Tom Little: South Arabia. Pall Mall. 35s.
Kennedy Trevaskis: Shades of Amber. Hutchinson. 50s.
Dana Adams Schmidt: Yemen: the Unknown War. Bodley Head. 45s.
For anyone in danger of forgetting what a mindless and vicious system of oppression the British were capable of maintaining right into the late 1960s, the Little and Trevaskis books should be required reading. Trevaskis, who was the chief architect of the South Arabian Federation, seems to have designed his book almost solely in order to cover his own tracks. Numerous important events are undated. Having blundered about in the area for more than a decade, Trevaskis attempts to pre-empt criticism with the remark (reprinted as the caption to a photograph of the author sucking his pipe) that: ‘At least I had learned that only the supremely arrogant would claim to know all the answers.’ Obviously Trevaskis knew none—and little surprise, by the author’s account of his own thought process: ‘It was while I was wondering whether the roots of tribal discontent might not be found in the oligarchic character of South Arabian chiefly rule . . . ’ Sometimes even the author met his match at political inanity: ‘I had an opportunity of putting my ideas to Hopkinson [a Tory minister] during his visit, and found him surprisingly receptive to the need for what he called a “theme”,agreeing that it should be independence with the creation of a South Arabian Jordan as our objective.’ It is frightening and revolting to read a book like this. There is not one indication of, for example, comparative British expenditure on military installations and education. Not even a glimmer of awareness of the atrocious effects of colonialism on the South Yemeni people. Not a line to indicate that there could be such a thing as a progressive popular regime: the forces which drove the British out are simply described as ‘Anarchy’.
Tom Little puts considerably more order into his account of the Federation’s history, and there is an appraisal of the local political forces. Little points out the NLF’s extraordinary success in the Radfan campaign both militarily and in avoiding political detection by the British, which gave them greater freedom of action than the FLOSY (even though for some time FLOSY was tolerated while the NLF was banned). There is a relatively appreciative summing up of the new NLF regime. But Little’s book, too, is disappointing, even though vastly superior to Trevaskis’. Both structure their accounts in an imperialist optic. Like the British Press, they cut out with independence. During the period of British rule they ignore the effects of colonial oppression; after the victory of the liberation struggle they tend to regard the area as politically uninteresting. Yet the NLF forced the British out of Aden and the Federation in exemplary fashion: how did they do it?