Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Give Me Some Facts!

The last post exhibited the very characteristics it was criticizing, and in their most extreme form: it said nothing about the historical content of the article; it was concerned only with a discussion about language. So what else did Linda Colley have to say?

The second part of the review, where she concentrates on James Belich’s book, Replenishing the Earth, is the most interesting. It summarizes its key themes, to show the continuing links between Britain and America during the 19th century, the contribution of British troops and money to the expansion of both America and the dominions; and the importance of emigration, for allowing the US to move westwards, and for raising living standards in the home country, and acting as a ‘safety valve for social, economic, demographic and even political pressures.’

…the US operated for much of the 1800s as a covert British dominion, part of the informal empire.

American manifest destiny was partially floated on British investment. Baring helped the US government purchase Greater Louisiana from the French in 1803, while ‘British money was crucial in the construction of American canals in the 1830s, of railways from the late 1840s, and the rapid development of mining industries and cattle ranching thereafter.’

There are a few paragraphs on how the huge migrations affected people’s identities, and their sense of themselves, before looking at some of the consequences of that investment of troops and money overseas:

This relentless outflow of public (and private) capital has to be borne in mind when considering… government expenditure and [contemporary] fiscal theories. As remains the case today, deflecting resources to overseas projects and adventures had sometimes damaging repercussions for policy options at home. By the mid 19th century Hilton notes, Britain’s educational expenditure had fallen well behind that of many other European states.

The major change in the 20th century was the reversal of these population movements, as the empire collapsed. However, the foreign adventures continue; for now Britain is a dominion of the US, part of its informal empire; and its massive projection of power.

And the consequences for the rest of the world? Bricmont, discussing this very question, contrasting our imperial past to now, and showing there are no easy answers in dealing with violence and oppression in today’s Third World (his particular target is Humanitarian Intervention), puts it well:

Back in the days when Europeans “had too many children” it was easy to send them off to populate the rest of the world. Some even saw this as away to avoid social unrest and revolutions, whose repression would obviously have entailed “human rights violations” comparable to those observed in numerous poor countries today. But when the population explosion in the Third World provokes crises, where can they export their excess population? To our countries, of course, but only to do whatever hard labour is needed at the bottom of the social scale.

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