The story of Rhodesia is an inherently tragic one. Europeans, who came to Africa in search of economic progress and confident in their power to spread Christian Civilization, soon found themselves swamped by demographic trends and nationalistic political ideas. These trends were the products of the very medicine and education that Europeans had brought to Africa. Of course, things could not have remained forever as they were with a small white minority forever ruling a black majority. Yet the alternative of majority rule in a continent notoriously tribal, corrupt, and inefficient has proven to be a disaster for most Africans. Both white and black Africans have endured wars, mismanagement, corruption, and a decline in every measure of civilization since the emergence of independence in the sixties.
Rhodesia disappeared. It’s now Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. And the last few years have seen the terrorist philosophy he embraced come to fruition. In a last ditch effort to reward his supporters, white farms are being distributed to black Zimbabweans and soon ending up in a state of disrepair. Food is now scarce. And his political opponents, white and black, are increasingly being arrested, harassed, or murdered outright.
Apartheid-style policies were unsustainable and unjust. So too were the communist “class justice” policies proffered by the likes of Mugabe, Mandela, and their peers. As conservatives we should acknowledge that steady and measured change towards greater political equality would likely have been more sustainable than the blood-soaked politics of revolution. And, regardless, we can admire the courage, tenacity, and discipline of the Rhodesian military–a force that attracted adventurers, idealistic anti-communists, and professional soldiers from the world over to fight a an ultimately doomed war against the rising tide of African nationalism in the seventies.
The video above shows some of the peculiarities of their fight: black and white soldiers, side-by-side, fighting for a regime that excluded blacks from political power; modern jets and horse cavalry; and amazing sophistication and improvisation in a nation cut off from aid through UN embargoes. These men ultimately fought for their country and their way of life against an enemy that indiscriminately employed terrorist tactics. But their defeat also shows another fact of modern life: even a fight with flags waving and extraordinary courage and determination can still be lost if the political system to which it is attached is too far out of step with the tide of history. Their extraordinary military effectiveness and amazing kill ratios (25:1 or more) should also give pause to those who believe we can easily win in Iraq if we just “take the gloves off.”