As you younger Belizeans take a peek at what is transpiring in and between Guyana and Venezuela, the first thing you probably realize is that there is a great similarity here to the situation which exists between Belize and Guatemala.
Both Guyana (formerly British Guiana) and Belize (formerly British Honduras) are members of the British Commonwealth; they were both territories which were owned and administrated by the British Empire, an empire which was so huge in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that it was famously described as “the empire on which the sun never set.” In other words, the British Empire encircled the globe we know as planet earth.
How did a relatively small island in the North Atlantic Ocean, twenty-six miles west of the continent of Europe, become so powerful? Many writers have spoken of the “stiff British upper lip.” In other words, these were a people of remarkable courage and fortitude. Throw in cruelty if you will.
It should be noted that these were also a people who experienced crushing poverty before they came to glory. You will become aware of Britain’s pre-imperial poverty when you read the works of probably their greatest novelist, Charles Dickens. The British became wealthy off the natural resources of their colonial possessions, slavery, and their own industrial revolution.
Personally, I think the key to British power was the fact that their seamen were the best in the world. The battle which established this, I submit, took place in 1588, when the British seamen turned back a so-called Spanish Armada which had been sent to invade and conquer the Protestant British Isles by Catholic Philip II, the King of Spain. At that point in time, Spain was considered THE world power because of the wealth they had accumulated as the primary beneficiaries of Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas, the Western Hemisphere, the “New World.”
No mere newspaper column can begin to analyze Britain’s historic climb to power. What I wanted to do here was spark our younger citizens to research the story called “Mutiny on the Bounty,” a story which was so dramatic and enthralling that Hollywood has made at least five versions of it in the last century.
A British (sailing) ship was sent to Tahiti in the South Pacific in 1787 to collect breadfruit plants for transportation to Jamaica. These plants were to be grown in the Caribbean as food for African slaves who were working for the British. The trip from England to Tahiti took many, many months. An all-male crew spent five months in the South Pacific gathering the plants, and during that process there was sexual intermingling with Tahitian women.
The captain of the BOUNTY, William Bligh, was a great seaman, but an exceedingly harsh disciplinarian. Shortly after the BOUNTY headed from the South Pacific on its way to the Caribbean, a mutiny against Bligh occurred, on April 28, 1789. When I went online to ascertain the exact date of the mutiny, I was struck by the fact that the mutiny would have occurred a little less than three months before the French Revolution, the uprising by the Paris masses which featured the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789. In fact, there had been rumblings in the French version of Parliament, their “Estates-General,” from early May of 1789. (The French Revolution in 1789 indirectly led to the Haitian Revolution in 1791.)
The British Empire was challenged by Germany in World War I (1914-18). Britain won that war, but Germany, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, challenged them again in World War II (1939-45), and it was out of that war that the United States of America and the Soviet Union emerged as dominant and began to fight for world supremacy afterwards.
Before World War I, all major European wars were fought primarily on land, and some on sea, but military conflict was expanded to the air in World War I, and became more important in World War II, when Germany and Britain began to bomb each other from the sky. Japan attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor by air in December of 1941, whereupon the U.S. entered the war on the side of Britain, Japan being a German ally at the time.
Today, we live in an era of air war — fighter jets, bombers, missiles, drones, and so on and so forth. But there are still areas where the sea is critical, such as the South China Sea, the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal, and the like.
In 1982, the United Kingdom sent its navy 8,000 miles to South America to defend the Falkland Islands from Argentina. But, they refused to give Belize a defence guarantee against Guatemala, although they had sent their Harrier jump jets to defend Belize in 1975 before Belize became independent in 1981.
Today, most of what Israel is doing to Gaza is being done from the air, although Israel has also sent in its ground troops.
The story of the BOUNTY is almost two and a half centuries ago. The world of war and power has changed, and the United States of America now rules the world with the power of nuclear missiles. But Russia, China and North Korea also possess nuclear missiles, so then, man has entered a world where he has begun to think of outer space as possibly residential. Incredible!
My column, as I said earlier, was aimed at our younger generations. In the South Pacific today, there is a people who are descended from the Englishmen who mutinied on the BOUNTY. They interbred with Tahitian women.
Captain Bligh managed to reach Europe in the BOUNTY’s lifeboat, a feat of amazing seamanship. Because of men like him, you and I became British subjects. Today, December 19, 2023, I am sure the Guyanese wonder what is in store for them. Years ago, many Belizeans decided America would be their home. But now there is the specter of a Trumpian return. I have no answers to any of your questions.
(AMANDALA Ed. Note: You “aimed at our younger generations,” but I trust that the arrow of this absolutely enlightening and stimulating piece will also hit a nerve of interest and curiosity among members of our older generation who grew up being “kept in ignorance” by our colonial education system.)