One of the more visible memes in the “Brexit” campaign, apart from the overt racism and lack of genuine empathy over immigration and the refugees, “make Britain great” and “take back control” was regularly heard and claimed.
Much like Trump in America, there is a notion that you can pull up the drawbridge, build a wall and everything will be OK. Well, we are no longer in 1605 or 1776, global trade has stalled and will likely stay that way for the foreseeable future, 150-years of tinkering and artificially manipulating and imposing borders in the Middle East has led to turmoil and the disruption of the lives of millions, and the deaths of tens of thousands.
It’s worth remembering what made Britain great, because if you don’t know where you’ve been, you can’t know where to go next. The foundation of modern Britain was created in the 16th and 17th century through trade and colonization. Almost all the wealthy families in the UK, the UK’s largest institutions can trace their wealth and power back to then.
What that really meant:
- Enslaving millions of people in Africa and shipping them around the world
- Helping to Colonize America, and in the process slaughtering millions of natives
- Colonizing Australia through the first effective industrial prison complex
- Responsible for first invading, then dividing the island of Ireland, through both religious, nationalist and political reasons across three centuries. While the British were not responsible for the Potatoe crop failure in Ireland, they did little to alleviate it, and continued to export much needed food from Ireland during a crisis in which thousands were subject to cruel eviction of so many starving families from their farms. 1 million people who died as a result (either from starvation or diseases related to malnutrition) and the 2 million who emigrated during the famine, high levels of emigration continued for decades afterwards. In the 20th century alone nearly 4,000 people were killed and more than 100,000 injured during the troubles.
- During the 19th century, indenturing their own citizens in prison and workhouse like complexes in drive the so called “industrial revolution”
- The forced separation of India and Pakistan which directly caused the deaths of 1-2 million people
- Causing the 1943 Bengal Famine as a result of diverting and denying grain to Bengal and other parts of India resulting in the deaths of 3-4 million people.
- Pillaging the world through its colonies of almost any natural resource that could become useful, starting with sugar, tea and tobacco, and continuing to this day with oil.
- Making extensive use of “concentration” camps to round up Boer women and children during the “scorched earth” phase 2nd Boer war from 1900-1902. Eventually as many as 26,000 of these would die.
- Being the joint protagonist in the world’s two biggest wars, leading to the deaths of tens of millions of ordinary people and soldiers.
So when Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson say let’s make Britain great again by taking back control, I don’t know what the fuck they mean.
5/22/19 23:08 Added item for 1943 Bengal Famine. Uncovered while reading NY Times article on Churchill legacy.
6/24/16 19:30 changed enslaving to indentured which is what I meant
8/17/16 1:20 corrected 11-million to 1-2 million as per New Yorker article.
2/18/19 6:45pm Added reference to Boer war concentration camp deaths following the excellent thread on twitter by Robert Saunders is a historian and political commentator.
May 9th, 2021 Added reference to the Irish division and troubles.
Sept. 9th, 2022 Added reference to the Irish Potatoe famine, changed to numbered list.