Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Savage wars of peace

I enjoy reading fiction, biography, and history about the century between Waterloo (1815) and World War I (1914), especially about Britain during that time.

Apart from brief conflicts mostly having to do with the growth of Prussian influence, Europe was largely peaceful. Britain was becoming the center of the empire "on which the sun never set." Byron Farwell's Queen Victoria's Little Wars introduced me to much of the history of the growth of that empire. From Chapter 1:
THERE was not a single year in Queen Victoria's long reign in which somewhere in the world her soldiers were not fighting for her and for her empire. From 1837 until 1901, in Asia, Africa, Arabia and elsewhere, British troops were engaged in almost constant combat. It was the price of empire, of world leadership, and of national pride—and it was paid, usually without qualms or regrets or very much thought.

Except for the final Boer War, all the military actions were small affairs by today's standards: little wars, military expeditions, rebellions, mutinies, only one of which, the Indian Mutiny, ever posed a threat to the Empire. Britain's little wars did not begin with Queen Victoria, but there were more of them during the sixty-four years of her reign than there had been in the previous two centuries. It was in the Victorian era that continual warfare became an accepted way of life—and in the process the size of the British Empire quadrupled. ....
Farwell explains in the Foreword:
This is the story of what Kipling called the 'savage wars of peace', and of the men who fought them. Scant attention is paid to the causes of the wars or the political manoeuvrings which preceded the hostilities. They are not of much importance. Reasons for going to war are continually being made available to great nations; the more far-flung their interests, the more pretexts for war present themselves. ....
The first conflict in Victoria's reign was a brief and unsuccessful rebellion against her rule in Canada. Soon there was trouble in Afghanistan (which would recur). Several chapters are devoted to the Indian Mutiny. And on though many more until the Boer War at the end of the Queen Empress's life.

The book covers much of the same history as do George MacDonald Frazier's very entertaining fictional adventures of Sir Harry Flashman.