Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Spreading Democracy"

Johann Hari reviews Richard Toye's new autobiography of Churchill in today's New York Times book review.

He describes Churchill's attitude to "the natives":

Churchill was born in 1874 into a Britain that was coloring the map imperial pink, at the cost of washing distant nations blood-red. He was told a simple story: the superior white man was conquering the primitive dark-skinned natives, and bringing them the benefits of civilization.

As soon as he could, Churchill charged off to take his part in “a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples.” In the Swat valley, now part of Pakistan, he experienced, fleetingly, an instant of doubt. He realized that the local population was fighting back because of “the presence of British troops in lands the local people considered their own,” just as Britain would if she were invaded. But Churchill soon suppressed this thought, deciding instead that they were merely deranged jihadists whose violence was explained by a “strong aboriginal propensity to kill.”

Of course, we no longer claim that our imperial misadventures are designed to "civilise the natives", as even those who support such misadventures realise how patronising and deeply racist such claims are. Oh no, we now do it to "spread democracy", but the underlying principle remains basically the same. Our way of life is infinitely superior to yours and you should be grateful that we take the time to bomb your cities and murder your citizens as, in the long run, it will all prove to be worth it. You will have our gift of democracy. Which will liberate you, unless, like those foolish Palestinians, you vote for the wrong people in which case we will starve you.

And should the adventure go pear shaped, it will never be because of our invasion and occupation, it will be - just as Churchill found it to be - the fault of the local inhabitants themselves, as explained when Iraq went up in flames by Ralph Peters:
We've done what we could in Iraq, and we've done it nobly. We should not withdraw our troops precipitously, but the clock is ticking. It's now up to the Iraqis to succeed - or become yet another pathetic Arab failure. If Iraqis are unwilling to grasp the opportunity our soldiers and Marines bought them with American blood, it's their tragedy, not ours.

We did the right thing by deposing Saddam Hussein. The Arab Middle East needed one last chance. Iraq is it. If Iraqi democracy fails, there will be no hope, whatsoever, for the Arab world.
You see, it wasn't an invasion, it was an opportunity; and when the whole thing resulted in the inevitable chaos which was always predicted, Peters immediately decided that it was the fault of the Arabs, whilst astonishingly and patronisingly stating this:
Above all, societies and cultures that refuse to accept responsibility for their own failures can't build democracies.
And he says this whilst absolving his own country of any responsibility at all for the mess which existed in Iraq.

It's possible to read of Churchill's world view and imagine that these are values we have long dispensed with.

But look at the Iraq war and compare it with what Churchill did in the Swat Valley and substitute "spreading democracy" for "civilising the natives" and that mindset is still in evidence. Especially in the minds of people like Ralph Peters.

Click here for full article.

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