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Much of history a far from perfect venture

History is the product of the often imperfect actions of imperfect people, some more so than others. Genuine evil is present too

A Genghis Kan statue in Mongolia
Genghis Khan - the ruthless and feared 13th century Mongol warrior-ruler was feared because of his ruthlessness and passion for  massacre, rapine, destruction and revenge. Genghis Khan statue in Mongolia (G Adventures Inc)


ADELAIDE - I am sure that the Australian takeover of German New Guinea during and in the years following World War I was a far from perfect venture.

But, a reader of The Awkward Takeover of German New Guinea is invited to infer that the German regime was some sort of model of how to apply colonial rule in an orderly, methodical and humane way.

My reading of history is that this was not the case.

The German administration was doubtless well organised and thorough, but also it was undeniably authoritarian and severe.

Rigid adherence to the prescribed rules was demanded of the Indigenous population and dissent was not tolerated.

For some people, this form of behaviour is seen as evidence of strength - and they appreciate the highly structured way in which such authoritarian regimes work.

Others see these regimes as both oppressive and repressive, and bridle at what they feel are unwarranted restrictions and pettiness.

The initial takeover of Rabaul was a military invasion led largely by sailors and soldiers with little or no experience of New Guinea or for that matter anywhere else outside Australia.

Their attitudes in relation to religion, the Indigenous population and to people they understood to be enemy aliens reflected the prevailing views of the day, repugnant as they are to us now.

Unsurprisingly, they were poorly equipped to implement an effective civilian administration.

A persistent fault in trying to understand history is to insist on applying modern day values retrospectively, without any regard for how much those values and related attitudes may have changed over time.

It is pointless judging people who lived in the past based upon contemporary moral or social values.

It adds precisely nothing to our understanding of history and merely results in finger wagging and tut tutting at actual or perceived deficiencies.

You don't have to admire the ruthless military tactics and large scale killing perpetrated by Julius Caesar during the Gallic Wars but the magnitude of his achievements still needs to be recognised.

The same may be said for the achievements of Genghis Khan or William the Conqueror or Peter the Great or Robert Clive or General Ulysses S Grant or Winston Churchill.

History is the product of the often imperfect actions of imperfect people, some more so than others. Genuine evil is present too.

By all means recognise the imperfections and evils but, in most circumstances, moralising about them is unhelpful when trying to understand what motivated them.


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Paul Oates

You've raised some good points Chris. It is impossible to undo what has been done in past history.

It should be possible however to take the time and effort to understand why it happened and to learn from what happened so that the same mistakes are not made again.

Therein seems to lie the real conundrum of human endeavors. We clearly don't seem to learn from history.

Take for example the current war in Ukraine. It is nothing more than genocide and ethnic cleansing being undertaken by a dictator who is labeling it as a simple military operation to help his fellow Russian speakers.

The war is in fact only a re-creation of the ethnic genocide being practiced by his predecessor Stalin and by researching the history of the region, the similarities are all there going back to the days of the Roman Empire.

So what has changed? Well there has been a significant change, if only those leaders with some power will take the time to think about it.

It happened in 1945 in Nuremberg. Yep! The four Nuremberg principles were used to charge and convict the Nazi and Japanese leaders who were held responsible for World War II.

That had never really been done before and the current crop of European and US leaders are crying 'war crimes' etc. but don't seem to have any idea that unless they carry through on any intent on pursuing convictions under these principles, they are making hollow threats.

The Serbian military leader who was held responsible for war crimes and ethnic cleansing in the last Balkan War was convicted and sent to gaol.

Those Russians who shot down the Malaysian Airlines with a missile were convicted in absentia as well.

Yet the European leaders are still hoping they can reach some accommodation with Putin. Good luck with that.

So we now have learnt that we do have the United Nations which has the equivalent of an International Criminal Code that has been and can be used to convict those who break these international laws. These principles can even operate if the perpetrator isn't in court.

So why aren't they being used to convict the dictator who started the war and is pushing the Ukrainian invasion? It would appear it's the same reason no one had the intestinal fortitude (read guts) to initially stand up to Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, and all the historical war mongers of the past.

Appeasement never works with a bully. It only emboldens them to go further.

So maybe we may have learnt something from history. It's just that we need to be able to put theory into practice.

What is Newton's Third law? Every action has an equal and opposite reaction? Well that certainly applies to the current make-up on the Security Council where both Russia and China have the veto.

The UN has become a toothless tiger. It needs to be restructured or become recognised as irrelevant when it comes to maintaining world peace.

The operation of NATO and Clause 5 'where an attack on one member is an attack on all' is far more effective.

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