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"What did the Romans ever do for us?" - a discussion of colonialism

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  • "What did the Romans ever do for us?" - a discussion of colonialism

    This came out of the discussion of torture and the role of superpowers in history. Specifically Britain.

    What are your views of Britain's (or your own) country's colonial/imperial past? Can positive things come out of colonialism/imperialism?

    Editing this to say, do talk about both colonialism and imperialism. Definition of the two things from the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy:

    Colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another. One of the difficulties in defining colonialism is that it is difficult to distinguish it from imperialism. Frequently the two concepts are treated as synonyms. Like colonialism, imperialism also involves political and economic control over a dependent territory. Turning to the etymology of the two terms, however, provides some suggestion about how they differ. The term colony comes from the Latin word colonus, meaning farmer. This root reminds us that the practice of colonialism usually involved the transfer of population to a new territory, where the new arrivals lived as permanent settlers while maintaining political allegiance to their country of origin. Imperialism, on the other hand, comes from the Latin term imperium, meaning to command. Thus, the term imperialism draws attention to the way that one country exercises power over another, whether through settlement, sovereignty, or indirect mechanisms of control.
    Last edited by Wolfie Gilmore; 10-02-09, 03:15 PM.


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  • #2
    As far as Britains day of empire go it's a subject that raises a lot of conflicting emotions in me. There's a part of me that feels proud that this tiny little island of the coast of northern europe once ruled the largest empire in history, the same part that will happily belt out Rule brittannia along with the last night of the proms.

    But there's also the part of me that watched Ghandhi and subsequently read up on some of the less than noble practices of that time and the blood that was spilt in the name of conquest and that sort of wants to make me apologise to the people we once subjugated.

    As for anything good coming out of it, well I think that definitely some good can come out of such colonnialism. The British themselves became more multicultural in that absobing-bits -of -other-cultures-into-our-own way and of course there's the commonwealth which is probably an example of what empire should and could be if you took away from it it's militaristic and economic conquests.

    Empires can and do spread developments (The monty python skethc referenced is a prime example.) but I'm not convinced that it's worth the cost. Nor aam I convinced that it's the only or best way of spreading and interchanging ideas and driving civilisation forward.
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    • #3
      I'm pretty disgusted by the colonial past of the Netherlands; the arrogance of us and the awful treatment of the people in other countries.

      Of course, like Tangent already said, if you hear what a little country did ... it's impressive. Almost impossible when you hear that our small country was once one of the most powerful countries in the world. It's funny to hear that 'Wallstreet' is the English name of our own 'walstraat' and to see other dutch names (Harlem) or hear people speak Dutch on the other side of the world.

      But if you see our pathetic behavior after we lost a country and the idea that Dutch people think that they are tolerant is laughable. Only our way of living was the right one and all the other cultures should adjust or we would kill them. We actually tried to get Indonesia back, right after WW2. Even after knowing how it feels to be repressed by another nation, we were hating everything that was German at the time because those people took our freedom. But we needed to get Inodonesia back, right away. Talking about double standards.
      Last edited by Nina; 10-02-09, 05:07 PM.

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      • #4
        Bringing some points over from the VIP thread…though if people are happy to discuss it in there I can always come back Don’t want to pollute the thread if people don’t wanna though.

        Some negative effects of British colonialism from Litzie:

        Originally posted by litzie
        enforcing arbitrary borders in territories without any kind of idea of nationalism or unity, remaking a culture in one's own image and destroying the existing one in the process, institutionalized racism, institutionalized ethnicism...
        Countries that have suffered from British colonialism/imperialism/meddling:

        Zimbabwe.
        Palestine/Isreal.
        the Native American population of America.
        KingofCretins’ reply:

        Originally posted by KingofCretins
        I think looking at it in a vacuum, you might be right, but the reality is that if it wasn't British colonial rule, it would have been someone else's who'd have done much worse by it. Or it wouldn't have been any, and many of their former colonies would not have free societies or any kind of economic success.
        Litzie: I get what you're saying, but the thing is, it's impossible to compare reality with hypotheticals. If you say, the british were the best out of the colonial lot, then yes, you could make an argument there, and many have in a scholarly historical setting. But if you tried to argue that british rule was an absolute good, I think you'd be seen as a progressivist, and probably accused of a lot worse than that by those who get aggressive about even neocolonialism or cultural imperialism!
        But in terms of the british being better than the Belgians, like Louie was saying above...yup, pretty much everyone was better than the Belgians! Which would be funny if it hadn't had such tragic consequences in Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC. sigh.
        Yeah, sorry, I shouldn’t be joking about it. Not going to jokey rhyme my way out of this one, as Willow says in Pangs (interesting discussion in that, isn’t there? Though not one of positive changes through colonization, more a take on what we do given that colonialism was bad in the past…how do you say sorry for something that happened like that.)


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        • #5
          The people I know from other Portugal former colonies (Angola and Cabo Verde) agree that it has some positive points as the development and unification of the country as one people by the language. Of course, the oppression was hard (but I wasn't there suffering so I don’t care .

          The strangest thing is being on the other side of the coin. Same years ago I saw some Bolivian wall scriptions against the “Brazilian Imperialism”.
          Sorry, I don't speak English.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by jj.bsb View Post
            The people I know from other Portugal former colonies (Angola and Cabo Verde) agree that it has some positive points as the development and unification of the country as one people by the language. Of course, the oppression was hard (but I wasn't there suffering so I don’t care .

            The strangest thing is being on the other side of the coin. Same years ago I saw some Bolivian wall scriptions against the “Brazilian Imperialism”.
            Interesting point. I have to admit my almost complete ignorance about Portuguese africa - basically all I know about it is that it was among the last hold outs of colonial powers in Africa. In some ways perhaps participating in wars for independence (like Angola's, for example) proved a unifying and nation-building experience as well. But when it comes to french-speaking Africa (or my area of particular knowledge, Belgian Africa and the DRC), a common language didn't overcome ethnic differences all the time (or even most of it).
            Last edited by litzie; 10-02-09, 07:04 PM.
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            • #7
              The great majority of the former colonies have elected to remain associated with Britain in the Commonwealth, which does suggest that they think the old Empire had its points.And it is true that in many places in Asia and Africa the Empire is remembered with affection.

              Of course the imperial generations in the British ruling class were educated in the classics and self consciously modeled themselves on a somewhat sanitized view of the Romans. The Victorian Empire was bound up with the public (ie private) schools and their ethos of leadership and service etc. Of course,the Empire was created in the first place much earlier by adventurers, buccaneers, traders, missionaries, and eccentrics.

              In the world of the 18th and 19th centuries the British found themselves in a position of overwhelming power in most of the world outside Europe after they had beaten France in North America and India. When you are in such a position of power your relationship with the weaker countries is "imperial" in nature whether you want it to be or not. Whether an empire was "right" was not question on the agenda anywhere much before the 20th century. Moreover it was British liberal principles that eventually played a role in educating colonial and Indian elites and gave them the rhetoric of nationalism.

              George Orwell's essays are essential reading on this subject, especially his essay on Rudyard Kipling. It goes to the heart of all the contradictions. Orwell hated the imperial system which first employed him as a policeman in Burma. He loathed domination and in certain obvious ways Kipling disgusted him. Yet he understood and admired Kipling's depiction of colonial service types, soldiers and engineers, as people who took responsibility for order ,justice, building schools and railways, and introducing modern farming methods. Kipling loved India with unmistakable passion and modern Indians, in their generosity, have accepted the old imperialist as an Indian author.

              No one opposed the independence of India more than Churchill. Yet when Churchill died in 1965 Pandit Nehru ordered the Indian flags to be flown at half mast. Such are the contradictions, and there are many more.

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              • #8
                "Can positive things come out of colonialism/imperialism?"

                Dialectics: a thing posits its opposite. Progress posits expansion & domination: in turn, domination posits resistance & emancipation; which then posit reaction & reinscription of subjugation using, however, terms of liberation.
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                • #9
                  On the value of imperialism, I'm going to quote another passage of Steyn. Spoilered for length.

                  Spoiler:
                  In 2003, Tony Blair spoke to the United States Congress. "As Britain knows," he said, "all predominant power seems for a time invincible but, in fact, it is transient. The question is: what do you leave behind?"

                  An excellent question. Today, three-sevenths of the G-7 major economies are nations of British descent. Of the twenty economies with the highest GDP per capita, no fewer than eleven are current or former realms of Her Britannic Majesty. And if you proteest that most of those are pinprick colonial tax havesn -- Bermuda, the Caymans -- okay, eliminate all territories with populations lower than twenty million and the top four is an Anglosphere sweep: the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. The key regional players in almost every corner of the globe are British-derived -- South Africa, India -- and, even among the lesser players, as a general rule you're better off for having been exposed to British rule than not: try doing business in Indonesia rather than Malaysia, or Haiti rather than St. Lucia.

                  And of course the pre-eminent power of the age derives its political character from eighteenth-century British subjects who took English ideas a little further than the mother country was willing to go. As for the allegedly inevitable superpower of the coming century, if China ever does achieve that status, it will be because the People's Republic learned more from British Hong Kong than Hong Kong ever did from the Little Red Book. Sir John Cowperthwaite, the colony's transformative financial secretary in the sixties, can stake a better claim as the father of modern China than Chairman Mao, and, if Beijing weren't so twitchy about these things, his would be the face they'd plaster over all the banners in Tiananmen Square.

                  I point out the obvious because an Englishman never would. "While some nations suffer from folie de grandeur," wrote President Bush's former speechwriter David Frum a year or two back, "the British seem uniquely disposed to bad-mouth themselves." In the late sixties, Sir Richard Turnbull, high commissioner of Aden, remarked bleakly to Defense Secretary Denis Healey that the British Empire would be remembered for only two things -- "the popularization of Association Football and the term '**** off.'" Instead of their bizarre cultural self-flagellation, the British might usefully deploy the latter forumation toward those kinky Eurofetishists who think the future lies in liquidating English law, custom, and parliamentary democracy within the conglomeration of failed nation states that make up the European Union.

                  Britain never was an unrivaled colossus, even at its zenith. Yet today, in language, law, politics, business, and the wider culture, there is simply nothing comparable in scale or endurance to the Britannic inheritance.

                  We now live in the American moment. And, even if nobody's planning on leaving, the "what do you leave behind?" question is worth asking. How does America want to use its moment? What does it wish to bequeath to the world?

                  ...the British went in to India without an exit strategy, stayed for generations, and midwifed the world's most populous democracy and a key U.S. ally in the years ahead. Which looks like the smarter approach now? Those American conservatives -- the realpolitik crowd -- who score "nation-building" ought to reflect on what the Indian subcontinent would look like if the British had been similarly skeptical: today, it might well be another Araby -- a crazy quilt of authoritarian sultanates, Hindu and Muslim, punctuated by thug dictatorship following Baath-type local variations on Fascism and Marxism. It would be a profoundly unstable region with a swollen uneducated citizenry of little use for call centers or tech support. Any American who's found himself at three in the morning talking to Suresh or Rajiv in customer service will appreciate the benefits of an Indian education. He can thank Lord Macaulay and his famous 1835 government memo on the subject for that: London dispatched generations of English, Scots, and Irish schoolma'ams and masters to obscure outposts of empire because they thought that by introducing them to Shakespeare and the Magna Carta and Sir Isaac Newton they were effectively giving their colonial subjects a passport to the modern world.

                  ... The United States, almost in inverse proportion to its economic and military might, is culturally isolated. I know, I know -- you've read a thousand articles about America's "cultural imperialism." And that's fine if you mean you can fly around the world and eat at McDonald's, dress at the Gap, listen to Hilary Duff, and go see Charlie's Angels 3 or Dude, Where's My Car? 7 pretty much anywhere on the planet. But so what? The Merry Widow was both a blockbuster sensation on Broadway and Hitler's favorite operetta. If I sent my profile in to the average computer dating agency, they'd fix me up with Saddam Hussein: he and I have the same favorite singer (Frank Sinatra) and favorite candy (Britain's Quality Street toffees). It's not enough. You can easily like American pop culture without liking America: in London, the broadsheet newspapers that devote most space to U.S. cultural trends -- the Guardian, the Independent -- are the most vehemently anti-American. Then again, if you despise America's trash pop culture, it'll make you despise America even more. Thus Jean-Pierre Chevenement, former French foreign minister, and his celebrated assertion that the United States is dedicated to "the organized cretinization of our people" -- a claim that's a lot more persuasive if you've never had the misfortune to sit through a weekend of French TV. In 2002, there was a shoot-out in a French town hall by some left-wing eco-loon, and one of the country's presidential candidates, Alain Madelin, deplored it as an "American-style-by-product." One Frenchman kills eight other Frenchmen and somehow it's proof of America's malign cultural influence.

                  You can sort of see what he's getting at. With very few exceptions, wherever you live in the world the landscape of the imagination is America: in the movie in your mind, the car chase takes place on the Los Angeles freeway, the love scene in Central Park, the massive explosion at the World Trade Center. The world watches Hollywood's America in a kind of post-neutron-bombed way: you get the sex and drugs and rock n' roll, the shoot-outs and fireballs, but the spirit of the country remains as foreign as ever. This is not a healthy phenomenon. On the things that matter -- which, no disrespect, Hilary Duff doesn't -- the gap between American and the rest of the world is wider than ever. If you define "cultural dominance" as cheeseburgers, America rules. But in the bigger cultural sense, it's a taste most of the world declines to pick up.

                  ... The raucousness of American pop culture -- jazz, showgirls, hard-boiled cops -- belies the hyperpower's geopolitical circumspection. And, on the receiving end, the Americanization of global pop culture puts a greater premium on being un-American in every other respect. Almost all the supranational bodies -- from the EU to the International Criminal Court -- are, if not explicitly hostile to American values, at the very least antipathetic to them. In the face of this rejection of the broader American culture, the popularity of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie isn't much consolation. Britain exported its language, law, and institutions around the world to the point where today there are dozens of countries whose political and legal cultures derive principally from London. On islands from the Caribbean to the South Pacific, you can find miniature Westminsters proudly displaying their maces and Hansards. But if England is the mother of parliaments, America's a wealthy spinster with no urge to start dating. Of all the new nations that have come to independence since 1945 not one has adopted the American system of republican decentralized federalism -- even though it's arguably the most successful ever invented.

                  The United States has zero interest in empire, for obvious reasons. For one thing, it's already as big as an empire, and most countries that controlled that big a land mass would probably run it in imperial fashion. Instead, America took a federation designed for a baker's dozen of homogeneous East Coast colonies and successively applied it across the continent and halfway over the Pacific. It's not strictly true that the sun never sets on the American Republic, but it's up an awful lot of the time.

                  Beyond that, Americans are deeply suspicious of the notion that you can swan around the world "giving" freedom to people. They have to want it, like the first Americans did -- as we say in New Hampshire, live free or die. If the Iraqis want a free society badly enough, they'll stick with it; if they don't and they take the easy option of falling for some puffed-up strongman, that's their problem, not America's.

                  While this might be philosophically admirable, the practical drawback is that power abhors a vacuum. If American won't export its values -- self-reliance, decentralization -- others will export theirs. In the eighties, Paul Kennedy warned the United States of "imperial overstretch." But the danger right now is of imperial understretch -- of a hyperpower reluctant to sell its indisputably successful inheritance to the rest of the world.
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                  • #10
                    "No one opposed the independence of India more than Churchill. Yet when Churchill died in 1965 Pandit Nehru ordered the Indian flags to be flown at half mast. "

                    Independent people can afford to be generous; suppliant ones, no. Plus, an arbitrary and irascible old parent can look not so bad in their decrepitude; and a compliment to them is as much a compliment to one's own generosity, "the old duffer wasn't arf so bad as painted," except he probably was when his power was unassailable.
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                    • #11
                      I think Nehru felt that Churchill's unique role in warning about Hitler in the 1930s and stopping Hitler from winning the war in 1940--when he came closer to victory than at any other time--was what mattered most. Fidel Castro was another surprising admirer.

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                      • #12
                        "Churchill's unique role in warning about Hitler in the 1930s"

                        The German socialists & communists had the first clue about Hitler, since he was setting his thugs on them in street battles in the 1920s & '30S before he got the power to put them in labor camps. He got the power to put them in labor camps largely because the nice English Blimps believed that he was giving the Pinks & the Reds whatfor jollygood.

                        Basic googling unearths what dear old Winnie had to contribute in that conflict:

                        Even Winston Churchill, by no means a supporter of Fascism, seemed to place greater blame on Communists for starting the war, as he stated in a July 19, 1937 House of Commons speech:

                        It is well known that ordinary guarantees for safety and order had largely lapsed in Spain, that it was not safe for people to go out at night over large areas, that murders and outrages were rife, and that constitutional parliamentary government was being used as a mere mask, a screen, to cover the swift, stealthy and deadly advance of the extreme Communist or anarchist factions, who saw, according to the regular programme of Communist revolutions, the means by which they could obtain power.


                        http://www.janus.umd.edu/Feb2002/spa...%20tom/06.html

                        Whenever one penetrates the boozy haze & cigar smoke that surrounds the bullyboys who love empire & Winnie & company, one finds those many dreadful facts that make such a hash of the anglo-imperial groupies who, like the sirens in Angel, go all sigh-y and weak in the knees over their heroes . . .
                        Entrer dans la lumi?re comme un insecte fou respirer la poussi?re vous venir ? genoux - Patricia Kaas

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                        • #13
                          I am amazed at your animus against Churchill.

                          Hitler never lost a minutes sleep over the socialists and communists--many of the Communists came over to the Nazis anyway in 1930--33. His serious opponents in Germany were the conservatives entrenched in the bureaucracy and the Army. He appeased them even as he crushed the labor unions.

                          It was a good thing for the West that Franco won the Spanish War. Had the Communists won, then during the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact from August 1939 until June 22 1941 a Communist Spain would have been pro-Hitler, instead of neutral, which was Franco's policy.

                          In British politics Churchill warned about Hitler and British military weakness from 1934 onwards. True, he was an imperialist but nearly all other right-wing imperialists sympathized with appeasement and had reasons for not wanting another German war.

                          When Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940 he ensured that the war would go on after the fall of France. Without him, the constellation of political forces in London would have indicated a deal with Hitler. Churchill brought Labor into the Cabinet with him. Do you think that respectable socialists like Attlee,Morrison and Bevin did not know what they were doing?

                          Churchill could not win the war-that needed Russia and America as well as England-- but he stopped Hitler from winning in 1940-41. He was indispensable. He rose above his limitations in a great and good cause. Which is why people like Nehru and even Castro honored him.

                          And why people like David Irving and Pat Buchanan hate him. You are in bad company.

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                          • #14
                            King, I'd like to address the point you quoted about British badmouthing of themselves. I think what's important to the British on the issue of empire is never to forget that any good things done within the empire must always be held up next to the bad things - to the very fact of taking over another country and limiting its freedom to determine its own destiny. I think I feel about this rather similiarly to how I feel about war: sometimes, these things bring benefits. But never, ever should we forget the context in which those benefits occur. There's always a price, and there is always shame. That is, we shouldn't be proud of empire, even if we can construe benefits for the colonized. We shouldn't ignore the positives, where there are positives. But it should always be qualified by the memory that we denied people their freedom. And occasionally massacred them.

                            Colonies like Australia, America and Canada are a very different case from, eg, India. They involved either wiping out or marginalising the original inhabitants - while Indians may have had some benefits, native americans, not so much.


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                            • #15
                              This might be as good a place as any to make the point,IMO, that the principle of empire and the principle of democracy are morally and logically incompatible. I think this is what Wolfie also is getting at.

                              Democracy is about people-usually a nation--ruling themselves through elective institutions. It is government by consent.

                              Empire is about one nation ruling another, or others. It is government without consent.

                              In reality things are not always so clear as in theory. We have all heard of "democratic" governments that were elected by crooked means. And in 18th century India, not to mention Africa, ideas about democracy and liberty probably had no actual meaning.

                              However a country that might be called an imperial democracy, such as Britain and France through much of modern history and the United States today, is a living contradiction. I do not believe that a living contradiction can live indefinitely.

                              An imperial democracy must either give up the empire or stop being a democracy. I notice that the Portuguese empire in Africa outlasted those of Britain and France because Portugal was a dictatorship under Salazar. I believe the Americans will get out of the imperial racket before long in order to preserve their democracy.

                              The old imperialist Churchill seemed to get a glimmer of the future. In speech at Harvard in 1942 he said, "The empires of the future will be empires of the mind."

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                              • #16
                                Originally posted by Wolfie Gilmore View Post
                                I think what's important to the British on the issue of empire is never to forget that any good things done within the empire must always be held up next to the bad things - to the very fact of taking over another country and limiting its freedom to determine its own destiny. I think I feel about this rather similiarly to how I feel about war: sometimes, these things bring benefits. But never, ever should we forget the context in which those benefits occur. There's always a price, and there is always shame.
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                                • #17
                                  It was a good thing for the West that Franco won the Spanish War. Had the Communists won, then during the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact from August 1939 until June 22 1941 a Communist Spain would have been pro-Hitler, instead of neutral, which was Franco's policy.

                                  That begs the question of whether, with a communist Spain, there would have been the Nazi-Soviet pact; a victorious Spanish Republic would have been the rallying point for the left's resistance to fascism, thus obviating

                                  Churchill could not win the war-that needed Russia and America as well as England-- but he stopped Hitler from winning in 1940-41. He was indispensable. He rose above his limitations in a great and good cause.

                                  Having an additional ally on the continent would have reinforced France; and the example of the success of the International Brigades would have made it clear earlier to the Germans -- those supposedly resistant-to-Hitler German military men -- that they were facing larger obstacles to the conquest of Europe. In the would-have-been, had Franco not had the victory in April 1939, there would have been no Nazi-Soviet pact.

                                  His serious opponents in Germany were the conservatives entrenched in the bureaucracy and the Army. He appeased them even as he crushed the labor unions.

                                  That's very self-flattering of conservatives to believe so, but there was no 'appeasement', but a common interest. There was no reaction against Hitler after the pact with Stalin because they knew exactly what conservatives today try to fudge: that it was not ideological agreement, but pure strategy on the part of both: Stalin needed Hitler to turn westward, and Hitler avoided (for the time) what he feared most, the two-front war.

                                  Churchill could not win the war-that needed Russia and America as well as England-- but he stopped Hitler from winning in 1940-41. He was indispensable. He rose above his limitations in a great and good cause. And why people like David Irving and Pat Buchanan hate him. You are in bad company.

                                  I'm not in their company at all, because I view Churchill as a proponent of right-wing beliefs; it was only in their application of how far imperialism and white supremacy should go that they differed.
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                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by jj.bsb View Post
                                    My price to say that Flakland belongs to the Brits is BBC free all over Brazil
                                    Is hour after hour of Strictly Come Dancing and Three Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps really worth it....?


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                                    • #19
                                      Is hour after hour of Strictly Come Dancing and Three Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps really worth it....?

                                      My feeling about the 1914-1918 war: The English never objected to being ruled by Germans before, why suddenly the aversion in 1914?
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                                      • #20
                                        Ravynnia, your view of Churchill is like a hostile cartoon rather than a portrait of a real person. You distort and exaggerate his flaws, and ignore altogether his virtues. I honestly don't think you know him better than socialists such as Attlee and Bevin who worked with him, not forgetting George Orwell, who wrote a memorable review of the second volume of Churchill's war memoirs, for Tribune in 1949

                                        By the way , between the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939 and the German invasion of Russia in June 1941 the Communists all over Europe danced to Hitler's music and gave him more or less what he wanted. As did Stalin right up until the day before the German attack on the 22nd. Why a paranoid case like Stalin trusted Hitler to the extent that he did still remains a mystery.

                                        In the tragic battle of France in 1940 , M Thorez the leader of the French Communist Party broadcast from Moscow calling on French soldiers to lay down their arms.I guess many of them did. The French Communist Party made a significant contribution to the collapse of France and brought Hitler closer to winning the war--his war--than at any other time

                                        You do not attempt to deny that it was Churchill who kept the war against Hitler going after the fall of France. I suggest you agree with what Churchill did during 1940--41 but bitterly resent the fact that it was he who did it. The historical truth cannot be mangled to suit some left wing fairy tale that you would evidently prefer.

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