Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Complaining About Colonialism

When it comes to popular trends in values, opinions and perceptions, there is no doubt that old school colonialism or imperialism is one of the most widely condemned. It can be condemned with ease and enthusiasm because bashing the colonial empires of yesterday is about as fashionable these days as bashing Nazis, climate change skeptics, the United States or people who think the Bible is true. It’s fun and almost everyone does it. On a global level, bemoaning colonialism is something that all of the “cool kids” are doing. As regular readers are no doubt aware, I refuse to join this trend no matter how fashionable it may be. There were certainly many negative and shameful aspects of colonialism/imperialism but there were also positive aspects as well. However, anti-colonialism has become its own industry these days and, quite often, former colonial powers themselves are the biggest supporters of it. Some do it because they seem to enjoy wallowing in guilt and self-flagellation while others do it because they just want to be popular and deny their own colonialist history entirely. Colonialism/imperialism is today often seen as equivalent to racism, even as being irreversibly entwined. This, I think, is wrong and misleading but it highlights just how far removed from reality the modern, popular perception of colonialism/imperialism has become. Why should we care? Because the most prominent and successful colonial powers were monarchies or were republics who inherited colonial empires from their monarchial predecessors.

Combining imperialism and racism has become so common today that it is usually taken for granted. However, just a moment of dispassionate thought will reveal how ridiculous it is. First of all, the argument itself is racist because it is always directed at the colonialism/imperialism of Western Europe and (later) the United States. As if Western European Caucasians and their offspring are singularly capable of this evil while all others have only ever been their hapless victims. This, of course, is blatantly untrue. For one thing, the European colonial empires of recent times were very seldom established the way the popular imagination thinks they were, which is to say, evil White men with guns conquering primitive peoples of different colored skins and taking control of their land. Which is not to say that such things never happened but it was certainly not ‘standard operating procedure’. The British, for example, never “conquered” India nor did little Belgium ever “conquer” the whole of central Africa. Many of these colonial enterprises come down to a simple question; are international agreements valid? Countries make choices, sometimes they make bad choices and sometimes they are forced by circumstances to choose between the least of two bad options. This is something that has happened to all peoples all throughout the course of history. Yet, not all are viewed the same today.

Merriam-Webster defines “colonialism” as “control by one country over another area and its people”. Obviously, by that definition, colonialism is something which almost everyone has engaged in at some point or another. Why does it seem that guilt and blame only seem to be focused in one general direction? At one time, almost the whole of Asia and half of Europe was controlled by the Mongols. Everyone seems to have gotten over that. In southern Africa, the Zulus under King Shaka were quite the colonial power as were the Aztecs in pre-Columbian Mexico. European history is filled to bursting with examples and yet Europe always seems to be held as the instigator of colonialism rather than being subject to it. For a very long time Greece was controlled by Turkey, most of Poland was controlled by Russia, for about 800 years most of Spain was under the control of foreign powers. Somehow though, no one expects modern-day Spain to be demanding reparations from modern-day Morocco. Does Russia send foreign aid to Finland, consumed by guilt over the years of Russian control over the Finns? European peoples have often been the colonial subjects of other European peoples and even non-European peoples such as the Moorish rule over Spain, the Turkish rule over the Balkans or Mongol rule over Russia. Europeans never had a monopoly on colonialism.

Sometimes, the efforts to blame current problems on the legacy of European colonialism reach farcical proportions. One good example today is Libya, where the former Kaddafi regime was particularly adept at extorting money from Italy based on fashionable anti-colonialism. If there were problems in Libya due to the legacy of colonialism, should the Italians really be held to blame? After all, Italian rule over Libya lasted a mere 32 years whereas Turkish rule over Libya lasted 360 years! Who reasonably would have had the larger impact on the region? Libya is also one of a number of examples of colonial powers being falsely accused of conquering countries which are countries today but were not so at the time. Similar cases can be seen in Italian rule over Libya, American rule over the Philippines or Japanese rule over Taiwan. Each were a case when one country went to war with another country and was ceded territory in the peace settlement after which local rebel forces had to be subdued. Was this right or legitimate? Again, that would, I suppose, depend on if you think any international agreements hold validity. It would certainly be a chaotic world if they did not. Countries make agreements and have to abide by them or face the consequences, which could be economic, military or simply being shunned because no one trusts you to keep your word. Sometimes, they are obliged to make “unequal” agreements but such is the way of the world and constantly crying over it is very tiresome. It has happened to virtually everyone at some point.

Perhaps one of the most infuriating things about empire-bashing, for me at least, when the perpetrator is a republican is how much rank hypocrisy is on display. For example, today Red China is very fond of bashing old style imperialism while ruling over Tibet, Manchuria, parts of old Mongolia and hoping for more. They influence the governments and exploit the resources of numerous African countries, have bought up land and influence in Latin America and have taken control of a huge chunk of Iran. All oil in that part of the country belongs to China, they police it, they decide who gets in or out and the Chinese have said that any attack on Iran (or at least that part -they were probably intentionally vague on that point) would be considered an attack on Chinese territory. They are an “empire” in all but name. Playing in a rather different ballpark, we have the United States, which has also often been quick to criticize colonialism while flirting with being a colonial power but usually being something that is not quite colonialism but often seems worse. The United States tends to refrain from ruling other peoples but reserves the right to smack them around if they do something Washington DC doesn’t like. Why not just rule the place themselves? Because they’re not “colonialists” of course, that’s un-American! Whatever one chooses to call this, it certainly has not been a beneficial policy, least of all for the U.S. itself. However, having to play pretend to keep up the anti-colonialism charade is common to a number of countries around the world.

One of the most active but least effective monarchies engaged in this today is Japan. On the one hand, there is the self-hating leftist crowd in Japan that is quick to confess to any crime, apologize for anything and condemn all that has gone before them. They and their kind are a major reason why so many formerly great powers are slowly disappearing. However, then there is the always entertaining radical-right in Japan. It is rather hard to take any of these people too seriously because they constantly seem to be trying to persuade someone of something but are unsure of exactly what or of even who they are struggling to convince. Many have attached themselves to the anti-colonialism trend, claiming that Japan was the champion of anti-colonialism, the liberator of East Asia from colonial rule and the harbinger of freedom and independence for the Far East. To do this they must, of course, deny that the Empire of Japan was ever a colonial power which, naturally, no one with any sense and access to a history book is ever going to believe. Whether they actually believe such nonsense themselves is anybody’s guess, it may simply be part of their on-going effort to convince the world that they were right in World War II and everyone else was wrong by portraying Japan as the enemy of colonialism, something which is very popular today. They did the same thing in the Cold War when (more sensibly) anti-communism was much more popular by claiming that the Japanese war effort was all about fighting communism (they were anti-Red before anti-Red was “cool”). That having fallen out of fashion, they are more likely these days to highlight Japanese forces who actually joined communist terrorist groups to fight French or Dutch or some other colonial power after the war was over. Hating “whitey” is just as popular in Japan as Western Europe.

Trying to deny that Japan was a colonial power is, of course, absurd and none of their arguments hold up for an instant. For example, some will claim that Korea was not *really* a colony of Japan because it was annexed to Japan as part of the empire, just like Honshu or Hokkaido. However, they cite Hawaii as an example of American colonialism even though Hawaii was annexed as well and became a state in the Union. France made Algeria a part of metropolitan France, just as French Guiana is today and no one would consider that this erases their status as colonial subjects, past or present. Were that true, Britain would today be a greater empire than the United States and I doubt anyone looking at a map would buy that argument. As mentioned before, Japan also claimed to be “liberating” the Philippines from American colonial rule which is rather at odds with the fact that Japan came to control Taiwan in exactly the same way that the United States came to control the Philippines. If the one is legitimate, the other must be as well. However, for those who do accept the reality that Japan was a colonial power there is also the argument that it was simply the only one which was humane and benevolent while all others were cruel and oppressive and thus deserving of being destroyed. This is popular with those who like having their egos massaged but of course it discourages monarchist solidarity in a big way. Sadly, it is far from uncommon.

Not a few monarchies have fallen prey to this unhelpful way of thinking and one of the most prominent is the biggest colonial power of all: Great Britain. The mentality that, “all empires are bad, except our own” is one that has done considerable damage to the monarchist cause around the world. The area where this caused the earliest and biggest spread of republicanism was in Latin America with the Spanish colonial empire being the loser. Being quick to uphold the British Empire as benevolent, the Spanish empire was portrayed in the British press as harsh, backward and repressive. Britain supported the independence movements in Latin America that led to the birth of a whole crop of new republics, mostly out of a commercial desire to end the Spanish monopoly on trade with South America and gain a foothold for British business interests. This anti-Spanish empire mentality lasted to the very end when Great Britain, virtually alone among the European powers, supported the United States in the Spanish-American War. The result has not been good for the monarchist cause nor even for the cause of Britain. The United States quickly became the biggest business partner for Latin American countries and one of them in particular continues to bedevil British territorial sovereignty in the Falkland Islands. Spain, it should not be forgotten, did itself no favors with almost constant internal unrest in the homeland making holding on to the empire nearly impossible but British attitudes and actions certainly didn’t help and aided in the demise of the Spanish empire.

The antagonistic attitude toward the German Empire was also not ultimately helpful either. Germany had, under Kaiser Wilhelm II, become the third leading colonial power in the world but World War I saw it all brought to ruin. In the aftermath, Britain reached its peak in imperial size but it also planted the seeds for the ruination of the British Empire as well. Now, before anyone starts to get any anti-British ideas about all of this, the British attitude was certainly understandable even if it was not beneficial. The British really were pretty darn good at the colonial empire game and if you were going to live in a colony, you had a much better chance of living well in a British colony or former colony than in any other. Looking at modern Taiwan and South Korea, one could say much the same about Japan (though few would care to as they are certainly not fair to their fellow colonial powers). The lists of the top economic powers by GDP invariably include the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Canada and Australia all of which were formerly part of the British Empire. No other colonial empire is so well represented. Smaller holdings such as Hong Kong and Singapore also have records of immense success on every level. That’s all true and it’s all great and it is something that the British and their former colonies can be proud of. Being proud of achievements, however, does not necessitate tearing down others in comparison! It also tends to make people look ridiculous when countries like Australia (because I’ve noticed they’re very good at it) bash Britain all the time. Look around you Aussies, you came out of the empire pretty well off.

Part of the reason why I long for more pan-monarchist solidarity on this front (aside from it being a good idea in an of itself) is that most of the anti-colonial sentiment today comes from a very common and dangerous foe. In the past there may have been other reasons (often rivalry) but today it is predominately due to Marxist thinking, part of their whole egalitarian, progressive, everything-in-the-past-was-bad mentality that furthers their cause of wanting to tear down any vestiges of tradition and try something “new”. A number of monarchies have actually been destroyed by this. A perfect example is the Empire of Ethiopia (“Take Two”). Emperor Haile Selassie was an outspoken advocate of ending European colonialism in Africa (even while he extended Ethiopian colonial rule over Eritrea) but failed to grasp that these movements were predominately backed by communist forces. In the end, European colonialism did collapse in Africa, often replaced by communist dictatorships and Ethiopia itself fell victim to communist revolutionary forces that destroyed the monarchy and brought poverty and starvation. And anyone who thinks that the end of “traditional” colonialism in Africa has meant the end of African people being ruled or exploited by foreign powers is fooling themselves. In some ways it is worse now than in the past since, when colonialism was overt, the colonial power had to maintain law and order and keep people safe. Today, as long as the mines are productive, few people seem to care if Africans are displaced by civil wars or wiped out in genocides.

That is one reason why I cannot bring myself to join the ‘condemn all colonialism’ crowd. There was certainly much in the old system that was bad, at times even horrific but I see nothing wrong and even much potential for benefit if people today would drop old prejudices and make new agreements openly and honestly. If a country requires protection or some sort of assistance, I see nothing wrong with coming to an agreement with another country to provide these things in exchange for something else, like an exclusive trade deal or use of some territory or something. However, my primary point here is that monarchists should really know better than to be “shooting inside the tent” on this subject and that everyone who likes to moan and groan and claim perpetual victim status for being a former colony should get over it and stop the pity party. You used to be ruled by someone else? Sorry, that doesn’t make you special. It’s happened to everybody and your people probably did it to some other people at some point so let’s all act like big boys and girls and stop trying to cash-in on past misfortunes. Is that too much to ask?

8 comments:

  1. We must understand that „post-colonialism“ – although that nonsense is even taught at universities – has nothing to do with science or reason. It is an ideology and to a large extent a business. For example, they claim that something like anti-German (or anti-White) racism cannot exist here, since only a majority can be racist towards a minority. Oh really? So Apartheid South Africa or Rhodesia obviously were nor racist! It becomes even more ridiculous, when inhabitants of the former German colonies praise German rule and all it’s benefits. Then the post-colonial-anti-racism-activists start crying: “Look at these stupid Negros! They don’t even know their own history and how oppressed they were by us! But we are so much wiser and must help them out of their ignorance!” I guess the attitude towards Africans has not really changed...

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    1. One argument that has always baffled me is the accusation that many problems, from Africa to the Middle East, are due to borders being drawn by colonial powers. This is itself rather racist as it implies that these powers, all free of colonial rule for some time now, cannot redraw their borders the "right" way. But then they also cry colonialism in relation to countries that never had colonies in their part of the world.

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    2. I don't think redrawing borders is as simple as you claim. Once established, nation-states typically need to undergo a great deal of turmoil (either domestically) before they cede territory to other nations or release nations under their control. A prime example would be Kurdistan, a people/nation which by all rights should be independent but because of the repressive governments in Iraq/Syria/Turkey are unable to do so, and thus have been greatly persecuted. This issue can be directly traced back to the colonial drawing of borders.

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    3. You think it was easy drawing the borders in the first place? It took a world war! Sure, it isn't done because it would be unpopular to do it and no one wants to be the one to give up territory. Everyone can understand that, but then don't go blaming the people who drew the borders in the first place if you lack the courage and conviction to correct the problem. All I'm saying is that no outside imperial ruling power is stopping them, they can do it if they want to.

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  2. I'm glad you pointed out the hypocrisy of Communist China's anti-colonialism. Let's not forget the Soviet Union, but I'm sure you could go on and on about that.

    I read (and have been reading) your pages on Chetniks and Serbia. What you wrote for the Chetniks had done them justice for how they are perceived, and I'm happy for it.

    Here's Chetnik music:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYeKXMOqznU

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nmfn6weIswc

    You win four sajkacas.

    Have anything for Saint Patrick's Day?

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    1. Plenty of hypocrisy to go around amongst alleged anti-colonial powers to be sure. The Chetniks have certainly been one of the more controversial topics addressed here. Later in the year I will be looking at their plight again in a post on Balkan monarchies in WW2. For St Pat's, maybe not that specific but there are numerous Ireland- related posts to peruse: http://madmonarchist.blogspot.com/search/label/Ireland

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  3. It's interesting you bring up the Russian occupation of Eastern European areas. Russia has spent hundreds of years trying to suck the wealth out of Ukraine and attempting to russify the people. However, after all this time, the Ukrainian people still have a well-functioning sovereign state and a culture that differs from Russian culture today. It makes it pretty clear that African nations still have the opportunity to become better themselves, for the nations that dominated the continent did not even exploit those countries as much as Ukraine was by Russia.

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  4. Noah Sassin,
    Ukraine was not oppressed by Russia for hundreds of years for the simple reason that it was created by Imperial Germany in 1917! Modern Ukraine is an artificial border created out of parts of Ruthenia, Hungary, Poland-Lithuania, and yes, Russia(Kievan-Rus is Russia). Ukraine only exists because of the Republic-Mongering of the Fallen West(and oh how low we have fallen). "Well-functioning sovereign state" indeed when more than half the country wants to rejoin Russia. It was the Russian Empire that saved and recaptured the area of modern Ukraine from the invading Turks and that only in the 19th century! True Ukraine was oppressed by the Soviet Union, but so was Russia (just as Germany was oppressed by the Nazis).
    The "Ukrainian People" are Cossacks, Russians, and Germans (yes Germans).
    And as for Ukrainian culture differing from Russian culture today, on the contrary:
    "Mutual customs are shared among the cultures of Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, Ukrainian Cossacks and Turkic peoples of Central Asia.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukrainian_culture)"

    God save the Tzar!

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