Gerald Horne on Zimbabwe

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Feb 13 11:13:13 MST 2002

H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by H-SAfrica at (January, 2002)

Gerald Horne. _From the Barrel of a Gun: The United States and the War
Against Zimbabwe, 1965-1980_. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Press, 2001. 338 pp. Map, notes, bibliography, photographs and index.
$59.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-8087-2589-1; $24.95 (paper), ISBN 0-8078-4903-0.

Reviewed for H-SAfrica by Tapera Knox Chitiyo, War Studies/History
Department, University of Zimbabwe

Professor Horne's timely book is essentially a socio-historical study of
the role of the US government, and some of its citizens, in Zimbabwe's war
of liberation from 1965-1980. Horne adopts a multi-thematic approach and
examines the period in terms of race, politics, socio-dynamics, and, to a
lesser extent, military operations and gender.

The book is divided into four parts and a conclusion. Part One introduces
one of the major themes of the book: race and racism (particularly the
pan-European white elitist mythos). Horne also notes that Washington's
seemingly chaotic policy towards Southern Africa during this period was
emblematic of the tensions within Washington itself and between Washington
and its Western allies. The rise of this conservatism in the United States
included a "back-lash against the idea of racial equality. These two
factors--white supremacy and anti communism--often were intertwined in a
manner that makes it difficult to unravel the two" (p. 20).

The tensions within and between neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism and, at
another level, the strategic paradoxes of the Cold War, certainly militated
against a consistent "Third World" (especially Africa) policy by the
Americans. It is here that Horne makes the valid point that whilst the
issue of race is important in American foreign policy towards Zimbabwe,
equally important is the "ignorance/indifference factor". Zimbabwe--and
most of Africa--is out of the "loop" of American consciousness. Many of
America's "sins" towards Zimbabwe during the war were "sins" of omission,
rather than commission. Official inertia thus gave leeway for more focused
interest groups to push their conservative agenda(s).

The opening chapters also introduce the American mercenaries who fought for
Rhodesia. This theme suggests two hierarchies of need which explain the
mercenary presence: at a fundamental level, the American mercenaries needed
to escape their own cloying environment "back home" and gain relief through
(brutal) action in the "cowboy" frontier of Rhodesia (whilst being paid to
do so). At a subsidiary level, this "joint operation" was a re-affirmation
of whiteness of Pan-European solidarity and heroism against the forces of

In Part Two, the author examines the synergies and dissonances between the
Rhodesian and American governments (especially the Republicans) in the
white supremacist/anti-communist crusade. Various conservative interest
groups bolstered the Rhodesians, both in cash and in kind. As any good book
should, _From The Barrel of a Gun_ is full of telling details, of vignettes
which pique the readers' interest. We learn, for instance, that (popular
novelist) Taylor Caldwell was "a crucial link in a chain of pro-Salisbury
organisations" (p. 4).

In this section, the author also examines the ideological and cultural
links between American and Rhodesian societies and administrations,
especially the link between war, race and gender. For many conservative
Americans, buffeted by the tides of civil and gender rights and demands for
greater police and military accountability, Rhodesia, which deified the
white male and its basic culture of "white might is right," must have
seemed to be a "good old boy's paradise."

In Part Three, the author specifically examines how the various American
administrations approached the Rhodesian crisis. He also assesses the
complex involvement of some U.S. companies in sanctions-busting. Overall,
it would seem that the conservative lobby was keen to help the Rhodesians
to survive, but they did not want them to prosper, because the Rhodesians
were business rivals in tobacco and chrome. Horne also analyses the motives
and personality types of American mercenaries who fought for Rhodesia. This
section is very interesting, because he also touches on the relationship
between black Zimbabweans and Afro-Americans and how they viewed the
mercenary phenomenon.

In the conclusion, he suggests that the Rhodesian white-militarist ethos
was absorbed into the South African (apartheid) system after 1980. It still
exists, he claims, both as part of South African National Defence Forces
and the South African Police, and also as part of "privatised security"
(particularly the mercenary company Executive Outcomes). In addition,
Zimbabwe's radical brand of Pan-Africanism (the land and war veterans
issue) since 1997 has proved to be as problematic to the supposedly unified
Pan-Africanist group as Rhodesia's radical white supremacy was to
Pan-Europeanism earlier. Whilst Zimbabwe's ultra-black Nationalism might be
galvanising for those who view all whites as "the enemy," the violations of
human and gender rights inherent in this approach have alienated support
among those Africans and Afro-Americans who view the world as a global
community with shared values. The author's conclusion is disturbing: power
within Zimbabwe and access to it, that is through global alliances with
powerful sponsors in the US and elsewhere, is attained and maintained
through the "barrel of a gun."

There are some issues where the book could have been clearer. Horne is
vague on the numbers of American mercenaries who fought for Rhodesia. His
estimates range form "several hundred, to several thousands" (p. 26)--he
prefers the higher estimate. This is rather obfuscative, for if we speak in
cumulative terms, it is possible that from 1965-1980 a few thousand
mercenaries fought for Rhodesia, but it is unlikely that there were more
than a few hundred fighting for Rhodesia at any given moment. Horne needs
to be aware that all liberation movements routinely exaggerated the numbers
of "mercenaries" they claimed fought for government forces, for propaganda
reasons. The Rhodesians also exaggerated figures (although they called the
mercenaries "volunteers") to promote the myth of Pan-European solidarity.
More details on the nature of the mercenary involvement and the role of the
Nixon-Ford administrations would have been useful.

Horne also needs to address in more detail the power of the media. 1975 saw
the collapse of South Vietnam, with pictures of U.S. marines and civilians
desperately being rescued by helicopter from the US Embassy roof-top in
Saigon--and the anguished faces of their South Vietnamese allies they left
behind--being shown worldwide (including on Rhodesian TV). Those images of
American weakness immeasurably strengthened African resistance and
nationalist consciousness.

Nevertheless, Professor Horne's book is to be recommended, and should be
required reading for those with an interest in U.S.-Zimbabwe relations,
Pan-Africanism, and also the nationalist and post-nationalist
historiography of Southern Africa.

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Louis Proyect
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