British imperial forces kept the Raj “relatively quiet” by firing cannons directly into the backs of uppity locals.
Boot approves of this because it means that America will have finally played imperial Britain. He even offers a list of some fine examples of imperial Britain’s triumphs, including the destruction of Egypt’s rebel forces in 1882, and the wholesale slaughter of the Sudanese rebels in the Battle of Omdurman in 1898. While Boot praises the results of these military campaigns–“Both Sudan and Egypt remained relatively quiet thereafter,” he writes–what he fails to mention is how they were kept “relatively quiet”: by brutality, famine and slaughter. An American journalist writing for the New York Herald in 1877 observed in Egypt that “The Englishman looks upon these people as his hewers of wood and drawers of water, whose duty is to work and to thank the Lord when they are not flogged.” And Omdurman was nothing more than a mass slaughter: the British, armed with new machine guns and artillery, killed some 12,000 Sudanese rebels armed with spears and flintlocks from a distance of a few kilometers away. As war analyst Gary Brecher recently observed, for the Brits, Omdurman was “a sort of geometry exercise, with Brit field officers mainly trying to arrange the Maxims’ fields of fire the way you’d set up sprinklers to get maximum coverage of a football field.”
Boot ignores these unpleasant details because he’s not trying to debate anyone; he’s just working this like a character actor: the armchair conquistador, the Max von Sydow of print pundits.
It’s a schtick whose silliness knows no bounds, as evidenced in his bizarre fetish for pith helmets.
Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets.
At least this explains why so many Brits have been getting shot and killed in Helmand province: if only they’d worn their pith helmets…
At every key moment in America’s disastrously run “global war on terror”, Boot shows up dressed up in his pith helmet and rhino-hide whip. In the summer of 2003, when the Iraq occupation started going bad, Boot one-upped himself in a Financial Times op-ed, “Washington Needs a Colonial Office”:
We need to create a colonial office–fast.
…[I]t should take its inspiration, if not its name, from the old British Colonial Office and India Office. Together, these two institutions ran large swaths of the world with a handful of bright, honest, industrious civil servants. They had an enormous impact, given the small numbers involved; there were seldom more than 1,000 members of the Indian civil service to administer hundreds of millions of Indians.
…America needs to create one of its own, before its hard-won military gains turn to dust.
Since his editors and peers on the Council on Foreign Relations might be too worried to tell Max Boot what’s wrong with his ideas, I’ll say it. Max, here’s why we won’t create a British Colonial Office: we’re not nineteenth-century Brits. We don’t look like them, live like them, and most important, we don’t think like them. For one thing, twenty-first-century Americans tend to be squeamish about genocide; Victorian Brits were not. That’s the real reason a few hundred English overlords were able to rule and exploit hundreds of millions of Indians: tens of millions of them died in the Raj, and huge numbers were brutalized and exploited to feed London’s coffers. The Brits were able to stomach this because back then, popular thinking justified this sort of imperial behavior embodied by imperial mavericks like Cecil Rhodes (“I prefer land to niggers”).
The history of imperial Britain’s domination is one of genocide and brutal subjugation, of holodomor after holodomor, all across the empire, all sanctioned by the fashionable Social Darwinism and racial superiority theories of the day.
Boot relies on the historical ignorance and macho gullibility of his American audience. He calculated correctly; his inane imperial fantasies went from pundit schtick to White House policy, as evidenced in that famous quote from a senior Bush aide who told Ron Suskind in 2004: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality–judiciously, as you will–we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”
I’ve been out of this country for much of the past fifteen years, most of that time working in Russia, where fascist pundits regularly spout this sort of garbage, a trend that grew much more popular after Putin took control of the TV airwaves. But I didn’t know that all this time, back in my home country, we were mirroring the same trend–quite literally, in the case of Max Boot. I didn’t know that you could publish this kind of gibberish in mainstream news outlets–I would have assumed that if you went around in public promoting a historical solution that was marked by genocide and racism, and then the establishment found out about it, that you’d be lucky to get a job at a White Castle.
Uber-twerp Max Boot giddily posing next to a former Green Beret, absorbing his manliness.
Yet here we are, at the dawn of a supposedly new era, and Boot and his warmongering comrades are still in the center of establishment debate. With the war in Afghanistan getting worse by the week, having spread into Pakistan and beyond, Boot sees his chance to finally persuade America to put on a British pith helmet and start flogging the natives into submission. And with Obama’s team looking likely to feature some ardent liberal interventionist hawks like Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke, Boot’s crowd is feeling very optimistic.
Which brings me back to my original point: if the neocons are so dead, why do Boot, Robert Kagan, William Kristol and all the others still have so many top media gigs, particularly as those spots are getting more and more scarce, and as the ax is falling on more and more journalists and columnists? Are the neocons’ ideas really so dead? It doesn’t look that way so far, not to me, and certainly not to Boot and his crowd.
This article first appeared in The Nation. Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine.
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