Mr. Jones and the Walrus: The 'British Invasion' 50 years on

Barely days before, the guardian of the American Century would be gunned down in cold blood in Dallas; the image of the bloodied pink dress of the most elegant first lady still lingers. Then something entirely unexpected happened, and maybe we needed to have been broken and emptied of all hope and optimism for it to have been fully encountered. In February 1964, The Beatles landed in America, four together tumbling out of the sky in quirky black suits. It changed America. It changed everything, and nothing will ever be the same again.

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Three things it did to turn history: It reunited America with mother England after what philosopher Raymond Aron called “a century of total war.” It advanced in America and the world a cultural revolution that created a political backlash on the right, still holding its breath since Calvin Coolidge, that is even today the primary matrix of political opposition in America. It opened a door to the East; a door that will likely never be closed.

We had gone to war to break with England. Then when Winston Churchill came begging at the gate for Franklin Roosevelt to challenge Hitler, there was no guarantee that he would. At Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the German ships could be seen circling in the waters, smelling blood. But America remained in splendid isolation. The Kaiser could be confident if he misjudged the situation, guessing that America would remain at home. All hinged on that. And after the long, debilitating hangover of the Lost Generation, Hitler might have made the same miscalculation.

Had there been no American Revolution, there might never have been a German challenge to a vast Anglo-America. But that was water under the bridge. Pearl Harbor sealed Germany’s fate. June 6, 1944, was the most important day of the century, bringing England and America back together for the invasion of Normandy.

But post-war, there was no indication that the necessity of wartime friendship would morph into actual kinship. England seemed more inclined to team instead with its imperialist neighbors to control the Suez Canal. President Eisenhower forbade it. When British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan cabled back to Ike, “Over to you,” it would mark the end of British dominance and possibly the end of the short Anglo-American wartime friendship as well.

But less than a decade later, The Beatles arrived, famously pictured as they poured down the steps of the aircraft at JFK Airport, soon to appear in concert in Washington D.C., then on the Ed Sullivan Show, then here, there and everywhere. After the “British Invasion” others would come: Harry Potter, The Tudors in an excellent Canadian production, the upscale crew at Downton Abbey, Adelle, the motley crew of Monty Python, the irascible Chef Gordon Ramsay, the nerdy Mr. Bean. Inevitably following in their wake: William, Harry, Kate and little George, the once and future king.

They can no longer be kept out. Anglosphere will follow. It is already here.

Feb. 6, 1964, was the definitive moment of transition and transformation. It was the second most important day in the century. Time might find it capsulized in this cryptic phrase, transmogrified from Vedic-era text by John Lennon: “I am he ... they are the Eggmen. I am the Walrus.”

“You know something is happening, but you don’t know what it is ...” Bob Dylan sang as the world appeared to shift on its axis. “Do you, Mr. Jones?”

“They were almost like a religion — we were out of our minds over them,” Catherine Andrews said of The Beatles' landing this week in People magazine.

Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising Tunis sheep and organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at quigley1985@gmail.com.