Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics


If you wanted to refer to a paradigmatic example of wanton brutality in international affairs, the invasion and division of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939 would likely spring to mind. That’s why I was struck by the 1903 remark on the Boer War cited by Richard Toye in his book on Churchill’s imperialism:

Bourke Cockran, Churchill’s Irish-born politician friend, thought the war to be “the greatest violation of justice attempted by any civilized nation since the partition of Poland.”

I suppose now you could say, “the partition of Poland was the greatest violation of justice since the last partition of Poland.” You’d leave out the “civilized nation” bit, not exactly because Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union wouldn’t qualify, but because the concept no longer seems to have much explanatory power.

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