Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Taking up the blog again

After several months away from this blog I'm impelled to take it up again, as much to help me remember what I am going through as to comment on what's been happening.

Perhaps I should begin by explaining this book that Im writing.

It began as an effort to write an honest book about the United Nations. Everything I've read on the topic is biased. Those who support the organization as an item of faith bend over backwards to avoid mentioning its numerous problems; those who are against it for ideological reasons, focus only on the problems. Both viewpoints are equally dishonest; my book was to be a corrective.

After a year of research and writing, I came to the conclusion that the book would have to be broader than originally planned. I could not explain what had happened to the UN without telling of the major national actors that have shaped its work. Research in that direction led me to the conclusion that I could not describe contemporary world affairs without coloring in the historical background. And that, in turn, led to the insight that the colonial era never really ended.

After World War II, as the world segued into the Cold War, European colonial empires faded into the political background, free to deal with their territories as they wished. Contrary to the popular impression there was no rapid and smooth decolonization. Britain manipulated India into an enormously destructive partition (one million killed, 14 million rendered refugees in their own land), creating Pakistan as a weak and vulnerable country that it could use to manipulate South Asia and the Islamic world; it supported bloody opposition to independence by settler colonists in Rhodesia and Kenya, and engaged constructively with the apartheid regime in South Africa. France fought bloody wars in Algeria and Indochina, and established indirect colonial rule in its sub-Saharan African territories. The Portuguese fought long and bloody wars in Angola and Mozambique, as did Spain in Western Sahara; the Dutch fought briefly to try and retake Indonesia.

The net result of this process was that the enormously destructive record of the colonial era went largely unexamined, and the world it shaped was accepted as the foundation on which the United Nations was built. Three of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the countries charged with special responsibility to keep the peace of the world, were the largest of the colonial Powers: Britain, France and the Soviet Union (nee Russian empire). China was represented by a rump, Taiwan, and after 1972, by another major empire, that of the Manchus, reconstructed as a totalitarian dictatorship. The United States, the only member of the five dedicated to the spread of democracy, was forced by the exigencies of the Cold War to do just the opposite; it supported colonial Europe down the line. The history of the UN is thus one of prolonged struggle to realize the democratic and liberal ideals of its Charter against strong opposition from its most powerful members.

In the long struggle to escape the colonial era, India on the side of the global South (developing countries) and Britain as the predominant colonial strategist, have played key roles. My book therefore came to focus on the relationship between the two countries: my working title for it is "Escaping the British Raj." Subsequent posts will tell of this work in progress in bits and pieces; a coherent narrative will emerge in the book itself.

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