Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Another letter on UK`s "colonial amnesia"

The fact that Germany now acknowledges that its soldiers "exterminated thousands of men, women and children in concentration camps" in Namibia, decades before the Nazis rose to power, puts Britain to shame (Germany confronts its forgotten Namibian death camps, 15/01/17). In this country, we have governments not only suffering from what is often called "colonial amnesia", but lacking the courage to reveal the truth about Britain`s shameful imperial past. Britain`s empire far exceeded Germany`s in both size and longevity, and involved much more brutality, but its only attempt at public enlightenment, with a museum on the subject in Bristol, lasted a mere six years. It closed in 2008, with the chair of the museum`s board of trustees blaming its "unfashionable" subject.
      Yet while the Germans are prepared to admit its historical "mistakes", Britain does the opposite. Court cases such as those on behalf of 44,000 Kenyans claiming compensation for the brutal tactics employed by the British crushing the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s, get scant coverage in the press; had any other country used beatings, torture, rape, forced labour, castration and roasting alive as methods to suppress popular uprisings, it would be headline news.
      In fact, the thirty year rule has been ignored so often by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that there now exists an archive containing 1.2 million files, going back to the end of the Crimean War, hidden from the prying eyes of historians, and, of course, from barristers aiming to get justice for their clients.   
      Britain`s history is being manipulated, presumably to protect the reputations of long gone governments and long-dead politicians; believing that Britain`s past was always glorious, and that only our barbarous enemies committed atrocities, was bound eventually to lead to racism and nationalism. If our past was more widely understood, the national debate might well be different! If Germany can face up to its history, there can be no excuse for Britain not doing the same.

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