JULY 4, 2012
Now that Conrad Black is no longer in jail, he is free to spread his ideas to the hungry masses. National Review, which is always pining for the glory days of imperialism, has taken Black under its wing, and apparently decided that July 4th was an opportune time for him to pen a piece about the glories of empire. He begins:
It is an ever-growing matter of suspense how long it will take before there is general recognition of the fact that, although the spread of democracy is — next to its irreplaceable contribution to victory in World War II and the Cold War — America’s greatest bequest to the world, most of the world worked better in colonial times. No one could seriously dispute that almost all of sub-Saharan Africa, all of North Africa except Morocco, all of the Middle East except Israel and Jordan and most of the oil-rich states, and the entire former British Indian Empire were better governed by Europeans. The Philippines and Cuba and, during the piping days of the U.S. Marines’ occupations (even if they were deployed at times by the United Fruit Company), Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic were all better off under the Americans.
The problem with Black's analysis, or at least the biggest problem, is that he never pauses to ask himself whether perhaps colonial rule had something to do with the horrors that often followed independence. Robert Mugabe was a lot more likely to emerge from a country run by Ian Smith. The bloodshed that has accompanied Congolese independence (gleefully noted by Black), would probably have been significantly less gruesome had the Belgians (and the rest of the Western world) not treated the place so disgracefully. This general point holds true for a nearly all postcolonial hotspots.
Black also shows some difficulty when it comes to the subcontinent:
In all that time, there was one mutiny, but there were not the terrible violence and corruption of Pakistan, the wars, the tyranny of the Burmese generals, or the Tamil-led civil war in Sri Lanka. The British left a justice system and the English language, and some spirit of market economics, and departed with scarcely any violence, apart from the regrettable episode at Amritsar in 1919, and the sectarian relocations when they left.
In other words, except for the millions of people who died thanks to an arbitrary partition, there was "scarcely any violence" in the territory that made up British India.
Black eventually turns to America, about which he concludes:
If the Americans had maintained their British status, they would control Britain and Canada and Australia and New Zealand now (another 120 million people and over $5 trillion of GDP), have all their energy needs met, and enjoy better government than they have actually endured for the past 20 years. It would have been much easier to abolish slavery and, if there had been a Civil War, it would not have lasted long, nor cost a fraction of the 750,000 American lives that it did. There would have been no World Wars or Cold War, or at least no conflict remotely as perilous as those were.
If America had stayed a colony, one day it would have colonized the motherland! And it would control New Zealand and Australia, and be exploiting them for energy. It sounds like paradise. (It's amusing that Black says more colonialism would have prevented the First World War--and thus its sequel--given that WWI was an imperialist war). For now we can just enjoy the fact that we live in a country free enough to allow Black his grumblings about the lost days of a white-ruled world.