A couple of weeks ago, a very entertaining Maltese tour guide at the new 'Malta in Wartime' museum explained to the ignorant tourists the difference between the Axis and the Allies. The Axis powers, he said, were all new nations established in the 1860's, who wanted more than they had; whereas the Allies were all old established Imperial powers, who had just about everything they wanted.
Now I have always taught the origins of WW2 to students by lining up the surviving powers from WW1 and having the students tell me which got what they wanted and which didn't. That gives you the sides for the next war. The two on the 'goodies' side in WW1 who switched to the 'baddies' in WW2, being Italy and Japan. (Italy because they didn't get the territorial aggrandisement they were after - and which had been promised to them until the Americans blocked it; and Japan because the Americans were so paranoid/racist they insisted - during the Washington Treaty talks in the 20's - that the British abandon the Anglo-Japanese Treaty that had worked so well for the 'goodies' in WW1. thug Canadian and Australian racism was not far behind in this preference.) France was also screwed over by the Americans at Washington, for scrapping battleships a bit too fast, but there was no chance they were leaving the British team for the German one.
So I found his assessment pretty straightforward and simple. In fact I was happy to accept an insight that my multiple research degrees and many years of writing on WW2 had previously overlooked, and resolved to include the comment just as casually in my future writings.
But then it occurred to me how it would sound to Americans... (United States of...)
That made it much more deliciously challenging.
To be fair he was not aiming the point at Americans. (In a week in Malta, surrounded by thousands of European and African and even Asian tourists, I can count the Americans I came across on the fingers of one hand.) He was making the point mainly to French and Germans and Italians, all of whom have fantasies about how nice their Republics/European Union are, and all of whom face a reality check at Malta. The first French Republic in particular was invited in to replace the rule of the decadent Knights of St John in 1798, and took only weeks to make itself so obnoxious that the large scale revolt the Knights had never provoked exploded. The request to the British to help drive out the French, and a couple of years later to join the Empire, is one of the main lessons he was making to the new Europeans who are still gamely fighting to convince everyone else to take one for the Union team. Idealism is no replacement for competence, and wishful thinking no replacement for trustworthiness. Got that Euro-fascists?
The American reference was not even actually stated. Just automatically implied when he said that all the major Allies were old fashioned empires that had spent centuries accumulating territories. But the very casualness with which it was assumed was striking to anyone who reads much American history... at least that written by Americans.
Americans like to pretend to lots of contradictory things. And this, almost accidentally, and very innocently, poked fun at a whole group of them.
Americans like to pretend that A) they are a young and energetic country, and B) that they have a very old constitution by world standards. They aren't actually either of these things really, with their founding colonies being far older than most European nation states, and even their original federation predating the German and Italian federations by a century. Only if you consider their 'nation' as dating from when the North re-conquored the newly independent South do they come out resembling a 'young' nation (making them the same age as the dictatorships). But surely that would make their 'reborn' constitution forcibly imposed on conquored states a new entrant too?
Americans try to pretend that Europeans are imperialists, while Americans are not... Which is a bit of a laugh considering that the United States occupied and incorporated more territory of Indians, Mexicans, Hawaiins, Pacific Islands etc; than any other nation (except its 'old imperial' Allies Britain, France and Russia). Consider the French Territories and Alaska for instance? The American conquest of most of the Spanish overseas territories, and their incorporation into its possessions (for their own good of course), just prior to WW1 is in no way relevant to the war of the imperial powers a few years later, is it?
Americans like to pretend that the 'old world' is set in bad old ways, and the 'new world' is different. See previous paragraph.
Americans like to pretend that republics are good, and monarchies are bad. But of course Germany only finished up with Hitler because it was a Republic, and the entire British Commonwealth of Nations, not to mention Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, etc, have to be swept under the carpet for that one to fly in WW2... Axis republics included Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, the Soviet Union (at the start anyway), and various other German and Japanese puppet states like Manchuria. On the Allied side a search for republics would only leave France (3rd Republic possibly, but Vichy and de Gaulle are doubtful in this category)... and perhaps Brazil? Republics good, monarchies bad? Take that you French/Italian European Union troublemakers
But most importantly, Americans like to pretend that they never played the 'Great Game', and that their motives were always pure. (See comments on why Japan finished up on Axis side above.)
So why was our guide making this point? Well, I am not sure how the Maltese usually act (though Australia has the highest number of immigrants from Malta - more than Britain and Canada combined, so I do know quite a few people of Maltese extraction). But I doubt that the Maltese newspapers and news are usually so covered with critical articles on the Euro and the problems of the Union. I also doubt that the nostalgia for British rule is usually so often repeated. I was particularly amused to hear the guide point out that Maltese independence had started as a Dominion under the Queen (like Australia or Canada or New Zealand or Malaysia, etc, etc), but then moved to a republic within the Commonwealth also under the Queen (like India, and Pakistan and South Africa, etc, etc). He commented that he supposed this meant that they had had the best of both world's, but as a self consciously first world country, the subtext of which group Malta should belong to seemed pretty clear.
To have an Italian background, Maltese speaking guide, carefully explain to the dumb French and Italian and German tourists, why the Maltese should not fall for some fairly baseless assumptions (and giving an entirely unconscious but devestating put down to American assumptions almost by accident)... was irresistibly amusing.
I left him a nice tip.