Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
13 April 2007

Bush’s favourite historian

The New Republic has a facinating article on a little-known British historian named Andrew Roberts who was swept into the White House for a three-hour-long hug to discuss his book, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900. Roberts was so fawned over by Bush and Cheney that his wife, Susan Gilchrist, told the London Observer, “I thought I had a crush on him, but it’s nothing like the crush President Bush has on him.”

It is scary to read that Bush’s favourite historian justifies concentration camps as used during the Anglo Boer war. Money quote:

His [Roberts’s] political hero is Lord Salisbury, the British prime minister who, during the Boer War, constructed concentration camps in South Africa that, a generation later, inspired Hermann Goering. Under Salisbury, the British burned Boer civilians out of their homes and farms and drove them into concentration camps. The result was that about 34,000 people–some 15 percent of the entire Boer population–died in the camps, mainly of disease and starvation.

Roberts presents a very different picture for Bush. Drawing obvious parallels with Iraq, he says the British introduced “regime change” in Pretoria out of a concern “for human rights.” They bravely fought on against an insurgency campaign that led many weak-willed liberals back home to believe the war was lost, until victory was finally achieved. (It wouldn’t be surprising to see him claim the Boers had a stash of WMD.)

In his most radical piece of revisionism, Roberts argues that, far from being a “war crime,” the concentration camps “were set up for the Boers’ protection.” Mike Davis of the University of California, Irvine, author of Late Victorian Holocausts, says bluntly: “This is tantamount to Holocaust-denial. His arguments about the Boer concentration camps are similar to the arguments of the Nazi apologists about those camps.”

Must say, if I had to choose between Zuma or Bush for President of South Africa, I’ll choose Mr Umshiniwam anyday.

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