Perfide Albion

EDITORIAL, 8 Mar 2011

#154 | Johan Galtung

As the Arab revolt broadens and deepens, the roles of a global and a regional empire, USA and Israel, will surface increasingly. There will be more about that next week; here the focus is on the third one of the kind, the United Kingdom, or simply England, Albion, known for its perfidy, Lord Palmerston’s famous “no permanent friends, no permanent enemies; permanent interests”.  John Bull = John Bully?

That empire had model character, and Tony Blair did his best to revive Albion by serving an Eagle across the Atlantic:

* misled the Parliament to believe the war was legal;

* lied about WMD, weapons of mass destruction;

* pretended that secret intelligence could be trusted;

* exaggerated the threat from Iraq and Saddam Hussein:

* concealed his agreements with Bush to go to war;

* obstructed the work of the UN WMD inspectors;

* inconsiderate warfare against Iraq’s civilian population;

* misled the people to believe the war increased the security.

(extracted from the Chilcot hearings, Klassekampen 22-01-11).

A person like that–with a US co-defendant or two–belongs in the International Criminal Court, beyond its use for Yugoslavs and Africans.  Instead, he operates from the top floor of the American Colony in Jerusalem, to bribe West Bank Palestinians into lucrative private sector deals.

In the Security Council both USA and UK are protected by direct veto, and Israel for its brutal warfare against the Gaza population indirectly.  The three together managed to kill the Gaza report by Justice Julius Goldstone (Naomi Klein, “Goldstone’s Legacy for Israel”, The Nation 14-02-2011); a report that may serve as a model for US-UK atrocities.

The arch-imperialist Sir Winston S Churchill–what is good for the Empire is also good for me–looms high.  In 1953 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  The Nobel statutes states that literature should not only cover belles-lettres, “but also other writings that in form and content show literary value”.  The 1902 prize was given to Theodor Mommsen for The History of Rome, and in 1953 to Churchill for The Island Race–an inspired macro-history of the island whose history he shaped, and wrote. As, indeed, World War II.

The two presentation addresses, by C. D. Af Wirsén and S. Siwerts are themselves small highly professional masterpieces.  Of course there are controversies–like an omitted Henrik Ibsen–but happily Alfred Nobel did not entrust the task of appraising literature to five amateurs from the Swedish parliament like he did for peace from the parliament of Norway, even a client of the only surviving global empire.

Churchill concludes his The Island Race at the end of the 19th century, “Nearly a hundred years of peace and progress had carried Britain to the leadership of the world.  She had striven repeatedly for the maintenance of peace—The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope”.

In 1911 a parliamentary commission compared the economies of India and Britain, found them quite similar in early 19th century and vastly different a century later.  Britain was far ahead, India behind with deepening gaps.  What had benefitted one had not benefitted the other.  But that mattered little to Churchill; his concern was to be #1, the rallying cry in the USA right now, competing with other countries disregarding exploitation within and between. Like Harvard professors Ferguson and Nye on the CNN GPS program 6 March 2011.

In a recent book by Madhusree Mukherjee, Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II (Basic Books, 2010) the author holds Churchill responsible for not authorizing food shipped from Australia to save the three million who perished in the 1943 Bengali famine.  Churchill hated Gandhi, a “naked fakir”, a “thoroughly evil force, hostile to us in every regard” and hoped he would starve himself to death by fasting.  About Hindus he had this to say: “the beastliest people in the world next to the Germans”.

The Germans.  The “splendid decision” by the newly appointed Prime Minister to bomb, killing civilians, in Westphalia in Germany, using the retribution against Coventry and London to stimulate the British will to fight.  And the massive bombing of Germany, after his gas attack by air in Iraq, 1921, against rebels who threatened civilization. 600,000 killed in Germany; women, children, old.   Were British and German warfare different?  Democracy differs from dictatorship and Churchill from Hitler, but warfare? Is democracy a license to kill for victory at any price (Churchill); total war?

To Churchill Hitler was a monster, filled with envy, shameful, a carrier of hatred; to Hitler Churchill was insane, putting the world afire (Klaus Wiegrepe, “Sieg um jeden Preis”, Der Spiegel, 3/3/2010).  A world war.  And a personal duel.

The Royal Air Force was superior, so was the Wehrmacht. But Japan fell into the trap of attacking the USA, and Germany stupidly attacked the Soviet Union.  The stronger won after untold suffering–Russians, Jews, Roma, Germans, others.  And Churchill lost what he coveted most, the Empire.  World War II was only a battle in the war for world power.  He was a genius like Napoleon, in the sense of winning battles and losing the war.

The real war is fought by real people for livelihood, freedom, dignity.  The heroe(ine)s are millions and unknown, not individuals with inflated egos.  Their future is knowable.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 8 Mar 2011.

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4 Responses to “Perfide Albion”

  1. I strongly feel that the world needs peace!

  2. Jide Jimoh says:

    Albion perfidy,indeed.

  3. Jake Lynch says:

    This is what accounts for a portion of Britain’s ‘deep culture’ – in Johan’s important concept.
    The British legacy to the world can be summed up in three distinctive pursuits – mixing drinks, playing team games and fighting over indefensible borders.
    Wherever there is trouble in the world, there is a fair chance that the legacy of British colonialism has a role to play somewhere in the background.
    So the Brits are chronically disinclined to delve into it, instead conceiving of the world around them as a drama that began only when it came to their attention.
    Blair is a neo-conservative outrider who used his testimony to the Chilcot Inquiry to beat the drum for war on Iran.
    He was once briefed, it is said, by Foreign Office staff, on the 1953 coup that unseated the Mossadegh government in Tehran, with the British and the CIA the prime movers. He had never heard of it.