David Anderson: It's Not Just Kenya. Squaring up to the Seamier Side of Empire is Long Overdue
David Anderson is professor of African politics at the University of Oxford and a fellow of St Cross College, Oxford. He is also the author of Histories of the Hanged: Britain's Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire. .
History teaches us that empire can bring out the worst in people. In Britain we applaud the "civilising mission" of our imperial past, but are less happy to acknowledge the violence and brutality that so often girded our imperial endeavour. It is time we were more honest.
As a nation Brits nurture memories of empire that are deceptively cosy, swathed in a warm, sepia-tinted glow of paternalistic benevolence. The British empire, so the story goes, brought progress to a primitive and savage world. Education, hospitals and improved health, steamships, railways, and the telegraph – these were the tools of empire, brought to colonised peoples by the gift of commerce and good British government.
We take pride in this imperial heritage, pointing with scorn at the lesser achievements of other European powers – the French, Italians, Germans, Belgians and Portuguese – whose empires we variously view as haplessly mismanaged, malignly exploitative and brutally coercive. Britain's empire was better than all the others, historians such as Niall Ferguson, Andrew Roberts and Lawrence James have assured us, so why should we worry?
The reasons to worry became all too apparent last week, in a path-breaking judgment of the high court: Mr Justice McCombe ruled that the British government has a case to answer in relation to charges of systematic torture and abuse of detainees during Kenya's Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s.
And the matters raised are far from trivial...
comments powered by Disqus
- Study: Violent radicalism in UK isn't associated with poverty
- CONFIRMED: the Shrine of Jonah/Mosque of Yunus (Nineveh, Mosul, Iraq) has been destroyed
- Chinese President Xi Jinping: Nobody can change history
- Iraq’s Long-Lost Mythical Temple Has Been Found…and Is In Danger of Disappearing Again
- CBS features in-depth coverage of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights law
- Obama to award National Humanities Medals to 3 historians
- Historian Curt Gentry, known for Hoover biography and ‘Helter Skelter,’ dies at 83
- Harvard historian: strategy of climate science denial groups 'extremely successful'
- Curators at Victoria and Albert Museum are pushing the boundaries of collecting
- Ukrainian Leaders Are Using David Barton's Theocratic Pseudo-History To Build Their Nation