Sunday, January 09, 2005

Forgotten History: Haiti and the Mau-Mau rebellion

The New York Times > Books > Sunday Book Review > 'Though the Heavens May Fall' and 'Bury the Chains': Freed

This is the week for forgotten (in the states) history. The Economist reviewed two books on the Mau-Mau rebellion. The stupidity, cruelty and brutality of the English war on the insurgents is little known; the occupiers a better job than most in erasing their history. The Economist reviewer compares the methods of the English in Kenya to those of the US in Iraq. It's not a compliment.

The NYT reviews books on the fall of slavery that also touch on Haiti's successful slave rebellion, a rebellion that makes the American revolutionary war seem tame in comparison:

...Haitian rebellion. The sections of the book that deal with them bring to light an astounding, and forgotten, episode in Western history. Since Haiti alone produced as much foreign trade at that time as the whole of the 13 colonies of North America, it was potentially a great loss. It belonged to France, but Britain supplied it with slaves, a valuable trade since the slaves were intentionally worked to death -- it was cheaper to replace them than to sustain them -- so the market for Africans was very brisk. Uprisings had long been frequent in the West Indies, but at long last rage in Haiti converged with the tactical brilliance of Toussaint L'Ouverture and others and the slaves seized the island. This part of the story is familiar. But there is more.

First the British and then the French under Napoleon sent huge forces against the Haitians. The British sent a larger army against Haiti than it had dispatched to fight in the American Revolution. And it buried 60 percent of those soldiers in Haiti. The two greatest powers on earth went up against a population of half-starved, desperate people and were utterly defeated. It is no surprise that these two abysmal wars of empire have fallen out of history. One cannot read about them without concluding that the Haitian Africans contributed mightily to making the Caribbean slave system untenable.
I'm sure Toussaint L'Ouverture was a brilliant tactician, but, without knowing anything about the war, I suspect malaria and Yellow Fever were Toussaint's all-powerful allies.

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