Quotulatiousness

July 2, 2015

QotD: “Feminist” and “Anti-Feminist” novels of the 1970s

Filed under: Britain,Media,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

While other literary novelists tended to steer clear of such contentious territory, the writers of cheap thrillers had no such inhibitions. In Pamela Kettle’s hilariously bad The Day of the Women (1969), a feminist political party, IMPULSE, wins the 1975 general election and inaugurates a reign of terror. “A female Prime Minister … human stud farms run by women … mass rallies at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the day of the dominating woman”: all were signs of “high-heeled fascism, a dictatorship of unbridled power lust”, according to the paperback blurb. The master of this kind of thing, though, was the pulp science-fiction writer Edmund Cooper, whose views on women’s liberation were full-bodies, to say the least. In an interview with Science Fiction Monthly in 1975, he commented that men were right to be suspicious of high-flying career women, because “most women are going to get themselves impregnated and piss off shortly after they’ve mastered the job and got themselves a decent salary”. He was in favour of “equal competition”, though, because then “they’ll see that they can’t make it. We have had free education in this country for a great many years, but where are the good female mathematicians? Where are the good female scientists? Where are the female Beethovens? They’ve gone back home to wash the dishes and produce children.”

These views shone through in his books: in Five to Twelve (1968), for example, twenty-first-century Britain is run entirely by women, with men reduced to “chattels”, not only few in number but physically dwarfed by their Amazonian mistresses. This terrible situation, we discover, is all down to the Pill, which liberated women from their own biology and made them “both in the literal and in the metaphorical sense, impregnable”. One man, a “troubador” with the bizarre name of Dion Quern, tries to resist, but, like Orwell’s Winston Smith, he meets a tragic conclusion. In Who Needs Men?, meanwhile, twenty-fifth-century Britain is again dominated by women, lesbian orgies are all the rage and Nelson’s Column has been renamed Germaine’s Needle. The plot follows the adventures of Rura Alexandra, “Madam Exterminator”, who is leading the effort to wipe out the last men hiding in the Scottish Highlands. But even she is vulnerable to the most dangerous weapon of all — love — as she falls for her opponent, Diarmid MacDiarmid, “the last remaining rebel chieftain”.

Dominic Sandbrook, State of Emergency — The way we were: Britain 1970-1974, 2010.

July 1, 2015

Remembering Patrick Macnee … I mean, of course, John Steed

Filed under: Britain,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Mark Steyn on the (not-technically) original Avengers star:

But for a while Americans liked The Avengers, and it lingered in the memory so warmly that, three decades later, Hollywood opted to do a big-screen, big-budget remake. Patrick Macnee, the original John Steed, sportingly agreed to do the usual cameo — in this case, as a ministry bureaucrat rendered invisible in some research mishap and now consigned to a cramped office in a Whitehall basement. As I say, he was invisible, so we heard Macnee’s affable drawl (he had a smile in his voice, even when beating up the bad guys), but the audience never saw him, which was probably just as well — because, if they did, they’d remember the sheer affability of Macnee’s Steed. He was never a conventionally handsome leading man — he had a bit of a dumplingy face — but he brought a bonhomous ease to the role of the unflappable secret agent: the bowler, the brollies, the buttonholes and the Bollinger seemed like natural extensions of his charm; you can understand why groovy birds like Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson would dig such an ostensibly squaresville cat.

He wasn’t supposed to be the star. The Avengers began in 1961 with Ian Hendry as a mystery-solving doctor David Keel. Macnee returned to England from an indifferent theatrical career in Canada to play the role of Dr Keel’s assistant “John Steed”. But then the star departed, and Steed found himself carrying the show with a succession of glamorous gal sidekicks — Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale, Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, Linda Thorson as Tara King. They were very literal sidekicks in that they kicked to the side, being masters — or mistresses — of martial arts, doing most of the heavy lifting while Steed occasionally boinked someone over the head with his bowler. Many years ago, Dame Diana told me “Emma Peel” came from “M Appeal”, as in “Man Appeal”. But Steed always called her “Mrs Peel”, just as he called her predecessor “Mrs Gale”, because he was a gentleman. And the ladies always called him “Steed” because they were one of the boys, as in that English public-school thing whereby grown-up chaps who know each other well address each other by their surnames (“I say, Holmes!” “Yes, Watson…”).

The Avengers was created by Sydney Newman, the greatest of all Canadian TV producers (he also inaugurated Dr Who), but hit its high-water mark under Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell. In the early days, they didn’t have a lot of money, but they spent it wisely. The difference between the two principals was defined in what they wore and what they drove: Steed favored a vintage Rolls or Bentley, the ladies the latest convertible sports car. After seeing Mrs Peel drive one, my dad bought a Lotus Elan — a beautiful ride with a fiberglass body that crumpled to dust when a truck brushed us ever so lightly on the Route National 7 in France. The ladies wore fab gear from Carnaby Street, while Macnee, ditching the trenchcoats he’d worn in the first series, opted for a slightly heightened version of an English gent’s get-up that he designed with help from Pierre Cardin. Laurie Johnson wrote one of the best telly-spy theme-tunes and the opening titles are pure style: Mrs Peel shooting the cork off the champagne bottle, Steed’s unsheathed sword-stick swiping a carnation and sending it flying through the air for Mrs Peel to put in his buttonhole.

June 30, 2015

QotD: The three classes of books

Filed under: Britain,History,Humour,Media,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Books, I fancy, may be conveniently divided into three classes:

  1. Books to read, such as Cicero’s Letters, Suetonius, Vasari’s Lives of the Painters, the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, Sir John Mandeville, Marco Polo, St Simon’s Memoirs, Mommsen, and (till we get a better one) Grote’s History of Greece.
  2. Books to re-read, such as Plato and Keats: in the sphere of poetry, the masters not the minstrels; in the sphere of philosophy, the seers not the savants.
  3. Books not to read at all, such as Thomson’s Seasons, Rogers’s Italy, Paley’s Evidences, all the Fathers except St Augustine, all John Stuart Mill except the Essay on Liberty, all Voltaire’s plays without any exception, Butler’s Analogy, Grant’s Aristotle, Hume’s England, Lewes’s History of Philosophy, all argumentative books and all books that try to prove anything.

The third class is by far the most important. To tell people what to read is, as a rule, either useless or harmful; for the appreciation of literature is a question of temperament not of teaching; to Parnassus there is no primer and nothing that one can learn is ever worth learning. But to tell people what not to read is a very different matter, and I venture to recommend it as a mission to the University Extension Scheme.

Indeed, it is one that is eminently needed in this age of ours, an age that reads so much that it has no time to admire, and writes so much that it has no time to think. Whoever will select out of the chaos of our modern curricula “The Worst Hundred Books,” and publish a list of them, will confer on the rising generation a real and lasting benefit.

Oscar Wilde, “To the Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, 1886-02-08.

June 26, 2015

QotD: The legacy of the Church of England

Filed under: Britain,History,Quotations,Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

As an atheist in good standing, I go to meetings every week, I’m suppose to scoff and keep directing my fire at something more vital to the modern world than the Anglican Church. Which would be pretty much everything at this point.

The Anglican Church, however, isn’t just another Christian sect, it is the official sect of the United Kingdom. Justin Welby, in theory, reports to God and the Queen. That’s a pretty posh set of bosses. Despite it’s compromised beginnings the C of E has been one of those bulwarks of English life that made England what it was. You can mock its theology, you can criticize its history yet, in its own remarkable way, it has basically worked. The manners and mores of the English speaking people have been profoundly influenced by the teachings of this church. Laugh if you want, but you’re laughing at one of the unacknowledged wellsprings of the Anglosphere.

This is deep culture stuff. Beneath the Rule of Law, Free Markets and Parliament stuff is manners and mores. It’s hard to explain really. The cadences of the language, the body language of the people and the basic decency of its public life. It’s impossible to imagine that somewhere, behind all of that, there is not some country vicar going about his business in an earnest fashion. There are thousands of Christian sects. This one helped established the culture of the modern world in a way unlike any other. Attention must be paid.

Richard Anderson, “Put A Hat On It”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-07-16.

June 24, 2015

Nathan Rothschild did as much to defeat Napoleon as Wellington

Filed under: Britain,Economics,Europe,History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Matt Ridley decries his own taste in reading (too many cavalry charges and panzer tanks) and declares that we should honour the man who propped up the Duke of Wellington financially for making Wellington’s battlefield and diplomatic efforts meaningful:

Galloping bravely against an enemy, in however good a cause, is not the chief way the world is improved and enriched. The worship of courage as a pre-eminent virtue, which Hollywood shares with Homer, is oddly inappropriate today — a distant echo of a time when revenge and power, not justice and commerce, were the best guarantee of your security. Achilles, Lancelot and Bonaparte were thugs.

We admire achievements in war, a negative-sum game in which people get hurt on both sides, more than we do those in commerce, where both sides win.

The Rothschild skill in trade did at least as much to bring down Napoleon as the Wellesley skill in tactics. Throughout the war Nathan Rothschild shipped bullion to Wellington wherever he was, financing not just Britain’s war effort but also that of its allies, almost single-handedly. He won’t get much mention this week.

So I ought to prefer books about business, not bravery, because boring, bourgeois prudence gave us peace, plenty and prosperity. It was people who bought low and sold high, who risked capital, set up shop, saved for investment, did deals, improved gadgets and created jobs — it was they who raised living standards by ten or twentyfold in two centuries, and got rid of most child mortality and hunger. Though they do not risk their lives, they are also heroes, yet we have always looked down our noses at them. When did you last see an admirable businessman portrayed in a movie?

Dealing is always better than stealing, even from your enemies. It’s better than praying and preaching, the clerical virtues, which do little to fill bellies. It’s better than self-reliance, the peasant virtue, which is another word for poverty. As the economic historian Deirdre McCloskey put it in her book The Bourgeois Virtues: “The aristocratic virtues elevate an I. The Christian/peasant virtues elevate a Thou. The priestly virtues elevate an It. The bourgeois virtues speak instead of We”.

June 22, 2015

“Because economic growth is a dead end. The greens present the only way out”

Filed under: Britain,Environment,Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

J.R. Ireland pokes fun at the UK Green Party manifesto for the last general election:

All around the world our cultures might be different, our languages might be different, and we may think differently and act differently, but there is one fact which is true in every country on the face of planet Earth: The local Green Party will always be completely and irredeemably insane. From Australian pundit Tim Blair I’ve been made aware of the manifesto for the United Kingdom Green Party, a ludicrous amalgamation of wishful thinking, happy talk, and a total unwillingness to consider the unintended consequences of their proposed policies. From the absolutely bugfuck bonkers Youth Manifesto:

    Because economic growth is a dead end. The greens present the only way out.

Vote Green because they’re the only party courageous enough to promise voters that they will end economic growth. If there’s one way to win elections, it’s to tell the good people of Britain that you promise them an eternity of poverty and absolutely guarantee they will never get any richer.

Furthermore:

    We would introduce the right to vote at 16 because we believe that young people should have a say, as proven by the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014.

Indeed. Who wouldn’t want to have their country governed by the preferred candidates of middle teenagers? Why, the average 16 year old is so incredibly knowledgeable about the world and completely understands such complex topics as economics, immigration, and that hot chick Kristy’s red panties that he accidentally saw when she was uncrossing her legs in homeroom. With those sorts of brilliant minds choosing the leaders of the future, what could possibly go wrong?

[…]

But the real crazy, the high-end crazy, the crazy with a ribbon on top was saved not for their youth manifesto but for the manifesto allegedly meant for the big boys and girls who have hit puberty biologically, even if they never quite made it intellectually. The Green Party, you see, promises to give you infinite happiness without any negative consequences whatsoever:

    Imagine having a secure, fulfilling and decently paid job, knowing that you are working to live and not living to work. Imagine coming home to an affordable flat or house, and being valued for your contribution and character, not for how much you earn. Imagine knowing that you and your friends are part of an economy that works with the planet rather than against it. Imagine food banks going out of business. Imagine the end of poverty and deprivation. The key to all this is to put the economy at the service of people and planet rather than the other way round. That’s what the Green Party will do.

Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for and no religion too.

Indeed. Now if only John Lennon lyrics were a governing philosophy, by Jove the Greens might be onto something! Unfortunately for the Green Party, our actions often have consequences we could not have foreseen and, unsurprisingly, if you declare war on business with massive taxes, anti-trade legislation and the nationalization of banks and the housing industry, it’s awfully difficult to ‘end poverty and deprivation’ since you’ve completely eliminated the way by which people have the opportunity to lift themselves up. But don’t worry — the Greens will just sprinkle some fairy dust around and negative consequences will magically be done away with! Supply and demand is simply a filthy conspiracy perpetuated by the bourgeoisie!

June 17, 2015

Bernard Cornwell talks about his recent book on Waterloo

Filed under: Britain,Europe,History,Media,Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Novelist Bernard Cornwell wrote a history of the battle of Waterloo and talks to John J. Miller about the book and the battle it describes here.

Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell

Africa: Zulu Empire IV – Last Stands and Changing Fortunes – Extra History

Filed under: Africa,Britain,History,Military — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 6 Jun 2015

BONUS! Learn about the Boer Wars and what happened in South Africa during World War I thanks to our friends at the Great War Channel!
THE GREAT WAR Special: http://bit.ly/1HQxP9x

Lord Chelmsford, the British officer who commanded during the Anglo-Zulu War, vastly underestimated the power and aggression of the Zulu people. He split his army into three separate columns and left one of them stationed at Isandlwana while he searched for Zulu armies on the field. Meanwhile 20,000 Zulus were already flanking his force, but because Lord Chelmsford had not even ordered them to fortify the camp, the Zulu force swept through the ranks and destroyed the British army at Isandlwana. A small group of survivors fled to the hospital at Rorke’s Drift where officer James Dalton organized a desperate defense. Cetshwayo’s half-brother, ignoring orders to halt his pursuit, stormed the hospital with his small force and lost disastrously. Despite this, the main Zulu army continued to hand defeats to the British army until finally the British government stepped in to reinforce them with artillery and extra soldiers. Finally, Great Britain succeeded in capturing both the Zulu capitol at Ulundi and King Cetshwayo himself. They divided Zulu territory into 12 small kingdoms that quickly fell into civil war. Out of desperation, they returned Cetshwayo to the throne, but too late: a rival attacked and killed him. His son Dinuzulu allied with the Boers in an attempt to regain power and independence, but the British seized this excuse to finally annex Zulu land for good in 1887.

June 16, 2015

QotD: The Young Adult fiction of Ronald Welch

Filed under: Britain,History,Media,Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

I’d already been tinkering with the idea of writing a YA story, something for Ranger’s Apprentice fans to move on to.

Commercially, the idea was, “They’re going to read Bernard Cornwell when they are older; let’s take some money off them now.” However, my main motivation was wanting to write something my son could read — the magnum opus my agent was shopping owed too much to the War of the Powers (Am I the only person who remembers that series?). I also wanted to follow in the footsteps of Ronald Welch, the YA writer I read when I was a kid.

Welch was a WWII veteran turned grammar school teacher. He wrote what we would now call YA books about young officers finding their place, and he did it in just about every major conflict involving English combatants from the Horns of Hattin, through Marlborough’s campaigns, to his chronologically last book, Tank Commander, which is an utterly awesome tale of World War One, culminating in the Battle of Cambrai, the first modern tank assault.

We’re not talking trash here. Each book was well researched, the writing is good — he even won a Carnegie Medal for Knight Crusader, which puts him in the same ballpark as Rosemary Sutcliff. As far as I can see, his star faded after his death, not because of his quality as a writer, but because he became unfashionable:

  • His books simply have boy cooties. They are about young men learning leadership and responsibility while being shot at and shooting back without qualms … doing their job in adverse circumstances.
  • He’s not an anti-imperialist. I don’t think he’s pro-imperialist either. He just tells things as they were with people accepting the ethos of the time. His characters generally show matter-of-fact respect for other cultures, but don’t question their own right to be in Palestine or India or wherever, or question very much at all.
  • He’s not anti-war. His fight scenes also go all the way up to 11 on the Conan Scale. I don’t think he likes war, but — having fought in WWII — he sees it as necessary, and the experience itself as worthy of writing about.

This last, bears further examination.

Modern war books aimed at younger people tend towards:

    OMG my best friend just got killed. Look at that dying horse. War is Hell. At least I and my friends will (drum roll) Preserve Our Humanity.

Ronald Welch, who pulls absolutely no punches, by the way, is more:

    OMG my best friend just got killed. You there, put that dying horse out if its misery. War is Hell. Watch the left flanks chaps and some of us will get to live through it. I said WATCH THE DAMNED LEFT FLANK!!

It’s all about taking responsibility, keeping presence of mind, in just about the most hostile human environment.

Very few young readers will grow up to be soldiers. Many of them, however, will face crappy situations. At work when a project implodes. Socially when people turn on them. In a family when a child is very sick, or when a marriage breaks down or turns abusive…

In all those circumstances, there are points neither for maintaining a personal moral hygiene nor for being sensitive. If everybody is going to get through this thing, somebody has to watch the left flank. That person may well be you.

And that’s the kind of book I wanted to write.

M Harold Page, Shieldwall: Barbarians! Writing and self-publishing an old school boy’s young officer story set in Attila’s invasion”, Charlie’s Diary, 2015-06-03.

June 15, 2015

The Key To Success Is Artillery I THE GREAT WAR Week 45

Filed under: Britain,Europe,History,Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Apologies for presenting this one out of order, but last week was a bit disordered. The next Great War video will be week 47, probably on Friday.

Published on 4 Jun 2015

When Przemysl falls for the 2nd time and when the British and ANZAC troops fail at Gallipoli again, one thing becomes clear: Artillery is the key for future battles. August von Mackensen had used it with great success at the Gorlice-Tarnow-Offensive and the French even diverted one million men to shell factories. Meanwhile German Zeppelins bombed London and the US sent submarines for aid.

June 14, 2015

From SOE to Hammer horror to LOTR, Christopher Lee’s remarkable career

Filed under: Britain,Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Mark Steyn looks back at the real life and cinematic exploits of Sir Christopher Lee:

Before he was an actor, he was an intelligence officer, and had, as they used to say, a good war, attached to the Special Operations Executive, or the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”, responsible for espionage and sabotage in occupied Europe. Afterwards, Lee stayed on to hunt down Nazi war criminals. Back in London in 1946, he lunched with a Continental cousin, now the Italian Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, and confessed he had no idea what to do next, except that he had no desire to return to his pre-war job as a switchboard operator at the pharmaceutical company Beecham’s. “Why don’t you become an actor?” suggested the Ambassador. So he did. Two years later he was a spear carrier in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, in which he met another up-and-comer playing Osric, Peter Cushing.

It took Hammer horror films to make both men stars, albeit B-movie stars. Lee was a very suave and seductive Dracula trying to stay one step ahead of Cushing’s van Helsing while leaving a trail of blood-drained totty behind. As a teenager, I loved the Hammer movies, although I had a mild preference for the lesbian-vampire ones with Ingrid Pitt, Pippa Steel, Yutte Stensgaard et al. The bottom seems to have dropped out of the whole lesbian-vampire genre. No doubt, in these touchy times, it would be a fraught business reviving it. But Sir Christopher’s count holds up pretty well. Aside from bloodshot eyes and stick-on fangs, there weren’t a lot of special effects: Today you’d do it all with CGI, but back then there was nothing to make the horror but lighting and acting. You can see, in middle age, all the techniques that would give Lee an enduring cool well into the Nineties: the mellifluous voice; the flicker of an eyebrow — and then suddenly the flash of red in the eyes and the bared fangs, the ravenous feasting on some dolly bird’s neck, and all the scarier for emerging from Lee’s urbane underplaying.

He was upgraded to Bond nemesis Francisco Scaramanga, The Man With The Golden Gun — and a supernumary papilla, which is to say a third nipple. Lee was a cousin of Ian Fleming, who’d offered him the chance to be the very first Bond villain in Doctor No twelve years earlier. It would have been fun to see Lee and Sean Connery together, but, role-wise, he was right to wait. He’d known Roger Moore almost as long as cousin Ian: They’d first met in 1948. Golden Gun is a mixed bag for Bond fans, what with the somewhat improbable presence in Thailand of redneck sheriff J W Pepper and the other Roger Moorier elements. But Britt Ekland runs around in a bikini, and Lee’s Scaramanga is a rare opponent who is (almost) the equal of 007. Landing at Los Angeles to promote the film on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, Sir Christopher had his golden gun seized by US Customs and never returned — a reminder that these guys were pulling this nonsense long before the TSA came along.

His own favorite film was Jinnah, in which he played the title role of Pakistan’s ascetic founder. It’s very credible, but it’s not why audiences loved him. Lee redeemed almost anything he was in, but had his work cut out when George Lucas signed him for the Star Wars prequels. By then Lucas was a director without peer when it comes to getting bad performances out of great actors. Once upon a time Ewan McGregor was one of the sexiest actors on the planet. Then George Lucas cast him as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and turned him into a souvenir action-figure with no private parts and a flat monotone voice. As Princess Amidala, Natalie Portman couldn’t be Aniduller. The kid who plays Anakin seems like he should be the shy fellow in the back in some passing boy band but instead his agent stuck him with some lousy movie gig in a language not his own. He and Miss Portman roll in the grass like it’s a contractual obligation. The most fully realized characters are the computer-generated ones, like Yoda, the wrinkly midget with the inverted word order that nevertheless sounds less unnatural than the rest of the inert, stilted dialogue.

June 12, 2015

Rex Warneford Destroys A Zeppelin – Austria Digs Into the Mountains I THE GREAT WAR – Week 46

Filed under: Britain,Europe,History,Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 11 Jun 2015

Reginald Warneford is important to Britain’s war effort. Not just because he shot down a German zeppelin, but because he is made a hero in times when heroes are needed. He receives a Victoria Cross soon after his victory because the commanders know about the average life span of pilots in World War 1. Meanwhile, the Austro-Hungarian army digs into the alpine rocks to fend of the Italian Attackers and Gallipoli continues to be a butchery without any progress.

June 4, 2015

Installing the forward island on HMS Prince of Wales

Filed under: Britain,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

The second of the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy is still under construction. Here’s a time-lapse video of the transportation and installation of the forward island:

Published on 26 May 2015

Timelapse video charting the incredible journey of the 680-tonne command centre of the Royal Navy’s latest aircraft carrier – HMS Prince of Wales – as it left its construction hall in Govan, Glasgow this month before being installed on the under-construction carrier in Rosyth dockyard, near Edinburgh.

June 3, 2015

Winston Churchill I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

Filed under: Britain,History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 1 Jun 2015

Winston Churchill’s life is actually too big for just one video. Even before World War 1, some biographies about him were published. His career during the Great War saw sheer brilliance like the modernisation of the Royal Navy and utter failure like the Gallipoli Landings. Find out all about Winston Churchill in our portrait.

Re-examining the history of “the Raj”

Filed under: Britain,History,India — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The Diplomat, Nigel Collett reviews a new book by Ferdinand Mount called The Tears of the Rajas: Mutiny, Money and Marriage in India 1805-1905:

It was the discovery of a book by his aunt, Ursula Low, published in 1936 and entitled Fifty Years with John Company, which opened Mount’s eyes to his family’s history and led to the writing of The Tears of the Rajas.

His aunt’s book, a work long ignored and derided as an eccentricity by her family, was a biography of her grandfather, General Sir John Low. What staggered Mount about his aunt’s account was her matter-of-fact recording of the massacres, mutinies and mayhem in which her grandfather and many of her relatives had been involved during their colonial careers. For General Sir John Low had, during a career in India that lasted from 1804 to 1858, seen the brutal suppression of the mutiny of his own regiment at Vellore a year after his arrival in India, the “White Mutiny” of European soldiers in the East India Company’s Forces in 1808 (which resulted in the massacre not of the European mutineers but of the Indian soldiers they led) and finally, in 1857, of the Indian Mutiny itself, which erupted at a time when Low was the Military Member of the Governor General’s Council.

More than this, Low, in a largely political career up until the outbreak of the Mutiny, had been intimately involved in policies which led directly to it, including the removal from power of three Indian potentates to whom he was attached as Resident (the Peshwa of Poona, the Raja of Nagpur and the King of Oudh) and the annexation of their lands. He was at one point, in yet another posting as Resident, personally involved in detaching a large chunk of Hyderabad from the lands of the Nizam.

During his service, Low had watched, and other members of his family had been involved in, the British annexations of Sind and the Punjab, the conquest of Gwalior and the disastrous attempt to depose Dost Mohammed, the Shah of Afghanistan, which led to the catastrophe of the 1st Afghan War. Mount’s title is well chosen: Low literally reduced several of his Rajas to tears.

[…]

Perhaps more stomach-turning than this, especially to a British reader, are Mount’s revelations of the dishonest policies followed by almost every Governor General of India towards India’s native princes, policies driven by pure greed, conducted with cold ruthlessness in utter disregard of treaties, promises or any code of honor, and hidden beneath layers of hypocritical cant. Much of this has not been made generally known. Few, for instance, in the Far East, will know that as the First Opium War in China ended in 1842, another began in India, for the British conquest of Gwalior was aimed at the control of the opium it grew independently of the East India Company.

The removal of misgovernment was all too frequently the fraudulent public excuse for the imposition of direct rule and the canard of the protection of the peasantry from their own rulers was little more than a front for taxing them more efficiently. Add to this noxious behavior insulting racial pride, ignorance of culture and tradition, and a religious evangelism that persuaded army officers that it made sense to tell their Hindu and Muslim soldiers that they would go to Hell if the wars into which they were leading them resulted in their unconverted deaths, and there seems little need for further explanation of why it all ended in disaster in 1857.

While I can’t claim to have read deeply in Indian history during this period, I still think the best introduction to the at-best-ambivalent legacy of British rule is the fictional exploits of Sir Harry Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser (especially the original Flashman, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, and Flashman in the Great Game). How many other novels have extensive footnotes about all the historical characters and situations the fictional hero encounters? Oh, right … for the younger set: trigger warning in all the Flashman novels for racism, sexism, imperialism, militarism, violence, and pretty much anything that would offend the ears of a young Victorian lady modern university student.

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