Changing of the Guard
The decline of U.S.-British control over the world’s sea gates
Prior to World War ii, Britain and the United States controlled every major sea gate in the world: Panama, Hong Kong, Suez, Cape of Good Hope, Malta, Papua New Guinea, Timor, West Indies, Gibraltar, Falklands, Cyprus, Gulf of Guinea, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Gulf of Aden and others. These “gates,” as they are called in the Bible, were major factors in the economic success of the British and American people and were indispensable to Allied success during World War ii. Since that time, however, the U.S. and Britain have, without a fight, surrendered their control as gatekeepers.
Herbert W. Armstrong listed a few of the most strategic passageways in the October 1954 Plain Truth: the Panama Canal, Suez, Singapore, Cyprus and Gibraltar. The U.S. and Britain gained control of these and many others after 1800 because of the unconditional birthright promises God made to Abraham’s seed. One of the major blessings promised to modern-day Israel (the U.S. and Britain primarily) was controlling the “gates” of their enemies (Genesis 22:17; 24:60). The fact that our peoples acquired these strategic gateways itself proves our biblical identity. “We must be modern Israel,” Mr. Armstrong wrote.
Further proof can be found in the fact that our peoples have since lost control of those passageways—because that is precisely what God said would happen. Mr. Armstrong wrote in 1980, “As the ‘pride of our power’ continues to be broken, as the British continue to lose their foreign sea gates and possessions around the Earth, as America signs away ownership of the Panama Canal—control over this vital sea gate … this focal prophecy alone represents giant proof as to where the modern ‘remnant’ of the peoples of Israel resides today!” (The United States and Britain in Prophecy).
Since Mr. Armstrong understood that the Bible prophesied the latter-day rise and fall of the American and British peoples, the Plain Truth was able to predict the loss of several vital sea gates well in advance of their occurrence.
The ‘Highway to India’
“The British are giving the Suez back to Egypt,” the October 1954 Plain Truth said. Less than two years later, on July 26, 1956, President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt took a calculated gamble and seized control of the canal from the British. Two weeks later, on August 5, Mr. Armstrong wrote an article that appeared in the September 1956 Plain Truth. He said the Suez crisis was of “life-and-death concern for Great Britain.” The British Empire, he explained, had attained greatness largely because of its vast shipping by sea. “If Nasser now can take over and retain Suez, Britain’s lifeline is severed.” In effect, Mr. Armstrong was saying it would signal the end of the British Empire.
“To allow the canal to become the complete property of Egypt, with all rights of control, operation and management in Nasser’s power,” Mr. Armstrong wrote, “would only give this upstart dictator a weapon by which he could sever the very lifeline of the British Commonwealth of Nations …. The Suez Canal is one of the major factors in [Britain and America’s] growth to economic power and national greatness never before equaled by any nation.”
Nearly three months after that article was written, on October 31, British and French forces invaded Egypt for the purpose of gaining control of the Suez sea gate. But the effort was halfhearted, and Egypt retaliated by sinking 40 of their ships. The United Nations, led by the U.S., then intervened to arrange a “truce”—which amounted to little more than a British defeat. British forces withdrew by the end of the year.
Let us return to the article Mr. Armstrong wrote on August 5, 1956, months before the conflict was resolved. He said, “Britain has lost control of Suez for the rest of this age, and will not be able to gain it back.”
He was right. Britain never regained control of the Suez. The strategic waterway remains under Egyptian ownership and operation. He was also correct to say the clash was of “life-and-death” import for Britain’s empire. Ten years after the Suez crisis, on July 31, 1966, the British Colonial Office in London shut down.
The British Empire was officially dead.
Loss of the ‘Lion City’
The February 1956 Plain Truth declared that Britain was “destined to lose … Singapore.” Seven years later, in 1963, Singapore took a great stride away from Britain by joining the Malaysian Federation. Two years after that, it withdrew from the Federation to unilaterally declare independence. The Plain Truth told its readers that this was yet another British defeat.
Britain had acquired this little island gateway linking the Indian Ocean to the Far East in an 1824 treaty. Singapore had prospered under colonial rule. It had benefited the British as well as the thousands of Chinese and Malay immigrants who flocked there for higher wages. Besides its vital importance during World War ii, the island enclave also enabled the British to keep peace on the Malay Peninsula after the war. By 1960, the British had finally crushed communist attempts to conquer the island.
Just a few years later, however, they surrendered Singapore without a fuss. “Maintaining the security of a vast area of the world is tragically no longer deemed important to many,” the Plain Truth wrote in March 1969. “The British are voluntarily giving up one of the world’s most strategic ‘gates.’”
The ‘Big Ditch’
Before the Panama Canal was dug, only a handful of human endeavors had ever aimed to transform the basic topography of planet Earth. Men had accomplished numerous marvels of engineering—transcontinental railways, mammoth dams and bridges, and breathtaking royal residences—but none had done anything as foundational as slicing apart the very continents.
Several powers over the centuries have recognized the advantages that a canal through Central America would bring—including Spain, Scotland, Germany and France—but none successfully carried out the project. But America, under President Theodore Roosevelt, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars and over 5,000 lives, proved capable. Completed in 1914, the 51-mile-long marvel of engineering—designated one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World”—halved the time required for ships to sail between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. It was a great boon to the U.S. and global economies, and also to American morale.
Mr. Armstrong knew, though, that America’s control over it would not last. “America, before this is all over, is going to lose the Panama Canal unless it repents,” the March 1964 Plain Truth said. Again, in November 1965: “The United States has done nothing but hedge, crawl, dodge, yield, relinquish, back down and give up ever since we began to build [the canal]!”
Then, two years before Jimmy Carter signed the controversial treaty with Panama promising U.S. withdrawal by the century’s end, the Plain Truth said, “Going … Going … Gone? … Mark my word: The canal will go—if not soon, eventually” (April 5, 1975).
Knowing God had broken the pride of America’s power, the Plain Truth asked, “Can God keep His word? Has He the power to interfere in the course of nations to break our power? Will God make good on His divine promise of punishment upon our peoples? The answer is a thundering yes!” (November 1965).
It correctly foretold how the U.S. would lose it: “Panama is destined to go—sooner or later. But not in glorious and heroic defeat after faithful resistance—but in utter ignominy. In useless and helpless sacrifice—in disgrace and shame” (ibid).
The Plain Truth was also right about who would fill the power void left in the Canal Zone: “And—irony of ironies—we could even see engineers, pilots and technicians from the Communist world manning the canal jobs vacated by Americans!” (July 1977).
It is astonishing that all of these detailed predictions have now come to pass. Despite having completed the mammoth project that no other world power could complete, the U.S. gave it up without a fight—in utter ignominy. “We have given the farm away without a shot,” Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader at the time of the transfer, said.
It was also people with a Communist history that filled many jobs vacated by Americans. A Hong Kong-based port-facilities company, with tight connections in Beijing, gained control of the canal’s ports of entry and exit—giving China power to decide who enters and exits.
In our January 2000 issue, we reminded our readers about what we have said all along about why the United States lost its most strategic sea gate: “God has ‘broken’ the pride in our power. That is why our people are not stirred by what is happening in Panama. Something is terribly wrong with us! We are afraid to use the power God gave us. … How long must God curse us before we awaken? That is the big question each one of us must answer.”
The ‘Island of Aphrodite’
Cyprus, the largest island in the eastern Mediterranean, has for millennia functioned as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East. Throughout the epochs of history, the strategic chunk of real estate has been controlled by the Hittites, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, the Byzantine Empire, Crusaders, Venetians and the Ottomans. Then in the late 1800s, with the agreement of the Ottoman government, Britain took control of the island.
Cyprus’s status as a protectorate of the British Empire ended in 1914 after the Ottomans declared war on the Entente powers, which included Britain. The British annexed the island and it later became an official Crown colony. The “unsinkable aircraft carrier” was a vital hub from which the British could protect the Suez Canal and project power throughout the Mediterranean.
But Mr. Armstrong knew it would not last. Britain “seems destined to lose Cyprus,” the February 1956 Plain Truth said.
The British faced major political problems in trying to keep the Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots in harmony and also in attempting to manage pressures for independence from both sides. In April 1957, after Britain’s weakness had been exposed by the Suez debacle, the Brits succumbed to these pressures and decided that “bases in Cyprus” was an acceptable alternative to “Cyprus as a base.” At the stroke of midnight on August 16, 1960, just as Mr. Armstrong predicted, Great Britain surrendered all control of the island.
But Cyprus’s independence didn’t last long.
As the years went by, the European phoenix began to rise from the ashes once again, and, as several of its previous incarnations had done, Europe set its sights on Cyprus. At the Copenhagen Summit in December 2002, Brussels invited Cyprus to join the European Union. Less than two years later, its membership was official.
In March 2013, cash-strapped Cyprus accepted a massive bailout deal from the EU. Spiegel Online said the move meant Cyprus “will effectively lose its sovereignty.” The Trumpet wrote, “This Cyprus takeover marks the beginning of one of the greatest military missions in our time. Cyprus provides an intelligence outpost, a naval base, a launching pad and an aircraft carrier for Europe to send its forces into the Middle East” (May-June 2013).
At present, Cyprus still houses British intelligence installations and radar stations, but, having been engulfed by Europe, the island is effectively under Berlin’s control. The transfer of Cyprus from Britain to Europe provides evidence of the fulfillment of two of Mr. Armstrong’s long-standing major predictions: The UK’s decline and Germany’s rise.
The Rock of Gibraltar
Of the major sea gates Mr. Armstrong mentioned in the October 1954 Plain Truth, only the Rock of Gibraltar has yet to be surrendered. But there is no shortage of evidence to show that Britain’s grip on it is loosening.
“If it were expedient, politically or otherwise, Britain would most probably relinquish Gibraltar,” the Plain Truth declared in September 1974. “In the long run, the British government fully intends to negotiate away Gibraltar,” the August 1982 issue said.
The first chinks in the British armor came to light in 1985 when London and Madrid discussed an agreement to tackle the question of sovereignty over Gibraltar. “For us, this really opens a process of decolonizing the Rock,” the Spanish Foreign Ministry at the time said of the discussions.
Which nation do the people of Gibraltar prefer alignment with? The Rock is actually more patriotically British than anywhere in the British Isles. The Union Jack flutters everywhere on the territory. Fish and chips shops and pubs are ubiquitous. And every time the people—now numbering around 30,000—are asked about the matter, close to 100 percent of them vote to remain under British sovereignty.
But as Spanish demands grow louder, British backbone grows weaker.
In 2002, British Prime Minister Tony Blair tried to hand Gibraltar over to Spain because he viewed it as an annoying “obstacle” hindering a warmer relationship between the UK and the European Union. The secret deal ultimately failed, but Spanish leaders took encouragement from the news and began pushing to allow only Britain and Spain to discuss the sovereignty of the Rock, instead of including Gibraltarian authorities in three-way talks. This formula would allow Madrid to capitalize on the growing British weakness.
In July 2013, Spain ratcheted up its saber-rattling over Gibraltar to a new level, with its Foreign Ministry saying “the party is over” for the peninsula. Madrid unveiled proposals to close Spanish airspace to flights to or from Gibraltar and to impose hefty border fees to anyone entering or leaving the peninsula. The ruckus was mostly an attempt by Spanish politicians to divert attention from Madrid’s faltering economy and scandals, but it shows that Spain has not forgotten about the Rock.
In response to the Spanish frenzy, Peter Hain, who served as minister for Europe under Tony Blair, said that if Britain were to share sovereignty over Gibraltar with Spain there would be “no negatives at all.” Such statements show the faltering will of many Britons to cling to Gibraltar.
In August 2013, Gibraltar’s Panorama discussed another way Britain could lose the Rock. “[I]f the UK votes to withdraw from Europe, [it] could plunge Gibraltar into social, political and economic chaos,” it said. “Gibraltarians are European citizens. If the UK leaves the EU, Gibraltarians will still remain European citizens because you cannot strip a people of their citizenship. Therefore a decolonized, independent Gibraltar, albeit with links to the UK and the British Crown as now, would be a nation of European citizens even if the UK withdrew from the EU. … [W]e’d still be European citizens as too would be the Catalans and indeed the Scots if they too opted for independence from their EU member states. Just where that leaves us is anybody’s guess.” Yes, the specifics are in question, but that scenario would clearly leave Gibraltar outside of Britain’s control.
Whether from Spanish pressure or from Britain’s exit from the EU, it is unlikely that Britain will keep Gibraltar much longer.
Other Major Losses
The February 1956 Plain Truth declared that Britain’s hold on South Africa is slipping fast.” South Africa was a proud possession of the British Empire, controlling the waterway around the southern tip of Africa. But the expulsion of South Africa from the Commonwealth in 1961 officially ended British influence over the Cape of Good Hope. The surrender of South Africa to the Communist-influenced African National Congress in 1994 dissolved what remained of British sway over the vital hub.
Without a struggle, the British gave Hong Kong over to Chinese rule in 1997. In receiving Hong Kong, nicknamed the “Pearl of the Orient,” China not only inherited one of the world’s wealthiest trade centers, but it also took over a $380 million naval base built there by the British. “Never before has so much, used by so many, gone for so little,” declared a member of Britain’s Ministry of Defense. “With the end of British rule in Hong Kong,” the Trumpet wrote, “we see the final act performed in the closure of an empire—a God-given empire—and the hastening of the fulfillment of the prophesied curses upon a spoiled and ungrateful nation, the British people” (June 1997).
The island of Malta is another strategic outpost once in British control. During World War ii, Britain’s possession of the island was vital to its success in the Mediterranean. In 1964, however, Britain granted the Maltese political independence. In 1979, the last remaining British troops withdrew from the island, prompting Malta’s prime minister to declare it their “Day of Freedom.” Commenting on the loss of Malta and its Mediterranean island neighbor, Cyprus, the Plain Truth said, “British sea power … has now virtually disappeared from the Mediterranean, once called a ‘British lake’” (September 1979).
Even the lone sea gate victory over the past 50 years did not come without embarrassment. In April 1982, Argentina temporarily seized control of the Falkland Islands from Britain. Located about 250 miles off Argentina’s southern coast, this sea gate gives Britain control of the Straits of Magellan. While the British response to the insurrection defeated the Argentines, it was by no means easy. Argentina downed 34 British aircraft and sank seven ships, killing 255 British servicemen and three Falkland Islanders. Argentina’s decision to challenge Britain was a sobering indicator of just how much damage had been done to Britain’s image in previous sea gate handovers.
More recently, Argentina has renewed its efforts to force Britain to yield control of the Falklands. In 2006, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner warned Britain of a “drastic change” in Argentina’s efforts to gain sovereignty over the islands, launching a parliamentary commission to press the country’s claims. In 2008, in a speech marking the 26th anniversary of Argentina’s failed attempt to conquer the Falklands, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner stated that her nation’s claim to the islands was “inalienable.” Vice President Julio Cobos spelled out what Buenos Aires had in mind: “We must recover this territory that is ours, that belongs to us.” The following year, Argentina implemented measures against the Falklands’ fishing and other industries. Argentina said the economic warfare measures would remain in place until Britain agreed to enter into talks on Argentina’s claim of sovereignty. Like Gibraltar, the Falklands’ days under British rule are numbered.
We could go on with details about Sri Lanka, Bab el-Mandeb, the Gulf of Guinea and more, but the point is this: During the last half of the 20th century, Britain and the United States surrendered almost every critical sea gate in the world. Herbert Armstrong prophesied of these strategic losses because he used the Bible as his guide to understand world events.
For that reason, we turn to him to see where this is all leading. The sun has already set on the British Empire, he wrote in the Plain Truth nearly half a century ago. And because the U.S. came to power a little later than Britain, its setting sun is just behind Britain’s. Both nations have long since lost the pride they once had in their power. God said this would happen because of their rampant sin and rebellion against His law. For these reasons, as Mr. Armstrong concluded in the September 1966 Plain Truth, “[M]idnight is fast approaching.”