Queen Elizabeth II died today in Scotland, as you likely know, at the age of 96. She was the longest serving monarch in British history. She was born in one world and died in another. It's not easy to maintain your dignity while living in the public eye. Most of us could not pull it off for an afternoon. Queen Elizabeth did it for more than 70 years.
[...] The week that Elizabeth was coronated, Edmund Hillary, a British subject from New Zealand, a beekeeper, became the first man in history to summit Mount Everest. The achievement seemed symbolic at the time – Britain on top of the world. But in fact, Britain was already over, whether the British knew it or not. To this day, Britain claims to have won both of the 20th century's world wars, but together, they destroyed that nation forever.
After victory came humiliation. The empire evaporated, and along with it, Britain's self-confidence and ultimately its self-respect. It's hard to believe now, but Britain wasn't always a regional banking center/refugee camp. It was a real place with a history and a language and a culture and a genuinely remarkable people, a country in the North Atlantic, the size of Alabama, that somehow took over the world and ruled it with decency unmatched by any empire in human history.
The British Empire was not perfect, but it was far more humane than any other ever. It's gone now, barely even remembered. Queen Elizabeth II was the last living link to a truly Great Britain. Today on social media, the usual ghouls celebrated her death. "May her pain be excruciating," a Carnegie Mellon professor called Uju Anya wrote on Twitter of the queen. "May she die in agony."
Various know-nothings in the media, including a columnist at The Atlantic and a couple of employees of NBC News, seconded that thought. "The British Empire was evil," they wrote, apparently totally unaware of what came after it. And speaking of: what did come after the British Empire? How, for example, did Africa fare after the British left? Let's see. Uganda got Idi Amin, who was a cannibal. Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and then became the poorest country on the planet under the racist lunatic Robert Mugabe. As of tonight, South Africa is still being run into the ground by an incompetent kleptocratic called Cyril Ramaphosa.
So, it's hard to see any of that as an improvement because it's not an improvement. Sorry, Atlantic Magazine. And now, of course, the entire continent of Africa has a new master: the Chinese government. China is the latest colonial power to dominate Africa. Its subjects will be pining for the British soon, assuming they are not already. In an ideal world, they would not be empires, no empires, only sovereign nations, but we don't have that world and we never have had that world going back to at least the Assyrians 1,400 years before Christ. In the real world, the one that we live in, strong countries dominate weak countries and that trend shows no sign of changing. The very least you can say about the English is that they took their colonial responsibilities seriously. They didn't just take things, they added.
When the U.S. government withdrew from Afghanistan after 20 years, we left behind airstrips, shipping containers and guns. When the British pulled out of India, they left behind an entire civilization, a language, a legal system, schools, churches and public buildings, all of which are still in use today. Here's the train station the English built in Bombay, for example. There's nothing like that in Washington, DC right now, much less in Kabul or Baghdad. Today, India is far more powerful than the UK, the nation that once ruled it and yet, after 75 years of independence, has that country produced a single building as beautiful as the Bombay train station that the British colonialists built? No, sadly, it has not. Not one.
So, despite what they may be claiming on Twitter tonight, the British Empire was more than just genocide. In fact, the British did not commit genocide, except arguably against the Dutch during the Boer War. The British did give the world the Magna Carta and habeas corpus and free speech. They helped end the transatlantic slave trade, as well as the ritual murder of widows in India. The British Empire spread Protestant Christianity to the entire world. It published some of the greatest literature ever written and produced the finest manufactured goods ever made anywhere at any time, including now.
It was an impressive place run by impressive people. We will see many empires going forward, but we will never see one so benign. [...]