Wednesday, June 28, 2017

History of British Colonialism

History Book Club
Wednesday, June 28, 2017

British Colonialism

Wednesday, June 28, 2017:  History of English/British Colonialism It started in the latter part of the 15th Century with plantations in Ireland. Read how the United Kingdom grew to become the greatest Empire in the history of the world.  If you wish, home in on British slave trade, and how the U.K. colonized the New World, bringing slaves to grow sugar and cotton. Then Napoleonic Wars and Britain’s seizure of French Colonies. America and Canada.  Colonization of Asia in Hong Kong, Malaya, Australia, New Zealand, India, Burma. Africa, and more for you to discover. [Suggested by Richard Heuser]

Sergeev, Evgeny, The Great Game, 1856-1907 : Russo-British Relations in Central and East Asia; Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2013. w/index. 530pp.

            I’m very grateful for the opportunity ---and the peer pressure --- to explore history like we have for the past decade and a half.  Thanks to Rockport Public Library, and William Tobin, who originated the Rockport History Book Club, and thanks also to Beverly and Dick Verrengia, Richard Heuser, Janos Posfai, Walt Frederick and Bill Owen, along with several earlier members, we’ve ranged far and wide over time and space.

            We’ve studied the history of Russia and China, Africa; we’ve studied the history of religion, of music, art, journalism, food in America, exploration and colonization of America, the American family, industrialization in America, history of World War II, history of inequality, the Cold War, Spies and Spy Agencies, of Cape Ann, of early exploration, history of capitalism, of germs and plagues, of political parties, American Indians, Women’s Suffrage, Middle Eastern politics, and even the history of the future!

            The book I read for this month is The Great Game, and it is a comprehensive study of the efforts of the British and Russian empires “to change the destinies of the tribes of Central and South Asia, from turmoil, violence, ignorance and poverty to peace, enlightenment and varied happiness.” That aspiration belonged to Arthur Conolly, who is credited with naming this effort “The Great Game”.

            This “Great Game” was played by many, from kings, isars, pashas and shahs, to generals and military attachés, ambassadors, scholars, adventurers and scoundrels of all types.

            Author Evgeny Sergeev, who is Professor of History and Head of the Center for the Study of 20th-Century Socio-Political and Economic Problems within the Institute of World History at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, has delved into diaries, journals, official documents, telegrams, letters in Russian, British archives, and documents from archives of Iran, India and the post-Soviet republics of Central Asia, some that have only recently been made available.

            Since I was once a military advisor to the Shah of Iran, and traveled in the Turkoman region of Iran, then a decade later, as naval attaché to the USSR, traveled in Soviet Asian republics, it is exciting to see that places I visited figured so heavily in this “Game”.

            Author Sergeev makes a special point that this competition for national wealth and influence between Great Britain and Russia, which began after Britain had defeated Russia in the Crimean War (1853-56), was not a precursor to the Cold War, but “it deserves to be remembered as making a significant contribution not only to the development of Russo-British relations but also to a general contour of world politics in the twentieth century.”

            Rudyard Kipling, that great chronicler of Queen Victoria’s adventure in India, gave “The Great Game” more publicity and fame when he characterized it as a secret war against the Russians, and later against the French, who allied with the tsar in the 1890s.

            Throughout the entire period of “the Game”, Britain’s primary objective remained safeguarding the ‘jewel in her crown’, India, while Russia kept ever in view possession of an ice-free port, and access to strategic oceanic waterways.

            During the 51 years of “the Game” relations varied between the two empires. Tense in the late 1850s, “peaceful coexistence” in the 1870s, edging toward war (1877-88), peaceful easing in the 1890s, and brink of war in the early 1900s, climaxing with a rapprochement in 1907. There were plans by the Russians to attack India, to seize Tibet, Mongolia, and Persia.  The Russians acquired Turkmenia, which later became a Soviet republic; they also acquired Khiva, Bokhara and Khokand, which later became Uzbekistan.

            Russia’s seizure of Khiva alarmed the British and forced them to stiffen up their defenses for Russian invasion of India. 

            Russian advances on Tibet were aimed at Russian incursion into Qing China, but the British    feared that Russians would use Tibet as an entryway into India. Russian efforts succeeded in acquiring territory north of the Amur River in the Far East,

            The Sepoy Uprising (1857-58), seen by Indians as their first war for independence, shocked the British and made many Englishmen realize how Indians really felt toward them, encouraged Indians of the vulnerability of Britain, and encouraged Russians to seize the opportunity to invade and replace the British. The uprising was suppressed, and Queen Victoria granted British citizen rights to Indians.

            For us today, after years of modern conflict with radical Islamists, it is interesting to see how the British and the Russians coped with Muslims bitter over infidel intrusions in the nineteenth century.      
            Dr. R. Charles Weller of Washington State University, in reviewing Sergeev’s book, has pointed out that in the Sepoy uprising Britain called upon the debt owed them by Ottomans in the Crimean War (1853-56) to gain permission for troops to travel through Egypt and Suez to reinforce troops fighting in India, and the Ottoman Sultan provided remarkably effective help in urging Indian Muslims not to fight against the British. Weller goes on to point out that the Ottoman Sultan’s influence at this time led to the “dethroning of Muslim power in India”, so that Indian Muslims looked to the Ottoman leader as the sole Caliph of the Muslim world, so that discussion of “jihad” against the British as infidels was considered unnecessary.

            The whole period of the Great Game involved countless contacts between British, Russian and Islamic forces. Christianity vs. Islam thus was always a dominant theme in these interactions, sometimes working to the advantage of the Russians, sometimes to the advantage of the British.

            There were often sinister “helpers” to agitate either side, such as the Japanese intelligence officer who is alleged to have helped Russian Muslims to start the 1905 Russian Revolution.

            The “Great Game” came to an end when Russia, buffeted by an uprising in St. Petersburg, lost the Russo-Japanese war.  Although there was considerable anti-Russian sentiment in London, the British began to realize that Japan, an emerging Asian power, needed no encouragement, and further, in order to prevent the French from aligning with Germany, Britain, in August 1907, signed the Anglo-Russian Convention. The convention assigned spheres of influence in Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet. Britain recognized Russia’s right to pass through the Turkish Straits, and Russia agreed not to interfere with the Sheikhs around the Persian Gulf.

            One thing that has concerned me is that during the whole Cold War of 1945-91, it seems as if most conflicts that involved the Russians or the Americans were related to our conflict with each other.  Where were the Taliban, al Qaeda, or the Islamic State of that time?  There were always Islamists, fighting the Israelis, high-jacking aircraft.  There were the Palestinian groups, Yasser Arafat.  But is it simply that our media, and we, were not paying attention?  Did the Cold War simply suppress Muslim unrest, or were we just not paying attention?

            Sergeev’s study of “The Great Game” doubtless found freshly uncovered and declassified Russian records from tsarist times, but it is interesting to see how he defends the Russian side in the “Game”, and calls attention to the somewhat superior British attitude toward Her Majesty’s colonial subjects.
            Working with senior British military officers in Tehran gave me a sense that attitudes had not changed much, The feeling of British superiority over Persians, Indians, etc. was very apparent.  I am sure many overseas Americans exhibit those same attitudes, however.
            It was refreshing to feel the connection between this nineteenth century “Game” and the “Game” we played in some of the same places a century later.


                            HISTORY BOOK CLUB TOPICS FOR 2017

Wednesday, July 26, 2017:euser]
 Treasure Hunts in History. This is your opportunity to find a treasure and discover the hunt for it, whether it is the quest for gold in California, diamonds in Africa, the hunt for the pharaohs buried in the pyramids, the hunt to discover a cure for polio or yellow fever, the terracotta army buried with Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of China, the search for the source of the Nile, the discovery of Neanderthal man… This topic is for you to imagine!  [Suggested by Walt Frederick]

Wednesday, August 31, 2017: Gloucester and the Sea.  euser]
Gloucester has throughout four centuries cast its lot with the North Atlantic, remaining a maritime port for better or worse. The maritime culture of Cape Ann is the mix of a noble maritime heritage; ubiquitous sea influences that reach as far as the quarries behind Rockport and into the haunted tracks of Dogtown Common; seductive but capricious natural splendors; and untidy independence that repels some but converts other visitors into lifetime devotees. We plan to invite Chester Brigham, author of Gloucester’s Bargain with the Sea, to join us.  Read this or any other book about the maritime history of Gloucester. [Suggested by Richard Verrengia]

Wednesday, September 28, 2017: The History of History. Read any book about Historiography, or methods of recording history, from Herodotus and Thucydides to Saint Augustine to Ibn Khaldun. You might want to read about ways people have used history as propaganda, or to build up the image of a leader, or focus upon a particular kind of history. [Suggested by Sam Coulbourn]

Wednesday, October 25, 2017: The Industrial Revolution in New England.  Development of mills, the textile industry in Lowell, Lawrence, Manchester and elsewhere. Life in the mills, quality of life in the cities. Advent of the steam engine. Railroads. Banking and commerce in the Industrial age. Labor problems and unionization. Iron and steel production. Coal mining. Communications. [Suggested by Sam Coulbourn]

Wednesday, November 29, 2017: The Decline of Major Powers.  How does it happen, that a nation that has been calling all the shots suddenly finds out that it’s not the Big Cheese any longer? Read about Athens and Sparta, or look at Rome, or the Arab Caliphate, Spain, Great Britain, France, Germany, the Soviet Union. Do we see China coming to take the mace away from the United States of America?  [Suggested by Beverly Verrengia]

No meeting in December

Wednesday, January 31, 2018:  Manifest Destiny: The 19th century period of American expansion that the United States not only could, but was destined to, stretch from coast to coast. Western settlement, Native American removal and war with Mexico. Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark Expedition, Missouri Compromise, Oregon Territory, Indian Wars, Union Pacific Railway, Texas, California… [Suggested by Sam Coulbourn]

Wednesday, February 28, 2018:  WHAT TOPIC DO YOU SUGGEST?

Wednesday, March 28, 2018:  WHAT TOPIC DO YOU SUGGEST?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018:  WHAT TOPIC DO YOU SUGGEST?

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