Sunday, February 2, 2014

Another Bizarre Essay from Brookings

Washington-based Brookings Institution has followed up the bizarre essay it published by British propagandist William Dalrymple with a much more complex distortion of history by Oxford Professor Margaret MacMillan.

Dalrymple expressed fears of an India-Pakistan war based on his astounding assertion that Afghanistan’s unending state of war is rooted in their rivalry and not, as anyone who knows history might think, in the proxy Cold War conflict the West financed by trading opium and heroin. That trade is now worth over $60 billion annually, and if there is war in South Asia after the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan, it will be in the service of its primary beneficiary, Britain, which needs chaotic conditions in an area that can absorb the proceeds without exciting the interest of American-German bank regulators.

MacMillan’s essay comparing the situation in 2014 with the one that in 1914 led into World War I is a more complex assault on truth in that it deliberately blurs what happened, hiding Britain's primary role in shaping the terrible realities of the modern world. Items:
  1. There had been “an extraordinary period of general peace since 1815,” MacMillan writes of the century preceding WW I. She obviously thinks the “general peace” was undisturbed by the war of 1857 in India, the two “Opium Wars” in China, the numerous massacres during the European “scramble for Africa” (too one-sided to be called wars), and the genocide of Native Americans, the Maori in New Zealand and the Australian Aborigine. In an essay that notes globalization as a factor in generating international tensions it is deeply racist to ignore conflicts that killed well over a hundred million people. It is no defence that she is merely reflecting the mainstream perspective of European historians. 
  2. MacMillan sees no difference between modern migration patterns and what happened in the century before WW I. Then “as now” she writes, “waves of immigrants were finding their way to foreign lands — Indians to the Caribbean and Africa, Japanese and Chinese to North America, and millions of Europeans to the New World and the Antipodes.” Those “waves of immigrants” included slaves from Africa and indentured Chinese and Indian workers – slaves in all but name – carried away from their homes mainly in British vessels.
  3. In asserting that the conflicts since 1945 have been “relatively minor … with the number of casualties dwarfed by those sustained in the two world wars,” MacMillan is entirely wrong. Authoritative estimates place the toll of the “proxy wars” of the Cold War era at over a hundred million lives. Since 1990, the conflicts in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Somalia have killed additional scores of millions. In South Asia since Indian independence some ten million have been killed in armed conflicts caused by manipulative British policies.
  4. Her comparison of the pre-WW I rivalry of Britain and Germany with the current US-China relationship will not bear examination. Britain in the early 20th Century was a savage imperial Power openly glorying in its subjugation and oppression of other nations; Germany was a challenger self-pitying in its lack of imperial “lebensraum” (elbow room). Their cynical drive for dominance was unrestrained by any moral considerations, even concern for their own people, millions of whom were killed and crippled in WW I. The post-Cold War, post-Mao history of Sino-American relations pits a democracy sometimes drunk with its own power against a deeply oppressive tyranny with unsettled borders; but neither is imperialist, and both support the economic and social development of other countries.
  5. MacMillan’s description of the Middle East as “made up largely of countries that received their present borders as a consequence of World War I,” sanitizes a history of brutal manipulations by Britain and France. She does that consistently, in overall analysis and on specific issues. In noting “Bashar al-Assad regime’s use of poison gas” she asserts that it was “a weapon first deployed in the trench warfare of 1914, then outlawed because world opinion viewed it as barbaric.” Neither assertion is true. Britain used poison gas against the Kurds in Iraq before WW I – Winston Churchill saw it as useful test of the new weapon – and it was given up not because it was too barbaric but because it could not be controlled: a shift of the wind could blow the gas back into the ranks of those who loosed it.

The essay is too dishonest to be useful to anyone trying to understand what lessons WW I holds for policy makers today.

It pays no attention to the massively obvious lesson of the bloodiest period in world history: that the most lethal dangers lie in the delusions of elite groups capable of manipulating public opinion into supporting violence.

It should be a cause for general alarm that MacMillan’s essay is published by an institution with great influence on American policy.

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