Friday 20 April 2018

Britain's Interests Nowhere Near The Moral High Ground.

And Never The Twain Shall Meet: Britain’s spoils from the First World War were many, but its greatest prize was indisputably the vast territories formerly controlled by the Ottoman Empire (whose territory we invaded on 25 April 1915). Between them, Britain and her principal wartime ally, France, carved up the Middle East as if it was an oil-soaked Christmas pudding.

IN JUST A FEW DAYS tens-of-thousands of New Zealanders will gather to commemorate the 102nd anniversary of the ANZAC landings. All the usual bromides about heroism, sacrifice, freedom and democracy will be trotted-out. Young people, who are featuring more and more in contemporary Anzac Day ceremonies, will construct their public remarks on the foundational assumption that, in 1915, New Zealand stood on the moral high ground. (By which they mean alongside Great Britain). It does not do to question this assumption. April 25 is this country’s Day of the Dead – and the Dead must be respected.

Let us, therefore, leave the Dead and examine the empire for which they died. Because the lines of British force and British interests that intersected at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 were not broken there. They survived all that fruitless killing, growing stronger and more extensive as the war wore on. So much so that, by 1919, when most of the peace treaties were signed and sealed, the British Empire controlled considerably more of the earth’s land surface than it had when the conflict began. (As did New Zealand, which found itself in possession of the former German colony of Samoa.)

Britain’s spoils of war were many, but its greatest prize was indisputably the vast territories formerly controlled by the Ottoman Empire (whose territory we invaded on 25 April 1915). Between them, Britain and her principal wartime ally, France, carved up the Middle East as if it was an oil-soaked Christmas pudding.

Nations that are still, more than a century later, providing the world with its blackest headlines: Palestine (now Israel) Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia; were all cradled in the intersecting lines of British force and British interests. Young protesters may have waved placards decrying the exchange of young blood for oil during the first Gulf War of 1991 but, rest assured, the idea – if not the slogan – is much, much older than that!

Not that all the people of the region were content to live their lives enmeshed in the lines of British force and British interests. Many of them rose in rebellion against the British Empire – just as T.E. Lawrence, “Lawrence of Arabia”, had encouraged them to do against the Ottoman Empire during the Great War.

In 1920, anxious to conserve British blood and treasure while putting down these Arab revolts, the then British Secretary of State for War, Winston Churchill, recommended that the RAF deploy chemical weapons – mustard gas in particular. Gas, he insisted, was bound to inspire “a lively terror” in the rebel-held territories.

Not that Great Britain restricted itself to terrorising the Arab peoples. In “Arabia” they were only too happy to secure a kingdom for the House of Saud. In a bewildering series of alliances forged and friendships betrayed, the British armed Abdulaziz al Saud and his fanatical Wahhabist militia and allowed them to take control of most of the Arabian Peninsula, including the holy Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina. When the Wahhabists attempted to spread their fundamentalist version of Islam beyond Abdulaziz’s new realm, he had their leaders mown down with British-supplied machine-guns.

It was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between Great Britain and the Muslim world. In India the lines of British force and British interests were deliberately drawn between the Muslim and Hindu communities. While the British Raj endured, the purpose of these “divide and rule” tactics remained purely political. Only in 1947, as British rule was coming to an end, did they become geographical. It was the Foreign and Colonial Office that partitioned India and created the Muslim state of Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Wahhabism: for the past 70 years these have been the nurseries for all manner of Islamic religious fanaticism and jihadi terrorism. Saudi Arabia gave us Osama Bin Laden, and Pakistan, when it wasn’t busy organising and supplying the Taliban, gave him shelter. And through it all, though increasingly difficult to discern clearly, the lines of British force and British interests have continued to run. Which countries are counted among the biggest importers of British military equipment? Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The invasion we celebrate every year on 25 April continues to cast a very long shadow. Wherever Britain and the Anzacs were standing on that day, it was nowhere even remotely near the moral high ground.

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 April 2018.


peteswriteplace said...

And so be it. Anzac Day again on April 25. We don't have to explain why to anybody. We know!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Palestine (now Israel)"
Er... No. Now Jordan, Israel, and what should be Palestine but isn't.

Polly. said...

Despite your bleak comments and without dispute to them.
Anzac Day, I shall stand tall.
I will give prayer to our fallen heroes, in that war and the war that followed.
I am proud of our flag.
I am proud of my British heritage.
We shall remember them.

greywarbler said...

As for Anzac Day. I can take the form of ceremony from one year to the next at our civic formalities at the Boer War Memorial at 10 am. I have tried to improve things. One year there was no sound system so we stood watching the mouth of the presiding Minister. I asked for a reliable sound system in future. Another year I suggested that a short poem or anecdote about war be read out, which was done, but that has faded away. No need for all this modern change!

Humour helped the servicepeople get through with a modicum of sanity. I don't know how much notice was taken of their needs. My birthfather was pleased to get promoted as officers ate better than the lower 'orders' and perhaps they got their pyjamas washed too. He wrote about having to wash them in cold water, and try to get them dry in between flying off in the bomber and getting shot at. You got promoted fairly quickly in those days, natural attrition!

Here's a favourite of mine about how those seeking better ways are likely to be greeted: A young man thought he might become a monk, but before he could join he had to live in the monastery for three years. It was a silent monastery but once a year there was a kindly enquiry about his feelings and wishes. The first year he asked for bigger helpings at meal times. The second year he asked for more blankets. At the end of the third year, he advised that he didn't feel suited to the life. The Abbott said 'That is wise. I saw you were unhappy; you complained all the time you were here'.

But I go along to the gatherings and things get said, and things get read and we wear red poppies, and the news about war continues. I find that Britain and the USA are second and first in war armaments manufacture.
'And so it goes' as Kurt Vonnegut said.

Geoff Fischer said...

It is no accident that France and Britain, the former imperial masters, are so involved in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq respectively. Like dogs returning to their vomit, the western powers continue to meddle in regions where their divide and rule policies left behind sectarian and ethnic tensions, entrenched military elites and dubious geographic partitions. It is disgraceful that pro-British New Zealanders continue to commemorate their part in this blot on the face of humanity, and shameful that after nearly two centuries they remain committed to the preservation of a corrupt imperial order.

Guillaume said...

As always, right to the point in elucidating the facts and consequences of these conflicts. Whenever I see the small memorials dotted around the countryside I am always distressed to see the age of the men, rather boys, who died for King and country. I doubt that King and country were at the forefront in the minds of the boys hurrying to join the colours, more likely they thought of travel and excitement. They had no idea what they were getting into.

Anyone who has doubts about their motivation and fate should read Sir Philip Gibbs (a World War I war correspondent) book "Now It Can Be Told". Because of the censorship that he encountered at the front, Gibbs published the full account after the war.

The only beneficiaries of these wars for King and country were the financiers and the manufacturers of arms and ordnance aided and abetted by pompous politicians, so-called leaders, and they are still at it!

The need today is for more understanding and diplomacy and less bellicosity and profiteering.

Geoff Fischer said...

Polly, you should discriminate with respect to your British heritage. Take pride in your great poets, playwrights, scientists, philosophers, humanitarians, political reformers and the ordinary unsung heroes who worked the land, laboured in the factories and raised families, all with skill, dedication and love. It is such as they who made Britain truly great. For the wars and the warmongers, the destruction of peoples and communities, exploitation and oppression in the name of commerce and empire you should feel only sadness and regret, or even anger if you must, but never pride.

Nick J said...

If you visit the Attaturk Memorial overlooking Cook Strait you will read his words of forgiveness. To paraphrase "Your dead Johnnies are now in our care, laying with our own dead Abduls".

It seemed important at the time, in retrospect Johnny Kiwi and Abdul Turk were cannon fodder for their respective empires, both now long gone. When we "celebrate" ANZAC day let us remember Johnny and Abdul missed out on family, grandchildren. No glory, just sadness.

Recently a whole new generation of Kiwis have been bombarded with calls of "evil Putin, the Russians subunit". I'd like to think that they are more aware of this imperialist bullshit might get them killed. I suspect not. Let's hope that today's Attaturks can find it in their hearts to forgive us for being party to imperialist adventures in far away countries such as Afghanistan, or for our role in Five Eyes.

jh said...

While what you say sounds reasonable you seem to draw lines to Britain. Is that a cypher for capitalism? Peter Hitchens says capitalism is just how commerce happens (or similar) and capitalism/market economy is what you see in any ecosystem.

Human society is inherently unstable. You have uneven distribution of resources; you have a hierarchy of ability in populations due to rapid evolution in challenging environments; you have culture and you have population growth; you have humans who evolved in small groups who have developed ethnocentric tendencies - humans come with software on their hard drive.

Andrew Nichols said...

...and I would add Grey warbler that "Lest we forget" is now just an empty slogan as we forget ...every time we participate in yet another war or endorse (understand why) our "allies" (The Empire and its other colonies) do.

Denis Bartley said...

In March 1915 ,a month prior to the Galipoli invasion we celebrate each year. Major Frank Holmes, a New Zealander born in Bluff and educated at Otago Boys High School, a member of Winston Churchill's hybrid British force the Royal Naval Division landed in Galipoli.
For more details read the Otago Daily Times article of June 4th 1960 entitled 'Arabs nicknamed Frank Holmes: 'Father of Oil'.
It describes, the man who was unknown outside the oil industry and practically unknown in New Zealand, the tribute of The Times newspaper of 5th Feb 1947 made on his death. ' Major Farnk Holmes was uniquely responsible for discovering the vast petroleum resources of Arabia. An outstanding personality in the Middle East, especially among the Arab sheiks of the western shore of the Persian Gulf, they appreciated both the formidable personality of this rugged New Zealander and the great riches which the initiatives of the Father of Oil brought to their coffers.'
Is this one of the long shadows?
Denis Bartley, Riverton

greywarbler said...

I read with interest the furore in Oz about businesses using an Anzac Day design as screen background while informing their opening hours on that day. Anzac Day is too sacred and pure to be sullied by commerce. But in 1970 the vets were at the RSL clubs downing beers and the RSL clubs making their money from the business end of pokies on which people addicted gambled their weekly earnings.

When the hour and minute of remembrance is sounded, the vets put down their beers firmly, stand stiffly with arms at their side, during a prayer about 'We will remember them' and the sun going down or something. The formalities are over in a minute and then they sit and resume where they left off. Or that's how I remember it.

I don't think that the dingoes have changed their spots. Pretending that its a deeply sacred day of remembrance is a misrepresentation of their loyal but pragmatic attitudes, and the attitude of the broad mass of Australians, which is materialistic and commercial.