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France and its colonial past France and its colonial past
by Joseph Gatt
2007-09-24 09:33:56
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Former French colonies are not doing as well as former English colonies. Truth is that France has built nothing positive in its colonies. Yet, officially, French law claims that French colonialism had positive effects.

France not only, unlike Britain, did very little to integrate its colonies populations during colonial times, they also abandoned their colonies after they gained independence. And they supported the independent state dictators. Yet, Article 4 of the February 23, 2005 law states that “school curricula admit the positive role of France overseas, notably in North Africa”.

The law does, of course, not recognize France’s negative role in colonialism. It alienated local populations by not educating them, denying them citizenship, exploiting them and of course torturing them, and sometimes committing massacres, such as the May 8, 1945 massacres in Algeria. It also committed horrors during the Indo-China and Algeria wars of independence.

France also deported populations who opposed colonialism, exploited natural resources, and completely abandoned local populations. Lieutenant-Colonel de Montagnac wrote in a letter to a friend shortly after invading Algeria:

“All populations which do not accept our conditions must be despoiled. Everything must be seized, devastated, without age or sex distinction: grass must not grow any more where the French army has put the foot. Who wants the end wants the means, whatever may say our philanthropists. I personally warn all good militaries which I have the honour to lead that if they happen to bring me a living Arab, they will receive a beating with the flat of the saber... This is how, my dear friend, we must do war against Arabs: kill all men over the age of fifteen, take all their women and children, charged the buildings with them [i.e. probable allusion to military brothels], send them to the Marquesas Islands or elsewhere. In one word, annihilate all that will not crawl beneath our feet like dogs”

Though the February 23, 2005 law was repealed by Jacques Chirac, President Sarkozy issued statements saying that he will not excuse himself regarding France’s colonial past. That, despite the fact that former French generals, openly stated that they had tortured notably during the Indo-China and Algerian wars of independence.

An example of the economic negative effects of French colonialism was the agricultural policies in Vietnam. Thanks to new methods of irrigation, rice production quadrupled between 1880 and 1930, during the French colonial rule. Yet, the consumption of rice among the average Vietnamese peasant’s decreased, without substitution of other food. France then created an elite among the Vietnamese, and gave no land to the landless peasants. That scenario was similar in other former French colonies. The elite created by France is now the ruling elite in independent countries which are still oppressing their populations. And of course, France supports those elites.

France, if it refuses to apologize, should at least condemn dictatorship in its former colonial countries and encourage their democratization and economic development. They should acknowledge that the situation in former colonies is in part due to their colonial regime.

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Emanuel Paparella2007-09-24 11:41:24
It appears that for human nature the ideals of “egalitè, libertè, fraternitè” are easy to cavalierly proclaim universally, in the abstract, but difficult to practice in the particular concrete circumstances of history. The reign of terror of the French Revolution established the paradigm of that Machiavellian political truism. In his novel The Devils Dostoyevsky proposes a simple benchmark by which to know the wolves in sheep’s clothing selling secular salvation: by their actions and fruits, not by their words. De Gaulle used to say that France cannot live without glory. Perhaps, but unfortunately neither can England, Portugal, Spain, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Germany, all former colonial powers with past dreams of glory and delusions of grandeur blinding them to their enormities toward indigenous people and parading as “the white man’s burden” and the West’s civilizing mission. Abstract universal ideals will not whitewash those past enormities and the bitter truth remains: there is much to repent and apologize for and the inability to do so hints at an even more pernicious king of imperialism: cultural imperialism. I am afraid that till all those countries desist from “misremembering” the dark side of their colonial past and own up to it, the ideals that the EU proclaims will also look rather lame to the rest of the world.

Jack2007-09-24 22:23:02
The States have had an ugly history on Imperialism (via expanisionism). My history professor is right in that you can not "annex" a soveriegn nation and cram down the throats, a Republic, Democracy, Communism, et.al. It must come from within, or the nation's hearts are not in it.

It is nearly impossible to usurp a social/cultural way of life for an unfamiliar and socially opposite one.

In 1950, this great power was wealth [5% of the world's people produced 50% of her good]. I admire the great defender and freer of peoples and nations that the U.S. has been blessed with, but we should not be in the business of exporting Democracy.

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