Saturday, 18 November 2017

Albion still perfidious.

I think most of we British are at least vaguely aware, possibly from the Lawrence of Arabia film, or reading his book, that our government let down, or even double-crossed, the Arabs, after the First World War.

As I understand it, and I'm no expert, Britain  promised, or at least indicated to, the Arab peoples, that if they revolted against the Ottoman Empire which had for centuries ruled much of the Middle East and was our enemy in the First World War, then, when the Allied victory was achieved, their lands would be handed over (or back?) to the Arabs as their own country.  This is what Lawrence of Arabia is said to have believed and promised the Arabs if they gave their support to the British forces.

Instead, the British and French parcelled up the area between them in the Sykes-Picot Agreement and, on top of that, apportioned a chunk as an international home for the Jews,without so much as a with your leave or a by your leave of the people who lived there,  in the Balfour Declaration..

Less well known (or at least it was new to me) was a betrayal of Chinese expectations which was exposed in a documentary, Britain's Forgotten Army, shown on Channel 4 last week and still available to watch again here.

Some 140 000 Chinese were recruited and acted as labourers for the Allies on the Western Front and elsewhere during the First World War.  Many were killed, and it is acknowledge that, without their help, it would have been far more difficult, if not impossible, to supply the troops.  In the event of Allied victory the Chinese government anticipated that the German concessions on the Chinese mainland would be handed back to them.  This expectation (promise?) was ignored at the Versailles Peace Conference, and the concessions were handed over to China's traditional enemy, Japan.

"New" Labour's shadow foreign secretary in the 1990s, Robin Cook, aware of this history of duplicity, outlined the "ethical foreign policy"Labour would adopt if returned to power.  He had the honesty  to resign when Tony Blair's government supported the Americans in the invasion of Iraq.  Sadly this exemplar of political  immediate integrity died shortly afterwards.  Cook's successor, Jack Straw, quickly reverted to type and it is hard to see your foreign policy becoming more ethical under the present foreign secretary, the vacillating and opportunist Boris Johnson.

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