Trade, Colonization, South Africa and Apartheid

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 10th, 2013

History 101

Alexander Spread the Advanced Greek Civilization from the Mediterranean to the Indus River Valley

The first civilizations grew up on the great rivers.  The Nile.  The Tigris and Euphrates.  The Indus.  And the Yangtze.  For the river was the source of life.  The flooding of its banks produced the rich black earth that gave us farming.  They helped us irrigate land further from the banks.  And they allowed the spread of civilizations.  For these rivers provided our first means of transporting people and cargo.  Allowing food and goods to travel between settlements.  This cross-pollination of settlements of different people and resources flowered into the great civilizations of the world.

The Chinese civilizations along the Yangtze grew in isolation from the rest of the world due to the geography at first.  Then, later, by choice.  The other three great civilizations came into contact with each other.  The Egyptians on the Nile spread east and made contact with the Sumerians of the Tigris and Euphrates.  Who were in contact with the Harappan of the Indus River valley.  These civilizations traded with each other.  And fought with each other.  As their civilizations flourished they attracted the attention of envious neighbors.  Who wanted what they had.  And conquered them.

Wars pushed boundaries back and forth.  Civilizations rose and fell.  One of the last great empires of the ancient world, the Persian Empire, bumped into a new rising power.  Athens.  Which was conquered by a Greek-trained king from the north in Macedonia.  Whose son, Alexander, went on to conquer the known world.  Spreading the advanced Greek civilization from the Mediterranean world to the Indus River valley.  Creating a Greek-speaking world steeped in science and philosophy.  Creating a greater Hellenistic civilization out of the lands Alexander conquered.  The shared Greek culture allowing an explosion of trade and commerce.

In Time the English and the Dutch would Bump Heads in South Africa

The Romans adopted Greek knowledge and used it for great engineering projects.  Roads, aqueducts, ships, weapons of war, etc.  Soon the Roman Empire displaced the Hellenistic civilization and spread even further.  Ironically, it was the cost of empire that began the fall of the Roman Empire.  High taxes to fund a huge army on the frontier and to pay for a massive bureaucratic state.  Including welfare programs.  The empire first collapsed in the West.  It lasted another 1,000 years in the East as the Byzantine Empire.  With its capital in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey).  Named by the Roman Empire Constantine the Great.  Who helped turned the Roman Empire Christian.

Constantinople was the center of the world.  It was where East met West.  Where Europe met Asia.  All trade from the East went through Constantinople on its way to the West.  For the Silk Road passed through Constantinople.  Making it a very rich city.  As it controlled trade.  After the fall of the Western Roman Empire the great Italian city-states rose.  Venice, Milan, Florence, Genoa, Pisa, Siena, Lucca and Cremona.  With their merchant banking they controlled the Mediterranean trade.  Until the Muslims conquered Constantinople.  Which is when the center of economic power moved north to Europe.  Thanks to advances in navigation that allowed ships to sail around Africa to the East.  Bypassing the Muslim-held Constantinople.

It was the Age of Discovery.  And the great European powers discovered new lands full of valuable resources.  The Portuguese and the Spanish lead the way.  And were soon followed by the Dutch.  And the English.  These nations established colonies around the world.  And, in time, the English and the Dutch would bump heads in South Africa.  Where they discovered gold.  Leading to a century of conflict between the British Empire and the Dutch settlers.  Known as Boers.  During the Napoleonic Wars the British defeated the Boers in Cape Colony in 1806.  And officially took possession of the colony in 1814.  Then it was Britain’s turn to send settlers to the region.  As a prosperous colony at the southern tip of Africa would come in handy for the empire that controlled the trade routes with the most powerful navy in the world.

Mandela Languished in Jail in part because of his Being a Communist

The Boers resented British rule.  And they didn’t like their abolishing slavery.  So they moved north.  Establishing two Boer independent republics.  The discovery of diamonds and more gold would make the region the richest and most powerful in southern Africa.  There was only one problem.  They didn’t have the manpower.  Or an industrial base.  Which led to another wave of immigration.  Mostly from Britain.  Which soon outnumbered the Boers.  Tensions led to the two Boer Wars.  The second one being the longest, costliest and bloodiest war the British fought in the century following the Napoleonic Wars.  With the British ultimately winning the African territories from the Boers in 1902.

The contested areas were all absorbed into the British Empire in 1910 as the Union of South Africa.  And became independent of the British Empire in 1931.  As the foreign powers fought over the African lands they pushed aside the native blacks.  And segregated them.  In 1948 the National Party rose to power.  And began to make segregation law.  The official beginning of apartheid.  Where the whites lived in a first-world nation (which they built with their capital along with black labor).  While the blacks lived in third-world conditions.  The African National Congress (ANC) fought apartheid.  Which was good.  But the ANC was a communist organization during the height of the Cold War.  Which did not make it a friend of the Western World.  Nor was Nelson Mandela.  Who was a communist.  Mandela co-founded the militant wing of the ANC in 1961.  Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).  Which planned a campaign of sabotage against the apartheid government.  Landing Mandela in jail for 27 years.

Mandela languished in jail in part because of his being a communist.  For they didn’t want what happened in Southern Rhodesia to happen in South Africa.  Alignment with the Soviet Union.  And bloody civil war.  This is what they feared if the ANC/MK rose to power under the charismatic Mandela.  Civil war in South Africa fueled by the Soviet Union to aid in their war with the West.  As it turned out, though, Mandela was more like Abraham Lincoln when he emerged from jail.  Who told his generals that once the American Civil War was over there was to be no reprisals or retaliation against the South.  For once the war was over they would move on together as Americans.  Both North and South.  Which made the peace that followed much easier on the South.  Allowing the nation to heal her wounds more quickly than if there had been a period of bloody purges and reprisals.  And this is the gift Mandela gave to South Africa.  Allowing the nation to move forward after apartheid without bloody purges or reprisals.  Which is why South Africa went on to become one of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) economies.  While another former member of the British Empire in Africa, Southern Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe), suffers corruption, poverty, human rights abuses and one of the lowest life expectancy in the world.  Because Mandela spoke of peace and reconciliation when released from prison.  Not vengeance.  Like they did in Zimbabwe.

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Greece, Rome, Western Civilization, Alexandria, Londinium, Enlightenment, Adam Smith, Free Market Capitalism and Gender Equality

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 17th, 2012

History 101

Greece gave Western Civilization Math, Science, Engineering and Philosophy

History has been a political struggle over power.  Kings and emperors and priests and nobles had it.  While other kings and emperors and priests and nobles wanted it.  They fought wars.  They oppressed their people.  They’ve committed acts of genocide on their enemies.  And on their people.  To get that power.  To keep that power.  And that’s the way it was for a long time.  The ruling class at the top battling it out.  While the people suffer abject poverty, famine and genocide at the bottom.  Until something came along to change that.  An advanced civilization.  That could produce a food surplus.  Freeing up people to become artisans.  Specialists.  Who could invent and make things.  To make life better.  Especially for a large group of people called the middle class.

The Greeks and Romans took civilization to new heights.  When Edgar Allen Poe wrote To Helen (1845) he chose Greece and Rome to describe his most beautiful Helen.  Because Greece and Rome were that beautiful.

On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece,
And the grandeur that was Rome.

Western Civilization began in Greece.  Food surpluses freed the great thinkers.  Math, science, engineering and philosophy took roots in Athens and spread through the Greek world.  The Hellenistic civilization.  That Alexander the Great spread east all the way to Iran and the Indus Valley.  And south into Egypt.  Where he founded the great city of Alexandria.  Repository of some of the greatest Greek books of knowledge.  When Rome conquered Greece they spread that great Hellenistic civilization east to Spain.  North to France and Germany.  Even to England.  London itself was once a Roman city.  Londinium.  And everywhere the Romans went they brought with them Greek math, science, engineering and philosophy.  Building engineering marvels.  And creating a very high standard of living.

Where the Romans went they also built roads.  Primarily to move their legions throughout their empire.  But they also used them for trade.  Where they traded the goods made by that rising middle class of artisans.  Economic activity was bustling.  Until the government grew.  To pay for an ever larger government bureaucracy and military they started taxing that economic activity.  And regulating it.  Rather harshly.  Restricting freedoms.  Eventually tying farm workers to the land.  Even their children.  Turning that once bustling economy into feudalism.  Serfdom.  Until the growth of government expenditures made the Western Empire so weak that the Germanic barbarians sacked Rome.

Enlightened Thinking and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations helped make Great Britain the Leading European Power

While Europe went through the Dark Ages the Eastern Roman Empire continued on.  Centered on Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) on the Bosporus, she was smack-dab in the middle of the trade crossroads between Europe and Asia.  And continued to prosper economically.  Until the Arabs began attacking her.  And the Christian Crusaders.  Who came down to reclaim the holy land for the Catholic Church.  Where they fought Muslim Arabs.  As well as Orthodox Christians.  While in the area they visited the sights.  Including that great repository of books in Alexandria.  Which they packed up and brought back to Europe.  And changed the world.

As the Christian monks translated these books all of Europe read them.  Math, science, engineering and philosophy.  Kicking off the Enlightenment.  Advanced economies appeared in the Italian city-states as they controlled trade in the Mediterranean.  But with all that Greek knowledge Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands built bigger ships and learned to navigate across the oceans.  Moving the center of trade from the Mediterranean to northern Europe.  The Europeans established colonies in the Old World.  And the New World.  France and England soon followed.  Trade exploded.  And fortunes were made.  But something really special was happening in England. 

Thanks to all that enlightened thinking the English took the lead in Europe.  And the world.  Modern farming practices improved yields and created great food surpluses.  She had representative government in her Parliament.  The rule of law.  Banking institutions.  Joint-stock companies to raise large amounts of capital.  An insurance industry to manage the great risks of transoceanic trade.  And an economist up in Scotland who wrote a book about new ideas in economic thought.  Adam Smith.  Who wrote The Wealth of Nations.  Championing something he called the Invisible Hand in free market capitalism.  Taking away the economic decisions making from the kings and emperors and priests and nobles.  And giving it to the people.  Which Great Britain embraced.  Kicking off the Industrial Revolution.  Other European nations followed her lead.  As did one young upstart nation.  The United States.

Famine has been Rare in Western Civilization since the 18th Century

Western Civilization dominated the world in every measurable way.  Economic output.  Living standards.  Public health standards.  Gender equality.  You name it and the free market capitalism of Western Civilization made it better.  The general path of emigration of great minds traveled in one general direction.  From eastern/southern Europe to Germany, France and Great Britain.  Then on to the United States.  Or directly to the United States.  Where free market capitalism was the freest.  Making the Untied States the new world superpower.  Following the Industrial Revolution with even greater innovation.  Providing ever greater living standards.  And individual liberty.  For everyone.

The freedom in free market capitalism brought women into the workforce.  Take the automobile.  When Henry Ford first mass produced the car it was not people-friendly.  Men started our first cars by turning a hand crank.  Sometimes losing a finger or breaking a wrist in the process.  Once started he adjusted his goggles and gloves and took the wheel.  His face being the bug screen.  His muscles being his ‘powered’ steering.  Clutching through the gears.  Gearing down and stomping down on the breaks to stop.  It was man’s work driving our first cars.  Dirty, filthy man’s work.  The automatic starter, automatic transmission, power steering and breaks, though, changed all of that.  All American developments.  Allowing women in heels and a short dress to start and drive a car as well as any man without losing any of her dignity.  And she could sip a latte on her drive to work.  While listening to music.  And on those hot days she didn’t sweat through her clothes before getting to work.  Thanks to air conditioning.  Another American invention for the car.  And she’s able to enjoy this freedom because of some other inventions.  Two in particular that let her pursue a career.  And enjoy any activity whenever she chooses.  The birth control pill.  And the tampon.  Again, products of Western Civilization. 

Women in Western Civilization have it pretty good these days.  Where for the most part their standard of living has caught up to men.  There are some earning disparities.  But a lot of that is due to women leaving the workforce to raise children.  And then reentering at a later time.  Having to play catch-up with those who didn’t leave the workforce to raise a family.  Not too bad when you consider what women are going through where they don’t embrace free market capitalism.  For not only do they have none of these everyday comforts we take for granted but they often go without food.  Up until the 18th century famines were pretty common.  But with the advances we’ve made in farming and our other institutions we have that give us a modern and bustling economy (and our high living standards) there really haven’t been any famines in Western Civilization since the 18th century.  There may have been a few but they were very rare.  Unlike the famines in the 20th century that killed tens of millions in Russia, the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Southwest Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa.  But famine is not the only thing killing people in these countries.  They have also suffered the greatest acts of genocides.  As rival groups battle each other for political power.  With the innocent masses stuck in the crossfire.  Something a prosperous middle class has put an end to in Western Civilization.

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