In Praise of Western Colonialism, White Men, and Modernity

 

AerialPPThe existing leftist social environment backed by political organizations, academia, and media is for white men, especially Europeans, to be eternally responsible for their colonial and imperial past. I consider white guilt to be one the most dangerous mentalities poisoning the western world.

Western civilization has done a world of good in human history. Western culture has given us Bernini, Mozart, Montesquieu, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, and Newton. The western world has given us individual liberty, freedom of expression, a culture of human rights, and the rule of law. It has given us electricity, clean water, airplanes, computers, medicines, and automobiles. The west has given the world modernity.

Undoubtedly, there were many problems with western colonialism, but there were also a lot more decent things westerners had done for other races as well. British imperialism did a lot of good around the globe, from India to Hong Kong to South Africa. We think of French colonialism as problematic in comparison to British imperialism. Just look at the differences between Haiti and the Bahamas. Even so, French colonialism was a force of good in some parts of the world. France had done worthy things for the Khmers in Cambodia. I probably sound biased since I come from a Francophile family. My maternal grandfather was influenced by French culture. He grew up speaking both French and Khmer as his native tongues. His father was very French in the way he thought and talked. So I’m quite fond of France and the French in general.

I’m also thankful for the French. The single most important thing was France saving Khmers from going the way of the Chams of Champa, a people without a country. If France didn’t come in when it did, Thailand and Vietnam would have split Cambodia between them long ago, using the Mekong as their natural border. I’m not going to bore you with all the reasons why Cambodia, once a powerful Khmer Empire, became a vassal state of its neighbors. Short answer, Khmers as a people became stupid and weak, from top to bottom, from Kings and Queens to the very lowest peasants. Fortunately, one King did wise up, King Ang Duong. With the Siamese–Vietnamese War over Cambodia’s sovereignty during the 1840s, King Ang Duong feared Cambodia would be no more. He began making contacts with the French in the 1850s. He invited the French to come in. France didn’t even want Cambodia in the beginning, for the country was weak and poor and inconsequential; it wasn’t worth the effort. Not until the presence of Britain emerged in the region did France come to Cambodia.

France formally established its protectorate over Cambodia with King Ang Duong’s son, Norodom, in 1867 and it lasted until 1949. France kicked out Thai officials from the Khmer court, and took back several Khmer provinces from under Thailand’s control.

France introduced a lot of changes to the country. They introduced the universal value of a freeborn private citizen with the abolition of slavery. Corrupted land ownership was reformed and proper rule of law was administered. They established an educational system and properly instituted an administration, which was previously corrupted and poorly handled by the King and his counsel.

In 1870, urban planning was carried out all over the country and the most significant one was that of Phnom Penh, which was to be the country’s new capital. The French turned Phnom Penh, which was a riverside village sitting on a swampland, into a city equipped with paved roads, the royal palace, museums, schools, hotels, penitentiaries, garrisons, banks, public works offices, telegraph offices, law courts, and hospitals. Khmer citizens were also able to build pagodas and houses of worship.

By the 1920s, Phnom Penh was known as the Pearl of Asia. Over the next few decades, Phnom Penh experienced speedy growth with the building of ports, a railway system, an airport, housing and one of the most impressive buildings in the country, Phnom Penh Central Market. Economic activities also started to grow with rice and pepper productions. Rubber plantations were built and run by private investors. Other economic expansions continued to develop. France brought modernity to Cambodia.

CentralMarket

hd-1920-phnom-penh-rue-jules-ferry

France had also started proper restorations of many of the country’s ruined temples. Researchers and archaeologists began to study many ruins, restored scriptures, and in doing so brought back Khmer culture. Before the arrival of the French, Cambodia was constantly in a state of war for a few hundred years. Much of the country history, culture and the arts were lost to the people. Classical literature and the arts such as sculpting, silk weaving, dance and music were reborn under the French.

France reintroduced Khmers to their lost culture. Under the French protectorate, Cambodia was able to preserve its identity, traditions, culture, and way of life, which would have been destroyed otherwise by Vietnam and Thailand. Colonialism saved Cambodia.

There are 64 comments.

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  1. Titus Techera Contributor

    This has got to go to the Main Feed! Thanks for writing this! I had no idea France ever did anything quite as becoming as this! A people doesn’t often get a chance to become free…

    • #1
    • April 29, 2016, at 1:50 AM PDT
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  2. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    I did not know any of this history. Cool. Viva la France!

    • #2
    • April 29, 2016, at 3:48 AM PDT
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  3. Merina Smith Inactive

    So interesting Lidens! And I like your point that lefty anti-colonialists are actually seeking to impose control on others in their own way. Exactly so.

    • #3
    • April 29, 2016, at 4:27 AM PDT
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  4. Titus Techera Contributor

    I think a further case has to be made about the crisis of confidence in Europe. After all, were not the people who tyrannized Cambodia & put her to the sword also products of French education–but of a different, 20th-century education that may have a lot to answer for, both in Europe & elsewhere?

    • #4
    • April 29, 2016, at 4:38 AM PDT
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  5. Melissa O'Sullivan Member

    Thank you for a very informative post, LC. And the great pics! Daughter No. 2 went there and spoke of the beauty of the region. Good stuff…are relations between the two nations still strong today?

    • #5
    • April 29, 2016, at 4:50 AM PDT
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  6. Dex Quire Member

    Yes, thank you for posting this history…

    • #6
    • April 29, 2016, at 5:41 AM PDT
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  7. Percival Thatcher

    Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.

    – Charles James Napier

    Colonialism had its bright spots.

    • #7
    • April 29, 2016, at 6:04 AM PDT
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  8. Titus Techera Contributor

    Percival:

    Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.

    – Charles James Napier

    Colonialism had its bright spots.

    Well, sometimes people just are at the end of their ropes-

    • #8
    • April 29, 2016, at 6:10 AM PDT
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  9. OldDanRhody, 7152 Maple Dr. Member

    Great post, LC – Thanks!

    • #9
    • April 29, 2016, at 6:33 AM PDT
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  10. Aaron Miller Member

    Would the world be half as civilized or prosperous without the force of empires?

    Much attention is paid in history classes to the least admirable aspects of empires. But then they teach America’s own failures and never make the connection. If our nation has made the world a better place by its redeeming qualities, can the same not be said of more explicitly imperial societies?

    Steyn predicts that centuries from now the British Empire and the United States of America will be lumped together by historians as the era of Anglosphere dominance. As our fundamental values continued from British values, so our charitable interest in uplifting foreign peoples follows from its example.

    • #10
    • April 29, 2016, at 7:16 AM PDT
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  11. Zafar Member

    Lidens Cheng:

    Under the French protectorate, Cambodia was able to preserve its identity, traditions, culture and way of life, which would have been destroyed otherwise by Vietnam and Thailand. Colonialism saved Cambodia.

    From Thai/Viet colonialism. Ha!

    Really interesting article Lidens.

    Would you say that the Khmer view of the French protectorate is generally positive? Would they have preferred to remain a protectorate?

    India’s view of being colonised is pretty mixed – some good things, more bad things – otherwise there would have been no Quit India movement and no independence. Was there popular support in Cambodia for independence?

    • #11
    • April 29, 2016, at 7:29 AM PDT
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  12. Ross C Member

    Great post although I am biased to the view that colonialism was in total often much better than its alternatives.

    • #12
    • April 29, 2016, at 8:07 AM PDT
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  13. LC Member
    LC Post author

    Melissa O'Sullivan:Thank you for a very informative post, LC. And the great pics! Daughter No. 2 went there and spoke of the beauty of the region. Good stuff…are relations between the two nations still strong today?

    Yep.

    • #13
    • April 29, 2016, at 8:51 AM PDT
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  14. Trink Coolidge

    Lidens. . . I’m late to this and I see that the adulation and appreciation for your having posted this has been well expressed in the comments above. In ways – an essay such as yours leaves me feeling uncomfortable in my lack of awareness about so much of history – recent and ancient. Thank you for the light you’ve thrown across this part of the world and the cultures and people who have made it what it is.

    • #14
    • April 29, 2016, at 9:04 AM PDT
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  15. LC Member
    LC Post author

    Zafar:

    Lidens Cheng:

    Under the French protectorate, Cambodia was able to preserve its identity, traditions, culture and way of life, which would have been destroyed otherwise by Vietnam and Thailand. Colonialism saved Cambodia.

    From Thai/Viet colonialism. Ha!

    Really interesting article Lidens.

    Would you say that the Khmer view of the French protectorate is generally positive? Would they have preferred to remain a protectorate?

    India’s view of being colonised is pretty mixed – some good things, more bad things – otherwise there would have been no Quit India movement and no independence. Was there popular support in Cambodia for independence?

    It’s more positive. The relationship is more like two old lovers remaining very good friends after the breakup. That’s how my family describes it.

    There were some resentment and anger, mostly caused by the perceived better treatment Vietnam received from France than that of Cambodia. And the fact that Cambodia never got its southern provinces back also contributed to the anger and resentment. But over time, those feelings turned toward Vietnam instead, being an old enemy and all. There was one revolt caused by rising taxes. France didn’t really leave after colonial rule ended. More French moved in than before. Researchers still carried out their work around the country. Aside from the fact that France had no more say in the running of the country, nothing changed, not until the late 1960s anyway.

    • #15
    • April 29, 2016, at 9:15 AM PDT
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  16. Titus Techera Contributor

    Also, there was a big shindig de Gaulle visit in the mid ’60s, no?

    • #16
    • April 29, 2016, at 9:17 AM PDT
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  17. LC Member
    LC Post author

    Titus Techera:Also, there was a big shindig de Gaulle visit in the mid ’60s, no?

    Yep. And King Sihanouk was like the Francophile among Francophiles. So French influence was still there, still is actually.

    • #17
    • April 29, 2016, at 9:23 AM PDT
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  18. Ross C Member

    Zafar: India’s view of being colonised is pretty mixed – some good things, more bad things – otherwise there would have been no Quit India movement and no independence. Was there popular support in Cambodia for independence?

    I don’t fault the Indian’s for wanting independence from Britain, but I think the reason is more a natural desire for Indian self determination rather than that ordinary Indians thought the new government would function better than the British Raj. And if the Indians thought things would be better under self rule, this proved to be an uninformed and erroneous idea.

    It took me years to understand that the quaint pictures of Mr. Gandhi spinning yarn were really just a knee jerk reactionary impluse toward Luddism. And India’s adoption of the socialist model?

    • #18
    • April 29, 2016, at 9:38 AM PDT
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  19. Yeah...ok. Inactive

    This is a fine post. One of my favorites, Cambodia didn’t invent concrete, did they?

    I wish I had something to contribute.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • #19
    • April 29, 2016, at 9:45 AM PDT
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  20. Aaron Miller Member

    I don’t pretend that Britain’s occupation of India and other societies was all charity and justice. But at least we can distinguish such empires from others which did not take interest in local customs, did not help those societies to preserve their own histories, and did not invite the conquered to rise within the empire’s own ranks. The point is: empires, like insular nations, range from beneficial to abhorrent. The mere interest of injecting itself into new territories and spreading one’s culture does not make a nation evil.

    America’s recent invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan might have been misguided or poorly executed, but the use of military force to gain control over those territories cannot be classified as callous disregard for the lives and freedoms of those peoples. To the contrary, the American public supported those efforts largely because of the belief that we could save the innocents there from tyrants and secure those people in their freedoms. The general strategy we have all grown up with is to protect our own nation by securing peace and prosperity for peoples worldwide.

    • #20
    • April 29, 2016, at 9:54 AM PDT
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  21. Zafar Member

    Ross C:

    I don’t fault the Indian’s for wanting independence from Britain, but I think the reason is more a natural desire for Indian self determination rather than that ordinary Indians thought the new government would function better than the British Raj. And if the Indians thought things would be better under self rule, this proved to be an uninformed and erroneous idea.

    Actually things were much better under self rule almost immediately.

    Despite the Govt of India’s socialist bent, the growth rate in India went from an average of 1.2% during the Raj to (a still pretty anaemic) 3.2%.

    Even before the Green Revolution, India stopped suffering from widespread famine – though the cycle of drought and flood continued. This is because, when necessary, the Govt begged or borrowed food from international donors (including the US).

    The Raj had no interest in doing that. In fact the (last) Great Bengal Famine of 1943 (up to 4 million dead) occured in a year with good crops (no drought, no floods) but when the British commandeered rice for their troops in SE Asia during the war. It was a man made famine, not a natural disaster.

    That (just two examples) is why India became increasingly ungovernable by the British, which is why they left. It wasn’t a whim or a fad on their part, and it certainly wasn’t a spasm of political correctness.

    • #21
    • April 29, 2016, at 10:36 AM PDT
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  22. LC Member
    LC Post author

    Zafar:India’s view of being colonised is pretty mixed – some good things, more bad things – otherwise there would have been no Quit India movement and no independence. Was there popular support in Cambodia for independence?

    Around mid-1940s, with Thailand’s backing some disgruntled people from the aristocratic/land owning class started Khmer Issarak, the anti-colonial group. By the late 1940s, the protectorate started to fade out, but the group wanted a full independence. Khmer Issarak became a big problem with its assaults on government forces; it forced King Sihanouk to act. He started his campaign for independence. He was very much loved by farmers and peasants and also well-liked by the students. His call for independence was quite popular among a large number of the population.

    After independence, Khmer Issarak split into two factions. One side was a communist faction. One of its leaders was Nuon Chea and another leader was a mentor of Pol Pot.

    • #22
    • April 29, 2016, at 10:40 AM PDT
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  23. Aaron Miller Member

    How much interaction is there between India and Cambodia today?

    As I recall, my grandpa was stationed in India during WWII to facilitate operations in southeast Asia. I don’t know anything about American and British operations there. My public school histories covered the West’s prior occupation of China and later wars in Korea and Vietnam, but nothing between.

    • #23
    • April 29, 2016, at 10:50 AM PDT
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  24. LC Member
    LC Post author

    Aaron Miller:How much interaction is there between India and Cambodia today?

    I don’t really know. But there was Indian presence in Cambodia back in the 1980s.

    • #24
    • April 29, 2016, at 11:09 AM PDT
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  25. Western Chauvinist Member

    Once many years ago, on my journey from the political left to the political right, I met a man at a dinner party hosted by some friends who are still leftists to this day. He had taken a separation package, abandon his career, and spent the year traveling low-budget around the world, and had recently returned home to the States.

    He told the story of visiting one of the former British colonies in Africa, and what a trial it was to travel cross-country on the massively pot-holed roads. He said, during his frequent delays, it was common for the locals to say how they wished the British would return and “fix the roads.”

    That was one of my first inklings that maybe the West isn’t always the problem, and, indeed, is sometimes the answer to prayer.

    • #25
    • April 29, 2016, at 6:21 PM PDT
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  26. Fritz Member

    Excellent and interesting post.I would love to learn more.

    Can anyone recommend any histories that honestly address western colonialism, both positive and negative, in print these days?

    • #26
    • April 29, 2016, at 6:39 PM PDT
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  27. HVTs Inactive

    Shame on you, Ms. Cheng. No trigger warning!?! Have you no concern for the harm your retrogressive, neo-imperialist adulation of white colonialists will inflict on unsuspecting readers!?!

    It’s a good thing for you that you are a Physics grad student . . . never get an academic appointment in a History Department spewing perfidious hate speech like this! How dare you try to convince people that all of South East Asia’s problems do not stem from the sick bastards that forced French language, clean water, and croissants upon noble, peace-loving natives.

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    • April 29, 2016, at 8:38 PM PDT
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  28. Douglas Inactive

    OPoRGuG[1]

    • #28
    • April 29, 2016, at 9:17 PM PDT
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  29. LC Member
    LC Post author

    HVTs:Shame on you, Ms. Cheng. No trigger warning!?! Have you no concern for the harm your retrogressive, neo-imperialist adulation of white colonialists will inflict on unsuspecting readers!?!

    It’s a good thing for you that you are a Physics grad student . . . never get an academic appointment in a History Department spewing perfidious hate speech like this! How dare you try to convince people that all of South East Asia’s problems do not stem from the sick bastards that forced French language, clean water, and croissants upon noble, peace-loving natives.

    My aunt swears the best croissant she’s ever tasted was from a pâtisserie in Phnom Penh. It was run by a quirky Belgian and his Khmer wife whose pastries and sweets were “as good as anything you can find in any village or town in France.”

    • #29
    • April 29, 2016, at 9:40 PM PDT
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  30. TKC1101 Inactive

    This is an excellent post. Informative and well written, brief , yet packed full of fact and insight.

    Thank you.

    • #30
    • April 29, 2016, at 9:46 PM PDT
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