There are many reminders in London that our two nations share a rich heritage, and enjoy an abiding friendship (however strained it may be from time to time). In front of the National Gallery is a small, but tasteful statue of George Washington, in Saint Paul's Cathedral, in the place of high honor behind the alter is the American Memorial Chapel, built by the people of the British nation as a gesture of thanks to those American service men who joined Britain in her fight against Nazi Germany, just off Parliament Square, a statue of Abraham Lincoln, erected at the behest of Queen Victoria, gazes across at the Mother of Parliaments. And, above the door at Westminster Abbey, you can see a statue of the Reverend Martin Luther King.
So given this deep nature of the friendship between the nations I was anxious to see the official expression of that good will, our American Embassy.
The American diplomatic mission to London has a long history. Benjamin Franklin served as a agent for the colonies, searching for a way to reconcile our differences with the Mother Country...our first Ambassador to the Court of Saint James (following the establishment of our Republic) was John Adams- named by some the "Atlas of Independence", and our second President.
The embassy is located in Grosvener Square, one of London's most fashionable addresses. I've been waiting to get a chance to go see it, expecting, perhaps a burst of pride when I came upon this little piece of home so far from home.
I expected a building worthy of the deep friendship between the Untied States and the United Kingdom. I expected a building worthy of the memory of Franklin and Adams. I expected to see a building that somehow called to mind the promise inscribed on Liberty's Tablet- give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free....I expected something elegant, because it's Grosvener Square after all, but something too that proclaimed a certain respectable pride in what it means to be an AMERICAN.
But as I approached the square, I felt the bottom fall from my heart. "Surely," I thought, "that cannot be it....please, tell me...that this is not the...." and then I rounded the corner and saw my little home state flag of Vermont; open, friendly, freedom loving Vermont, TRAPPED with all the other State flags behind a barricade.
The barricades are rather new... and of course we can blame that on 9/11...
But the building itself is...it is....well, in short, it is the ugliest building I have ever seen. It is a blight. A smear upon the landscape...if an architect had set out to confirm the worst stereotypes about America, he could not have done a better job. As a piece of propaganda, this building is an eloquent argument for the "other side" (whoever they may be at the moment.)
In short, it is a giant monolith- a huge concrete bunker (one could easily envision Hitler and Eva Braun huddled in the middle of it, waiting for the end). It has no face, but looks out upon the world with cold contempt (and, I think, a little fear- now reinforced by the barricades.) It is flat and without soul. Mechanical and Corporate. The windows recessed behind deep ribs of concrete... The perimeters are patrolled by men with automatic weapons.
I've never had a building make me want to cry before, and I've never in my life felt ashamed of my country. But the day I saw our Embassy in London was a very sad day....
After all, what does it say when Dwight Eisenhower- the liberator of Europe- is imprisoned behind a fence?