Deny the British empire's crimes? No, we ignore them
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Sun Apr 29 01:50:34 BST 2012
Good to see George has stopped banging
destructively on about the planetary 'benefits'
of ionizing gamma pollution and is back on form this week
Deny the British empire's crimes? No, we ignore them
New evidence of British colonial atrocities has
not changed our national ability to disregard it
George Monbiot - guardian.co.uk, Monday 23 April 2012 20.30 BST
There is one thing you can say for the Holocaust
deniers: at least they know what they are
denying. In order to sustain the lies they tell,
they must engage in strenuous falsification. To
dismiss Britain's colonial atrocities, no such
effort is required. Most people appear to be
unaware that anything needs to be denied.
The story of benign imperialism, whose overriding
purpose was not to seize land, labour and
commodities but to teach the natives English,
table manners and double-entry book-keeping, is a
myth that has been carefully propagated by the
rightwing press. But it draws its power from a
remarkable national ability to airbrush and disregard our past.
Last week's revelations, that the British
government systematically destroyed the documents
detailing mistreatment of its colonial subjects,
and that the Foreign Office then lied about a
secret cache of files containing lesser
revelations, is by any standards a big story. But
it was either ignored or consigned to a footnote
by most of the British press. I was unable to
find any mention of the secret archive on the
Telegraph's website. The Mail's only coverage, as
far as I can determine, was an opinion piece by a
historian called Lawrence James, who used the
occasion to insist that any deficiencies in the
management of the colonies were the work of "a
sprinkling of misfits, incompetents and bullies",
while everyone else was "dedicated, loyal and disciplined".
The British government's suppression of evidence
was scarcely necessary. Even when the
documentation of great crimes is abundant, it is
not denied but simply ignored. In an article for
the Daily Mail in 2010, for example, the
historian Dominic Sandbrook announced that
"Britain's empire stands out as a beacon of
tolerance, decency and the rule of law
Britain countenance anything like the dreadful
tortures committed in French Algeria." Could he
really have been unaware of the history he is disavowing?
Caroline Elkins, a professor at Harvard, spent
nearly 10 years compiling the evidence contained
in her book Britain's Gulag: the Brutal End of
Empire in Kenya. She started her research with
the belief that the British account of the
suppression of the Kikuyu's Mau Mau revolt in the
1950s was largely accurate. Then she discovered
that most of the documentation had been
destroyed. She worked through the remaining
archives, and conducted 600 hours of interviews
with Kikuyu survivors rebels and loyalists
and British guards, settlers and officials. Her
book is fully and thoroughly documented. It won
the Pulitzer prize. But as far as Sandbrook,
James and other imperial apologists are
concerned, it might as well never have been written.
Elkins reveals that the British detained not
80,000 Kikuyu, as the official histories
maintain, but almost the entire population of one
and a half million people, in camps and fortified
villages. There, thousands were beaten to death
or died from malnutrition, typhoid, tuberculosis
and dysentery. In some camps almost all the children died.
The inmates were used as slave labour. Above the
gates were edifying slogans, such as "Labour and
freedom" and "He who helps himself will also be
helped". Loudspeakers broadcast the national
anthem and patriotic exhortations. People deemed
to have disobeyed the rules were killed in front
of the others. The survivors were forced to dig
mass graves, which were quickly filled. Unless
you have a strong stomach I advise you to skip the next paragraph.
Interrogation under torture was widespread. Many
of the men were anally raped, using knives,
broken bottles, rifle barrels, snakes and
scorpions. A favourite technique was to hold a
man upside down, his head in a bucket of water,
while sand was rammed into his rectum with a
stick. Women were gang-raped by the guards.
People were mauled by dogs and electrocuted. The
British devised a special tool which they used
for first crushing and then ripping off
testicles. They used pliers to mutilate women's
breasts. They cut off inmates' ears and fingers
and gouged out their eyes. They dragged people
behind Land Rovers until their bodies
disintegrated. Men were rolled up in barbed wire
and kicked around the compound.
Elkins provides a wealth of evidence to show that
the horrors of the camps were endorsed at the
highest levels. The governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn
Baring, regularly intervened to prevent the
perpetrators from being brought to justice. The
colonial secretary, Alan Lennox-Boyd, repeatedly
lied to the House of Commons. This is a vast,
systematic crime for which there has been no reckoning.
No matter. Even those who acknowledge that
something happened write as if Elkins and her
work did not exist. In the Telegraph, Daniel
Hannan maintains that just eleven people were
beaten to death. Apart from that, "1,090
terrorists were hanged and as many as 71,000 detained without due process".
The British did not do body counts, and most
victims were buried in unmarked graves. But it is
clear that tens of thousands, possibly hundreds
of thousands, of Kikuyu died in the camps and
during the round-ups. Hannan's is one of the most
blatant examples of revisionism I have ever encountered.
Without explaining what this means, Lawrence
James concedes that "harsh measures" were
sometimes used, but he maintains that "while the
Mau Mau were terrorising the Kikuyu, veterinary
surgeons in the Colonial Service were teaching
tribesmen how to deal with cattle plagues." The
theft of the Kikuyu's land and livestock, the
starvation and killings, the widespread support
among the Kikuyu for the Mau Mau's attempt to
reclaim their land and freedom: all vanish into
thin air. Both men maintain that the British
government acted to stop any abuses as soon as they were revealed.
What I find remarkable is not that they write
such things, but that these distortions go almost
unchallenged. The myths of empire are so
well-established that we appear to blot out
countervailing stories even as they are told. As
evidence from the manufactured Indian famines of
the 1870s and from the treatment of other
colonies accumulates, British imperialism emerges
as no better and in some cases even worse than
the imperialism practised by other nations. Yet
the myth of the civilising mission remains untroubled by the evidence.
+44 (0)7786 952037
"Capitalism is institutionalised bribery."
"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic
poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung
Fear not therefore: for there is nothing covered
that shall not be revealed; and nothing hid that
shall not be made known. What I tell you in
darkness, that speak ye in the light and what ye
hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. Matthew 10:26-27
Die Pride and Envie; Flesh, take the poor's advice.
Covetousnesse be gon: Come, Truth and Love arise.
Patience take the Crown; throw Anger out of dores:
Cast out Hypocrisie and Lust, which follows whores:
Then England sit in rest; Thy sorrows will have end;
Thy Sons will live in peace, and each will be a friend.
More information about the Diggers350