, and they perceived themselves as a coherent group, sharing a common faith, who intended to continue to cooperate in international aﬀairs. For the most part, moreover, this body of men subscribed to an international outlook diﬀering signiﬁcantly from those principles eloquently expressed by President Woodrow Wilson, in that they emphasized a continuing Anglo-American alliance, the maintenance of a balance of power favourable to the USA, and dependence upon military as well as economic means to safeguard American interests. To a great degree the creation of this grouping, which would remain inﬂuential for several
Correspondence Address: Priscilla Roberts, Department of History, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong. Email: [email protected] ISSN 0035-8533 Print/1474-029X Online/06/010113-27 Ó 2006 The Round Table Ltd DOI: 10.1080/00358530500389519
decades, most notably immediately before World War II, was the product of the wartime experience itself, and took place with British encouragement. Undoubtedly the roots of these developments can be traced back far earlier, well before 1900, when portions of the elites of Great Britain, Canada, and the USA already considered international collaboration between the USA and the British Empires a highly desirable, perhaps even essential, goal. From the late 1870s onwards the millionaire imperialist Cecil Rhodes, who had close ties with Oxford, resolved to bring about the union of the Anglo-Saxon races—Britain, the USA and Germany—in the hope that together they would permanently dominate the world, an objective for which he established in his will the Rhodes Fellowships (replacing earlier plans for a secret society for this purpose) (Symonds, 1986, pp. 164 – 165). Beginning with British prime minister Lord Salisbury in the late 19th century, belief in the desirability of strengthening the Empire’s defences through a de facto alliance with the USA was fundamental to the thinking of assorted leading British statesmen. These included the entire Salisbury family—Lord Robert Cecil and his brothers, his brother-in-law Lord Selborne, and his cousin, Conservative Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour; Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary from 1905 to 1916; James, Viscount Bryce, British ambassador to the USA in the early 20th century; the Canadian-born British press magnate Lord Northcliﬀe, proprietor of The Times; St John Loe Strachey, editor of The Spectator; and Alfred, Lord Milner and various of his acolytes, together with the American-born Waldorf and Nancy Astor (Anderson, 1981, pp. 86 – 94, 112 – 129; Beloﬀ, 1969, pp. 43 – 46; Egerton, 1978, pp. 63 – 109; Fry, 1972, pp. 5 – 67; Perkins, 1968, pp. 51 – 53, 65 – 67; Dimbleby and Reynolds, 1988; Symonds, 1986, pp. 161 – 165; Watt, 1965, pp. 24 – 32; 1984). The core of the group around Milner was the ‘Kindergarten’, those able and well connected young men who worked under him to re-establish governmental institutions in South Africa after the Boer war, and who shared his belief in the need to strengthen the links among the British Empire’s constituent parts; in later years they would congregate socially at Cliveden, the Astors’ country house in Buckinghamshire. In 1910 they founded a journal, The Round Table, to promote these views (Ellinwood, 1962; Kendle, 1975; Lavin, 1995; May, 1995; Nimocks, 1968; Rose, 2000). Donald Watt has suggested that The Round Table group’s objectives gave it ‘‘a triple interest in the US’’. The group viewed it as a country whose success ‘‘in the absorption and uniﬁcation of a great mass of diﬀerent peoples and traditions’’ made it a potential model for a united British Empire; they ‘‘subscribed largely to the theories that the two countries shared a common culture and a common purpose’’; and considered it a potential ally in whose company Britain might establish ‘‘an Anglo-American world hegemony’’ and ‘‘dominate the world, widening and strengthening the Pax Britannica, the world order on which they set so much store’’ (Watt, 1965, p. 29). During World War I members of The Round Table group, most notably Philip Kerr, the journal’s ﬁrst editor, spearheaded eﬀorts to make this vision reality. Roots of Atlanticism The Atlanticist outlook was underpinned not simply by consciousness of the British Empire’s growing weakness vis-a`-vis the rising nations of Germany, Russia, and
The Role of Philip Kerr and The Round Table in Anglo-American Relations
Japan, but also by popular social Darwinist ideas of the superiority of the AngloSaxon or English-speaking nations current in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These supported the belief, disseminated by numerous inﬂuential historians and political theorists, that the Anglo-Saxon race, in eﬀect the British and Americans, was uniquely capable of self-government, shared a common legal, political, and institutional heritage, and had evolved the world’s best and most democratic political institutions to date. Such views were often used to justify imperial rule, which, its supporters argued, provided good government to peoples themselves incapable of running their own aﬀairs in an orderly fashion. Calls for AngloAmerican concord and cooperation thus rested on a sense of racial, ideological and institutional kinship, reinforced by a variety of business, political, intellectual, personal and familial ties linking British and American elites (Anderson, 1981; Healy, 1970; Hofstadter, 1955; Horsman, 1981; Hunt, 1986; May, 1995, esp. pp. 38, 46; Parmar, 2004, pp. 65 – 70; Perkins, 1968, pp. 74 – 83). They also drew upon the naval writings of the US naval oﬃcer Alfred T. Mahan, who suggested that American national security had throughout the 19th century ultimately depended upon the protection of the British ﬂeet, and that in their mutual interests the two countries should therefore harmonize their defence policies (Mahan, 1897; 1900; 1910; Merli and Wilson, 1974; Paret, 1986; Puleston, 1939; Seager, 1977; Semmel, 1986; Simpson, 1977; Sumida, 1997; Zimmermann, 2002, esp. ch. 3). In practical terms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries relations between the USA and Britain improved dramatically, a rapprochement fuelled by British concessions on such issues as Venezuela and disputes over the Newfoundland ﬁsheries, and British support for the USA during the Spanish–American War and in building the Panama Canal (Campbell, 1960; Campbell, 1957; Perkins, 1968). Although before 1914 some Americans undoubtedly believed in the desirability of Anglo-American cooperation, they were probably fewer in number than their British counterparts. American convictions that the USA should play a far greater role in world aﬀairs were still rudimentary, largely conﬁned to a small group of dedicated individuals, many of them clustered around the martial ex-president Theodore Roosevelt. Among the most prominent were such ﬁgures as Roosevelt’s two secretaries of state, John Hay and Elihu Root, the brothers Henry and Brooks Adams, the inﬂuential naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan, and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts (Zimmermann, 2002; Beale, 1954; Brands, 1997; Burton, 1968; Collin, 1985; Dalton, 2002; Esthus, 1970; Marks, 1979; Morris, 2001; Clymer, 1975; Seager, 1977; Widenor, 1980; Jessup, 1938; Leopold, 1954). They also included a coterie of youthful diplomats, augmented by a few journalists, ﬁnanciers and military men, who formed an...