Selective Centenary Silence

Last week it would have been difficult to avoid high-profile commemoration of D-Day’s 75th anniversary last Thursday. But it is interesting what the British State chooses to commemorate and those it studiously ignores. Ordinarily, a centenary is an even-higher profile event, as the marking of various milestones of the First Wold War permeated 2014-18.
Actually, 2019 is strewn with centenaries for a whole series of events that shaped the world in which we live even more than the bloodbath of the Western Front. But you will not find them commemorated, largely because we British got it horribly wrong and the world has been coping with ramifications ever since. But none of them will feature on the nightly news.
Firstly, there is the Treaty of Versailles, signed on 28 June 1919. In it, the British and French humiliated the Germans, carving large chunks of territory out of the country, stripping her of all colonies and imposing reparations that led to hyperinflation, economic collapse and a political vacuum filled by a democratically elected Hitler on a promise to restore pride to 80 million Germans, albeit for evil reasons. The Second World War can be seen as the second half of a conflict that the Allies singularly failed to truncate after what turned out to be an inconclusive “first half”.
Second came the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the gluing together of Croat, Slovene, Serbian, Bosnian and Kosovar provinces into the Kingdom of the South Slavs o Yugoslavia. We all know how well that went in the 1990s, creating a series of humanitarian outrages about which Europe remains embarrassed.
Third came the parallel dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire into Turkey and a blizzard of states in the Middle East. This carve-up was codified by the Sykes-Picot Treaty, named after two senior bureaucrats who had never been near the place, much less understand its ethnic demographics. and With its eye on oil, Britain created a flock of dependent fledgling Gulf states: Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Emirates. As the Royal Navy was switching to oil from coal, this ensured BP (then state-owned) got its fingers deep into important oily pies. The less important parts, they divvied up with the French, taking Palestine as a “Protectorate”, which became a global flash point even before they pulled out three decades late. The French took The Levant, know known as Lebanon and Syria. These have taken it in turn to be global flash points, like some macabre tag-team.
A humiliated Turkey (see first point above) took it out on its minorities, creating a genocide against Armenians and Kurds in their remaining Eastern provinces and starting a war against the Greeks living in their Aegean provinces. Although that element has since subsided into mere venal hostility, Cyprus, already stolen by the British from the Ottomans in 1878 has become a proxy for Greek/Turkish enmity and remains divided to this day. Meantime, the Sykes/Picot carve-up of the ancient “fertile crescent has produced more full-scale local wars than the rest of the planet put together.
And, fourthly, anyone puzzled why Putin’s Russia should take such a cynical and hostile stance against Britain objecting to intervention in border states like Chechnya and Ukraine cannot be aware of this centenary of British intervention in Russian Civil War on the side of the Whites. Royal Navy bombardment from the Baltic, a division landed at Archangelsk and another with RAF support in the Kuban, followed by two decades of ostracism of “Socialism in One Country”, then the Cold War have left a bad taste in Russian mouths.
So, while it may be entirely right to commemorate those sacrifices made by many in the cause of Peace and Freedom, it would behoove Britain to also look at the complete pig’s ear that its hubris as “The Empire Upon Which the Sun Never Sets” made of the post-WWI world. Bad enough, had it simply snaffled ex-German colonies to paint pink and retreated into splendid isolation a la USA.
But, bankrupt as it was, it took upon itself the role of the World’s Policeman, under the pretext of protecting its extensive trade. But those many pivotal decisions then taken in 1919 were uniformly misguided and many consigned large parts of the planet to a century of global unrest the blame for which can be laid at Britain’s door. It is perhaps understandable that none of these slow-burning disasters receive any acknowledgement a century on.
But those who do not lean from history are condemned to repeat it. And, as the present Tory government cuts bonds with Europe, builds aircraft carriers and Trident subs and talks big about “punching above our weight in the world”, they might consider the track record a century ago when the Royal Navy was a force in the world and consider whether Germany or Japan’s peaceful, non-hectoring stance might be more appropriate stance for a second-rate power in the 21st century.

About davidsberry

Local ex-councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Retired in 2017.
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