Published Date

July 1, 1944

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 41: Our British Ally (1944)


How to Use This Pamphlet

This G. I. Roundtable pamphlet is intended to help you as leader of off-duty forums or discussions. It contains in compressed and readable form much information about British political, economic, and social institutions. Discussions of the fundamental similarities and the obvious differences between our two peoples can be a great force in bringing about mutual understanding between us.

The material in this manual is so arranged that you can develop more than one meeting from it. There are suggested below certain main lines of inquiry together with subsidiary questions which you may wish to have considered under each. While it is possible that you may have time in your program for only one discussion on the subject, you would do well if it is practicable to plan a series of meetings on it. In carrying out the latter plan you may desire to select one of the major lines of inquiry for each meeting in the series. If you have time for only one meeting, you should limit the single session to the one major area which seems to offer the most fruitful results for your particular study group.

  1. What are some specific things about Britain and the British that Americans may not understand?—Breakdown questions: Are there differences between us and the British that are difficult for us to explain? How many of these are superficial differences based on an unfamiliar social or political point of view? How may the observed differences be explained? By climate? By geographical location? By education? By differing traditions? By the length and character of British history? By crowded conditions of living? Are there similar points of misunderstanding between Americans from different parts of the United States? How do we reconcile such differences so as to maintain national unity? In trying to understand the British is there something we can learn from sectioned differences in the United States? Have you noticed that there are things about America and Americans that the British fail to understand? Do you think that such things should be serious obstacles to friendly understanding between our two peoples? Are there strong similarities between the customs and ideals of the British and our own? Would you say that the differences or the similarities are more important? Why?
  2. Are the conditions of living and the economic activities of the British similar to ours?—Breakdown questions: Can Britain be called a “crowded country”? Do the British earn their livings in the same way as Americans? Is Britain agriculturally self-sufficient? Why have manufacturing and trade been important British pursuits? Do the British have a protective tariff system similar to ours? Is it true that the British believe in “free trade”? Does British prosperity depend more on foreign trade than ours does? Are British industry and science as efficient and ingenious as our own?
  3. What are British social institutions like?—Breakdown questions: Does the British landlord system fit modern conditions in British agriculture? Is it in process of change? Is there anything in our system of operating farms that is similar to this pattern of rural life? Is British urban, industrial, and commercial life similar to ours? Is it more difficult for an individual Briton to improve himself than it is for an American? Does British organized labor hold a stronger position than American labor dates? Why? How important are cooperatives in British life? To what extent is the titled aristocracy a legacy of the past? Is there any comparable group in the United States?
  4. What about the British system of government?—Breakdown questions: How can the British get along without a constitution? If the House of Commons virtually rules the country, is it reasonable for the British to have their king and House of Lords? Is the British cabinet system different from our method of administering our government? Is this system more or less democratic than ours? Which system reacts more quickly to a change in public opinion? Do you think civil service employees have greater influence on government policies in the United States or in Britain? Is the British Commonwealth something different from the British Empire? Are the British conservative, socialistic, or practical in their attitude toward social reforms? Why did the British government let the Nazis get away with so much before declaring war? In their attitude toward the Nazis before 1939 were they different from us?

The four areas above have been broken down in the main by questions that are informational rather than controversial in type. The following questions may be used to develop discussion of the latter type:

Should we continue close collaboration with the British after the war?—Suggested breakdown questions: Is the character of the British people such that Americans can easily reach an understanding with them? Does British dependence upon foreign trade mean that economically they must compete rather than collaborate with us? In particular, is British trade with Latin America a possible source of friction? Should we deal directly with the dominions or with the Commonwealth as a whole on economic problems? Is our attitude toward the place of smaller nations after the war essentially the same as that of the British? Should Britons and Americans cooperate in the postwar development of international air transportation? Is the British attitude toward provisions for social security similar to ours? Have they more acute problems of unemployment and dependency to face in the postwar period than we have?

Types of discussion: If you have a small group, a well-conducted series of informal discussions is the best plan. If your group numbers forty or fifty or more members, use panel discussions or forum type meetings. For a sizable audience a discussion by a panel has many of the advantages of informal discussion. If you choose to set up a series of forum meetings, be sure to have a speaker or speakers who are experts on Britain and who can hold an audience well.

Assuming that you present the question “Do you know the British?” before a series of informal meetings, you will find it helpful to appoint at least one assistant leader for each meeting. He should be prepared, either in a five-minute talk or in the course of the discussion, to supply data that are necessary for intelligent consideration by the group. Locate for this job a man who knows Britain and the British.

Start the discussion off yourself by some question like:

  • Is the United States socially more democratic than Britain?
  • Is it harder to make a living in Britain than in the United States?
  • Has the prime minister more or less power in his country than the president has in ours? Is the British responsible cabinet system more democratic than our system of separating executive from legislative authority?

Techniques for organizing and conducting all of the suggested types of discussion are outlined in EM 1, G. I. Roundtable: Guide for Discussion Leaders, a numbered Education Manual published in the same form as this pamphlet. This guide should he in the hands of every leader of discussion in the Army.

Charts. Make full use of the illustrations in this manual. They will help you get the facts across. Reproduce the diagrams in a size large enough for easy reading from the back of the meeting room. The reproductions will be effective even if they are crudely done. Fasten them to a handy wall, blackboard, or other stand.

Reading by group members. Make a copy or two of this manual available for reading in the library or other reading center. The information about Britain possessed by members of your group is likely to be spotty and incomplete. Some individuals will have specific prejudices toward things and persons British. Not many will have even a reasonably complete set of facts about these Allies of ours. So reading by the members will start your discussion off on a sounder basis.


Suggestions for Further Reading

These books are suggested for supplementary reading if it so happens that you have access to them. They are not approved nor officially supplied by the War Department. They have been selected because they give additional information and represent different points of view.

The British Empire under Fire. By James F. Green. No. 24 of the Headline Books, published by the Foreign Policy Association, 22 East 38th Street, New York, N. Y. (1940).

The Enigma of the British. By Harold Calleender. No. 21 of America in a World at War, published by the Oxford University Press, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, N. Y. (1942).

Britain and the British People. By Ernest Barker. Published by the Oxford University Press, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York. N. Y. (1942).

England: A Short Account of Its Life and Culture. By Walter S. Hinchman. Published by Little, Brown, and Company, 34 Beacon Street, Boston, Mass. (1941).

Why Britain Fights. By Richard 1-1. Tawncy. No. 13 of Macmillan War Pamphlets, published by Macmillan and Company, 60 Fifth Avenue. New York 11. N. Y. (1941).

The British Constitution. By Arthur L. Goodhart. Published by the British Information Services, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. (1943).

Making of Modern Britain. By John B. Brebner and Allan Nevins. Published by W. W., Norton and Company, 70 Fifth Avenue, New York, N. Y. (1943).

British Life and Thought: An Illustrated Survey. Eleven essays (also available as separate booklet, in which form they were originally published), published for The British Council by Longmans Green and Company, 55 Fifth Avenue, New York, N. Y. (1941) .

Britain’s Balance Sheet. Two articles by John Davenport, in Fortune, November and December 1943.

Empire in the Changing World. By W. K. Hancock. Published by Penguin Books, Inc., 245 Fifth Avenue, New York: N. Y . (1943).

Britain’s Postwar Trade and World Economy. An article by Howard P. Whidden; Jr., in Foreign Policy Association. 19 December 15, 1943, published by the Foreivri Polio Association, 22 East 38th Street, New York, N. Y.

The Beveridge Plan. By S. Stewart Maxwell. No. 19 of Public Affairs Pamphlets, published by Public Affairs Committee, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N. Y. (1943).

English Social History: A Survey of Six Centuries, Chaucer to Queen Victoria. G. M. Treveleyan. Published by Longmans Green and Company. 55 Fifth Avenue; New York; N. Y., (1943).