(King Henry VIII, act 2, sc. 4)
Comment. Queen Catherine correctly assessed the character of Cardinal Wolsey, secretary of state of King Henry VIII. The King wished to dump her to marry Ann Boleyn. He charged Cardinal Wolsey to bring her the unwelcome news while adopting a posture of meekness and humility.
In the following chronicle (history really), rather than the arrogance of two people there is the arrogance, the spleen and the pride of two nations. Plus the all-too-common deals kept secret to disguise a crime and to upkeep the superstition of democracy among the credulous masses. In the instance, the crime was ethnic cleansing and the destruction of a nation.
Not many may know of the Chagos Islands, an archipelago midway between Africa and India and until the 1960s inhabited by about 2000 very peaceful people, the Chagossians.
They were removed and the islands ethnic cleansed so that the Americans could build one of the largest military bases in the world, in the main island of Diego Garcia, so called after the Spanish navigator who discovered it in the 1500s. The base was (and is) used to launch carpet bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as for torturing suspects.
The 2000 inhabitants. who had lived there for 200 years, consisted of African slaves, indentured Indians and their descendants. They were a gentle creole nation with thriving villages, a school, a hospital, a church, a prison, a railway, docks, and copra plantations (dried flesh of the coconut).
The islands were part of the British colony of Mauritius, (1000 miles further south), which became independent in 1968.
But in 1961 an American rear-admiral stepped ashore on Diego Garcia and thought it would be a nice place for a military base.
In a secret 1966 agreement Britain gave the base rights to the US in exchange for $14 million. However, as part of the secret deal, the Americans wanted the inhabitants out of the archipelago. The extant related document includes the verbs “sweep” and “sanitize” the islands.
In 1968 Britain began blocking the return to their homes by the natives who had gone to Mauritius for medical treatment or vacation. They were left without family members or without whatever possessions they may have had in their homes. Next, British officials began restricting food and medical supplies to the inhabitants to prompt them to leave.
According to a British bureaucrat the Americans did their bit too. They designed a public relation plan broadcasting the fiction that the Chagossians were really migrant workers who could therefore be deported. In 1971 the the US highest-ranking American admiral Elmo Zumwalt issued the final memo, “Absolutely they must go”. With a touch of Orwellian elegance, the US base was called “Camp Justice”.
Whereupon British and American agents first gassed all the Chagossians’ beloved pets in sealed cargo sheds – imagine what is a pet to a child and the Chagos children seeing their pets taken away for execution.
Then the inhabitants were rounded up and loaded on overcrowded cargo ships for the 5-day sea travel to Mauritius, one suitcase allowed for each person – their accommodation below deck and literally on top of guano. On arrival they were left on the peer, homeless, jobless, with little money and no resettlement assistance. Some died shortly later.
It is the 42th anniversary of the expulsion. The Chagossians remain poor and the few left suffer from illnesses traced to their dispossession. Scores more – Chagossians report – suffered death from sadness and “chagrin” meaning “profound sorrow” – they speak a kind of plaintive French.
Five years ago three British courts declared the deportations illegal. But the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom overruled the lower courts. Later, the European Court of Human Rights dismissed the Chagossians’ final appeal on “procedural grounds”.
And with the customary touch of class, one day after the European Court ruling, the Obama administration rejected the demands of an online petition with 30,000 signatures asking the White House to ‘redress wrongs against the Chagossians.’
Camp Justice has two large bomber runways, anchorage for 30 warships, a nuclear dump, a satellite spy station, shopping malls, bars, a golf course, more than 2000 troops and of course no Chagossians.
As a comparison, Britain went to war against Argentina to allow 2000 British islanders to remain on the Falklands. The Chagossians were (are) also British citizens but with skin of a darker hue. And this gave them the privilege of being ethnic cleansed by their own government.
All of which shows the indescribable beauty of gated democracy.
In the Play: Queen Catherine sees through the dissimulation the real character of Cardinal Wolsey, her enemy and agent of the King, who soon will become her ex-husband.