JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Wednesday, April 03, 2013


I was listening to John Brennan's nomination hearing to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and he was being questioned about drone strikes against alleged terrorists where ever and when ever the President wants to kill them, when it occurred to me that there is just about no country on the face of the earth in which American soldiers have not killed or been killed. It seems we have taken on the intellectual and cultural mantle of an “American Empire”, which was to be expected, I guess, since we learned from the British, who openly sought an empire back in the good old days of “fuzzy-wuzzies” and empires being a good thing. The Brits, by their own count, have invaded 90% of the roughly 200 countries on this earth - not bad for a small damp island with a big navy, off the northwest coast of Europe. And that percentage grows more amazing, the more you think about it.
Sure, the Brits spent most of the 11th and 12th centuries fighting in France and Belgium and Germany, and part of the 15th attacking the Netherlands. But they also once owned the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and Pakistan. And from the 18th through the 20th centuries they invaded South Africa, Portugal, Spain, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Nepal, most of the countries in Central and South America and assorted Pacific Islands. They occupied several cities in China, and fought two wars to conquer Afghanistan and two more to force Chinese Emperors to accept opium from Afghan poppy fields. They invaded Cuba in 1741, the Philippines in 1762 and Iceland in 1940. They even attacked little Denmark twice, in 1801 and 1807. Whew!: this could take us forever, so let us try a shorter route.
The 22 countries that the British do not admit invading are – Andorra. Belarus, Bolivia, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Guatemala, Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mali, the Marshall Islands, Monaco, Mongolia (maybe they didn't and maybe they did twice), Paraguay, Sao Tome and Principe, Sweden, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Vatican City. And that brings up the most interesting question (at least to me) about this record of British avarice and aggression; why not? Why did those empire hungry imperialists miss these 22 spots while invading everywhere else in the world? Well, it seems the first requirement for British intervention was a coastline.
Andorra is a tiny landlocked country sitting 6,500 feet up in the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France. Similarly, the Duchy of Lichtenstein, is high in the Alps between Switzerland and Italy. Neither country has a sea coast, and no major resources. Since the 16th century Andorra has been governed jointly by a local bishop and a French nobleman, who morphed into the President of France. In the 19th century a German prince bought Lichtenstein as a summer retreat. In both countries democracy made the citizens stock holders, thus protecting the property owners' investments. In 1934 a Russian con man named Boris Skossyreff staged a coup and declared himself the King of Andorra. He was promptly arrested - by the police. So it appears the English never invaded Andorra or Lichtenstein because it wasn't easy to reach, there was no profit in it, and...they didn't want a felony arrest on their record.
The three countries of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan fall into the same category; plus their entries in the British Foreign Office Guide Book probably start with, “Nothing but trouble”. They are all mountainous with (again) no sea coast, filled with stubbornly independent peoples and with no resources you could profitably get out. The same was true for the homeland of Genghis Khan, but the English still came close to invading Mongolia, twice. The first time was in the 1850's, during the 2nd Opium War, when the British chased the Chinese general Prince Sengge Rinchen all the way to the border, and maybe over it. Then again, in 1918, the British shipped a few thousand troops “unfit for combat” in France, out to Vladivostok to guard the Trans-Siberian railroad for the White Russians who were fighting the communist. They got close to the border with Mongolia, but it seems unlikely they would have crossed it except by accident. Eventually common sense reared its ugly practical head and in 1920, the British went home.
Tiny Luxembourg (998 square miles) also has no coastline. It sits smack-dab between France and Germany. Until 1890 the King of the Netherlands was also the Duke and ruler of Luxembourg, so it has only been an independent country for a little over a century. In that time both the English and Luxembourg were aligned with the French. In both world wars the Brits took the northern flank in the Allied line, leaving the French (or the Americans) to devastate Luxembourg, retreating and advancing back and forth across it. Paraguey, in South America, is larger (157,000 sq miles) but also lacks a coastline, and it seems the British never had a reason to invade Paraguay. I say “seems” because the national historical archives of Paraguay, which would have recorded any British invasions, are kept in vaults in Rio de Janiro, Brazil, where Paraguayan historians need a passport to even look at them.
The island nation of Sao Tome and Principe has nothing but coastline, but the British decided not to invade this archipelago of dead volcanoes 140 miles off the coast of Nigeria in Africa, because from day one it also looked like nothing but trouble. The Portuguese stumbled on the place early in the 15th century, and it seemed perfect for growing sugar cane, with rich volcanic soil and an entire continent of potential slave labor just over the horizon. But once captured, the slaves kept revolting. The plantations switched to growing coffee and chocolate, but slavery remained a lousy business model until 1875 when the locals replaced it with contract labor that looked a lot like slavery, and that didn't work either. There were strikes and worker revolts into the 1950's when out of desperation the country decided to try democracy. In 1974 Portugal gave the islands their freedom, and by 1991 they were holding better elections than the state of Florida. Their chocolate crop today is sold mostly to the English candy maker, Cadbury, so the Brits got control of the place without having to invade it.
Sweden was a completely different situation. They also have a coastline, and Sweden once actually declared war on England, on November 17, 1810. But the only causalities were 30 Swedish draft resisters who were shot by their own soldiers. And the Swedes only went to war with England because they first lost a war with Napoleon, over some ports they owned on the Baltic coast of Germany, which he wanted. In the peace treaty Bonaparte forced the Swedes to declare war on Britain. But the Swedes went out of their way not to offend their new “friendemies”, and the Brits, who already had their hands full with Napoleon, happily went along with the farce. And when Napoleon decided to invade Russia, Sweden quietly declared peace with England on July 18, 1812. After the war the Swedes gave up their claim to the German ports, and that was how they avoided later being invaded by the English; call it a preemptive peace.
The most curious island state to not be invaded by Britain is the Marshall Islands, which were named after English Naval Captain John Marshall. He commanded the HMS Scarborough, one of the first ships that carried convicts banished to Australia in 1788. After dropping off his load of unwilling settlers, he sailed out across the Pacific, where he charted what came to be called the Gilbert and the Marshall islands. He didn't discover either archipelago, and the British never claimed them, but John Marshall's charts were the most well known, and so they got named after him. But other than a few copra plantations, there was no profit there.
And then there is the tiny Principality of Monaco, running barely 2 ½ miles along the Mediterranean Sea. Despite this inviting coastline, the British never invaded because Monaco was owned by the the Grimaldis family out of Genoa, Italy, who pledged themselves vassals of the French Kings. This gave them support from both France, which hugs Monaco on three sides, and Italy, just 9 miles to the west. This met England's third rule for nonintervention, which says never make two nations mad at you at the same time. After 1815, when Napoleon was finally locked up, the Congress of Vienna placed Monaco under the protection of the Prince of Sardinia. He quickly bankrupted the place, and then abandoned it. Things were so bad neither the French nor the Italians wanted Monaco, and the Grimaldis, who still owned most of the land, were so desperate that in 1856 they took a chance on two brothers, Francois and Louis Blanc, who offered to build a gambling casino there. The Monte Carlo casino was so successful, that ten years later the locals stopped paying taxes, and they still don't pay them today. It became a vacation spot for the English upper crust, thus invoking the fourth rule about empires never building latrines up stream from where they throw dinner parties.
And then there is Vatican City, which is in fact just a small neighborhood in the middle of Rome. The complication is that Catholicism is the largest business in Italy, and Rome has always been a one industry town. Since Benito Mussolini signed a treaty with the Vatican in 1929, that 110 acres (half of which is gardens) has the veneer of nationhood. Its as if the Bronx was smaller and had their own flag. But it meets the English nonintervention rule of never pissing off a billion religious devotees.
So there are the British rules for building and maintaining an empire; never invade a country you can't easily get into and out of, you can't make a profit in, that would anger too many other countries, or a country you can influence without invading them, or a country that would make a billion religious devotees very angry with you. Under these rules, American interventions in Korea and Granada were sensible, Iraq was just stupid, and Afghanistan and Vietnam would have made sense if they had been brutal and short.
This foreign policy stuff is not that hard. Its when you blend emotion and ego into the arguments, that it gets difficult.
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