What the hell is history, anyway?
History is just a bunch of stuff that happened. Mostly to people now dead. We owe these people nothing. They’re dead, after all. Sometimes we have some scraps of paper they scribbled on. Sometimes we don’t.
I was reading Tacitus’ Annals the other week (not for any good reason; I was just somewhere where there was a copy of Tacitus) and I was rather looking forward to the story of Caligula. (Who Tacitus quite confusingly calls “Caius Caesar”—as if there was some shortage of Romans by this name.) Suddenly, though, there was a gap. Tacitus did write about Caligula. But no one knows what he said. That book of the Annals is lost.
We have most of the Annals, though, including the opening, and here’s how it goes:
Rome at the beginning was ruled by kings. Freedom and the consulship were established by Lucius Brutus. Dictatorships were held for a temporary crisis. The power of the decemvirs did not last beyond two years, nor was the consular jurisdiction of the military tribunes of long duration. The despotisms of Cinna and Sulla were brief; the rule of Pompeius and of Crassus soon yielded before Caesar; the arms of Lepidus and Antonius before Augustus; who, when the world was wearied by civil strife, subjected it to empire under the title of “Prince.” But the successes and reverses of the old Roman people have been recorded by famous historians; and fine intellects were not wanting to describe the times of Augustus, till growing sycophancy scared them away. The histories of Tiberius, Caius, Claudius, and Nero, while they were in power, were falsified through terror, and after their death were written under the irritation of a recent hatred. Hence my purpose is to relate a few facts about Augustus—more particularly his last acts, then the reign of Tiberius, and all which follows, without either bitterness or partiality, from any motives to which I am far removed.
“Without either bitterness or partiality.” Sine ira et studio. I doubt these words were idly chosen, and we kids these days could do a lot worse than to imitate them. No one gives a rat’s ass about Tiberius now. But I see no shortage of either ira or studio.
Anyway, it’s not too hard to lose a book of Tacitus. Nor is it any great tragedy. They actually made a documentary about Caligula. So obviously we know something.
It’s slightly more difficult to lose a country. It happened, though, and it was not Dalmatia or Dacia, Rhaetia or Bithynia. Here’s a picture of it:
The story of Rhodesia is in a strange category we might call “living history.” Rhodesia is dead, but there are still a few Rhodesians kicking around, and some of them even have blogs. Such as this fellow—whose opinions I’m sure many UR readers might contest.
Because that innocuous little motto, sine ira et studio, acquires a slight edge when we come to the “living history” category. When Tacitus wrote about, say, Vespasian, he was writing of events of a roughly similar age. You can be sure there was plenty of both ira and studio.
History is not a list of facts. We all agree: in 1973, when I was born (nowhere near Rhodesia—I have no personal connection at all to the place) there was a country by that name. In 2007, as I write, there is not. These are facts. But they are not history. If Tacitus had merely compiled lists of facts, no one would have copied his books, and we would never even have heard of any Tacitus.
The genius of Tacitus, and his classical peers—Thucydides, for example, is even more readable—is that they actually tell us what happened. Not just the facts, but the story. And perhaps we have no choice but to believe them, but we do. Their voices are credible.
So what the hell happened to Rhodesia? Why was there a Rhodesia, and why isn’t there a Rhodesia anymore? What’s the story?
This is a rather large question. It involves the lives of millions of people. It’s not quite as large a question as “what the hell happened to the Roman Empire.” But at least no one involved in the fall of the Roman Empire is still alive and liable to send me angry email.
Before we try to answer this question, you might enjoy a few minutes immersing yourself in Rhodesian memorabilia, large piles of which can be found at rhodesia.nl. For example, this is quite a typical story. This and this (more cerebral), or this and this (more lurid) represent the Rhodesian Ministry of Information’s view of the conflict. Rhodesia after its unilateral declaration of independence in 1965 became quite isolated from the Western world, and as a result even the graphic design of Rhodesian publications can strike us as quite unusual—see, for example, this large PDF, which is the final issue of Cheetah, the magazine of the Rhodesian Light Infantry.
If you are willing to take a minute for this 8MB download, perhaps you will see why I find the story of Rhodesia so fascinating. It is simply an introduction to an alien world. It might as well have been printed on Alpha Centauri, except that it seems to be in English. Aside from the language barrier, I am quite sure I have more in common with Tacitus himself than with any of the odd bipeds who adorn the pages of Cheetah. Perhaps a modern German has rather the same reaction to documents from the Third Reich. (The last two pages of the PDF, which are quite artistic, may be the most unusual—don’t miss the selection of past Cheetah covers.)
Of course, this does nothing to answer the question. Perhaps first we should get the official story, which we can hear from our good old friend Samantha Power. As Power wrote, in an excellent 2003 article called How To Kill a Country:
Although Zimbabwe is as broken as any country on the planet, it offers a testament not to some inherent African inability to govern but to a minority rule as oppressive and inconsiderate of the welfare of citizens as its ignominious white predecessor.
I suspect the readers of Cheetah might take some issue with the word “ignominious.” But, of course, the winners write the history books. Or at least they get to teach at Harvard. And the losers are, well—losers.
In any case, Power is no fan of ZANU-PF, and she closes with this same point:
For all their differences, Mugabe and Ian Smith share a basic misconception about power: they both fail to realize that a government cannot survive indefinitely when it advances the political and economic desires of the few at the expense of the many. When I asked Smith whether he would stop leaving his front door open now that starving Zimbabweans are prowling the city, he replied, “I’m not going to change now.” The same, alas, is most likely true of Robert Mugabe.
See, this is how bad Robert Mugabe is: he is just as bad as Ian Smith.
(Who, almost unbelievably, is still alive—though shortly after this article was published, Smith’s home was stolen and he moved, like so many of his compatriots, to South Africa. Which presumably will survive long enough for him to at least die of old age in his own bed. You can buy Smith’s memoirs here. Be warned, he’s not a very good writer.)
Of course the idea that starving Rhodesians, whatever their skin tone, were ever “prowling” Salisbury, is rather surprising. And quite untrue. As the Rhodesian government put it in 1979 (bear in mind that the Rhodesian dollar was pegged 1:1 to the US dollar):
A United States State Department Agency report says that in the decade 1965–1975, Rhodesian economic growth outstripped that of almost all its neighbours; her Gross National Product rose by almost 80 per cent. and the per capita income by 26 per cent. The 1974 per capita income of $422 compared very favourably with that of $348 in Botswana, $148 in Zaire and $126 in Tanzania.
In the purely material sphere earnings have increased phenomenally: in 1958 the 652,000 workers in the industrial sector earned an average per capita income of $169, ranging from a high of $285 in the finance and insurance fields to a low of $104 for an agricultural worker; in 1965 the figures were 656,000 workers, average income $250, and by 1975, 982,000 workers had a mean per capita income of $692, with those employed in the educational, transport and communications and finance, insurance and real estate spheres, earning an average of $981, while the least paid employees—agricultural workers, domestic servants and miners and quarry workers—earned $336 on the average. [...] Black private enterprise is growing, particularly in the fields of transport, distribution and agriculture: black bus-owners manage highly successful businesses which provide transport between the urban areas and the Tribal Trust Lands; black retailers own and run about 2,500 stores, varying in size and sophistication; and blacks own and manage over 8,000 commercial farms.
In the professional field, there are many successful black doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, etc. In the private sector of business and commerce, there are significant examples of appropriate responsibilities offered to, and successfully discharged by, qualified blacks and many large companies employ blacks in management or trainee-management positions.
The Civil Service employs increasing numbers of blacks in established posts, especially in the fields of education, health and social welfare.
I know it seems odd, and I do not have a link handy, but one of the mainstays of the early postwar case for decolonialization was actually that European government was artificially retarding the development of black Africa, confining native populations to traditional pre-industrial economic, social and political structures, and preventing them from moving forward to a modern, centrally-planned socialist economy. Hopefully if you are a regular UR reader, I have established some credibility and you are willing to take me on trust when I say that people actually did believe this. Otherwise I’ll have to dig up a link or something.
Of course this proposition is no longer uttered as such. But it no longer needs to be uttered, because so few remember Africa before decolonialization, and those who do don’t exactly teach at Harvard. So it has passed into history, and fossilized in a way. It can be assumed and included in arguments without any actual thought.
In fact, what Power really means is that a government “cannot survive indefinitely” if it defies the wishes of the international community. I.e., of, well—Power. Here we have the ultimate cause of Rhodesia’s destruction. I believe this is a clear and undisputed fact.
The proximate cause of Rhodesia’s demise is also clear. Rhodesia was throttled by carnations, stabbed in the back by South Africa, and finished off by Jimmy Carter.
The carnations were dropped into rifles and used to overthrow the Estado Novo of Portugal, which then abandoned Moçambique, Portuguese territory for the last 500 years, which in 1975 reverted to the international community—specifically its Cyrillic arm.
The Carnation Revolution left South Africa as the last ally of landlocked, blockaded Rhodesia. As everyone in the world can surely now agree, the National Party regime in South Africa were swine, and they thought they could appease the international community by selling out the Rhodesians—for example, cutting off their fuel supply. While this did them no good at all, it essentially forced the Rhodesian government to surrender.
As this article describes, Henry Kissinger approved—or at least led the Rhodesians to believe he’d approved—a plan under which Rhodesia would adopt a universal-suffrage voting system. Rhodesia, unlike South Africa, never had an apartheid system or race-specific elections; the entire cause of the dispute was that the Rhodesian electoral system, following Cecil Rhodes’ dictum of “equal rights for all civilized men,” had a property qualification for elections.
However, this first plan for majority rule was designed to elect the moderate black leader Abel Muzorewa. It was boycotted by the guerrilla leaders Mugabe and Nkomo, and (worst of all) it specifically preserved the white Rhodesian civil service. In other words, at least for the time being, it was essentially cosmetic. Carter, and his advisor on African affairs Andrew Young, refused to accept the results of Kissinger’s diplomacy and forced a new election, which was won (quite violently) by Mugabe.
Of course presumably Young would disagree with this perception. As one Rhodesian Ministry of Information pamphlet put it:
This weekend, in the worst atrocity committed against white civilians in the history of Rhodesia’s six-year war, terrorists of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe National Liberation Army hacked and battered to death almost the entire white staff and their families at the Elim Pentacostal Mission in the Eastern border mountains.
Mr. Young is asked: “Does Mr. Mugabe strike you as a violent man?”
He replies: “Not at all, he’s a very gentle man. In fact, one of the ironies of the whole struggle is that I can’t imagine Joshua Nkomo, or Robert Mugabe, ever pulling the trigger on a gun to kill anyone. I doubt that they ever have… The violent people are Smith’s people and hopefully they won’t be around for the new Zimbabwe.”
This weekend, when local and international journalists arrived at the scene of the massacre 15 km from Umtali and less than 7 km from the Mozambique border, the mutilated and blood-stained bodies of three men, four women and five children—including a three-week-old baby—were lying as they had been found that morning.
Mr. Young is asked how he gets on with Mr. Mugabe.
He replies: “I find that I am fascinated by his intelligence, by his dedication. The only thing that frustrates me about Robert Mugabe is that he is so damned incorruptible…. The problem is he was educated by the Jesuits, and when you get the combination of a Jesuit and a Marxist kind of philosophy merging in one person, you’ve got a hell of a guy to deal with.” So we have the ultimate cause and the proximate cause. But do we really know the story?
All these facts are easy to assemble into the Rhodesian point of view. From this perspective, what happened is that Rhodesia, a white British nation which extended the benefits of peace, law and economic development to the Shona and Matabele nations which shared its idyllic little corner of the Dark Continent, was smashed by International Pinko Communism, which destroyed the country by handing it over to the vicious terrorist gangs its soldiers had been bravely resisting. The subsequent debacle of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe was as predictable as it was tragic, and if God-fearing American and British citizens had subscribed to Cheetah and read more of those Ministry of Information pamphlets, the whole thing could have been avoided.
Do I believe this? Well, in a certain sense, I believe it. I certainly think it’s a perspective that is worth appreciating, albeit in slightly less caricatured terms, as long as you also know the official story. I’d definitely pay good money to see Samantha Power debate “The Last of the Rhodesians” on the subject.
However, I don’t think either of these narratives is quite how Tacitus would put it. And nor is the combination—truly ira et studio—completely satisfying.
Because there was such a thing as a liberal Rhodesian perspective. Rhodesia was a country, not a cartoon, and it had politics of its own. And these politics, I think, are relevant to more than Rhodesia (which after all is dead). They are a kind of microcosm of postwar “Anglosphere” politics as a whole, in which each faction had its strange Rhodesian reflection.
Todd, basically, was the Universalist to end all Universalists. He was not just crypto-Christian—he was Christian, a representative of the powerful missionary system. He devoted himself, with typical Universalist noblesse oblige, to the uplift and education of Africans.
And he was, in fact, Robert Mugabe’s boss. Mugabe got his start as a schoolteacher in the “Dadaya New Zealand Churches of Christ Mission School,” where Todd was the principal. Small wonder that in 1972 Todd, the former PM of Rhodesia, was confined under house arrest for having worked underground to support Mugabe’s guerrillas.
His daughter Judith Todd, who among other efforts underwent a hunger strike against Smith’s government, recently revealed that during the 1983 Matabeleland massacres—in which tens of thousands of Mugabe’s tribal opponents were murdered—she was raped by an officer of ZANU’s North Korean-trained security forces.
At the time her father was a senator of Zimbabwe, appointed by his former protege Mugabe, whose position he had done so much to obtain—only three years previously. And Garfield Todd remained in this role for two more years.
What would Tacitus make of this? Frankly, I’m not sure he could even process it. The whole affair is just not in his philosophy. Wittgenstein said that if a lion could talk, we would not understand him. Probably Garfield Todd, simply by virtue of being born in 1908, had some Latin. But I’m not sure Tacitus would find him any more intelligible than Wittgenstein’s lion.
The social relationship between Todd and Smith is particularly fascinating. Travelers to Rhodesia in its later years often remarked that it seemed like a piece of prewar Britain, even 19th-century Britain, that had somehow fossilized and failed to develop.
A figure like Ian Smith could never have achieved any political prominence in prewar Britain, because his origins were decidedly middle-class. Smith was an RAF officer in WWII, but his accent was no doubt anything but Old Etonian. Much as Todd was the ultimate missionary, Smith was the ultimate settler—and the battle between missionaries and settlers, which ended of course in the victory of the former, was the great conflict of colonialism.
Rhodesia can be seen as a sort of British alternate present. Perhaps something like a Rhodesian Britain could have existed in a Europe where WWII never happened, and middle-class right-wing movements were not considered “populist” and intrinsically dangerous. Today’s British National Party, for example, is very reminiscent of the Rhodesian Front in its general cultural associations. (Note that, like the Rhodesian sites I’ve linked to, the BNP also has the worst possible taste in Web design. This is very petty-bourgeois.)
Smith’s Rhodesian Front was a profoundly Optimate-Vaisya concoction: basically lower middle-class, with a light spattering of degenerate aristocrats. Given the BDH-OV conflict, that Smith’s Rhodesia would fight a war with the Universalist “world community,” or with the likes of the über-Universalist Garfield Todd, is utterly unsurprising.
Remember that this is not just a political conflict, but a religious war. Universalism and traditionalist Revelationism are the two leading clades of Christianity in the world today. If Revelationism had any chance of extirpating Universalism, it would surely seize it, so one can’t really be too shocked and offended that the project is proceeding in the opposite direction.
The United States is the only country in which any political force with even the slightest resemblance to the Rhodesian Front is tolerated as a legitimate party. For all of Europe and Britain, the analogy to National Socialism—which of course was another Vaisya party—is simply too close to home. Today’s Europeans simply cannot understand why Republicans, at least populist Republicans, are allowed to exist within the American political system. They look at it rather the way you’d look at someone who kept a pet leopard in his closet.
Fortunately for Universalists, the political wind is certainly in their sails. It is increasingly difficult for “populist” Republicans to survive in the American political system, simply because the press they get is so bad. The likes of Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter could never get themselves appointed as first-tier presidential candidates, whereas John McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani—all of whom have proved themselves acceptable to the Universalist press—can. Even George W. Bush outdistanced the field on the basis of his “compassionate conservatism,” and (as some commenters here have observed)—neoconservatism itself contains a powerful dose of Universalism. Until a new outbreak of Middle American populism creates a new McCarthy or Reagan, the Republicans are headed back toward “post-partisan” territory, where like Willkie, Eisenhower or Rockefeller they will again serve as the Polygon’s faithful lapdogs, deeply sorry that they ever even thought of digging a hole in the sofa.
In other words, my prediction for the future: more progress.
There is only one slight problem with this picture. The problem is that, basically, Ian Smith and his cronies were right. And basically, Garfield Todd and his friends were wrong.
Universalist Christianity is profoundly adaptive when it comes to outcompeting its opponents. It’s very difficult for a Christian to argue against Universalism, because it is manifestly so pure and Christlike. Even in a time and place like Rhodesia in the ’60s—when Universalism was blatantly suicidal—it was by no means easy for Smith’s insurgent party to brush the Establishment aside. The Rhodesian Front could win the votes of Rhodesian farmers who didn’t want to be murdered in their beds. It had no chance of convincing the world.
However, Universalism also has enemies. Smith never really managed to hate the likes of Todd—he thought they were misguided. I was brought up a Universalist, so obviously I have the same feeling, only more so. It was not Smith, but Mugabe, who proved the real enemy of the Todds.
And being an enemy, he saw no shame at all in feigning Christian sentiments to manipulate his enemies. This is the permanent strategy of the militarist kleptocracies against the Universalist democracies. Negotiate with us, we are really moderate, we would not hurt a fly. True, we are armed to the teeth, but we only care about social justice, all we want is our rights. We, in fact, are budding Universalists, and if you call off your dogs, disband your commandos and accept our just and reasonable demands, we too will learn to turn the other cheek.
If you are any sort of a Christian, this song cannot fail to charm your heart a little. And all the more if you are a Universalist, which after all is a very fanatical sort of a Christian. A Universalist by definition believes that the world is progressing toward a future in which everyone will be a Universalist. When he sees evidence of this, he wants to believe it.
When I think about Universalist support for Third World “liberation movements”—hardly a single one of which turned out to be anything but evil and corrupt, and certainly none of which came even close to providing better government than its colonial predecessor—of course it is easy for me, rejecting Universalism, to sneer.
But this is just evidence of the same mentality. Imagine if, say, the Congo, or Saudi Arabia, or Samoa, was taken over tomorrow by a movement which claimed to be libertarian. Possibly even by the formalist corporate-capitalist state of my dreams. I have trouble imagining this, of course. But if it did happen, presumably my first inclination would be to support it. And presumably I’d have a bit of trouble realizing that these acolytes of my preferred future were, in fact, a gang of killers and thieves.
When we read history sine ira et studio, we cannot hate the Garfield Todds. We can describe them as stupid, hubristic, fanatical and destructive, of course, and so of course they were—at least in my opinion. But any effort to rid human society of stupidity, hubris, fanaticism or destructiveness is itself so hubristic that it simply redoubles the mistake.
If certain people had thought clearly and acted effectively, perhaps Rhodesia would have survived. They didn’t, and it didn’t. The only lesson we can draw from this is that it’s important to think clearly and act effectively. The past is dead; we owe it nothing.