Sub-imperialism exposed


Postcolonial? Decolonised? Both Australia and the United States are missing out on essential components of the debate. Read our comment to Clinton Fernandes's analysis of an originally British imperialism. A hundred years after David Lloyd George's invention, these three states founded AUKUS Dreibund.

As a student in Amsterdam mentored by a history professor (✝ 2018) to whom the nation's legacy generation has not produced anyone of equal standing or wisdom, I learned to know about "sub-imperialism". At the time, Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton headed a fallen super power respectively its Cold-War adversary, an increasingly triumphalist one. Sub-imperialism's sources appeared to be extremely scarce. It took me way into the present century until one more was found in addition to Herman Poeschel's presumed coinage of the term in 1920. At the time of my research, the German researcher's monograph turned 75. Just like Poeschel's appropriation shortly after the conclusion of the Treaty and "League of Versailles" ratification process, the eighty-year-later source finds its origins in scholarship beyond the Anglo–American and the then Anglo–Saxon empire.

In 2022, i.e. the eighth year of the Russo-American war in Ukraine, the first monograph on this clearly British-made phenomenon was published. So far as I know, Clinton Fernandes' publication in Australia is the first to originate from the English-language area: Sub-imperial Power. Australia in the International Arena. It comes more than a hundred years after Poeschel. After reading Fernandes' first chapter, whose title reflects the book title, I could not wait to turn to the index. At least some of a handful of potential names and keywords were expected to mirror my decade-long research on this topic. If not the League of Nations, David Lloyd George (Winston Churchill's predecessor when it comes to wartime leadership) would turn up here, alongside colonial aides such as William Hughes (Lloyd George's first representative in Australia) or Jan Christian Smuts (Hughes' principal in Paris 1919). It stunned me that neither the stillborn organisation nor any of these key figures from the end of the Great War (1914 – 1919), not to mention the "first post-war era", showed up.

If not these Britons and their Empire proxies, who else would be mentioned as sub-imperialism's figureheads or mostly secretive practitioners? As a matter of fact, the Australian author abstained from explaining his choice for a unilateral focus on the Second World War and this post-war era. All of the "seminal catastrophe of the twentieth century" (George Kennan) remained beyond his scope.

The critique on the book's historical dimension needs to be pointed out. As a contrast with a general statement on page 66, this Australian study suggests that sub-imperialism's founding fathers are to be found among the living generations. Though I completely agree with the professor's analysis and its political implications for the study of war and peace, the roots of sub-imperialism fail to be traced back to London 1917 and Paris 1919. This critique centres on this considerable omission. If it were possible to set up a Euro-Australian cooperation project including this century-old notion's origins, the power of a yet forceful argument would be increased considerably. We have just arrived in a second century following the events that not only fatally estranged Weimar democrats, not to mention their democracy vilifying compatriots, but also lay at the foundation of their nation's just and reasonable case of revision and escape from foreign exclusion or isolation at all costs.

Where can the roots of the British-made phenomenon of sub-imperialism be found? During the more global of the World Wars, that is the initial one, the United Kingdom's crisis year of 1916 ended with Prime Minister's Herbert Asquith's removal from office. The war and post-war policies of his successor Lloyd George would – carefully wrapped in a successful propaganda campaign by the newly created Ministry of Information – bear the mark of radical imperialism. Instead of supporting a new balance of power, the new PM structurally ignored his engaged military command's memoranda on primacy of balance-of-power politics by prioritising the Admiralty's and media magnates' plea for radically imperialist war aims. Two years later at the Paris conference, Britain's propagated peace policy, which sustainably turned out to be a merciless divide-et-impera, destroyed the precarious balance of 1918 (Armistice) and essentially obscured the prospects for a peaceful order. According to mainstream history though, the Welshman – "nearest to a Napoleon" (A.J.P. Taylor) – led his country out of the wartime crisis. Eventually, this champion of antagonising unilateralism would live long enough to see the boomerang towards newborn "Weimar" doing its work; the trio's diktat on the German nation and people evoking an even more destructive dictatorship.

Want to know more? Visit us in October 2023 in order to get your copy of
Vice Versa Versailles (article).

Review by Richard King 🇦🇺

Finally, linguistic criticism adds up to the story. A more than twenty-page long index (about thirteen percent of a total of 158 pages) of this book does not reveal any titles beyond the English-language domain. The question remains to what extent foreign language competences can be attributed to the author. Think of Johann W. von Goethe's quote: „Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiß nichts von seiner eigenen.“ At the same time, Fernandes should be credited for delivering this sensibly provocative title about critical peace and security research from within the above-mentioned zone of influence. He is obviously able to meticulously filter Anglo-Saxon historiography and forgo its legacy media, which is a major accomplishment of its own.

By Peter de Bourgraaf

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