Three books - 1

I've been postponing writing this for the past 2 months. And if I delay any further, the 'three books' will become 'Four books' and then 'Five books' and so on. So to cut down on the misery of writing so much, decided to bite the bullet and write now. 

Why this urge to write about books I read? This is a question I've been asking since the day I started writing a diary so long ago and unanswered it is still. So moving on to the books.

Redcoats And Rebels: The War For America - Christopher Hibbert

The history of America as it got its independence and wrote itself a constitution and declared itself as a republic is a very interesting one. 
From the writings of Franklin to the histories of Gore Vidal the literature that covers the same is abundant and Tom Paine's manifesto and the constitution itself, a brilliant exercise in the handling of words by Jefferson, the contemporary documents are also available in plenty. So when I bought this one, there was not much of expectation other than that this was bought cheap.
But when I found that this was written by a British historian from a British perspective, it was not just interesting but it helps in understanding the 'other' side of the story. 
The book starts with the Stamp act and ends with the surrender of Cornwallis's army at Yorktown. And the entire story is told from the British perspective with lots of details on how the British bungled the entire war and lost a continent.
The book deals with the decisions taken by the King, the parliament and the senior commanders of the British army in the continent which though won the battles, ultimately lost the war. The lack of a larger strategy, engaging the mercenaries, the political tussle between the commanders, the oscillating mindset of the King and the Parliament itself accounts for the ultimate defeat. 
The tenacity with which Washington and the rebels fought was never accounted for by the British and we see them wondering at various points as to the reason why the Americans are still fighting. But they never did try to understand the population or the terrain in which they were fighting. As political appointees, the commanders only tried to make sure they don't end up losing before their term is over. All this and more contributes to the eventual British defeat. 
While it is wonderful to look back and figure all this today, I was wondering what it would've been in the 1770's Britain and understand the course of war and make decisions. What the British public thought of the war (if they ever did), is not discussed and same goes for what the rest of the world thought of it. 
Overall, an interesting read and as recommended by Paul Theroux, I am planning to read the British view of the 1857 war of independence by the  same author 'The Great Mutiny' sometime soon.

- To be continued 

8 comments:

NO said...

I saw your blog and have infact been thinking on the subject for a few months now. Hence some points form my end.

If you are trying to understand Indian mutiny – rather its failure – in terms of the British loss in America, there are a few of fundamental factors that need to be digested.

1. British army in most cases refrained from attacking and destroying the lives and property of the general colonial citizens of America even though they might have expressed solidarity to the rebels by the way of monetary contributions and of course moral support.

2. The reason for this is obvious. The white, Christian and English speaking soldiers of the Britain were not able to come to terms with destroying families and citizens that were also white, Christian and mostly English speaking. Commonality of race, religion and ethnicity stopped them from embarking on a genocide.

3. The rebels led by Washington and others were till yesterday the privileged white Christian and European that had access to knowledge of all modern weaponry that Europe had started producing. They simply were there in the same class along with their Europeans till the other day and knowing completely what their blood brothers were capable of and where they will stop.

The above case points takes a different route when applied to the hapless rebels that India had thrown up when the so called “just” British rule showed their true face.
British blew of the Indian mutiny, in spite of the formidable offensives launched Nana Saheb, Tatiya Tope and Manikarnika (Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi) by not destroying the offensives of these great Indian rebels, but by totally obliterating the support systems that these rebels depended upon.

Needless to say, the support systems were the general population of India in the ancient and once prosperous towns along the Ganges and other great north Indian rivers.
A War is won by the soldier only if he has been provided properly and on time with adequate food and remedies. A flawless supply chain and resource management is the key for any war. The best of the soldiers is useless when he is deprived of good food, clothing and other remedies.

In case of India these were all readily provided by thousands of simple villagers and small town peoples of India. The old bazars of North India became collection centers for such provisions for the thousands of rebels that wanted to get rid of the British. The simple and hard-working folks of India did this inspite grinding poverty that the British imposed on them in a matter of fifty years. In a matter of a generation this highly civilized and mostly prosperous population had become paupers due to British loot!

NO said...

Inspite of such a situation, Indians rose in support to provide for the rebels. The contributed their own food and resources to most rebel armies so that the British would be driven out of their lands.

The British Army finding ways to curtail and silence the rebels was searching for solutions. They finally looked at the support chain and decided the best way to silence the rebels was to silence the entities that provided the resources and the supply chain.
The entity here was the common population of the Indian plains.
The British simply burnt down villages after villages and massacred the populations that were suspected to have provided the rebel armies with supplies.
What they did not do in America they did here in India without any compunction. For the victims were neither white, nor Christians. They just were black and brown heathens that worshipped stones and not civilized enough to merit any leniency. The white British soldier that would not dare to raise his gun towards a white mother who may have her son fighting for the rebels would have had no such feelings when he faced such an Indian woman.

His attitude and gun simply emptied. Be it the old father or the simple village man that gave his provision to the rebel, all perished in the hands of the British musket and sword.
What even some of the violent Muslim invaders into India did not do, the British were at it with fullest zeal and vindictiveness. Villages after villages were burnt and most of the menfolk which looked like bearing a weapon were hanged in trees for the other villagers to see. A message of British vindictiveness were sent right across the Gangetic belt. It scared the wits out of Indians and slowly the support to the rebels grew thin. They did not have even minimum food provisions as they advanced or defended a post.

White Christian man’s sympathy for non-combatants and unarmed civilians were applicable only if they too were White Christians!

THAT’S THE KEY FACTOR THAT ENDED THE GREAT MUTINY!!!!!

NO said...

To whitewash the British genocide and slaughter of Indian civilians, a revisionist false history was written by British themselves to portray the rebels to be a monstrous and a murderous breed!

Whereas the rebels were also violent at times and its true that British non-combatants too paid with their life, most of such violence were in retaliation to the killing and destruction of Indian civilians and non-combatants (It has been clearly documented that most of such action against unarmed British civilians were indeed a retaliation to the murder of innocent Indian noncombatants). Added to the fact that British were aliens in India and for half a century plundered and made paupers out of a rich nation made people seethe with anger. But what added disgust to the whole enterprise was the British effort to convert native Indians to their religion. It is a proven fact that the personal servants of British were converted into Christianity and thereby making of a privileged community which started mocking the natives. Hence the first suspect in the eyes of the rebels were these native converts whose loyalties were always with the British. They were attacked and since they were with the white people, the white people too got attacked.

Such action from the rebel side was quickly highlighted by the British by the way of newspaper reporting throughout Europe (it was the blossoming of the newspaper reporting era) and a case for a just retaliation was made by them. Using such concocted moral high ground as a basis they began their second round of massacre. There were no prisoners of war. The rebels were treated as criminals and hanged then and there. Any one that was doubted to have aided met with the same fate. Execution was the order of day!

NO said...

Such brutal action and genocide by the British stoked so much fear inside the mind of Indians any further chance for an armed uprising against British just washed away. For nearly seventy years after this the fear remained in the hearts of Indians and it took a Mahatma to find out a way to confront them with a totally new method! For the great Mahatma understood precisely what the British were capable of!

The second reason for the British victory was of course the support they received from Sikh and the Gurkha armies and also the quite atmosphere in the southern part of India.

Sikhs of Punjab and Northwest India simply wanted to avenge the population of the Gangetic plains that were fighting with the British fifty years earlier to defeat their first and last independent Sikh kingdom. The loss of Sikh kingdom that Ranjit Singh assiduously built was too much to bear for them. Even though it was the British umbrella that defeated them, their grudge was more towards the various native armies of the plains that sided with the British.

The Gurkha was simply a mercenary ready to go for war with the highest bidder. A soldier to the core, he simply made a point to be in action for the any king that paid him properly! In fact most of the native Indians were like that a century ago till they realized the real intentions of British. Whereas all the Hindu kings and most of the Muslim kings of India made the average soldier in the army realize that they would not allow the basic economic systems that supported the nation to be destroyed due to their rule, British did not give any damn to such thinking. The British flag should be the only flag in India was their motto and the British products should be the only products that can be sold was their profession. The Indian sepoy took some time to understand this. He slowly realized that when their supremacy was challenged they simply destroyed the supporting structure that may sustain any rebels. Added to their increasingly un favorable views about the native religions, especially about Hinduism, the average sepoy had come to realize about what British actually were and they will stop at none to be the one single and powerful master of the vast nation. This lit the spark which was ready for combustion and we all know by now that Mangal Pandey was one of the first ones to raise the voice.

The non-participation of South India in this entire conflict has got other reasons per me. Maybe will get some time to write about this later.

The central fact remains that the great mutiny would have succeeded and the British would have been comprehensively driven out of India but for the brutal and planned destructive action against Indian civilians and non-combatants by the British!

On the other side, the American war of Independence would have been easily extinguished and a new country called United States of America would have never risen if the British would have done what they would do in India!!

To sum it up, Independent America was the result of white British’s ultimate regard for its own race, religion and color and subjugated India was the result of the white British’s ultimate disregard for those which are not his own!


(Of course this does not take away the valiant efforts and high thoughts of the founding fathers of USA and more specifically the sustained war of intellect by Thomas Paine against the feudal British Empire)

Muthu Prakash Ravindran said...

I disagree with you. I do not believe whether it is white/christian or anything else mattered if you understood the fact that British were a country of traders who were worried only about their trade monopolies and money. That said, the key difference between the British response to the USA's war of independence and the Indian mutiny is that, while the war in USA was pursued by the British parliament, the Indian mutiny was dealt with by the East India Company. The resultant difference was what you've explained. If you understood the fact that it was after the 1857 mutiny the British parliament took control of the Indian affairs by dissolving the East India company's interests and declaring Victoria as queen, I do not think you would've made the arguments that you've listed. for the EI company, safeguarding their revenue was more important whereas the during the 1776 war, the British parliament was worrying about its aristocrats getting positions in the war execution. The only comparative massacre during the British parliament's control is the Jalianwala Bagh massacre (apart from the numerous famines), which put the country on the one-way road to freedom. Now, the British parliament especially forbid the missionary activities, not because they were secular, but because they were bad for business. In this context, defining the British response as different because of the color, religion is just BS.

NO said...

Your naïveté amuses me!

//That said, the key difference between the British response to the USA's war of independence and the Indian mutiny is that, while the war in USA was pursued by the British parliament, the Indian mutiny was dealt with by the East India Company. The resultant difference was what you've explained//

Did you first understand that the point was essentially about “British response” and not about either a Parliamentary or a company’s response?
What do you think would have happened if there was an East American company instead of the British parliamentary council running the war in America? The answer is that the effect would have been the same!!

Furthermore, the connection between East India company and the general English public and between the British Parliament and the same public is one and the same. Both entities are representatives of the same stock. In fact East India company is more driven by commercial interest than the British Parliament. If that was not a restraining factor even for East India company, imagine what would have happened if the situation was under direct British parliament.

It is accepted that British were a country of traders and that they were less religiously motivated than say a Spanish or Portuguese. However that does not take away the fact that the subjugation tactics they employed on non-white colonial subjects were markedly different from what they did to their White colonial subjects, be it in Americas or in Ireland.

Do you have any idea of British societal response to the perpetrator of the Jallianwalabagh atrocity? Do you know what Rudyard Kipling and others thought about it? Even Churchill, a self confessed imperialist and having an absolutely low opinion about Indians and their culture had something strong to say about Dyer’s conduct. But the general public did not even do that. If you do not know try and understand the conduct behind the monetary support that Dyer got from the general British public after he was relieved from his post. What you think motivated them to do that! After all the ruling clan of the British empire is largely made out of that same society which did not give damn about gunning down Women and Children! If its not about Religion and color then what was that all about.
Jallianwalabagh is just one example. There are many more.

NO said...

One thing is that, looking at English people today as an abomination for past happenings is certainly farfetched. The Zeitgeist of that time was such the English certainly were far better than most of the other colonial masters, specifically the monstrosity in Belgian Congo under King Leopold. Hence that’s not the point. Maybe you are viewing through that glass and trying to evaluate.

That Color and religion played an extremely important part in the merciless culling of Indian mutiny’s support system is established beyond doubt. Maybe you have been reading too much of so called secular apology written by imperial lovers.

For your information I am too a great admirer of British intellect and have the highest regard for the English as an enlightened people. No doubts about that and if that makes me an Anglophile, so be it. However that in no way stops me from defining their colonial actions as being done with motives other than pure economics! Race and religion impacted them as much as any other would have as that’s how things worked at that age and time. Denying this is unsound analysis! If that makes my words mean BS to you, so be it!

BTW, have you ever thought why the English sold opium to Chinese and not to any other White ruled country and why Pablo Escobar was considered a criminal and not Lord Palmerstone? (If you do not know about Palmerstone, you should read what he said about China’s attempt to stop Opium dumping by Britain)

Muthu Prakash Ravindran said...

If my naivete amuses you, your dogma distresses me to say the least.

1. 'British response' in terms of a company which has only commercial interests to pursue versus a parliament which has some accountability to explain its actions is the difference. If you cannot understand this, nothing more can be said on that.

2. On being the same stock, colonialism in terms of the grabbing of the native lands, yes, they are of the same stock. While the company pursued only a course of revenue from the provinces, 1857 marked the emergence of the Indian middle-class and the formation of congress and such. It wouldn't have been possible under the company's rule.

3. On the other example of Belgian congo, Leopold was able to do what he can simply because it was run as commercial enterprise than a direct colony under Belgium. Whether that would've made a difference, no way to predict, but what you are quoting precisely gives the Indian conditions before 1857.

3. If Dyer were looked upon as the savior of India by the British public, I do not think that makes any difference as there were equal number of people who condemned him as well. For every man who is hailed as hero by someone, he is a villain for others. Now, how that proves the British public as racist/imperialistic etc. I dont get it may be because of my naivete.

4. Clement Atlee and Leo Amoery who considered Indians as enlightened, capable of governing themselves were in the same parliament of which Churchill, the imperial colonist is part of.

5. Comparing Palmerstone and Escobar is an anomoly and just because you know two guys who dealt with drugs, they cannot be compared. They lived in different worlds ruled by different rules and standards. If you dont get this, there is no point is asking anyone to read about what Palmerstone said.

Yes, British had racial, religious, colonist aspirations both here in India and America (Do you understand the protestant Vs Catholic/Jesuit dimension of the American war?).
If my thoughts are formed by secular apology literature, I think yours is badly influenced by right wing vitriol. And may be you should relax a bit and read a bit more.

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