Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A matter of timing…

Histories have never taken account of the cruelty of victorious armies, and readers of histories are (by default) persuaded to ignore them. Local atrocities in mopping-up operations must not distract from the main picture.

(Not so much these days as in earlier times, though. Today there are many commentators on the Web who hold their audiences to higher standards than the standards of traditional journalists in the mainstream media.)

Histories are jam-packed with events that parallel those of today. Modern empires act much the same as empires have always acted. Not much has changed. The “folk wanderings” of the Celts and Saxons, Mongols and Huns – all of them were similar to the current “migrant invasions” of Arabs and Africans. Even the impetus is the same – warfare in the homelands, and expulsion by other invaders.

Right from their beginning in the 7th Century, Moslem empires’ treatment of their conquered peoples was similar to the Romans’ treatment of theirs Centuries before and to NATO’s treatment of its victims Centuries after. The European commercial empires (French, British, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch) were greater in scope than those of ancient Egypt, China, India and the American Aztecs and Incas, but the same principles applied. It’s not so much that the later ones were copy-cats: rather, that all commercial expansions are similar in nature.

Halliburton and Blackwater didn’t model themselves on any of the European East India Companies; but the same commercial arrogance drove them. We of today despise the managers and operatives of the two murderous US companies, while the distance of centuries give their predecessors the gloss of romance. Robert Clive in India and Cecil Rhodes in Africa are historical heroes; Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are perceived as monsters. At least, they are now; they will become heroes when enough time has passed.

It’s a matter of timing. One of my ancestors (born George Gawler in 1764) trafficked illegal drugs from India to China, and retired an honoured man. His modern equivalents – minor traffickers in Central America and South-East Asia – are international pariahs. (The British Army and its government agents aided and abetted the export of opium from their territories in India, and the US Army and its agents supervise shipments of the same drug from the poppy-fields of Afghanistan to the streets of Chicago. Some things don’t change…)

 I have written [Uncle Charles and the Boko Haram, October 2014] about Charles Barlow, who slaughtered his nation’s tribal enemies in 1903 with the same ruthlessness as ISIS officers apply to their enemies today. Charles was honoured with medals from the British Government; his ISIS counterpart is damned to eternal hellfire – at least, in the West. The British Army won in Nigeria: ISIS will lose in Syria. It is the winners who write the histories.

The Roman Empire eventually collapsed in a welter of currency depreciation, military entanglements in the outlying provinces, and corruption in the ruling caste. Despite those handicaps, Rome’s momentum staved off the collapse for ten or twelve generations. Things happen faster these days, but the general pattern is the same.

The current US Empire has been declining for maybe two generations from its peak, under the exact same pressures. It too is being betrayed by its ruling caste. Rome’s Imperial butchers were neither more nor less repulsive than the monsters in present-day Washington and Tel Aviv.

In olden days, imperial rulers had monuments erected in their names, and cities re-named for them – even, calendar months, occasionally. In modern times, the best they can hope for is the occasional warship or a bridge over a hometown river. Today, we live in democracies, so the names engraved on stone war-memorials are those of urban peasants rather than of their social superiors who ordered their deaths.

I wonder how long this new custom will last. Only time will tell.