History shows, however, that firm timetables do not reduce conflict and violence, and generally make a situation much worse.

Steven Wilkinson, an assistant professor of political science at Duke University, writing in the New Observer last December, draws an useful analogy between the Bush administration’s fixed timetable for withdrawal of the troops from Iraq, and that of the British when they withdrew from India in 1947.

This line of thought was brought to my attention by Chris Young, who agrees with my concerns about Saturday’s March. On his blog, See Why?, he writes:

But consider the case of India. The British had no business there, regardless of the good they may have thought they were doing. But when they left, after years of procrastinating, their depature occurred with criminal haste and carelessness. And what we got was possibly avoidable: partition and two, then three, mutually antagonistic countries, and eventually the very serious risk of nuclear war. An extra 6-12 months and a great deal more care was justified even though the imperial enterprise in which the British rule of India was enmeshed was an utter fraud.

While it may have been difficult to stop partition, I think the British could certainly have done more to stop the violence that led to half a million dead and 12 million refugees. As Wilkonson writes:

Once the British announced they were definitely leaving, individual Indians became increasingly concerned about their careers and safety after independence. As a result, policemen, officials and ordinary citizens in many provinces withdrew their cooperation. This led to a sharp drop in taxes needed to pay the police and civil service, a collapse in police intelligence about militant threats and an increasing unwillingness on the part of local officials to take on anyone who appeared likely to be in a powerful position after independence.

By committing to leave India even if local politicians had not agreed on a unified political structure, the British also gave incentive to local leaders to be intransigent in their demands and to intensify violent campaigns to ensure they would be in control of either territory or provincial governments after independence.

Finally, the British government, conscious that it would be leaving soon, grew increasingly reluctant to enforce order in India if it meant risking large numbers of British lives to save Indian lives. No politician wanted to take such a risk for a cause that appeared to many voters as already lost. The object was to get out quickly under whichever face-saving compromise could be negotiated.

Something to think about when marchers yell:

End the Occupation of Iraq! Bring the Troops Home! Now!

Maybe we could wait till we are reasonably sure about the consequences of our actions?