By Wakeley Paul.
"I CANNOT THINK OF ANY PLACE THAT BRITAIN LEFT LEFT WORSE
LESS PROSPEROUS- LESS EDUCATED- THAN WHEN SHE FOUND IT"
JOHN DERBYSHIRE, NATIONAL REVIEW
"OUR MASTERS THEN, WERE STILL AT LEAST OUR COUNTRYMEN"
LORD BYRON, FROM THE MOUTH OF A GREEK PATRIOT
These represent opposite sentiments and opposing attitudes toward
imperialism. Colonials are loathe to recognize the unquestioned advances
made under imperial rule. "They did it to benefit
themselves" they cry. Who else would they seek to benefit? The
imperialists didn't come with the intent of improving the colonies. The
motives of the Imperialists were the same basic motives that govern all
international action, namely national self interest. The results
were incidental but important
Does the motive really matter? Good motives can produce disastrous
and visa versa. The Sinhalese believed that they were well motivated to
advance Sinhala Buddhism, but the results have been unquestionably
Former colonial subjects rarely acknowledge the advances made under
imperial rule without questioning the imperialist's motives. The roads,
railways, the organized plantations were built for their profit they
course they were, but the.motives are irrelevant It is the results ,
good or harmful that matter.
. Once the British empire got into its stride, there were humanitarians
with nobler aspirations and visions who stepped in. There were the
evangelists, the educators, the civil servants, doctors, lawyers and
engineers who broadened our views and perspectives and helped us to
new horizons. Some, among the converted and unconverted,
viewed each other
as different end beams off the same common source of light, while others
regarded religious conversion as an imperialist conspiracy to assuage
colonial subjects.and mollify them.The advances in the fields of
in science, law, democracy, and western philosophy are only grudgingly
acknowledged as something that would have emerged in the course of time,
anyway. The horrors the subject people were heir to when locally ruled
shoved under the mattress with the sentiment, well "at least they
Were they? Those rulers were a race apart from their people.
government was an alien concept, which is why it was not really
the average colonial subject to accept their new foreign conquerors
undue upheaval. The endless civil wars among tribal entities, races and
among themselves were tamed by British intervention, even if their
were motivated by commercialism.and the need to maintain order.
Sentimentality glorifies the national past while ignoring portions of
Wars and struggles for Independence from British rule, for example, did
not erupt spontaneously overnight. The colonials accepted their rulers.
leaders of the colonies became little Englishmen before they became
nationalists Gandhi, Nehru, the Bandaranaikes and Senanayakes were
products of parents who were anglophiles. They were all the products of
British education before their spirits were aroused to demand
Independence. English education and English concepts of justice
was the incense that motivated them to become nationalists. . The
English language had become such a symbol of advancement, that I
remember vividly, one journalist saying contemptuously " They
cannot even speak English properly.! A fluent command of the English
language, actually became the false criterion for determining
literacy. That's how deeply we were influenced by British
thinking, a fact not to be ignored.
Imperialism carried with it a mixture of salutary goals such as the
abolition of slavery commingled with the dastardly reparations
demanded from the Chinese for the seizure of opium in Canton. These good
and evil phenomena were all part of the imperial heritage. It was no
different to other historical phenomena. It had its wings and its swings
and was like the phantom in town. sometimes it was here, sometimes
there and sometimes it was no where to be found, but its impact was ever
Imperialism is a curious phenomenon of history, which had its
opponents as much among the rulers as amongst the ruled. Dr
Johnson and Adam Smith in England were anti imperialists In the
19th century, the Manchester liberals opposed imperialist adventures on
the grounds that it hindered free trade. Former colonials are now
opposing free trade which is being fostered by the World Bank the I M F
and the W T O.. Prime Minister Disraeli proclaimed the virtues of
imperialism as being in Britain's interest, while his rival Gladstone,
ranted and raved over the inhumanity and injustice inflicted on
peoples in distant colonies. They despised each others views with such
civility, over this and other subjects, that when Disraeli was asked to
define the difference between 'tragedy and disaster' he said "If Mr
Gladstone fell in the Thames fully clothed and was unable to swim, that
would be a tragedy, but if someone rescued him, that would be a
Colonialism was not a phenomenon that emerged overnight as a
policy of Britain. As J R Seely, the famous historian famously
remarked "It happened in a fit of absence of mind" Sometimes
the flag followed trade, sometimes trade followed the flag, but the flag
ended up , just about everywhere.
Americans who ostensibly disavow colonialism as contrary to their
historical tradition, had the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Guam,
Samoa and the Panama Canal Zone listed as U S possessions as late as
1924. The Americans were quick to disavow this, claiming that they were
mere temporary protectorates under their tutelage, not colonies. "
We did not have Royal Durbars to impress on the ruled that we were their
rulers "they protested. "We were there to help them, not
rule them" they insisted "We were ready to move out the
moment we were done with what had to be done" was their plea.
Does not this same refrain recur over Afghanistan & Iran ? How
temporary is the control of these outposts ?. Hawaii became a state of
the Union, P R has become a virtual satellite. President Bush and his
cabinet keep reiterating that the war on terrorism over which
Afghanistan and Iran were fought and won, will be long and protracted.
So the claim that they will leave when their mission is accomplished
seems meaningless. The question is "When is when and is when; and
is when for ever "?
Is there a new philosophy since 9/11 that since terrorism lurks
everywhere, everywhere is fair game for American intervention. Does this
spread to those nations that pose a danger to this country because of
uncontrolled native or not so native diseases, which if unchecked now,
can have universal impact later. Such interventions are not without
precedent. The Panamanian dictator was overthrown for endangering the US
by the growth and export of drugs, Mossadeq was overthrown for
nationalizing and jeopardizing the flow of oil to the west. The liberal
left justifies some of these interventions on humanitarian grounds; the
conservatives on the grounds of national interest. On whatever ground,
intervention is necessary whether it be for the human good or the
national interest. International agencies like the United Nations are
welcomed by liberals to broaden the importance of the humanitarian
trumpet call to action, but considered by conservatives as dangerous to
the national interest. It is like transferring the powers of the
Congress to the General Assembly" they argue, "and
that is a reckless abandonment of power to an organization that does not
represent the national interest". "It is a meaningless
surrender of power to the powerless, which America can ill afford"
they insist. They carry this further with some justification and say,
" The powerless should emulate us, not the other way around.
We have hardly any desire or need to be ruled by them" They may
well have a point or two or three.
Sri Lanka, like many former Brutish colonies, is heir to a new form of
colonization, and imperialism from within. The Sinhalese pretend that we
are fellow countrymen in order to rule us. In the words of
D.S.Senanayake, on the verge of our being granted independence from
Britain, "Do you want to be governed from London, or do you want as
Ceylonese, to help govern Ceylon" That appeal is now hollow. The
underlying truth is that 'They are they, And we are we, And the time has
come, For us to part" Those who the British claimed to unite are
falling apart and demanding separation. These are the new emerging
ethnic trends in the former loosely merged colonies. While the west
becomes inter racial we emerge in an opposite direction as part of our
The bottom line is that imperialists are unloved, whatever they may say
or do. Americans who always want to be liked, find this hard to believe.
They genuinely, if naively, believe, that their interventions are
necessary to save mankind from one disaster or another. The British and
other former imperialists had no such illusions. They intended to
impress their colonials that they were a superior breed who had a right
by force to control their inferiors; and to do so for every ones good.
It didn't matter that they were motivated by self interest and were
disliked for it. That were not there to be liked. They were there to
rule... They had no qualms about turning their colonies into mini
Englands while retaining some of the native pageantry. But it was
"Rule Brittania, Brittania rules the waves" even if they had
to wave the rules to do so. The colonials were there to be ruled, not
The Americans shudder at the thought. Every current American
intervention is bathed in honorable intentions and objectives and
accompanied by a desire to leave the moment their goals are
accomplished. The trouble is, are they ever accomplished?
NATO forces yet linger in Europe 58 years after the end of World II.
The cold war that motivated NATO has come and gone, but they yet
remain.. Korea, fifty years after a truce was declared, is yet divided
by its DMZ, [De-militarized zone]. The Vietnam war is an unceasing
source of agony,analysis, and comparison; while the Gulf wars end,
but never end. The Arab Israeli conflict into which America has not
poked its physical fingers except by providing money and supplies to
Israel, is yet a matter of dominant concern.to the whole world.
Why has there been no physical intervention by America in this conflict
? Because Israel is regarded as self sufficient in coping with the
problem. Intervention is only justified when the U S views the locals as
incapable of treating their own sores..
While we fight our battle for political independence , we must not fail
to realize that the most potent form of modern imperialism is economic
imperialism. The foreigners presence though physically absent is
an ever present factor in the existence of the third world.. Whether it
be through direct aid or aid through the World Bank or the IMF or the
presence of multi national corporations through free trade and open
competition, the purse strings of the third world are controlled
and maneuvered by the west.
Subsidized agriculture in the first world shrinks markets for the third
world farmer whose economies are mainly agricultural. Recently, third
world delegates walked out of the WTO talks in Cancun, Mexico, on the
ground that the first world was not cutting the subsidies enough to help
the third world farmers Here again, the Third World makes the
mistake of assuming that the first world owes them a living.
They don't. Their primary obligation is to sustain their farmers
and make them productive citizens. The third world also ignores
the American farmers argument that they feed the world based on higher
yielding agricultural techniques, without which the world could be
driven back to starvation. "There is no way" they insist
"that the third world farmer, with his outmoded techniques, could
fill that void. It will hurt rather than help these weeping
protesters" the farmers proclaim. The underlying truth is that
despite our protests and demands for change, we have to recognize that
the west controls our economic puppet strings and will continue to do
so.. We have also to remember, that unlike the British, our present
Sinhala rulers are moribund financially, emotionally, intellectually and
spiritually. We have nothing to gain from their rule. Our only
expectation is relief on being released from their control. They leave
us with no gold. They leave us instead with a share of their national
debt, incurred in mainly in fighting us.
Our objectives are to move toward greater self sustenance, much, much,
easier said than done. I remember a Sinhalese friend once saying to me
" What have you fellahs got to worry about. You people wanted
education, and now you are getting the best of it abroad"
'How true' I thought, 'now let us use it'. We have education combined
with experience and expertise from abroad. That is our golden asset to
be squeezed to efficient capacity.
What we cannot afford is to be left exponentially behind on the one
hand; or have a brain drain like the Sinhalese suffered from their
treatment of us. We need to tap a combination of resources consisting of
education, experience and expertise, as the Israelis have done to
maximum advantage. Internationally, we must be an inspiration to
investors and helpers who do not harm our national interests.
National interest can at times be self defeating, a danger we must be
constantly conscious of.. Our alliances cannot be founded on the now
defunct divisions twixt left and right. Our goals must be more pragmatic
than that. On occasion, national interest may give way to international
cooperation.. Above all, we must disabuse ourselves that anyone else
owes us a living. It may be in the interest of the first world to have a
prosperous third world to trade with, but we have to provide that
prosperity, as the recipients of the Marshall plan did so
effectively.after World War II. They became a source of inspiration for
what they accomplished with the aid they received. Israel is another
example of how to be an inspiring beneficiary of aid. The Third World
has a history of blaming everybody but themselves for their pathetic
plight. First it was their imperial rulers, then their former rulers,
then the Tamils who were favored by the rulers, then federalists, then
separatists, then back to their imperial rulers. It goes on and on in a
never ending cycle. The arrow never points to them
In the end, we are heirs of a British imperialist tradition. The
may like to forget it, but cannot. They are as much heirs of it as we
Jan Morris, an an epilogue to Farewell to Trumpets saw the empire as
infinitely slow and spasmodic movement towards the unity of
mankind" We are bound together by the English Language, traditions
of English Law, The MAGNA CARTA and the concept of modern Democracy.
Canada, Australia , India, South Africa, Malaysia and several African
nations are heirs of this heritage. 71% of the freed nations, are
democracies, giving the benefit of the doubt of the use of that term to
describe some of them.
Our expatriates would not be functioning effectively abroad if not for a
combination of these inherited assets We have a most talented,
and effective Diaspora as any nation. They function most powerfully in
English speaking world. Let us not forget our debt to the British Empire
all they have given us. It is no shame to give thanks. It is but a
civilized gesture, like tact is in marriage. We cannot live without it,
or deny it when it is due.
I end this, hoping that no one will interpret this, as my being an
advocate of imperialism past or present. Past Imperialism had its
drawbacks, today's forms of imperialism pose lurking dangers we must
recognize and deal with. Screaming at and blaming it for creating a host
of problems for us is not the answer. We have to devise counter measures
to neutralize its effects and where possible, turn them to our advantage
.This requires calculation in moderation, not hollering in aggravation.