By Raman Divakaran
European colonies which gained their freedom post World War II owe their freedom, in a great part, to Hitler and the Nazis. Whether or not he really meant to do so, there are at least two ways in which Hitler helped end colonialism.
The first of these is more straightforward, less controversial, seldom disputed, and widely acknowledged. The Second World War drained military and economic resources of European powers to such an extent that it was no more possible for them to retain control over their vast colonies. This made many of them voluntarily give up their rule over these territories or, in cases where they weren’t smart enough to do that, aided in the victory of freedom fighters in those colonies by leaving their opponents much weakened. If it weren’t for the Second World War, freedom for many countries including my homeland of India could have been easily delayed by at least a couple of decades.
While the victors were more than willing to blame Hitler for having started the catastrophic war and penalize Germany for it, even those who appreciate the role of WW II in ending colonialism will conveniently ignore the role of Hitler when the war is discussed as one that freed more colonies than any other war of independence.
Now, come to the second point which could be much more controversial, is seldom discussed and rarely acknowledged, but is no less significant.
The foundation of colonialism is brutal exploitation of conquered territories and their native population, systematic dismantling of indigenous cultures, and ruthless suppression of voices of dissent. Thus, in terms of persecution and barbarism, none of the colonial powers can claim any moral superiority over the Nazis except that their savagery was directed against people Asian and African races whom they did not consider human. What Hitler did was to give Europeans a taste of what they had been doing to people around the world for at least a couple of centuries.
This had the effect of putting a mirror in front of a population that was oblivious to its own ugliness.
By waking Europe up to the horrors of violence and persecution, Hitler paved the way for election of leaders more kindly disposed to the cause of their long oppressed colonies. This contributed as much to ending colonialism as the draining of resources, because earlier rulers of Europe would have considered their bankruptcy as a reason to further exploit their colonies and not to grant them independence.
I do not support cruelty – be it towards Jews, Muslims, men, women, animals. But if I have to be grateful to one of the oppressors from history, it would rather be Hitler than Churchill.
Avalokanam aims at presenting a worldview from the perspective of India, its culture, and its spiritual heritage.
- Our information about the crimes committed by British in their colonies (or by the Allies in WW II) is incomplete, because they were in a position to destroy evidence of these crimes. This, however, does not make them any better than the Nazis.
- I do not to claim that Europeans were fully reformed by the end of World War II, or that they never returned to their earlier ways leaving the memories of the war behind. For example, human rights abuses in British concentration camps in Kenya in the 1950s were no less gruesome. Is it merely a coincidence that Winston Churchill was back as their prime minister in 1951!