David M. Anderson: Atoning for the Sins of Empire

tags: atrocities, British Empire, Niall Ferguson, Andrew Roberts, Mau Mau uprising, David M. Anderson, Max Hastings



David M. Anderson, a professor of African history at the University of Warwick, is the author of “Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire.”

WARWICK, England — THE British do not torture. At least, that is what we in Britain have always liked to think. But not anymore. In a historic decision last week, the British government agreed to compensate 5,228 Kenyans who were tortured and abused while detained during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s. Each claimant will receive around £2,670 (about $4,000).

The money is paltry. But the principle it establishes, and the history it rewrites, are both profound. This is the first historical claim for compensation that the British government has accepted. It has never before admitted to committing torture in any part of its former empire....

The British historians Andrew Roberts, Niall Ferguson and Max Hastings have all nailed their colors to the mast of the good ship Britannia as she sailed the ocean blue bringing civilization and prosperity to the world. This view seems unlikely to be credible for much longer.

Empire was built by conquest. It was violent. And decolonization was sometimes a bloody, brutal business. No American should need reminding of that. And Britain, along with other imperial powers of the 19th and 20th centuries, may yet have to pay for this....



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