Kinglsey Amis Would Puzzle at Jaundiced Brit View of the U.S.(BOOKS)(LETTER FROM LONDON)

Article excerpt


As Martin Amis recalls in "Koba The Dread," his new study of Stalin's tyranny, his beloved father Kingsley Amis was a member of the Communist Party for a decade and a half, from the palmy, "We Love Uncle Joe" years of World War II until the Russian invasion of Hungary. Like so many members of his generation, Amis Sr. found it hard to renounce his faith in the God that failed.

If his own account is to be believed, it took him a lot less time to fall in love with America. In his memoirs - a wonderful book, published in 1991, that manages to be both hilarious and unbearably poignant - he describes paying his first visit to the U.S. in 1958. (He made his second - and last - journey across the Atlantic a decade later. Only his fear flying, one of his many and varied phobias, stopped him making the trip more often). By the time Amis Sr. and his family had made their way across Manhattan and reached the New Jersey Turnpike - which was, believe it or not, a beguiling, multicolored spectacle to a visitor from post-austerity Britain - he had already been won over. From that point, regardless of the Left's view of America as the fount of all evil, he would regard the U.S. as his "second country." He sums up his response with a mixture of Blimpishness and wide-eyed sentiment: "I have remained strongly pro-American in my attitudes, and the 'in spite of' or 'but' clauses that protocol requires to come next have in my case little force, even after, say, a glimpse of an episode of Dallas, a glance at a novel by Saul Bellow or Vladimir Nabokov, or a conversation with one of those people that Americans themselves mysteriously call liberals."

Still, if I have learnt one thing in the year since September 11, it is that Amis's brand of Atlanticist is starting to become an endangered species. After I wrote a column almost exactly a year ago, describing the hostility to the U.S. among so many sections of the British media and political classes, I began to wonder if I had over-reacted. Sad to say, I now realize that my first impressions were pretty accurate. In fact, now that war against Iraq seems imminent, the anger and distrust have grown even deeper.

You can measure it in all sorts of ways. There are, for instance, the ritual dinner party tirades with all their mind-numbingly repetitive assertions about George W. Bush's IQ, the iniquities of Camp X-Ray and the threat posed by that even more sinister institution, the Disney corporation.Linger around the table long enough, and you can be pretty sure of hearing people sigh over the long-lost days when the USSR provided a genuine balance of power. And so on, and so on.

It would be comforting to think these are just the half-baked opinions of the metropolitan elite or activists on the Left. My own experience, however, is that you are likely to hear much the same from many middle-class, middle-of the-roadpeople who profess no strong political allegiances one way or the other. Seemingly sane folkbecome wholly irrational at the very mention of Donald Rumsfield. Dislike and distrust of America, combined with a dose of that new state religion, radical environmentalism, are the main subject of conversation - that is,after football and latest celebrity humiliation show. Even worse than the ranting, in my experience, is the air of faintly amused condescension. If acquaintances drop by and find me watching Fox News - which has been indispensable these past months - most cannot resist smirking when they see the "America at War" logodisplayed on the satellite channel listing. "At war? Really?How terribly American?"

Which makes Tony Blair's stance on Iraq all the more admirable. Having written him off as a neurotic, poll-obsessed chameleon, I find myself marvelling at his courage. …