Saturday, 7 November 2015

Afghanistan and Burma in Laurie's Colonial England

William Laurie wrote Ashé Pyee, the Superior Country in 1882, just years before colonial England occupied the whole of Burma. In much of this book, Laurie makes a case as to why it is in their best interest to occupy the Golden Land. Following are some of his arguments:
The mercantile gentleman—a gentleman to the backbone—remarks: " The country is full of wealth which only requires the commonest form of just government to tap and draw off. Now that all the mischief that can be done to trade has been done, and troops are on the spot, it is to be hoped that Government will make such arrangements—be they in the form of annexation or of a definite treaty with suitable guarantee for fulfilment—as will put trade on a secure basis, and prevent the recurrence of a similar commercial crisis." 
Again, the shrewd merchant makes the following very pithy remark, which, beyond all question, has considerable truth in it:—"Upper Burma occupies pretty much the relation to British Burma that a lunatic asylum does to a contiguous private residence. It is a constant object of dread to the merchant, and from a political point of view, it is a standing menace to British power and prestige in the East." 
The comparison of Upper with Lower Burma is very striking in every respect, and should be studied by all who are anxious to understand the Burmese question. In the former we have poverty, starvation, and barbarous oppression by the rulers, where the people are taught "that gambling is a virtue, and life and property of no particular value;" in the latter, there is safety for all under a beneficent Government—"peace, contentment, and happiness, and such a steady and ever-increasing development of the resources of the country as might make any wise ruler anxious to imitate a system which has produced such marvellous results." 
The difference, of course, in the two cases is simply that we require either possession of, or strict control over, the one country, to make an harmonious whole; but we do not at all, at present, require the other. We can wait for Afghanistan, if it is ever to be ours, meanwhile fortifying ourselves against all chance of attack; but we cannot wait for something to be done with Upper Burma without damaging Lower or British Burma.