Revisiting the Rhodesian War

Earlier this week, I analyzed a New York Times article about Rhodesia and its influence on white supremacists.  In that article, I noted:

The visceral response of many Rhodesian servicemen was to “do unto others what was being done to them”. They became as much terrorists, in the way they treated their own people, as the guerrillas against whom they fought. I know they did – I saw them do it. (If you don’t want to believe that, read some of the literature that’s come out of the security forces since then. I can list some books here, if there’s enough interest. It was a brutal time.)

In a comment to that post, and in e-mails from some readers, I’ve had requests for more information about those books.  OK – here goes.

When it comes to books that are freely available at a reasonable price, two stand out for their honesty about the evil and nastiness on both sides of the Rhodesian Bush War.  One is “The Bleed: With the Marines in Vietnam and the RLI and Selous Scouts in Rhodesia“, by John R. Cronin.  Being an American who went to Rhodesia to fight communism, who therefore saw the reality of that war from an outsider’s perspective, he’s more frank and honest than many Rhodesian-born and -bred servicemen about what went on.  The second is “Bush War Operator: Memoirs of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, Selous Scouts and beyond“, by Andrew Balaam.  He goes into some detail about Selous Scout “pseudo” operations, including their (mis)treatment of local suspects.  This happened a lot more frequently than most surviving Scouts are prepared to admit.  He also discusses subsequent operations in South Africa, which shed a new and unhappy light on how that country responded to terrorism by using terrorism against other nations (just as Rhodesia did with RENAMO).  As the saying goes, “two wrongs don’t make a right”.

(EDITED TO ADD:  A third good book about the armed conflict is Chris Cocks’ “Fireforce“.  He doesn’t gloss over the evils of the war, in the midst of recalling the effectiveness of the Rhodesian Light Infantry.  It’s a very good book, by the standards of any and all individual memoirs from any war.)

An interesting book, the authenticity of which has been fiercely contested by some white Rhodesian sources, is Bruce Moore-King’s “White Man, Black War“, published two years before the end of the Rhodesian war.  He’s been described as “Zimbabwean rather than Rhodesian” (meaning, basically, pro-black rather than pro-white), because he cataloged security force crimes right along with terrorist atrocities, and didn’t side with Rhodesia as being “whiter than white” (morally speaking, that is).  The book’s long out of print, and it’s hard to find at any reasonable price point;  the cheapest used copies I’ve found have run $30-$40, including shipping, and some prices have ranged into the thousands of dollars.  Still, if you come across it, it’s an interesting perspective.

Another informative book, albeit somewhat left-leaning politically, is David Caute’s “Under the Skin: The Death of White Rhodesia“.  Also long out of print, it chronicles the last five years of the Rhodesian War through interviews and vignettes with many individuals.  It’s been fiercely criticized as biased by some former white Rhodesians, but others have stated that it’s basically an accurate portrayal through the eyes of both sides (read the reviews on Amazon to get a cross-section of those perspectives).  Personally, I agree with the latter view, provided one reads it with an understanding of the author’s left-wing politics, and makes allowance for that.

Apart from those books, there are many others that reflect their authors’ views on the Rhodesian war;  but most of them don’t analyze both sides in a balanced manner.  All too often, white Rhodesians ignore the reality that for twenty years, their tiny racial minority deliberately held an overwhelming black majority in subjection, denying them democracy and an equal share in their country’s resources and opportunities.  That denial played right into the hands of the Soviet bloc, which armed, trained and organized terrorist movements in response, and gained support from many Third World nations for “opposing racism”.  The outcome, from a demographic perspective, was never in doubt.  Tragically, it took tens of thousands of casualties before the inevitable happened.  When one factors in the lives lost to Rhodesia-related guerrilla warfare in Zambia, Mozambique and other nations, the death toll is almost certainly in the hundreds of thousands.  Precisely how many died, or were wounded and maimed, will never be known.

There are two interesting contributions on Reddit from user “profrhodes” concerning white racism in Rhodesia, offering what I think is a reasonably balanced perspective.  Certainly, based on my experiences there, I saw little to contradict them.  Their threads are:

1. “Europeans f***ed up a lot of stuff but they also helped a lot as well”: Why we can’t re-colonise Africa for fear of being called racists, why Africans have starved themselves, and why European imperialism brought Africa “forward in history”(???)

2. Was Rhodesia as racist as South Africa?

I hope those sources provide more information to those who’d like it.


1 comment

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *