An old grouch reacts to Queen Elizabeth II's visit
Now that Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and her entourage have returned to their palaces, castles and estates back home, I feel more comfortable as an old grouch telling how repelled I was by all the hoopla that attended the royal visit here.
I wasn't bothered by her visit to Jamestown, the original English settlement in Virginia. That was conventional tourism with some historical significance. But I was disgusted by the pomp and circumstance surrounding the White House's formal, white-tie dinner for the Queen and her husband, Prince what's-his-name.
I regarded it as a circus that did not deserve the extraordinary public attention it enjoyed. Maybe it's because I'm a fervent republican (please note the lower-case "r"), but I am dismayed that so many Americans seem to go ga-ga at the sight of royalty. I am offended when our political establishment and the public at large bows and scrapes the way they do when a foreign royal deigns to visit our country.
I consider royal families an anachronism that no longer serves a useful political or social purpose. It is presumptuous, of course, for me to criticize a foreign country that wants to preserve its monarchy. I find it tasteless, however, when Americans play along as enthusiastic fans or participants in a costly and useless institution.
I was aghast that some 7,000 people with precious tickets (awarded only to those lucky enough to have important Beltway connections) started lining up at 7 a.m. on the White House's south lawn to get a peek at the Queen's formal arrival later that day at the Presidential mansion. Watching C-SPAN's telecast of the state dinner that evening and the preparations before hand, I was dismayed by the huge numbers of our armed forces involved in the festivities.
It seemed that there was enough military personnel on hand to man a battalion that might serve more vital needs in manpower-short Iraq. I wonder whether many troops who volunteered for military service expected to wind up as White House doormen and as escorts for old ladies at Presidential social events. (I would like to think that the assignments were a form of rest-and-rehabilitation following arduous overseas wartime duty.)
My vehement anti-royal views were probably reinforced by a World War II experience when I was a soldier stationed in India. A handful of buddies and I had been invited to a party at a British Army sergeants club to celebrate the Japanese surrender that ended the war on Aug. 15, 1945.
The club was located only a few miles away from our own base in Bengal Province. Not surprisingly, the party turned into a rowdy, inebriated affair. As I got to know to know them, it was obvious that our hosts were largely men with working-class British backgrounds. I do not remember anyone with an Oxford or Cambridge accent.
As the party grew more boisterous, our hosts began to loudly sing what the American guests thought were patriotic songs. I will never forget being shocked by one ditty, which ended with the words: "God save the King and f--k the Queen." (George VI, Queen Elizabeth II's father, was still on the throne.) The words were repeatedly sung, accompanied by riotous laughter.
I was stunned by the British soldiers' scurrilous reference to their royal sovereigns. Recalling that experience, however, I am more comfortable about making this expression of sour grapes toward the current occupant of their throne.