Wednesday, 17 October 2012

world wars and the white wash of colonial crimes

The white washing of colonial crimes against humanity  is an on going process.  A celebration  to commemorate  crimes that become  great deeds.  


But it does no service to the memory of the victims to prettify the horrific reality. The war was a vast depraved undertaking of unprecedented savagery, in which the ruling classes of Europe dispatched their people to a senseless slaughter in the struggle for imperial supremacy. As Lenin summed it up to the Romanian poet Valeriu Marcu in early 1917: "One slaveowner, Germany, is fighting another slaveowner, England, for a fairer distribution of the slaves".
This wasn't a war of self-defence, let alone liberation from tyranny. As the late Eric Hobsbawm sets out in his Age of Empire, it was the cataclysmic product of an escalating struggle for colonial possessions, markets, resources and industrial power between the dominant European empires, Britain and France, and the rising imperial power of Germany seeking its "place in the sun". In that clash of empires, Europe devoured its children – and many of its captive peoples with them.






All the main warring states were responsible for the brutal suppression of nations, large and small, throughout the racist despotisms that were their colonial empires. In the years leading up to the first world war an estimated 10 million Congolese died as a result of forced labour and mass murder under plucky Belgian rule; German colonialists carried out systematic genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples in today's Namibia; and tens of millions died in enforced or avoidable famines in British-ruled India, while Britain's colonial forces ran concentration camps in South Africa and meted out continual violent repression across the empire.
The idea that the war was some kind of crusade for democracy when most of Britain's population – including many men – were still denied the vote, and democracy and dissent were savagely crushed among most of those Britain ruled, is laughable. And when the US president, Woodrow Wilson, championed the right to self-determination to win the peace, that would of course apply only to Europeans – not the colonial peoples their governments lorded it over.



All the main warring states were responsible for the brutal suppression of nations, large and small, throughout the racist despotisms that were their colonial empires. In the years leading up to the first world war an estimated 10 million Congolese died as a result of forced labour and mass murder under plucky Belgian rule; German colonialists carried out systematic genocide against the Herero and Nama peoples in today's Namibia; and tens of millions died in enforced or avoidable famines in British-ruled India, while Britain's colonial forces ran concentration camps in South Africa and meted out continual violent repression across the empire.


The idea that the war was some kind of crusade for democracy when most of Britain's population – including many men – were still denied the vote, and democracy and dissent were savagely crushed among most of those Britain ruled, is laughable. And when the US president, Woodrow Wilson, championed the right to self-determination to win the peace, that would of course apply only to Europeans – not the colonial peoples their governments lorded it over.



http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/16/first-world-war-imperial-bloodbath




In Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis charts the unprecedented human suffering caused by a series of extreme climactic conditions in the final quarter of the 19th century. Drought and monsoons afflicted much of China, southern Africa, Brazil, Egypt and India. The death tolls were staggering: around 12m Chinese and over 6m Indians in 1876-1878 alone. The chief culprit, according to Davis, was not the weather, but European empires, with Japan and the US. Their imposition of free-market economics on the colonial world was tantamount to a "cultural genocide".
These are strong words. Yet it's hard to disagree with them after reading Davis's harrowing book. Development economists have long argued that drought need not lead to famine; well-stocked inventories and effective distribution can limit the damage. In the 19th century, however, drought was treated, particularly by the English in India, as an opportunity for reasserting sovereignty.




It used to be that the late 19th century was celebrated in every school as the golden period of imperialism. While few of us today would defend empire in moral terms, we've long been encouraged to acknowledge its economic benefits. Yet, as Davis points out, "there was no increase in India's per capita income from 1757 to 1947". In Egypt, too, the financial difficulties caused to peasants by famine encouraged European creditors to override the millennia-old tradition that tenancy was guaranteed for life. What little relief aid reached Brazil, meanwhile, ended up profiting British merchant houses and the reactionary sugar-planter classes.
The European "locusts" did not go unchallenged. Rioting became common. Banditry increased. In China, drought-famine helped to spark the Boxer uprising. In Europe, the fin de si├Ęcle was largely an opportunity for pale-faced men to wear purple cummerbunds and spout rotten symbolist poetry; for colonized peoples it genuinely seemed to presage mass extinction. It was, says Davis, "a new dark age of colonial war, indentured labour, concentration camps, genocide, forced migration, famine and disease."





: "The conquest of the earth, which means the taking away from those who have a different complexion and slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look at it too much."

No comments: