The Voyage


I finally got to finish the last few chapters of Paddy’s Lament by Thomas Gallagher.

These chapters describe the Irish emigration to the US, after the first part of the book focused on the “potato famine,” which was the natural outcome of a political economy favoring exports at all costs over any domestic consumption.

Hundreds of people were loaded onto the ships, crammed into the holds, provided with very little water or food. The conditions were very unsanitary.

History presents the entire episode as a tragedy that just kind of happened, but upon closer inspection – and to the author’s surprise – it was engineered every step of the way. The British government had dedicated itself to implementing a kind of pain and suffering campaign, and this was a forerunner to the eugenics campaigns of the 20th century.

The British ships loaded with Irish emigrants repeatedly sailed the voyage, about eight weeks long or so, and repeatedly lost 1/4 to 1/5 of their passengers to all kinds of diseases, including malnutrition. They could have corrected this but never did, sponsoring instead a kind of slow-motion campaign to exterminate the Irish. (The American shipping lines suffered nowhere near these losses).

Thomas Gallagher reached that conclusion, although he stated it more elegantly. Speaking of the typical Irish “Paddy,” Gallagher wrote: “… he will forever, with his battered high hat, ragged swallow-tailed coat, dangling knee breeches, and bare feet, haunt not only Irish memory but also the halls and chambers of Westminster Palace, where Parliament tried for so long, without success, to do him in.”

I was just at a British Consulate event, and their delegation from Chongqing came to Chengdu for a shindig at a fancy arthouse. Music was played. Speeches were made.¬†Wine and hors d’ouevers were served.

Don’t get me wrong, the individuals there were decent people, through and through, seemingly. My grandfather said “the veneer of civilization is very thin.” Indeed, and what passes for the highest civilization may in fact be the lowest, in that the British Empire’s record of calamity is of world-historical proportions. Legendary.

Scratch away at the shiny gloss of Britain’s globalization ethos, and you will discover, underneath, raw brutality.

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