The New York Times recently published an article titled "Rhodesia’s Dead — but White Supremacists Have Given It New Life Online". Here's an excerpt.
Nostalgia for Rhodesia has ... grown into a subtle and profitable form of racist messaging, with its own line of terminology, hashtags and merchandise, peddled to military-history fans and firearms enthusiasts by a stew of far-right provocateurs.
In conversations and email exchanges with The New York Times, some prominent social-media figures and companies selling Rhodesia-themed merchandise denied trafficking in white-power messages, or said they had done so unwittingly. A few said their affinity for Rhodesia derived from the government’s supposed anticommunist stance.
But outside observers of this Rhodesia revival cite a far more disturbing inspiration for it: Dylann Roof, the American white supremacist who killed nine black parishioners in a Charleston, S.C. church in June 2015. Roof, who was sentenced to death last year, had penned an online manifesto, which appeared on a website called The Last Rhodesian, with photographs of himself wearing a jacket with a patch of the green-and-white Rhodesian flag.
There's more at the link.
The trouble is, most of those who peddle such nonsense have no idea of the reality that was Rhodesia. I made several trips there during the latter half of the 1970's, when the war was at its height, and saw for myself a lot of the nastiness that was going on. There was enough evil to go around, on both sides. The communist-inspired, -trained and -armed terrorists/guerrillas were ruthless and merciless, killing thousands of their own people to enforce their control of the countryside. The (largely white) security forces were equally ruthless and merciless, often abandoning the rule of law in favor of "frontier justice", beating, maiming and killing their own citizens in an effort to get the information they needed to prosecute the war. Both sides spread so much propaganda about each other that to this day, it's almost impossible to get to the bottom of many violent tragedies that occurred.
Basically, Rhodesia was doomed by demographics. In 1969, white Rhodesians formed less than 5% of the population; black Rhodesians, 95%. Whites were outnumbered 19 to 1 - and the situation got steadily worse during the 1970's, due to an exploding black birth rate and the emigration (first a trickle, then a flood) of whites who saw the writing on the wall. Those who left were derisively referred to, at first, by those who stayed, as "taking the chicken run" - until the end drew near, when attitudes among the remaining whites suddenly changed. Earlier departures were now said to have "taken the owl run", acting out of wisdom rather than cowardice. In trying to hold onto power, white Rhodesians were "farting against thunder". Demographics are inexorable. There was simply no way they could possibly succeed. (South Africa went the same way for the same basic reason, although there whites formed up to 10% of the total population during the 1970's, almost double Rhodesia's ratio).
It was that demographic inevitability that, in my opinion, gave rise to a lot of the worst violence and atrocities. Those serving in Rhodesia's armed forces knew that, even if they won today's fight, there'd be another just as bad (if not worse) tomorrow. There would be no let-up. Things were not going to get better. The visceral response of many Rhodesian servicemen was to "do unto others what was being done to them". They became as much terrorists, in the way they treated their own people, as the guerrillas against whom they fought. I know they did - I saw them do it. (If you don't want to believe that, read some of the literature that's come out of the security forces since then. I can list some books here, if there's enough interest. It was a brutal time.)
On the other side, the terrorists/guerrilla leaders knew that ultimately, they could not lose. They had massive international support, whereas the Rhodesian government was isolated. Their forces dominated huge sections of the countryside, where the people were loyal to them (whether by choice or by intimidation). They had no compunction in killing, maiming, torturing and terrorizing their own race, much less the whites who still controlled Rhodesia. Their leaders were formed and trained by the Soviet Union and Communist China, and didn't know the meaning of civilized conduct or humane treatment of non-combatants. They were after power, and they firmly believed it grew out of the barrel of a gun. In Rhodesia, they were ultimately proved right, weren't they?
I've never understood those apologists for Rhodesia or apartheid-era South Africa who claim that things were better, even for blacks, under a white government. As I wrote some years ago, in an article titled "Was apartheid South Africa really that bad?":
Finally, to people who try to make excuses for apartheid and the conduct of the then-South African government, I can only say:
would you calmly accept those things? Or would you take up arms to overthrow the system that placed such restrictions upon you?
- If you were treated like a slave, a sub-human and a pariah in your own country;
- If you were stripped of your citizenship and civil rights in the country of your birth because of the color of your skin;
- If your education depended upon your skin color for its quality (or lack thereof);
- If your choice of what to do with your life, or where to live, or who to love or marry, was restricted by your race;
- If you were denied free travel inside your own country, forced to carry an internal passport and subject to instant arrest if you forgot it at home or lost it;
- If you were forced to accept menial labor as the only work open to you, paid a starvation wage, and denied the right to bring your family to live with you near your place of work;
- If you were savagely beaten and imprisoned if you dared to protest such restrictions and indignities, or even shot out of hand rather than arrested;
I can't blame those who were penalized, due solely to the color of their skin, under the governments of either Rhodesia or South Africa, for choosing to resist. I condemn unreservedly the terroristic nature of much of their resistance, just as I condemn the excesses and atrocities committed by the security forces on the other side. "Two wrongs don't make a right", as the old saying goes.
Those trying to use Rhodesian military memorabilia, and the racist slogans of that period, to support their notions of white supremacy or the like, don't know what they're talking about. They weren't there, and they have no conception of what things were like. I was there, I saw the war and internal conflict in Rhodesia and South Africa at first hand, and I know. God forbid that such times should come again!