“Split the difference” is My Own True Love’s favorite way to solve a difference of opinion. It’s a pretty effective tactic when you’re negotiating a contract, eyeing the last piece of pie, or deciding what time you need to leave the house to catch a 6:00 AM flight. Win-win.
When it comes to settling geopolitical differences that same strategy can lead to lose-lose.
Over the last few months, I’ve read a lot about Britain untangling itself from empire in the first half of the twentieth century.* (Sometimes that’s the way the assignments crumble.) In the process, I connected some dots I’d never connected before . Faced with competing nationalisms in Ireland, Palestine, and South Asia, Great Britain used a one-size fits all strategy: Partition.
It works better with pie.
*Want to read along? Try these three:
- Troubles J. G. Farrell’s satirical novel about Ireland in the uprisings of 1919,
- The Makers of the Modern Middle East I know I’m repeating myself here, but this is an excellent account of how Britain jerked the strings in the Middle East after WWI
- Tamas Indian novelist Bihisham Sahni’s heart-rending story of loosing home in the name of nationalism in the Indian Partition