More than a century of that kind of treatment took its toll. Then, in the early 1960s, when Britain was looking to scale back its colonial commitments worldwide (historical developments like the abolition of slavery had turned its colonies into at least as much of a financial burden as an asset), the Brits announced their intention to declare St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla a permanent, self-governing entity, dependent upon England only in the unlikely case of military attack.
Anguillans howled. It was the worst of both worlds: no more association with, or financial and technical aid from, Mother England, and their subjugation to St. Kitts (and to its then-governor, who openly ridiculed Anguillans) set in stone. With the independent streak that centuries of enforced self-reliance had bred into them, they refused to go along with it. On the surface, it seemed like yet another 1960s rebellion against imperial authority, but with a twist: Anguillans wanted to remain a British colony. They just wanted to eliminate the middleman.
It seems like a simple distinction, but somehow the British weren’t able to grasp it—leading to one of the great diplomatic and military fiascoes of the twentieth century. Under the bizarre impression that they had a full-scale revolt on their hands—despite the fact that Anguilla had no army, no police force and next to no weapons of any kind—the British anchored two destroyers off the Anguillan coast and landed more than three hundred elite paratroopers, with a division of London bobbies for good measure, in the middle of the dumbstruck island. No shots were fired, though reportedly a few goats were frightened. The Brits were globally ridiculed for their tin-eared diplomacy and military overkill. The episode became known as the "Bay of Piglets."
In the embarrassed aftermath, Anguilla got in 1980 what it had wanted all along: freedom from the trumped-up "federation" but with its status as a British dependency intact. The troops had stayed on to build some much-needed infrastructure (islanders didn’t even have phone service until 1972), and Anguilla, for the first time, began to attract visitors.
The Anguillans’ late start enabled them to learn from of some of their Caribbean neighbors about trading short-term profit for the long-term costs of overdevelopment. With nearby islands such as St. Thomas and Antigua all but maxed out in terms of expansion, the Anguillan government committed itself more than twenty-five years ago to keeping development small and upscale on the premise that people would pay more in return for less crowded conditions—what tradesmen on the island refer to as "keeping the volume low." New construction is still sharply limited: The island could build ten more resorts tomorrow and fill them with tourists the next day, but eventually word would get out that Anguilla had become less distinguishable from the rest of the Caribbean and the buzz would start to drift elsewhere. The tax, so to speak, for this underdevelopment comes in the form of higher prices for everything; island restaurants, for instance, tend to be surprisingly costly. Still, as one restaurant owner told me, "You can go to St. Thomas and pay fifty dollars for a hotel room and walk down to the beach and be one of ten thousand people. Or you can come here and be one of maybe twenty-five hundred guests on the whole island."