Friday 20 November 2015

Punishing The Barbarians

Imperialism To The Rescue? United States infantry storm the walls of Beijing as part of the Eight Nation Alliance's successful attempt to put down the "rebellion" of Boxer terrorists and restore "civilised values" to the benighted people of China. But, the actions of the imperialist powers in 1900 are regarded very differently with the hindsight of 115 years. How shall the West's imminent actions in the Middle East be judged in 2130?
IT WAS CALLED “The Eight Nation Alliance” and it had but one purpose: to punish the Chinese people. In 1899, the Shandong peasantry had resolved to drive all “foreign devils” out of their country, rising in their thousands under the leadership of a secret society known as the Brotherhood of Righteous and Harmonious Fists. The British, with characteristic disdain, referred to these patriots as “Boxers”, and dubbed their uprising the “Boxer Rebellion”.
By 1900 the Boxers were close to achieving their goal. They had shamed the Empress Dowager, Cixi, into supporting their movement and with the assistance of the Chinese army had the “foreign devils” bottled up in Beijing’s diplomatic quarter.
It was the unthinkable prospect of these legations being over-run, and their terrified inhabitants slaughtered, that persuaded the world’s leading imperialists: Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany, the USA, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Japan; to announce the formation of a joint force to lift the siege and restore the status quo ante.
The German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, felt obliged to mark the departure of his own nation’s contingent with a speech. If you ever wondered why, in both world wars, the German’s were referred to as “The Hun” – wonder no more:
“Should you encounter the enemy,” said the Kaiser, “he will be defeated! No quarter will be given! Prisoners will not be taken! Whoever falls into your hands is forfeited. Just as a thousand years ago the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one that even today makes them seem mighty in history and legend, may the name German be affirmed by you in such a way in China that no Chinese will ever again dare to look cross-eyed at a German.”
Confronting the Yellow Peril: The Christian West is enjoined by the archangel Michael to strike down the Asiatic threat from the East.
Needless to say, the Eight Nation Alliance – whose forces numbered in excess of 45,000 soldiers and marines – made short work of the poorly armed and inadequately led Chinese forces. Beijing was sacked and the Forbidden City ransacked of its treasures.
Never again would the imperial powers of Europe and Japan go to war alongside – as opposed to against – one another. Just 15 years after the subjugation of China, the members of the Eight Nation Alliance were tearing themselves to pieces in the First World War.
Of course, had you been reading the newspapers of the period, the foreign intervention in China would have seemed entirely reasonable. In an era when the Christian churches of the West were filled-to-bursting every Sunday, the stories of Christian missionary families being beheaded, burned alive, raped and even crucified by the brutal Boxer mobs, left Europeans feeling stunned and sickened.
These were not civilised people to be reasoned with. Indeed, the suicidal tactics of the Boxer “rebels” – many of them armed only with swords and spears – charging headlong into the murderous fire of the allies’ Maxim guns (an early type of machine-gun) struck the “reasonable men” of 1900 as the very antithesis of civilisation. In their ears, the bombastic racism of Kaiser Wilhelm did not sound nearly so shocking as it does in our own.
Perhaps the leaders of the world’s great powers should pause to contemplate the difference 115 years can make to way people interpret the behaviour of their forebears. In the minds of Presidents Hollande and Putin, the case for bringing together another Eight Nation Alliance to crush the barbaric Islamic State no doubt seems as strong as the arguments for punishing the murderous Boxers and their treacherous Empress Dowager, Cixi.
That the egregious behaviour of the imperial powers made such an uprising inevitable would have been dismissed by the political leaders of 1900 as an outrageous slur. The British Government’s open support for the 19th Century opium trade, and its callous indifference to the enormous suffering it inflicted on the Chinese people, went largely unremarked. With the benefit of 115 years hindsight, however, Britain’s culpability is as obvious as it is detestable.
How shall our own generation of political and military leaders appear from the perspective of 115 years in the future? Given the West’s numerous interventions in Middle Eastern affairs since World War II, will the atrocities committed by Islamic State strike our great grandchildren as any more worthy of historical condemnation than the atrocities of the Boxers?
As China is today, so may the Islamic world be in 2130. What will its judgement be?
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 20 November 2015.


Anonymous said...

In 2130 I will not care the judgement of Daesh, but in 2015 I know we cannot allow these medieval monsters room to breathe in our cities. They must be killed or they will kill us.

Len said...

The word is "blow-back". Islamic extremism is a creation of the Western interventions in the oil and mineral rich strategic region stretching from Pakistan to Egypt and beyond.

Anonymous said...

"Never again would the imperial powers of Europe and Japan go to war alongside – as opposed to against – one another."

I think you will find Chris that Japan was a participant in WW1 with the Allies and declared war on Germany.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Fuck me, I can't believe people are still saying this. It's like bashing my head against a brick wall. That's exactly the reaction that they want! Members of Isis are a staggeringly small proportion of Muslims in general. Supporters of Isis maybe a bit more, in that they sometimes bring stability, and offer wages in areas that have neither. But every time we bomb them, with the concomitant – supposedly unlooked for – but inevitable civilian casualties, they gain influence. When will you **** actually look at Vietnam and see what happened there. How did that work out for you.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Geez anonymous, pedantic much? The imperial powers of Europe were split. Japan aligned herself with three, and fought another two. And by then Japan was beginning to be an imperial power of her own

Nick J said...

GS, you are onto it, critical analysis of bombing after several wars reveals that it does nothing to win the minds and souls of the bombed, let alone destroy their morale. I saw Wayne Mapp post recently that we will likely be asked to join in the "fight" with ISIL. Lets hope not, we have fought the "terrorists" on their own patch alongside the yanks in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq....not one of these has brought victory over locals or ended terror. Wat have we learned? Stuff all I'd say when the likes of Wayne are happy to rush headlong into another loss.

You might note I don't agree with doing nothing: if you fight a war you must recognise you are at war rather than being involved in some "police action". We are at war with Islamic fundamentalism, and it is a war for the hearts and souls and peoples minds. The war may include acts of random terror but that is not the real battlefield. That is elsewhere in the mosques and madrasas where minds are influences, messages spread. it is in the social conditions of immigrant communities. It is in the political stability of other peoples states and civil society. It is quite definitely not in bombing the hell out of peoples lifes and homes.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Nick. Sense. Kudos.

greywarbler said...

The eight nation alliance. That strikes a bell - didn't I hear this morning of an eight nation force involved in this year's Southern Katipo military maneouvres in NZ. And, interestingly, there was a Chinese observer. and a NZ Defence Force spokesperson said that they may want to be part of this regular exercise. I guess, though, that it has the USA as its strategic head, and if China joined in that would be limiting their own sovereignty. So maybe our Force's comment was tongue-in-cheek - a Clayton's invitation.

An angry resident from the West Coast spoke of the Defence Force visiting schools, and encouraging children to take part in some of their scenarios. Children being encouraged to view practice military and navy actions as outdoor activity, pretend like taking part in a play, was not what parents and intelligent citizens considered appropriate.

Victor said...


An excellent piece and a very apt use of historical parallel.


The ISIS attacks on France and Russia are only "blow back" in the broadest sense of the term, in that ISIS's very existence is partially a response to unwise interference in the Middle East by extra-regional powers, including the French and the Russians

But narrow down your focus and you become aware that neither France nor Russia were significantly involved in the fight against ISIS. Instead, they were on opposite sides of the conflict twixt Assad/Hezbollah and Assad's non-ISIS foes.

Now, though, they have a common enemy. Even more to the point, neither Putin nor Hollande can afford politically to flinch from the conflict with ISIS. So maybe this is blow back in reverse. And maybe that's exactly what ISIS wants.

Nick J

I would agree that intensified drone wars and/or a rush to put boots on the ground would be an unwise response to this grave and difficult situation. But I also agree with you that this doesn't necessarily mean doing nix.

The West needs effective local allies. And they're hard to come by but they do exist. The problem, though, is that the best of them speak Kurdish and espouse unfashionably leftish sentiments.

The one thing western governments could do is to take the PKK and its affiliates off their global terrorism lists and arm them.

We should also be pressurising Turkey to stop bombing the PKK and to stop buying oil from ISIS or providing it or the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front with aid and comfort (things that, of course, Ankara denies doing).

A bit of pressure on Qatar over its affiliates might also not be amiss.

Meanwhile, those who were happy to see an impoverished Greece forced out of the western orbit in the name of neo-liberal financial rectitude, might now like to consider the significance of having a stable and well-disposed ally on Europe's south-eastern flank.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Ah now that the dictation software is debugged. I think what pisses me off the most, is that Wayne – and by association Key – seem to think that New Zealand should be sending troops. How dare they put my and my kids lives in danger fixing a problem that we never caused in the first place. Let those that caused the problem spend their money and kids' lives to fix it. Politicians' kids are rarely in the Army, and Key has a personal security detail. As usual the rewards go to the well off, and ordinary people pay the price.

Victor said...

Nick J

One further point. I agree that the most significant battlefield lies in mosques and madrassahs around the world. But the battle there isn't winnable unless a halt is called to ISIS's flush of conquests in the Levant.

Not only does ISIS attract kudos and hence recruits through these conquests. It also gains people and resources to tap and tax, thus providing a more solid funding base than is usual for global terrorist organisations.

The question is how to call that halt without further alienating populations in the area. I don't pretend to have a total solution but I suspect that the Kurds and particularly the PKK and affiliates would be an inevitable part thereof.

Nick J said...

GS, Im surprised Key can get a security detail any more, there is a high probability that being a member of one of these ends up with you being locked in an Aussie jail for 6 months or more with no recourse, habeus corpus suspended etc. Then where is Key when you need to be saved?

Anonymous said...

GS, I recall Wayne Mapp writing that Western powers may put boots on the ground in Syria and if they do then John Key will be asked to join in, and that is all he said, he is not representing John Key, what he does write is a clear and accurate viewpoint which is salient to the discussion. You are getting your nickers in a twist again. You need to keep taking your medication of Realism pills, you self-deception will eventually go away.

Anonymous said...

Nick J, It is a very complex and difficult situation the Western world is confronted with. The winning of hearts and minds of the mosques and madrassahs has been going on since mosques started to appear in western countries and at the same time as America was attacked and the World Trade Centre destroyed. There are moderate and reasonable Muslims but most of them are Shia. Many political leaders in Europe are saying the Paris attack was France's 9 /11. The Russian airliner downing has outraged the Russian psyche and Russia will seek allies and will, in the meantime, try to kill Daesh in the Levant using their bombers, military Commanders and Syrian troops. I believe that if a military alliance is formed it will call-up large numbers of ground troops to invade the area where Daesh is in control and those Western powers will declare war against Daesh to legally accomplish their task. I understand the Americans have shown no interest but probably Russian and France, with the help of special forces from other European countries can form a joint force of a size to invade to kill and out the Daesh from occupied lands and city areas. It will be a bloody confrontation and further attacks upon civilians in the allied countries will step up, but no-one can reason with these Wahhabi/Salafi jihadist militant groups, it has been tried, they need destroying.

greywarbler said...

Victor's summary of the direction of the war and methods possible for stopping it match what I have read about the area. I did think that Turkey and the Kurds had agreed to a northern area being self-governed by them. Then I heard that they were engaged in hostilities again.

So is the PKK the major Kurdish group, able to act decisively and intelligently on behalf of their people? Is Turkey in the grip of a RW political class at the moment or can it negotiate in its own best interests?

Nick J said...

Victor we may not win a war in the Middle East by conventional military terms but you are right ISIL needs an on the ground blood nose to make it look unattractive. That can easily be achieved by denying them weapons and cash, well within the capability of the West if we rein in arms manufacturers bankers and fully paid up politicians. I have my doubts that will happen.

The same applies to the funding of radical Islam in which Saud has been prominent. Without their cash Wahabism would have less grip in the madrasas. If we in the West took economic care of all youth and gave them a unitary vision of a good future they would see the Islamic fundamentalist version as second converts today thank you. But our elites dont do that as they get ever richer which in turn impoverishes us and our childrens future.

We can win but with our elites interests compromised we will need to be rid of them first.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

1. Isis gets most of its supplies through Turkey.
2. Isis gets much of its support from Saudi Arabia.
The West tends to pussy foot around these two. So it isn't a particularly simple thing to cut off supplies, or fight them in the madrassas

Anonymous 17:15 – as we already have boots on the ground in Iraq, and Key seems to be happy to accede to any American demand for aid simply to make brownie points, I don't think I'm panicking without reason. If I promise to take my reality pills, will you take some spelling pills? It's knickers – and knickers to you. :-)

Anonymous said...

Now Mali, someone should go and talk to them and convert them to our way of life and culture, people who say that are pipe dreaming, stating bollocks and are quisling.

Victor said...

Nick J

I don't disagree with you about the changes needed throughout most Western societies. I can also understand the malign appeal of Jihadism to the grandchildren of Punjabi immigrants in Sheffield or Bradford or of North African immigrants in the Banlieux around Paris.

But I don't think the world can wait till all of that is sorted before trying to eliminate the Daesh militarily in Iraq and Syria.

Actually, this may not be a hugely difficult logistic task, as the numbers involved are not great. But it has to be performed by locals or you're merely accentuating the (far from incomprehensible) Middle Eastern sense of being picked on by the "Crusaders". And that's where it gets complex.

The Kurds (both the PKK/affiliates and the more ostensibly pro-Western Peshmerga) are, to my mind, an important part of the solution but they can't be the whole of it, as they're not thought of as Arabs.

The Iraqi Shi-ite militias are also proving reasonably effective militarily but, although they're Arabs, they're obviously not Sunni and their leaders' push for power at Sunni expense is one of the factors that have stoked the ISIS maelstrom.

So, even if a coalition of Kurds, Shia and whoever else succeeded in defeating ISIS, the resentments and sense of alienation that spawned it would remain and be all the more rancorous. What then would you do the morning after victory is declared?

As far as Sunni Arabs are concerned, you can forget about the Saudis and the Gulf princes. They've hunkered down and are looking after their own immediate interests. Moreover, the Saudis are preoccupied with the dual threat from Shi-ites and Al Qaeda in Yemen.

That just leaves Jordan's highly capable and well-equipped armed forces. But can the shrewd survivor commanding them still depend upon the loyalty of the Bedouin tribesmen that have always been the mainstays of the Hashemite regime? And would the Palestinian majority of his subjects stay quiescent? Moreover, isn't Jordan too compromised by its pro-Western stance to be any more plausible than the US, UK etc. as a "liberator"?

And those are just SOME of the complexities involved.

greywarbler said...

If we did this if we did that, then rationality would follow that would lead to peaceful times with everybody finding satisfaction in life.
So as the song goes 'I don't believe in if anymore, If is an illusion'.
We can be aware of the forces against getting to that goal I stated.

One is that the Second World War showed how it can be a money making thing and war and armaments became a major money earner for some corporations and countries. There was one tale, I am sure true, of a container of arms being landed and unloaded, divided up into lots as per contract that were delivered to the various armed groups fighting in that country.

When people become collateral damage in a fight for power and control, the sides can go on fighting till their is scorched earth, just to win that patch of ground. Keep the ideals there in the back of the mind, but in the foreground of the mind, looking for the strategic weakness, the useful allegiance, the secret talks, the use of devious policies, while trying to be as honourable as possible keeping injustice to the minimum, must be the main direction of executive minds.

I've just read Nightwing by Martin Cruz Smith, a novel based on the deadly diseases carried by vampire bats which are immune to them but are passed by fleas. He makes the case of the crucial effects on humankind, of the trio of bubonic or other plagues, man and bats, and bats are superbly fashioned to survive, beyond our abilities. When taking an objective view of the life-diminishing psychopathic tendencies of so many humans, males particularly, it sharpens the realisation that we must elevate our mission in life far beyond the present hegemony, or leave the world to the bats and, perhaps the ants.

Victor said...

Anonymous @ 18.02

"There are moderate and reasonable Muslims but most of them are Shia."

This is simply not the case. There are vast numbers of Sunni whom Westerners would regard as moderate and reasonable and very many Shia (e.g. Hezbollah or the Iranian "Revolutionary Guard") to whom we would have difficulty appending these epithets. .

Globally, Sunni vastly outnumber the Shia. The prospects for our planet would be dire indeed if we couldn't find some Sunni with whom we could share hopes, aspirations and common purpose.


I don't know how effective the Kurds would be but their record to date is a strong one, despite the vast difficulties they've laboured under.

A harder question to answer is whether they have either the appetite or the ability to play a large role in a broader settlement of their region, given their understandable focus on their own ethno-national objectives.

As far as the PKK is concerned, its nationalism is mixed up with a form of left-wing internationalism but I don't know whether this would be a relevant consideration.

As to the current AK party Turkish government, I don't know whether it's best described as right wing, left wing or centrist/populist (a bit like NZ First really). A lot of its backing comes from poorer segments of the population. Culturally and religiously, though, it's extremely conservative (indeed reactionary)by recent Turkish standards.

It's also extremely nationalistic and more concerned with its Middle Eastern hinterland than with the chimera of EU membership that's haunted previous Turkish governments. The phrase "Neo-Ottoman" has been used to describe its foreign policy, which is clearly Sunni-Islamist and may well view Iran, Shia Islam and the still nominally secular Assad regime as far worse threats than ISIS.

To be fair to the Turks, though, Kurdish nationalism does represent a real threat to their territorial integrity. The same is true for Iran and (to the extent that they still exist as recognisable entities) Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile, I'm sure that Recep Erdo─čan sees himself as serving his country's interests. But there's an awful lot of Turks who disagree with him, which is why the AK almost lost power earlier this year.

To my mind, these complexities are yet another reason to avoid putting Western boots back on the ground in the region. We will just be acting, yet again, as a bull in a china shop. But I still think that outside powers should be active behind the scenes putting some sort of local coalition together. I hope that's one of the things Obama and Putin were discussing at the G20 summit.

Anonymous said...

Chris, a very good post and it certainly gave me deep thought, the problem I have with all the comments regarding the west supporting local peoples in a ground war against Daesh is that Daesh will infiltrate these forces by money or pretence to their faith or ideology and will also find ways (collateral casualties ) of turning them against the west. It is the terror attacks which have taken place in Spain, America ,Britain, France and I include Russia in the west, that will, if attacks continue, and most experts will say that will be the case, cause a western coalition of countries who have realised for some time that they will have act military themselves if they want to destroy and negate Daesh. The coalition will have to declare war on Daesh and this will mean a bloody war in the occupied areas of Syria but will also mean war conditions will have to be enacted in the coalition countries. We want stability and peace in our democracies, we cannot achieve either if we have to live with fear and death. Daesh have declared war, unfortunately we must do the same or Daesh will win and subject our peoples to their medieval ideology.

Anonymous said...

Before I am put in jail or stoned to death, Merry Christmas everyone and a happy and prosperous New Year.

Anna said...

Great article, thanks

greywarbler said...

Chris and Victor et al
I don't know if you are still following this post but Victor's comments on the factions in and around Turkey showed his interest in the politics there. There is a post on The Standard today 25/11, looking at the latest situation of Turkey shooting down a Russian plane and the pilots being shot. There are interesting and seemingly informed comments going up there.

Victor said...

Thanks greywarbler. I'll take a look

Unknown said...

I'm not so sure the Boxer rebellion and the Middle East compare.
Sounds a bit like if the West wasn't involved the Middle East would be Hobiton?