Post-Colonial Killing Fields
The world picture, after independence.

(Edwin Austin Abbey/Harper’s Weekly, July 15, 1876)


Conrad Black

It is an ever-growing matter of suspense how long it will take before there is general recognition of the fact that, although the spread of democracy is — next to its irreplaceable contribution to victory in World War II and the Cold War — America’s greatest bequest to the world, most of the world worked better in colonial times. No one could seriously dispute that almost all of sub-Saharan Africa, all of North Africa except Morocco, all of the Middle East except Israel and Jordan and most of the oil-rich states, and the entire former British Indian Empire were better governed by Europeans. The Philippines and Cuba and, during the piping days of the U.S. Marines’ occupations (even if they were deployed at times by the United Fruit Company), Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic were all better off under the Americans.

It was an astonishing feat for the British to rule what is today India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and Nepal with only 100,000 people. Gandhi, a British-educated lawyer, knew the British well and knew that passive resistance could not be suppressed so violently by so conscientious a country. Hitler once told then-foreign minister Anthony Eden that Britain should shoot Gandhi and Nehru, and continue shooting the leaders of the Congress party who were agitating for independence, until the agitation stopped. Had Germany or Russia or Japan been the occupying power, independence would have been a long and sanguinary time coming, and the regime would have been much less constructive than it was under the British for 200 years.

In all that time, there was one mutiny, but there were not the terrible violence and corruption of Pakistan, the wars, the tyranny of the Burmese generals, or the Tamil-led civil war in Sri Lanka. The British left a justice system and the English language, and some spirit of market economics, and departed with scarcely any violence, apart from the regrettable episode at Amritsar in 1919, and the sectarian relocations when they left. The French, though less benign than the British, had a “civilizing mission” and were splendid city planners in Saigon, Dakar, Casablanca, Beirut, and other cities. They founded many universities and their territories never suffered the appalling violence that has ravaged post-independence Mali, Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Mauritania, much less Cambodia. There were no Killing Fields under the European colonists, although the Belgians, the Dutch, and, in early South American days, the Spanish were rapacious and often severe. Objections to the cruel exploitations by the Spanish in South America led to the agitations of the Jesuits, and the temporary suppression of the Society of Jesus, except in Prussia and Russia, by Pope Clement XIV in 1773 — a suppression that lasted until 1814, when Pius VII, his mind jogged by being confined and exiled by Napoleon for some years, reinstated the order.