The British Empire not only organised the Zionist colonisation of Palestine, and invaded and devastated Iraq more than once. These are details in a much larger bloody story. The full horror of this bloody empire has, though, been kept a well-guarded secret from generations of British schoolchildren. How many have any inkling of the full horror of Britain's role in, say, Kenya within living memory - concentration camps, summary executions, and over 1,000 hangings of Kenyans to preserve rule there by Britain and the colonial-settler elite of White farmers? It would be seared into the national psyche if Africans had conquered Britain in the last century and taken over most of the best land exclusively for black people to own and farm, using torture, death squads, high-tech weaponry and mass rape to control a sullen population seething with revolt. Read about it if you can bear to reflect on what Britain did in its conquered territories.
It is largely a story of massive, naked violence against those who resisted, a story accessible to anyone who makes a modest effort.
A British political agent in Delhi noted in 1815 after a Gurkha rebellion that “Our power in India rests upon our military superiority. It has no foundations in the affections of our subjects.” Or as Hillaire Belloc summed up the relationship between the rulers and the victims of Empire:
Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not.
In other words, 'resist and you will be gunned down'. Or gassed. For those familiar with the whole grim history of British colonialism, Israel's brutal violation and dispossession of the Palestinian people is far from being unique.
One shocking result of UK schools largely suppressing the teaching of Empire history is that YouGov recently found that 44% of British people were proud of Britain's history of colonialism, with only 21% regretting it happened and 23% holding neither view. The same poll also found 43% believed the British Empire was a good thing, 19% said it was bad and 25% said it was "neither". Many Scots still deny the eager participation of Scots elites in the crimes of the British empire, taking refuge in the widespread myth of Scotland as a victim of the British Empire rather than an aggressive junior partner.
At its height in 1922, the British empire governed a fifth of the world's population and a quarter of the world's total land area. There was merciless looting and pillage, a centuries-long lucrative trade in black skins, efficent extraction of resources that impoverished parts of the globe, massacres, famines and the modern invention of concentration camps. Nothing to be proud of, except those who resisted the plunder of their homelands and those who actively opposed it in Britain. We stand on the shoulders of heroes and to be on the right side of history means to support rebellion, resistance by colonial slaves who refuse to accept enslavement.
21 January 2016
Web of Deceit: Britain's Real Role in the World (2003), Mark Curtis
The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire (2006), John Newsinger