Why are the Colonial Warfare posts so long?
Not like history
Why are the posts on Colonial Warfare so long? Why are they reposted material?
It's very simple. We're all learning at the same time. I don't know all of the details and when I start to write essays I want to have the facts on the table. These are not widely known facts and while heavy slogging, I think it's critical to an informed discussion.
Because people like Max Boot and Niall Ferguson lie. They make shit up. They edit their arguments. I don't think that's how you make a historical argument.
Now, I plan to discuss post-colonialism after everyone catches their breath, but to do that, and say nasty things about Zaire and Indonesia, you need context and fact. You can't enter the discussion in the middle.
This is part of my frustration with conspiracy theorists. The CIA didn't kill Kennedy. They killed 1m Indonesian communists. That's right, one million people. In 1965-66. Yet, no one bothers to mention this. No outrage is attached to this. One of the great modern crimes of commission is barely mentioned. The CIA helped draw up list of party members and sent the Army on it's way. US history in Indonesia is not pretty.
Another reason I'm posting long excerpts is because what we think we know are often lies.
I was watching the Last Samurai tonight and I was baffled. The Japanese Army was violating basic military doctrine, like attacking without supporting fire, charging with bayonets when their enemy had no rifles, no supporting fire, no cavalry doing recon, and experienced Japanese Samurai listening to a gaijin as soft looking as Tom Cruise. It looked awesome, but it wasn't history. That and the fact that Cruise was on the wrong side of history. The samurai were a repressive force and created disunity within the Japanese state.
This article from National Geographic illustrates the point:
A Time of Transition
The Last Samurai is the fictional tale of a broken United States Civil War veteran (Cruise) who travels as a mercenary to Japan soon after the overthrow of the old Shogunate and the restoration of imperial rule in 1868. He ultimately rediscovers his honor by joining a samurai rebellion against the encroaching world of the West.
The dawn of what's known as the Meiji era was a time of change as Japan emerged from 200 years of self-imposed isolation and began to shed some of its traditions. The samurai had served as a standing army with no one to fight for the last 200 years. Now they represented the past.
"It's a country that tries to modernize itself in a hurry," said Harold Bolitho, a professor of Japanese history at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It wants to get rid of a non-productive class of samurai to replace it with an effective fighting force. It wants to stand up as an independent nation and not be pushed around by Britain or the United States."
The movie rebellion is led by a samurai named Katsumoto, who is loosely based on the real-life samurai Takamori Saigo. Known for his obstinate conservatism, Saigo supported the Emperor in the Meiji coup, but then led an 1877 revolt against the government in which his followers were defeated by imperial troops drawn from the peasantry and equipped with modern arms. Saigo committed suicide.
Today, Saigo is a folk hero, a symbol of devotion to principle. In real life, he was also a pampered aristocrat bent on retaining his elitist standing.
"The samurai were very much backward-looking and no more courageous or loyal or wise than anybody else," said Bolitho. "They were just more privileged. In the end they fight for those privileges, and they are defeated by the new Japan. It's the new Japan overcoming the old Japan."
The samurai may have been defeated in the late 19th century, but their virtuous and noble image has been carefully molded ever since.
"It's an idealized image that's been pushed onto the entire Japanese people," said Bolitho. "It's built into the education system and the armed forces, so that everyone who goes to war sees himself in some sense as a Samurai. It's a tremendous public relations job. Samurai images are brought out again and again, even to people whose grandparents where pushed around by the Samurai."
Still, Bolitho says he thoroughly enjoyed the new movie.
"We're dealing with a fantasy, and fantasy always tops reality," he said. "The samurai is a great movie theme. Like all ideals, it's going to be around forever."
Now, we all know movies distort, but we often forget that culture defines history. The movie American West is a faint image of the real West. Hell, Cavalry troopers never wore the pants with the yellow stripe. In fact, if they were able to wear any item of uniform, it is more than likely the blue shirt. Pants were more than likely jeans and chaps, but the shirt was more than likely retained because it could be seen at a distance as an identifier. Remember, this was a broke, hard travelling Army. Replacement uniforms were few and far between. It is highly likely that even the blue shirt was replaced with commercial purchases and dyed several shades of indigo blue.
But because movie set designers and costumers created a visual language, we assume that language translates to reality.
In fact, the great battle Cruise depicts, could easily be seen as the beginnings of representative Japanese government, where the peasantry finally crushed their feudal overlords.
Well, Colonial Warfare is often depicted as a few brave whites against masses of savages. When in reality, it is oftern underarmed locals fending off a brutal, genocidal invader. The only way to have a rational discussion about this is to place facts on the table. We think of the British Empire in terms of Gunga Din and The Four Feathers, not Amritsar and Partition and the Mau Mau Rebellion. We have not been taught to see the Mau Mau not as blood thirsty terrorists, but as angered combat veterans from the Burma Campaign tired of second class treatment. Chinese Gordon is lionized as a hero, not as a greedy madman.
The reason I placed so many details on the blog is that you need to understand the details. We are talking about the world's great armies going to areas where the locals were underamed and barely able to resist and were mown down like grass. We are talking wholesale murder and frequent rebellions.
Most importantly, Hollywood has minimized the humanity of the colonized. They are pets, subjects, extras, not real people with feelings, emotions and dignity. The Kenyans who chased the Japanese across Burma were men, just like the British who fought besides them. They were equal in dignity and humanity. But only on the battlefield.
Take the Dutch. Many in the US praise Dutch tolerance and social conservatism, the concept of individual privacy in public life. Yes, I know, people think smoking dope is liberal, but the Dutch merely mind their business as long as you follow the law. Yet, few know of the Dutch legacy in Indonesia, one of unrelieved brutality and exploitation. Only the Belgians exceeded them in cruelty and misrule. Yet, people praise their social democracy with little understanding of how it was built or who built it. Holland is a wonderful place, with kind people. But there was a cost for that, and that cost was born by the people of Indonesia. And until you understand that, you cannot understand why so many people resent western lectures on human rights and morality.
The details are important because people do not want to face them. Even today, the Europeans act as if the post-war colonial brutality belonged to another age. The Dutch do not discuss Indonesia. The Belgians walk through museums which are the product of genocide and pretend not to know how the art got there. There is a refusal in the west to face our collective pasts.
Americans sneer at the French, the French ridicule us as idiots. Both are silly and wrong.
In a small way, this is an attempt to reconcile that past with our present. And yes, it will still require some effort on your part. It will not be easy. But, if I do this right, it will make sense.
posted by Steve @ 1:42:00 AM