2ndlook

Islamic World: Last 100 Years

Posted in History, Pax Americana, politics, Propaganda by Anuraag Sanghi on March 9, 2013

Fundamentalist Islam has, apart from the solitary success of increasing enlistment, delivered nothing on political governance, economic growth, social justice, modernization of education or even military preparedness..

August 1953: Scenes from the coup that Iran will not forget.

August 1953: Scenes from the coup that Iran will not forget.

By the middle of the 19th century (1850), decline of Islamic empires was truly and completely real.

Empires Of Islam

After a 1000 years of expansion and dominance, by 1850 just two declining Islamic powers were left to compete on the world’s imperial stage. One was the Mughal Empire that controlled India. An India, that was: -

The other major Islamic Empire was the Ottoman Empire, centered in modern Turkey, that controlled a geography from the borders of Iran to the outskirts of Europe.

From Western Seas

Opposing these Islamic Empires were the Christian colonial Empires of Spain & Portugal, France and Britain.

The first challenge to the Christian colonial Empires came from India – with the Anglo-Indian War of 1857.

Stretching over a period of nearly two years, the alliance was nominally headed by the Mughal Emperor, and the war was mainly between the Marathas and a mercenary army of Indian soldiers, raised and equipped by the British. The war-chests of Maratha-Mughal alliance were puny compared to the British capital – bolstered by huge capital inflows from slave trade, slave plantations of sugar and tobacco, apart from piracy, loot and plunder.

Within two years, the Mughal Empire was over.

Minor Islamic kingdoms of Egypt and Persia ruled at British sufferance. The Ottoman Empire folded up 60 years later.

In 1920.

Street scenes from August 1953 coup in Iran.

Street scenes from August 1953 coup in Iran.

Under Western Thumbs

Nearly a 100-years after the end of the Ottoman Empire, the Islamic world is still ruled by Western puppets.

In Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Egypt – or a Turkey which is happy being at the periphery of every Western alliance – CENTO, European Union, etc.

Under Nasser or Yasser Arafat, people mobilization was a political movement – the agenda being independence from Western subjugation.

All these movements succumbed to religious obscurantism after the overthrow of Shah Of Iran. Iran’s incendiary mix of religion and anti-American politics found a Sunni resonance in Saudi Arabia with a Wahhabi revival. Pakistan turned from Deobandi to Wahhabi strains of Islam.

Desperate situations call for desperate …

The use of fundamentalist Islam has been successful in increasing citizen enlistment against the West. Apart from the solitary success of increasing enlistment, the Shia-Sunni consensus on fundamentalism has delivered nothing on political governance, economic growth, social justice, modernization of education or even military preparedness. This uni-dimensional agenda of ‘modern’ Islam has many detractors within and outside the Islamic world.

In the last 40-odd years

Recently released classified information and memoirs by retired spies, provide a more complex picture of the CIA, its effectiveness, and its overall power, suggesting that at times Langley was manned not by James Bond clones but by a bunch of keystone cops. My favorite clandestine CIA operation, recounted in Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, involves its 1994 surveillance of the newly appointed American ambassador to Guatemala, Marilyn McAfee. When the agency bugged her bedroom, it picked up sounds that led agents to conclude that the ambassador was having a lesbian love affair with her secretary. Actually, she was petting her two-year-old black standard poodle.

But the CIA’s history does include efforts to oust unfriendly regimes, to assassinate foreign leaders who didn’t believe that what was good for Washington and Wall Street was good for their people, and to sponsor coups and revolutions. Sometimes the agency succeeded.

Topping the list of those successes—if success is the right word for an operation whose long-term effects were so disastrous—was the August 1953 overthrow of Iran’s elected leader and the installment of the unpopular and authoritarian Shah in his place. Operation Ajax, as it was known, deserves that old cliché: If it didn’t really happen, you’d think that it was a plot imagined by a Hollywood scriptwriter peddling anti-American conspiracies.

Book cover of Ervand Abrahamian's The Coup.

Book cover of Ervand Abrahamian’s The Coup.

Ervand Abrahamian isn’t a Hollywood scriptwriter but a renowned Iranian-American scholar who teaches history at the City University of New York. With The Coup, he has authored a concise yet detailed and somewhat provocative history of the 1953 regime change, which the CIA conducted with the British MI6. If you don’t know anything about the story, The Coup is a good place to start. If you’ve already read a lot about Ajax and the events that led to it, the book still offers new insights into this history-shattering event.

Abrahamian constructed his narrative by analyzing documents in the archives of British Petroleum, the British Foreign Office, and the State Department as well as the memoirs of the main characters in the drama. These characters—British spies and business executives, American diplomats and journalists, Soviet agents, Communist activists, Nazi propagandists, Shiite mullahs, Iranian crime bosses—have double or even triple agendas to advance as they jump from one political bed to another and back, lying, cheating, stealing, and killing. It all makes the CIA-led extraction of the American hostages in Iran, depicted in the film Argo, look kind of, well, boring.

On one side there was Muhammad Mossadeq, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran from 1951 to 1953, a secular, liberal, and nationalist leader who wanted to join the “neutralist” camp that disavowed commitment to either of the superpowers during the Cold War. An aristocratic and eccentric figure who welcomed foreign officials into his house wearing pajamas, Mossadeq introduced many progressive social and economic reforms into the traditionally Shiite society, and sent shock waves across the world when he moved to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, which had been under British control since 1913 through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.

On the other side there was Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt, Jr., Teddy’s grandson, a legendary spymaster, a self-promoter who dined with major world leaders and business executives but also befriended power-hungry Iranian military generals, corrupt politicians, merchants in the bazzar, and quite a few thugs, who helped him achieve what became Washington’s goal: to remove Mossadeq and his political allies, which included liberals, social democrats, and Communists, from power; to return the oil industry into British hands (with more American presence in Iran’s oil business); and to place reliable pro-western politicians in power.

It seemed to work beautifully. The United States gained a key strategic ally in the Middle East. American companies received a considerable share of Iran’s enormous oil wealth. Other oil-producing Middle Eastern nations got a lesson in what might happen if they nationalized. At a time when the Americans were facing challenges from nationalists such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and were trying to contain the so-called Soviet threat in the Middle East, Our Man in Tehran welcomed American soldiers and investors (and purchased a lot of American weapons). It all looked good until it didn’t.

While the coup did set back the nationalization of the oil resources in the Middle East, the delay ended in the 1970s. In that decade, Abrahamian writes, one country after another—not just radical states such as Libya, Iraq, and Algeria, but conservative monarchies such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia—“took over their oil resources, and, having learned from the past, took precautions to make sure that their oil companies would not return victorious.”

At the same time, the coup decimated the secular opposition, leaving Shiite clerics as the most viable political force when the Iranian Revolution deposed the Shah in 1979. The pro-American puppet gave way to a radical and anti-American Islamic Republic where the secular and liberal opposition remains weak and leaderless. That, as they say in Langley, is blowback.

The coup also intensified what Abrahamian calls the “intense paranoid style prevalent throughout Iranian politics.” While the Iranian clerics worry that Washington wants to do a rerun of the 1953 regime change, many members of the opposition are counting on that to happen. In Tehran, they still think the CIA makes the world turn around.

via Our Man in Iran – Reason.com.


British Raj: Expansion In India was Swift and Easy says British-American Historian

Posted in British Raj, History, India, Propaganda by Anuraag Sanghi on July 2, 2012

65 years after the loss of India, Britain tries recycling old propaganda – and selling it as cutting edge history.

James Gillray, (1756-1815), leading printmaker, lampoons Cornwallis after battlefield reverses in India in a work Title: The coming on of the monsoons, or, The retreat from Seringapatam Related Title: Retreat from Seringapatam  |  Published: London; on December, 6th 1791 by H. Humphrey  |  Click for image.

James Gillray, (1756-1815), leading printmaker, lampoons Cornwallis after battlefield reverses in India in a work Title: The coming on of the monsoons, or, The retreat from Seringapatam Related Title: Retreat from Seringapatam | Published: London; on December, 6th 1791 by H. Humphrey | Click for image.

Regret and rankle?

Why does it bother a British historian, that Indian-writers write good things about India, who are largely read in India? After 30 years in the employ of an American University!

Yet it does.

Writing smoothly, in the London Book Review (LRB) Perry Anderson uses more than 15,000 words to refresh British propaganda about the British Raj in India.

Full of gaps like

When the British arrived, it was the sprawling heterogeneity of the area that allowed them, after a slow start, to gain such relatively swift and easy control of it, using one local power or population against the next, in a series of alliances and annexations that ended, more than a century after the Battle of Plassey, with the construction of an empire extending further east and south, if not north-west, than any predecessor. (via Perry Anderson · Gandhi Centre Stage · LRB 5 July 2012)

Was the British imperial expansion in India, ‘swift and easy’ over ‘more than a century after the Battle of Plassey.’

Really?

Eh … Oh … Aah

Let us look at some history.

First: If the expansion was swift and easy, the decline and departure was faster. Between Plassey (1757) and the 1857 War was a hundred years. Between the 1857 War and Indian Independence (1947) was only ninety.

Indian independence, which had a large dose of non-violent protest, was preceded by British loss of initiative and control.

Remember dates.

English are nowhere

1600 – East India Company formed.

1683 – British Crown approves new charter for EEIC; which can now wage war.

1739 – Nadir Shah’s raid on India sees British missing in action.

1746 – Chauth for Bengal & Bihar ceded to Marathas by Mughals. British are still nowhere.

1757 – Battle of Plassey – an artificial landmark in Indian history; but important to British.

1761 – Ahmad Shah Abdali defeat Marathas at Panipat. Maratha powers starts to decline.

1764 – British take advantage of Maratha /Mughal weakness; and win the minor Battle of Buxar, 22 October; which lands them the Diwani of Bengal. British loot of India begins. Regular famines become feature of the British Raj.

English Appear Somewhere

1765-1785 – British win battles against European powers (French, Dutch, Danes) but lose wars against Indian kings.

1781 – Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, October 19, at Yorktown, America.

1786 – 23 February, Cornwallis appointed for India position. Departing in May, arrived at Madras – 22 August.

1799 – Tipu Sultan’s death. British power consolidates in India.

English Are Here in India

1818 – The Third Anglo-Maratha /Pindari War ends. English power arrives in India.

1839 – Death of Ranjit Singh.

1845-1849 – The Sikh Wars in which English gained supremacy over the last outpost of Indian power.

British power in India

1857 – Combined Indian forces, led by the Mughal-Maratha alliance declare war. Major battles continue for 18 months. English win.

British Loss of Power

1916 – April 16. BG Tilak declares Swaraj is my birthright; forms Home Rule League at the Bombay Provincial Conference held at Belgaum.

1927 – Indian polity refuses to negotiate with Simon Commission.

1930 – Bhagat Singh displays disinterest in the legal outcome of his trial.

1944 – India’s leading industrialists come together (Bombay Club) and make an economic-plan document for an India which is yet to be born; for a government that was yet to be formed.

1946 – Naval Ratings raise the Indian Flag of independence.

1947 – Britain out of India

Two: A recent British ranking included Rani Lakshmi Bai as sole woman entry in the list of Top-20 foes of the British Empire. More than 200 wars, battles, mutinies, bombings, armed uprisings, spread over the 190 years, in which more than 10 million people died, was not easy.

Three: The loss of India was recurring theme in the less than 200 years of British misrule in India. The British knew their hold on India was one-step away from losing it.

Voices From The Past

Lord Curzon, probably got the tone for the Raj, till its end 50 years later. In a letter, on 31 March 1901, (some suggest March 3), to the Conservative minister AJ Balfour; Curzon predicted in 1901,

governing of India was far and away the biggest thing that the British were doing anywhere. As long as we rule India, we are the greatest power in the world. If we lose it we shall straightway drop to a third rate power. (from – Curzon in India: Achievement; books.google.co.in; David Dilks – 1970.).

In 1857, soon after the outbreak of war, reporting on Europe’s reactions, were brothers Eliakim Littell and Robert S. Littell, for their American publication, The Living Age (Volume 55 – Page 113).

In a familiar manner they said,

India is not only an English, it is a European subject; and the face of the Continental press moves that it is so. “Will England lose India or not?” is a question mooted by friends and foes, with hopes and fears according to their feelings; and from what they say of our prospects, we may judge of their future ‘conduct in the event of any serious loss to our power. On the Continent, more than in this country, it seems to be felt, and is indeed here and there loudly proclaimed, that Great Britain will lose her European supremacy if she lose India.

In fact, the loss of India would be a deathblow to her commerce and industry. (From: The living age …, Volume 55; By Eliakim Littell, Robert S. Littell, Making of America Project.).

Further back, in 1829, writing in Gentleman’s magazine, (Volume 149), John Nichols summed up the mood in England.

It has been said that we might lose India, if, with the gospel of peace in one hand, and the code of English justice in the other, we thus legislate in a country whose superstitions are inveterate! Lose India !’ what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul!

Many Britishers said the opposite too. Churchill, the most famous of these Indian-doom predictors, thundered in the British Parliament,

In handing over the Government of India to these so-called political classes we are handing over to men of straw, of whom, in a few years, no trace will remain.

We now know whose predictions were right.

It can be safely said, that India was far from subdued, either easily or quickly, in the entire British Raj. A long enough search will produce one such analysis for each year where the British fear of losing India was exposed.

But the British lost power pretty fast.


Aryan Britain

Posted in America, British Raj, European History, Media by Anuraag Sanghi on March 2, 2012

Before WWII, British journalists, editors and writers wrote of Britain’s Aryan past. One writer made out a significant case, in his books, that Britain was the homeland of Aryans.

Britain – Homeland of the Aryans

While, ‘Aryan’ Germany has been a matter of much analysis, controversy, condemnation, ‘Aryan’ Britain or ‘Aryan’ USA are glossed over – or completely ignored.

One booster for ‘Aryan’ Britain was a prominent journalist and editor in Britain before WWII. With many books to his credit, by significant publishers, William Comyns Beaumont, also known as Comyns Beaumont, moved from the Daily Mail to become an editor for two of the ‘Great Eight’.

When British publishers spoke of “The Great Eight” they meant the Graphic, Illustrated London News, Sphere, Sketch, Tatler, Bystander, Britannia & Eve, Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News—all published by Illustrated Newspapers Ltd. Last week the eight were reduced to-seven. Instead of their weekly copies of the Graphic, U. S. subscribers received instead notice that the famed 62-year-old paper was no more. (via The Press: Eight Less One – TIME).

William Comyns Beaumont, also known as Comyns Beaumont, (1873–1956) was a British journalist, author, and lecturer. Beaumont was a staff writer for the Daily Mail and eventually became editor of the Bystander in 1903 and then The Graphic in 1932.

Among Beaumont’s propositions were:

  • catastrophic climate changes were the results of the action of asteroids on the earth.
  • The Egyptian dynasties up to the 13th century BC ruled in South Wales.
  • Jerusalem was originally located in Edinburgh.
  • The works of Shakespeare were written by Francis Bacon.
  • Francis Bacon was the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth I.
  • There is a Zionist plot to undermine the British Empire.
  • Part of this plot was disinformation disseminated by means of the Bible, which concealed the fact that the Holy Lands were in Britain, not in Palestine.
  • The British Isles were Atlantis.
  • Jesus was born in Glastonbury, and his life played out in Somerset.
  • Beaumont accepted the existence of giants based on folklore, mythology, traditions and archeology as real. Beaumont believed that Britain was the location of Atlantis and that it was occupied by a giant race of Aryans. (via William Comyns Beaumont – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

An extract from his book

British Mainstream Thinking 1930s  |  From: The Riddle of Prehistoric Britain  By Comyns Beaumont  |  Page 21  |  Click to go to books.google.com

British Mainstream Thinking 1930s | From: The Riddle of Prehistoric Britain By Comyns Beaumont | Page 21 | Click to go to books.google.com


Turning points in 20th century history

Posted in Business, Current Affairs, European History, Gold Reserves, History, India, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on November 19, 2010
A poster advertising life of the "Abonos Nitrato de Chile" (Fertilizer Nitrate of Chile), 1930.

A poster advertising life of the "Abonos Nitrato de Chile" (Fertilizer Nitrate of Chile), 1930.

Gunpowder monopoly ends

Towards the end of 19th century, newly discovered nitrate deposits (sodium nitrate) in the Atacama desert of Chile came onto world markets. Chile’s nitrates were a crucial intermediate for gunpowder.

Chile’s nitrates broke the British monopoly over the trade in Indian saltpetre for the first time in modern history. French domestic production of saltpetre, barely enough for their own needs, could not challenge Indian saltpetre output that the British monopolized.

Indian saltpetre (potassium nitrate) could be simply refined and used directly in gunpowder – unlike Chilean nitrates. Also Chilean nitrates were limited natural deposits, whereas Indian saltpetre was produced on an industrial scale, accounting for some 70% of global production.

Germans quickly secured supplies of Chilean nitrates. A few years into the WWI, Germans brought the Haber-Bosch process from the laboratory stage to industrial production. The Haber-Bosch process for production of ammonia, gave Germans industrial capacity to produce gunpowder.

Causes for WW1

With this industrial capacity for gunpowder in place, Germany and Turkey, both non-colonial, industrialized powers challenged colonial powers, Britain and France, for access to world markets.

Diagram showing the world nitrogen quantities ...

Image via Wikipedia

The breakup of the Islamic Turkish Ottoman Empire was long seen (1890-1920) as an outcome essential for continued Anglo-French hegemony.

Funding WWI

Against Britain and France, the then dominant world powers, with extensive colonies, were Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire out of Turkey. Once WWI started, US funded both Britain and France. The US plied the Anglo-French alliance with extensive supplies and credit.

Emergence of USA

While millions died in European trenches, the USA bided its time. With mud, blood and disease taking a heavy toll, Britain, France, Germany, Turkey and Russia were soon exhausted and prostrate into a stalemate by the end of 1916. As the fate of WWI hung in balance, USA finally joined the Anglo-French side to gain a share of spoils.

 A soldier evacuated from the battlefront on a stretcher during WW1 - Image courtesy - bbc.co.uk. Click for larger image.

A soldier evacuated from the battlefront on a stretcher during WW1 - Image courtesy - bbc.co.uk. Click for larger image.

Financially unaffected, industrially strong, militarily effective, the US emerged on the world stage.

Post-WW1

Soon after WWI, as Anglo-French colonies and markets started opening up, US products gained new customers. Indians started buying Chevrolets, Buicks, Packards in small numbers. Victrolas started playing music in India – and on India. Michelin’s radial tyres from France became a byword in India for long-life. Indian natural rubber started going to Italy’s Pirelli and France’s Michelin.

Impoverishment of India

But Britain, a victorious nation was deep in debt – to USA and Colonial India. US emerged as the largest creditor nation. To settle these wartime debts, debtor Britain and creditor USA worked out a debt-repayment ‘mechanism’. Nothing but financial jugglery, this mechanism slashed the amount due to Colonial India and actually transferred the debt-burden of WW1 onto the backs of Indian peasant.

To settle this debt, Britain took recourse to gold from India. To give impetus to this transaction US supplied Britain with silver – then in abundant supply, in the form of US silver currency coins. This silver was ‘sold’ to Britain at double the market price – under the guise of the Pittman Act. Britain paid its wartime debt to India with this silver – at this inflated Pittman Act price. Abundant silver coins were stuck by the Colonial Raj, which are still available across India in large quantities.

To settle loans taken from USA to fight WW1, Britain extracted scarce gold from India. While payments for Indian exports were made in overpriced silver, the Indian peasant was forced to pay for imports and taxes in under-priced gold.

Starving Indian woman with swollen ankles & feet because she suffers from dropsy as young daughter stands by with swollen belly from hunger during famine crisis. (Photographer - Margaret Bourke-White; Date taken-1946; picture courtesy - life.com). Click for larger image.

Starving Indian woman with swollen ankles & feet because she suffers from dropsy as young daughter stands by with swollen belly from hunger during famine crisis. (Photographer - Margaret Bourke-White; Date taken-1946; picture courtesy - life.com). Click for larger image.

Due to this overpriced silver-under-priced gold combination, a surge in gold outflows started from India. Soon the US banking system was flush with liquidity.

Great Depression

Expecting the closed markets of Anglo-French colonies to open up, US economy expanded trade relations and industrial capacity. This expansion in trade and production of industrial goods was funded partly on the back of inflows of gold from India through Britain.

Finally though, protective barriers did not come down substantially enough – creating industrial over-capacity and excess liquidity in USA. Seeing ‘irresponsible’ bankers, waste ‘hard-earned’ gold on ill-planned trade expansion and production capacities, the US Federal Reserve clamped down on liquidity.

Great Depression followed. To ‘save’ gold-reserves, Roosevelt went further and nationalized gold.

Crime in the 20th century

In turn, Roosevelt’s gold nationalization, sparked a global crime tsunami. Only after the easing of restrictions on gold ownership by 1990, did the crime tsunami subside. The axis of this tsunami of crime was gold smuggling into India and narcotics trans-shipment through India.

A tsunami that engulfed all major economies of the world.

WW2

Unresolved issues of WW1 triggered WW2. Germany hemmed in from all sides by British client-states, unable to find markets for its industrial production,  reacted.

Germany, allied with Japan and Italy, proposed creation of larger ‘home’ markets. This was to be done by ‘expanding’ their own borders – to include neighboring countries. As first steps, on 3 October 1935 Italy invaded Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, Germany on 11-12 March, 1938, swallowed Austria; and Japan occupied Manchuria.

The basic assumptions of all the European powers, Japan and the USA were the same. The Confucian-Platonic ideal of superior, wise rulers who ruled over ‘inferior’ peoples.

These militant powers shared the same disregard for human life. Britain wreaked havoc by creating The Great Bengal Famine. Some 40-50 lakh (4-5 millions) Indians died. Hitler rained the Holocaust on the Jews. Some 50-60 lakh (5-6 million) Jews died.

Same difference.

Three faces of stagnation

Production capacity of non-OECD world was destroyed by years of colonialism, WW1 and WW2. Economic conditions after WW2 improved due to relative peace and as countries of the world started rebuilding their economies in the last 60 years (1950-2010).

The last 60 years has seen significant increase in industrial capacity of non-OECD nations. US extended supplier’s credit – using the US dollar, the favored currency of the Bretton Woods system.

A significant portion of economic expansion of OECD economies during 1950-1980 happened as production capacity of the world was rebuilt. The same capacities that were destroyed by colonialism, WW1 and WW2 – especially during 1850-1950 period.

WW3?

This creation of production capacity in non-OECD countries means economic stagnation and loss of political power for a few decades across OECD. With greater production capacity in the hands of non-OECD producers,  production capacity in OECD-USA must shrink.

Or a WW3 will be ‘needed’ to destroy the production systems of the poorest countries – to ‘save’ the West-OECD.

Creating false agenda's has become a full time job in the West with specialist think-tanks, media organisations and PR firms. (cartoon courtesy - http://polyp.org.uk). Click for larger image.

Creating false agenda's has become a full time job in the West with specialist think-tanks, media organisations and PR firms. (cartoon courtesy - http://polyp.org.uk). Click for larger image.

Red herrings

To get around this ‘problem’ of stagnation, the West has created artificial ‘crisis’ situations.

  1. Population Explosion
  2. Global Warming and climate change
  3. Civil Wars in Africa
  4. Islamic Demonization
  5. Terrorism
  6. Financial meltdowns

Complicating the current situation is the US currency mechanism, called USCAP (by 2ndlook) which favors selected US allies with advantageous exchange rates. China, Asian Tigers, Japan and NATO-Europe have gained significantly from the USCAP program.

The most notable loss due to trade distortion has been Africa’s.

Power Corrupts

During the 20th century, the world had to contend with an intolerable situation. The Anglo-Saxon Bloc (America, Australia, Britain and Canada) accounted for 80% of gold production (between 1200-1800 tons per annum) and controlled 80% of global gold reserves (around 100,000 tons circa  1920) also. Not even Chengez Khan had that kind of control over global economy.

Dawn of a new century

Things change.

At the beginning of 21st century, gold reserves in the hands of all the nation-States, are at a historic low. All the Governments in the world own less than 20%, i.e. 30,000 tons from global gold reserves of 150,000 tonnes.

Another 5 years of aggressive gold buying by global consumers will see this down to possibly 15%-17%. This will severely limit the ability of any State to wage a prolonged war.

A collapse of the currency systems in the world is imminent – in the next 5-15 years. Gold may give super-normal returns in the face of such an event.

Desert Twins - Westernization and Jihad. Problems both!

Desert Twins - Westernization and Jihad. Problems both!

Desert Bloc – beginning of the end?

The 20th century possibly saw the Desert Bloc reach its high-point. The world fully understands the bankruptcy of the Desert Bloc – and it may take some time for the effects of Desert Bloc propaganda to wear off.

Celebrations may, however, be premature. The alternate to Desert Bloc politics – भारत-तंत्र Bharat-tantra is yet to regain traction.

Indian Gunpowder – the Force Behind Empires

Posted in Business, European History, Gold Reserves, History, India, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on June 18, 2010
A vizcacha, relative of the chinchilla, in Chile's Atacama Desert. These herbivores are among few who thrive in the Atacama. (Photo shot on assignment for "The Driest Place on Earth," August 2003, National Geographic magazine) Photograph by Joel Sartore

A vizcacha, relative of the chinchilla, in Chile's Atacama Desert. These herbivores are among few who thrive in the Atacama. (Photo shot on assignment for "The Driest Place on Earth," August 2003, National Geographic magazine) Photograph by Joel Sartore

Arid, Desolate Atacama

On Chile’s northern border is the remote, arid Atacama desert. Desolate and dry, rain in Atacama happens once in 2-3 years. Some people living in the Atacama have never seen rainfall in all their lives. Yet, there is some sparse wildlife – a tribute to hardiness of living beings.

Strangely, the Atacama is home to a few ghost-towns – once boom towns. For five years, from 1879-1884, Bolivia and Peru fought with Chile over this rainless, arid and desolate terrain.

Behind this curious importance of the Atacama desert was nitrates. It was Atacama’s nitrates interestingly that broke an important British monopoly – based on India’s saltpetre production.

Untold secrets

In 1809-1810, the British had to mount a serious campaign in the Indian Ocean. The French, from their Indian Ocean naval bases at Île de France (Mauritius), Bourbon (Réunion) and Rodrigues, attacked East India Company ships carrying valuable saltpetre (also saltpeter, nitre, niter) – so essential for the Spanish War (1808-1809).

Indian saltpetre for could not reach Confederate armies due to Union naval blockade!

Indian saltpetre for could not reach Confederate armies due to Union naval blockade!

The British army, retreating across Spain, in harsh winter conditions, needed saltpetre. Under the onslaught of the French forces, ruthlessly pursued, the final escape of the British army, from Corunna was a miracle. The British General, John Moore’s death, at Corunna, Spain, was turned into a heroic ‘victory’. Charles Wolfe’s poem, The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna became essential reading for every English schoolboy.

In 1800, a son from a rich family of refugees from the French Revolution in America, after a survey of business opportunities in America, wrote

There already exist in the United States two or three mills which make very bad powder and which do however a very good business. They use saltpeter from India which is infinitely better than that which is produced in France but they refine it badly.

The son was Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, the family was the Du Pont family – and their firm is now known as EI du Pont de Nemours and Co. EU du Pont’s expertise in manufacturing saltpeter came from his training with the French Agency for Powder and Saltpeter (Regie royale des poudres et Salpetres) – and under the tutelage of Antoine Lavoisier, the French chemist, he boasted.

Behind the Dupont fortune was Indian saltpetre. Behind Lincoln’s success in the American Civil War was saltpetre. Behind Anglo-French confidence against Germany in WW1 was the control of the saltpetre deposits from India. Germans were able to sink many of these British saltpetre shipments. In turn, Germans with the Haber-Bosch process, in BASF factories, continued the war – without Indian saltpetre or Chilean nitrate supplies.

Saltpetre – what’s that?

What was saltpetre? Why was saltpetre important. Why did India play such an important role in saltpetre?

Unusually important, the chemical name of saltpetre is potassium nitrate – an essential ingredient in gunpowder. Indians had perfected the method of preparing potassium nitrate (KNO3). The other two ingredients in gunpowder being charcoal and sulphur – easily and freely available and cheap.

India’s military technology is history’s greatest ‘hidden’ secret. Official (and Western) portrayal of Indian military systems in the face of Islamic invaders, Mughal sultanate  and the rise of British imperialism makes out India as a sitting duck with ill-trained and terrified soldiers, armed with bows and arrows, who were hopelessly outclassed by the enemy.

Facts being otherwise, it raises questions about motives for this deliberate wrong portrayal.

The story from Mongolia

In the last 1000 years, there are sketchy records of gunpowder in India, with Rai Hamir Deva of  Ranathambore of the Malwa region, who supposedly used some Mongol deserters (1300 AD) to fight Khilji armies with gun powder. This may be misleading for two reasons.

Modern history credits China with the invention of gunpowder. Firstly, this is largely based on the work of a self-confessed Sinophile – Needham. With a dismissive one sentence, Needham opines, “On Gunpowder history in India, Oppert (1) was duly exploded by Hopkins(2).” And Indian history as the world’s largest producer of gunpowder was swept under the carpet. Needham conveniently ignores evidence like how

Jean Baptiste Tavernier recorded a local tradition in the 1660s that gunpowder and artillery were first invented in Assam from whence they spread to China and he mentioned that the Mughal general who conquered Assam brought back numerous old iron guns captured during the campaign.

Secondly, Mongol territories extended from Mongolia to the gates of Vienna and Russia – but not India. How is it that a few deserters-soldiers could establish the world’s largest gunpowder production system, so rapidly in non-Mongolian India. But, could not do so in conquered territories of China, Central Asia, Middle East, West Asia, and Europe.

A 100 years before Needham, India’s pioneering status in saltpetre was common knowledge. English publications, for instance in 1852 and another in 1860 gave weightage to the opinion of

those who believe that gunpowder was invented in India and brought by the Saracens from Africa to the Europeans; who improved its manufacture and made it available for warlike purposes.

Unlike China, with an odd textual reference or a drawing or a singular artefact, was the entire industry in India – which remained unrivalled in the history of the world. Compared to China’s paltry production of gunpowder, India’s widespread and organized gunpowder production system points towards indigenous development. There are reports, that in “664 an Indian visitor to China reportedly demonstrated the peculiar flamability of saltpeter and provided instructions on how to locate it (Pacey 1990, 16).”

Tall tales … thin stories

The deserter Mongol soldier source seems rather far-fetched considering that Mongol armies studiously avoided attacking India.  India, the richest economy of the world at that time, known and famous for its wealth, was spared by Genghis Khan! Just why would history’s foremost looter, invader, pillager spare India?

When Genghis Khan’s Mongol armies were running rampant, Islamic refugees found shelter in India, during the reign of Iltutmish. In 1221, Khwarezm-Shah and other Persian refugees, sought refuge in India, across the Indus into the Punjab, India, from Genghis Khan’s Mongol armies.

Encyclopedia Britannica says Fortunately, the Mongols were content to send raiding parties no further than the Salt Range (in the northern Punjab region), which Iltutmish wisely ignored …” (emphasis mine). As Indian military reputation waned under foreign Islamic rule, the Mongols mounted a military expedition. The Mongols could succeed in India only under the foreign rule of the much-derided Islamic Tughlaks.

Was Nalanda behind the gunpowder expertise in Bihar and Bengal region. A section of the Nalanda Mahavihara. The qualities of Buddhahood were personified in the vibrant style of art that was created in the university's intellectual atmosphere. (Picture by BENOY K. BEHL, courtesy: The Frontline). Click for larger image

Was Nalanda behind the gunpowder expertise in Bihar and Bengal region. A section of the Nalanda Mahavihara. The qualities of Buddhahood were personified in the vibrant style of art that was created in the university's intellectual atmosphere. (Picture by BENOY K. BEHL, courtesy: The Frontline). Click for larger image

India – the largest gunpowder source in the world

Now, combine saltpetre production with the fact that the heart of the Indian saltpetre production was in Bihar, which was also the home of the Nalanda seminary /university.

By the 16th-17th century,

In parts of India that never were frequented either by Mohammedans or Europeans, we have met with rockets, a weapon which the natives almost universally employ in war. The rocket consists of a tube of iron, about eight or ten inches long, and above an inch in diameter. It is filled in the same manner as an ordinary sky-rocket, and fastened towards the end of a piece of bamboo, scarcely as thick as an ordinary walking cane, and about five feet long, which is pointed with iron.

What about Europe

Saltpetre based gunpowder was in constant short-supply in Europe. Gold from the Americas, flowing into European trade channels, fuelled demand for gunpowder. Gunpowder became an essential ingredient for subjugation of natives, extraction of gold, capture of territories and slaves, piracy on the high seas – all the real reasons for ascent for European power.

The European gunpowder situation was grim. This can be gauged from “a letter of 1605 from the King of Spain to the Viceroy of Goa (the Portuguese trading settlement on the south-west coast of India) for example ordering the annual dispatch of 10 or 12 caskets of saltpetre.” Remember in 1605, Spain was the prime power European power. Compare that to the Indian situation.

When Raja Pratapaditya of Jessore capitulated to Islam Khan in 1609, he agreed to surrender twenty thousand infantry, five hundred war boats, and a thousand “maunds” (41 tons) of gunpowder.

Saltpetre from India kept the British 6-pounders busy at Waterloo!

Saltpetre from India kept the British 6-pounders busy at Waterloo!

The outcome of Waterloo can be gauged from a forgotten statistic – “In the year before the battle of Waterloo (1815) the East India Company exported 146000 cwt. of saltpetre to England.” 146,000 cwt is  7300 tons of saltpetre. British Ordnance Board powder mills in 1809,

produced 36,623¾ ninety pound barrels of powder and private contractors using government supplied saltpetre a further 24,433 ninety pound barrels. Some of British munitions output was supplied to allied governments: Portugal received in the years 1796-1801 … 10,000 barrels of powder, 500 tons of saltpetre; the British Government put into execution the gigantic plan of being a depot, the manufactory, the place of arms, and the centre of the European war

Spain and Sweden also received munitions for fighting on the British side against Napoleon. British victory at Waterloo, was in no small measurethanks to the use of Indian saltpetre, British gunpowder was widely recognised to be far superior to the charcoal-like French product.” British creditworthiness received a boost just before Waterloo. British debt, trading at 25% discount in 1813, was boosted by Indian gold, in 1813, procured by Britain.

Western historians now reluctantly admit, that without the “accumulated credits from Indian transfers since 1757, Britain’s financing of land warfare during the French wars could have been compromised.” Napoleon and France could not “march their combined armies to India, and strangle the supplies of British gold that had been financing successive coalitions against France.”

Without the advantage of Indian saltpetre, with a threatening Britain

in 1792 France was able to face danger on all sides, it was because Lavoisier, Fourcroy, Guyton de Morveau, Chaptal, Berthollet, etc., discovered new means of extracting saltpetre and manufacturing gunpowder.

Some 6000 factories manned by ‘salpetriers worked in France to overcome the naval blockade.

Meanwhile in India

Malwa’s rulers recruited  Purbias from Bengal and Bihar for their expertise in gunpowder. The British initially valued and later (after 1857) feared the Purbias for the same reason. The other reason was an established saltpetre production in the Malwa region till the 19th century. In Punjab, the main centres were Lahore, Hissar, Multan and Amritsar.

India’s gunpowder production system

India was the largest gunpowder production system – in the history of the world, till the 20th century. Specifically Bengal and Bihar regions. Operated by a caste of peoples called the nuniah, saltpetre beds supplied the most vital element in gunpowder – saltpetre. And India produced virtually all of it.

Especially, Bihar, Bengal, Agra and Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Karanataka regions (Anantapur, Coimbatore, Guntur, Kurnool). The Guntur Sircar also manufactured saltpetre on a commercial scale. A mid 17th century Royal Society paper documented how saltpetre was made in India. Most of the miniscule amounts of saltpetre produced in the rest of the world was calcium nitrate, a hygroscopic salt, which spoilt easily by absorbing moisture from air.

The Armenians, the ill-fated Omichund, a “notorious Calcutta merchant who was later to engineer the Plassey Revolution” played an important part in the Bengal/Bihar saltpetre trade. They were all significant players in the export of saltpetre (potassium nitrate). Also known as niter, saltpetre was a necessary ingredient for gunpowder.

Gunpowder becomes a British monopoly

After the annexation of Bengal,

“By seizing Bengal, the British exerted mastery over 70 percent of the world’s saltpeter production during the latter part of the eighteenth century. Since powder stocks could not be prepared quickly or easily, demand was no less during peaceful interims than during times of war, for, in addition to normal sales for peaceful purposes, gunpowder was steadily purchased or produced to build up military powder reserves for emergency use.

One reason why China developed fireworks, rockets, and other incendiaries rather than shot-firing artillery was China’s reliance on artificial saltpeter for making gunpowder. The Chinese also often used a higher proportion of charcoal and sulfur, which resulted in more fire and less ballistic strength. (16) India, on the other hand, produced saltpeter of very high quality, enabling the development of gunpowder weapons, in particular heavy siege guns, in addition to rockets. In many ways, Indian gunpowder making was more advanced than that of China, particularly regarding the strength of the final product, in its commercial organization, and in its application to military purposes.

As early as the 1460s, nearly forty years before the commencement of the East India trade, these Persian sources make it clear that the rulers of Jaunpur and Bengal already had organized saltpeter production as state monopolies managed by their chief merchants.

India was roughly a century ahead of Western Europe in terms of developing the infrastructure for gunpowder technology. It is significant, though, that gunpowder was not shipped to India from Europe in any significant quantities. By 1617, the Portuguese king had joined the general European clamor for more saltpeter. The capitalization of the saltpeter trade at Rajapur was in the hands of Saraswat Brahmins, with investors participating from as far away as Goa and Diu. Shivaji (r. 1664-1680) and his successors made nitrate procurement into a state monopoly, thus forcing the Portuguese, their Indian agents, and Banjara peddlers to deal with the Maratha state.

The Mughal Empire has been styled a “gunpowder empire,” which is a debatable characterization. (34) It is clear from Mughal records that guns were important, if only as symbols and occasional instruments of imperial power. The victory of Babur (r. 1526-1530) over Ibrahim Lodi (r. 1517-1526) often is attributed to his use of artillery, however, Babur himself valued his own judgment at least as much as his Turkish guns. (35) After the Battle of Panipat (1526), the first Mughal ruler ordered executions by firing squad, which are some of the first such killings recorded. Contemporary descriptions of Babur’s battles, however, emphasize the continuing dominance of cavalry, with guns present but not decisive. Nevertheless, warfare was changing in South Asia. Babur’s eldest son and successor, Humayun (r. 1530-1539/1555-1556), was keen to bring Rumi Khan, the Turkish artillery expert employed by the Sultan of Gujarat, over to his side. (36) The widespread use of firearms by Sher Shah (r. 1540-1545) during the brief Sur interregnum is significant, as is the fact that Sher Shah himself was killed by a gunpowder explosion. (37) The early sixteenth century, for India, was a time of significant military change, a watershed between the age of the blade and the age of the gun.

Sher Shah realized that a large army of peasant matchlockmen, recruited and paid by the state, could only exist in the context of a bureaucratic regime with enhanced revenue-collection capabilities and in a kingdom with strong commercial institutions. This lesson was not lost upon Akbar (r. 1556-1605), whose advisor, Abu al-Fazal, adopted many of Sher Shah’s innovations. The rising importance of the saltpeter trade, as well as its lowly origins, may be gauged by the meteoric rise of the warlord Hemu, who had opposed Akbar’s accession to the throne. Akbar’s biographer-courtier, Abu al-Fazl, uncharitably informs us that Hemu was a member of “the Dhusar tribe, which is the lowest class of hucksters in India. At the back lanes he sold saltpetre (nimak-i-shor) with a thousand mortifications … till at last he became a government huckster….” As Akbar’s army set out to challenge Hemu, their spirits were roused by a giant image of the saltpeter merchant-turned-general, filled with gunpowder and set on fire. (38) Ironically, Hemu was killed by the Mughals not with a musket shot, but in the old-fashioned style, with an arrow in the eye, followed by a sword blow to the neck.

Significantly, Sher Shah’s infantry, carrying firearms, were recruited from the eastern Ganges Plain, the same region in which saltpeter production had already become an important component of the regional economy. Later, this area provided infantry for the Mughals and eventually for the British, too. (from The Indian saltpeter trade, the military revolution and the rise of Britain as a global superpower. from: The Historian, Article date: September 22, 2009, Author: Frey, James W.)

After obtaining this vital monopoly, Britain protected this. Saltpetre exports were banned. Thus an ancient Indian technology was harnessed by the English to subjugate the Indian.

From gold came saltpetre, which made getting gold easier

Greater access of saltpetre to the British and with the shutting out of other European powers, saltpetre became essential for other European powers, because English had it. It became rare, as the English monopolised the trade.

In 1775, the French scientific publication, Observations sur la physique a proposal by Academie Royale des Sciences for increased saltpetre production within France.  Finally, a prize was announced in 1783. Nicolas Leblanc set up a factory at St.Denis, during 1791-194, near Paris for manufacture of saltpetre in France. The whole of France was mobilized for this saltpetre collection and gunpowder production.

Directions for gathering of saltpeter were printed and sent all over France. The prescribed recipe for saltpeter, charcoal, and sulphur was dispatched to the flour mills and the powder was ground according to simple specifications. Each district was directed to send two citizens to Paris for a month’s course in the casting of bronze and iron and in new methods for the manufacture of powder. (from From crossbow to H-bomb By Bernard Brodie, Fawn McKay Brodie.).

At the start of the American Civil War, against the Southern  Confederates, The North started with the benefit of a stockpile of some 3 million pounds of niter – i.e. saltpetre. The Confederates  sent James Mason and John Slidell to obtain saltpetre from Britain – and not empty diplomatic recognition from European powers. Mason and Slidell were captured by Unionist forces. Britain demanded release of Mason Slidell. Lincoln refused.

Queen Victoria issued a proclamation forbidding the export from all ports of the United Kingdom, of gunpowder, nitre, nitrate of soda, brimstone, lead, and fire-arms.—London Gazette, Dec. 4.

Britain imposed a ban on exports of saltpetre. Known in history as the Trent Affair, as Union saltpetre stocks went down, Lincoln backed down and agreed to release Mason and Slidell. Prices of saltpetre skyrocketed from some US$0.20  to US$3.0 within one year after the war began. The  Confederates established a Niter Corps to manage this shortage. British godowns overflowing with Indian and Egyptian cotton, did not really depend on Southern cotton, declared neutrality – and supplied both sides with Indian saltpetre.

Well understood by the US Government, C.H.Davis, of the Bureau Of Ordnance, Navy Department, on November 22, 1862 reported to the US Congress,

I feel it, therefore, to be my first duty to urge that suitable provision of ordnance material be made for probable future necessities of the Navy. Most important among them is nitre, which enters so largely into the composition of gunpowder that it may be said to be gunpowder itself, with some slight additions of sulphur and charcoal under proper combination.

It is not produced naturally in this country, nor by any other but India, except in insignificant quantities.

Hindostan alone supplies the whole world, which being a British dependency, places us entirely at the mercy or caprice of that power for our stock of this essential article.

India's widespread manufacture of saltpetre was private enterprise! Without state subsidy or support! (Picture by BENOY K. BEHL, courtesy: The Frontline). Click for larger image.

India's widespread manufacture of saltpetre was private enterprise! Without state subsidy or support! (Picture by BENOY K. BEHL, courtesy: The Frontline). Click for larger image.

End of the saltpetre era

With the arrival of Chile’s nitrate (sodium nitrate – NaNO3) deposits in Atacama desert, the world was weaned away from Indian saltpetre. Chilean nitrates were used to derive nitric acid, a key intermediate for explosives manufacture.

Chilean nitrate was sodium nitrate, (NaNO3), which could be used to derive nitric acid. Nitric acid was used for manufacture of explosives. HAPAG, the Hamburg based shipping line,  became the biggest in the world, carrying Chilean nitrates to Germany. The end of Boer War (1899-1902) saw the emergence of Germany as a major producer of munitions – especially the smokeless gunpowder. Even Britain started buying from Germany.

For a brief while, guano, a natural fertiliser composed of bird droppings, was also a source of nitrates for explosives. But, with the Haber-Bosch process, Germany could manufacture explosives – without the Chilean nitrate.

With the discovery of nitroglycerine and TNT and its widespread commercialization by Alfred Nobel (of Nobel Prize fame) from the 1860s onwards, this British saltpetre monopoly end. As the British monopoly over gunpowder started weakening, the British policy changed.

Pirate nation to super-power

Till 1856, sea piracy was legal.

The British crown gave permits for pirates to operate on high seas – through, what were known as, letters of marque. With the sanction of the English State, high seas piracy became a national pastime in Britain. Pirates like Sir John Hawkins made money on slave trade and piracy – targeting Spanish ships. Queen Elizabeth, apart from knighting him, also participated in these criminal enterprises. The Spanish Armada was assembled by Spain to end British piracy. Further on, British propaganda made these pirates and privateers into heroes – and the Spanish Armada into an instrument of Catholic repression.

Piracy was outlawed by The Declaration of Paris, in 1856, ratified by various powers. Initially by Austria, France, Great Britain, Prussia, Russia, Sardinia and Turkey – but not by Spain, Portugal and the USA. Soon after, Britain became a buyer of explosives, munitions. Challenges to British power started soon after this.

In less than than a 100 years after invention of alternates to Indian saltpetre, Britain was a shadow of its former imperial self.

The end of Indian saltpetre

To cover the cost of the Anglo-Indian War of 1857, the British Raj increased taxes on saltpetre. British traders from India started clamoring for a reduction in export duty from 1860 onwards. From more 20,000 tons of saltpetre exports in 62-62, it fell to around 11000 tons by 1865, and continued declining there after.

By which time, Britain was already the preeminent power in the world. On the back of Indian gunpowder factories.

Behind the Dupont chemical empire and  fortune was Indian saltpetre.
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