By BARBARA BRYANT
During his Oct. 29 address on "The New World Disorder and How to Survive It," Sir Robin Renwick, Great Britain's ambassador to the United States since 1991, delivered an amusing and scholarly account of notable moments in British-American relations.
The ambassador, whose visit was sponsored by the Library's Humanities and Social Sciences Division and European Division, spoke to a large crowd in the Mumford Room.
Praising the Library for the "extraordinary service" it provides to researchers, he said, "I suspect that not many people make more use of it than I do."
Mr. Renwick referred dismissively to past conflicts between Britain and America as "a sticky patch ... the result of various misunderstandings. A benevolent British administration sought to increase taxes in order to reduce the deficit," he joked, "rather as you are aiming to do today."
Shortly before assuming his current post, Mr. Renwick studied the achievements of those who had gone before him. He noted that the date of his address was also the 100th anniversary of the first British ambassador's appointment to the United States. "Our first ambassador here was Sir Julian Paunceforte," he said. His real name was Smith but his father changed it to sound grander when he inherited some property," a wise move, as it turned out; upon hearing it, President Teddy Roosevelt called the name "an asset in itself."
Mr. Renwick then recounted the mixed fortunes of several other British emissaries, among them, the Marquess of Lothian, who, after his arrival in 1940, is alleged to have said, "Well boys, Britain's broke. What we're after is your money." On his heels came Viscount Halifax, who had little use for American government, describing it as "a disorderly day's rabbit- shooting."
Mr. Renwick looked more favorably on the example set by fellow Scotsman Auckland Geddes, who served during the Prohibition era. "Since the embassy ... was not 'dry,' this was a period when we had quite exceptional success in attracting senators and congressmen to our functions," Mr. Renwick kidded.
Confusion ensued when Auckland sent six bottles of fine brandy to President Harding, a gift that was intercepted by New York Customs officials. Claiming that the case had been incorrectly labeled, Harding's aide had it sent back to the ambassador at the embassy. "Its arrival was followed by calls from the White House regretting this 'administrative mistake' and saying that they would have a car round to collect it in 10 minutes," Mr. Renwick added. " 'Not at all,' said Sir Auckland, who kept the brandy and drank it himself."
Oliver Franks, became ambassador in 1948. He learned never to take a reporter's question at face value. When asked by a local radio station what he'd like for Christmas he was "very touched and replied that 'a small box of caramelized fruit would give me the greatest pleasure.' On Christmas Eve, the radio station broadcast the result of its inquiries. Asked what he would like for Christmas, the French Ambassador replied, 'Peace throughout the world.' The Russian Ambassador replied, "Justice for all oppressed peoples.' There followed the polite voice of Sir Oliver Franks, asking for a box of caramelized fruit," said Mr. Renwick, adding, "I tell this story to demonstrate that Sir Oliver, alone among his colleagues, was not a hypocrite."
Despite these assorted humorous incidents, Mr. Renwick emphasized the importance of the "especially close relationship" between Great Britain and the United States. This relationship since World War II has been manifested in a "uniquely close collaboration between us in defense and national security."
For example, Mr. Renwick cited Gen. Eisenhower's decision to include equal numbers of British and American officers in his headquarters staff during the planning stages for the liberation of Europe. "This was not an arrangement between two allies but a completely integrated command," he said. "When the Allies landed in Normandy in June 1944, 17 British and Commonwealth and 20 American divisions were involved." Mr. Renwick said the two countries' sharing of military intelligence and nuclear weapons development information at the time were signs of trust and collaboration that have continued to this day. "Two years ago, our alliance once again was put to the test. Gen. Schwarzkopf and his British counterpart -- General de la Billiere -- planned together the operation that led to the liberation of Kuwait."
According to Mr. Renwick, Great Britain and the United States are inextricably bound, not only by security concerns but also by economic ties. "How does a citizen of this country pass his all-American day?" he asked. "Having checked into his room at the Holiday Inn and changed into his Brooks Brothers shirt, he can wash down his Burger King with Haagen Dazs ice cream. He buys his guns at Smith and Wesson. His wife may buy her lipstick from Elizabeth Arden and, if she is lucky, her jewelry from Faberge, before returning home to relax in her Jacuzzi.
"I am sure that you all know who owns all these great American businesses," he continued. "The answer, of course, is that we do."
He warned that daily worries about economic and social problems may blind people to the importance of global issues, especially when "shielded by the cry ... that 'the Cold War is over.' But we live in a world in which almost everything has changed. The nations of Eastern Europe are free of Soviet domination -- and free also to return to some ancient quarrels suppressed under that ironclad rule. Having won the Cold War, it still remains to win the peace.
"What we are witnessing today is not the end of history but the return of history, and with a vengeance -- in the Balkans, in what was the former Soviet Union and, for that matter, in Somalia."
Mr. Renwick urged those who call for Europe and the United States to take strong military action against the Serbs in the former Yugoslavia "to show some caution and perhaps even a little humility about Bosnia," adding that the British and American public do not appear to support additional military involvement in the region. He reminded his audience that Britain has more than 3,000 troops there who, despite threats from all of the country's warring factions, "have helped to save tens of thousands of Bosnian lives."
But "if we'd delivered a tougher message to the Serbs two years ago, we might have averted much of this trouble."
Mr. Renwick believes that citizens are no longer willing let their government initiate military action over strictly ideological issues. "In Britain and in the United States, people are prepared to see their sons' lives risked [only] when there is a clear threat to your or our security," he said. "When there is not, the most we can try to do is help to keep the peace, to contain conflicts, and to help alleviate suffering."
The ambassador stressed Europe's increasing defense responsibilities. "It is unreasonable to expect the U.S. to go on bearing any burden in defense of its allies. The European allies must to move to develop defense cooperation between them." He admitted that the British are sometimes accused of being "reluctant Europeans." Yet he rejected the notion of a "protectionist ... or fortress Europe," adding that by successfully introducing democratic government and free market economic reforms Eastern European countries such as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia can become eligible for membership in the European Community.
Closing, Mr. Renwick said, "You are right to be concerned that your ability to fulfill the role you are called upon to play as leaders of the free world will depend on building up your strength at home.
"But I would warn you against believing that every homespun philosopher -- or every philosopher-politician -- is a Harry Truman. Harry Truman, let us not forget, was an internationalist. He knew that it is ludicrous to pretend that real security can be found in isolationism -- yours or ours. Of course, you have to deal with your domestic problems. We all are struggling with the same problems -- inner cities, education, health care, the war against crime and drugs. We have to deal with those problems and with foreign crises and opportunities too.
"For neither history nor foreign policy is going to go away."