Saturday, 9 April 2011

Apologising For The British Empire

There are not many countries in the World who have not, at some point in their history, been a bit evil and had a slash and a hack at the population of some other country. Usually in order to take land or take the other countries resources. When a particular country takes over enough countries, it has itself an empire and as far back as the Assyrians in 2000 BC. there have been empire builders.
Britain at its peak, controlled the largest empire that the world had ever known, stretching all over the globe from North America to Australia and from Canada to the southern tip of Africa. These huge landmasses, their people and their natural resources were controlled and dominated by Britain.
Now some people will argue, and they do, that the British Empire was a force for good, dragging otherwise backward nations into the modern era and giving the world a unifying language and that is not really in dispute.
The truth behind the highly polished image is the ugly reality that the British Empire invaded, oppressed and oversaw countless atrocities and to agree with our Prime Minister, we are to blame for many of the current conflicts of the Worlds trouble spots.
Critics argue that there is nothing to be guilty about ignoring the recent exposure of a 50-year British government cover-up of official documents detailing the brutalisation, starvation, torture and castration of thousands of Kenyans in the 1950's and ignoring the coincidence that many of the world's conflicts are in former British colonies from Kashmir, Palestine, Iraq, Kurdistan, Yemen and Somalia to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Cyprus so you have to be wearing the most thickest of blinkers to dispute what Cameron said in Islamabad.
Of course, Britain's is only one of the colonial empires whose destructive inheritance can be felt across the world but the failure in modern Britain to recognise the empire for the murderous exploitation that it was is to excuse our disgraceful past behaviour while condemning others that did, or attempted to do, the same.
Histories most reviled imperialists were the Nazis and while we were probably not as bad as the Nazis, the British empire has done far greater and lasting damage than the Nazis by the very virtue of our being around for so much longer.
One does not need much of an imagination to realise the damage the British empire wreaked, glancing at the British Empire map and looking at where the problems are today should be obvious, but it amazes and saddens me that some people on my island are still of the opinion that Britain did these countries a big favour by ruling over them.
Should we apologise for our imperial legacy? Yes but saying sorry just doesn't seem enough somehow.


Anonymous said...


i don't get your point.

if not the uk ruling the world from 1700 to 1900 then who better?

you said yourself that history shows there is always an empire.

were the spanish better in south american. don't think so. why would they be better than the uk?

were the russians better to eurasians behind the iron curtain. don't think so. why would they be better than the UK?

the chinese abuse their own people. what do you think they would do to others?

also, you need to consider context. it takes a long time for nations and cultures to change. technology is accelerating change, but while the magna carta was happening in europe, south america and africa were still in the stone age.

if anybody should be more advanced than they are today, it is the chinese and egyptians whose civilzations are thousands of years old. what took the chinese so long to catch up?


David G said...

Empires are purely selfish entities that exist only to exploit and dominate other nations.

Whether we look at the ancient Roman Empire or the ex-British Empire or the would-be American Empire, the same type of anachronistic thinking applies.

Only the brain-dead think that empires still have a place in a modern world or that they bring benefits.

We don't need greedy empires and we don't need warmongering nations. What is required is a world that has no borders and no armies, a world that has only world citizens, all of whom share equally in the resources of the planet.

Cheezy said...

I think the best apology in recent memory was Kevin Rudd’s over Australia’s disgraceful treatment of their indigenous population for so long. When the calls for an apology are so insistent, for so long, and concerning the oppression of a people which continues to impact negatively upon them (hundreds of years after first contact), then you just look churlish and stubborn in refusing to give one. Which is what John Howard looked for so long.

Jurgen the German gives a great apology too though.

However, speaking from my experience of living in New Zealand, there are definite dangers when this ‘white man’s guilt’ manifests itself too obviously and protractedly... and when an ‘apology industry’ conditions a certain group into thinking that they’re victims...

The thing about being told that you’re a victim, psychologically, is that sooner or later you’re probably going to act like one i.e. using your ‘victimhood’ as an excuse for all sorts of undesirable behaviour, or just your failure to make something of yourself. Which is what often happens, unfortunately.

In NZ today, there is absolutely nothing stopping any talented Maori being successful in whatever field they happen to excel in... (and to prove this, a great many have done so)... But they haven’t done it by just hanging around and asking an apology (and associated handouts). Those who do this are doomed to failure in life, I believe.

Everyone’s starting point is today. It’s this moment. And I know that whoever I was, and wherever I was, I wouldn’t make seeking an apology from anyone (let alone people are long-since dead) in order to get on with my life. It’s worse than futile, it’s actually counter-productive.

So while I don’t criticise David Cameron for giving one, I think it should be followed by a quick: "Now let’s move on".

Lucy said...

q, my point is that some people try to excuse our behaviour, even making the point that we did these other nations a favour by taking them over. I can't see it myself and struggle to understand their point of view.

David, the Americans seem to be more subtle than the other empires, rather than take by force (although they do that also but not so much as the Brits did), they bribe or scare existing leaders or try to install friendly leaders for their own ends.

Cheezy, good point about acting the victims but i am happy to see Cameron apologising for our past behaviour, if only to acknowledge it rather than try to spin it into something else to make us look good because that really ticks me off.