APOLOGY, EMPIRE AND THE QUEEN

Diamond Jubilee - Carriage Procession And Balcony Appearance

A Service of Thanksgiving was held in Britain’s Westminster Abbey on Tuesday, June 4th, in commemoration of the Queen’s coronation, held sixty years earlier on June 2nd, 1953.  That wasn’t when she became queen – she ascended to the throne on the death of her father, King George VI, sixteen months earlier, on February 6th, 1952.

Interestingly, she was in Kenya Colony at the time she received the news of her father’s death.  From that very moment she was Queen over what was still the biggest empire in the world.

Kenya played a role again during the week of the sixtieth anniversary.  The same year that Queen Elizabeth II became the British monarch, the Mau Mau uprising began in the colony.  It was largely suppressed by British and Kenyan troops by 1956 but didn’t fully end until 1960.

The Mau Mau was a Kikuyu rebellion.  In other words, one tribe rebelled.  Even then, not all Kikuyu supported the uprising, as anti-Mau Mau elements amongst the Kikuyu helped the British suppress the revolt, a revolt that failed to gain popular support.

Almost sixty years later, when few people alive remember the events of the 1950’s, the British government has decided to apologize for British actions at the time and is to give 20 million pounds compensation to former Mau Mau fighters.  It’s highly likely that most of this money will be diverted by Kenyan government officials, as is usually the case in Kenya.

So, what next?  Should the British apologize for killing members of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War?

There’s an American connection in the apology made last week – President Obama’s father was a Kenyan and also a member of the Mau Mau.  Apparently, pressure was applied from the other side of the Atlantic.

It’s amazing how our leaders are so ignorant of history, even fairly recent history.  In case one of them may stumble across this blog, let me make it clear – this was not a popular uprising.  There was no great suppression of freedom and there have been far worse abuses of human rights since independence in 1963.  It should be noted that the new President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, has been charged with human rights abuses by the International Court at The Hague.  This is Africa we’re talking about, not the English Home Counties!

This comes down to white guilt, the never-ending left-wing apologia for empire that goes back to the sixties.  Whereas Britons from previous generations lauded the accomplishments of the British Empire, the opposite has been the case since the advent of political correctness in the 1960’s.

I was thinking about this on Thursday evening, just two days after the Thanksgiving service was held.  My wife and I were watching a British movie on television called “Zarak,” made in 1957.  It was an awful movie, badly made, with a predictable plot.  But it was interesting from an historical perspective.  The movie was about a revolt against British colonial rule in India in the late 1800’s.  The movie was made ten years after India’s independence but it was still pro-British.  The rebels were the bad guys!

So, when did perceptions of Empire change?

At the Queen’s coronation, she was crowned as Queen of each of her dominions, the independent nations within the Empire – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Ceylon and Pakistan.  She was also given the title “Head of the Commonwealth” which included all the above nations and the Republic of India (India had become a republic three years earlier).  The rest of the empire was still ruled from London.  Her title to cover all those 50+ territories was “her other realms and territories,” almost all of which are now fully independent.

It was in the 1960’s that attitudes to Empire changed, though not amongst the ordinary people.  It became fashionable amongst academics and other intellectuals to bash the Empire, to make fun of it, to equate it with the crueler empires in history, even to boldly state the Empire was a bad thing.  After the death of Sir Winston Churchill, a great Empire loyalist, in 1965, there was no restraint.  Churchill and the Empire both played major roles in winning the Second World War, without which there would be no freedom for these people to even debate these issues.

In a brief televised debate after the decision to apologize to the Mau Mau, Sir Max Hastings, a prominent British military historian, pointed out the pitfalls of trying to determine anything after sixty years.  His Empire-bashing opponent on the program (whose name was unfamiliar) kept on rudely interrupting everything he said but, when asked what other “atrocities” Britain could be charged with, found it difficult to come up with anything specific, mumbling something about Aden and Diego Garcia.

This is not to say that Britain did not make mistakes but, compared to other nations, her record was a very good one.

Remembering the Mau Mau is also a reminder that Britain was once a great military power.  In fact, at the time of the Queen’s ascension, it was more than ten times the military power it is today.  Successive British governments have chosen to cut defense expenditure while increasing spending on public health care.  The present Conservative led coalition cut military expenditure by 8% in its recent austerity plan, while leaving healthcare and foreign aid alone.  This is a continuation of a policy that emphasizes “soft power” over military power.

Apologizing to Kenya and sending 20 million pounds ($30 million) their way is an example of this.  No doubt others will now start demanding apologies for perceived mistakes of the past.

It’s difficult to see how later generations can be held responsible for the supposed mistakes of their ancestors.  Perhaps the British can demand reparations from Rome? After all, they ruled England for almost 400 years, longer than Britain ruled any of her colonies!  But you can’t expect politicians to know that!

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2 thoughts on “APOLOGY, EMPIRE AND THE QUEEN”

  1. Morals don’t die ..people just choose to be more comfortable with less values..to suit their situation.the assumption that a foreigner can come into your home,convince you that you are inferior,impose his way of life on you and cage you if you resist was wrong in 1950. It’s still wrong today.this is not about an apology or guilt or money.its about owning up to the fact that you are in someone else’s personal space…..and no matter what you perceive it to be,for that person it is very precious.you can simply step back a bit, start a fight or decide to share the space..you know like on the tube.

  2. It’s worth some thought about how the British ran India by and large better than the locals had been doing. Consider some of the achievements of the Raj. They suppressed Suttee, or the practice of Hindu widows being forced to kill themselves on their dead husband’s funeral pyres. In this case, the forcible imposition of some basic humanitarian, Christian (if alien) morality was certainly to the benefit of India’s Hindu women. (After all, feminism seeks to impose a system of moral absolutes that are true in all places at all times). The Raj also abolished slavery and fought infanticide. The British also developed the country economically, such as by building a network of railroads of higher quality than existed in America’s frontier western regions in the 19th century. Sure, they arguably could have spent more on on irrigation projects and less on railroads, but they still extended the area irrigated more than their Muslim and Hindu predecessors in prior centuries. The Raj also greatly reduced the number of bandits in the countryside, including the notorious Thugee cult (appears as the backdrop for the second Indiana Jones movie). Furthermore, Britain left India a democratic if (alas!) socialist inheritance politically, and the country had a competent and educated civil service in place. The experiences of (say) the Congolese under Belgium or the LIbyans under the Italians were far, far worse. Not all Imperialisms are morally equal.

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