Race-Thinking and Empire * Truth Is the Daughter of Time

In a related post, I reviewed The Imperial Cruise, by Bradley James, in which the author traces the roots of American expansionism and the rise of Japanese race-thinking as key to its East Asia dominion…Here, I look at several other works which look deeply, unsparingly, into the abyss of western imperialism and race-thinking. For it seems that there is no end to the revelations of abuse endured by whole peoples in the colonial, imperial era…We place our faith in the old saying – Truth is the Daughter of Time

Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya. Here we have the first honest revelations of British genocidal policies in Kenya during the Mau-Mau War of the 1950s. This was an uprising of Kenyans after decades of already systematic brutality at the hands of the British colonial power.

Billed as just a small round-up, internment and possibly rough treatment of a few murderous rebels, it turns out that the British took a page from Hitler’s use of camps as the political instrument of terror for control as well as for the extermination of undesirable elements of the state.

The British forced a huge portion of Kenya’s population into concentration camps, subjecting them to officially-approved, systematic degradation through torture, forced labor, and starvation; at least 90,000 Kenyans died and more were terribly scarred, inside and out.

Fortunately, the British government has been forced to reveal long-hidden (many were destroyed) archives of this period, and a group of Kenyan survivors has filed a 40,000-person lawsuit. It appears this has been reduced to 5,000 eligible for compensation which is still, as of May 2022, not paid out. We must hope not only for some small semblance of compensation, but further revelations and remedial solutions of  these widespread, underreported and undervalued revelations.

Britain’s Empire * Repression, Resistance and Revolt, by Richard Gott is another shocking book on the long-suppressed realities of British Imperialism. Like Bradley’s expose of American Imperialism in The Imperial Cruise (link above), Gott’s book has sparked angry reviews.

In Gott’s case, his book brings together in relentless sequence an endless array of British repressive policies and the revolts they inspired. In showing that Empire was based solely on the British use of force, Gott tears apart the fairy-tales of Empire so dear to British culture.

Gott does not spare US Imperialism – describing the American War of Independence as fought to position the founding fathers to deal effectively and finally with the American Indians in taking the American continent away from them.

Gott’s book has been criticized for having weak, out-of-date or “native” sources, but many of the later sources have been blatant apologia, citing the benefits of Empire, nor would I accept that the victims of Empire can be so cavalierly sidelined.

So I would give Gott considerable room here. He is also criticized for lacking nuance –  for failing to distinguish between kinds of violence, revolt and repression, such as all-out political uprisings versus skirmishes over economic resources.  I lose patience with the “nuance and complexity” schools, who so often find ways to smooth out the incriminating wrinkles of history.

The Bengal Famine (not to mention the Irish Famine) as a product of British Imperial policies.

There may be virtue for academics in nuance – but there is little to be gained if you are the one taking the beating – and there were hundreds of thousands taking various kinds of beatings.  In fact, there were millions, if we look at famines and diseases that all but wiped out whole peoples and were knowingly induced as methods of control (let’s start with Ireland).

Gott is faulted for failing to include such things as wide-scale collaboration among the repressed with the occupying powers. But collaboration was always a tool of empire – an evil in its own right – placing people in the unholy position of betraying one’s own or suffering not only of oneself but of one’s family.  The blame or guilt for collaboration must surely not be laid at the door of those staring down the barrels of guns?  Let us not forget that collaboration comes at a psychological and social cost – the contempt and  hatred of your own people, not to mention the always-present possibility of their retaliation, especially in the upheaval of revolt.

Then there is the “failure to provide context” criticism – that the critic of Empire fails to show the context for various atrocities and massacres committed by a colonial power – usually the fact that the rebels committed murders and atrocities and had to be taught a stiff lesson. But if we want a context, how about imprisoning an entire people, forcing them to labor for you, stealing their resources including basic food (forcing opium to be grown in Bengal for export to China on lands formerly used to grow food), suppressing their language and culture, while beating, torturing and executing – on any whim – anyone you choose?

If there is a “context missing” surely it is the stark brutality of the overarching presence of Imperialism itself, where colonial administrations were empowered to maintain control of the imperial prize by any means necessary. The violence inhered in the fabric of enslavement, in the daily reminders of one’s inferiority, in the examples of brute force which were intended as instruments of quiet, ever-present terror.

The obscurantism of justification for Empire beggars the faculty of indignation. The fundamental, salient point of the Age of Imperialism was that Empire was founded on and rested on white men carrying guns and pointing them at brown and black people carrying sticks and knives. It ignores, as only an oppressor can, that the ultimate criteria for most human beings, of any color, is whether one is free, or one is not.

As long as we cling to these self-exculpatory attitudes, we show the brainwashing of Empire remains with us, a toxic residue from an era of sin which remains unshriven.

A Review of Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt

The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. This is a brilliant analysis of the totalitarian state (Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union) as a new genus of state invaded as if by political cancer, having the Camp and the institution of state-wide Terror as its main instruments of political control.

This book remains vital reading for many reasons:

  • Despite the collapse of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union we are watching the slide towards totalitarianism many see in western states, especially the United States, as we speak.
  • Arendt’s chapter on race-thinking and its origins and application in Imperialism is perhaps the best in the book. And since we in western states today must live in a world shaped by 19th century race-based Imperialism, we have little choice but to understand imperialism -and why the West is hated in much of the world.
  • Most important of all, Arendt shows clearly how the race-thinking of Imperialism had a boomerang effect, bringing race-based nationalism – culminating in fascism – to European home states themselves. The ethnic cleansing of an Imperialism bearing the banner of Aryan supremacy became the ethnic cleansing of Aryan Nazi Germany. A more recent outbreak was yet another “Balkan War” in the 1990s in which non-Aryan but still deadly ethnic cleansing became the main goal of war.
  • At the present time we see mass migrations of “foreign” people into the nation-states of Europe and the United States. It looks like the children of Imperialism are coming home and we are seeing karma writ large in the history of our planet.  And it is this great turn of the karmic wheel, the coming to the West of those once enslaved by the West, which is fuelling the fear-and-hate-driven rise of new White Nationalism.

But perhaps the most chilling fact we must face is the current rise of the far-right and neo-Nazi groups in Europe and the United States. They are committed racists devoted to theories of Aryan supremacy for whom the facts outlined in this article are either exaggerated or justified – period.  There is no reasoning with them because they rest their belief upon fundamental assumptions – that there is a racial hierarchy, that the apex race can and must rule the world, and that Darwin (or in some cases the Bible) directs the highest race to enslave and/or exterminate – all other races.

Of all the threats to our civilizations this one – organized Western racism and the goal of a global White Empire – is the one most likely to plunge much if not all of the world, into a darkness from which it is hard to imagine we might emerge as a recognizably human community. The one ray of hope remains the power of Truth, in its radical purity.

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