David Caute: Under the Skin: The Death of White Rhodesia; North-western University Press; Evanston, IL.
David Caute’s book on the fall of a white government and the triumph of Mugabein Zimbabwe contains neither an index nor sources. The events it describes are almost entirely inside Rhodesia-Zimbabwe. By restricting his descriptions, Mr. Caute effectively evades mentioning a number of significant matters. This sort of sleight of hand is more common to journalists than to scholars; Mr. Caute was formerly a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford, a visiting professor at both New York and Columbia Universities. In other words, Mr. Caute knows better. He knows that a narrative that deliberately omits significant factors is inherently dishonest and misleading or at least he should know that.
The book is ostensibly based upon Caute’s original dispatches from Rhodesia to Britain during the period from 1977 to 1980. It is plausible to assume that these dispatches were altered after posting. His book is replete with withering personal characterizations that, had they been originally published, would have barred Mr.Caute from Rhodesia, and would certainly have earned him a sound thrashing.
He describes K. van der Byl,Minister of Defense, as “a social snob” with “swinish good-looks.” The Minister of Law & Order is characterized as being “a man with the flushed complexion and silver smooth hair of a saloon-bar bigot,” as if hair tonic has some sort of sociological significance. Caute calls Ivor Richards, a British politician, “the porky son of a Welsh coal-miner.” How’s that for an unprejudiced description? Describing the Selous Scouts (white Rhodesian special forces), Mr. Caute notes that “their emblem was a fierce bird of prey and they wore brown berets (when not disguised as Zanla, Zipra or baboons).”
Having no sense of manners, Caute provides an acid portrayal of the couple that was kind enough to make him a houseguest. Alex Maddocks, proprietor of a “nostalgia shop” in Salisbury in 1977, is described as back dating sales invoices to evade export restrictions. Alleged economic pilfering isn’t sufficient, it seems, for Caute goes on to maintain that the man “does not invariably go straight home. A drink in Mickles may suit his mood. Or a drink plus girl in the Ambassador….Otherwise he may drive down to Annabelle’s massage parlor on Rotten Row….Specializing as she does in pelvic massage, Annabelle has ‘the utmost faith in Rhodesia’ and offers a ten percent discount to all members of the security forces.” The Maddocks family was trusting enough to let Mr. Caute into their home. He reciprocated by regaling readers with how “lovely, 18-year-old daughter Sharon” took an ad agency photographer into her bedroom and locked the door.”At first her mother screamed and took it as a personal insult…but Sharon looked pityingly at Sheila and asked whether she had ever done anything before she got married a hundred years ago and that just about ended the battle.” Perhaps Caute isn’t a scholar but a writer for seamy confessional magazines.
Acidulous description of white Rhodesians abound, but then so–to be fair-do descriptions of frightful atrocities by the blacks. Yet even these descriptions, which might provide the casual reader with the sense of authorial objectivity, are frequently subtly undercut. For instance, the death of tiny white Natasha Glenny “provided the Salisbury regime with an ideal propaganda weapon. The smiling, cherubic features of this chubby six-month-old baby appeared on the Ministry of Information’s pamphlet, Massacre of the Innocents.” Presumably that usage underscored a tactical error, rather than a crime.
But Mr. Caute has heroes. One was “an officious French journalist from LeSomething” who asked exasperating questions of Alex Maddocks, straining the patience of his host. But “the man from LeSomething is not abashed,” said Mr. Caute. “He expects to meet hostility, even violence, in a white imperalist racist community facing a revolutionary uprising of the impoverished and exploited peasant masses.” (Italics added.)
Racist is a word Mr. Caute tosses around with remarkable ease–but only in association with whites. Blacks are moved by resentment, ambition, pride, lust, and other recognizably human attributes, but never by racism. His partisan ship is open. He depicts the steady decline of the authority of the white government with the satisfaction of an undertaker. This makes for somber reading. At first the attacks were isolated. In time they became so numerous that automobile convoys were necessary. The toll mounted steadily, with missions and schools being special targets. At no point does Mr. Caute describe an assault by the “freedom fighters” upon a barracks, a police station, or the armed forces. His heroes specialized in murdering civilians, in the special way of sowing terror that was invented by our own John Brown and which is now familiar around the world.
This form of “struggle” is heavily reliant upon the media and intellectuals to provide noble rationalizations for barbarous deeds. John Brown in Kansas benefited from false legends of self-defense and heroism invented by Northern journalists. Today, the liberal press does not bother to invent such mundane justifications for terrorists; the nobility of their cause is considered sufficient. This opinion, spread through the global media and accepted by liberals everywhere, led to decolonization by the West. The white residents of Rhodesia watched the decolonization of Nyasaland in their north (to which Rhodesia was once attached) with full knowledge that Whitehall planned the same for the south. That led to a unilateral declaration of independence and the election of Ian Smith. Because of those actions, Rhodesia was ostracized, subjected to UN sanctions, and pilloried by the media. The Kremlin (a great capital of freedom), Peking (fortress of liberty), Havana (a bastion of mercy), Washington (a center of idealism) and Whitehall (the soul of tolerance) bellowed in unison.
The U.S.S.R and the Peoples Republic of China provided arms, uniforms, money, inspiration, and the diligent pens of their slaves and sympathizers to the cause of black majority rule in Rhodesia. And although Smith’s regime held out for 13 grueling years, it finally fell.
The manner and reasons for its fall are, of course, worthy of a book, but not the sort of book that Mr. Caute has written. What is needed is an examination of the arguments that led the West to cooperate in the expansion of totalitarian rule in Africa. For, of course, Mugabe’s election was the last the people of Zimbabwe will enjoy for some undefinable–but certainly long–time.
The author of such a future book will find Mr. Caute’s peculiar contribution an interesting case in deracination and alienation. The Caute vision, which regards murders by blacks as excusable and ordinary social intercourse among whites as peculiarly evil, constitutes a case of cultural lunacy startling in its bias but not (unfortunately) uncommon. Curiously, although its zealots are numerous among us, we have not yet analyzed why so many persons like Caute hate their own kind so much that they help promote the spread of tyranny. This puzzle may, unless we solve it, get us all killed.
To read Caute’s book is to realize that nothing less than the defeat of the West will satisfy him. Smith’s regime expanded the franchise to all citizens who were not busy shooting, and created a new constitutional government with a black prime minister, a black president, and a black majority parliament in a free election. Mr. Caute remained unimpressed because whites retained control of the judiciary, army and police, and a third of the parliament. Both Britain and the U.S. rejected the compromise. Guerrillas had to be admitted to governance. Pressure was applied, and a London conference was held. Nkomo and Mugabe attended. New elections were held under British auspices, and Mugabe won. The fact that he represented the majority black tribe in Rhodesia appears to have been the determining factor. On the night the returns were final, Mr. Caute bought drinks for some young white Rhodesian soldiers. He has provided the readers with a full account of their bitter and profane remarks, thanks to the tape recorder he says he had hidden in his pocket, which we thought is a ploy that only “imperialist” C.I.A. agents use.
Caute wraps the book up by describing some of the results: the flight of whites, the brutal misuse of authority. ”White or black,” he says with a shrug, “this was Africa; the Government rules.” But he connects that philosophy only to Mugabe: he doesn’t apply it to Ian Smith, nor to the whites. His book ends before the North Korean-trained forces of Mugabe swept into Matabeleland and committed a series of massacres.
Mr. Caute, of course, will not write anything about these massacres, their significance, or the race of their perpetrators. Racism, to Caute, is a sin unique to whites. By this assumption he feels armored in virtue and invulnerable to opposition.
But to switch targets does not absolve a bigot, nor does it alter the nature of prejudice. If, after this book-length evidence of his malice and limitations, Mr. Caute is still welcome in any circle, it will be a circle that includes no sensible people. Northwestern University made a serious mistake in publishing this weird, hate filled book.