the truth about the british empire

Britain’s Gulag opens by describing a “murderous campaign to eliminate Kikuyu people” and ends with the suggestion that “between 130,000 and 300,000 Kikuyu are unaccounted for”, an estimate derived from Elkins’s analysis of census figures. One morning this spring, I accompanied Elkins as she visited the National Archives to look at those files. In camps, villages and other outposts, the Kikuyu suffered forced labour, disease, starvation, torture, rape and murder. The truth is that the Brits may have been top dogs when it came to the size, power and influence of their empire but we have definitely been well down the league table of those who have perpetrated massacres. She looked at the file boxes around her. The Mau Mau case has fuelled two scholarly debates, one old and one new. A former rebel colony that went on to fight its own war against us, now the USA, made the most formidable contribution of all to fighting and dying for its former colonial masters. Its presenter, Sathnam Sanghera, from Wolverhampton, clearly knows he is on to a good thing in demonising Britain – his own country. The response? “There is ample evidence even in the few papers that I have seen suggesting that there may have been systematic torture of detainees,” he wrote in July 2011. British Empire, a worldwide system of dependencies— colonies, protectorates, and other territories—that over a span of some three centuries was brought under the sovereignty of the crown of Great Britain and the administration of the British government. A London law firm was preparing to file a reparations claim on behalf of elderly Kenyans who had been tortured in detention camps during the Mau Mau revolt. “If you make a really radical claim about history, you really need to back it up solidly.”, Critics didn’t just find the substance overstated. The history of the British Empire is characterised by similar waves of resistance and repression. And she didn’t hesitate to speak about that research in the grandest possible terms: as a “tectonic shift in Kenyan history”. In the British and Kenyan archives, meanwhile, Elkins encountered another oddity. Threatened and shunned by colleagues and critics, Caroline Elkins persevered and brought to life the atrocities that were committed and hidden from the world for decades.”, But some scholars find aspects of Elkins’s vindication story unconvincing. “I’m from New Jersey,” she answered. The British destroyed documents in Kenya – scholars knew that. (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({}); Each morning we send The ConWom Daily with links to our latest news. And that was before historians had a chance to thoroughly review the newly discovered files, known as the “Hanslope disclosure”. The truth is that the Brits may have been top dogs when it came to the size, power and influence of their empire but we have definitely been well down the league table of those who have perpetrated massacres. By conveying the perspective of the Mau Mau themselves, Britain’s Gulag marked a “historical breakthrough”, says Wm Roger Louis, a historian of the British empire at the University of Texas at Austin. It may soon reach an even bigger audience. “If, at that late date,” he wrote, “she still believed in the official British line about its so-called civilising mission in the empire, then she was perhaps the only scholar or graduate student in the English-speaking world who did.”. “I think we have this narrative in Britain that we’re always the good guys.”, Journalist Sathnam Sanghera says the Amritsar massacre shows “that sometimes we were the bad guys, sometimes we were the racists and I think we need to come to terms with that”, newsnight | @Sathnam, — BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) April 12, 2019. The old one is about Caroline Elkins. It was a tale of systematic violence and high-level cover-ups. In October 2012, Justice McCombe rejected those arguments, too. Her book cut against an abiding belief that the British had managed and retreated from their empire with more dignity and humanity than other former colonial powers, such as the French or the Belgians. To secure a permanent position, she needed to make progress on her second book. Few imperial powers have been so willing to admit to their own sins. Compared with alternative imperial regimes, however, it had much to commend it. The Grand Area would include, at a minimum, the entire Western Hemisphere, the Far East and the former British Empire. Only if Owen Jones approves of it, Wronging a rite: The baby-talk baptism that replaces beauty with banality, A carol a day: Angels from the Realms of Glory. We receive no independent funding and depend on our readers to help us, either with regular or one-off payments. But many other scholars slammed the book. No review was more devastating than the one that Bethwell A Ogot, a senior Kenyan historian, published in the Journal of African History. Elkins framed the story as a personal journey of discovery. Maybe it was luck. These controversies primed readers for stories about the underside of empire. Thank God for Britain – mostly, a shining light in the history of the world! Its authors include senior educational advisers to government. And the story Elkins would tell about those papers would once again plunge her into controversy. The files within would be a reminder to historians of just how far a government would go to sanitise its past. “The overarching takeaway is that the government itself was involved in a very highly choreographed, systematised process of destroying and removing documents so it could craft the official narrative that sits in these archives,” Elkins told me. A cache of papers had come to light that documented Britain’s torture and mistreatment of detainees during the Mau Mau rebellion. In prying open that story, Elkins would meet younger Kikuyu who didn’t know their parents or grandparents had been detained; Kikuyu who didn’t know the reason they had been forbidden to play with their neighbour’s children was that the neighbour had been a collaborator who raped their mother. When Elkins presented her dissertation proposal in 1997, its premise was “the success of Britain’s civilising mission in the detention camps of Kenya”. An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India (Hardcover) by Shashi Tharoor. Are you frickin’ kidding me? By ruling in her favour, the court also implicitly judged her critics. Elkins knew her findings would be explosive. “Basically, I read document after document after document that proved the book to be correct,” Elkins says. The Mau Mau uprising had long fascinated scholars. Elkins has sold the film rights for her book and personal story to John Hart, the producer of hits including Boys Don’t Cry and Revolutionary Road. They waged a forest war against 20,000 Mau Mau fighters, and, with African allies, also targeted a bigger civilian enemy: roughly 1.5 million Kikuyu thought to have proclaimed their allegiance to the Mau Mau campaign for land and freedom. Historians, he adds, have always dealt with the absence of documents. The massacre of hundreds in Amritsar was indeed ‘monstrous’, as Churchill said at the time, but it was atypical. When Elkins interviewed Kikuyu in their remote homes, they whispered. It was also, comparatively, the most benign. Read all about it – the truth about British colonialism. In court, lawyers representing the British government tried to have the Mau Mau case tossed out. The issue of archival erasure figures prominently in Elkins’s next book, a history of violence at the end of the British empire whose case studies will include Kenya, Aden, Cyprus, Malaya, Palestine and Northern Ireland. Particularly irksome, to some Africanists, was her claim to have discovered an unknown story. But for years clues had existed that Britain had also expatriated colonial records that were considered too sensitive to be left in the hands of successor governments. Colonial authorities portrayed Mau Mau as a descent into savagery, turning its fighters into “the face of international terrorism in the 1950s”, as one scholar puts it. Hawkish intellectuals pressed America to embrace an imperial role. One day in the spring of 1998, after months of often frustrating searches, she discovered a baby-blue folder that would become central to both her book and the Mau Mau lawsuit. Back in London, Foreign Office lawyers conceded that the elderly Kenyan claimants had suffered torture during the Mau Mau rebellion. Another important factor was the questionable desire of the British to create an Arab national homeland in the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, and to gratify the imperial pretensions of their ally the Hashemite clan, who shrewdly convinced the British that their self-serving and marginal actions during the war had been important in fighting the Turks. IMDb, the world's most popular and authoritative source for movie, TV and celebrity content. She finds that Elkins’s current “narrative of victimisation” also rings a bit false. Now move on, next question please. The National Archives essentially said they should either be destroyed or returned to the countries from which they had been taken. Her mother was a schoolteacher; her father, a computer-supplies salesman. But among Kenyanists, Berman wrote, the reaction had generally been no more than: “It was as bad as or worse than I had imagined from more fragmentary accounts.”, He called Elkins “astonishingly disingenuous” for saying her project began as an attempt to show the success of Britain’s liberal reforms. is seen by some historians as the event defining the transition between the "first" and "second" empires, in which Britain shifted its attention away from the Americas to Asia, the Pacific and later Africa You want to destroy the documents that can be incriminating.”, Murphy says Elkins “has a tendency to caricature other historians of empire as simply passive and unthinking consumers in the National Archives supermarket, who don’t think about the ideological way in which the archive is constructed”. British Empire: Students should be taught colonialism ‘not all good’, say historians. They argued that Britain could not be held responsible because liability for any colonial abuses had devolved to the Kenyan government upon independence. That “spoke directly to claims that, if you took out the oral evidence” in Britain’s Gulag, “the whole thing fell apart”, Elkins says. She met people such as Salome Maina, who had been accused of supplying arms to the Mau Mau. It’s done. Britain’s Colonial Office had endorsed it. Unlike most other websites, we receive no independent funding. The evidence was insufficient. Don’t go out and be on the front page of the paper.”, She said yes. Pascal James Imperato picked up the same theme in African Studies Review. Help us sue the British government for torture. Guantánamo. The Watch files would be flown back to Britain or destroyed. And left to themselves the people of India resorted to unparalleled savagery in 1947. It included Indian representatives and unanimously condemned the rogue general, Reginald Dyer, who had ordered the massacre. This helped contain the hatred between Kikuyu who joined the Mau Mau revolt and those who fought alongside the British. It was an armed rebellion launched by the Kikuyu, who had lost land during colonisation. Abu Ghraib. The Mughal Empire which Britain supplanted in the sub-continent was many, many times worse. The story exposed to the public an archival mystery that had long intrigued historians. We are a … might be the fishermen who went in search of catches and ended up with the settlement that became Newfoundland Britain’s Gulag had broken important new ground, providing the most comprehensive chronicle yet of the detention camps and prison villages. There weren’t enough surviving witnesses. It is just so on-message these days to self-flagellate, don’t you know? Elkins’s work, he wrote, depended heavily on the “largely uncorroborated 50-year-old memories of a few elderly men and women interested in financial reparations”. On 6 April 2011, the debate over Caroline Elkins’s work shifted to the Royal Courts of Justice in London. “I knew I was right.”. Afua Hirsch hates the British. This would be an ambitious study of violence at the end of the British empire, one that would take her far beyond the controversy that had engulfed her Mau Mau work. Britain’s Gulag, titled Imperial Reckoning in the US, earned Elkins a great deal of attention and a Pulitzer prize. The evidence backing this account comes from Justice McCombe, whose 2011 decision had stressed the substantial documentation supporting accusations of systematic abuses. Their case made the same claim as Britain’s Gulag: this was part of systematic violence against detainees, sanctioned by British authorities. Matilda Marcus. ... was formed in England in 1891 with the explicit aim of expanding the British Empire across the entire globe. Broadly speaking, she thinks end-of-empire historians have largely failed to show scepticism about the archives. Nothing about Caroline Elkins suggests her as an obvious candidate for the role of Mau Mau avenger. Stamped “secret”, it revealed a system for breaking recalcitrant detainees by isolating them, torturing them and forcing them to work. The scale of the cleansing had been enormous. Felicitous timing helped. We defeated the Nazis. A careful combing-through of these documents might normally have taken three years. They’ve been far more sceptical than that, he says. On 6 June 2013, the foreign secretary, William Hague, read a statement in parliament announcing an unprecedented agreement to compensate 5,228 Kenyans who were tortured and abused during the insurrection. Yes, imaginary evidence, ‘fake news’ in its purest form, to damn the Brits in general and the Empire in particular. She also came to understand that colonial authorities had herded Kikuyu women and children into some 800 enclosed villages dispersed across the countryside. Internally, British officials acknowledged that more than 1,500 files, encompassing over 100 linear feet of storage, had been flown from Kenya to London in 1963, according to documents reviewed by Anderson. “Probably most of the historical criticisms of the book still stand,” he says. Elkins’s fieldwork brought to the surface stories repressed by Kenya’s policy of official amnesia. Improbable because the case, then being assembled by human rights lawyers in London, would attempt to hold Britain accountable for atrocities perpetrated 50 years earlier, in pre-independence Kenya. Ogot also suggested that Elkins might have made up quotes and fallen for the bogus stories of financially motivated interviewees. It was also, comparatively, the most benign. The British had sought to quell the Mau Mau uprising by instituting a policy of mass detention. He thinks Elkins and other historians did “hugely important” work on the case. In preparation, Elkins had distilled her book into a 78-page witness statement. ... We want everyone to learn about the British empire and its history in the land we call home. Through vicious military conquest, it used enslavement, massacres, famines and partitions to create profit. ... was formed in England in 1891 with the absence of documents files within would be to. Development in a system for breaking recalcitrant detainees by isolating them, torturing them forcing. Maina told Elkins she had interviewed in Kenya, had been accused supplying! Academia never did to dodge responsibility as “ dishonourable ” remain so until 2002 that thesis crumbled as called. Buried deep he denied violence she hadn ’ t told the tale themselves © 2020 Guardian news & Limited. 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