Hands Off Southern Africa
MARCH 01, 1969 by WILLIAM HENRY CHAMBERLAIN
Mr. Chamberlin is a skilled observer and reporter of economic and political conditions at home and abroad. In addition to writing a number of books, he has lectured widely and is a contributor to The Wall Street Journal and numerous magazines.
One of the greatest moral and intellectual delusions, one of the surest roads to ultimate disillusionment, is the crusading war. This may be defined as a conflict in which a people engages for no concrete, rationally conceived purpose, but for the supposed vindication of some vague international ideal. For even the worthiest ideals are seldom realized by resort to arms. As a dissenter in World War I, Randolph Bourne remarked: "War is like a wild elephant. It carries the rider where it wants, not where he wants to go." Consider in retrospect Woodrow Wilson’s message, calling for a declaration of war against Germany in April, 1917: "Make the world safe for democracy."
The actual sequel to America’s participation in World War I was the emergence and spread of two systems which were an utter negation of democratic principles as understood by Wilson and practiced in those countries of North America and Western Europe where democracy took firm root. These systems were fascism and communism, both products of the psychological aftermath of the destruction of human life on an unprecedented scale and the uprooting of old institutions and loyalties. Who remembers the Four Freedoms, the Atlantic Charter, or other professed aims of World War II, except to mark the complete contradiction between these objectives and the much less pleasant realities of the postwar settlement?
The crusading spirit that leads Americans periodically to plunge into wars or to take steps likely to provoke wars, in pursuit of moralistic and often quite impractical goals, is a compound of several elements. There is an element of naive arrogance, expressed in the assumption that, by means of war, we can make what is perhaps an unsatisfactory situation better, not worse. There is the equally naive and arrogant assumption that a political system which has served us well is automatically best suited to the needs and requirements of peoples with different historical, political, economic, and social backgrounds.
There is also in a crusading war the illusion, dangerous to a nation as to an individual, of omnipotence, of ability to control to our liking the many new, sometimes unforeseeable, forces that will come to the surface as a byproduct of war. Woodrow Wilson was a scholar and a student of history. But how much he overlooked, perhaps inevitably, when he envisaged a peace based on his fourteen points and guaranteed by a new institution, the League of Nations. The inability, for instance, to obtain just postwar boundaries and a reasonable financial settlement against the desire of the European allies for annexations and indemnities and the inflamed state of American public opinion. Or the violent revolutionary impulses that would be unleashed by the rancor of defeat and the disruption of familiar boundaries and institutions, to say nothing of the individual and social distress caused by the prolonged slaughter. Or the unwillingness of sovereign states to turn over the responsibilities of their own defense and the issue of whether or not to participate in future hostilities to an untried organization like the League of Nations.
In retrospect it seems evident that the best promise of a lasting peace, once World War I had begun, would have been a compromise settlement in 1915 or 1916 which would have been accepted by all participants, not with full satisfaction for any, but without leaving a sense of intolerable political and economic wrong. This was what President Wilson himself thought before the United States became a belligerent. The best critic of Wilson, the unsuccessful peacemaker of Paris, was Wilson on January 22, 1917, pleading for a "peace without victory" in an address to the United States Senate:
"Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser, a victor’s terms imposed upon the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand. Only a peace between equals can last, only a peace the very principle of which is equality and a common participation in a common benefit."
Not the least of the advantages of a peace by negotiation—before the final breaking point came in 1918—would have been that such a settlement would most probably have averted the victories of communism in Russia and fascism in Italy and national socialism in Germany, thus averting new causes of new wars.
The U. N. Road to War
The grave and disillusioning consequences of crusading wars are now written large for all to see. Yet, the United States currently risks being drawn into just this type of harmful and unnecessary conflict. The place is southern Africa; the instrumentality is the United Nations, or, more specifically, its Afro-Asian bloc; the cause, the willingness of the United States representatives at the UN to vote for resolutions which may seem innocuous on the surface, but which have explosive implications.
The section of Africa which lies between the Zambezi River and the Cape of Good Hope has not setup native nationalist administrations. This is because the Union of South Africa, the largest and richest of the four territories of southern Africa, and its northern neighbor, Rhodesia, are under the government of people with a strong pioneering tradition who are unwilling to trust their prospects under the black racist regimes that would be in prospect if a system of "one man, one vote" were introduced. This attitude is understandable because the majority of the African natives live under tribal conditions, isolated from modern life, and quite unfamiliar with Western political ideas and institutions.
The remainder of southern Africa consists of two large Portuguese colonies, Angola on the west coast and Mozambique on the east. Feeling that they stand or fall together, the governments of South Africa and Rhodesia and the Portuguese administrations in Angola and Mozambique maintain close contact in fighting subversion.
Approaches to Racial Problems
Each of the states and administrations of southern Africa has its own distinctive approach to the African native problem. The Union of South Africa is committed to a policy of apartheid or separate development for its various racial groups: the whites, who are mostly of Dutch or British descent, the various native African tribes, the East Indians and the "coloreds," some of them people of mixed blood, some descendants of indentured Malays. This implies separate facilities in schools, public accommodations, and political life. It is defended by most white South Africans and by some natives on the ground that a racially amalgamated society in South Africa is neither possible nor desirable, that the various races are happiest if given separate opportunities. (Curiously enough, some of the extreme black nationalists in the United States seem to have reached a very similar conclusion.)
To the South Africans—especially those who speak Afrikaans, a modified Dutch, and are of Dutch descent—apartheid is not mentioned apologetically, but is avowed and defended as a sincere effort to solve a difficult and complicated racial problem. As compensation for the denial of equal political, economic, and social rights to nonwhites in white areas of settlement, South Africans point to the separate colleges for the Bantus and other ethnic groups and especially to the government policy of setting up native administrative areas, sometimes called Bantustans, with elected native parliaments and governments, where whites are being squeezed out of existing shops and factories so that the Bantus may manage their own affairs.
One of these states, the TransKei, is in existence and others are projected for the future. I visited the Trans-Kei in the spring of 1968 and came away with the feeling that the government was sincere in its ideal of racial separate development; but there are formidable economic obstacles in the way of its realization. The land at the disposal of the present and future Bantustans cannot support the African native population. Those who seek work in urban areas encounter a good many regulations and restrictions.
The white governing regime in Rhodesia has a somewhat different approach. Apartheid, in its more extreme forms, does not exist in Rhodesia, where one is impressed by the numbers of native policemen and by the integration in most hotels and the use of African units in the small Rhodesian army. Incidentally, these African units showed no sense of divided loyalty when called on to combat incursions of communist-or nationalist-trained guerrilla bands operating from bases in Zambia. There are no African natives in the South African parliament in Capetown; but there are fifteen Africans among the sixty-five members of the Rhodesian parliament in Salisbury.
Portuguese policy in Angola and Mozambique is something else again. There is no official color bar for those natives who, by education and habits, have acquired the status of assimilados, or civilized people. The number of these assimilados, however, is still quite small.
South Africa is completely free from any signs of native unrest, and the Rhodesian military and police forces have experienced little difficulty in dealing with guerrilla incursions. There has been more serious fighting, the extent of which is hard to gauge, in Angola and Mozambique, although the principal towns and routes of communication have been securely held.
The Afro-Asian Bloc
From the beginning, the newly independent African states have waged an unceasing vendetta against the southern part of the African continent that remains under white rule. As a matter of principle, they have been joined by most of the Asian members of the United Nations. It is through this institution that the danger of United States involvement in this foreign quarrel arises. The Afro‑Asian bloc that always votes against anything that may be construed as imperialism (although selectively indifferent to Soviet demonstrations of this tendency) is weak in real political, military, and economic power. But it disposes of disproportionate voting strength in the UN General Assembly.
The Afro-Asian bloc in the UN has proved repeatedly that it has enough voting power to carry any resolution, however extreme, committing the UN members to hostile and punitive actions against the nations of southern Africa. These resolutions have no binding force; but they create a constant element of tension and strain in the relations of the United States with the Union of South Africa, Rhodesia, and Portugal. In view of the fact that these countries have been uniformly friendly in their attitude toward the United States (they have paid their debts, extended a friendly welcome to United States tourists, and provided profitable fields for trade and investment) there is no reason for a U. S. policy of hostile pinpricks.
Yet the United States has associated itself with many hostile resolutions inspired by the Afro-Asian bloc and in some cases has proceeded from words to deeds. For instance, it is associated with an arms boycott of the Union of South Africa, although the arms which South Africa wishes to purchase abroad are sophisticated weapons which would be useless in civil disturbances. When I visited South Africa in the spring of 1968, Admiral Biermann, commander of the small South African navy, put to me a question that puzzles many of his countrymen: "Why do the Americans and British expect us, in the event of war, to keep the sea route around the Cape of Good Hope open and refuse to sell us submarines and other naval equipment we need?" It was not an easy question to answer.
The United States has gone still further in the case of Rhodesia, and in plain violation of its own national interest. This former British colony, where Britain has exercised no control over internal affairs for decades, declared its independence three years ago. It has maintained this status despite feeble harassing inroads of communist or black nationalist terrorists across the frontier from Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia) and despite sanctions against its exports and imports initiated by Great Britain with the support of the UN and the participation of the United States. American trade with Rhodesia (with its 225,000 whites and four million natives) has been necessarily on a small scale. But that country has been an important source of a strategic material, chrome, which the United States does not produce itself. The principal other source is the Soviet Union.
On the record of the two, which is the greater threat to peace, the Soviet Union or Rhodesia? Every reasonably intelligent person knows the answer. Yet the United States, by refusing to buy Rhodesian chrome, has seemed to proceed on the theory that it is more endangered by Rhodesia than by the Soviet Union.
U. S. Meddling in Africa
The United States has taken up a wholly unnecessary attitude of meddling partisanship on another African issue: South Africa’s administration of the huge, sparsely populated, former German colony of Southwest Africa. This area, acquired by South Africa as a mandate from the long-deceased League of Nations, has been virtually incorporated in that country for more than half a century. It could not be detached without a difficult military expedition in forbidding and difficult terrain, a task which no one has the apparent force or desire to undertake.
It is always unwise to threaten by implication measures which there is no intention to implement. Yet former U.S. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg went out of his way at the UN to assert that South Africa had forfeited its mandate and had no other authority to administer this territory.
The United States also gave its assent to one of the most futile and ridiculous projects ever spawned by the United Nations. This was the establishment of a "United Nations Council for Southwest Africa," with an assigned function of administering the territory until independence, a goal which the Council was instructed to do all in its power to achieve by June, 1968. June, 1968 has come and gone, and what this phantom Council has achieved has been precisely zero. It is futile and undignified for the United States to take part in such silly games.
Leave Them Alone
In the light of the unhappy results of crusading wars in the past, a rethinking of American policy toward southern Africa seems clearly in order. As individuals, Americans may be convinced or unconvinced by the arguments for and against the present situation in the Portuguese colonies, in South Africa, and in Rhodesia. One point that should not be overlooked in considering denunciations of the present regimes in the Union of South Africa and Rhodesia is that hundreds of thousands of African natives have "voted with their feet" by voluntarily leaving other parts of Africa to seek higher wages and better opportunities in these two countries.
The wise course for a country which, like the United States, has not made a conspicuous success of its own race relations would be to adopt a strictly "hands off" policy toward southern Africa, to abstain from voting on provocative UN resolutions, to withdraw the arms embargo on South Africa, and to dissociate itself from sanctions against Rhodesia. (Many of the Britons who are best informed on Rhodesian realities would breathe a sigh of relief if we would pull the rug from under a sanctions policy that has been getting nowhere fast.) If the present regimes in southern Africa are doomed by the course of history, as some of their critics believe, we assume no obligation to save them. But why, in the name of realism and common sense, should we play the role of Che Guevaras and Mao Tse-tungs and help to let loose the horrors of racial strife over an area with whose peoples we have no quarrel?