"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Atonement For Historical Events–Revisionist Nonsense

Great Britain has finally manned up and apologized to Kenya for having tortured some Mau Mau rebels during the fight for independence in the 50s.  Britain doesn’t torture, the line of received wisdom goes.  It is not cricket, fair play and all that; and if we did in the past, then sorry old chap.  Hard cheese.  Won’t happen again.

Very sporting of the British since the Mau Mau were no sweethearts:

The Mau Mau committed a range of brutal crimes, particularly when they were at their strongest between late 1952 and august 1953.  These atrocities were committed against both British and Kenyans, including the Kikuyu tribe that formed the majority of the Mau Mau.  

The most notorious of the atrocities committed by the Mau Mau is the Lari Massacre, on the night of 25–26 March 1953, in which they herded Kikuyu men, women and children into huts and set fire to them, hacking down with ‘pangas’ (machetes) anyone who attempted escape, before throwing them back in to the burning huts.  the official death toll was placed at around 75.  African security forces retaliated with their own violence, which neither the military nor the regional government administration made any attempt to regulate (www.maumauhistory.com)

I am not sure, however, why the British stopped at apologies to the Mau Mau. The expansion and maintenance of Empire surely required some rather unpleasant tactics.  Take the Second Boer War, for example.  The British rounded up Afrikaners into concentration camps where the conditions were barbaric and “the most brutal, inhuman, and appalling:

Internees were transported in open cattle trucks in freezing rain during winter, without being given adequate food and water. Many children died under these conditions even before getting to the camps. Most of these camps were badly organized and suffered from poor hygiene and little food. Most of the children in these camps died, many mothers losing all their children - one after the other. Many women lost up to 10 children. A significant portion of the adults also died. Some Afrikaners consider this to be a war crime which ended with the death of at least 34,000 people. A later Prime minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, declared in the British Parliament on June 14, 1901: "When is a war not a war? When it is waged in South Africa by methods of barbarism."

The British certainly have a bit of explaining to do concerning their questionable actions during the Sepoy Rebellion 1857:

One should not forget the Amritsar massacre:

On 13 April 1919 in Amritsar, soldiers under British command fired 1,650 rounds of ammunition into an unarmed crowd, without warning. It was the worst atrocity committed in British India, a defining moment that surrendered the moral high ground to the nationalists (www.historyextra.com)

Amritsar Massacre

The Portuguese were no sweethearts during their colonial regime, and both Angolan and Mozambican historical records report atrocities, murders, and torture during the war for independence.  The French were no saints:

In one small town, the Voulet-Chanoine expedition, named for the two French officers who led it, had left behind a thousand corpses, among them the bodies of little girls strung from tree branches. In another, Voulet's and Chanoine's men had beheaded one hundred villagers and dragged the bodies to a shallow grave, leaving the ground streaked with blood. Well water, as Klobb’s deputy would record, had been poisoned by the corpses; peering down, he saw “vague forms, tangled over each other.” (The New Republic, Ben Wallace-Wells 3.8.10)

There is no point in going on, really. History is unkind to the present, and it does take much digging in any country’s past to dig up events that in the light of modern sensibilities, makes one shudder.  If there is any apologizing to do, I think it is about time that Mongolia say it is sorry for the mass murders of Genghis Khan, who killed an estimated 40 million people from Europe to the Far East.  I am not sure whether China has ever officially apologized to the families of the nearly 80 million Chinese killed thanks to Mao Tse Tung (1958-61, 1966-69) or those of the 12 million Tibetans (1949-50). 

The point is that revisionist history is a simple denial of fact and circumstances.  It is only recently that some of the world has come around to ‘civilized’ behavior.  The idea of Mongol hordes sweeping down out of the Steppes, killing, eviscerating, beheading, and impaling heads on spikes to mark their passing is unconscionable now; but might and power were exercised differently then. Henry VIII played fast and loose with the guillotine, and it took British common law and jurisprudence quite a while to take hold. 

The French citizenry took violent and bloody revenge on Louis and his aristocrats in 1789 and during The Reign of Terror.  The Age of the Enlightenment was suspended for a brief moment as the peasants got theirs.  They had their reasons. Marie Antoinette and her coterie were arrogant and dismissive, serfs and vassals worked their fingers to the bone for royal rulers, and the killing was ‘normal’ for an oppressed people. Yes, Robespierre and his henchmen went a bit over the top; but it was still only the 18th Century.

History is unlikely to be kind to the United States when it appraises our recent wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.  Many critics have suggested that Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush are war criminals, not because of any particular deliberate massacre, but because of the immoral wars they initiated.

I can imagine that Queen Elizabeth had to practice very hard to keep her bile down when she apologized to the Kenyans.  After all, she is only the last in a line of great English monarchs who ruled over one of the most extensive, powerful, and well-managed empires since the Romans.  If she has any sense of history at all, she knows that for all the nasty little bits, the British brought the best of Western civilization.  The British left much behind in India to be proud of – a physical infrastructure, a system of civil law, administration and management, and an international language.  Her Majesty is certainly aware of Amritsar and 1857 but she is also aware of how, thanks in large part to British rule, India is the dynamic democracy it is today.  If it hadn’t been for the British, she must muse as she sits patiently while her coiffeur touches up her hairdo before her meeting with the Mau Mau, Kenyans and other and English Africans would still be back in the jungle.

None of this should be taken as an apologia for colonialism which was simply part of early European expansionism in an age of Big Power conflict.  Such desire for more land, influence, resources, and hegemony is no different from our own Manifest Destiny, westward expansion, and colonization (and removal) of native Americans.  It is what one did back then.  Remember Wounded Knee?

Miniconjou Chief Big Foot lies dead in the snow after the massacre.

The African American demand for compensation for slavery is perennial; but the US has wisely avoided the issue.  Slavery was simply a fact of 18th and 19th century world history – an unfortunate one, given today’s sensibilities; but an accepted and acceptable one to most since Greek and Roman days. A revisionist historian a century down the road might look at American capitalism as an even more insidious institution of enslavement than African slavery.  We today accept great disparities in wealth and espouse and promote a system which perpetuates income and social inequality all in the name of progress and a rising tide which lifts all boats.  It might not seem so to a future age.

The Queen was put up to this Mau Mau thing, alas.  She does what her PM says. “Well, if I must”, she scratchily responds; and dutifully goes and shakes the hands of her former subjects.  I am sure the Queen wants only the best for Kenya.  It surely has suffered and gone downhill since her relatives were there; and it pains her to see such corruption, poverty, civil disobedience, and venality; but Bob’s your uncle, that’s the way it is, better luck next time, stiff upper lift, and get me back to the Palace.

1 comment:

  1. Hello! lovely your post......Fantastic your blog pictures.I want to just say that We accept that REVISIONISTS HAVE RIGHTS TOO! By what method can Revisionism and Revisionists be blocked from, or rejected for, scrutinizing any verifiable event? What makes the affirmed Holocaust an exemption to history? What's more what gives the United Nations the privilege to say as much? Thanks all!!!
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    streamafrica.com

    ReplyDelete