April 14, 2015

Being of planter stock

British planter in Jamaica, by George Spratt
John Hewitt, of "planter stock", wrote he was 'As native in my thought as any here.' Belfast poet and son of a British soldier, Michael Longley said that Hewitt's verse taught people not to be embarrassed or ashamed of their connection to colonialism. It's not something I was conscious of growing up. I was always Irish and British, I watched the BBC and lived on the island of Ireland.
I was more aware of the contradictions and hypocrisy of anti-colonialists. Yes British policy was cruel and avaricious, but if you're going to condemn and regret it ever happened, condemn and regret America ever happened. Anti-Britishness is a kind of anti-Christopher Columbus. Because not only was America the product of Britain and British colonialism, but they are the direct lineal inheritors of British and French imperialism.

I will look at that at another time. Today I want to look quickly at thoughts on and the history of colonialism, British and otherwise.

David Cameron said:
"As with so many of the problems of the world, we are responsible for their creation in the first place."
Daisy Cooper, the director of the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit, responded:
"This is typical of the UK’s schizophrenic relationship with former colonies where it is both proud and embarrassed about its past. The Coalition has said that it has big ambitions for a modern Commonwealth and the UK should stop being embarrassed about its colonial past and they should work with other countries to help improve their human rights."
Tristram Hunt, the Labour MP, historian and former television presenter, said:
"To say that Britain is a cause of many of the world’s ills is naïve. To look back 50-odd years for the problems facing many post-colonial nations adds little to the understanding of the problems they face. David Cameron has a tendency to go to countries around the world and tell them what they want to hear, whether it is in Israel, Turkey, India and Pakistan."
Sean Gabb, of the campaign group Libertarian Alliance, said Mr Cameron should not apologise for Britain’s past. He said:
"It’s a valid historical point that some problems stem from British foreign policy in the 19th and 20th centuries, but should we feel guilty about that? I fail to see why we should. Some of these problems came about because these countries decided they did not want to be part of the British Empire. They wanted independence. They got it. They should sort out their problems instead of looking to us."
Nick Lloyd, lecturer in defence studies, King's College London responded:
"Mr Cameron's remarks about the painful legacy of colonialism could not be further from the truth and they reveal a disappointing lack of historical judgment. The British Empire in India, known as the Raj, was the greatest experiment in paternalistic imperial government in history. By the time the British left India in 1947 they had given the subcontinent a number of priceless assets, including the English language, but also a structure of good government, local organisation and logistical infrastructure that still holds good today. Far from damaging India, British imperial rule gave it a head start. 
At the centre of this was the Indian Civil Service, the 1,000 strong "heaven-born" group of administrators that ran the country. Their role in laying the foundations for strong, efficient government in India has never been accorded the respect and admiration it deserves. 
While history has recorded that the ICS were aloof and disdainful of the "natives", in reality, the men who ran India were selfless, efficient and - most importantly of all - completely incorruptible. 
Not only did they oversee the spread of good government, western education, modern medicine and the rule of law, they also put in place local works, famine relief, and irrigation projects, most notably in the Punjab, which benefited enormously from what was then the largest irrigation project in the world.”
Andrew Thompson, professor of imperial and global history, University of Leeds responded to Cameron:
"Does Britain's colonial legacy still poison its relations with Africa, the Middle East and Asia? Mr Cameron's remark raises important questions for society about how we relate to history. 
There's the inheritance of colonial violence. What you saw in the later stages of empire was a series of British counter-insurgency operations, exported from one hot spot to another. In places such as Kenya, Palestine, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, and of course Northern Ireland, the British were forced to resort to repressive legal and military measures in what was to prove an ultimately vain attempt to curb the tide of political unrest and nationalist opposition. 
Detention without trial, beatings, torture, and killings punctuated the twilight years of colonial rule. The disclosure this week of a large tranche of Foreign Office files, hitherto kept secret about full extent of British brutality against Mau Mau in Kenya, suggests there may be further revelations still to come. Will there be similar stories and claims from Palestine, Malaya, Cyprus or Nigeria? 
There is also the question of whether the violence that characterised these counter-insurgency operations during decolonisation then set the scene for the way in which independent, post-colonial African and Asian governments dealt with political dissent from their own peoples. The imperial past is far from being dead. On the contrary it is actually very much part of contemporary politics.”
See here to read more from Nick Lloyd and Andrew Thompson on imperialism. Christopher Hitchens said:
"It was Karl Marx who argued that India might benefit in this way from being colonized by England and not Russia or Persia or Turkey."
Dr Luciana Martin said that there is a vestigial regret that Brazil was not colonised by the British:
"There was de kind of regret that we weren’t discovered by the British because the Portuguese legacy wasn’t so good. So there was something about, 'Well if we were discovered by the British we would be the United States now’."
Here Christopher Hitchens looked at the progresses versus retrogresses of imperialism. He looked at the Marxian analysis which saw British imperialism as ending the "Millennial stagnation and isolation of India." And said: "if you have to be colonised, don’t be colonised by the Belgians."

Richard Seymour said:
"[Christopher Hitchens] always felt, for example, that the British Empire had a progressive role in India. He wrote of Columbus Day that the extermination of the Native Americans should be celebrated as a fact of historical progress."
Hitchens also said:
"The deliberate inheritance by the United States of British and French colonialism."
Chomsky said that class and empire is America’s big secret. Christopher Hitchens also said in ‘Imperialism: Superpower dominance, malignant and benign’:
"Franklin Roosevelt spent the years 1939 to 1945 steadily extracting British bases and colonies from Winston Churchill, from the Caribbean to West Africa, in exchange for wartime assistance."
G.K. Chesterton said:
"Nobody calls France imperialistic because she has absorbed Brittany. But everybody calls England imperialistic because she has not absorbed Ireland."
George Bernard Shaw said:
"Rome fell. Babylon fell. Hindhead’s turn will come."
Here’s Roy Foster on British colonialism in Ireland:
"I think the infrastructure of the nineteenth century, which in its own way laid the grounds for gross-nationalism, was a more positive inheritance of the English rule, and this is sometimes accepted. I think the possession of the English language by the Irish gave them an enormous boost in well, running America for one thing… I think there are aspects of communication – education, newspapers – which in the nineteenth century, during the Union, were to Ireland’s profit rather than to Ireland’s loss. Economically, it does tend to be a partnership of loss from the Irish point of view, that’s clear. How much economically Ireland would have been better off if it had not been in the Union in the nineteenth cenuty is counterfactual and can’t be proved."
Mick Fealty said:
"The Britishness that Chris describes is as much an invention of those times as anything else. County councils were a very late Victorian civic invention, but only in the Republic does this ‘British’ tradition remain almost wholly intact."
Here’s Niall Ferguson on British colonialism in Ireland:
"The union of Scotland and England was, from its outset, a partnership – if an unequal one. The political union of crowns and parliaments was accompanied by a social union of aristocratic and commercial elites and, of course, a common adhesion to Protestantism (albeit different brands). The two peoples joined forces to pursue profit and power overseas. 
The union of Ireland and England was another matter. It was achieved by conquest and colonisation; indeed, Ireland can justly be called the experimental laboratory of an Anglo-Scottish project to `plant’ British culture in strategic overseas outposts.Looking down on the Bogside from the walls of `Londonderry’ – there’s no point calling those forbidding walls anything shorter – I think I grasped for the first time the true nature of what was begun there in 1610. 
The Irish were on the receiving end of a policy of expropriation and `ethnic cleansing’ every bit as ruthless as that which would be attempted in North America. The difference between Northern Ireland and Massachusetts was this: because the Irish were resistant to British diseases, they survived. The native Americans were less lucky. 
In Massachusetts they were almost entirely wiped out within decades of the Pilgrim Fathers’ arrival. The colonisation of Ireland brought misery in its train. Subsistence agriculture – with any surplus pocketed by an alien landlord class – condemned the Irish to grinding poverty and, ultimately, starvation. In 1500 the average Briton’s income had probably been about 45 per cent higher than the average Irishman’s. 
By 1820 that gap had become a gulf: British incomes were nearly two-and-a-half times those in Ireland. Instead of being Massachusetts, Ireland was fast becoming India. Yet from 1850 onwards, things dramatically changed. There was a huge outflow of people from Ireland – mainly to the United States, but also in large numbers to other parts of the empire: Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Their journeys were dangerous and uncomfortable, no doubt. 
But the work of economic historians such as Kevin O'Rourke has shown conclusively that the net effect of the Irish exodus was positive – not only for the emigrants, whose living standards in the New World rapidly overtook those in the British Isles, but also for those who stayed behind, whose wages rose as the population declined.The dogmatic nationalists may not like to hear this, but the rate of growth of per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in Ireland was around a third higher than it was in Britain. By 1913 Irish wages were rapidly closing the Anglo-Irish gap: a Dublin building worker was earning around 90 per cent of his London counterpart’s pay. 
Thanks to `Anglobalisation’ – that extraordinary integration of global markets for commodities, labour and capital that occurred under British leadership after 1850 – Ireland experienced its first economic boom. It was Catholic peasants, not Anglo-Irish landlords, who benefited. The combination of falling grain prices and Liberal legislation to improve the lot of tenants meant that inequality within Ireland was significantly reduced. So Ireland went from being little India to being little Canada – part of a thriving Atlantic economy. 
The tragedy was that this economic convergence between Ireland and Britain was not accompanied by a simple political concession.`Home Rule’ had effectively been granted to Canada, Australia and New Zealand by the time Gladstone proposed restoring Dublin’s own parliament and granting the Irish a degree of political autonomy. Yet unionists in Westminster and the north-east of Ireland doggedly opposed the idea. Anti-Irish and anti-Catholic prejudices combined to sabotage the only viable non-violent solution to the Irish question."But wait a minute,” comes the nationalist response. “Look how well southern Ireland has done since gaining its independence from the Brits.” 
The latest figures from the OECD suggest that Ireland’s per capita GDP is now higher than Britain’s. Far from Ireland being a failed Scotland, Scotland now looks distinctly like – I hate to admit it – a failed Ireland. And how could the Celtic tiger ever have emerged as long as it was being sat on by the British lion? The trouble with this argument is that Ireland’s prosperity is the fruit of barely ten years of economic success. For most of the period after partition the Free State/Republic performed dismally: growth was 20 per cent lower in Ireland between 1913 and 1950 than it was in Britain. 
Only when the Irish re-embraced globalisation in the 1990s – in other words, only when they reverted to the economically liberal policies the British had pioneered a century ago – did they achieve their economic miracle. It goes without saying that Ireland’s recent riches are the fruit as much of economic dependence as of political independence: dependence, above all, on American capital and European subsidies. Drawing up historical balance sheets is never easy. When it comes to British Ireland, it is especially hard. Even today, four centuries after the first plantations, the `Brits’ are a long way from being forgiven for their sins. Yet the Irish were not only victims of empire. As emigrants (and indeed as soldiers) they were also among the beneficiaries of Anglobalisation.”
Niall Ferguson also wrote:
"I think it’s hard to make the case, which implicitly the left makes, that somehow the world would have been better off if the Europeans had stayed home. It certainly doesn’t work for north America, that’s for sure. I mean, I’m sure the Apache and the Navajo had all sorts of admirable traits. In the absence of literacy we don’t know what they were because they didn’t write them down. We do know they killed a hell of a lot of bison. But had they been left to their own devices, I don’t think we’d have anything remotely resembling the civilisation we’ve had in north America."
Of course we should remember as James Joyce said in ‘The Last Fenian’ (1907):
"Pope Adrian IV… made a gift of the island [of Ireland] to the English King Henry II about 800 years ago, in moment of generosity."
Richard Dawkins made a brief comment on British colonialism:

"I tried to convey the idea that, although there was much that was bad in the British Colonial Service, the best was very good indeed; and Bill, like his two brothers, and like Dick Kettlewell whom I’ll mention later, was of the best."

Michael White wrote in the Guardian:
"That is part of the story of empire everywhere. Yes, greed, ambition, and evangelical enthusiasm to spread civilisation, technologies and religion to assorted foreigners were driving forces, too. But so was the desire to stop cattle rustling, piracy, the kidnapping of women into slavery and other obstructions to peaceful co-existence. 
The Romans took us in hand and introduced plumbing, roads and other refinements. Their British network of military roads was barely improved for 1,400 years after they went home. 
That’s the bit of page-writing Adams hastily turns over. The Romans never seriously tried to colonise Ireland; they briefly tried in Scotland – the film The Last Legion pays tribute to their bloody failure – and were beaten back, much as they were by the German tribes along the Rhine and Danube, the ones who eventually came over assorted walls and took over the show. 
So Stone Age and Iron Age Celtic Ireland was left to its own thoroughly decentralised devices until the fearsome Norsemen from Scandinavia came up the beach after 795, much as they had been doing to terrified England. Organised resistance was pretty feeble, as it had initially been in England, and the Norsemen were absorbed."
Hitchens said:
"This makes many of the critics of this imposing new order sound like the whimpering, resentful Judean subversives in The Life of Brian, squabbling among themselves about “What have the Romans ever done for us?”"
Brian Cox said:
"Human beings are at their best when they’re pushing boundaries, expanding and exploring."
Of interest:
"In 1993, the U.S. Congress devoted an entire resolution to apologizing to Native Hawaiians for overthrowing their kingdom in 1893. But a U.S. apology to Native Americans took until 2009 and came stealthily tucked away in an unrelated spending bill."
In 1997 Tony Blair apologised for the Irish famine. Read about native American Chief Tecumseh here. Read about blowback here. Lord Neuberger said that since 1066 Britain has never been successfully invaded.

Read here my blog post, ‘If we have Columbus Day and Australia Day, why not Henry II Day?’ And, my blog post here on the Anti-Columbus Movement. Also here's some thoughts on modern Britain. John Oliver said:
"[The UK is] an archipelagic supergroup comprised of four variously willing members."
Andrew Sullivan said:
"Britishness surpasses nationalism as a kind of supra-nationalism. It leaves space for the other; it is a rubric – largely defined as well by the Crown – that has more virtues than might immediately appear."
Gordon Brown said:
"The UK already looks more like a constitutional partnership of equals in what is in essence a voluntary multinational association."
Kevin Myers said:
"The people of Britain and Ireland inhabit perhaps the only archipelago in the world without a common name, and with official histories to match."
Also read this post here

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