I learned how big the world was when I was 7 because it took 8 weeks to sail on an immigrant ship from Glasgow to Wellington, but I didn’t gain my sense of geography – especially where countries were located in relation to each other and who owned what- until I was 11.
Sitting in a cramped Intermediate classroom with 38 other kids (we weren’t called the baby boomer generation for nothing!) I learned world political geography from a map that Miss McConachy pulled down from sprung loaded roller in front of the blackboard. (It looked similar to the one I’ve attached to this post.)
She’d point with her long wooden teacher’s ruler to the many countries coloured in red.
“This is Britain – where the Queen lives” she’d say while tapping on the tiny bit of the map my parents still called ‘home’ ….”and all these countries ” (tap, tap, tap ,tap, tap ) “are the British Commonwealth countries she reigns over”
It took another 20 years for me to understand that Miss McConachy’s map was actually the completed military invasion plan of an operation financed by wealthy UK aristocrats to subjugate indigenous peoples in order to extract the wealth from their lands. A trick they had learned first hand from first the Romans and then the French.
Miss McConachy didn’t tell her class of 1959 about any of this because, back then , history was about the glorification of conquest not the consequences of it.
In fact it was not until I was in my 40’s when I filmed 8 hours of conversation with the late Maori land activist Dame Whina Cooper, for a documentary I made about her life, that I began to understand how Empire building actually involves demolishing someone else’s life and culture.
Two World Wars , some historians argue, impoverished Britain and diminished the power of the British Empire.
But while it’s true the physical Empire that reached its predatory zenith under Queen Victoria no longer exists, there is much to be said for the argument that a Second British Empire has emerged whose rulers are based in The City of London and whose invasion weapon of choice is money.
Brexit won’t worry these financiers too much because the neoliberal deregulation of banking they engineered in the 1980’s has meant that political borders are no longer as important as they once were.
Just as long as the financial borders are down, and they can still plunder economies and extract wealth at will ,then it will be business as usual.
There are of course other Empires in our modern world.
The Americans have more that 500 bases around our planet. They are there for a reason. Not as “the police of the free world” as the rhetoric would have you believe, but to safeguard the extractive interests of the USA and perpetuate their economic Empire built on the manufacture of armaments. If US bullets and bombs are not expended and exploded somewhere in the world then wealth generation for the American financial overlords would become an intolerable problem.
The Americans are of course not unique in running a war based economic Empire . Much of Russian wealth also comes from the manufacture of weapons.
China is building its own Empire favouring the City of London approach – which is to say they are using money as the weapon of invasion.
Can we build you a road? How are you off for infrastructure like water and sewage? Hey Australia – you’ve got minerals. How about we buy them from you ? Or better still set up joint ventures as we have done in many of parts of Africa to extract wealth from there. Can we help you Pacific Islanders with your fishing ? Or how about some Water Bottling plants New Zealand?
No angry shots are being fired in this new kind of “one road ” Empire building . It’s invasion by stealth.
Miss McConachy’s map of the world became redundant long ago. I’m not sure how I could draw you a modern version .
Yes I can show you where the political boundaries of countries are – what I CAN’T show you is where the financial interests and wealth extraction operations of today’s Empires are located in the way Miss McConachy’s map once neatly coloured in the British Empire in red.
But next time you go to an ATM machine have a look at the list of banks whose cards it takes. The new rulers of the world are closer than you think.
Bryan Bruce is one of NZs most respected documentary makers and public intellectuals who has tirelessly exposed NZs neoliberal economic settings as the main cause for social issues.