And why "colonialism" had nothing to do with it.
Academic discussions of the reasons for Third World poverty usually sound similar to something Communist Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who lived in luxury while his people starved, declared at a UN conference in 1974: “The division of the world into developed and underdeveloped countries is a result of historical evolution, and is a direct consequence of the imperialist, colonialist, and neo-colonialist policies of exploitation of many peoples.”
That same year, a French professor wrote in a UN publication that "the rich white man, with his overconsumption of meat and his lack of generosity toward poor populations, acts like a true cannibal, albeit indirect. Last year, in overconsuming meat which wasted the cereals which could have saved them, we ate the little children of the Sahel, of Ethiopia, and of Bangladesh. And this year, we are continuing to do the same thing, with the same appetite."
However, what really destroyed the Third World had nothing to do with the West. The Third World was irrevocably harmed by the scorched-earth economic campaign that was waged against Israel by the oil producing nations.
Bayard Rustin wrote in the NAACP journal The Crisis in April 1974 (and reprinted in Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin):
And yet in raw economic terms, it is the world's developing nations that will suffer most severely from the oil embargoes and price increases which have been imposed by the Arabs. The Development Forum, which is published by the Centre for Economic and Social Information of the United Nations, notes that prior to the energy crisis the poorest countries were already paying 20 percent more for imported fuel than the industrialized world. The Forum further observed:
"The recent price rises have greatly aggravated their [the underdeveloped nations'] plight. Unless the upward spiral in the price of oil is halted, or some measure of relief provided, it could bring development of the Third World to a dead halt.... Industrial countries are also affected, but they have fallback positions: e.g., rich coal deposits that can be reactivated, and the technology to speed up the development of new resources from nuclear to geothermal and, eventually, solar energy. Above all, they have the financial means to meet the rising price of oil. No such escapes are open to the poorer nations.... Oil, which flows so easily from well to pipeline into tanker, refinery and pump, and eventually, into furnace or generator, is a convenience for the industrial countries. For the developing world, it is a lifeline which is essential to their survival."
It should be added that this was written before the oil-producing nations announced a doubling of the price of crude oil at the wellhead. The New York Times reported that these increases would cost the developing world $5 billion, an amount which represents approximately half of what it receives annually in development aid from the industrialized countries. A further dimension to the plight of the poorer nations is the fact that countries like the United States and Great Britain will undoubtedly reduce foreign aid allocations, particularly to those nations which have the least to offer in return, because of the domestic problems created by the oil crisis. World Bank officials have already predicted that India will have a negative growth rate for years to come because of oil prices; the impact on the less affluent nations of Africa could be even more shattering.
The great energy journalist and historian Daniel Yergin wrote much the same in his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Prize, and described how the poor nations tried to borrow their way out of the crisis. Debt saddles these countries to this day.
Another cause of Third World poverty is war -- and there has been no shortage of war. Writing in Commentary magazine in 1986, Edward Jay Epstein recognized a "new phase in Soviet expansion," which "was made possible economically in the winter of 1973 by the explosion of world oil prices." In the years that followed:
In Asia, [the Soviet Union] moved into Afghanistan, funded Vietnam's military domination of Cambodia and Laos, and took over the huge naval and air base at Cam Ranh Bay. In Africa, it provided the military wherewithal to establish and entrench client regimes in Angola, Mozambique, and Ethiopia. In the Middle East, it turned the pro-Soviet government in Syria into a formidable regional power, supported Libyan incursions into Chad and Sudan, and became the dominant supplier of weapons for Iran, Iraq, South Yemen, and Algeria. In Latin America, in addition to its continued subsidization of Cuba, it undertook to support anti-American regimes in Nicaragua and Grenada.
Each and every nation mentioned in that paragraph was at war, thanks to the Soviets and their new oil money.
Bayard Rustin, the Civil Rights leader and strategist who worked as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s right hand man and organizer of the 1963 "March on Washington," was not an unbiased observer of these events. Not long after the Yom Kippur War was brought to a close, Rustin wrote in the Chicago Defender that "Israel, as a progressive and democratic nation, is the ultimate reflection of traditions which run throughout Jewish history and culture. Wherever Jews are, they stand firm for the extension of human rights for all people."
That includes, says Rustin, the United States:
- In the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow era, "When the South was doing its best to keep the black man illiterate, the Rosenwald family established a fund which salvaged the Negro college system."
- In the early years of the 20th century, "when the black cause was not a popular cause, Jewish liberals [and Republicans], like Joel and Arthur Spingarn, helped establish the NAACP and were instrumental in ensuring its survival during its most difficult years."
- During the Civil Rights era, "Jews provided critical financial support for Dr. Martin Luther King during his protest campaigns: two thirds of the money donated to a defense fund established when Dr. King was falsely accused of income tax evasion were contributed by Jews. And who can forget that two Jewish youths, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, died arm in arm with James Chaney in the backlands of Mississippi."
Rustin did not like the way the winds were blowing in 1973:
Today anti-Semitism persists in the hearts of many men and many countries, awaiting the opportunity to rise to the surface disguised as anti-Zionism.
Blacks well understand that where anti-Semitism exists, racial prejudice ultimately follows. Those who historically have felt hatred, contempt and superiority toward Jews, have looked on Negroes with hatred, contempt and superiority. Thus it is little surprising that the most determined opponent of American aid to Israel is Sen. J. W. Fulbright [a Democrat], who during a lengthy political career has voted against, and spoken against, and filibustered against the cause of civil rights.
Rustin fought like hell against the anti-Semitism of the Black Power movement, railing against "these young Negroes spouting material directly from Mein Kampf" in a 1968 speech to the Anti-Defamation League. And in the aftermath of the 1982 Israel-Lebanon war, Rustin described what he saw during a trip to areas of Lebanon liberated by Israel:
We found evidence of something else which has largely been ignored in Western reporting: the widespread contempt of the Lebanese people for the PLO. In spontaneous private conversations with Lebanese citizens we uncovered extensive evidence of PLO terror. In the areas which the PLO controlled there was no civilian system of justice. There was no functioning police force, no due process, no court system, no right of appeal. What law there was was PLO law; what justice there was was PLO justice. Those of us whose black ancestors lived in areas dominated by the Ku Klux Klan have special reasons to know what that means. For the powerless, it means intense, continuous, and unending personal insecurity. In short, it means terror.
It broke Rustin's heart to watch men like Jesse Jackson working for, as he wrote in 1979, "the formation of a pro-PLO, pro-Arab black constituency in the United States" which "would be providing aid and comfort to an organization committed to racism, terrorism and authoritarianism" -- all in the name of some ideological Third World solidarity that attracted black radicals who refused to identify with the United States. Rustin demanded that black civil rights leaders "ought now to be speaking out against the PLO -- not simply to ease black-Jewish tensions, but because having won our basic rights through nonviolence and organized pressure in a Democratic nation, we have an obligation to oppose those forces in the world, like the PLO, which flaunt the political power of the gun and openly mock the values and goals we have fought for."