History repeating itself

A notoriously violent religious zealot leads his Islamic hordes of a holy war from their rogue state. A clear threat to regional stability and grave abuses of human rights. Step forward the worlds leading superpower to deal with this evil for the greater good, a just war. Vastly outnumbered our plucky superpower lads employ their superiority in military discipline, organisation and enormous technological omnipotence to deal with the Islamic hordes without shattering the country’s infrastructure.

Afghanistan? Nope. Iraq? Sorry, you are out by a fair few years. Actually it is the Sudan, the belated sequel to the Siege of Khartoum by the Madhi and his fundamentalist hordes. His son, the Khalifa and his dervish army of some 52,000 facing Kitcheners army of just 20,000 (with a young Winston Churchill in attendance as a war correspondent). Well drilled British troops firing modern rifles and the new Maxim machine guns, backed up by Royal Navy warships firing their awesome cannon slaughter almost all of the Muslim army. Peace returns to the land, everyone in the world free to live under the banner of the Pax Britannica once more. Meanwhile we can get on with our bankers and companies making huge profits from foreign adventures.

Sounds awfully familiar, does it not? Just over a century later and substitute the economic and cultural imperialism of the United States for the British Empire and the parallels are awfully similar. After drawing this conclusion (not for the first time when reading a history tome) I reached the end of Niall Fergusons Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World. And what comes up in his concluding chapter? A section comparing Tony Blair giving a post 911 speech and drawing parallels between our historic past and our post-modern world.

Ferguson got some stick for this book because he dared to do what a generation of politically correct historians would not do – he dared to cover the good points of the British Empire and the effect it had on history as well as the rather obvious evils of Empire grabbing. Now this is what I’d normally call balance and my history teacher always taught me you should try to look at all the angles in order to understand events. Which is my way of saying ignore those who critiqued the book on those grounds (I think some were jealous because Ferguson is also a good-looking man who fronted an accompanying TV series) and try reading it yourself. Thanks to Aly from Penguin for kindly donating me a copy.