Who Makes the Nazis?
January 11, 2008 10:08 AM   Subscribe


 
I was aware of some of these incidents (having had more than a couple classes about post-colonial states in college), but it is interesting, at least to me, an American, that I know much more about French, Spanish, Belgian and Dutch atrocities than British ones. And it is hard to argue that former British colonies haven't done better, on the whole, than the aforementioned other colonial powers' holdings (though there are many better explanations than "benevolence").
posted by klangklangston at 10:17 AM on January 11, 2008


Gotta love free market capitalism. Weeee!
posted by ZaneJ. at 10:25 AM on January 11, 2008


> As millions died, the imperial government launched "a militarised campaign to collect the tax arrears accumulated during the drought". The money, which ruined those who might otherwise have survived the famine, was used by Lytton to fund his war in Afghanistan.

Goddamn it, people are terrible. We're just an awful, awful species.
posted by you just lost the game at 10:25 AM on January 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


One evening in Zanzibar, five years ago, I had a discussion with the crew of touring British “gap year” kids I'd fallen in with. I told them that as a Canadian of British extraction now living in Kenya, I kept finding myself wrestling with my identity as a former coloniser. Not that there was a simple answer, but I just kept wondering how I fit in with the whole mess that Kenya’s become.

“So living in Tanzania, which used to be British too,” I continued, trying to choose my words, “what’s your approach to living in a former colony?”

They all just kind of stared at me. Eventually, one girl spoke up.

“What do you mean?” she said.

“I just mean,” I said, “how do you deal with it? Does it ever bother you?”

The kids looked sideways at each other.

“Well, none of that happened in our generation. So why should we worry about what our grandparents did?” said the one girl, who had just earned high honours in science at Cambridge.

I suggested that the UK was still their country. They looked at me like I was nuts.

“So you’re saying we should spend our whole lives feeling guilty about this?” said the first girl.

No no no, I said, that’s not the point.

“If you’re going to ask this, then ask how Germans can look at themselves in the mirror each morning,” said another.

Maybe it’s just a Canadian fixation, I demured, or perhaps it’s a topic that gets discussed more in university.

“Well,” said the Cambridge girl, spotting an opening she’d evidently been waiting all night for, “I just spent four years at Cambridge University, and I don’t remember ever once discussing colonialism with my friends.”

It was just an open-ended question, I said, but I was starting to think I'd found my answer.
posted by bicyclefish at 10:32 AM on January 11, 2008 [25 favorites]


And? The fact Britain doesn't "promote" its past atrocities even though -- unlike in Turkey -- it is legal isn't a surprise. Many Americans are clueless as to the atrocities done in by our government in our name from the earlier colonial days to today in Iraq and Afghanistan. History tends to be written by the victors and the embarrassing bits are brushed under the carpet. That Turkey wishes to deny the Armenian genocide is reprehensible but governments and people go out of their way to avoid the bright light of the truth. Everyone likes to think of their country as the good guys and so it is easier to look at what other countries do rather than look in the mirror.
posted by birdherder at 10:33 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Gotta love free market capitalism.

Nitfilter: What's "free market" about it?

Not that it being "free" would make it better...
posted by lodurr at 10:33 AM on January 11, 2008


So, nasreddin, are you suggesting this as a possible solution to our Iraq problem?

Might work. Sadly enough.
posted by lodurr at 10:35 AM on January 11, 2008


Goddamn it, people are terrible. We're just an awful, awful species.

Hell, I got that just from the Tila Tequila thread. I'm not sure how to even begin grappling with this one.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:37 AM on January 11, 2008 [5 favorites]


We are the Klingons.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 10:38 AM on January 11, 2008


No, the Klingons would sing songs about it. We just forget it.
posted by lodurr at 10:40 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Gotta love free market capitalism.

Nitfilter: What's "free market" about it?


Indeed:
In 1877 and 1878, at the height of the famine, grain merchants exported a record 6.4m hundredweight of wheat. As the peasants began to starve, officials were ordered "to discourage relief works in every possible way". The Anti-Charitable Contributions Act of 1877 prohibited "at the pain of imprisonment private relief donations that potentially interfered with the market fixing of grain prices".
It isn't a free market that criminalizes private charity and relief; presumably (I'm guessing) because it would have raised prices of the grain that remained on the market and that might have affected people at home or made other imports more competitive there.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:40 AM on January 11, 2008


That's right. Just lie back and think of England.
great read, by the way.
posted by malaprohibita at 10:43 AM on January 11, 2008


It's also worth noting that it was the same story during the Irish Famine, with the same culprits. Ireland remained a net exporter of food throughout. It's not that they didn't have food, it's that the Irish didn't get to eat any of it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:51 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


+1000 points bonus for referencing Hex Enduction Hour-vintage Fall with this thread title, all kinds of awesome.
posted by porn in the woods at 10:53 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


No, Lodurr. The Klingons would not celebrate either systematic starvation in death camps or the mutilation of a bound and helpless victim.

Neither is honourable, because neither requires personal courage or skill.

We aren't good enough to be Klingons.
posted by jrochest at 11:05 AM on January 11, 2008 [5 favorites]


I am filled with shame before the gods. I must go die in battle now, to regain my honor.
posted by lodurr at 11:08 AM on January 11, 2008


I don’t remember ever once discussing colonialism with my friends.

Christ.

I don't doubt that her attitude is similar in a lot of former (and current) colonial powers. No wonder we keep reinventing the wheel.
posted by rtha at 11:12 AM on January 11, 2008


I'm right now touring around South Africa with a white male colleague and I am a female south asian and let me just say it has been an eye opening experience.

met with adn spoke to some of the original freedom fighters....
posted by infini at 11:13 AM on January 11, 2008


So we're Romulans then?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:14 AM on January 11, 2008


We must look this history right in the face - not guiltily, but unflinchingly.

No, we are not the colonizers. We are the children of the colonizers. We did not do these things, nor did we support a government who did these things. We do, however, benefit everyday from the economic and political outfall of the colonial system. The British industrial revolution - which fed into a world industrial revolution - was fueled by the products and profit of slave labour in the Caribbean colonies. The nineteenth century empire was greased with the profits of unequal trade.

We shouldn't feel guilty - we should feel angry about what our ancestors did.

We should recognise that most were not evil - they were people. They were short-sighted, they were racist, they were ideological. They didn't plan to abuse so many people; they were just out to make some money. To get an estate in Jamaica, to invest in some grain shipping from India, to sell a little opium to China. Some of them were starving, and all they wanted was a farm so they could work and make a better life. But that land did used to belong to someone else - and in Zimbabwe (and many other places), they want it back (okay, Mugabe is crazy and the land reform program is messed and corrupt, but I at least understand the impetus.)

We should look at all the worst bits of history, and try to understand why our ancestors did what they did, and why they thought like they did. And we should try to understand why they were often wrong, and how what they did continues to effect the world today, especially in the way colonization disrupted environments, economies, and power structures, and how rapid decolonization left power vaccuums filled by strongmen who terrify their own peoples. And we should understand how our ideologies - about free trade and the nature of development - just might be wrong. They may look good on paper, but every time we boot up the program it seems to crash.

We should understand all of this, so that we don't go ahead and do it again.

note: for anyone who is all angry about early modern enclosures and the Highland Clearances (like me) - there are currently the same things happening again in the developing world. The WTO has a policy of promoting the elimination of communally managed property, despite the fact that communually managed resources have a history of being more well-managed than privately owned resources (at least in the last 200 years), and are often more equitably shared. It's like watching the enclosure movement all over again. Also note: communually managed != open access resources, like the ocean, which isn't managed at all. And yes, I've read Hardin, and I have a long critique of him.
posted by jb at 11:14 AM on January 11, 2008 [47 favorites]


Of course, one of the reasons that the British Empire comes off better in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is not that they were nice or anything, they were really nasty. They just weren't as really really nasty as some of the other colonizing countries. For example, the British didn't make people cultivate cotton at gunpoint the way the Portuguese did in Mozambique. They did, however, like to charge cash taxes to force peasants to grow cash crops, such as cotton, for the market rather than food to eat.
posted by jb at 11:24 AM on January 11, 2008


"No chapter of history is steeped further in blood than the history of colonialism. Blood was shed uselessly and senselessly. Flourishing lands were laid waste; whole peoples destroyed and exterminated. All this can in no way be extenuated or justified." Ludwig von Mises
posted by lalochezia at 11:25 AM on January 11, 2008 [3 favorites]


The WTO has a policy of promoting the elimination of communally managed property, despite the fact that communually managed resources have a history of being more well-managed than privately owned resources (at least in the last 200 years),

Which part of Communist agricultural collectivization success did I miss in my history classes? Wasn't the Soviet Union importing grain in the end? The wonderful successes of the Great Leap Forward? Even in cultures with "communal" property, generally, each person has their own little plot for which they reap the rewards of their efforts. Or in another case, a tribe might own a grazing land, but each tribal member has their own specific livestock.
posted by Atreides at 11:26 AM on January 11, 2008


Of course, one of the reasons that the British Empire comes off better in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is not that they were nice or anything, they were really nasty. They just weren't as really really nasty as some of the other colonizing countries. For example, the British didn't make people cultivate cotton at gunpoint the way the Portuguese did in Mozambique. They did, however, like to charge cash taxes to force peasants to grow cash crops, such as cotton, for the market rather than food to eat.

But this article suggests that they were easily as bad as the other colonial powers. Maybe not quite as bad as the Belgians, but bad.
posted by nasreddin at 11:28 AM on January 11, 2008



Which part of Communist agricultural collectivization success did I miss in my history classes? Wasn't the Soviet Union importing grain in the end? The wonderful successes of the Great Leap Forward? Even in cultures with "communal" property, generally, each person has their own little plot for which they reap the rewards of their efforts. Or in another case, a tribe might own a grazing land, but each tribal member has their own specific livestock.


Communist "collective farms" were not collectively managed in any sense. They generally had a director who was responsible to the central planning agency, and who effectively owned the place.
posted by nasreddin at 11:32 AM on January 11, 2008


Having history as a kind of hobby, I was really surprised that I didn't know of either of these. I know about the atrocities of the Belgians and the French, the Russians and the Americans. But the worst crime I ever leveled against the British empire was benefiting from the slave system.

Ashamedly, when I think of India under colonial rule, I think of Passage to India. And I know some pre-colonial history. None of my textbooks in high school mentioned these, and the history courses I took in college didn't cover this area of the world during this time frame.

But then again, I wonder how many Americans know about how we pacified the Philippines after taking it from Spain. (I found out through a Loompanics catalog.) Part of me thinks that history is full of unremembered genocides that very few will actually keep track of. But part of me thinks that this should shown to the country in question as a whole when possible. We should know why we have what we have.

Thanks for the article.
posted by Hactar at 11:32 AM on January 11, 2008


I've been thinking about an event similar to bicyclefish's: twice in the past year, I've asked a white African where they're from and they have said "Rhodesia".

That name seems, from my North American perspective, to be completely inappropriate, (not least because Zimbabwe has been existent since 1980) but, I haven't had the guts to ask them why they call it that. Maybe they just have the same feelings as the Cambridge girl.
posted by hydrobatidae at 11:36 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


The startling thing about British colonial atrocities is how recent they were. Imperial brutality in Africa didn't stop in the age of Maxim guns and pith helmets. The suppression of the Mau Mau insurgency that Monbiot refers to happened in the 1950's, costing tens of thousands of Kenyan lives and leading to the internment and torture of thousands more. The RAF was bombing the Kenyan uplands, not with Sopwith Camels, but with mighty Avro Vulcan jet bombers.

What stunned me, as the grandchild of soldiers, was realising that this came after that last world war we've heard so much about, the one in which the forces of decency and democracy crushed the forces of facism and genocide. This is what they fought for?
posted by bicyclefish at 11:38 AM on January 11, 2008 [9 favorites]


"I've been thinking about an event similar to bicyclefish's: twice in the past year, I've asked a white African where they're from and they have said "Rhodesia"."

One of the worst teachers I've ever had, Cultural Anthro's Dr. Bilge (pronounced "bil-zhay"), would often spout off about her field work in Rhodesia. And yet, she was one of the most didactically "liberal"/leftist profs I've ever had. Just unable to remember that the colonial work she did was in places that no longer exist.
posted by klangklangston at 11:43 AM on January 11, 2008


Which part of Communist agricultural collectivization success did I miss in my history classes? Wasn't the Soviet Union importing grain in the end? The wonderful successes of the Great Leap Forward? Even in cultures with "communal" property, generally, each person has their own little plot for which they reap the rewards of their efforts. Or in another case, a tribe might own a grazing land, but each tribal member has their own specific livestock.

Well, notably the worst bit of the Great Leap Forward was not when the resources were managed by the community, but by the central government. Centrally managed resources can be a disaster. A centrally managed economy (as under Stalin or Mao) will certainly be.

But communually managed - i.e. managed by the local community who are the active owners/controllers of the resource - are often very conservatively managed for sustainability as well as profit. There are pastures which have been functioning for over 1000 years in Europe, and are still communally managed - I've walked through them.

I've given this a lot of thought, and we're getting off topic, but basically I think that the worst situations for sustainability are either having no owners (like the sea, state-owned things which are perceived to be "owned" by no one) or having complete private ownership (single proprietor who has no reason to preserve for the future, no incentive against maximising immediate profit). Whereas public management through communities or private management through families both have immediate understanding of the resources that central planning lacks, but also a committment to longer term goals. I'm not anti-private property. I'm anti-anti-well-managed communal property. Your hypothetical tribe with communal grazing but private herds is the sort of thing I am talking about - but the WTO is against it for ideological reasons. Even when it is shown that in that specific place and situation, it might work better.

posted by jb at 11:44 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well bicyclefish, the end of the First World War, in which the United States representative in Europe espoused self-determination, greater global unity, resulted in the same disregard and dismissal. Even farther back, some of the same men who argued for freedom of speech during the American Revolution went on to pass the Alien and Sedition Act.

In the end, we all want to be good people. We want our forefathers to have been good people and we want our flag to always represent the greater causes of our history. The irony is that no one considers good a person who never admits to mistakes or apologies for wrongs.
posted by Atreides at 11:51 AM on January 11, 2008


"..or apologiZes for wrongs." Bah.
posted by Atreides at 11:53 AM on January 11, 2008


Klangklangston - good point about age. I could understand someone like your prof, who had worked in Rhodesia when it was officially Rhodesia, forgetting what it was now called. But these two people are my age and so born around 1980. It seemed more like a political statement.
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:00 PM on January 11, 2008


C'mon, we're the United Federation of Planets. While we make television shows about how good and noble our flagship starcraft is, with it's handsome, underaged captain, the rest of the fleet is secretly committing war crimes throughout the galaxy. I mean, honestly, Star Trek is the navy in space, and since when has the Navy devoted itself to scientific research or any diplomacy that's not gunboat.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:01 PM on January 11, 2008



We are a cruel race. We declare war. A soldier doesn't want to kill, but he has too. We say someone is a witch. We burn or drown them. Some don't women to enjoy sex. So they burn off her sex parts. We want oil.
We declare war. We want the land. We kill the natives. We look for weapons of mass destruction. We declare war. We kill the natives. They say that the natives are savages and they don't feel pain. Their God said that it's OK. We tell ourselves that it's OK.
The media tells us that it's OK. Rinse and repeat.
posted by doctorschlock at 12:02 PM on January 11, 2008


Fascinating article, thank you for posting it. I was sadly unaware of the Indian famines.
posted by cell divide at 12:02 PM on January 11, 2008


The European Colonial powers were not the first to commit horrible atrocities. Nor were the Phoenicians. Or the Romans. Or the Persians. And they won't be the last.
posted by tkchrist at 12:05 PM on January 11, 2008




C'mon, we're the United Federation of Planets. While we make television shows about how good and noble our flagship starcraft is, with it's handsome, underaged captain, the rest of the fleet is secretly committing war crimes throughout the galaxy. I mean, honestly, Star Trek is the navy in space, and since when has the Navy devoted itself to scientific research or any diplomacy that's not gunboat.

Yeah. The Prime Directive was hardly very prime. More primal, maybe.
posted by tkchrist at 12:07 PM on January 11, 2008


And they won't be the last.

I think I'm too much of realist to actually disagree.

But I'm enough of an idealist to want to disagree. They should be the last. We shouldn't do this again.

And maybe if we tell ourselves over and over again all about it, and how bad it was, and why it was bad (not just that it was bad, but talk about all of the details, and analyse it, and think about it), maybe we won't make exactly the same mistakes again. Maybe we'll make new ones, but that's not as bad as making both new mistakes and the same old ones again.
posted by jb at 12:16 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Or in another case, a tribe might own a grazing land, but each tribal member has their own specific livestock

This is the heart of the Georgist philosophy of the difference between Land and capital. Henry George saw the dual injustices of private control of Land -- idle rentiers profiting off the labor and the Marxist BS of communal/centralized control of capital.

Thomas Paine's Agrarian Justice was a foundational essay on this difference between unimproved Land and capital.
posted by panamax at 12:27 PM on January 11, 2008


I can't think of a way to phrase this that doesn't come off as nationalist special pleading, which would be the opposite of what I want to say, but any road: I grew up in a family of working class leftist activists where we were made very aware of the evil of colonialism, more so than I was taught by history classes at school. One of the most morally impressive things about the often wrong-headed or deluded left was the genuine internationalism of ordinary people who didn't want to be part of screwing over anyone else as much as they didn't want it for themselves. It's part of what drew me in. It's not all Cambridge kids on gap years.
posted by Abiezer at 12:27 PM on January 11, 2008


MetaFilter: I cut his balls off.
posted by fusinski at 1:02 PM on January 11, 2008


> Goddamn it, people are terrible. We're just an awful, awful species.

If you only knew what the bunnies are really like.
posted by jfuller at 1:07 PM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


One problem with raising guilt on ex-colonizers is that there are many European nations that didn't take part in that adventure at all. Usually because they were too poor or under thumb of some other nation. No slavery, no evil trades, just poor 19th-century trudging. Choosing which countries should be ashamed, who were the oppressed and who were really, really evil disrupts the relative peace and equality between neighbors; ruins the good thing that has been achieved. If you are from innocent country, you don't want to use the moral high ground, as it just feels tacky: 'Me and Hans here may look similar and behave alike and our lifestyles are probably comparable, but his ancestors were brutal slaveowning murderers! Keep that in mind.'

On other hand, if one tries to normalize Europeans so that 'in general' they were evil colonizers and because of that they should all share the shame, then Europeans need to be defined in terms that soon lead to racial thinking and that would be a stupid step backwards.

It is good to know this history, but trying to pull lessons from it and tell someone else how they should feel about it leads easily to more harm than good. Coming to terms with past injustices is a private journey, because people start from different points, without their own fault.
posted by Free word order! at 1:11 PM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Maybe we'll make new ones, but that's not as bad as making both new mistakes and the same old ones again.

Nah. We'll make the same ones. And worse. Over and over. Until there are no more people to make them. The best we can hope for is making them with less frequency.
posted by tkchrist at 1:24 PM on January 11, 2008


Free word order! writes "One problem with raising guilt on ex-colonizers is that there are many European nations that didn't take part in that adventure at all."

Indeed, the colonizers were doing this in foreign lands, but chances are that the poor bastards at home didn't fare much better. It's more of an indictment of the aristocracy than anything.
posted by mullingitover at 1:26 PM on January 11, 2008


It's more of an indictment of the aristocracy than anything.

If only that was true. But it's not. In fact one of the only way the average person could climb up the class ladder was to go off to the colonies or trade with companies that did.
posted by tkchrist at 1:49 PM on January 11, 2008


The problem I have with the "Sins of the father" idea is that if group A committed atrocites against group B, and now the children/grandchildren of A are made to feel shame, you end up with a generation of A who are resentful and ripe for a whole new round of atrocities under the guise of ending the shame and restoring pride. Turning white guilt into white pride is the calling card of the modern KKK and their ilk.
Telling someone they should be ashamed of their origins or their colour is never healthy, and won't serve to achieve the harmony we claim to be after.
posted by rocket88 at 1:49 PM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


George Monbiot is a great writer. Recommend his most recent book Heat.
posted by stbalbach at 1:54 PM on January 11, 2008


Speaking as pale-skinned descendant of colonists, married to a European and studying Europeans in the colonial era...

It's not about the guilt. It would be pointless to be about the guilt. Saying "We're so so sorry" does nothing. Admitting that the colonial systems of slavery, monopolies and later unequal trade transferred vast amounts of wealth from todays Third World into much of Europe and through Europe into the non-European First World, and that Western economic development was not endogenous but based firmly on this system - that would lead somewhere. For one, perhaps a better understanding of development, and how to help the developing world improve their economies and living conditions (perferably without enslaving the EU).

It's about the admitting, and the understanding. Because you can't understand without admitting, and you can't change without understanding.

I don't feel guilty - I do feel angry. A little angry at the past, but not so angry - I do feel a bit superior, in that I feel I know better than they did. A lot angry at colonial apologists, because they would deny the truth. And extremely angry at people who would perpetuate the same kinds of behaviours.

As for European countries who weren't as active. Well, I'm actually having trouble thinking of any. Belgium may be small today, but they were there. The Dutch Republic made a killing in Indonesia. (pun unintential, but not retracted). The Polish? I supose they were too busy getting divided up between other various Empires, but I doubt that the merchants weren't eager to get in on any action.

But it doesn't mattter - the entire First World, including North America and the settler colonies of the Antipodes, has benefitted from the economic world system created by the colonial project. We in the settler colonies had access to huge amounts of land, minerals and other resources from which we have created great wealth. The capital to fund much of that exploitation, and a lot of the profit, went back to Europe, and funded their economic expansion. Resources and labour were bought cheap from Africa and Asia; other countries, like China and Japan, were never formally colonised but subject to very unequal trade conditions. (China's story is very complicated, and I would never suggest that the semi-colonization was the root of the economic, environmental and political problems there in the 19th and 20th centuries - but it didn't help).

To this day, almost all of our prices are based on the fact that there is great inequality in the world and people are willing to work for much less than we are. Those inequalities were largely established by political/military coercion in the 19th and 20th centuries. I study 17th and 18th century Europeans - they were not richer than 17th and 18th century Indians, and materially perhaps only somewhat richer than sub-Saharan Africans, depending on the region.* Today, they are much, much richer. The nineteenth century is the story of wealth and income transferral largely from Asia (where the bulk of people and the bullk of wealth existed in 1800) to Europe and North America (where per capita income increased substantially).

*Nutrition and living conditions are another story - 18th century Europeans were nutritionally poorer than cavemen, but materially much richer. Just like how early modern Londoners were richer, but less healthy, than rural English people.

Okay, I know I'm fixating on the system, but that's because I'm more interested in systems than in individual incidents. There were horrible atrocities committed by colonial powers, but Europeans have also committed such atrocities against one another in various religious wars. What strikes me as the more pernitious were the everyday injustices, and the ways the system was changed to create underclasses and overclasses, how local economies and political systems were disrupted - all to the benefit of the central colonial power with no thought to the consequences for the people at the periphery.

So we shouldn't feel guilty. Do we feel guilty about early modern witch burnings? Maybe one of my ancestors was burned as a witch; maybe another one held the burning torch. No - we get angry, and we say, that was stupid, we shouldn't do that again.

And we turn any residual guilt into changing the current economic system. What kind of unequal trade is there still out there? How we end farming subsidies in the First World? And we recognise that protectionism may be necessary for a developing economy, even while it's a bad idea for a developed economy. (The most quickly growing European economies in the early modern era were those which practiced protectionism within national borders, though market intergration may have increased within the national borders).
posted by jb at 2:43 PM on January 11, 2008 [8 favorites]


Gotta love free market capitalism.

Nitfilter: What's "free market" about it?


It's Metafilter Knee-jerk Response #723: Blame The Market
Be pompous, obese, and eat cactus,
(Everybody sing!)
Be dull, and boring, and omnipresent,
Criticize things you don't know about,
Be oblong and have your knees removed.
posted by oncogenesis at 2:58 PM on January 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


Surely, if we are any Star Trek people, we are the Borg.
posted by No-sword at 3:20 PM on January 11, 2008


For those interested in the topic, the book Monbiot is getting this stuff from, Late Victorian Holocausts, is excellent.
posted by stammer at 3:34 PM on January 11, 2008


It's Metafilter Knee-jerk Response #723: Blame The Market

'Lytton believed in free trade. He did nothing to check the huge hikes in grain prices, Economic "modernization" led household and village reserves to be transferred to central depots using recently built railroads. Much was exported to England, where there had been poor harvests. Telegraph technology allowed prices to be centrally co-ordinated and, inevitably, raised in thousands of small towns. Relief funds were scanty because Lytton was eager to finance military campaigns in Afghanistan. Conditions in emergency camps were so terrible that some peasants preferred to go to jail. A few, starved and senseless, resorted to cannibalism. This was all of little consequence to many English administrators who, as believers in Malthusianism, thought that famine was nature's response to Indian over-breeding.'
posted by stammer at 3:37 PM on January 11, 2008


jb, with all respect, I'd say we are doing the exactly opposite of your last paragraph.

But I'm enough of an idealist to want to disagree. They should be the last. We shouldn't do this again.

And we're doing this right now.
posted by ersatz at 3:57 PM on January 11, 2008


"Lytton believed in free trade."

Maybe he did. But as a government agent, he did everything in his power to thwart it. Read you own citation: "Economic 'modernization' led household and village reserves to be transferred to central depots [...]" This is not the Invisible Hand at work.
posted by oncogenesis at 4:25 PM on January 11, 2008


There are a few problems with Monbiot's article, particularly in his account of the Mau Mau revolt. For example, he repeats Caroline Elkins's claim that 320,000 Kikuyu were detained in concentration camps, and that over 100,000 were either killed or died of disease and starvation. These figures have been strongly challenged, and the evidence suggests that the actual figures were much lower. (I am not suggesting that this justifies the British atrocities in Kenya -- how could it? -- but I think it is important to try and get the numbers right, just as it is important to try and establish, as best we can, the number of people killed in the bombing of Dresden, or the number of civilians killed in Iraq. If we are to 'look this history right in the face .. unflinchingly', as jb urges us, then we must try to be accurate. Monbiot's inflated figures are not helpful.)

Monbiot also assumes that British atrocities in Kenya were typical of the whole imperial project; that they reveal the brutality on which the British empire had always been based (and that they can therefore be placed on a continuum of atrocities stretching back to the nineteenth century). Is he right? I am not sure that he is. The situation in Kenya was very much a product of the colonial endgame, as the white settler population realised they were losing their hold on power, realised they could no longer count on the automatic support of the British government, and resorted to increasingly desperate measures to put down the Mau Mau revolt. And Kenya is exceptional, in that the history of British imperial withdrawal after 1945 is not, on the whole, a history of ruthless brutality in defending colonial territories, but a history of ruthless efficiency in getting rid of them.

For those interested in exploring the issues further, I recommend Bernard Porter's candid and enlightening discussion of the dirty war in Kenya in this LRB review. One of the points he makes is that 'the British people have never been terribly interested in their empire' (a remark which I suspect may come as a surprise to some US MeFites, who probably see us as hopelessly obsessed with past imperial glories). That lack of interest, Porter suggests, is one reason why the Kenya Emergency got forgotten so quickly. Rather than jumping to Monbiot's conclusion, that this is a deliberate act of censorship ('the men who own the papers simply commission the stories they want to read'), maybe we should ask why the British had so little emotional investment in the idea of empire. Kenya may have been, in Porter's words, 'Britain's Algeria', but it wasn't a national trauma for Britain in the way that Algeria was a national trauma for France.

There is one irony about the Mau Mau revolt that neither Monbiot nor Porter mentions. When the truth about the war in Kenya started to come out, the attack on British government policy was led by one dissident MP who made a speech in the House of Commons arguing passionately that there could be no double standard. 'We cannot say, 'We will have African standards in Africa, Asian standards in Asia and perhaps British standards here at home' .. We must be consistent ..' This speech had a major impact in forcing Harold Macmillan to rethink his policy in Africa, setting in motion the process that led to British withdrawal. And the name of the dissident MP? Enoch Powell.
posted by verstegan at 4:42 PM on January 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


"Lytton believed in free trade."

Maybe he did. But as a government agent, he did everything in his power to thwart it. Read you own citation: "Economic 'modernization' led household and village reserves to be transferred to central depots [...]" This is not the Invisible Hand at work.
posted by oncogenesis at 4:25 PM on January 11


"Free trade" and "Free markets" and "market liberalization" are the words for the current wave of economic centralization through institutions like the WTO, and multilateral agreements, and have been buzzwords for centralizing prices for a long time. if somehow what the WTO, GATT, NAFTA, etc, is *not* "free trade," then you've got a lot of powerful people to convince.
posted by eustatic at 5:20 PM on January 11, 2008


Goddamn it, people are terrible. We're just an awful, awful species.

I'm surprised the lower forms of animals don't destroy us all.
posted by brickman at 5:22 PM on January 11, 2008


And the name of the dissident MP?

Classic! Throughout the commentary I kept thinking about Thucydides' Historiae and his take on the Athenian atrocities vs Athenian accomplishments at the time of the Peloponesian War. And what did Enoch Powell do but edit the Stuart Jones edition of that very book.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:29 PM on January 11, 2008


The Anti-Charitable Contributions Act of 1877 prohibited "at the pain of imprisonment private relief donations that potentially interfered with the market fixing of grain prices".

As someone mentioned above, it was the same with the Irish Potato Famine. And, really, these ideas -- that sending in relief grain to distribute to the starving would inappropriately interfere with the market -- were very popular among the government intelligensia of the UK which had engaged in a century-long celebration of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. Concepts of "markets" were treated as gospel.

Now, such ideas that we should not interfere with the sanctity of the private market and not undermine commerce in any way is most popular among people who read Ayn Rand as teenagers and never grew out of it. But back then, the UK was obsessed with these ideas.
posted by deanc at 6:07 PM on January 11, 2008


Klangklangston- another thing to consider, if she was a Cult. Anthropologist, she might be referring to the fact that she did study Rhodesia, not Zimbabwe. The time and place of her research are linked. Cultures change over time, so to say that she did research in Rhodesia may be to imply that she was there during period X, and that things have changed drastically as the geographic area where she studied isn't even called that anymore. It's like someone who studied East Berlin still calling it East Berlin in reference to their research, because that is what they studied. Not consolidated post communist berlin, etc.
posted by mrzarquon at 7:46 PM on January 11, 2008


Thanks for the post nasreddin, and the comments jb--very enlightening.
posted by hadjiboy at 9:43 PM on January 11, 2008


Kenya was not an exception. the British do have a reputation for brutality amongst their former colonies. My mother can still get angry about the british though India has been Independent since she was three years old. that is what convinces me more than anything else. my parents were concerned about my current trip to south africa. i'm sitting here in durban looking out at the indian ocean in summer while I write this. for durban was where Gandhi began his first civil disobedience attempt, i think ;) but our countries histories are so interesting intertwined. in my first passport in 1972 I had a rubber stamped "forbidden to travel to south africa" across a page. firing my curiosity about why was this country so evil htat my government forbade us to even travel there?
posted by infini at 2:38 AM on January 12, 2008


But I'm enough of an idealist to want to disagree. They should be the last. We shouldn't do this again.

And we're doing this right now.


My problem with out collective amnesia about our colonial past, and the still-prevailing opinion that Britain is generally benevolent, is that it leads us to misunderstand our true motivations for actions such as the war in Iraq.
posted by Summer at 6:38 AM on January 12, 2008


You know, the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that the drought in 1876 was quite a pivotal moment in my own personal family narrative, and hence, as generalise-able as these things get, in the Deccan's contemporary socio-cultural historiography.

Now, truth be told, this is the first time I've heard about the drought in the Gregorian calendar; my grandmom (who is my official storyteller when it comes to family and related social history) often talks about this famine some 10 Jovian cycles back [1], when her dad (as a kid) and her granddad were so destitute that they used to mix curd (yogurt) with wet clay and eat it. For an orthodox family that once owned large fields, that was a massive step downwards; crucially, that south Indian staple, rice, was missing from that concoction.

The last we talked about this, she was afraid of that Telugu year repeating all over once again. (And because there was no rice involved, and I most certainly didn't want to eat dirt for lunch, I was afraid too) Being more than 60, she'd have seen the year ("Chitrabhanu" I think, but I'm not sure) once before, and once again a few years back, and on neither occassion would she have seen famine at all. Still, the memory clearly remains, and not just for her; it is clearly common knowledge that the year (I really think it's Chitrabhanu, but I wish I could have been certain on this) is inauspicious and unlucky in general.

Why was this so epochal? For one, and I'll have to ask my grandmom for exact dates to confirm this, I'm quite certain that this was the event that led to the family to begin leaving the ancestral village and moving over to the big city and find employment as, not Vedic scholars or tax-collectors ('karaNam') or almanac-makers ('panchanga-karta'), but as clerks ('gumaasta') and dubaashis (bi-lingual translators) employed under the British Raj. That was quite a massive shift, civilizationally speaking; the language of education for young kids began to shift from Sanskrit to Indo-Persian/Urdu to Telugu to, eventually, English.

--
[1] - In the Telugu calendar, we don't have centuries; we a 60-year timeframe that roughly corresponds to 5 Jovian-years. Jupiter takes 12 years to revolve around the Sun. Names of years repeat after every 5 * 12 years. This, in fact, is exactly like how it is with the Chinese calendar, including the astro-magical bits, although the Telugu years don't take their names from animals.
posted by the cydonian at 9:02 AM on January 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Hmmm. Free, democratic India today has levels of child malnutrition worse than Sub-Sarahan Africa while exporting billions of dollars of food every year (and even spends government money subsidising exports).
posted by alasdair at 4:21 PM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]



We shouldn't feel guilty - we should feel angry about what our ancestors did.


Oh that we could stop at our ancestors, but it continues with our contemporaries.
posted by Neiltupper at 9:48 PM on January 12, 2008


Interesting stuff. Thanks for the extra dimension the cydonian.
posted by asok at 4:21 AM on January 13, 2008


"Turning white guilt into white pride is the calling card of the modern KKK and their ilk."

I disagree the rally for these groups is their vision of the truth; that they are superior. As it relates to history , it may be the truth, scarily enough.

At the end of that piece "only that it permits its writers to rage impotently against them" (it's war crimes) reveals his position and the reason for dragging out the dirty laundry.
posted by Student of Man at 9:06 PM on January 14, 2008


Wait, what?
posted by klangklangston at 10:06 PM on January 14, 2008


Forgive me for my sloppy writing. I'm saying the writer, George Monbiot, wrote the piece because he doesn't want Turkey to become part of the EU. It's white on white crime. That's why hes dragging out their dirty Laundry. If you haven't noticed by now, I'm a die hard cynic so I believe The world will always be this way. If your ain't white, It's either join or die.
posted by Student of Man at 11:05 PM on January 14, 2008


Wow, there's a whole lot of wrong all in that comment.
posted by klangklangston at 8:27 AM on January 15, 2008


the British do have a reputation for brutality amongst their former colonies.

This is true, and most of it is deserved. Looking at something objectively and honestly, though, also means putting it in perspective. My husband once met someone from India who swore that the Brits were worse than any colonial power, ever - and that was including the Nazis and World War II era Japan.* (Yes, he asked "you mean, worse that the Nazis?" and they said "Yes, much worse.")

The Brits were bad, but nowhere near as bad as some colonial powers have been. Within the African context, the British were mild compared to the Belgians or the Portuguese. In North America, the British government was also traditionally more favourable to native groups than either the American government or the Canadian. The Brits had a lot of Empire, and happened to include in that Empire some now very populous and fairly powerful places (India, Pakistan, South Africa, Nigeria, etc - and ever so conveniently for Anglophone historians and reporters they kept their records in English), but the story of colonialism is not a solely British one. It's a world history, and a European/Western action.

It's also my favorite argument against anti-immigration Europeans. I just say, hey, you guys could have stayed at home in 1492. Now it's pay back.

The British did invent the concentration camp to be used against the white Boers in South Africa, and again against the black Kenyans during the Mau Mau rebellion. But they didn't actually aim at genocide.
posted by jb at 5:48 PM on January 16, 2008


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