Excerpts of the day
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Excerpts of the day

One of the things I like best about studying political science is reading the opinions and insights of people from another age (whether they be through archives or biographies or whatever). It’s really interesting to chart various developments over time in the way we think about certain things. Obviously humans as a biological species don’t change much in a matter of a hundred years, but as social animals, the transformation can be pretty intense.

For example, this is an excerpt from Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, an account of what the American ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, saw during World War I, especially when it came to genocide and ethnic cleansing.

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This particular excerpt is drawn from the section where Morgenthau reflects on the Allies’ withdrawal from the Dardanelles. The chapter, incidentally, is titled “The Turk Reverts to the Ancestral Type”.

Essentially the Turk is a bully and a coward; he is brave as a lion when things are going his way, but cringing, abject, and nerveless when reverses are overwhelming him. And now that the fortunes of war were apparently favouring the empire, I began to see an entirely new Turk unfolding before my eyes. The hesitating and fearful Ottoman, feeling his way cautiously amid the mazes of European diplomacy, and seeking opportunities to find an advantage for himself in the divided counsels of the European powers, gave place to an understanding, almost dashing figure, proud and assertive, determined to live in his own life and absolutely contemptuous of his Christian foes. I was really witnessing a remarkable development in race psychology — an almost classical instance of reversion to type…we must realize that the basic fact underlying the Turkish mentality is its utter contempt for all other races. A fairly insane pride is the element that largely explains this strange human species.

I don’t think an ambassador today could get away with saying things like this on the record. But a hundred years ago, it was perfectly normal.

Now, I am not claiming that racism has disappeared off the face of this planet, obviously. My claim is more limited: I’m simply saying that norms against racism and race-based “theories” have meant that leaders and decision-makers are increasingly unlikely to attach their name to sentiments such as the ones expressed above.

Another example, for the Pakistan-based crowd out there, is this excerpt from Ayub Khan on Bengalis.

East Bengalis, who constitute the bulk of the population, probably belong to the very original Indian races. It would be no exaggeration to that up to the creation of Pakistan, they had not known any real freedom or sovereignty. They have been in turn ruled either by the caste Hindus, Moghuls, Pathans or the British. In addition, they have been and still are under considerable Hindu cultural and linguistic influence. As such they have all the inhibitions of down-trodden races and have not found it possible to adjust psychologically to the requirements of the new-born freedom.

I just love the assuredness and self-confidence in these statements. Pure gold.