Thanks to its reputation as the only successful counterinsurgency of the twentieth century, the Malayan Emergency of the early 1950s has figured prominently in recent histories of military strategy. Yet an equally important context for the winning of “hearts and minds” is the model of rural development which originated in the British Punjab in the 1920s and became a cornerstone of colonial and international policy in the 1940s. Whether termed “mass education,” “fundamental education,” or “community development,” this vision of uplift had much in common with the Malayan campaign: the extensive use of propaganda; the close attention to personal relationships; and above all, the delicate balance between coercion and persuasion. The parallels between counterinsurgency and development in the postwar empire raise an important question: why did British civilians and soldiers alike find it necessary to pay more attention to the thoughts and feelings of colonial subjects? One possible explanation is that the British did no such thing — that they only pretended to take account of popular sentiment to legitimize the continuation of imperial rule in the eyes of the world. In fact, however, officials did need to work with public opinion, because their strategy for the postwar empire — the diversion of colonial aspirations from constitutional reform to the ostensibly apolitical sphere of economic improvement — required it.
Friday, April 13, 2012
University of California, Berkeley