The firebombing of Dresden was a monstrous crime perpetrated by the US and Britain in the closing days of World War II. It was a city of no military significance, and the bombing had no impact on German military capability. So Germans are naturally offended to see a statue of “Bomber” Harris, the British officer behind the attack, on display in London since 1992.
I am reading Tragedy and Hope, a 1300 page tome by American historian Carroll Quigley. My winter is set. I have been a little put off by his pro-British tone, as if the ruling class of aristocrats were merely bumbling missionaries. In India, for example, he is highly critical of Gandhi, and that is objective to a degree. The man was no saint. But he ridicules the imagery of the spinning wheel and the wearing of Indian-made clothing as an affectation. He does this without mentioning that Indians were not allowed to manufacture clothing under British rule, but only to export raw materials to the mother country. That was Gandhi’s point, and Quigley, a scholar of impeccable credentials, cannot have missed it.
Then I ran across this (page 171):
In Amritsar an Englishwoman was attacked in the street (April 10, 1919). The Congress Party leaders in the city were deported, and Brigadier R. E. H. Dyer was sent to restore order. … He fired 1,650 bullets into a dense crowd packed in a square with inadequate exits, inflicting 1,516 casualties, of which 379 met death. … Leaving the wounded untended on the ground, General Dyer returned to his office and issued an order that all Indians passing through the street where the Englishwoman had been assaulted a week before must do so by crawling on hands and knees.
British investigators refused to condemn Dyer other than to say he committed an error of judgment. The House of Lords refused to censure him, but he was forced to resign, at which point he was presented with a £20,000 purse.
This sort of treatment of colonial subjects is not unusual, though this particular incident stands out for sheer barbarity. Further, it is not just the Brits, but all colonial masters. Just as the Romans placed the skulls of slaves on stakes on the roads leading up to the city, so too did the Brits find it necessary to deliver a stern message to their subjects. Colonies are not there for fun, and masters are not missionaries. It’s a brutal business to extract wealth from these places.
What’s annoying is the hubris of the imperialist mindset, that it’s all for their good, that they are really sacrificing themselves for the good of others.
I’ve got hundreds of pages to go, and Quigley is remarkably broad and insightful. But I’m getting just a taste of hubris, but if that’s the price of admission, it is worth it.