Milne: British Population Tired of the Queen’s Imperial Wars

Britain has been waging wars continuously since 1914, and the population of the British Isles is getting tired of it. So writes Seumas Milne, a columnist with the London Guardian. Milne, who has taken swipes at British imperialism before, takes note of recent headlines in the British press proclaiming that when the last British soldiers come home from Afghanistan, there will be no British troops engaged in military operations somewhere in the world for the first time in 100 years. This is not good news for the generals [he may be wrong here] and for Whitehall, Milne writes, who are fretting about the increasing opposition—as demonstrated in last Summer’s vote against U.K. military action against Syria—among the population. The governing elite, Milne writes “is convinced its right to decide issues of war and peace without democratic interference is under threat.”

Of course, Britain’s record of continuous warfare goes back much further than 1914, back to the 17th century, Milne says. “And there is a telling continuum between Britain’s conflicts in the colonial period and the post-cold war world,” Milne writes. “The same names keep cropping up, a legacy of imperial divide-and-rule: from Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine to Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Waziristan.”

“There’s very little in this saga that the British—let alone those at the receiving end, from Kenya to Malaya can seriously take pride in, even if they knew about it. (Who, for example, remembers the killing of 15,000 Indonesian civilians by British troops as they restored Dutch colonial rule in 1945?),” Milne adds. “Even the supposed successes of liberal interventionism, such as Kosovo and Libya, are scarred by escalated death tolls, ethnic cleansing and dysfunctional states.” The wars that Britain has fought haven’t benefited anyone, either, except those economically privileged classes on whose behalf they are fought. In fact, they endanger the population “by feeding terror and racism.”

“The top brass meanwhile claim withdrawal from Afghanistan will be a ‘strategic pause.’ Instead of a full pullout, the plan is for greater use of drones, special forces and trainers until they can ‘get on to the horse again’ and the public can be corralled to acquiesce in another ‘humanitarian’ intervention,” Milne concludes. “That’s likely to prove harder than before. Each war attracts less support than the last. Britain has a chance to turn its back on centuries of warmaking, shake off the mentality of junior global policeman and start to build a different relationship with the rest of the world.”

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