National Review Contributor: ‘Most Of The World Worked Better In Colonial Times’

Conrad Black

The National Review has repeatedly found itself in hot water over the past several months. In April, the conservative publication fired John Derbyshire for a “webzine” which crossed the line into outright racism. But the magazine’s editors continue to welcome contributions from white nationalist, and noted Islamophobe, David Yerushalmi, as well as anti-Muslim advocates Robert Spencer, David Horowitz, and Daniel Pipes. And in a column published on July 4th by Conrad Black, the magazine took a bizarre turn into defending the mission of European colonialists in Africa and Asia.

Black, a publisher, columnist, and Canadian-born member of the British House of Lords declared that, “most of the world worked better in colonial times,” and went on to list the colonial accomplishments of the British, the Belgians and the Dutch. He surmises:

No one could seriously dispute that almost all of sub-Saharan Africa, all of North Africa except Morocco, all of the Middle East except Israel and Jordan and most of the oil-rich states, and the entire former British Indian Empire were better governed by Europeans.

Black’s casual defense of colonialism fails to even hint at the humanitarian costs of colonial projects in Asia and Africa or the long-term destabilizing heritage left by Europeans in their former colonies.

During the British Raj, Indians suffered some of the worst famines ever recorded. In the Great Famine of 1876-78, approximately 10.3 million people died. During the Indian famine of 1899-1900, between 1.25 and 10 million died. Professors Mike Davis and Amartya Sen explain those catastrophies as stemming from British colonial policies.

Black mildly chastises the Belgians for being “inexcusably heavy-handed in the Congo,” but defends them for “never generat[ing] the horrific casualties that have routinely occurred in the civil strife in that country in 50 years of independence, much less the approximately 1 million dead in a single month in the Rwandan massacres of the Tutsi in 1994.” That claim overlooks the Belgian government’s own admission that half the population died during the Congo Free State period of 1885 to 1908, implying a death toll of approximately 10 million.

And while Black admits “the Dutch were no joy in Indonesia, but the natives did not run amok,” he is either unaware, or willfully chooses to ignore, the deaths of Indonesians during the Indonesian National Revolution between 1945 and 1949. During this period, an estimated 45,000 to 100,000 Indonesians died fighting the Dutch and civilian casualties ranged between 25,000 and 100,000.

The National Review took a principled stand in denying outright racists, such as John Derbyshire, access to their magazine. They should show a similar sensitivity toward columnists who celebrate European colonialism while overlooking, and in some cases denying, millions of deaths in Africa and Asia.