In 1959, the hilarious Peter Sellers comedy “The Mouse That Roared” charmed audiences around the world by mocking America’s long-standing reputation for prodigious generosity – especially to nations who’ve fought the United States and lost. The movie (based on a droll and sprightly novel by Leonard Wibberley) tells the story of the fictional Duchy of Grand Fenwick that decides to cope with imminent financial collapse by declaring war on the U.S. The Grand Duchess and her prime minister (both played by Sellers) unleash the full might of a Fenwickian expeditionary force for an invasion of New York City, storming Manhattan with a twenty-man army equipped with medieval armor and bows and arrows. The scheming Europeans naturally plan in advance for a speedy, abject surrender, after which they expect to benefit from the bountiful foreign aid and reconstruction assistance that America traditionally lavishes on its beaten foes.
This good-natured spoof connected with moviegoers of the era precisely because they recognized elements of truth in its portrayal of America’s bounteous naïveté – satirizing a notorious national instinct to spread Yankee wealth even to obscure, powerless and hostile nations that looked on the United States with ill-disguised contempt. Ironically, the film appeared in the midst of the Cold War period regularly characterized by revisionist historians (William Appleman Williams, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and many more) as the very height of U.S. arrogance and imperialism, when the American colossus needlessly menaced the appropriately frightened Soviet Union and ruthlessly imposed its will on allies and unaligned alike.