I was reviewing headlines and saw this stark headline on the BBC News Africa section titled “Guineans Mark 50 years of poverty“.
Fifty years ago the country of Guinea on the West (duh… I said East originally, sorry I am directionally challenged) coast of Africa achieved independence from France. Celebrations were recently held to mark this anniversary and the BBC correspondent heard the cries of “fifty years of poverty”. The article goes on to interview a man at a train station who laments that the trains used to run when the French ruled the country but now they have collapsed like everything else as the country runs low on electricity and other elements of a civilized society.
Guinea took their opportunities for independence and squandered them with 2 brutal dictatorships over the last 50 years as strongmen systematically looted the mineral rich country and let the infrastructure collapse. This is a sad story since the country has access to the ocean and a coastline as well as mineral wealth. Unfortunately it shares borders with failed states and risks becoming one itself as the strongmen wind down their time in power, with no likely successors in sight.
In college I remember reading articles, books and novels about how horrible colonialism was and certainly this is not something that anyone would willingly embark on in this day and age. I don’t remember, however, seeing how a country that has been independently managed for fifty years managed to do it so badly, in the aptly summarized “fifty years of poverty”. For many years the blame was always on the formal colonialist rulers for this or that, the borders, or how one ethnic group was favored over another.
At some point, likely today for Guinea, this doesn’t make sense any more. From the fact book, the average life span of a Guinean is 54 years old; so they don’t have any memory of the former French rulers while they were in power. At some point they need to look at how they have mismanaged their country and hopefully find a way to change it from within.
I will wait in vain for colleges to re-appraise their brutal picture of colonialism with a more nuanced picture, contrasting the infrastructure development and investments during colonialism with the asset stripping, infrastructure decay, and utter chaos that came after they left.
37 thoughts on “Guineans mark ’50 years of poverty’”
This story somehow reminded me of a certain joke about the Cuban revolution that I’d like to share here.
They said that after years of communism the island was in precarious economic conditions with the great majority of Cubans poor, jobless and helpless. So Fidel Castro called on his cabinet for an emergency meeting to find final solution and way out of the continuous economic and social crisis.
They looked at examples of successful world economies like Japan, Germany, Italy and other countries whose economy was in ruined and got out of poverty and became wealthy nations, and the Castro’s cabinet arrived at the conclusion that probably the best thing that could happen to Cuba to accelerate changes was to declare war to the U.S because a U.S. invasion to the island would likely bring immediate and subsequent reforms that Americans normally impose on nations they invade: free and prosperous market economy, democratic institutions, independent judiciary system, independent federal reserve, etc.
Castro had just one question for his cabinet: What if we win the war?
This story came to mind as I thought of how the French did not leave solid, democratic and social institutions in Guinea, at least that’s what this post by Carl leads me to believe. Correct me on this if I am wrong.
I am not making an apology of the citizens of Guinea, who are the ultimate people to be held accountable for the dire situation they find themselves in today.
I remember reading articles, books and novels about how horrible colonialism was and certainly this is not something that anyone would willingly embark on in this day and age.
Are you really unaware of what the Chinese are doing?
“Guinea on the East coast of Africa”
Err, west coast.
Jose, that scenario was made into a very good Peter Sellers movie “The Mouse That Roared”…..where unknown Caribbean country invaded and won….
Thanks for the East / West catch – that was a “duh” on my part.
As far as what the Chinese are doing, they are basically just stripping out the minerals and shipping them home. Agree that it is colonialism but they really aren’t trying to run the country or do anything more than secure their means of transport and paying off whomever they need to in order to get their materials.
The colonials built an infrastructure for the whole country (to the extent it was in their interests) and tried to “rule” it, including securing the borders.
I think a lot of the difference is that back in the days of the colonials labor was worth something – you could run a plantation or something. Now unskilled labor is worth virtually nothing, so other than oil, minerals or diamonds, there is no interest in being in a country and picking up responsibilities for its well being.
There are also vastly more people today in these countries than their were during the times of the colonials; while AIDS and other diseases cause huge problems the “green revolution” and reducing the death rate overall has contributed to a massive population explosion, making them that much harder to govern (should someone even want to attempt to do so).
It is no accident that France’s intellectual history of radical collectivism, as well as Spain’s historical authoritarianism, for a second example, have left a legacy of corrupt, socialist/fascist regimes whose main function seemed to be the wholesale looting of whatever poor population fell under their control.
Ideas have very real consequences in the real world. Unfortunately, the independence movements among these various colonial areas occurred during the height of collectivism’s intellectual dominance. The leaders of these kleptocracies were educated in the best European universities, steeped in marxist/socialist/corporatist theory, and sent home to agitate for the right to impose these repressive ideologies on their countrymen.
France and Spain, among others, left trainwrecks around the globe as their former colonies attempted to put into practice the various permutations of the statist theories they had been told were the “wave of the future”, and an essential key to further development.
A strong state, they had been taught, was the necessary lead actor in the mobilizing of social resources required for the formation of a modern state. At a certain point, after enough public investment had been made in basic industries, the economy would “take off” on its own to provide employment and resources for continuing prosperity.
I remember these debates and theoretical prognostications very clearly. The soviet model was very popular, as it was both anti-colonial and anti-capitalist, and the myth of ongoing progress and prosperity under socialism was trumpeted from every quarter.
And so, half a century later, the world is littered with wreckage as one house of cards after another has collapsed, one all powerful state after another has proved powerless against the realities of economic cause and effect, (see Zimbabwe, among others), and the cry goes up once more that the “developed world” must rescue the eternally “developing”, who never quite develop anything more than poverty, repression, and starvation.
A professor from the University of Minnesota, among others, has developed an alternative set of guidelines for success in the real world. These guidelines, developed by analyzing social and economic systems that actually seem to work, as opposed to 19th century theories of fairy tale utopias, emphasize individual economic autonomy and creativity, political liberties, transparency in accounting, and independent legal systems, among other recomendations.
These latter are the truly revolutionary ideas that have brought about not only personal freedom and economic success, but subsequently, national wealth and prosperity.
As it turns out, mirabile dictu, the secret to success is freedom and the rule of rational law. Now, whoever would have thought something so radical could be so fundamental.
There is a form of cosmic justice in the universe. What we are seeing in Guinea, and many other places, including the US just now, are chickens coming home to roost. Big, painful, very expensive chickens. They always show up eventually, grandiose theories notwithstanding.
Spain conquered central and south America at the height of monarchical despotic absolutism and Catholicism, a bad, very bad cocktail, which bred high centralization of all social, military and economic structures.
They passed these highly centralized, despotic values to republics, or republic-wanna-bies that emerged out of their former colonies in Latin America. I see this troublesome legacy everywhere in the Mexico I live.
Yet the strong and unfaltering Christian evangelization that the Spanish earnestly promoted throughout their colonies also left a culturally rich and solid social structure for our societies, with many indigenous people becoming citizens by baptism in Catholic faith during the times of the colony, learning to read and write, attaining Christian values that eventually became part of the social fabric, and gaining some level of entitlement by becoming catholic subjects of the crown, minimal and painful entitlement many a times, but entitlement at last.
They also left judicial, military, economic and academic institutions throughout the continent.
Los Angeles was already a formal city with judicial and governmental structure before the US took over. To name an example.
But former Spanish colonies in Latin American are continually struggling, scrambling at times, but steadily turning into democratic nations. I think of Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay, Ecuador, Costa Rica, etc.
They are far from what the North American experience was to become one day, yet they are not to be compared to what the English, Belgian, Germans and French did in Africa, Asia and parts of the Caribbean.
Interesting thoughts on Mexico but I think the larger question is why we even talk about colonialism any more when Guinea has been “free” to run their own destiny for 50 years. Mexico has been free for a LONG time, too.
The bottom line is that colonialism was blamed for problems that continued along apace after the “colonialists” left; however, any progress on infrastructure or anything else died instantly when they left the building, to quote Elvis.
The most striking example is Haiti, which has been independent for 200 years. Its statistics are those of a typical contemporary sub-Saharan African country – like Guinea – which happens to be located in the Carribean.
I was sidetracked by earlier comments on Spain and France. But one of my points was that Spain also left solid institutions in former colonies and I wanted to point out a difference sometimes overlooked in the colonization of America by Spain, which was driven by the search for gold and other precious metals and exploitation of natural resources and people, but also strongly driven by the Catholicism of the Spanish crown, one must point out that the new catholic spanish subjects of the crown in the americas were not considered slaves, although labor exploitation occurred, but more in a feudal form.
As it happen, many of the French former colonies in Africa somehow turned out to be majority populated by Muslims today and not Christian like their former French rulers, like in Guinea, which leads me to believe that the French colonization of these territories was purely driven by mercantile ends.
And some other French and belgian colonies suffer from the same disease many former soviet and communist states suffer today; they are divided into strong ethnic and religious identities that have fought among themselves for control so long and hate each other, some of them being ridiculously small ethnic groups of 50 thousand or so, and they have to deal with that social disintegration in addition to their present poverty and lack of rule of law. Some ethnic groups have even committed atrocities against their neighbors in the name of nationalism, both in former soviet states and their satellite countries like Yugoslavia and the Balkans, the same as in Ruanda and other former colonies.
Back to former spanish colonies:
In some countries, colonization put an end to strong ethnic differences by spreading strong Christian values, a common language and culture and a certain rule of law, as it is the example of central Mexico where Aztecs, Tlaxcaltecas, Nahuatl and many other ethnic groups that previously populated the region and in engaged in endless wars among themselves before the Spanish arrived, were all converted to Catholicism and given a common language, identity and culture, they are all Mexicans now, their legendary quarrels and their ethnic differences long put to rest centuries ago and not being a social problem today. Same occurred in Peru and other former Spanish colonies that today have a national and cultural identity instead of strong ethnic identities, they are what they are today and it is thanks to Spanish colonization, otherwise they would be a bunch of small little nations with rampant ethnic nationalism like the one found in many former colonies of Africa and former soviet and communist states today.
While in some other colonies, colonial powers only deepen existing ethnic differences in an effort to divide and continue controlling their colonies, a purely mercantile mindset towards the conquered peoples as was apparently the example of French and Belgian colonial rule in Africa and some parts of Asia.
And I’d like to finish my post with some questions:
Why is it so hard for many of these former colonies to achieve freedom and the rule of law?
Why do we see ethnic divided societies killing each other instead of integrating, as it seems to be always happening in many former colonies in Africa and former soviet and communist nations?
Can we explain, either in its entirety or to a certain degree, the kind of colonization/domination their former foreign rulers inflicted upon them 30, 50 or even 200 years ago for the conditions these countries find themselves in this time and age?
I think these are valid questions.
> At some point they need to look at how they have mismanaged their country and hopefully find a way to change it from within.
No, because the world’s enablers will continue to blame it all on the World Bank, on Tariffs, on political interventionism. Anyone but The Man In The Mirror.
> Jose, that scenario was made into a very good Peter Sellers movie “The Mouse That Roared”…..where unknown Caribbean country invaded and won….
Ummmm, Bavarian, but otherwise correct. There was even a sequel, “The Mouse On The Moon”, where the country attempts a space program to get US Aid.
> the “green revolution”
Don’t worry. Al Gore has called for a newer “Green revolution”, which should restore the status quo in all ways, around the world.
> A professor from the University of Minnesota, among others, has developed an alternative set of guidelines for success in the real world.
P.J. O’Rourke did it more amusingly but, I’m sure, less academically, in Eat The Rich.
> They are far from what the North American experience was to become one day, yet they are not to be compared to what the English, Belgian, Germans and French did in Africa, Asia and parts of the Caribbean.
Part of the issue, though, may tie to a certain natural authoritarian temperament common to Africans. Someone (William Buckley? IIRC) commented when he was in Liberia or somewhere, in a theater showing Amistad, that the locals were, oddly to his lights, cheering for the ship’s captain instead of the slaves. He noted that the patron’s temperament put them in favor of authority even when it was wrongly held or used, and this, perhaps, tied to the constant problems in Africa with strongmen and generals performing a coup and Democracy left to freeze.
It takes work to maintain a true Democracy or a Republic. Even the USA has been losing sight of that.
> but more in a feudal form.
Not surprising given that feudalism was still the main national system for Euro governments when Spain got here.
> Why do we see ethnic divided societies killing each other instead of integrating,
Why are the Catholics and Protestants still fighting in Ireland? Stupidity exceeding rational norms, exacerbated by the protections of civilization for idiots (aka “Too much tiger food, Not enough tigers”).
Imperialism and colonialism may be curse words now, but I suspect that within the next couple of generations the revisionist view will be that they were actually pretty good, especially the British and the French administrations.
As someone who is familiar with Indian history, I really do have to disagree with Robert’s comment. Before extolling the virtue of those who bore the white man’s burden, it may be useful to read some of the social and economic histories of colonialism. Colonialism, at least the British variety, was based on subjugation of the local populations, by brute force and occasionally deception, and for economic profit.
I have read many conservatives who seem deeply moved by the plight of the millions of Central Asians killed on the altar of communism. It is odd that colonialism, which killed and enslaved even more appears to be enjoying a revival of respectability in some quarters.
One further thought: colonialism succeeded for a time, not because of any moral or cultural superiority, but because Europe successfully developed the technology to project military force over long distances first. European powers used this capacity to, for example, conquer (India) or influence (China) larger but militarily weaker societies. Power flowed from the barrel of a gun – the dominance of the more powerful over the less.
For much of recorded human history, Asia has had the world’s most advanced and richest societies. We may well be seeing a return to the mean after the last half-millenia of European dominance. That is why I don’t think the revisionist view will ever attain any success. Colonialism may be alive and well, but the version celebrated in future is more likely to be of the Chinese variety – as in Tibet – not that of the 16-19th century colonial powers.
veryretired has really said it all. As a geezer myself reading his comments is like watching the re-runs of an old movie–I know the plot by heart. One addition however, is that unlike the French and the Belgiques, the British didn’t “de-stool” the chiefs in their colonies, but ruled through them rather than directly–which gave some form and stability (relatively-speaking) to those post-Colonial governments as opposed to the former possessions of the French, etc. which had ruled directly (Of course one could never tell it now by looking at the likes of former Rhodesia)
Veryretired’s comments about the “strong state” or what academics call the “single-party state” are also not to be overlooked. It was thought Democracy was too “complicated” for an unprepared and unsophisticated populace, and that the single-party model was necessary as a “transition” phase to avoid unfruitful and dangerous “squabbling” in the nacent stages of the new post-Colonial states.
This “third way” between Capitalism and Communism was thought to be able to produce all the material advantages of capitalism and democracy without all the “messy” and unfocused aspects of
either–which were thought to be a hazzard to new nations with potentially disruptive tribal animosities.
Of course, as may be seen from the way history has unfolded fifty years on, what was needed was MORE democracy, not less.
As a rule, Non-European societies that were colonized by Europeans are more successful and prosperous than are similar societies that were never colonized, and the most successful and prosperous of the ex-colonies are the ones that were colonized by Britain. For example, compare China and Hong Kong, Afghanistan and India, or the USA, Canada, Australia and NZ to anywhere else.
Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s So Great About America discusses colonialism; during a book tour speech he made here he made an interesting point: his grandfather hated the English and if he were his grandfather, he thought, he would have hated them – oppressive, insulting, reacting to all the characteristics of the colonizer felt as insults by the colonial. However, two generations later, he was grateful. He looks from a Western culture perspective, his worldview & skills came out of the colonization; his language was English, which tied together India but also enabled him to reach a wider audience. And it is the language of independence.
His wasn’t an argument for colonization – he was arguing for Western culture. But it was a sense that the British had brought institutions and perspectives he found made life better, even if originally accompanied by arrogance. After all, many Western institutions assume equality (before the law, of souls) and diminish tribalism.
Colonies were chosen mostly on the basis of wealth. So one would expect them to doing better once the yoke of colonialism was removed. For example, China and India were wealthy in the past and appear to be on track to being so again – despite the effects of colonialism, not because of it. Hong Kong would not have been prosperous absent trade with the vast Chinese hinterland. Japan is another example of a very successful non-European power that was never colonized. In contrast, other than the Buddhist civilization that flourished there over a millenia ago, Afghanistan has never had the wealth of the Gangetic plains – it has always been poor and rocky. Not worth colonizing.
In any event, that isn’t much of a justification for colonialism. I doubt that we’ll welcome a Russian invasion even if Putin could somehow guarantee he’d manage the economy better than Bush did. At bottom, colonialism is an ugly thing – the clenched fist and the jackboot.
Canada, Australia, the US and NZ are indeed successful and prosperous. But they aren’t appropriate examples of societies that have been “colonized” by the European powers. I doubt most people would think of the replacement and/or extinction of the native populations, as was mostly achieved in these four countries, as “colonization” of a non-European society. More like the creation of a European colony.
But why did other countries want to trade with HK? HK has no natural resources but was blessed with British administration and law, which made possible development of a world-class economy.
Japan is an interesting case. There are parallels between its culture and Anglosphere culture. (See Alan Macfarlane links on the blogroll.)
I don’t know why you think Canada and ANZUS shouldn’t be compared to other ex-colonies. Or to put it differently, how advanced would the USA now be if it had never been colonized by Europeans?
Well, Sean F, much of what you say is undoubtedly accurate–the gilded cage and all that–but I would beg to differ you somewhat about India. True, most Indians of today much prefer to be masters of their own destiny no matter how uneven the road forward-but one could reasonably argue that without the British there would have been no road at all.
As V.S. Naipaul and others have voluablely pointed out, the British bound a thousand separate languages/dialects together with a common language, and provided relatively uncorrupted Court and Civil Service Systems and a inclusive democratic parlimentary system that
provides the framework that binds together probably the most disparate
society on Earth–without which it is probably fair to say–indeed Naipaul and others HAVE said–there would be no nation known as India in it’s present form and borders.
Seen in the above light, British colonialism may not have been what the
individual Indian “wanted,” but it may indeed have been just what India “needed”–and in retrospect was fortunate to have experienced.
And please don’t tell me about the “back to native languages” movement. Everyone in India pays PC lip service to it, even as they fight to get their children in the most exclusive English-speaking schools and sacrifice their life’s savings to hire tutors so their children can learn to properly speak the “King’s English.”
Sean F. ,
As a postscript to my above comment it should be evident that I, like Churchill, am
an unrepentant advocate of the superior merits and contributions to world civilization made by the English, England, and England’s culture–or at least through Churchill–or perhaps Lady Thatcher’s term of office.
PPS to Sean F. ,
Presently I’m putting my money on the Irish–a comment which should warm the cockles of the heart of all “Chicago
School” economists and libertarians everywhere.
Thank you Virgil for your kind remarks. I’m afraid the point I was attempting to make has gotten lost in a debate over the value of colonialism or which imperial power has a better legacy. To be blunt, I am generally disinterested in such political debates, especially with a post-modernist who apparently has absorbed every multi-cultural talking point he heard in school, and can now repeat them endlessly, even when that is not the point of the discussion.
I was hoping to discuss the intellectual context that has resulted in so many states which emerged over the past century choosing what are manifestly unproductive and unsuccessful models, and to reject the various political and social innovations which led first the English, and then the US, to world economic and military leadership.
It strikes me as counter-intuitive that ambitious people, as most leadership elites are, would reject a proven model while enthusiastically embracing variations that have inevitably led to impoverishment, mass repression and death, and military weakness and defeat.
While I can somewhat understand a young dreamer at the dawn of the 20th century believing in the socialist utopian’s claims of an attainable paradise, or the coporatist (fascist) claim that a united and homogenous volk will develop a powerful unity of national purpose which can overcome all obstacles, I find a similar naive faith in such claims decades later to be suspect.
And, from the vantage point of the 21st century, the antics of the newly emergent socialistas in Zimbabwe or Venezuela are ludicris beyond parody. It would be comical, if so many people were not suffering true repression and death, either through violence or state imposed famine.
All around the globe, in advanced as well as developing countries, the same ideological claims are being made by political, religious, social, and academic leaders that led directly to the deaths and repression of hundreds of millions of people during the 20th century. This historical record is well documented and irrefutable.
And yet, somehow, this clear cut record of devastation is waved away, denied, ignored, and explained away, while all the same ideas and programs and proposals are reiterated as if they were somehow new and different, and, this time, will bring positive, successful results.
This is the legacy, in my opinion, of a form of intellectual dishonesty and moral inversion so profound, so inimical to the well being of actual human beings, that the deaths of millions of people mean nothing compared to the pursuit of these fairy tales in the hopes of achieving some form of psychotic utopia, in which human beings are no longer human, but have become “new” and improved, formed like clay by an ideological sculptor who is above all laws or moral strictures.
The contest to determine the future course of humanity is a battle of ideas, and a test of wills. If the ideas that are taught as valid and moral are the same as those which have resulted in a string of utterly malignant states, who have excelled only in repressing their own populations and attacking their neighbors, then the future may be very dark, indeed.
If those of us who dispute this narrative, and propose a social order based on individual human rights and the rule of rational law, do not have the strength of will to perservere against the utopians, then the fate of humanity may very well be that of modeler’s clay—each life only another batch of raw material, to be shaped and molded, and disposed of, as the sculptor sees fit.
Ideas have very real consequences. That is what this is all about, not some meaningless gotcha debate about who did what to whom back in 1742.
You do have a point – modern India would not have been possible without the British. Having said that, obviously not everything the British did in India was terrible. They weren’t the Nazis. Just most of it. Like the thousands who died in the Bengal famines because the Civil Service mandarins would not release rice stores. Or the fabled Indian weavers who were forcibly put out of business so the mills of Lancashire could profit. Or just in general, the ignominy of being a second class citizen in your own country – and treated as such.
It doesn’t seem very conservative – or American – to me to preach the virtues of imperialism. This country was founded by those who died fighting it. I think they probably had a good understanding of the downsides.
I guess I feel alluded.
I can only say I am not as articulate as most are in this forum, and maybe that’s why I often resort to narrative of events to illustrate ideas I am trying to convey here, ideas that come as a result of what I read in the posts.
Sometimes I feel my narrative gets on my way because it communicates something else and it is also seen as if I am trying to lecture in history, far from that.
I wrote: “I suspect that within the next couple of generations the revisionist view will be that they were actually pretty good”
Sean F wrote: “I really do have to disagree with Robert’s comment. Before extolling the virtue of those who bore the white man’s burden, it may be useful to read some of the social and economic histories of colonialism.”
Sean is talking about the words I can find in print now. I was talking about what may be written in the future.
The unique element of places like Guinea is that they HAD institutions and services that once functioned (like railroads, and roads, and electricity) and these have now utterly collapsed.
It is true that these institutions and services were forced upon them and probably run and selected in a manner that was not optimized for them; but now unfortunately they realize that “plan B” is… nothing.
I don’t see a parallel in the other colonies that you mention because they didn’t slide into absolute decrepitude. We are moving from a “what” question to a “why” question. As a blogger I stick to the “what” questions.
Specifically, I am asking:
– should someone re-appraise the relative benefits of colonialism (services, not chaos, some level of investment) with the ACTUAL events that occurred after they left (brutal dictatorship, utter ruin of infrastructure, abject poverty)
– In addition, when do we stop blaming all of the ills of the past on colonialism, and not on those that have run these nations for five decades?
All this said, clearly no one is going back for more colonialism. And whether or not colonialism was a “good idea” is another question, entirely.
The simple answer to everyone here who wonders why everything went south in the former colonies in Africa and are asking “how come?” is the combined lures of Utopian nirvanas that do not include the white man and pure lust for power and material greed rationalized by ego-driven narcissistic savior complexes. Oh, there are indeed other factors–they’re always are–but that’s the nub of it. Democracies are messy–and saviors of nations don’t have time for messy–just ask Treasury Secretary Paulson.
sorry-should have been “are…lures”; or “is”……lure”–take your pick–grammarians differ.
Wouldn’t it be nice to think that the ex-British colonies have fared differently because the British did try to leave fairly solid democratic political and judicial structures, which lasted for a while even in Nigeria. Sadly, however, it did not work out.
The first African colony to become independent was the Gold Coast, now Ghana, in 1957. At the time it was fairly well off and set for a good future. The country international pundits were worried about was South Korea – poor, no resources, reluctant to try socialism. Fifty years on the two cannot be compared. We are still worried about South Korea but that is becuse they are now significant competitors. Ghana is doing OK by African standards. That’s the best one can say. Oh and there are some free market economists and analysts there who are trying to spread their ideas, pointing out that the country is now considerably worse off than it was at the time of independence. So there is hope. As to why it all went so badly wrong, there were many reasons, too many to set down in what is already too long as a response posting.
“..I have read many conservatives who seem deeply moved by the plight of the millions of Central Asians killed on the altar of communism. It is odd that colonialism, which killed and enslaved even more appears to be enjoying a revival of respectability in some quarters….”
I’m not sure this is accurate. I have read estimates of the Stalin brand of communism alone killed 60 million people..if that is the case, I’m not sure that could be true that western colonization killed more than that…or I guess it *could* be true, but I would think it would be hard to prove very accurately.
Does anyone have accredited numbers on these things?
Chris, you are underestimating the victims of communism. The 60 million is for the Soviet Union alone. To that we must add China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Eastern Europe, several African countries, Cuba. Western colonialism did not come anywhere near it, even if you include the slave trade. Then again, if you do include the slave trade, you must look at the Arab slave empires as well.
I’ve read Islam’s death tool is 270 Million….. of that 120M are black africans due in part to the Arab-established slave trade.
No I realize communism has a much higher death toll..I was simply stating one contributing regime(Stalin) was 60M from what I remembered….
Chris Says: I think the 60 million figure was first broached (and much challenged by the left at the time) by Robert Conquest in his 1968 work, “The Great Terror.”
Chris Says: I was wrong in my memory
about the figure Conquest gives. The most definitive book on the subject is probably one by a group of French academics called “The Black Book of Communism.” If you google WIKI for it and go down to “Criticisms” and then click on footnote#2 you will find the most complete breakout and comparison from all sources that I’ve ever seen–so in this case, at least, WIKI seems to be good for something.
In an interview with Christopher Hitchens Conquest told the story of how he found himself at a roundtable with Russian historians (must have been under Yeltsin) and in the unexpected position of being told that he had underestimated the number of victims. Here’s a link to a posting I did at the time:
I’m not sure that comparing relative death tolls is useful in establishing the relative evil involved.
Having said, to take a trivial example, a minor colonial power like Belgium was responsible for the deaths of between 2 and 15 million Africans over a 10 year period in the 1880’s. See, e.g, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leopold_II_of_Belgium.
That was one power, one continent, one decade.
Leaving aside numbers, let’s talk about, say, the Tasmanian holocaust. During the colonial period the Tasmanian aborigines fought to defend their land, so killing them was not considered illegal and not prosecuted. It would be nice to ask them if they are grateful for the “progress” colonialism provided, but it is impossible to do so because they were hunted to death. Like animals. All of them.
I find it hard to reconcile the idea of the dignity of every single human life, including those yet to be born, with any support, however minimal, for the idea of imperialism. Unless the assumption is that those lives are, somehow, worth less, or that those people deserved what happened to them. Whatever ye do unto the least of my brethren … or is that only for “us” but not for “them”?
I am not sure we can talk in terms of “western colonialism”, as if only western civilizations conquered and colonized the world, we tend to forget that just about every thriving civilization practiced colonialism, The Ottoman empire still had colonies at the beginning of 19th century, and they were very not famous for being the nicest guys in the block.
Long before the Europeans arrived to Africa, America, Asia or Oceania, local empires invaded, conquered, enslaved and massively killed their neighboring societies. In America, the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans were all sanguinary empires performing human sacrifices, conquering, enslaving communities, and dominating based on military powers.
Similarly, India was a parchment of competing local empires dominating by force smaller, weaker societies, enslaving them as well. Massive killings were normal in each continent two hundred years ago.
To me, what is important about western nations is that they eventually developed democratic societies that evolved into what they are today. Nowhere else have men and women reached this levels of advancement in freedom and human rights but in western societies.
And yes. Yes there are people who celebrate that it was western civilizations that conquered and spread Christian and western values throughout the world. I cannot imagine what the Americas would be had the Ottoman empire discovered and conquered America.
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