A scholar is trying to give more dimension to Africa's colonial history

For decades, American children have learned that, when the grasping, hate-filled Europeans arrived in North America, they were met by sweet, childlike Native Americans who experienced such genocidal hostility that they had to resort to brute force to defend themselves.  This Manichean history (good vs. evil) denies the Native Americans agency and sophistication.  They were fully realized people who engaged in the same behaviors as the Europeans (and often worse behaviors), except without the sophisticated weaponry.  It turns out the same is probably true of the colonial era in Africa.

As Steven Pinker explains in a book I never tire of citing, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, all Stone Age societies (that is, societies without wheels, with minimal tools, and without stable habitation) developed in the same way: they formed tribes that engaged in constant warfare with surrounding tribes.

This warfare wasn't fought with standing armies in nice uniforms.  Instead, it took the form of endless raids that saw the successful tribe destroy the unlucky tribe: it would kill the men and older boys and kidnap the women and children.

Image: German Uniforms in South West Africa (1894) by Verlag von Moritz Ruhl.  Public domain.

Unlike ISIS, though, the women and children weren't seized as sex slaves.  Instead, because of the 25% annual attrition rate Stone Age tribes suffered thanks to chronic warfare, endemic famine, and accidents and disease, the only way a tribe could survive was to kidnap children and bring in more women they hoped would get pregnant.

In addition, Stone Age tribes often engaged in human sacrifice to animist gods, and when they got really hungry, they resorted to cannibalism.  The Aztecs may have combined both after they grew so fast that they destroyed protein sources.

And yes, despite the vast size of their kingdom and their relative sophistication, the Aztecs still engaged in those Stone Age practices.  So did every Stone Age tribe in the world as it began the civilizing process, including every tribe that was a forebear of the same Europeans who colonized other parts of the world.  Civilization is a long, slow, painful process.

The Europeans may have sped up the process, however, thanks to Christianity, which ended human sacrifice.  However, even with Christianity, when the Europeans got to the New World, they still engaged in torture and slavery.  The difference was that they were nearing the end of those phases, while the New World's Stone Age tribes, which were younger, were not.  And so, forgetting their own bloody past, the Europeans looked down upon those at an earlier stage in development and tried to bring them up to speed with Christianity and "White man's values."

It turns out that the same trajectory may have played out when Europeans colonized Africa.  Writing at the Federalist, Casey Chalk reviews In Defense of German Colonialism: And How Its Critics Empowered Nazis, Communists, and the Enemies of the West, by Bruce Gilley, a Portland State University professor.  With a title like that, you know it's going to be an explosive book, but Gilley has the facts to back it up.

An honest history of Native Americans shows them being every bit as intelligent and sophisticated as the Europeans, whom they often allied with in their wars against other Native American tribes, as well as being every bit as cruel and truly savage, just as the Europeans once were and still could be.  Well, it turns out that an honest history of Africa acknowledges the same: the indigenous Africans weren't just bodies for the Europeans to exploit and abuse.  Writes Chalk:

For starters, the peoples inhabiting what would become Germany's African colonies were far from innocent peoples living in harmony with each other and nature. Human sacrifice was common among at least one of the tribes of Cameroon. Slavery was common across both Namibia (southwest Africa) and what would become the colony of German East Africa (present-day Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and part of Mozambique).

The Nama and Herero peoples, both of whom had migrated to Namibia only a generation before the Germans (and displaced other indigenous African tribes such as the Damara people in the process), were engaged in bloody, genocidal warfare. In 1850, the Nama massacred a fifth of the Herero population in a single day. The Herero raided native Damara and Saan villages, killing all but the young and strong, whom they exploited as slaves. Many escaped to the Germans.

The Germans, not yet tainted by Nazism, brought good principles to their colonies, such as ending slavery, protecting the environment (including elephants), educating people, bringing modern medicine, etc.  If you're familiar with Niall Ferguson's writing, you know that he argues something similar, which is that the British Empire brought long-lasting benefits to the countries it controlled.

History is interesting because nothing is all good or all bad.  Leftists, with their relentless demonizing of the West and their glorification of the non-West, not only make history boring, but also set up unnecessary conflicts in the modern era while denying agency to both colonizers and colonized.

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