World & Society World Politics & Affairs

How American Influence Spread Across Britain in the Post-War Period

Fixing of the American Flag

The chaotic tumult of the Second World War left the imperial powers of Europe shocked and stunted. Britain, despite emerging as a victor of the conflict, had suffered substantial structural and economic damage, and was facing huge housing problems with over 2 million houses having been destroyed in German bomb attack during the war. By contrast, as Britain began to disintegrate, America flourished: its GDP rose from $99.7b in 1940 to $212b in 1945, initiating an economic boom as another industrial revolution gripped the economy. These conflicting trajectories transformed the world’s international political image, one in which America became the new and dominant world power. Britain’s economic and military inferiority to the United States provided a widening market for American influence and ideals to succinctly spread in the Post War period.

As Britain’s imperial empire crumbled, America continued to establish their position of world dominance by taking on leading roles in conflicts, such as the Korean War in 1950, as well as in the creation of military treaties, including SEATO in 1954, NATO and CENTO. While America collected these international pawns with relative ease, Britain struggled to maintain control over their positions of previous power, finding themselves internationally embarrassed in the 1956 Suez Crisis. The event was a reaction to Egyption Prime Minister Nasser nationalizing the Suez Canal in July 1956. In an attempt to reclaim the canal, Britain formed an alliance with Israel and France; however, the bid backfired, with Britain gaining disapproval from Eisenhower, the US President at the time. These negative feelings also cost Britain economically, as during the crisis American support was pulled out of the economy, causing a consequential run on the pound. In order to avoid a depreciation of the British currency, numerous deflationary measures had to be enacted.

To question American authority and act independently in the Post-War world became impossible without consequential damage being inflicted on Britain. Britain was subtly reduced to the status of an American satellite state, just as many Eastern European countries, such as Poland and Hungary, became Soviet satellite states, as the spheres of influence of Capitalism and Communism were established.

Now reliant on American financial support, governments in the Post-War period were often forced to engage in or be supportive of American military ventures. Although Britain did refrain from sending military and monetary aid to support American involvement in Vietnam, the government was unable to openly criticize the role the US was playing in the crisis – encouraging civil violence as students and pacifists began striking throughout the country.

As relations between the East and West became increasingly limited and the Cold War intensified, Britain was also facing nuclear threats from communist powers such as the USSR and China. Too economically strained to effectively keep up with the rapidly advancing nuclear warfare, safety for Britain could only be achieved by maintaining a positive Anglo-American relationship. As a result, Britain also became intertwined with America militarily, which was formalized with the signing of the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement. This enabled the two countries to share nuclear secrets and other classified defense information.

Within the politically transient Post War economy, the rise of mass media was ensuing, which was another mechanism through which America could subliminally spread their influence in Britain. Between 1949 and 1969 the number of homes in America with a TV rose from less than a million to 44 million. Likewise, in Britain just 36.5% of houses had TVs in 1956, but ten years later this figure had reached 86%. America dominated the television and film industry, particularly on the silver screen with Hollywood and stars such as Marilyn Monroe becoming famous across the globe. As a result, Britain arguably became more ‘Americanised’ throughout the Post War period, especially with the rise of the teenager demographic and the desires of consumers for the American products they had seen on TV. The United States also portrayed an image of wealth and opportunity, contrasting heavily with the outdated British class system and government dominated by the upper class. American television and cinema became a way for individuals to leave behind the drab society of Britain for the superior and more vibrant American way of life.

Similarly, indirect American control in Britain was also spread through the rise of corporations and businesses, such as the fast food chain ‘McDonald’s’ – in modern day Britain, there are 1,270 stores open nationwide. The first store was opened in 1974 in South East London, and less than ten years later there were 100 McDonald’s restaurants in the country. American influence was changing the British way of life – the two countries were now intertwined not only through political and economic agreements, but via social and cultural assimilation.

The rising American prominence in Britain led to a consequent loss of individualistic British identity, as elements of society became infiltrated by American entertainment and food customs. Correspondingly, the political scene of Britain was also impacted by the new strength of the Anglo-American relationship, as the country became reliant on American economic and military aid.

Despite losing its independence, further American integration in Britain allowed the country to benefit from new technology, consumer goods, economic welfare and military freedom. This further developed a higher standard of life, and sped up the Post-War recovery than the country might have experienced otherwise.

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