Neo-Nazis believe in white supremacy like the tales of empire. That is because the education and political system perpetuate historical untruths. So, the Alternative Right, the intellectual arm of fascism, uses that for spin. So, Theresa May is right when she says ‘It is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views.’ But I think it is equally important for all those in positions of responsibility to come clean and expose myths of Empire or Confederacy. That means our education system, politicians and government have to become honest.
The British Empire is a source of national pride. Institutions promote it in a paternal narrative of ‘do-gooding’ and ‘civilising the world’. The reality is something entirely different.
A caste of minor grandees, younger sons and clergymen’s children built the British Empire. They were ‘free-traders and protectionists, men of good and bad missionary bent, philanthropists, racists, sadists, commercial visionaries, crooks, snobs and nutcases’. Colonialists ran the Empire on cruelty, prejudice and whims. So, the perception that Empire was a Democratic master plan is not accurate.
Consequently, many geopolitical crises, from Kashmir to Sudan have their roots in decisions taken by British colonialists.
Empire Myth Busting
Nonetheless, British people think of the empire as noble and leaving the colonies better off. That is by government design. Let’s take Winston Churchill, commemorated on the £5 note. The people see him as a great, if sometimes grumpy, war leader.
However, Churchill is responsible for diverting grain from India to Britain. And by autumn 1943, Britain had stockpiled 18.5m tonnes of food and raw materials. But the exporting created scarcity in India, resulting in the Bengal famine. Thereupon 3m people starved to death.
And by Britain indiscriminately carving India in two, it led to the death of over 1m people. As lawlessness, rape and murder were erupting the British, aware of the situation, just casually walked away.
Churchill was also a lead player in Botswana’s apartheid history but British education usually starts and stops with African slavery. So, Gordon Brown’s comments about empire do not help. He says that it was time to celebrate Empire because British values including ‘fair play’, ‘liberty’ and ‘civic duty’ ‘influenced the rest of the world’. Except for Britain’s oppression in the colonies puts paid to that.
When the marginalised Kikuyu people of Kenya rebelled against British rule, the British murdered them with impunity. They explained the uprising ‘As an atavistic terrorist movement among a “primitive” people unable to cope with the pressures of modernity.’ And the media perpetuated it.
The British instigated Search and Destroy missions and detained more than 1m Kenyans in concentration camps. The treatment of the detainees rivalled that of Nazi Germany. Officers raped girls sometimes with hot glass bottles; men were castrated and even clubbed to death.
The Brits also armed the militia and allowed them to rape, kill and take land and property at will.
There are so many examples that show the untruths about the British Empire. Even, Dunkirk whatever the glossy celluloid version suggests would have been a disaster, but America and Russia saved Britain.
The Noble South
America also has to confront its alternative version of history. The argument that the civil war was about the rights of states’ and not slavery is simply wrong. So too is the southern gentleman image of men like General Lee. And Gone With The Wind, type narratives mourning the passing of slavery need to be challenged.
General Lee was a slave owner. In his letter, he writes ‘The painful discipline [slaves] are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race’. And during his invasion of Pennsylvania, he enslaved free blacks.
The myth of empire dominates politics. The neo-Fascists and Brexiteers weave it into their narratives. But the colonies, have fought free. So, without Europe Britain will be a middle ranking country. With memories of Empire that never was.
If we are to confront the hate of the Alternative Right, governments’ have to address the lies that live. They are in our education system, children’s text books, museums and politics.
Let’s make historical accuracy a goal and a defence.
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