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Lord Alan Watson

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The Queen's Diamond Jubilee: Cause for American Celebration

Posted: 19/05/2012 00:00

The United States was born out of a war, not against the British people, but against a British monarch. In dynamics similar to those in 1776, the British people have shown an ability to separate their affection for the people of a country with that country's leadership. During the presidency of George W. Bush, his disapproval rating among the British people hovered around 70 to 80%, while at the same time, the popularity of the American people with British citizenry remained around 70 to 80%. In all other countries where measured, the ratings for the leadership and the people of country closely paralleled each other.

Likewise, for more than 100 years, the American people have remained constant in their support for the British people. And - in an ironic shift that proves the dynamics have gone full circle - most American citizens consider Queen Elizabeth II the representative of her people rather than a political ideology or government, and affection for her has grown steadily among Americans.

2012 is Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee, 60 years on the Throne, a feat of monarchical longevity, matched only by Queen Victoria. During this time the world has changed volcanically - the Berlin Wall has risen and fallen (which in her childhood, was the capital of Hitler's Reich), her father's British Empire has morphed into the new expanding Commonwealth of which she is Head, the English language which she once described as the "golden thread" holding the Commonwealth together now binds the world as the working language of the global village, the key language of the Internet and globalization. Everywhere change - not least in the United States. Yet part of her magic remains best caught by the poet Philip Larkin:

"In times when nothing stood
But worsened, or grew strange
There was one constant good
She did not change"

This "constant good" needs examining. It is based on values. She is meticulously nonpartisan in the politics of every country of which she is Queen - 17 in all. However she has come to symbolise values we all recognise as at the heart of politics - freedom, racial equality, democratic and legal rights. These values also are at the heart of Britain's 'special relationship' with the United States.

It is no accident that she has been on more State Visits to the United States than to any other country. She has known 12 Presidents. She has visited many of the sites important to the founding of America - Jamestown, Old North Church, Monticello, Independence Hall and Williamsburg. On her most recent visit to the United States, she laid her wreath at the World Trade Center Memorial - a bleak reminder of how murderous the hatred by some can be of the values she symbolises.

Elizabeth II looks as if she was born to be Queen. In fact she was not in direct line to ascend the throne - during her early life, it was not assumed she would be Queen. But circumstances, including the abdication of her uncle Edward VIII, led to a different outcome. Her childhood played out when bombs dropped on London in World War II, with neither the East End of London nor Buckingham Palace was spared. Her service in the Auxiliary Territorial Services at the end of the war, where she was listed as 'Second Subaltern Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Wind-sor', taught her to service an engine, maintain trucks and cars and drive in a convoy. National service and, more importantly, watching her father King George VI successfully struggle to rally the British people during the World War II, reinforced her oft-stated commitment that the most important mission in her life is her duty to her people.

Her wedding, two years after the end of World War II, was not lavish, yet it helped the British people look beyond the bleak post-war period. As Head of the British Commonwealth, she has helped transform it into a value-based network of necessity for 53 countries.

Historians may well speculate on how different things might have been if instead of her timeless commitment to service, the crown had been worn by a disengaged or frivolous person - or even worse, a monarch who harbored anti-democratic sentiments. Americans are fortunate that Her Majesty has held onto and reinforced the timeless components of liberty and freedom that need to be included in any political framework that claims to be democratic, namely the rule of law; representative government; free markets and respect for diversity.

In an address before the Virginia General Assembly on May 3, 2007 to mark the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, she directly confronted the lack of reference to racial and ethnic diversity in commemorations prior to 2007.

"When I visited 50 years ago, we celebrated the 350th Anniversary largely from the perspective of those settlers...But 50 years on we are now in a position to reflect more candidly on the Jamestown legacy. Human progress rarely comes without cost. And those early years in Jamestown, when three great civilizations came together for the first time--Western European, Native American and African--released a train of events which continues to have a profound social impact...."

This was a personal, as well as a diplomatic and political, statement. So equally was the care, attention and respect with which she greeted the chiefs of the Indian tribes waiting for her in the Assembly.

The Diamond Jubilee is a time to celebrate the remarkable arc of Her Majesty's life. We can honor her by recommitting ourselves to the special relationship and those democratic values that bind us together, that will always need to be nurtured and defended - a common purpose to which Prime Minister Cameron and President Obama recommitted themselves this month.

By The Lord Watson of Richmond and H. Edward Mann, co-authors of the recently published book "The Queen and the U.S.A."

 
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