American Big Business In Britain and Germany –
A Comparative History of Two ”Special Relationships” in the 20th Century
By Volker R. Berghahn
Princeton University Press – £39.95 (hardback)/£22.95 (paperback)
Although fundamentally anchored in international economics, American Big Business In Britain and Germany – A Comparative History of Two ”Special Relationships” in the 20th Century, remains an exceptionally and surprisingly dry read; almost to the point of being a rather tough and elongated read.
For instance, in the book’s overall Introduction (‘A Long Book in a Nutshell’), author Volker R. Berghahn writes: ”This book is an attempt to examine three interrelated problems that not only historians but also social scientists have been grappling with at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The first one is how to deal conceptually and empirically with the role of the United States as a major socio-economic, political-military, and cultural power since its emergence on the international stage at around 1900, and hence with the meaning and significance of ”Americanization” and the resistance and adaptation to its impact by nations that came under it’s spell.
Second, there is the notion of the ”special relationship” that America is said to have had with Britain during the period covered by this study […]. However and perhaps at first glance rather more puzzelingly, this book is also concerned with yet another ”special relationship,” that is, the one with Germany and in particular with its business community during more or less exactly the same period. As both Britain’s and Germany’s ”special relationship” with the United States had a major influence on European history and on international affairs more generally in the first half of the twentieth century, the third approach adopted in this book is to discuss the evolution of this transatlantic triangle in comparative perspective.”
There are clearly, varying trajectories to be gleaned from what is clearly a dense Introduction at best; which, given that the United States goes to the polls in a mere three days time, could well do with some up-to-date deciphering.
Should either ‘special relationship’ result in the coming together of two of the world’s most vile and vindictive men, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, then much of what has been written herein would surely warrant re-addressing.
That said, these 343 pages (excluding Conclusions and Index) do indeed traverse and dissect all that is pertinent to that of the subject matter at hand – although it invariably does so from the perplexing premise of the past. So while America’s relationship with Britain has often been deemed unique, especially during the two world wars when Germany was the common enemy, the American business sector actually had a far greater affinity with Germany for most of the twentieth century.
Might this explain why American Big Business In Britain and Germany goes forth in re-examining the triangular relationship between the American, British, and German business communities (and how the special relationship that Britain believed it had with the United States was more than supplanted by the one between America and Germany)?
Either way, the book’s overall Introduction, along with its six prime chapters (‘The North Atlantic Business Triangle and the Constellation of 1900-1901,’ ‘Cooperation, Peaceful Competition, and the Spectre of War, 1902-1914, ‘From the Outbreak of War in July 1914 to the Genoa Conference, 1922,’ The North Atlantic Triangle: Economic Reconstruction and Collapse, 1923-1933,’ ‘Nazi Germany, Appeasement, and Anglo-American Big Business, 1933-1941’ and ‘British and German Business and Politics under the Pax Americana, 1941-1957’), each have their own Introductions. A quality I found both different and didactic in equal measure.
There again, Volker R. Berghahn is the Seth Low Emeritus Professor of History at Columbia University, whose previous books include America and the Intellectual Cold Wars in Europe and Europe in the Era of Two World Wars.
Quintessentially economic, it remains interesting to read Princeton University’s own Harold James assert the following: ”This is an interesting and attractive book about the Americanization of European – particularly British and German – business culture in the first half of the twentieth century. Strengthened by the documents of notable individuals, the book will interest general historians of twentieth century Europe and Americanization, and be useful to those studying debates about capitalism.”
Given the result of Tuesday’s Election, it will remain to be seen just to what degree – especially given the re-writer’s of history’s knack for devout lies and distortion.