Musings on the Battle of Omdurman

In 1898, Omdurman was a village north of Khartoum in Sudan, 3,100 miles from London as the crow flies.  English General Kitchener led a force of 8,000 Brits (including a young Lieutenant Winston Churchill) supported by an army of 17,000 Egyptians & Sudanese against a Madhist army of about 50,000 Muslim warriors (called Dervishes by the English).

This was in part a campaign of reprisal against the forces of the Madhi who had previously inflicted defeats on the Brits, and in part an element in the competition between England and France for colonial possessions.  However, the wider geopolitical considerations need not detain us here.

Although outnumbered 2-to-1, the battle was a resounding success for the English, who carried the field by killing 12,000 Muslims for the loss of only 47 Brits – a kill ratio of 255 to 1.  The key was the technological superiority of the English, who had the new 600 rounds per minute Maxim guns, artillery support from Nile riverboats, and logistic support from a 385 mile long railway they had rapidly built south from Egypt to support this campaign in the Sudan.

Omdurman might be a particularly lop-sided example, but the message is clear:  when a technologically-advanced society meets a less-advanced society, the outcome is not in doubt.

The relevance of that message to the West today is that there will be consequences from surrendering technological leadership to China.  In today’s world, those consequences are less likely to be fields of dead Europeans, and more likely to be drastically reduced European & North American populations supplying raw materials & food to China and hawking gewgaws to wealthy Chinese tourists in exchange for the power stations and cell phones they can no longer build themselves.

A point which seems to elude the Masters of Western Finance is that, in the long run, all international trade is barter – the exchange of real goods & services.

Superficially, China has built up massive financial surpluses with Europe & North America by exchanging real goods for financial IOUs.  Seen from the Chinese side, the important thing China has gained from these prolonged apparently unbalanced trade surpluses is not the (probably ultimately worthless) financial balances – it is all the factories and technologies which were originally developed in the West.  The transformation of China into the Workshop of the World along with China’s massive investment in educating their brightest in Western universities is rapidly putting China on course for a technologically superior position analogous to the English at Omdurman – and leaving Westerners in the unfortunate position of the Madhists.

Today, if we in the West choose to listen, we can hear echoes of the 1930s:  obvious challenges are developing which will have existential consequences, but we mostly occupy ourselves with irrelevant trivia.

It took Germany & Japan about 3 decades (with generous US help) to recover from the destruction of World War II.  It has taken China about the same length of time to transform from a backwards peasant society into the pre-eminent manufacturing economy in the world (with the unwitting help of short-term focused Western industrialists).  If we in the West focused our efforts, it is a reasonable guess we could regain technological & manufacturing parity with a still-advancing China within about a quarter of a century.  But there are no signs that we are taking the challenge seriously.

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11 thoughts on “Musings on the Battle of Omdurman”

  1. “putting China on course for a technologically superior position analogous to the English at Omdurman”

    The US actively devalued its public education, leaving near nothing qualified to fill universities’ STEM.  China paid exorbitant fees to create exorbitant minds.  University of California two-sigma write-down active opposition to the Yellow Peril selected for only the very best.

    As public education, so higher education.  All that remains of the UC system is exorbitant fees (short of UC/Davis’ enologists).  I know a PE from Purdue who contributed a handful of happiness to US thermonuclear warheads.  He’s proud of his PE and sacrifices overcome for every golden BB, Hellfire missile, A-10 Thunderbolt DU penetrating round…lots of stuff,  Now it is an easy test, and more’s the pity.  Hire Asians.

    Vote for Trump and return to kicking aß.

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  2. Gavin Longmuir:
    But there are no signs that we are taking the challenge seriously.

    The very good first sign was when Donald Trump started talking about China while campaigning.

    The very good second sign was when President Trump pulled us out of a bad trade deal and insisted on a better deal for America.

    The very good third sign was when some members of congress and a couple of senators praised President Trump for his leadership on China.

    The very good fourth sign was when Team Trump banned Huawei from participating in the development of 5G telecom systems in America.  This got even better when President Trump persuaded Boris Johnson to have the UK join the USA in this policy.

    There are other good signs as well.  In particular, over half of Americans blame China, rightfully, for the Wuhan Virus.  Americans do not blame Chinese people.  Americans blame President Xi and the Chinese Communist Party.

    We have a long way to go in this struggle.   But we are no longer on square one.

    Encourage everyone to vote for Republicans at every level.  Even the feckless quisling Republicans are better than the Anti-America Party.

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  3. Uncle Al:  “As public education, so higher education.”

    Many of us do not often get an opportunity to see just how much the worm has turned since the days when Chairman Mao bestrode a backward peasant nation.

    I recently attended (on-line of course, thanks to the Lock Down scam) a technical conference.  Many of the university research projects were presented by intelligent articulate well-educated individuals from China working at top-flight North American universities.  A majority of the industry research projects were presented in fluent English by intelligent articulate well-educated Chinese individuals working for Chinese companies in China — many with Western university educations.

    There is a tendency in the West seriously to misunderestimate China.  China is rapidly moving beyond absorbing Western technology to becoming the international technology leader.  It is a reasonable guess that China will be more reluctant to share their technology with the West than the West has been in giving them the rope with which they are hanging us (industrially-speaking).

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  4. If China obtains world dominance, every body will look  back on our present supposéd “global white supremacy” as a golden age of tolerance and inclusivity.

    Heres another thing I’ve been thinking in connection with The now universally reviled “White Supremacy” : wasn’t it white people’s turn?
    I mean, there had been many great, powerful civilizations built and dictatorially maintained by black people, brown people and Oriental people, bent on conquest of the world as they then knew it, right?  Kush and most notably Egypt  in Africa.  The Indus Valley.  Mayans and Aztecs and Incas, O my! Powerful  Chinese dynasties ending in -ing  or -ang , ruling for centuries. The Ottoman Empire, honorary non-whites because of their religion.
    So exactly WHAT  is the BFD about “white supremacy”?  IF it presently exists, it’s no more’n an insignificant blip on history’s radar screen.

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  5. Hypatia
    “WHAT is the BFD about ‘white supremacy’?”

    Anybody can understand a truncheon.  Near anybody can understand a blade. Most understand a bow and arrow.  Many can fire a gun.  What is inside a cell phone?  White Supremacy.

    The social problem is self-solving.  Less even a few of the finest minds humanity can grow and train, The US comes crashing down, like this,

    Having said that, see it to the very end, the 豆沙包.

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  6. Uncle Al:

    Hypatia
    “WHAT is the BFD about ‘white supremacy’?”

    Anybody can understand a truncheon.  Near anybody can understand a blade. Most understand a bow and arrow.  Many can fire a gun.  What is inside a cell phone?  White Supremacy.

    The social problem is self-solving.  Less even a few of the finest minds humanity can grow and train, The US comes crashing down, like this,

    Having said that, see it to the very end, the 豆沙包.

    What is inside a cell phone is usually a lot of chips made in Asia. It has nothing to do with the term White Supremacy.

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  7. Hypatia:
    If China obtains world dominance, every body will look  back on our present supposéd “global white supremacy” as a golden age of tolerance and inclusivity.

    Heres another thing I’ve been thinking in connection with The now universally reviled “White Supremacy” : wasn’t it white people’s turn?
    I mean, there had been many great, powerful civilizations built and dictatorially maintained by black people, brown people and Oriental people, bent on conquest of the world as they then knew it, right?  Kush and most notably Egypt  in Africa.  The Indus Valley.  Mayans and Aztecs and Incas, O my! Powerful  Chinese dynasties ending in -ing  or -ang , ruling for centuries. The Ottoman Empire, honorary non-whites because of their religion.
    So exactly WHAT  is the BFD about “white supremacy”?  IF it presently exists, it’s no more’n an insignificant blip on history’s radar screen.

    Is that a rhetorical question? Do you not know how “white supremacy” is defined?

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  8. I think the definition is belief in white superiority and that therefore they deserve to dominate.  Non? 
    I don’t know what question you’re talking about.  I didn’t ask what  white supremacy is, but rather, from when  it allegedly dates.
    I can pretty safely say that, in their day, the ethnic Chinese, Egyptians, Indians, and Mesopotamians  Woulda believed the selves superior and their position in the world well-merited.

    As I may have mentioned, my BA is in anthropology and I never studied a culture, no matter how small,  which did not refer to its own members simply as “THE people” in the sense meaning the only truly human ethnicity.

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  9. Uncle Al — This is frightening!  You have pointed out the existence of the previously-ignored “Domino Gap”.  We all know those dominos were marked Made in China.  How can there be “White” supremacy in a world in which “White” people are not even able to make their own dominos?

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