Green and pleasant land, Part 2

It felt good, yet, disconcerting to write yesterday’s blog. I wrote most of this then too, but am editing up and reviewing with 24 hours hindsight.  Thanks for the comments and suggestions. As Jeano said, this is Weltschmerz. Ah! The sins of the father… Intellectually, I know I am not responsible for them, yet I also know that I am held responsible for all of them. Is it Deuteronomy or Exodus ­– that is the question?

Of course the English were not the only ones doing this: the French, Germans, Belgians, Spanish, Portuguese, they all did the same with greater or lesser degrees of success. The French haven’t really come to terms with it either (although I did see an interview on France 2 yesterday broaching the subject), nor have the Spanish or Portuguese really. The Belgians might just be at that point today. But I wasn’t born in France-Spain-Portugal-Belgium-Italy-Germany, I was born in England, and England is what I want to rant about.

So, let’s have a quick look at some of the specific things Britain has done to other races (because despite being willing to accept the gratitude and gifts, sometimes those being subjugated needed a little help in giving thanks in the right way; occasionally, others wanted to—and one can almost imagine the tremble of indignation in the voices of viceroys and governors as they reported this—reject the civilising British influence, to fight back or even revolt). Here, England had to chastise and rebuke – nothing too harsh of course, but enough for those being shown the error of their ways to never want to do it again. I’ll just choose a Top Ten – but feel free to add your own.
·        Enslavement and forced labour of 3.1 million Africans;
·        Use of famine as a weapon in India and Ireland (An Gorta Mór);
·        Concentration camps in Southern Africa;
·        Massacre of peaceful protesters in the Jallianwala Gardens, Amritsar;
·        Black’n’Tans in Ireland;
·        Rape, torture, murder of thousands of Kenyans during the Mau Mau uprising (even Obama returned a bust of Churchill in disgust at this);
·        Partition of India, displacing 10 million people and causing a war that still smoulders to this day);
·        Massacres of Aborigines (more than 300 recorded) in Australia, starting with Toongabbie, where settlers were asked to bring back heads as proof;
·        Massacres in Malaya, e.g. Batang Kali, where 24 unarmed villagers were slaughtered by soldiers;
·        Massacre of Tibetans in 1903.

I could go on and on and on and on.

And now the awkward bit. These things, I was aware of some of the in the past but sort of turned away from because, well, you know, I didn’t do them and I thought things had changed. In fact, I was convinced things had changed. Britain was part of a United Kingdom that realised its future lay as part of a larger, more peaceful, pan-European body. It was accepted and was accepting. French, German, Irish, Scots, Italians, Spanish, Polish, whatever. We’re all equal, all friends, all in this together. So I felt no compunction to rock the boat or unsettle the apple cart. Old enmities and squabbles put aside, a vision of peace and mutual respect embraced. Thanks to this, apart from internecine wars in Yugoslavia and occasional local flare ups, we have had an unbroken European span of peace since World War II.

Ah! World War II. That golden time to which the English always hearken back, that time when Britain stood alone, shoulder-to-shoulder with only 300 million soldiers from its Empire by its side (but they don’t count, see Terms of Being Civilised by the English, in yesterday’s post). Even when it actually has something to be proud of, England can’t do that right. Like most people, I have relatives that fought in WWII. I never heard them boast of it, talk about it as something brave and heroic. It was something they had to do; they had no choice. That’s really the point about these wars though isn’t it? The vast majority of those who fought in them, on any side, had no choice. Unless you were defending your homes and family or bought into some nutty ideology like Nazism or Communism or patriotism, you wouldn’t have signed up. You went because you had to.

At least the English were standing on the right side of history in WWII (quite a novel feeling for us), and for a while, it looked as if this sacrifice might have brought an end to this ongoing line of sneering superiority. (Although if you look back at commentaries from pre-war England, you’ll find that not everyone was on the right side; indeed, Hitler was treated with inordinate respect by some sectors of society, and praised frequently by newspapers such as the Daily Mail, who felt that the nice Mr. Hitler was getting a raw deal. “Hurrah for the Blackshirts!” wrote Viscount Rothermere; “German Jews pouring into this country” wrote the paper, “through the back door”; “Hitler through the eyes of his bodyguards” ran the photo special in 1935. Fascism was just the latest name for it.) But that tide turned, even for the Daily Heil, and the bravery and sacrifice of a generation of British people seemed to have at last laid waste to the notion of English superiority and exceptionalism. The four nations of the Union seemed to be on a more equal footing. But this too was an illusion. While Britain finally started to pay the cost of some of its expansionism – the Empire having crumbled like a deck of cards on a sandcastle in the sea – and began its European adventure, it still managed to alienate those it could have helped. Take New Zealand, for example. When the UK entered the Common Market in 1973, it had an economy based on a restricted range of agricultural products which were exported, mainly, to the British market. Export produce consisted primarily of wool, meat and dairy products. New Zealand’s economy decreased by 40 per cent between 1973 and 1975. The UK simply turned its back on the country. Ten years on, the country almost went bankrupt, only pulling through because of Roger Douglas’s wide-ranging reforms.

Then came Thatcher to rekindle the flames of superiority. To start another war to win an election (never completely tear up the play book if it might help sometime in the future). The self-styled “Iron Lady” also liked to hearken back to the war, to evoke the name of Churchill, underlining her penchant for “Victorian values”. It was all bollocks. It was all done with the same callous disregard for the working class. Of course it was: everything England does is done with complete disregard for the working class. You only need to look back to the more socially relevant movies about the time: Billy Elliott, The Full Monty, Made In Britain, Brassed Off, This is England, Letter to Brezhnev…the overriding sense you get is one of squalor, misery, despair. The wealth of these cities – Newcastle, Liverpool, Sheffield, many more – had been extracted and used; there was no further use for them now. They could be left to pay their tributes and their people collect their pittance of benefits, until further use might be found for them once more. England had become the first country to make a colony from within itself.

Final bit tomorrow...

Postscript: George Monbiot has just published this brilliant article on the same subject in The Guardian. His is somewhat better written.

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