THE CRYSTAL BALL OF A REAR-VIEW MIRROR
By: T.D. Duff Tonka Bay, Minnesota
George Bernard Shaw once said, "When an Englishman wants something, he never publicly admits to his wanting it; instead, his want is expressed as a burning conviction that it is his moral and religious duty to conquer those who possess the thing he wants. Hypocrisy was added to brutality while the robbery went on."
When one of the British nabobs returned from India with his great fortune stolen from India through the British Indian sovereignty called the Raj, his wife asked him what he had learned in India. He said that he had learned to lie with a straight face, to deceive and delude indigenous people for his own gain.
As we have seen, kingdom after kingdom has been annexed by the simple expedient of offering its ruler a choice between annihilation in war or a comfortable life in subjugation.
In 1930, an American historian and philosopher, Will Durant, traveled to India for the first time. He had embarked on a journey around the world to write his great book, The Story of Civilization. He was filled with shock and indignation at what he learned of Britain's conscious and deliberate beheading of India, the greatest crime in all history. His book, The Case for India, is a classic, a profound and empathetic work of compassion and outrage that ripped apart the self-serving justifications of the British for their long-term and shameless record of rapacity in India.
The conquest of India by the British was an invasion and destruction of a highly civilized country by the British East India Trading Company absolutely without moral or principle, careless and greedy for gain, destroying with fire and sword a country disordered and helpless, bribing and murdering, annexing and stealing, beginning a career of illegal plunder that had gone on for one hundred and seventy-three years.
The India that the British East India Company began to conquer and destroy in 1613 was not a backward, arid land, but a star of the medieval world. It had created vast wealth in various industries. Every sort of manufacture or product known to the civilized world had long been produced in India. She was a far greater industrial and manufacturing country than any in Europe or Asia. Her textile goods of cotton, wool, linen and silk were standards all over the world, as were her fine jewels, precious stones, as well as pottery, porcelains and ceramics of every kind. Her fine works in iron, steel, silver and gold were unsurpassed. She had great architecture and engineering works, along with great merchants, businessmen, bankers and financiers. She was the greatest shipbuilding nation and had great commerce and trade by land and sea which ran to all civilized countries. India's share of the world economy was 23 per cent, as large as all of Europe together. This was the India the British found when they came to rape and pillage.
It all began with the East India Company, incorporated in 1600 by royal charter from Queen Elizabeth I, to trade in silk and spices and other profitable Indian commodities. The mode by which the East India Company has illegally purchased itself of India was the most repulsive and unchristian acts that can ever be conceived. The rapacious conquering system that began in 1615 with the establishment of the first factory and trading post, to the sacking of Delhi in 1739 and the looting of all its treasures, to obtaining the monopoly on the production of opium in 1773, to the illegal land tax and revenue system of 1793, to the conquer of the Singh region in 1843, to the million and a half Indians to die in the Odessa Famine of 1866, because the British shipped Indian grain out of the country, to the shipping of 500,000 indentured Indian laborers to other British empire colonies, to forcing millions of Indian troops to fight in World War I, to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, with the British shooting at least 379 unarmed demonstrators.
The East India Company was a despotic oligarchy of merchants who had usurped the sovereignty of a nation. The company was a classic example of a military-patronage state, which distributed its patronage to itinerant bands of warriors without regard to any formal institutional structures. This led to pillage and extortion as the troops advanced, only adding to the suffering and deprivation of the Indian population. They had the license to loot everything they could lay their hands on, which was certainly not a British contribution to good governance in India.
The East India Company finally collapsed in 1948 much to the non-violent Quit India campaign led by the Mahatma, great soul of Gandhi. Gandhi could embarrass the British, but not overthrow them. It was when Indian soldiers who had sworn loyalty to the British Crown rebelled during World War II, and when sailors of the British Indian Navy mutinied in 1945 and fired their own canons at British port installations, that the British realized that the colonial game was over.
But globalization and its modern-day successor of American empire remain the predominant instruments of rapacious capitalism. Since 1492 and Columbus's rape and pillage of Haiti, American empire has for over 500 years consistently overthrown hundreds of progressive governments that were sincerely committed to growing their economies and fighting poverty, supporting tyrants and killing millions of innocent people, in endless wars around the world. Today, American empire and its neo-colonial villainies operate oppressive military bases in 172 countries.
There is enormous hypocrisy surrounding the pious veneration that our country attempts to claim, when it states that we are spreading democracy. Since 9/11 we now have a new iteration of war, a new heresy hunt, the war on terror, the economic looting of Iraq and the Middle East by multinational corporations, that has become a war against the liberties of Americans. In such a world of prevarication and conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus stated, not to be on the side of the executioners.
There may be a statute of limitations on colonial and the wrongdoings of empire, but there is no limitation on human memory, especially living memory. British schoolchildren must learn the horrors of colonialism and what built their country, just as Americans must learn the awful reality of American empire and what their forefathers did, just as German children are shepherded to concentration camps to witness the horrors of what their forefathers did.
We all need to be protestors against empire and neo-colonialism, apostles for peace in a world long since gone mad with violence and the iron heal of despotism. Martin Luther King so rightly said that the evils of capitalism and its ability to destroy democracy are as real as the evils of militarism and the evils of racism. We must realize that the best crystal ball is a rear-view mirror.