All Colonial Wars Are Alike
by Eric Margolis: Obama
to GOP Crusaders: Slow Down
News of the
massacre by an American soldier of 16 Afghan civilians, mostly women
and children, made me reflect on the 14 wars and colonial conflicts
Iíve covered. Horrible but not surprising.
what I call the Iron Laws of Colonial Warfare:
- Pick a good
pretext to invade a country that you covet. France invaded Algeria
in 1830 after its ruler supposedly flicked the French ambassador
with a fly whisk. During the 19th century colonial
era, Britain and France provoked incidents, then claimed their
invasions were to bring the light of Christianity and western
civilization to Africa and Asia. There was the notorious Gulf
of Tonkin incident that sparked the Vietnam War. During the Bush
era, spreading democracy was the claim.
pretext du jour is humanitarian rescue missions. Oil-rich Libya
was a prime example. Britain, the US and France stirred up a
revolt in Benghazi, then intervened militarily.
et Imperia (divide and conquer) as the Romans said. Pick a disgruntled
or rebellious minority, favor them against the majority, making
them your allies in colonial rule. Good examples: Tajiks and
Uzbeks in Afghanistan who first backed the Soviets, then Americans,
against majority Pashtun. Tamils in Sri Lanka, favored by the
British Empire; or Christian Ambonese in Indonesia used by the
Dutch to enforce their brutal rule.
native mercenary army. Imperial Britain used Gurkhas and sepoys
in India; the French used Senagalese troops in North Africa;
the US employed tens of thousands of mercenaries in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Britainís Indian Raj was made possible by scores
of cooperative princes. The Soviets ruled Eastern Europe through
local communists and their security forces.
all those opposing foreign rule as: religious fanatics; terrorists;
savages; bandits (favorite Soviet term). Western media dutifully
denounced independence leaders as "mad mullahs;" "arch-terrorists;",
"Hitler on the Nile (Nasser)" or todayís favorite,
"Hitler in Tehran."
your occupation army remains, the more it will first despise,
then hate the local population, regarding them as savage and
punishments of civilians by angry, frustrated, fearful foreign
troops will become the norm. Atrocities will increase. Think
of Vietnamís Mai-Lai massacre, the infamous Amritsar massacre
in India, Indiaís repression in rebellious Kashmir, Japanís
savagery in China, the US marines at Falluja, or Russians in
occupations increasingly rely on brutality and intimidation,
then torture and secret executions. Franceís Army was deeply
corrupted by its crimes in Algeria and lost its honor. The United
States is repeating this terrible precedent in Afghanistan.
Italy used concentration camps and poison gas to subdue Libya
in the 1930ís. The USSR killed 1.5 million Afghans. All colonial
wars are dirty.
troops find themselves surrounded by a hostile civilian population,
under attack from all sides, betrayed even by their nominal
native allies. They become increasingly brutalized, vindictive
and prone to drug use and rape. Surprise attacks, booby traps,
mines and other explosive devices cause widespread fear and
now suffers a lethal heroin epidemic from its 10-year occupation
of Afghanistan. The use of torture in Iraq and Afghanistan is
spreading back to US law enforcement. Many former soldiers who
served in these third world neo-colonial wars return home to
join police forces and government agencies.
of betrayal dominates. The Sovietís supposed local Communist
Afghan allies often kept secret links with the mujahidin resistance
and warned them of impending Red Army operations. Today, many
members of the US-installed Afghan government secretly cooperate
with Taliban and its allies.
occupation and garrisons inevitably spread corruption, prostitution,
junk culture, and venereal disease. The foreign troops increasingly
keep to fortified bases, sallying out to take reprisals and
show the flag. The notion that 20-year old soldiers from the
bottom of western society can win hearts and minds of Afghan
tribesmen is one of the most ludicrous myths of our times.
armies quickly transform themselves into colonial forces: lightly
armed, mobile police units. When a real war comes, they are
not ready to fight a modern opponent. In 1914, Britainís imperial
forces were slaughtered in the trenches of Flanders. The US
has reconfigured its army for colonial warfare. But its next
war may be with China or North Korea.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2012 Eric Margolis
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