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American scholar Charles Sills on western imperialism across the third world: how the end justifies the means, what do western media conceal and what does it have to do with the myth of American exceptionalism. Special for Vostok Magazine.
Studying western imperialism across the third world is a challenge considering the tremendous obstacle the media (and its monolithic control of information) poses to the historian. While a small few control most sources of what one would call ‘news’, primary and secondary sources that even today remain untainted do exist. Examples of underreported western atrocities and the media manipulation that facilitated them will be examined in the greater context of Middle Eastern and South East Asian development. How these same foreign forces stunted the socio-economic growth of these areas will be noted in the cases of Vietnam, India, occupied Palestine, the Philippines, Cambodia and Lebanon. The motives and interests that control Global superpowers will be questioned, as will the ever-changing landscape of globalization and international economic control.
Part 1: Forgotten Atrocities of the British Empire
The British Raj, also known as the period in which the United Kingdom ruled the Indian Subcontinent, began in 1858 and lasted nearly one hundred years (until 1947). Commonly referred to as the ‘crown jewel’ of the British Empire, this area generated tremendous revenue. It also served as a strategic foothold in South East Asia, an area also ruled by imperialist competitors such as France in Indochina, and the Dutch in the South China Sea. Many regard the era of British control here with passive disinterest; a benevolent British presence attempting to ‘civilize’ a savage population (a great insult to a culture that was quite developed in its own right). This intellectually lazy summary of white western domination in the third world was quite common. In the case of the Indian occupation, the term benevolent could not have been more tragically misleading. Crimes against the people of India were cast aside as collateral damage in the quest for capital. Over the course of 89 years between 12-29 million unfortunate souls starved to death under British rule in India. The question here of course is simple; how could such a wealthy global power allow death and despair on such a scale, and how has this heinous act of inhumanity been successfully blotted out from mainstream historical study (relatively speaking)? Firstly, the British, despite being as wealthy and powerful as they were, saw no reason to expend any resources on those they already viewed with contempt. Indeed, “…principles, upheld by Social Darwinism, were regularly invoked to legitimize Indian famine policy at home in England.” (Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts, 32) Clearly, the interests behind these atrocities were concerned more with domestic public relations and the endless stream of revenue than the Indians languishing in slums. In fact, the famines themselves could have been prevented, or at the very least, the effects could have been softened. Serious drought was always a concern, but the droughts themselves were exacerbated by a new enterprise: grain speculation. The interests that stood to benefit from the newly christened grain speculation trade also stood in lockstep opposition to any lightening of the proverbial coffer in the name of feeding lowly indigenous peoples.
The practice of grain speculation essentially consisted of the artificial buying and selling of grain with little to no regard to actual production amounts. As a result of this, even in times of severe famine (times in which stockpiles would have been collected for emergency use) any grain, even if there was no surplus at all, was effectively placed on the market. Indeed, “although rice and grain production in the rest of India (presumably those areas less affected by drought) had been above average for the past
three years, much of the surplus had been exported to England. Londoners were in effect eating India’s bread.” (Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts, 26) The United Kingdom’s callous disregard for the well-being of its own colonial subjects was frighteningly cold; as one observer wrote, “It seems an anomaly, that, with her famines on hand, India is able to supply food to other parts of the world.” (Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts, 26) Many millions would eventually be exterminated. However the deaths themselves were not the result of passive indifference. The liquidation of the Indian population was anticipated and required; a new weapon of colonization had been unsheathed. The usefulness of controlled deliberate starvation was fully realized by the British as a means of leverage and total domination. The status quo, it seemed to the British, was both efficient and profitable.