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