Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Out of gas/petrol

Food prices through the roof. Oil at $113/barrel. Investment banks on the brink. The Israel-Palestine peace process stalled. Iraq in another downward spiral. Surely a good time for Gordon Brown to come to America and talk about ...

... cultural exchanges between the US and the UK and a joint US-UK program to teach English worldwide. At least that's what Gordon thought worthy of using a commentary in the Wall Street Journal to lead his arrival in the US today:

Enlarging the Anglosphere ..

In the last half-century the English language has become not only the language of Shakespeare and Twain, of J.K. Rowling and Cormac McCarthy, but of science, commerce, diplomacy, the Internet and travel.

So, finally, I propose that together Britain and America strive to make the international language that happens to be our own far more freely available across the world. I am today asking the British Council to develop a new initiative with private-sector and NGO partners in America, to offer anyone in any part of the world help to learn English.

No mention of how there's already an entire industry, TEFL, doing this without any government intervention and in response to the demand from the rest of the world to learn English and not motivated by some sentimental attachment of elites to the glory days of Churchill and FDR.

Which brings us to Gordon's opener --

When Winston Churchill met President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the deck of the H.M.S. Prince of Wales in 1941, he spoke of the common bonds between Britain and America: "The same language . . . the same hymns . . . more or less, the same ideals."

Churchill did say that, and parts of the rest of the speech doubtless brought a tear to his own eye and others as he described the psychic bonds he witnessed on his trip. But the entire speech is worth a read (apart from anything else, it's his famous "crime without a name" speech that prompted the invention of the word genocide). Perhaps most noteworthy is its truly internationalist nature: Churchill is not pushing the notion of English-speaking exceptionalism, but the common status of all nations as victims of the Nazis --

The Austrians, the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Belgians, the Dutch, the Greeks, the Croats and the Serbs, above all the great French nation, have been stunned and pinioned. Italy, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria--have bought a shameful respite by becoming the jackals of the tiger. But their situation is very little different and will presently be indistinguishable from that of his victims. Sweden, Spain and Turkey stand appalled, wondering which will be struck down next. Here then is the vast pit into which all the most famous States and races of Europe have been flung and from which, unaided, they can never climb.

This speech is also a reminder that 1941 was not the time for the cheap shots that George Bush and Dick Cheney like to take at the USSR in their comparisons of al Qaeda with past evils --

The Russian Armies and all the peoples of the Russian Republic have rallied to the defence of their hearths and homes. For the first time Nazi blood has flowed in a fearful flood. Certainly a million and a half, perhaps two millions of Nazi cannon-fodder, have bitten the dust of the endless plains of Russia. The tremendous battle rages along nearly two thousand miles of front. The Russians fight with magnificent devotion.

How exactly Brown draws from all this an imperative for others to go forth and teach English is not entirely clear.

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