Fidel tells Spanish imperialist magistrate to shove it

jenyan1 jenyan1 at
Tue May 1 21:52:08 MDT 2001

Extracted from

The White Man's Burden

Book Reviews Richard Gott
Monday 1st May 2000

William Shawcross spent much of the 1990s observing
the innumerable activities of the United Nations in
close proximity to Kofi Annan, a man constantly to be
seen wringing his hands at the imperfect state of the
world and at his infinite capacity to allow things to get

Shawcross believes that he has been a witness to the
emergence of a new phenomenon in the post-cold war
era. He sees a world in which evil warlords fight over
the territory of once viable states, terrorising their own
populations and spoiling the night-time entertainment
of more distant populations watching their television
screens. He joins in the simplistic demonisation of
these opponents of western globalism, perceiving them
as warlords, satraps, dictators and demagogues,
though he is careful not to follow Blair and Clinton in
calling them "new Hitlers".

The names are all familiar from the newspapers of the
last decade: Saddam Hussein and Milosevic; Tudjman
and Karadzic; Pol Pot and Mohammed Aideed; Foday
Sankoh and Raoul Cedras; Jonas Savimbi and Laurent
Kabila. Like the old music-hall audience, the reader is
expected to boo and hiss at every mention of their
names. This has become the shorthand of much
contemporary journalism, and some people clearly
think that this is the only way in which the complicated
politics of foreign countries can be portrayed to the
casual viewer and reader.

Yet, when seen in a longer time frame, the
phenomenon that Shawcross identifies seems
strikingly familiar. The old European empires were also
faced with seemingly bizarre potentates who behaved
in strange ways and danced to the beat of a different
drum. In dealing with recalcitrant leaders, the colonial
powers had a similar technique to that used today.
They too would demonise the enemy, accusing him of
slave-trading, piracy, human sacrifice, and the
slaughter of Christians. Then they would invade and lay
waste to the territory of this subhuman foe, attacking
from the sea or bombing from the air, to the
accompaniment of enthusiastic plaudits from
leader-writers at home.

The League of Nations, the forerunner of the UN, was
essentially a league of colonial powers, set up to
ensure that intercolonial disputes did not affect their
interests or lead to a general war of the kind that had
occurred in 1914. The UN was the heir to this legacy,
and over the years, rather to its surprise, it has taken
up the white man's burden, exhibiting many of the
characteristics of a traditional imperial power. UN
representatives in Bosnia and Kosovo now act as
colonial governors. Proliferating non-governmental
organisations (NGOs), replicate the quarrelling and
sectarian missionaries of an earlier epoch. The
Security Council often meets as though the Congress
of Berlin of 1884-85, which started the "scramble for
Africa", were still in permanent session.

Dean Acheson, one of the architects of the cold-war
world, titled his memoirs In at the Creation, and
Shawcross has a similar theme as he records the
Security Council's resurrection of the colonial pattern.
Deliver us from Evil has a comparably scriptural title
and serves as a reminder of the power of the religious
themes that still lie beneath the surface of our secular
world. "Onward Christian [or Muslim] Soldiers" still
powers many of the world's conflicts, and not least the
intervention forces of the UN itself. Romeo Dallaire, the
UN general from Canada who watches helplessly as
Rwanda slides towards genocide, notes evocatively
how he feels "the ghost of Gordon of Khartoum
watching over me . . .", and Shawcross tells us that
Kofi Annan is a "practising Christian".

Beyond the immediate circle of UN personnel, there
stands the great sentimental mush of western public
opinion, heir to centuries of missionary brainwashing
and easily preyed on by leader-writers and the
producers of television programmes. This was the input
into the new world order that its creators had not
reckoned on, and it now serves to destabilise the
efforts of diplomats (mostly the British and the
Americans) to finesse solutions behind closed doors.
Shawcross is right to blame the gung-ho members of
the Security Council for often promising more than
Annan's team could possibly deliver, but the blame lies
equally with the exaggerated expectations of the
television audience in the west and with the
over-inflated hopes of oppressed
peoples everywhere.

During the colonial era, the subject peoples often
remained in a state of subjection because they had
been led to believe that the European empires could
summon up forces for immediate deployment in any
part of the globe. This was not so, but the belief was
deeply imbedded and invited passivity. In the past
half-century, their heirs have been fed with hope by a
comparable fable about the United Nations. Its
existence and its inflated rhetoric conjures up the
notion that well-meaning soldiers in blue berets can
easily be called up to come to their rescue. This, too,
is a myth. Salvation lies in local struggles, not in
international intervention.

Shawcross, sadly, has lost the polemical touch that
animated some of his earlier books, and he keeps his
powder dry. This is, ultimately, an uncourageous book.
Time was when Shawcross would excoriate Henry
Kissinger for paving the road towards Pol Pot. Now he
is obliged to faintly admire the old rogue, who has
plausibly suggested that the construction of the nation
state was a useful corrective to the horrors of the Thirty
Years War. Overriding it may prove to be an error.
Shawcross seems to nod with tacit approval. He does
so, too, when quoting a comment of Edward Luttwak,
who argued that governments should resist "the
emotional impulse to intervene in other people's wars".
Such wars may eventually bring a more satisfactory
resolution to a political conflict than the interim peace
that outsiders impose.

Shawcross's conservative instincts, and much of his
reportage, might have led him towards a
non-interventionist position of this kind, and would have
turned his book from a bland account of innumerable
aeroplane journeys into an important contribution to a
continuing debate. He has so many chums in the
international aid agencies and the NGOs, as well as in
the diplomatic services, that he gives the impression of
finding it hard to declare their work to be fruitless or

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