I've been reading Andrew Roberts' "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900), and as of this moment am on p.400. I cannot find words in praise of the book so far. It is a testament to the follies, fortune and endurance of the English-speaking peoples in the twentieth century. It tabulates the highs and the lows, the greatest achievements and the greatest blunders, but the overall picture is clear: the English-speaking peoples have much to be proud of.
In our time it is common for us to flagellate ourselves about the supposed misdeeds of our past. There is slavery, for one. Then there is colonialism and imperialism. There are those on the far-left who are constantly sniping at America for its supposed evil acts during the Cold War, and those on the far-right who attempt to defame the English-speaking peoples in their heroic struggle against both Imperial Germany and then Axis Fascism by pointing to incidents such as Dresden or Hiroshima and Nagasaki as evidence that the English-speaking peoples were not on the right side of history after all, and that there is some sort of moral equivalence between the monsters we have combated and ourselves.
I believe that Roberts has batted off these attacks from the spiteful and the jealous haters of our history with aplomb. At the beginning of the 20th century the British Empire was going strong and America was hurtling towards Great Power status. This turbulent century opened with the British fighting a heroic struggle against the Boers in South Africa, a people as admirably brave as they were fanatical and racist. Across the world there was massive sympathy for the Boers, seen as heroic freedom-fighters against the might of an evil, aggressive empire. Yet all great empires and nations have faced jealousy and resentment from others, and it is not at all surprising that out of anti-British spite so many chose to side with the selfish, insular and xenophobic Boers over the imperfect but progressive British. As Roberts points out, the Boers were far from angels. The descendants of largely Dutch and French Huguenot settlers, rights in the Boer republics were generally restricted to white Protestants. Catholics, Jews and the British Uitlanders were all subjected to a discriminatory system not dissimilar from apartheid. At the bottom were the blacks, who were little better than chattel, and who would continue to suffer under apartheid for many years after South Africa gained independence. The Second Boer War began as a result of the Boers' refusal to give voting rights to the Uitlanders, who were growing in number and contributed much to the Boer economy, yet were seen as a political threat by Kruger and his cabal. Instead of meeting British demands for fair treatment of the Uitlanders and the native blacks, Kruger chose confrontation, launching a suicidal invasion of Cape Colony, a move which should signal to all serious students of this war that it was the Boers, not the British, who started the war. Despite massive sympathy for the Boers among the American public, McKinley's and then Roosevelt's administration in the United States remained neutral, effectively tilting towards the British side. It was the first clear indication of solidarity between the English-speaking peoples, one which would have profound implications for the rest of the century. Yet this may never have happened had not the sagacious British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, (who is quite possibly one of the greatest Prime Ministers our country has ever had but whom few have ever heard of) chosen to remain neutral (but effectively pro-American) during the Spanish-American War of 1898, at a time when much of Europe was pro-Spanish. The seeds of the "Special Relationship" had been planted, from which would spring mighty and mawkish fruit in the future.
There are those who would condemn the British for their treatment of Boer civilians by interning them in "concentration" camps, yet conditions in these camps, as Roberts notes, were probably not as bad as they made out to be, indeed, there is evidence to suggest that the British did all they could to ensure that the Boers received the treatment they needed. In any case, it was probably safer for them in the camps than out on the veldt where they could quite possibly have become accidental casualties in an increasingly brutal guerrilla war. Those who would use this instance of the war as evidence that the British were just as bad, if not morally inferior to, the Boers should take a harder look at the evidence, and ensure that they are not misled by the lily-livered moralisers of our times and their outrageous pretences to historical scholarship. With the war won and the Boers subdued, a new, progressive administration could now take hold over South Africa.
Roberts then leads us into a discussion of that great bogeyman, that great millstone around the historical reputations of the English-speaking peoples, "imperialism". Compared to many of the other European colonisers, British imperialism was relatively benign. There was nothing to mirror the Herero and Namaqua genocides in Namibia, or France's bloody actions in Algeria or even Fascist Italy's actions in Abyssinia. British Sudan had the largest railway network in Africa, built at the start of the century by the British. Elderly Sudanese are quoted by Roberts as having fond memories of the British. In Egypt, British administrators fought for the rights of the oppressed, slaving fellahin, whose work went to enriching the Turco-Egyptian elite that surrounded the decadent court of the Egyptian khedive. In Uganda, there was only ONE recorded assassination of a British official, a junior one at that, named Galt, an event which remains shrouded in mystery and the perpetrators of which remain unknown. It cannot be that the Ugandans were frightened by the British into submission, as the garrison in the colony was miniscule and there were more Ugandan soldiers than British. It must have been that the Ugandan people generally saw the British as a force for good. In India, Lord Curzon oversaw benevolent British administration and law-giving.
We are then led into a prolonged discussion on the origins of Anglo-German rivalry and the carnage of the First World War. Contrary to the claims of the revisionists, it is clear that Germany was planning not just continental hegemony, but worldwide domination. In Latin America Imperial Germany fough a virtual cold war with the United States, and it was only the Monroe Doctrine and President Roosevelt's tough action that prevented German dominion over, perhaps even colonisation of, South America, the Venezuela Crisis of 1902-3 being a case in point. Wilhelmine Germany was not satisfied with merely being the most industrialised country in Europe with the most powerful military, but wanted territorial expansion, a "place in the sun". Wilhelmine Germany's fleet was clearly designed, not for self-defence or as a deterrent, but for bullying, brigandage and conquest. It is not unthinkable that once Imperial Germany had taken over the continent, she would have come for Great Britain as well. The First World War, then, was not something that could simply have been avoided, that Great Britain could have sat out of. It was necessary to punish German militarism and aggression, and to make it clear that bellicose nationalism was a losing way for any civilised country. The very idea of the unstable and idiotic figure of Wilhelm II ruling over a German-dominated Europe, receiving homage from the "subject races" of Eastern and Southern Europe, is too frightening to behold. We must not forget that this unpredictable and erratic individual was also a frightful anti-Semite, whose suggestion that the best way to get rid of the Jews was gas anticipated the crime of the century in Adolf Hitler's Holocaust. Anyone who doubts that this was not what Germany was in fact aiming at should read up on the concept of "Mitteleuropa", initially an innocent intellectual experiment which was hijacked by racist German nationalists such as von Tirpitz and the Kaiser himself. Such an entity would look a lot like the European Union today, dominated by Germany, as the European Union is today, with one difference: instead of letting in other races (i.e. Syrian refugees) and destabilising the continent, this version would seek to eradicate other races in order to make Lebensraum for German settlers. Adolf Hitler didn't get his zany ideas from thin air. There was also the necessity to defend Belgium, the neutrality of which we, as the architects of the Treaty of London, were obligated to protect, and which was violated by the Kaiser's legions traipsing through it in 1914 and proceeding to murder innocent civilians. Palmerston did not conceive of that treaty for nothing, and it had been long-standing British foreign policy that no hostile power could be allowed possession of the Channel ports, nor could any one nation be permitted domination over Europe, as was sought by Philip II of Spain, Louis XIV, Napoleon and later Hitler.
Anyone who believes that the First World War was not a war over clear-cut ideological aims, and that Imperial Germany and Great Britain could have remained in a state of peaceful co-existence, should read the speech that von Tirpitz gave at the height of the war in 1917, in which he asserted that the conflict was between two, competing world-views: Anglo-American liberalism and German nationalism. One would prevail, and the other would be vanquished. Von Tirpitz was determined that it should be German nationalism that triumphed, and the vast majority of Germans undoubtedly agreed with him.
The popular view of the war is one in which rich, upper-class officers without a clue about war sent the plebs over the trenches to die in a futile conflict. This is a lie. Many officers were killed in the war, most of whom were of fairly high social rank. The upper class was decimated as it had not been since the War of the Roses, and lost a sizeable proportion of its members. Far-right and far-left revisionists may like to ignore this, but it is a fact.
Sadly, America did not enter the war in 1915 when there was an opportunity and put an end to the bloodshed early, but its entry into the war in 1917 was a god-send, and a victory for the forces of light over the forces of darkness. Its failure to join the League of Nations marked the collapse of the post-war settlement that resulted in World War II, but it marked the first instance of the English-speaking peoples standing shoulder to shoulder in a great international crusade for the preservation of civilisation. Wilson and Lloyd-George would become Churchill and Roosevelt, Thatcher and Reagan, Blair and Bush. The Special Relationship had been born.
With the defeat of the aggressive Wilhelmine Germany, the Treaty of Versailles was imposed to bring about a lasting peace. But it was to be no Congress of Vienna. The popular belief is that it was a harsh treaty, crippling to Germany which fanned the flames of nationalism and led to the rise of Hitler and then WWII. Roberts shows this view up as nonsense. Indeed, if Germany had been treated more harshly by the treaty, and even split up as it was after WWII and was before unification in 1870, another world war would have been avoided. A pity, then, that the likes of Keynes and others have distorted our views on this momentous historical event. One should be reminded that the Germans inflicted a far harsher treaty on Russia in 1917, and if that is a microcosm of what a German-dominated Europe would have been then it is a shame that the Treaty of Versailles is as mild as it was.
Atm I am reading about WWII and its aftermath, but I will kindly provide updates once I have finished the whole thing.