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AUSTRALIA

Tony Jones
ABC's Tony Jones presented the results of an exclusive poll about Australians' view of America as part of a BBC-led global television debate about the US's place in the world.

Here he argues the world is in danger of being absorbed by the US.


As 1941 drew to a close, Singapore was about to fall and with it the long-held Australian illusion that the umbrella of the British Empire would shelter its colonies for eternity.

That brolly was blown away by a Japanese monsoon.

In his grim New Year's speech, the Australian Prime Minister John Curtin made a plea to America for help and so shifted us from one sphere of influence to another.

By 1942 General Douglas MacArthur had set up his South West Pacific headquarters in Queensland. Australian historians still argue whether this was the start of a long-term commitment to defending our mainland or just a temporary real estate deal.

Whatever interpretation is put on it, it is inarguable that US military power turned back Tokyo's military expansion and, from Canberra's perspective, saved Australia from invasion.

The ensuing bond, some would say obligation, led Australia to become the only other nation to commit troops to all of America's major land wars: in Korea, in Vietnam and during both conflicts in the Persian Gulf.

Frontier societies

A formal alliance was signed in 1951 and behind it was a deep cultural connection.

Both were frontier societies and English beachheads, which expanded across their respective continents during the 19th Century.

Both communities also adapted to later waves of diverse ethnic migration, and both populations think of themselves as ingenious, informal and direct.

And both nations are longstanding federal democracies.

Even a few darker political legacies are shared, including the displacement of native peoples.

It is not surprising then that Australians have taken up Americanisms faster than Europeans, from V-8s to Frigidaires, and from sit-coms to slang.

Many young Australians have adopted US street fashion and its argot where their parents are likely to have been Day Dream Believers and their grandparents, card-carrying Musketeers.

Australian artists, actors and writers once sought the bright lights of London, but if they venture beyond Sydney and Melbourne today, they are more likely to be found in Los Angeles or New York.

On the other hand, the trans-Pacific relationship is tested by the sheer size and power of America.

Part of the Australian character is to distrust authority and much centre-left opinion has been suspicious of US governments since Vietnam.

In recent months Australian cartoonists have played to a popular cynicism that Australia is becoming America's deputy sheriff or worse, its lap dog.

America's cultural juggernaut

Many, while strongly supporting free enterprise, also distrust America's more ideological forms of capitalism.

To suggest Australia's public health system might be slipping towards a US model is politically potent.

On the other hand, conservative Australians share a view that not only Australian security but prosperity, too, is guaranteed by support for American values, military, diplomatic and business initiatives.

This camp is scornful of anti-Americanism, though the divide is not simple. Australians mix and match from an assortment of feelings about America depending on the time and subject.

Australians are both captives of and enthusiastic participants in America's cultural juggernaut. From Errol Flynn to Russell Crowe, mad, testosterone-charged antipodeans have leapt on the cart.

And for years, funny, feisty, tough-minded Oz women have been hauled on-board too.

Back home we watch them hoisting Oscars with a peculiar mixture of pride and loss.

You get the feeling that the new lord of the world, for whom the juggernaut was built, will simply absorb us all in his munificence... if we let him.


What The World Thinks of America was broadcast in the UK on BBC Two on Tuesday, 17 June, 2003 at 2100 BST.

You can watch the programme by clicking the link on the What the World Thinks of America home page.



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