25 May 2011
President O'Bama and the Pacific (I)
I sometimes manage to drag myself out of bed to ride some laps of the Outer Circle of Regent's Park before work; indeed, I managed it yesterday. However, an Icelandic ash cloud had other ideas, and the route was blocked.
The reason, of course, is that Winfield House, the U.S. ambassador's residence, is located behind a thick yew hedge. Fears of flight disruptions from the ash cloud meant that President Obama and his entourage arrived a day early for the London leg of their European tour, and stayed the night there rather than crashing at Buckingham Palace. The Metropolitan Police augmented the SO16 presence with a full roadblock; my fellow-rider was an American, so he repaid the cops' actually very polite and apologetic notice to turn around with a full-throated rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
As you know, Obama had just arrived from Ireland, where he delighted the crowds with his search for the missing apostrophe. Expert commentators (including the Eccles Centre's Director, Phil Davies, who is presently sat on stage in Westminster Hall, listening to the main speech of the day) have been asked their views on what this all means for the Special Relationship and the administration's views on Europe. Several have noted that Obama begin his presidency as America's 'First Pacific President', and that this visit, as well as having electoral appeal with an Irish stop-over, is also about making sure the traditional North Atlantic alliance is given a comforting dose of mood music (as well as securing more European men and matériel in various military actions).
Meanwhile, I was doing a little bit of research into the 1892 Samoan celebration of the Fourth of July. Islanders were also given the chance to sing the Star Spangled Banner over two days, as the islands moved from Antipodean time to 'American Time', gaining an extra day as a result of their manoeuvringson the international date line (it was recently announced that they will be shifting back to be more aligned with Australia and New Zealand on 28 December 2011). The usual reason given for the 1892 change was the influence of American merchants; was this true, I wondered, and if so, did it make anything more than a symbolic difference? A cable for telegrams was proposed in the 1870s, but it appears that this was never laid.
Some more research may turn up the answers, but in the meantime, it was a reminder of the importance of the Samoan question in the late nineteenth century, when the islands became a nexus for a strategic, diplomatic and commercial battle between Britain, Germany and the United States, all of which contributed to a series of civil wars on the islands. As it happens, we have the papers of Sir Charles Stuart Scott, who attended the Berlin Convention; among them are a series of photographs (including the perforated waistcoat of the executed Maximilian I of Mexico), and two of the 'King of Samoa' and a 'claimant to the throne'. But who were these two men?
More, and a bibliography, to follow.