Acclaimed historian Burleigh (Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II, 2012, etc.) returns with a feisty review of two decades of decolonialization.
This was "a crucial transitional era in which power tangibly passed from European capitals to the 'World Capital on the Potomac.’ ” The former colonial powers, ruined by the war, could no longer afford the expenses of empire when increasingly assertive nationalism in the colonies required additional military spending, and the Americans did not want these costs to impede the economic redevelopment of Europe. The Europeans' aim was to buy time to effect a transition of their colonies to a nominal independence that would still allow them to control local economies and resources. They sought American aid for their efforts to repress nationalist movements by fostering a fear that the movements were infiltrated by communists eager to seize power upon independence; sometimes this was the case. As the author observes, many of the issues faced during this period, from effective military responses to insurgencies, remain newsworthy today. With flair and panache, Burleigh surveys a dozen or so of the period's “small wars,” including conflicts in Palestine, Malaya, the Philippines, Algeria and Kenya, and shows how the interplay of waning colonialism and the Cold War led to the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam War. The author's coverage is serious and thorough, but he also has an eye for the striking detail—e.g., "When naked husbands and wives took the [Mau Mau] oath, they were bound together by the intestines of goats." Along the way, the author delights in deftly skewering hypocrisy, incompetence and delusional thinking on the parts of all participants in this saga.
Entertaining, informative and refreshingly devoid of partisan advocacy, Burleigh offers a persuasive explanation of how America assumed the mantle of policeman of the developing world.