August 26, 2002
Few Americans now alive know of the Second African War, Boer War, of
1899-1902. Fewer care. Fewer still may recognize the name Kitchener. Of
those recognizing the name, who may remember him as inventor of the
Yet, his strategy and tactics outlive him -- scorched earth, dense lines of blockhouses, round up and internment of civilians, especially women and children. Bestial savagery unleashed to cow and to terrorize civilian populations alleged to be assisting combatants.
Yes, a British general and later Field Marshall, after his triumphs in Sudan sent to warp up the Boers, a Dutch, French Huguenot people now better known as Afrikaners. The folks who brought us apartheid. In the 19th century, they fled Europe in pursuit of their beliefs. A pioneer people quite determined to remain independent of European imperatives and empires. Today, they would be included among Christian fundamentalists. Long memories, deep positivism, wary and weary, intolerant, racist, convinced of themselves, inward focused. Giving as they get.
A very cruel fate settled them far up in the southern African veldts (their word) on top of gold and diamonds. Harsh country with strong similarities to North American plains. The locals there before them, like the first peoples of America, were given no quarter. Some descendants of those locals now give none in return. Are we surprised?
Kitchener arrived as the soul of Empire embodied in dedicated, overwhelming military might enlisted as consummate greed not to be denied. The missiles of that time were young men's bodies trained and equipped to charge and to persist. The body bags of that time carried home more than 22,000 young Brits and Colonials. Colonials, prominent among whom were Australians and New Zealanders, carried and suffered the savagery which became the Boer War. Villages in rural New Zealand all have memorials for their numerous dead sacrificed in ever succeeding wars to empire.
Begun as a White Man's war for control and territory, Kitchener abandoned that strategic factor and interned Kaffirs, Blacks, as well as Boer women and children in his infamous concentration camps. The Kaffirs were collected as slave labor. Their camps were, if possible, more dreadful than those set up for women and children. Starvation was a strategy, no rations provided. Collected for death, they were to draw in their men, to tempt them to slaughter, to break will. They died instead.
There was no count made of Kaffir deaths. Over 25,000 women and children died in Kitchener's camps. The men who survived went home in defeat, to scorched and flattened farmsteads. Witness to ". . . the single-minded intent of the British Empire to destroy the women and children of a land they had no right to be in." The hatred sowed persists in the land. Still.
Two O'clock Eastern Wartime, by John Dunning (Scribners, NY, 2001, ISBN 0-7432-0195-7), is a novel wrapped within a vision of radio as it may have been and never would be. It is set in 1942 wartime America. It recounts in part the attempts of Nazi Germany to land saboteurs. It mirrors the enduring hatreds of those subjected to imperial thrusts. The story is pertinent in that eight of the saboteurs landed were tried by what are presently being called Military Tribunals, some executed as a result.
The author also mentions, for context, other internments, other concentration camps to establish that such barbarities were not confined to WW II Nazi efforts.
John Dunning, a historian of early radio, notes: "One of the first things Gutenberg did with his moveable type was to print a magnificent Bible. The first thing radio did was argue how much selling it would be allowed to get. If it keeps on going that way, there won't be anything worth listening to. Right now  it's full of sacred cows. The agencies are running everything at the network level and its getting worse every year. I have the morbid fear of the future -- not that radio's greatest days will fade away, but that its greatest days will never come. Fifty years from now it could be just a medium of hucksters and fools -- a whorehouse in the sky." [p. 318]
Will it be other than more, past, present and future Kitcheners in lands they have no right to be in?
Caleb Carr, another novelist with a historical bent, military history, has written The Lessons of Terror, A History of Warfare Against Civilians: Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again (Random House, NY, 2002, ISBN 0-375-50843-0).
"We stand now, obviously, at a crossroads: not only a crossroads concerning which direction our military development will take but a crossroads concerning the future of civilization. There have never been two more vital and powerful forces at work in the world than international capitalist democracy and fundamentalist Islam, nor two forces more capable of physical and cultural destruction: of differing types of warfare against civilians. In the years to come both sides will need to formulate and inform their behavior with philosophies that reflect an understanding of their own as well as each other's excesses and commit to genuine programs of reform. Islam must finally reinterpret those contextual, anachronistic passages of the Koran that were so necessary to survival of the faith in seventh- and eighth-century Arabia but that now propel men to self-defeating acts of terror against civilians. Similarly, evangelical Western capitalism must learn greater restraint and respect for other cultures, and Western governments, specifically American, must finally acknowledge that the days of gunboat diplomacy are over and that such behavior is terribly self-defeating. Our armed forces must be designed and employed for the protection of American people, not of American business. . . ." [p. 255]
Historian John Lukacs names these times an "interregnum." Perhaps differences may emerge, perhaps new technologies yielding a Bible rather than a heap of shekels, more likely barbarities carried forward exponentially. Dare we breathe?
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Milo Clark, a founding member of Swans, had it all: Harvard MBA, big house, three-car garage, top management... Yet, once he had seemingly achieved the famed American dream he felt something was missing somewhere. As any good executive he decided to investigate. Since then, he has become a curmudgeon and, after living in Berkeley, California, where he was growing bamboos, making water gardens, listening to muses, writing, cogitating and pondering, he has moved on to the Big Island in Hawaii where he creates thought forms about sunshine.
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