Who has harder time keeping control? Orwell in "Shooting Elephant" or contemporary soldiers occupying Iraq or Afghanistan?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a very interesting question. Orwell's essay describes to us with accurate and rather shocking precision the kind of emotions that an oppressor feels to be in the country of the oppressed. In many ways, his situation strikes a rather uncomfortable parallel with the current situation in Afghanistan, as in both Imperial Burma and in modern Afghanistan true power is held not by the people but by incomers who, by virtue of their superior might, have control of the country. Note what Orwell says about the strange paradoxes within him as regards his feelings towards his role:

All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.

This gives us a real insight into the kind of murderous rage that even an enlightened individual such as Orwell might experience in such a bizarre setting when you are given such power and treated so deferentially by all around you. This helps us to understand the various cases in Afghanistan where soldiers have abused their position to commit heinous crimes on the populace. To be in a position of such power, whatever your intellectual beliefs, is a very dangerous position to be in.