Essays

The Winds of Change: When an Empire Fell

16schramme_10_cdoby Michael Walsh

THE Last Gladiators was very much a trip down Memory Lane for me. I was in Zaire — then the Belgian Congo — for several months at the time of the Congo Crisis. It was an appalling blood-stained conflict that plunged the Cold War into stark relief during the 1960s. Those were trigger-happy lawless days.

My badly holed ship was marooned on the banks of the great Congo River. During those months our ship’s crew walked a tightrope between the anti-European fervour of excitable primitive tribal natives and the government “controlled” Armée Nationale Congolaise.

I was to somehow survive two near-death experiences, neither of which I would like to see repeated. Both are chronicled in this fascinating illustrated book that details the conflicts and profiles Europe’s soldiers of fortune. These gladiators acted as midwives during colonial Africa’s transition to so-called African independence.

Africa’s transition to independence is a myth. The continent’s vast resources were simply transferred from European management to the interests of American banks and corporate conglomerates. This was done in the same way as the wealth and natural resources of Imperial Russia were grabbed by the same interests between 1917 and 1922.

Britain, France, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Holland were never ousted by “circumstances,” whether those were African nationalist or otherwise. From the 1960s on Africa essentially became an American economic colony. This was karma for the British, Portuguese, and Belgians who, after the defeat of Germany in 1918, had seized Imperial Germany’s colonies as prizes of war.

On the matter of German colonies, on January 3, 1939, the German Chancellor was clear: “The great colonial possessions, which the Reich once acquired peacefully by treaties and by paying for them, have been stolen, contrary indeed to the solemn assurances given by President Wilson which were the basic condition on which Germany laid down her arms.”

And, on the Fourth Anniversary of the Reich, Hitler had reminded the world: “The German people once built up a colonial empire without robbing anyone and without violating any treaty. And they did so without any war. That colonial empire was taken away from us. And the grounds on which it was sought to excuse this act are not tenable.”

In his reply to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt the elected German leader on April 28, 1939, stated: “In and outside Europe Germany lost three million square kilometres of territory, and that in spite of the fact that the whole German Colonial Empire, in contrast to the colonies of other nations, was not acquired by way of war, but solely through treaties or purchase. Practically all the previous inhabitants of this continent [Africa] have been made subject to the sovereignty of other nations by bloody force, thereby losing their freedom. Moroccans, Berbers, Arabs, Negroes, et cetera, have all fallen victim to a foreign might, the swords of which, however, were not inscribed ‘Made in Germany’, but ‘Made by the Democracies’.”

Biafra-Nigeria conflict

War-weary Britain in the summer of 1940 was on the ropes. Unlike the generous German Chancellor, America’s duplicitous President Roosevelt was quick to take advantage of England’s peril. Instead of offering to defend Britain’s Empire as the German chancellor had done, President Roosevelt demanded Britain’s colonies as part payment for saving England from defeat. Karma again: The German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, had guaranteed the integrity of Britain’s and France’s colonies. Yet, after the fall of France, it was England — not Germany — that seized France’s colonies.

“He [Adolf Hitler] compared the British Empire with the Catholic Church saying they were both essential elements of stability in the world. He said that all he wanted from Britain was that she should acknowledge Germany’s position on the continent. The return of Germany’s lost colonies would be desirable but not essential, and he would even offer to support British troops, if she should be involved in any difficulties anywhere.” Daily Mail columnist Peter Hitchens was pithy in his summing up of England’s dilemma: “But Franklin Roosevelt took great advantage of our desperate position in 1940. As the Germans advanced through France in early summer that year, he offered one of the most unfair bargains in the history of diplomacy; fifty worn-out ancient destroyers in return for nine rent-free US military bases in British colonies. He had already insisted on hard cash for war supplies, which rapidly depleted Britain’s gold and currency reserves. Moreover, Britain only finished paying the lend-lease wartime aid, down to the uttermost farthing, and interest charged for late repayment, on December 29, 2006.”

One could say therefore that I attended the funeral of the British Empire. I found the American knife in between England’s African shoulder blades.

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Source: The Last Gladiators: Fiancés of Death

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