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  1. #1
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    Default How England Sees Itself

    did you all see this article? - Let's end the myths of Britain's imperial past

    i hope the Dissensus response will not be like the one to Black Athena: "everyone knows this already", ("everyone" must meaning blogger friends because there is only too much evidence in the real world to the contrary), like the first commenter on the article:

    "Where on earth is this cosy consensus that the British Empire was a good thing? Please, Richard, point to some examples of textbooks currently used in schools and recent television programmes that enforce an uncomplicated belief in the greatness of the Empire.

    I thought we were at least at post-post-revisionist history of this by now? Or did this article fall through from 1950 when the assumption of imperial superiority was fairly widespread?
    it seems to me that taking pride in colonialist history is something for sure a TAD more popular and mainstream in England compared to Germany (not sure about Belgium or France or Spain or Portugal), with ignorance levels of its own violent history rivaling the United States. and one can see this clearly judging only by the comments, a fair portion of which are along the lines of "Colonialism was both good AND bad", "It was natural/Inevitable", "Other empires were worse", or a number of things like:

    "What a load of whining leftie twaddle.

    The world was, of course, a very different place a century or two ago. Applying current perspectives to almost anything from that age may result in the feeble-minded reaching for the human rights act and saying how nasty it all was. No shit, sherlock! The alternatives may not have been any less palatable, free or peaceful.

    Proper history remains largely untaught in my children's schools - replaced by this kind of guilt-ridden thematic nonsense."
    how exactly would you characterize contemporary Britain's relationship to something like the 30 million Indian deaths due to starvation because of British self serving agricultural policies? or similar things in Ireland? or these kinds of control and repressive mechanisms in general, largely invented by the English?

    while the world still largely goes on endlessly about the Evil Germans, England seems to have gotten off much more easily. (comparisons are largely meaningless and futile, but just for perspective, of course the Nazis killed 6 million jews).

    have you all read this?



    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Late-Victori.../dp/1859847390
    Last edited by zhao; 31-10-2011 at 11:36 AM.

  2. #2
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    Hmm, it's difficult to say. I'm sure there are both crusty old conservatives and a younger generation of unpleasant nationalists (EDL etc.) who get misty-eyed and nostalgic about the Empire. It's pretty much de rigeur for left-wing or liberal white Brits to feel a good deal of guilt about the whole thing. Not sure how non-whites living here feel about it to be honest, and I'm sure there isn't a consensus non-white post-colonial attitude. I mean, India/Pakistan/Bangladesh/Sri Lanka were obviously under the imperial heel for a long time, but the people there weren't slaves (in the strict sense) and they weren't brought there from another continent, as the ancestors of black West Indians were, as well as black Americans of course.

    You're right that as far as 20th-century history goes, Britain makes much of having been on the side of Good against Nazi Germany, which did basically the Worst Thing Ever. But remember that the death toll of WWII went far beyond the Jews killed in the Holocaust (whose total toll was not six but eleven million). A total figure of 50 million is the usual estimate for the whole war. Then there's Japanese attrocities, which I know you're well aware of, and various Soviet abominations, which went on for a lot longer than those of the Nazis - by some estimates, Ukranian victims of the Holomodor outnumber Jewish victims of the Shoah, yet that unimaginable crime goes largely unnoticed in Western historiography.

    Also, don't confuse England with Britain. Many of the most important figures in the UK's imperial history were Scottish, Irish or Welsh.

    Interesting thread though, only just seen it.
    Last edited by Mr. Tea; 11-11-2011 at 08:44 PM.
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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Tea View Post
    You're right that as far as 20th-century history goes, Britain makes much of having been on the side of Good against Nazi Germany, who did basically the Worst Thing Ever.
    Mark Curtis estimates that approximately ten million deaths throughout the world since 1945 have been caused by the United Kingdom’s foreign policy.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Cu...British_author)

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    Oh aye, and how did he calculate that exactly?

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by craner View Post
    Oh aye, and how did he calculate that exactly?
    Nice reflex.

    Direct and indirect deaths through examination of declassified state documents and various other sources afaik.

    How would you calculate it?

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    Direct and indirect deaths through examination of declassified state documents and various other sources afaik.
    Eh?

  7. #7
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    Well I was talking more about Britain's self-image (as per thread title) rather than historic reality.
    Last edited by Mr. Tea; 11-11-2011 at 04:40 PM.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Tea View Post
    Well I was talking more about Britain's self-image (as per thread title) rather than historic reality.
    Yeah, of course, but that self-image seems to be predicated on ignorance or obscured by nationalism and PR. The problem is that Britain (like the US) has never been defeated and forced to face up to its past in the same way that other states have.


  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by droid View Post
    The problem is that Britain (like the US) has never been defeated and forced to face up to its past in the same way that other states have.
    Hmm, that's a good point. OTOH, Japan suffered a huge defeat in living memory and while there have been some public apologies from Japanese PMs (Emporers too? not sure), there's nothing like the 'remorse industry' that Germany's had for the last 60+ years.

    At least, that's my (admittedly scanty) understanding of it. Anyone here know much about post-war Japan?
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by zhao View Post
    i hope the Dissensus response will not be like the one to Black Athena: "everyone knows this already", ("everyone" must meaning blogger friends because there is only too much evidence in the real world to the contrary)
    how exactly would you characterize contemporary Britain's relationship to something like the 30 million Indian deaths due to starvation because of British self serving agricultural policies? or similar things in Ireland? or these kinds of control and repressive mechanisms in general, largely invented by the English?
    I like the way that you don't even get around to asking the question before telling people not to bother answering if they don't agree with your preconceived idea of what their answer should be. Good research methodology there.

    Seriously, though, I'm probably biased by the fact that most of my mates are fairly educated left-liberal types, but my impression is that a lot of people are in general aware that a lot of very bad things happened in the name of the British Empire (and of european colonialism generally), that they aren't hyper-aware of the specifics except in a few cases - so most people will know about the horrors of the slave trade but not necessarily about the Siege of Drogheda (this doesn't bother me that much in general, although Drogheda is perhaps a bad example) and that they think that all this stuff ended about the beginning of the twentieth century and we've been pretty groovy since then (which does bother me, a lot).

    Edit: Or to put it another way, I think a lot of the British view of our colonial past could be summed up as "that was quite bad, isn't it good that we don't do anything like that any more."
    Last edited by Slothrop; 13-11-2011 at 09:29 PM.

  11. #11
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    Yeah, that thread got a bit ridiculous - at one point zhao was more or less telling those of us from the UK what we had and hadn't been taught in GCSE History.

    The thing about a complete list of horrors committed by imperial Britain (or probably any European country with an overseas empire, or the countries founded by European settlers in the New World) is that it would be far too long for any normal person to memorise...



    I think possibly more people than you might think are aware of recent and current 'crypto-imperialist' goings-on, though - I mean, look at the scale of the protests against the Iraq war, for instance. OK, so obviously the protesters were outnumbered by non-protesters, but there were probably a lot of people who were against the war but couldn't physically attend the protests for whatever reason.

    But again, as with WWII, it's easy to make an emotionally appealing pro-war case because of the apparently "absolute evil" of the enemy.
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    craner was so taken with fergusons 'empire' he read it twice. i think its on the what are you reading thread, he says he's rereading empire which blew my mind.... reading it is one thing but re-reading?

  13. #13
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    niall ferguson should just be a daily mail columnist. doesnt deserve as much credit as he gets.

  14. #14

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    It's a good book! The idea that it's simply an apologia for Empire is...wrong. I would suggest you haven't actually read the book with any attention whatsoever. There's a lot of narrow-minded, blinkered, knee-jerk prejudice on this forum, I find.

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