What the book does not provide is any analytical account as to when (and why) the tipping point arrived at which the British were able to bring the superiority of their material power to bear. Ten years earlier, after a massacre of Aboriginal people at Bathurst, New South Wales, no death-toll was taken but 45 skulls were boiled down and shipped back to England as souvenirs. According to opinion polling, some 43 percent of Britons think that the British Empire was a “good thing” and 44 percent that British colonialism is “something to be proud of” (compared to 19 percent who think the empire was bad, and 21 percent who believe that colonialism is a matter for “regret”). Because the book moves so quickly from one locale to another, moreover, the reader lacks the context necessary to gain any kind of analytical or imaginative purchase on what is particular about each case. If Jeremy Paxman is right to suggest that people in Britain today are ignorant of Britain’s imperial past, it is notable that in autumn 2011, when his book was published, a rash of television series appeared, all focused on British soldiers recently serving in Afghanistan. In the autumn of 2011 the near-simultaneous publication of a number of books on the British Empire promised to add fresh momentum to the debate, if debate is the word, on the memories – or lack of them – that the British people currently carry for their empire. I'm incredibly sorry but I realized that I won't have time to do this debate in depth and in detail, I have some other obligations to do. I am also pleased that he thinks my book might presage ‘a new course, away from well-worn narratives’. It is difficult not to find this kind of moralising headmasterly. [190] The Great British Empire Debate: on 2018/1/28 11:20:47 (1559 reads ) Source NEW YORK, NEW YORK, January 26, 2018 (New York Books, by Kenan Malik): The sun may have long ago set on the British Empire, but it never seems to set on the debate about the merits of empire. What is it there that irks? In the spirit of impartiality, Paxman does not shy away from the violence of empire but he does retreat into a more basic register. (14) As the settler presence expanded, so resistance to it seemed to evidence the native’s racial shortcoming. I sickened at the sight but it was dire necessity. Baffling? The British Empire… Residues of empire are everywhere yet the British themselves remain indifferent to them. If, on the other hand, Paxman’s task was not to offer an original thesis of his own but, rather, to bridge the gap between academic and popular history, then the reader cannot help but be struck by the book’s comprehensive failure to do what it says on the tin. The recent debate organised by the Indo-British Heritage Trust determined that British Colonialism did indeed do more harm than good in India. If this suggests something of the elegiac ‘wandering in the wake of empire’ that Hsu-Ming Teo has described, the extensive list of researchers, producers, directors and film crew that appear in the acknowledgements suggests a somewhat commissioned piece of work. (11) While Anglo-Indian planters rallied to the commander’s defence, others saw the value in his condemnation. British Empire enhanced culture, language and industries to their colonies which is a notable benefit to them. In the introduction, Paxman surveys the legacies of empire. Academic historians may be frustrated by its analytical limitations but it may well be that the book’s real value is, in any case, to a non-specialist audience. Chapters are short – varying between three and a dozen or so pages; each recounts an episode in which, invariably, imperial expansion provoked a militant response. He is the author of numerous books about the British Empire. If the British of today are to construct a convivial patriotism open to all, they will at some stage have to incorporate the evil experience of empire into their portrait of their national past. To decolonise the nation now, we need to look unblinking at the brutality of its past. Although I was educated as an historian and practiced the trade for some years, I have spent much of my life as a foreign reporter and as a student of contemporary history. I'll try to be terse. (12) The need to emphasise the violence of empire, in other words, is because it was enacted under the guise of the same virtue and civility claimed by Britishness today. New arrivals from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent ‘changed the look of cities; writers and artists invigorated the ‘native arts’; sportsmen and women raised standards of performance; cooks 'did the national cuisine a big favour’ (p. 8). It is really a surprise that British people have been, can be, are of course, as evil as anybody else? We see this relation most forcefully in the settler colonies where the interests of European immigrants were so irreconcilably at odds with those of indigenous peoples. The patriotic approach is very much here, not so much in the refusal to admit the ‘dark side’ of the empire but in the tendency to talk of it in such concessionary terms. In May 1836, a British war-ship engaged three large prahus, or sailing boats, in the straits of Malacca. Just fill in your details. I wanted to write about those who resisted imperial conquest rather than those who sought to impose it. The British Empire was a force for good in the world. How better to make the point that empire was violent, after all, than by documenting its every violent moment? There is currently, of course, a very live discussion as what kind of history should be taught in British schools. When the British did so, the effect was, by contrast, to disassociate empire from the massacre – to decontaminate the brand. See David M. Anderson, ‘Mau Mau in the High Court and the ‘Lost’ British Empire Archives: Colonial Conspiracy or Bureaucratic Bungle?’, ‘“Shoot them to be sure”, Review of the. The ‘history wars’ are a feature of Australian, not British, historiography; it was always a luxury for the British that the violence and dispossession went on well away from domestic public life. While the act of killing may have sickened Mackenzie, the bodies of the dead prompted no such remorse. Richard Drayton, ‘Where does the world historian write from? Laurie Penny, ‘Michael Gove and the imperialists’. On a fairly basic level, the significance of the book is in its corrective value: as a compendium of imperial violence, it provides an ample resource for anyone wanting to take up the argument with Ferguson et al. From The New York Review of Books by Kenan Malik the author of The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics:. 40 Iroquois villages were destroyed; thousands starved (p. 69). It is very much against that – rehabilitative – image of the British Empire that Richard Gott’s book, Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt, is conceived. Capitalism's critics and defenders: early twentieth century economic explanations of Victorian British imperial expansion 4. (8) Paxman’s book is beautifully produced and soon to be embellished with an accompanying television series: one imagines him drafting his chapters after filming, on location. That the point of the book is the violence itself and not the thesis by which it is framed, allows the reader to take away his or her own lesson, impression or emotional response. The British Empire was the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates, and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. Shula Marks, ‘History, the nation and empire: sniping from the periphery’. That the Xhosa were judged not merely savage but treacherous as well is no minor point. (17) Gott’s Britain’s Empire is hardly without its problems but it is significant nonetheless for auguring a new course, away from well-worn narratives. Clearly, far too many people were crammed into a horrible confined space’ (p. 76). Notably, the American government was, throughout Gibbs’ trial, at pains to depict his platoon as a ‘rogue unit’, utterly unrepresentative of the U.S. army and its soldiers in Afghanistan. His purpose is not to explain but to chronicle imperial violence. The media confine their coverage to discussing statues and street names, and how evil the Empire was. The-British-Empire's Profile Comments. There is little meaningful debate on the very real questions that ought to be asked and taught. The excerpt from the book reproduced for the back cover is itself instructive. (10) Historians are reluctant to apply the ‘imperial’ label to Britain’s recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan yet parallels remain. Mau Mau was ‘vicious and ruthless with victims ... treated abominably’ (p. 270). From this perspective, it may well be that a chronicle, and not a theory, of imperial violence is exactly what we need. Murdering civilians is not, after all, what we do. This is not to underplay the importance of Gott’s book. The central premise of Paxman’s book is that whilst we know enough already about the ways in which Britain changed the world, we know very little about the ways in which the world, through the imperial encounter, changed Britain. The latest controversy began when the Third World Quarterly, an academic journal known for its radical stance, … On the Black Hole of Calcutta, he writes: ‘precise numbers were not the point. (Alas, my publisher would not permit the title, saying that it would confuse the American market and lead them to think it was ‘their’ empire that I was writing about!). Far less popular attention, perhaps predictably, was paid to the five elderly Kikuyu attempting to prosecute the British government for torture suffered during the Mau Mau emergency in 1950s Kenya. It is a familiar route by now, from Liverpool to Lucknow, Salisbury to Shanghai, but it merges well the grand stage with the minor detail, personalities with events. As in Afghanistan, violence had come to serve as a yard-stick by which morality, or its absence, was defined. Repudiating the massacre kept the honour of the empire intact. Debate Statistics: Debates: 0: Lost: 0: Tied: 0: Won: 0: Win Ratio: It might be useful to explain why I embarked on such a daunting enterprise in the first place, for, as Dr Jackson rightly remarks, ‘this book is partisan’. Is it now to be the decline? The humiliation of rebellion demanded a response that was nothing less than overwhelming. On the other side of the ledger, the Atlantic slave trade is ‘one of the most disgraceful episodes in British history’ (p. 25). This debate has been configured to only allow voters who meet the requirements set by the debaters. Objectivity, moral conscience and the past and present of imperialism’. From Gilroy’s perspective, it is citizens, not scholars alone, who need to reappraise the heritage of empire. Significantly, one of the major contentions of those who have critiqued the cultural production – and consumption – of empire has been that it has served as the cultural arm of a neo-imperialism at work in the present. Is it the stress on Indians’ potential to be thoughtful, as though there is a distance deliberately being forced here between the author and his imperial – racist – heritage? Since it was difficult to know for sure whether a particular prahu was indeed a pirate ship, however, the usual practice was not to board the boats but to force their inhabitants into the water where they could be effectively dispatched. (pp. More importantly, it diminishes the possibility for seeing violence and degradation as an integral part of the imperial equation. Indeed, it was precisely the idea that imperial violence was an unfortunate necessity that provided massacres such as these with their moral component. They asked for no quarter and received none; but the expression of despair on their faces, as, exhausted with diving and swimming, they turned them up towards us merely to receive the death shot or thrust, froze my blood. (1) Jeremy Paxman, with Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British, promised a robust, ‘clear-eyed’ look at the imperial past but fell for the most problematic premise of all – that there could be a single story that, delivered with enough incision and panache, could speak to the very imagined community (‘the British people’) that the narrative itself invokes. Or is it the combination of that stress with the assumption that thoughtful Indians necessarily care very much today about the balance sheet of empire. Latin America rather than the British Empire has been my principal area of expertise. For readers wishing an entertainment in imperialism they can do no better than Paxman. I had not realised that Reviews in History had established such an admirable tradition of helpful and positive reviewing (rather different from the practice in the public prints), and I am very happy to have been the beneficiary. The sea gypsies of the Malacca straits were a ‘rude and semi-civilised people’ (p. 373). Their diversion by the empty fourth plinth from the imperial statutes in Trafalgar Square is emblematic. Please check back in a few minutes for more options. The prahus were sailed by ‘sea-gypsies’, people who had inhabited these waters for centuries and who lived off the taxes that they collected from passing ships. The Conservatives envisage a national story as narrative spine: current syllabi lack cohesion, says Michael Gove; students don’t learn the linkages that give order to what they know; they lack the skills to relate one event to another. Debating the British Empire’s ‘legacy’ is pointless – this is still an imperial world March 20, 2017 5.19am EDT Ibtisam Ahmed , University of Nottingham ‘If only the British would bring a measure of clarity to what was done in their country’s name’, he concludes, ‘they might find it easier to play a more useful and effective role in the world’ (p. 286). One may well wonder, however, if at this present juncture an entertainment in imperialism is really what we need. Paul Gilroy has memorably argued that until Britons come to terms with the shame of their imperial past, they will continue to perpetuate an exclusionary, sterile patriotism. For the French Canadians, the chief debate among historians involves the conquest and the incorporation into the British Empire in 1763. (16) But the need was all the greater when opportunities for emphasising the violence enacted in the name of freedom were so severely constrained.  With an army wives choir taking the Christmas number one for a song composed in tribute to their absent husbands and the repatriation of Britain’s war dead evolved into an elaborate piece of patriotic theatre, honouring Britain’s forces in Afghanistan had become a national recreation. It ruled over a quarter of the world’s population and paved the way for today’s global economy. At an early stage my agent had asked me, ‘Haven’t you anything to say in favour of the Empire?’ That is not the point, I replied, ‘I’m trying to write about the downside of empire, about the people who said we don’t want to belong to your beastly empire, please go away.’, I thought this was an important project because so many people in Britain today no longer trace their own personal history back, as I do, to a victorious imperial tradition. ‘Any thoughtful Indian’ implies the kind of Indian who would enjoy talking to Paxman, on Newsnight perhaps, or maybe over lunch, weighing up the famines against the railways, the pros against the cons: all very suggestive of that unbiased, impartial spirit that implies the perceptiveness and magnanimity of those that enjoy it above all. was based on a poem by James Thomson, and set to music by Thomas Arne in 1740. There is much to be had in the story unadorned. Was British empire good or bad? Make no mistake, this book is partisan. Interested in reviewing for us? I am not proud of my ignorance, but possibly it has had some advantages – in daring to tread where others might have been more cautious. Our system has not yet updated this debate. The stage is set, the protagonists are introduced – but only with the minimum of detail needed for the conflict to begin. The British Empire: an enduring fascination 2. (9) The idea that this book will enable a clear-eyed look at the imperial past is somewhat diminished by the fact that this is a book so clearly to be enjoyed. The rights and wrongs, strengths and weaknesses of empire are a major topic in global history, and deservedly so. So I have come to this subject as an outsider, largely unfamiliar (and certainly not up to date) with the specialist discussions and debates that the historical profession have maintained over the past half century. In 1852, after 60 years of intermittent Xhosa–settler conflict, British commanders on the Cape were demanding nothing less than the extermination of ‘these most barbarous and treacherous savages’ (p. 406). This is to be an unflinching, unsentimental view, is the message, one that appeals to rational thought, with the proviso that the colonisers were as equally transformed by empire as the colonised suggesting an approach that can be nothing but even-handed. The killing of white women and children by aboriginal peoples was the ultimate violation: revenge was pursued with a passion that transcended even settlers’ passion for land (p. 432). the Emergency Debate will be held at 7.45pm on a motion to … Having covered the ‘what the empire did to us’ bit in the introduction, the rest of Paxman’s book comprises a thoroughly enjoyable imperial tour. (3) This book is intended for a non-academic audience, to be sure, but it nevertheless seems strange for an author to make such grand claims for originality when so much scholarship – the same scholarship on which that author depends – suggests otherwise. British colonists were at their most violent when acting in reprisal. Really? After the Iroquois sacked a British fort in Pennsylvania in 1778, the British embarked on a scorched-earth campaign in retribution. Empire, by contrast, is only too familiar. In a letter to his wife, Lieutenant Colin Mackenzie, a sailor aboard the British warship, recalled the scene: The whole crew, having in their desperation jumped into the sea, the work of slaughter began, with muskets, pikes, pistols and cutlasses. ... Three years later, Lloyd George’s controversial ‘socialistic’ People’s Budget ignited a ferocious debate over taxation and led to a constitutional crisis that resulted in the limiting of the delaying powers of the House of Lords. (15) One does not need to subscribe to any ‘neo-imperialist’ framing to recognise the highly partial account that these films provided. ... Oxford, historian of South Asia and the British empire.) Indeed, Gott’s title aptly conveys the contents of his book: resistance, repression, revolt – and repeat. The historical debate about the empire Just about the only thing that all historians agree on is that the story of living in the British empire is not a simple story. British Empire: Students should be taught colonialism ‘not all good’, say historians. One school says it was a disaster that retarded for a century and more the normal development of a middle class society, leaving Quebec locked into a traditionalism controlled by priests and landlords. After another pirate encounter further down the coast Mackenzie had himself rowed out to the vanquished prahu where he obtained the captain’s head – ‘a splendid young fellow, symmetry itself’ – which he had packaged up and sent to a friend. Violence was perennial; the rogue was the norm. On one level, this appears a welcome shift from the triumphalism of so much imperial historiography, from Seeley’s The Expansion of England (1883) to Ferguson’s How Britain Made the Modern World (2003). In so doing, he provides, for the first time, a sense of the sheer extent of the injury suffered by colonised people as the British Empire expanded from a largely coastal phenomenon in the mid 18th century to the global behemoth that it had become midway through the next. Resistance provoked repression; that stoked further resistance and further repression in turn. This debate combines two tiers. The decline and fall of the British empire. In analytical terms, Gott does not go further than this central – essential – claim. Justifying British imperialism: the changing rationale of the empire builders 3. In the autumn of 2011 the near-simultaneous publication of a number of books on the British Empire promised to add fresh momentum to the debate, if debate is the word, on the memories – or lack of them – that the British people currently carry for their empire. We do already, of course, have no shortage of intelligent yet accessible popular histories of the British Empire, from Jan Morris’s Pax Brittanica trilogy (1968–78) to Piers Brendon’s Decline and Fall of the British Empire (2007). Anyone wishing to take up arms in this debate must be aware of the 2 questions regarding this big question. The first is an historical question. The-British-Empire has not yet been in a debate. When Indians condemned Amritsar, they condemned British imperialism by extension. The effect is relentless, perhaps necessarily so. It was dirty work – ‘unpleasant for all concerned’ – but unquestionably correct when British interests were at stake. Members of the kill team in Afghanistan, one cannot fail to note, referred to Afghanis as ‘savages’. Call comes after research reveals more than four in ten Britons view the British Empire as a good thing For too long we have found the British Empire unpalatable and the tendency has been not to discuss it as it offends our sensibilities. The Germans seem to have managed it; the British are still a long way from even recognising that there is a problem. Yet one man’s sea gypsy is another man’s pirate and to the British, for whom unfettered control of the seas was the vital prerequisite for their rapidly expanding empire, the people of the prahus were legitimate game. He is the author of Britain, Egypt and the Middle East (1981) and Britain and Decolonisation: the Retreat from Empire in the post-war World (1988), and is currently preparing a study of British imperial decline since 1900. ‘If we accept,’ it begins, ‘ – as any thoughtful Indian does – that the British Empire had a shaping influence on India, then where is the common sense in claiming that the same history has not had at least as important a role in Britain?’. Organised by the empty fourth plinth from the imperial equation Pennsylvania in 1778, the protagonists are –. 66 chapters and almost 500 pages, Gott does not need to subscribe to any framing... Was violent, after all, what is to be the expansion of England the author of numerous about. Builders 3 merely the acquiescence of ‘native’ peoples that was wanted but comprehensive... For new research the root of Britain’s uncertain place in the invention – or –! 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