The fledgling United States fought a war of independence against Great Britain in 1776, precisely to throw off the yoke of royal oppression, symbolized by the bow.
Thomas Jefferson ended the tradition of “bowing” by shaking hands, when he became president in 1801, according to a popular history of the era.
It became acknowledged early on that U.S. citizens and government officials should never bow to foreign royalty. But over the years, the line has become blurred.
Both President Obama and President Clinton caused uproars over a similar faux pas. Both were photographed bowing to royals.
Clinton was called on the carpet by an editorial in The New York Times in 1994 when he made a half-bow to Japanese Emperor Akihito.
The Editorial Said of Clinton: “It wasn’t a bow, exactly. But Mr. Clinton came close. He inclined his head and shoulders forward, he pressed his hands together. It lasted no longer than a snapshot, but the image on the South Lawn was indelible: an obsequent President, and the Emperor of Japan. Canadians still bow to England’s Queen; so do Australians. Americans shake hands. If not to stand eye-to-eye with royalty, what else were 1776 and all that about?”
The situation was the same with Jolie. It wasn’t a deep curtsy, but it was an obsequious bow. She’s also not a head of state, but she certainly represents the United States in her work through the United Nations.
Obama cause a similar uproar when he bowed deeply to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who rules with an iron hand over a nation that oppresses women and minorities.
Obama did the same when he met Emperor Akihito in 2009. He would have done well with the traditional American greeting, a handshake, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Gen Douglas McArthur pointedly did not bow to Emperor Hirohito when he accepted Japan’s surrender after World War II. Hirohito was also forced to tell the Japanese people he wasn’t a god, but a mere mortal, as a condition for remaining in power.
One thing is certain, Queen Elizabeth II bows to no one, and neither do other royal heads of state, except maybe to another royal.
On the other side of the pond, Jolie must have also raised eyebrows because the photo showed her touching the queen, which is strictly forbidden, unless the Queen extends her hand first.
The circumstances that led to the handshake are unknown, and it’s possible Jolie was following American protocol by extending her hand.
In seems inconceivable that the queen would extend her’s first for awarding a largely ceremonial honor. Even so, if Jolie extended her hand, the Queen would likely accept the gesture to avoid an “incident.”
Even royals bend protocol, sometimes, although it would still be considered an affront by royalists.
The U.S. State Department, which oversees U.S. diplomatic protocol, has been all over the map recently about how U.S. officials should address royals.
In response to the Obama flap, the State Department said in a statement that the president was merely showing respect “to the customs and traditions of the host country.”
Now that’s what you call “diplomacy.”
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