Sunday, November 11, 2012

The sorrow of empires

Or, Why we can't afford nice things.

As the celebration of Armistice Day rolls around again, the tiny fraction of the population that has any idea what is being remembered grows ever smaller. The argument that World War One was the greatest act of human insanity evah is actually pretty easy to make.  All that was amazing about European civilization came together in a spasm of violence and terror.  Millions died to prove that the great advances of scientific rationalism only exacerbated the savage nature of human violence.  Germany gets blamed (with some justification) for starting this outburst of madness but the same institutional forces sucked in damn near everyone on the planet before it was over.

When Veblen tried to describe how Germany had become this über-villian he in fact gave the world its first great demonstration of Institutional Analysis.  He claimed that Germany's role in starting WW I was driven by two powerful cultural currents.  There was "genius" Germany which had by 1900 become the technological leader of Europe (if not the planet).  If a country can make the best steel, it will certainly soon have the best guns if that is what she wants to have.  Which leads to the other cultural current—that Prussian need to go around kicking your neighbor's butt.  Germany had become a major nation under the leadership of the Prussians who liked to plan battles for their own amusement.  She had the ability to mass-produce world-class guns.  With those elements in place, the triggering mechanism for war was irrelevant.

And oh the excitement of war!  This was going to fun!  In Britain, young men at fancy colleges marched down to recruiting offices as a class.  In Germany, Social Democratic parliamentarians who had only weeks before passed a resolution condemning war as a tool for worker-class oppression, signed up for the war as a group.  And who could blame them?  War for Europeans had for a couple of generations meant these lopsided affairs where they would kill 20,000 natives armed with slingshots at a cost of a tiny handful of men.  Unfortunately for these Europeans, both sides now had machine guns and an industrial system that allowed them to keep firing until there were no more fools to shoot.  The result was Verdun and the Battle of the Somme and over 16 million murdered.

And when the armistice was put into effect, the same forces of predatory greed that had enabled the Europeans to involve the rest of the world in their calamity came together to forge a treaty so vile, it would trigger another war even more murderous only one generation later.

The casualties of World War One did not all pile up at Verdun.  Here in the American midwest, war fever was used to crush the progressive movements.  A serious historical case can be made that USA was well on its way to becoming the glorious republic its founders wanted it to be—until it was sidetracked by the temptations of the disintegrating British Empire.  In Minnesota, most of the senior leadership of the Non-Partisan League found themselves under arrest.   Their publications were deemed subversive so they lost their ability to use the mails.  Of course, the repression had to be severe because entering the Great War on the side of UK made no sense whatsoever. The largest single ethnic group in Minnesota were the Germans.  The USA had been formed by people who violently objected to British colonialism and the primary aim of the Brits in WW I was to keep their empire.  It required a LOT of lying, propaganda, and physical intimidation to get USA to sign up for that war on the side of the Brits.

British propaganda is still amazingly successful.  Read what the inimatable war nerd has to say about the Brits.

THE WAR NERD / MAY 22, 2009
By Gary Brecher

You see some pretty sick stuff when you do my job, but I just read something sicker than any Congo cannibal buffet. It’s an article by a posh little limey named Jeremey Brown condemning the Sri Lankan government for being too messy in putting down the LTTE, and demanding that we stop buying the cheap textiles the poor Sinhalese make their living churning out.

What’s sick about this is that the British establishment destroyed the Sinhalese people completely. Completely and purposely, sadistically. Stole their land, humiliated and massacred their government, made it Imperial policy to erase every shred of self-respect the Sinhalese had left. You can talk about the Nazis all day long, but for my money nothing they did was as gross as what you find out when you actually look into the history of British-Sinhalese relations. If you can even call them “relations”; I guess a murder-rape is a relation, sort of.

But nobody knows about it. Weird, huh? Nothing weirds me out more than the total news blackout the Brits have managed to put on all the sick shit they did to brown and black people all over the world. They had a system, and it worked. They’d grab some paradise island in the tropics, use the Royal Navy to wall it off from the rest of the world, and crush the local tribe. If the locals resisted, the Brits would starve them to death, shoot them down, infect them with smallpox or get them addicted to opium–whatever they had to do to gang-rape the locals so bad that they’d lose the will to resist.

And to this day, they don’t catch even a little bit of Hell for it. Everybody thinks the Brits are all cute and harmless. You’re all a bunch of suckers for those suave accents, you suckers! The truth is that compared to the Brits, the Nazis you’re always yammering about were a gang of eighth-grade stoners who ran around spraypainting swastikas on school property. The Nazis lasted one decade; the Brits quietly ran their extermination programs for three hundred years, and to this day they wouldn’t even think of feeling guilty about it. Wouldn’t cross their minds. more
And so we read that the Tory Twit Prime Minister, David Cameron, thinks it would be a glorious idea to rehabilitate the memory of World War I.  Well, Dave, I WILL agree that war had some virtue—it wiped out major segments of the British ruling classes which is by itself, no small accomplishment.

The first world war: the real lessons of this savage imperial bloodbath

David Cameron wants to turn the first world war into a focus of national pride. That should be resisted every step of the way
The Guardian, 16 October 2012

In the midst of deepening austerity, David Cameron is desperate to play the national card. Any one will do. He's worked the Queen's jubilee and the Olympics for all they're worth. Now the prime minister wants a "truly national commemoration" of the first world war in the runup to 2014 that will "capture our national spirit … like the diamond jubilee".

So £50m has been found to fund a four-year programme of events, visits to the trenches from every school and an ambitious redevelopment of the Imperial War Museum. Ministers have promised there will be no "jingoism", but Cameron says he wants to remember those who "gave their lives for our freedom" and ensure that "the lessons learned live with us for ever".

In case there were any doubt about what those lessons might be, the Times has declared that despite the war's unhappy reputation, Britain's cause was "essentially just", a necessary response to aggression by a "xenophobic and anti-democratic" expansionist power (Germany) and that those who fought and died did so to uphold the "principle of the defence of small nations".

It surely must be right to commemorate what was by any reckoning a human catastrophe: 16 million died, including almost a million Britons. It touched every family in the country (and many other countries besides), my own included. Both my grandmothers lost brothers in the four-year bloodletting: one in Passchendaele, the other in Gaza.

Seventy years after the event, one of them would still cry at the memory of the postman bringing the death notice in a brown War Office envelope to her home in Edinburgh. My grandfather was a field surgeon on the western front, who would break down as he showed us pictures he had taken of lost friends amid the devastation of Ypres and Loos, and remembered covering up for soldiers who had shot themselves in the legs, to save them from the firing squad.

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.

Set against that all-destroying machine of 20th century industrial warfare, the preposterous pretext of the rights of small nations and the violated neutrality of "plucky little Belgium" cannot seriously be regarded as the real driver of the war (as it was not by British and other politicians of the time).

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.

As the bloodbath exhausted itself, it unleashed mutinies, workers' revolts and revolutions, and the breakup of defeated empires, giving a powerful impetus to anti-colonial movements in the process. But the outcome also laid the ground for the rise of nazism and the even bloodier second world war, and led to a new imperial carve-up of the Middle East, whose consequences we are still living with today, including the Palestinian tragedy.

Unlike in 1940, Britain wasn't threatened with invasion or occupation in 1914, and Europe's people were menaced by the machinations of their masters, rather than an atavistic tyranny. Those who died didn't give their lives "for freedom"; they were the victims of an empire that was a stain on humanity, the cynicism of politicians and the despicable folly of the generals. As Harry Patch, last British survivor of the trenches who died three years ago, put it, the first world war was "nothing better than legalised mass murder".

Since the 1990s, direct conflict between great powers that reached its cataclysmic nadir in the world wars has been replaced by a modern version of the colonial wars that preceded and punctuated them: in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Unable to win public support for such campaigns, the government has tried to appropriate the sympathy for the troops who fight them as a substitute: demanding, for example, that poppies be worn as a "display of national pride" (or as Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely, the now ex-British Legion president, described Remembrance Day, a "tremendous networking opportunity" for arms dealers).

If Cameron and his ministers try the same trick with the commemoration of the 1914-18 carnage, it will be a repulsive travesty. Among the war's real lessons are that empire, in all its forms, always leads to bloodshed; that state violence is by far its most destructive form; that corporate carve-ups fuel conflict; and that militarism and national chauvinism are the road to perdition. Celebrate instead the internationalists, socialists and poets who called it right, and remember the suffering of the soldiers – rather than the cowards who sent them to die. Attempts to hijack the commemorations must be contested every step of the way. more
And lest anyone still thinks the Brits are this cute country with a harmless but medium-ugly royal family, here's a reminder of who those swaggering thugs really are.

British have invaded nine out of ten countries - so look out Luxembourg

Britain has invaded all but 22 countries in the world in its long and colourful history, new research has found.

21 of the 22 countries that have not been invaded by Britain

By Jasper Copping  04 Nov 2012

Every schoolboy used to know that at the height of the empire, almost a quarter of the atlas was coloured pink, showing the extent of British rule.

But that oft recited fact dramatically understates the remarkable global reach achieved by this country.

A new study has found that at various times the British have invaded almost 90 per cent of the countries around the globe.

The analysis of the histories of the almost 200 countries in the world found only 22 which have never experienced an invasion by the British.

Among this select group of nations are far-off destinations such as Guatemala, Tajikistan and the Marshall Islands, as well some slightly closer to home, such as Luxembourg.

The analysis is contained in a new book, All the Countries We've Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To.

Stuart Laycock, the author, has worked his way around the globe, through each country alphabetically, researching its history to establish whether, at any point, they have experienced an incursion by Britain.

Only a comparatively small proportion of the total in Mr Laycock's list of invaded states actually formed an official part of the empire.

The remainder have been included because the British were found to have achieved some sort of military presence in the territory – however transitory – either through force, the threat of force, negotiation or payment.

Incursions by British pirates, privateers or armed explorers have also been included, provided they were operating with the approval of their government.

So, many countries which once formed part of the Spanish empire and seem to have little historical connection with the UK, such as Costa Rica, Ecuador and El Salvador, make the list because of the repeated raids they suffered from state-sanctioned British sailors. more

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