When I was nine years old, my mother and I drove from our home in Washington, D.C. to a movie theater in Baltimore and watched a full-length documentary movie of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Everyone else in our neighborhood watched the event on black-and-white television, we saw it in technicolor which was still fairly new.
I was reminded of this moment in my life when I heard and read about the Queen’s death last week. And while she was always a dignified lady and somehow put up with the crazy stuff from her kids without ever losing her cool (at least in public), there’s also another side to her life which needs to be told.
Because, as Justice Felix Frankfurter once told us, ‘History also has its claims.’
Think back over the last thirty years, which represents at least half the lifetime of at least half of all Americans alive today. In 1991 we deployed a military force into Kuwait in an action known as Desert Shield. A year later we sent a much larger force into Iraq, an operation known as Desert Storm. Then in October 2001, we commenced military operations in Afghanistan in response to the World Trade Center attack. We followed this with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and our search for all those WMD’s.
Last year Joe pulled us out of Afghanistan but who knows when or if we’ll go back into that area again. Between 2000 and 2020, what we now call Operation Enduring Freedom, a.k.a., the War on Terror, we lost more than 1,850 troops in combat and another 20,000 suffered combat wounds.
Know what just about all these dead and wounded Americans had in common? They were killed or injured in locations which used to be part of the British Empire, which at one point covered just about all the territory known as the Middle East. And if you think the Brits controlled a lot of real estate between the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean to the western edge of Pakistan, extend your Google map all the way across India to the Pacific Ocean and Hong Kong. And then flip the map back and note that England also colonized most of Africa as well.
Know how racism became part and parcel of Western culture? When the Brits justified their looting of colonial territories and subjugation of colonial populations by saying they were ‘bringing civilization’ to the natives who in many of these areas didn’t exactly have skins that were White.
Know how so-called countries like Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan first appeared? When a bunch of Brits sat down with Winston Churchill in the 1920’s and watched the Great Man draw the borders of these so-called independent states on a paper napkin that he used during lunch at his private club.
We – the White race – is the only race which went out from its countries of origin and occupied other territory without so much as ever questioning whether what we were doing was right or wrong. Oh yes, there was an occasional peep from some back bencher in Parliament when news got back to England that stealing the land of the Hottentot tribe in South Africa consigned the entire tribe to a starvation regime which basically wiped them out.
And let’s not forget that even though the slave traders who uprooted indigenous populations in Africa and shipped them to lovely port cities like Charleston in the American South weren’t natives of England, they sold these human beings to the residents of former British colonies who created the only slave system in the entire history of Western civilization that didn’t allow for manumission at all.
This is the legacy of colonialism, a legacy which remains a potent source of anger and violence to this very day. And with all due respect to that dignified, sweet old lady who will be buried at Windsor Castle next week, she never once over her nearly 70-year reign made any public mention of how her country’s colonial misadventures really screwed things up.
In fact, Queen Elizabeth broke with tradition by having the Coldstream Guards play The Star Bangled Banner two days after the 9-11 attack, which was her way of expressing solidarity with her former colony that still finds itself unable to completely erase the racist stain first brought over from England to the United States.
Like I said above, history also has its claims.