News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Two more replies to my letters in defense of enlightened colonialism, followed by my riposte:

The debate in letters [below] between G Travan and Biff Cappuccino is very interesting. I would like to thank Travan for speaking up and taking the morally correct position on colonialism. Though what Cappuccino says [Apr 28] about indigenous peoples also being guilty of killing each other over resources/wealth/power is correct, he's missing the point. What is new and horrible about modern colonialism is not that one race of people killed and enslaved another for money, it is the sheer scale. Colonialism by European countries proceeded in tandem with their industrialization - in fact the two are inseparable - and therefore the killing, misery and enslavement inflicted by modern colonialism [are] as humongous in scale as human greed and industrial automation/mass-production. It was not good for the victims and it has no parallel in history, as Cappuccino is trying very hard to make us (and his own guilty conscience) believe. It is absolutely critical that we realize this because colonialism isn't dead yet - it just survives under different names such as one-sided free trade/market reforms/economic liberalization/structural adjustment etc.
Amit Sharma
Roorkee, India (Apr 29, '04)

I commend Biff Cappuccino [letter, Apr 28] for his vast creativity. He writes, in response to my letter, "Mr Travan, like most people worldwide, is racist and culturally chauvinist ...That is, if locals kill locals, it's sad and regrettable. If foreigners kill locals, it's 'disgusting and morally reprehensible'." Mr Cappuccino may be assuming that I condone locals killing locals since he apparently has no objections to colonists butchering, raping and pillaging locals. Mr Cappuccino, killing people is murder. I make no excuses for locals, foreigners, aliens or any other beings. It was Mr Cappuccino who arrogantly claimed "Scotland, Nigeria, Uganda, Northern Ireland, America and Canada ... benefited from colonialism". Just because Scotsmen, Nigerians, Ugandans, Irish, and native Americans had been violent within their own societies does not excuse the massive crimes committed against them by well-armed and technologically advanced colonists. Mr Cappuccino's glaring fabrications would be laughable were it not for the fact that his neo-colonial thinking is thriving in the circles of power in many Western nations. As Amit Sharma notes in his letter [Apr 29], the technology of European colonists allowed them to inflict carnage on an unprecedented scale. However, one must accept that the root of these horrors are not in Europe or the West, but in human nature itself. The Third World has done a great job of harming its people without help from outside. Nevertheless, one can often see a direct link between the violent history of colonialism and present suffering (eg Palestine, Rwanda, etc). I am not one to blame the West for all mankind's problems, but it must bear its fair share of the burden. The lessons of colonialism are ever more important today, when many nations outside the West possess the technology and armed forces to ravage the weak and defenseless.
Gunther Travan
California (Apr 30, '04

To continue the debate on colonialism: I still find it hard to agree that colonialism has been exacerbated by the industrial era. Colonialism was going on strong during the classical Greek era, when democratic Athens devastated city states. Alexander the Great also slaughtered and colonized on a mass scale. It took an immense slaughter to create and maintain the Roman empire, as it was constantly being threatened by other empires which wanted to slaughter it. China's population was between 60 and 80 million at that time. For 2000 years, when a dynasty fell, warlordism returned as did scorched-earth tactics, slaughter, re-conquest, plus the colonization of new territory. Tens of millions of people disappeared from China's census each time. The Opium War prevented China from colonizing Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma. The Japanese invasion of Manchuria preempted the Russians. As soon as Mao got in the saddle, the colonization of Tibet began. China attacked Vietnam in 1978 but proved to be a paper tiger. China is, and has always been, an empire. It wants to colonize Taiwan right now as we speak. The New World had slaughtering despotic empires too, with the Aztecs preferring to eat their neighbors and the Incas colonizing theirs. With regard to Iraq, I'm no fan of any politician or political party anywhere, but it's difficult to imagine the killing/slaughter of Iraqis by American forces approaching 20th century figures. If American forces leave, civil war is inevitable which means the killing/slaughter gets much worse. Smart bombs, surgical insertions, and other tactics facilitated by modern industrialization have done much to lower deaths: not enhance them. Even if US forces were colonial, given the era we live in, neo-colonialism would inevitably be like the enlightened colonialism of 20th century Hong Kong and Taiwan. I'm all for democratic self-rule in Iraq, but without peace, stability, and a prosperous middle-class, the time is not right. Pragmatism and prudence, not idealism and slippery-slope arguments, should prevail for the moment.

Biff Cappuccino

A reply to previous letter, followed by my riposte:

Thank you for printing Biff Cappuccino's letter [Apr 23], which claimed that "Scotland, Nigeria, Uganda, Northern Ireland, America and Canada ... benefited from colonialism". I did not realize such horrendous and troglodyte points of view still existed among the literate until I read this letter in Asia Times Online. Invaders throughout history have brought with them pillage, rape and murder. The slave ships visiting Africa brought great benefit to the slave masters, and perhaps the likes of Mr Cappuccino believe that the slaves themselves were liberated by their enslavement at the hands of wonderful, cultured Europeans. The unspeakable atrocities committed by the Japanese in China and Korea during World War II speak for themselves. And in America, I don't believe any native Americans have derived much benefit from cultural extermination. This is not to deny that colonists have also done good things. But this is no excuse for their terrible crimes. In fact, their good deeds are testament to their humanity, while their crimes are equal testament to their vice. Europeans and Americans view their recent history as one of great cultural and moral progress. This may make sense from their points of view, but does it make any sense from the point of view of the enslaved African, the colonized Vietnamese, or the humiliated Chinese? The image of the West abroad has been shaped by cruel and greedy colonizers, by unjust wars for resources and wealth, and by shameless hypocrisy. Perhaps it was the very moral progress at home that drove conquerors and tyrants to ply their trade abroad. Mr Cappuccino and other colonial apologists should think hard about the slavery, rape, torture and extermination which has accompanied colonialism, which, in the end, is only the modern form of the ancient human tradition of conquest. In my view, Mr Cappuccino's views are as disgusting and morally reprehensible as those of the Nazis or al-Qaeda. It is imperative that these rancid views be exposed, as "sunlight is the best disinfectant".
G Travan

In response to G Travan’s letter of April 26th:
Mr Travan writes, “Invaders throughout history have brought with them pillage, rape and murder.” But naturally indigenous peoples have also brought pillage, rape and murder. And what is an indigenous people that visits pillage, rape and murder on another indigenous people but an invader? So what’s the difference between indigenous murderers and invading murderers? For people with curious double-standards like Mr Travan, all the difference in the world.

I say the following with no ill intent: It appears that Mr Travan, like most people worldwide, is racist and culturally chauvinist. (We all start out this way and it takes a lot of earnest soul-searching to eradicate this hard-wired tendency in any meaningful way.) I.e. if locals kill locals, it’s sad and regrettable. If foreigners kill locals, it’s “disgusting and morally reprehensible.” If locals make good in the local business community, it’s something to be proud of. If foreigners make good in the local business community, they are “cruel and greedy.”

“Cruel and greedy foreigners” like the European Jews and the Southeast Asian Chinese were massacred for hundreds and thousands of years due to such self-affirming, feel-good patriotism.

As to Mr Travan's hallucinations about the "humiliated Chinese": During the decade prior to 1997, Hong Kong’s billionaires were overwhelmingly Cantonese, not British. This remains the case today. Taiwan’s richest mogul for the past twenty years is neither Japanese nor a KMT affiliated Chinese but a local boy who made good and started out by selling rice door to door. In 2003, Taiwan ranked fourth worldwide in US patents won; a rather curious achievement considering that martial law ended here only in 1987 and that the political reign of the colonizing Nationalist Party only ended in the year 2000.

Though I don’t share Mr Travan’s fanaticism or his weakness for phrases, I agree with the essence of this sentence of his: “It is imperative that...rancid views be exposed, as "sunlight is the best disinfectant".”

Biff Cappuccino (Taipei)