I did a lot of digging into the Late Victorian period for my just-released epic novel DISTANT THUNDER (Orion Books). And the further I delved into the 1890s, the more disturbingly the era reminded me of the present. Now, as then, an empire at its zenith, and accustomed to thinking of itself as a force for good, is just beginning to face its own failings and to lose confidence. Now, as then, our soldiers in far flung places are ignored or even betrayed by their masters at home. Now, as then, we are paranoid about religious fundamentalism, without recognising our own (look at the Bible-bashing Right in the USA). We aggressively protect our sources of raw materials and our trade routes. We pour billions into corrupt puppet states and expect them to last, while at home the social gulf widens and our own economies totter. Now, as then, the battles are fought (sometimes by proxy) over the very same arid and lawless wastelands - try Afghanistan and Sudan. Now, as then, the world's foremost industrial power clashes with tribesmen who might have sprung from the Middle Ages. And - as always - innocent people of all creeds are caught up in brutal political machinery which they cannot control, decent men and women are set to do appalling things, those who believed in us are sold out, lovers are torn apart by conflicting ideologies (and if you want to know more about that you'll have to read the book!).
Substitute US Empire for British Empire and you'll see what I mean. What we Brits used to call 'civilisation' is more tactfully described today as 'democracy', even as 'freedom', though on the ground it usually amounts to swapping one compromised regime for another.
A century ago our own great imperial adventure was to die in the mud of the Somme, in battles fought not against 'natives' but against other imperial powers who saw their stars rising and ours setting. If we in the West want to avoid some equivalent cataclysm - perhaps even a worse one - maybe we should all read a bit more history. You could start by reading DISTANT THUNDER ...
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