British imperialism

Disaster Western Style

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Review of 'Unpeople', Mark Curtis, Vintage £7.99

Under Tony Blair, the Labour government's rationale and decisive role in realising the terrible invasion and occupation of Iraq can often prove difficult to comprehend. In this context, Mark Curtis's book Unpeople is an important resource for Britain's anti-war movement because it presents us with a useful exploration of the real motivations behind Britain's foreign policy, with reference to the invasion of Iraq and a number of important historical interventions that British governments have made in the post-war era.

A Deadly Action Replay

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Events in Iraq today are familiar, argues Michael Paris, if we look at the country's past.

At dawn the bombers came. As the first RAF machines came in low over the hills surrounding the village of Rowanduz, the people left their homes and ran for the nearby hills, hoping to escape the "birds of death" by hiding among the gullies and caves. The village was partially destroyed in the raid, but two hours later, just as the villagers had returned to what was left of their homes, a second wave of bombers arrived and completed the destruction. Many of the houses had been completely destroyed, but all had suffered major damage, and several villagers had been killed or wounded.

The Lie of Benevolence

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Review of 'Web of Deceit', Mark Curtis,
Vintage £7.99

Three years after the end of the Second World War, Britain declared an 'emergency' in its colony of Malaya and began a 12-year war to defeat mainly marginalised Chinese insurgents. Declassified files have revealed that Britain resorted to very brutal measures in the war, including widespread aerial bombing, which later became commonplace during the Vietnam War. Britain also set up a 'resettlement' programme, using draconian police measures to move hundreds of thousands of people.

Imperialism - Remaking the Middle East

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The history of British and French rule in the Middle East makes uncomfortable reading for Iraq's new conquerors.

'I'll never engage in creating kings again: it's too great a strain.' As they struggle to impose a compliant government on Iraq, Pentagon officials may well reflect on the words that Gertrude Bell wrote in 1921. Bell, an adviser to the British High Commissioner in Baghdad, played an important role in creating a new colonial order for the Middle East. Out of the debris of the Ottoman Empire, the imperialists of an earlier generation fashioned a network of client kingdoms under British and French tutelage.

Countering Captain Correlli

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Review of 'British Intervention and the Greek Revolution', John Newsinger, Socialist Historians Society £2.75

The Second World War was fought to make the world safe for freedom and democracy. That is the claim made today, just as it was at the beginning of 1946 when the regiment I was in was posted to Greece. The war being over, troops in the Mediterranean were expected to be sent home and demobilised. They were bemused--but not amused--to find themselves being used to keep in power a right wing government of black marketeers and Nazi collaborators. At the same time they were used in the relentless persecution of the Resistance.

Bombs Away

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Andy Newman explains the strategic importance of Britain to the US war machine.

In 1999 I was working in a small engineering factory about six miles east of RAF Fairford, and we used to watch the American B-52s flying overhead on their way to Serbia. It was chilling to know that three hours later they would be raining death from the skies. I later spoke to a Serbian refugee whose district had been bombed by these same planes. I wrote down at the time what she said: 'There were no shelters. When the bombing started I used to get my child to go to the cellar, but it would have given no protection.

Capital and Conquest

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Chris Bambery recalls the brutal history of the British empire.

On 2 September 1898 at a place called Omdurman, outside the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, 20,000 British and Egyptian troops under the command of Lord Kitchener faced 52,000 lightly armed cavalry and infantry. The latter proceeded to charge Kitchener's lines. The new machine-gun created by the American Hiram Maxim opened fire and some 10,000 Sudanese were left dead on the battlefield. There were fewer than 400 casualties on the imperial side, with just 48 British soldiers being killed.

On the Eagle's Wing

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The British ruling class is hitched to the US war machine--a sign of Britain's long-term decline.

Coming on the heels of Kosovo and Afghanistan, the war with Iraq, if it takes place, will be the third Anglo-American military adventure that Tony Blair has backed since his election in 1997. The 'Daily Mirror''s headlines denouncing 'poodle' Blair have captured the extent of popular revulsion at Blair's enthusiasm for US warmongering. Yet Blair's actions are far from a novelty for a British prime minister. What is striking about foreign policy under Blair is not the break with the past but its fundamental continuity with the whole postwar period.

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