Sunday, March 26, 2006


I've been reading, on and off, the 1971 edition of the Norton History of Modern Europe. The section I'm on lately is the late 1800s, the era of Bismarck, Gladstone, Disraeli, Queen Victoria, the height of colonialism.

Sometimes reading history is rather dry. Political movements, war machines, diplomatic manoeuvring. You don't get a sense of the life raging behind the recitation of facts. I'm beginning to get that feeling with this history...The authors go on blithely about the various machinations of European nations with apparently little consideration of what really was going on there.

Here's an example:
By 1885, largely as a result of diplomatic agreements imposed on Britain through Franco-German cooperation, Bismarck had succeeded in securing international recognition of Germany's claims to Southwest Africa, Togoland, the Cameroons, East Africa, and part of New Guinea. The French for their part were conceded French Guinea, part of the Red Sea Coast, and predominant influence in southeast Asia.
I'm not sure what disturbs me more -- the bland presentation of the authors or the obvious arrogance of the actors. Probably the latter. "International recognition" means European states. And who "conceded" territory to the French? Not the inhabitants of French Guinea or southeast Asia, I think. I'm continually asking myself the question, "Where do people get the idea that they should have rights over any territory except the one they're standing on?"

I shake my head at the presumptions of politicians and so-called statesmen. This happened after WWII as well...they carved up the earth into spheres of influence, as if they owned these particular patches of territory, as if the people living in them were negligible. It's colossal arrogance. And of course, we well know that imperialism and colonialism continue to reverberate through our contemporary history. We need look no farther than Palestine.


Anonymous said...

Europe, the British Empire, the States was the civilized Christian world in the 19 century. And the rest well that was carved up to represent the values of superior attitudes.

Those attitudes led to World War I where whole generation of young men were lost in mud trenches. Nothing was resolved.

World War II is a different story. It was about dealing with two butchers, Stalin and Hitler. And deals were made with one to defeat the other. The emergence of competing idealogies and spheres of influence that gave birth to the Cold War.

Larry Keiler said...

I don't know. I think it's the same story. The alliances in place at the beginning of WWI rose out of the collapse of earlier alliances orchestrated by Bismarck. A reaction, almost, to the maintenance of status quo that Bismarck worked hard to achieve. (Status quo is always too static...)

Both Hitler and the USSR arose out of WWI. Hitler as the champion of a German population oppressed by the Versailles Treaty, the Bolshevik Revolution rising from the ashes of incompetent and overburdened tsarist autocracy trying to fight a war with feudal mindsets opposing modern artillery.

Yes, WWII was a war of ideology, in part, but these very ideologies were formed in the crucible of WWI. WWI was an unfinished war. They signed an armistice, not a peace treaty.

But did we learn anything at the end of WWII? Doubtful. We carved the world up again and rebuilt imperialism by stealth. Called it Cold War.

Me, I'm happy to live in a country that has no expansionist fantasies, that does not see national security or national interest in every dark corner of the globe.

The British meddled in south Asia, in Africa, in China, in the Middle East. The French meddled in southeast Asia, in Africa, in China. The Americans decided that meddling in southeast Asia might be a good idea. And now in the Middle East. Where are we having so many of our problems?

Just from a quick glance, it seems that India is about the only former colony that's beginning to succeed. But even that region was saddled with the partition into India and Pakistan.

It's not just superiority complex. It's greed. And nowadays, fear too. What will happen when the oil runs out?

Anonymous said...

What happens when the oil runs out? Maybe short term pain for long term gain.

First of all oil produces too much money for too few jobs. States that have it tend toward a male dominated environment.

The biggest impact on oil has been the growth in China not unrest in the middle east.

There is lots of oil left but not easy oil. Iraq (2nd only to the Saudis) has easy oil and requires very little from the refinery (unlike our Tar sands).

It would be nice if it did run out but don't hold your breath.

What hopefully will happen is that we begin to develop more varied energy program that sees oil's greedy grip take a back seat to less harmful emerging energy forms.

Anonymous said...

Holland got stinking rich colonizing the East Indies, later Indonesia. One of the exploits being coffee.

Not much up on background politics and facts. One piece of literature about it is "The Max Havelaar", by Multatuli. I have a Dutch copy, but I can't get through it. I just never get that stuff. There is an English translation in the public Library.

As far as I am concerned we can't run out of oil fast enough. Too much of the stuff dumped on wild life. I'm in agony every time those oil slicks disable fowl and make them suffer so much. And hey, maybe without oil, the black gold, (Isn't that what they call it?)the most important reason for wars is gone?) Well, maybe not. My Mom always said that whoever wants to hit a dog can always find a stick. So probably, whoever wants war, will find a reason.

Larry Keiler said...

Mr. B. yer sorta makin my point. It ain't a big step for a country to say, "What's the most important commodity right now for our security? Oil. Where is it? Saudi Arabia. Iraq. Canada. Who's interfering with our steady supply? China. Therefore, future potential enemy. What do we do about it? Make sure we control sources, either militarily (Iraq, Afghanistan), diplomatically (Saudis) or economically (Canada). If we limit China's access to easy energy, we prevent or slow down the emergence of a big scary nation. (BTW, one that has proven to be not so amenable to our self-proclaimed democratic values.)

W.T. yer mom was a wise woman. Part of what astounds me in this history reading is the way these statesmen manipulated situations (and popular opinion) to create their wars. (Hmm, sounds a bit like George Dubya.)

Anonymous said...

Here are the oil reserves

Anonymous said...

Notice the Canada ranks 2nd but our oil requires more work. In terms of quality of oil Iraq ranks 2nd.

Anonymous said...

So Larry, What's up? Did you give up on Blogger? Haven't seen you around Blogger Alley lately...

Anonymous said...

Yeah Larry, I was thinking the same thing. Where are you? Blogging is strange without you. Like a corner stone is missing.

Help! I've written and I can't get up!