April 27, 2003


A few days ago Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld referred to the continuing confusion and death in Iraq as “untidiness”–a euphemism for something far more serious. Yet community upheavals can be deadly–even in the absence of war, cruise missiles, and attack helicopters.

Just last year, more than 200 people died in riots in Nigeria over newspaper comments about the Miss World contest. In the three days of burning and looting in the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, 52 people died and 1,200 businesses were destroyed. Looting was also a big part of the 1990 Detroit Pistons riots, which killed 7 people. In the 1993 Chicago Bulls riots, our fellow Chicagoans killed 3, shot 20 more people, looted 197 businesses, and damaged more police cars than the chase scenes in “The Blues Brothers” movie–139 cruisers in all.

These numbers, of course, are mere shadows of what can happen when a people are freed from colonial rule and millions are forced to relocate, as happened in 1947 with the partition of India and Pakistan. In a recent issue of the scholarly journal Asian Ethnicity, professor Ishtiag Ahmed offers estimates that 2 million people were killed and 750,000 women raped in the violence accompanying the partition. . . .

The French were so angry after only four brutal years of Nazi occupation that more than 9,000 collaborators were summarily killed at the end of the war, according to standard academic accounts. And these vigilantes were the oh-so-civilized French.

The evolving process of reform after World War II was slow. Britain’s wartime rationing continued until 1954–and, remember, Britain was bombed but not invaded, and it won that war. Sometimes I wonder whether the English might still be under wartime rationing if they hadn’t kicked out the Labor government for a few years in the 1950s and brought Winston Churchill back in.

Read the whole thing.

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