England Used to Be a Country of Men

by Frank Miniter

Something has changed in the English character.

With London succumbing to looters and muggers, it’s time to ask what happened to the once-manly English people. The August 9 issue of the Daily Mail, for example, includes a photo of a young man taking off his pants on the street as an impatient looter waits with the emasculated Briton’s sneakers and shirt already in his hands. Luckily the feeble Englishman chooses boxers over briefs, but I can’t help wondering if men such as T. E. Lawrence, Winston Churchill, or Lord Acton could have stomached the state of manliness in this generation of Englishmen.

Consider that this latest explosion of looting, robbing, and burning began in Tottenham, a dicey corner of north London, after police shot and killed a 29-year-old Tottenham resident named Mark Duggan. As typically happens, two competing personality profiles of Duggan are being told, depending on the politics of the teller; some say Duggan was a hardened drug dealer, others say he was a beloved family man. What we do know is that police pulled over a taxi in which Duggan was a passenger. Police say they heard a gun fired, which prompted them to shoot and kill Duggan.

The facts of this incident may be in dispute, but the unmanly actions of Tottenham’s gangster youth are not. In retaliation for Duggan’s death (or using it as an excuse for mayhem), they’ve burned autos, looted stores, and mugged people along Tottenham’s High Road and around parts of London. This reaction says something horrific about the culture in these neighborhoods, just as much as the 1992 Los Angeles Riots displayed that all wasn’t right with the culture in the poorer neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

For context, consider the “Tottenham Outrage” of 1909. Two men in Tottenham, armed with semi-automatic handguns, attempted to rob a payroll truck, but the guards resisted. After one robber fired his gun, police came running. The robbers fled on foot. The chase lasted two hours and covered about six miles as other officers and armed civilians pursued and engaged the robbers. One of the thieves committed suicide and the other later died in surgery. One officer and one civilian also were killed. The bravery of the officers and civilians prompted the creation of the Kings Police Medal and the funeral processions for the slain officer the civilian passed through streets lined with mournful Londoners. Those weren’t the kind of people who demonize police officers or take off their pants for thieves.

Well, okay, sure, the English people did for too long accept the unmanly ditherings of Neville Chamberlain before World War II. Nevertheless, something has changed in the English character. These aren’t the proud men who once made the whole world look them in the eyes. I submit that one of the chief causes of their now emasculated spirit is the loss of so much of their individual liberty — like a child used to a parent fighting his or her battles, a people dependent on their government for everything cannot take care of themselves and are prone to childish outbursts.

By giving up their natural right to self-defense, for example, England’s law-abiding citizens have become defenseless both physically and psychologically. The loss of their right to self-preservation has created a culture of dependency on government (for protection and so much more) that has helped neuter the English male. This has also prompted some English citizens to blame the police for the crime rates that law enforcement is legally constrained from doing anything practical to fight.

Britain’s licensing of gun owners and the registration of their firearms made it easy for the government to take guns from law-abiding citizens after a mass-murderer in Hungerford killed 16 people in 1987. Within the next decade, British politicians criminalized possession of most handguns — the final deadline for turning them in was Feb. 27, 1998. (This is something liberals would like to do in the U.S., too.) Yet, few have subsequently pointed to the victims of this anti-freedom gun confiscation. The English papers haven’t interviewed victims of rape and other crimes and asked what they might have done if they had the ability to defend themselves from criminals. 

Curbing violence, naturally, was the goal English politicians said they’d attain in return for law-abiding citizens’ handing over this basic human liberty; however, after the U.K. disarmed its population, England attained the highest burglary rate and one of the highest rates for violent crimes of the industrialized nations, according to the International Crime Victims Survey carried out by the Dutch Ministry of Justice in 2000. As the Guardian put it on Feb. 23, 2001, the study “shows England and Wales as the top of the world league with Australia as the countries where you are most likely to become a victim of crime.” More recently, on July 3, 2009, England’s newspaper the Daily Mail reported that “Britain’s violent crime record is worse than any other country in the European Union, it has been revealed. Official crime figures show the U.K. also has a worse rate for all types of violence than the U.S. and even South Africa.”

Meanwhile, British politicians have reacted to the irrefutable failure of their gun-control schemes by calling for more of the same. They’ve even recently banned starter pistols. Given that they’ve disarmed the law-abiding public and obviously can’t disarm the criminals, what else can they do in this time of violence? What some in the government would like to do can be chillingly found in a July 2002 English government “white paper” titled “Justice for All.” This paper argued that the government needs to: allow the use of hearsay evidence in trials; remove the double-jeopardy rule for serious cases, including cases that have already been resolved under the current system; and eliminate the right to trial by jury in many cases.

As the English hand their government more of their individual liberty — and thereby their self-reliant manliness — their government becomes more authoritarian. Individuals have diminished means for protecting themselves and their property, which should have made London’s looting, vandalism, and other crimes very predictable.

I’ve had several recent conversations with Englishmen, who have led me to conclude that the English people will continue to hand over their liberty in the hopes that one day — despite all the lessons from history and human nature — their government will create the peaceful, socialist utopia they’ve long been promised.

For example, I recently broached this topic with an English salesman at my favorite shoe company, Johnston & Murphy. He commented that he’s frightened by America’s “gun culture” and added that Americans needs to drop “their Wild West attitude.” I listened patiently before pointing out that England currently looks a little more like the Wild West. He wasn’t swayed. I pointed out that gun rights are women’s rights, as they make the frailest woman the equal of the strongest male. He kept shaking his head.

So I used a largely forgotten piece of history that always makes Englishmen blush: After Dunkirk in May of 1940, only the British Navy, an outnumbered British air corps, and about 20 miles of water protected the English people from German invasion. In their retreat back to England, the British forces lost much of their firearms and weaponry; meanwhile, gun-control laws passed after World War I had mostly disarmed British civilians, leaving the English people helpless. 

Aware of their plight, a group of Americans, headed by C. Suydam Cutting, established the “American Committee for Defense of British Homes,” a group that ran an ad in the National Rifle Association’s official journal American Rifleman that read in part: “Send a Gun to Defend a British Home.” The NRA subsequently sent more than 7,000 private arms to England. The U.S. military, of course, sent many more. Winston Churchill said, “We had become a hornet’s nest. Anyhow, if we had to go down fighting . . . a lot of our men and women had weapons in their hands.”

After relating this history, I told the English shoe salesman that “if your people ever need to protect their freedom again, Americans will be there for you.” He wasn’t so sure.

Now I wonder, after seeing that Englishmen strip for a looter, would it even matter? Meanwhile, the only way we’d be able to help them — and the world — is if we keep our manly liberties intact here in the U.S., a prospect far from certain.

— Frank Miniter is the author of The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide, and, more recently, Saving the Bill of Rights.