Slavery, genocide, concentration camps, apartheid, artificial nation states, endless wars and tax havens. Everywhere you look in the world today, there isn’t a region untouched by Britain’s presence. This article will explain why.
The title of this article inspired by the words of the former British Foreign secretary – Jack Straw – in 2002 , when in the run up to the Iraq war, he opined that Britain was to blame for a great number of problems in the world. I remember so vividly, that the outrage that ensued from his statement was extraordinary: the comments in the Times newspaper pages, were quite scintillating in the sense that it ranged from polite disagreement to the outright racist.
And yet, Mr. Straw spoke a very harsh truth, that needed to be told; for there isn’t a region in this God given planet, in which malign British influence, hasn’t been felt. This short essay will explore the history of Britain in the Middle east, North and South America, Asia and Africa and the ways in which, we are still grappling with the mess today.
For those who don’t know their history, the view that concentration camps began with the Germans, during the second world war, would be the unchallenged opinion. However concentration camps actually began with the Spanish when they went to war with the Cubans, during the ten year war.
But the Brits perfected it, when they went to war with the dutch, over control of the profoundly lucrative diamond mines found in South Africa.
The Boer war, as it would become known, was the third time, that concentration camps would be introduced as a holding post, for prisoners of war. Over 26,000 women and children perished, but this was nothing compared to the next set of people that we would learn about in this post.
The Mau Mau uprising, which began when members of the Kikuyu tribe, revolted against British rule, on the question of land, freedom and self-governance, turned very nasty, when several thousands were held in what has been described as “ British Gulags”. The estimated number of people killed in these gulags run into the hundreds of thousands, a fair percentage of whom were children.
Hussein Onyango, the grandfather of the first Black president of the United States of America —Barack Obama — was among those who were tortured by the British authorities for their role in this conflict.
Unsurprisingly, the files which detailed the crimes committed have long been destroyed, but memories of Britain’s heavy handedness lives in minds of the victims and their descendants.
The Middle East
T.E. Lawrence or better known as Lawrence of Arabia, is a bit of a romantic figure, who was memorably immortalized in the eponymous film, released in the 1960s. T.E. Lawrence was an Englishman, who was able to unite the disparate Arabs, who were engaged in internecine warfare, to fight their colonizers — the Turks. This line of action by one man, was built upon, by his country, in bringing out the collapse of the Ottoman empire.
The disintegration of the Ottoman empire led to a number of nation states, being created, by the big winners of the great war — Britain, France and the new kid of the block — the United States of America and to a much lesser degree — Italy.
What’s important about these new countries — -Mesopotamia, Persia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan and Palestine — was that the boundaries were marked not by the inhabitants of these places but by a bunch of English civil servants in Whitehall, who obviously weren’t paying attention to the lumping together of Shia minority with a Sunni majority.
The almighty intractable mess between Israel and Palestine is another fine British creation, to which we must cast our critical eye. From the Balfour declaration in 1917 to the mandate in 1948, when land was taken from the Palestinians and handed to the Israelis, without proper thought given to how things would play out, we must now accept that there is no solution in sight to this longstanding issue.
When you also think of the wars fought in the world’s most volatile region — the six day war, Yom Kippur, Iran vs Iraq, the Gulf wars, Lebanese and Syrian wars, you will appreciate that these difficulties stems from decisions made by unelected bureaucrats in London.
Even though Portugal and Spain had a head start, Britain did make up for lost time by becoming the market leader in the trafficking of slaves to work in cotton fields across the Caribbean and America.
Once this was over, it simply reinvented itself by becoming a colonizing force. What’s usually left out of the history books is the genocidal violence used in bringing people under control.
The creation of the artificial nation states such as Nigeria, Ghana, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Gambia, in order to facilitate the control of resources is another interesting case in point.
Which is why it is almost impossible to examine the wars, famine, coups without contextualizing the effect of Britain’s presence in Africa.
India was the crown jewel of the British empire. The prized possession of the empire on which the sun would never set, according to Winston Churchill.
But what we fail to pay attention to is what Britain had to do to get to the point of colonizing one of the most populous nations in the world. Before India came under the administration which would be known as the British Raj, the country was run by a commercial outfit with royal edict called the British-East India company. It had its own army and behaved like a government.
Its imposition of punitive taxes and levies naturally led to a concerted push back from the native population.
Seeing that this rebellion was a huge threat to its strategic interests in India, the British East-India company used its army in suppressing the Indian people, the result of which was the rape and slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people.
We must appreciate that the Indian mutiny of 1857 wasn’t a one off. There was also the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919, where great numbers of women and children were killed.
For daring to stand up to the colonizers.
And we should never forget the events of the Bengal famine when Churchill was prime minister in the 1940s, when millions died from starvation and what happened between 1947 and 1971.
When the decision was made to grant India independence in the aftermath of the second world war, Britain was up to its old tricks of dividing and conquering. Through Lord Mountbatten ( the late Prince Phillip’s uncle) East and West Pakistan was partitioned from India, a situation which led to a massive civil war with several thousands dead and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.
India and Pakistan, as hard as they may try, cannot escape the shadow of Britain today.
China may be the big dog these days, but once before, it was humiliated by Britain.
And what brought this about?
Britain, in the nineteenth century, was the global leader in trading this mind altering drug. When large numbers of Chinese people became addicted to this drug, something had to be done. The steps taken by China led to Britain waging war on this vast entity, bombing its ports and seizing what would be known as Hong Kong for itself.
Hong Kong was only handed back to China in 1997.
The United States of America
England as a white supremacist, patriarchal and capitalist system, found its greatest expression in the United States of America.
As I have written elsewhere, Britain’s intellectual, economic and political institutions and not forgetting the English Language, provided the template for the George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams to create an entity which would go on to exterminate and seize the lands of Native Americans.
When you think of the wars of the late twentieth century and the destabilization of governments across Latin America, Asia, the Middle-East, Europe and Africa, you readily appreciate the United States is utilizing the only play book that it has ever known —the British Model.
The United States of America has assimilated hundreds of millions of white immigrants from Scotland, Ireland, Holland, Poland, Germany, Italy, Russia and yet, it continues to commit the very worst crimes against the daughters and sons of Africa, four hundred years on.
When you look at American empire critically, it has sought to mirror Britain without absorbing the lessons and failures of the mother country.
Unlike other former colonizing powers such as Spain, Portugal and Italy, Britain was strategically prescient in converting its colonies in the Caribbean, such as the Cayman Islands and Bermuda into places where the world’s largest organizations get to hide their money.
These tiny countries are said to hold several trillions of dollars, that no national government has made any concerted attempt to get hold of.
The consequence of the existence of tax havens is that the oligarchs have been allowed to accumulate vast wealth at the expense of billions of people around the world.
The poisonous legacy of Great Britain is all around us; humanity is shaped by it and it is near impossible to escape its presence.
Our modern is shaped by nothing else. When you think of the wars, coups, the brutal suppression of native populations across the globe, it is fair to say that the country of my birth has never been a force for good.
It is truly extraordinary to think that a tiny country in Northern Europe has bent the world to its will, thereby bequeathing a world to future generations, which is in serious peril.
It is no exaggeration to state that Britain is the greatest destructive force that the world has ever seen.