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(Original column by George Monbiot at The Guardian...)

"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 … Nor did Britain countenance anything like the dreadful tortures committed in French Algeria." Could he really have been unaware of the history he is disavowing..?"


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 25th, 2012 06:33 am (UTC)
I was at college with Dan Hannan, and at that time he was ferociously right wing. More so than the conservative party would tolerate - I think he ended up in the UK Independence Party, which is a bunch of anti-Europe nuts.

Anyway, I have a point, which is that it's only people like him who actually care about The Legacy Of Empire, etc. So it's easy for our imperial history to be whitewashed, because it's people like him who are telling it. It's different in your country, where imperialist cruelty towards indigenous people is still a present, pressing issue. I'm in a mommy gossip group here on LJ. The other day, there was a huge anonymous comment war, which went on for ages, about whether Canadians or Americans were worse to their respective First Nations people. Do you think that's the conversation a Brit and a Frenchman would have?

For most British people, it's over, ancient history. Only for crazies like Dan is the empire important and a crucial part of British identity. I suppose we should pay reparations or something, but I doubt anything like that will ever happen.

Depressing comment, sorry.
Apr. 25th, 2012 06:06 pm (UTC)
Depressing topic, so I suspect that the comment keeps with the mood. :-)

I'm not a big believer in the myth of collective responsibility (fallacy of misplaced concreteness, and all that), so I tend to sigh when I hear conversations tend in the direction of either blaming or honouring abstractions, rather than people, for actions. That being said, representative institutions, such as governments, do bear a burden of responsibility for the actions taken by their members.

It does seem like some members of the British government are trying to do... something responsible. At least some seem to be going as far as uncovering the whole atrocity, or aiding in its uncovering.

Edited at 2012-04-25 06:15 pm (UTC)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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