Are reparation demands only against Germany? Criticism of British colonialism is also growing
From Dr. Wolfgang Sachsenröder (January 2020)
German foreign policy acts discreetly in the background, but the media give the striking impression that Germany is faced with reparation demands from all sides, most recently massively from Greece, Poland and Namibia. After the war, in the late 1940s, people were largely prepared for the victorious powers to make use of their zones of occupation. The British took the old steel factories in the Ruhr area from their zone, which were soon replaced by more efficient ones. The Soviet Union made use of the former GDR, and Americans and French less. The reparations question, historically burdened by the experience with the Treaty of Versailles and its predecessor after the German victory in 1871, is legally complicated. The moral and financial details remain in the discussion, on our side rather dilatorily. With claims of up to € 850 billion for Poland and 290 for Greece, the 50 billion for Namibia seem almost affordable, but the recognized genocide of the Nama and Herero by the German colonial troops dates back more than 110 years ago.
Germany lost its colonial empire, which at the time was quite respectable, with the First World War, which, in contrast to Great Britain, France or the Netherlands, saved us from the difficult and bloody decolonization wars. However, the impression that rich Germany alone is faced with considerable reparation demands and that the large colonial powers do not, is not entirely correct. Japan also belonged to the colonial powers in the first half of the 20th century, since it occupied and exploited Korea from 1910 until the end of the war in 1945. The Korean reparation demands not only refer to the „comfort women“ in the Japanese army brothels, but also to the hundreds of thousands of forced laborers who had to work for the occupiers‘ war production. The cooperation of the then closely allied Axis powers Japan and Germany also extended to areas such as weapon development and medical experiments on prisoners, often from Korea, which can clearly be classified as war crimes. Japan, without the Holocaust and as the victim of the first atomic bombs, has largely escaped responsibility to this day, which has repeatedly weighed heavily on bilateral relations with Korea and has led to a considerable trade dispute in recent months.
In the United States, claims for reparations by the decimated Red Indian population in their remote reservations have been put on hold by the granting of casino licenses. In Australia, supreme court-judgments recently awarded multi-million-dollar damages to indigenous plaintiffs, not only for land ownership but also for cultural and spiritual damage. Further lawsuits are expected based on these precedents.
A much larger conflict is emerging against Great Britain. For some time now, the historically largest of all European colonial powers has accumulated a bill that has not yet led to concrete claims, but the amount of the damage goes far beyond the dimensions of the claims against Germany. Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar said in a speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington on October 2, 2019 that the British had extracted the equivalent of around US$ 45 trillion in today’s currency during their almost 200-year rule over India. In the internal Indian discussion, the estimates are significantly higher at up to 350 trillion. India sees itself as a victim of British colonialism, which has largely financed Britain’s rise to world power solely by ruthlessly plundering the country.
How did this monumental pillage of India come about? In the 16th and 17th centuries, beginning with the Portuguese, the British, French, Dutch and Danes tried almost simultaneously to open up the huge, then economically prosperous country for their trade. The race was also fought against each other with harshness and military conflicts but was ultimately decided very clearly for the British by the concentrated power of the East India Company (EIC).
Established with a royal monopoly on East Asia trade in January 1600, the young EIC, a stock corporation of London merchants, quickly grew into the first veritable large international company, maintained a huge fleet and a private army of up to 260,000 men in its prime, and eventually subjugated almost all of India. The decisive date of the takeover was the Battle of Palashi (English Plassey) in 1757, in which the EIC conquered all of Bengal with 750 British and 2,100 Indian soldiers bribed by an Indian general. The investigations into colonial history are very detailed on the Indian side. They show the decline of India as an economic power with a 23% share of the world economy upon the arrival of the British, which had shrunk to 4% during independence 190 years later, in 1947. Between 1900 and 1947, Indias per capita income stagnated at a low level, but considerable sums were collected as taxes and transferred to England. The local British government officials were typically called “collectors,” and the impoverished rural population made it easy to recruit soldiers for the colonial army, the so-called Sepoy. They were first used by the EIC, later also in the British Army, both in the colonies and in both world wars.
The detailed economic studies show, in addition to the enormous benefit for Great Britain, above all the destruction of Indian production in agriculture and handicrafts, for example the decline of the formerly extremely export-strong cotton industry, primarily due to the British raw material imports from the colonies in America and Egypt as well as with innovative processing technology in England, was soon no longer competitive. The situation was similar to the highly developed handicrafts, the Indian furniture went out of fashion and was no longer in demand in Europe.
Alternatively, the East India Company had developed a new Indian export hit in good time, whose production could be organized very well, but was anything but profitable for the locals, namely opium. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the East India Company began trading opium on an industrial scale. As China did not accept British goods, but only increasingly scarce silver, and to pay for the increasing tea imports, the strictly controlled and extremely productive opium cultivation in India was greatly expanded. After two opium wars (1839–1842 and 1856–1860), China was forced to buy Indian opium in exchange for its products, tea, silk and handicrafts, which were becoming increasingly popular in England. The economic and social consequences of opium smoking have been catastrophic for China because it has developed from an upper-class fashion to an epidemic, and the economy as a whole was weakened considerably. For the EIC and the later British colonial administration, the “need” of the previous silver shortage created an incredible win-win-win situation. The Indians conveniently produced the „opium currency“ for imports from China and also paid taxes on it. In the peak year of 1880, an incredible 670 tons of opium was exported from India to China. It should not be forgotten, however, that France in Indochina and the Netherlands in Indonesia organized and taxed the opium trade in a similar way in order to finance a significant part of their colonial administrations.
Colonial posts in India were not entirely perceived in England as harmless to health, but they were considered the royal path to prosperity after returning to the mother country. The „“Nabob” was guaranteed a fortune for the rest of his life, including the well-known Stamford Raffles, who had opened Singapore as a safe haven for Britain midway between India and China. British trading houses naturally benefited considerably from the advantageous conditions. The original opium dealers Jardine Matheson and the opium bank Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, HSBC, are still active at a very high level.
While Britain prospered in this way and was still able to expand its colonial empire, India was correspondingly poor. The anger of the colonial critics is directed above all against the aforementioned unequal transfer, that England largely profited alone and India remained poor and had to pay itself for its own oppression. Some of the resentment goes against the colonial administrative and bureaucratic transfer, which has paralyzed India for a long time and has only recently given way to dynamic economic development.
But back to the Indian expectations of the former colonial masters. The minimum requirement is an apology that has so far been refused, and, as I said, concrete reparation claims have not yet been quantified. In view of the high damage amounts, however, they could be significantly higher than those against Germany. Parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor is one of the most vehement supporters of reparations claims, and he is not afraid to speak openly when visiting Britain. The former UN diplomat has also published a book, „Inglorious Empire: What the British did to India“, which is making waves in his country. Prime Minister Modi has praised Tharoor as a patriot who speaks for the feelings of many Indians. As expected, the echo in the former colonial power was reserved, after all, India had been modernized, linguistically united with the English language, and made the world’s largest democracy. The patterns appear to be similar in Asia with Japan and Korea as well as between Great Britain and India, whereby precedents could lead to further demands from the numerous other colonies. The claims against Germany are in both areas, damage from the Second World War and the former colony of Namibia. The negotiations or their diplomatic and legal prevention will probably continue and drag on for years.
Comment by Global Review: The debate in India is also taking some fierce forms as some media and historians compare Winston Churchill with Adolf Hitler as he is being accused to let 20 million Bengals starve in an organized famine while making racist comments about the inferioirty of Indians who were not worth the food.