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Guantánamo. There weren’t enough surviving witnesses. By 2008, Elkins’s job was on the line. It was an armed rebellion launched by the Kikuyu, who had lost land during colonisation. The truth about Gallipoli has, unlike its victims, been buried deep. That “spoke directly to claims that, if you took out the oral evidence” in Britain’s Gulag, “the whole thing fell apart”, Elkins says. With roots in the 16th century, British Israelism was inspired by several 19th century English writings such as John Wilson's 1840 Our Israelitish Origin. Help us sue the British government for torture. But among Kenyanists, Berman wrote, the reaction had generally been no more than: “It was as bad as or worse than I had imagined from more fragmentary accounts.”, He called Elkins “astonishingly disingenuous” for saying her project began as an attempt to show the success of Britain’s liberal reforms. She discovered that the British had torched documents before their 1963 withdrawal from Kenya. For a variety of reasons, they weren’t. Amongst those offering a receptive ear to the anti-British self-flagellation message is BBC Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark. That was white men from Oxbridge, not a young American girl from Harvard,” she says. It was also an unconventional first book for a junior scholar. Then a British court, which had every reason to sympathise with those critics, gave her the fair hearing academia never did. Many documents relating to the detention camps were either absent or still classified as confidential 50 years after the war. These days in schools and universities young people are subjected to a non-stop diet of anti-British brainwashing about Empire. This system – “Britain’s gulag”, as Elkins called it – had affected far more people than previously understood. But the presiding judge, Richard McCombe, dismissed the government’s bid to dodge responsibility as “dishonourable”. The history of the British Empire is characterised by similar waves of resistance and repression. In retrospect, he says, what is remarkable is not that the documents were kept secret for so many years. The files within would be a reminder to historians of just how far a government would go to sanitise its past. Elkins knew her findings would be explosive. Are you frickin’ kidding me? Foreign Office lawyers conceded that the elderly Kenyan claimants had suffered torture during the Mau Mau rebellion. And she thinks all of this amounts to a watershed moment in which historians must rethink their field. “I’ve come to believe that during the Mau Mau war British forces wielded their authority with a savagery that betrayed a perverse colonial logic,” Elkins wrote in Britain’s Gulag. Empire was a great thing! Available for everyone, funded by readers. She drew on them in two more witness statements. In October 2012, Justice McCombe rejected those arguments, too. Blatant dishonesty, writes David M Anderson, a University of Warwick historian and author of Histories of the Hanged, a highly regarded book about the Mau Mau war. Not many punters, I suspect, would be opting for the Mongols, the Spanish, the Songhai, the Portuguese, the Mughals, the Belgians, the French, the Germans or the Zulus. Britain’s Gulag opens by describing a “murderous campaign to eliminate Kikuyu people” and ends with the suggestion that “between 130,000 and 300,000 Kikuyu are unaccounted for”, an estimate derived from Elkins’s analysis of census figures. Another important factor was the questionable desire of the British to create an Arab national homeland in the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, and to gratify the imperial pretensions of their ally the Hashemite clan, who shrewdly convinced the British that their self-serving and marginal actions during the war had been important in fighting the Turks. Bringing modern "progressive" "woke" values on history never ends well and this really isn't a balanced look at the British Empire though the lens of the world as it was during it's height but with a modern agenda. On 6 April 2011, the debate over Caroline Elkins’s work shifted to the Royal Courts of Justice in London. It is an undeniable fact that millions from the British Empire and its dominions fought for what was perceived as the ‘mother country’ in the two world wars. But many other scholars slammed the book. The lawyers were done fighting, but the academics were not. Young, articulate and photogenic, she was fired up with outrage over her findings. But some important records escaped the purges. “I was supposed to be working on this next book,” she says. Britain’s Gulag, titled Imperial Reckoning in the US, earned Elkins a great deal of attention and a Pulitzer prize. Massacred – the truth about the British Empire, Like The Conservative Woman? Internally, British officials acknowledged that more than 1,500 files, encompassing over 100 linear feet of storage, had been flown from Kenya to London in 1963, according to documents reviewed by Anderson. In 1967, they wrote to Britain’s Foreign Office asking for the return of the “stolen papers”. Elkins’s fieldwork brought to the surface stories repressed by Kenya’s policy of official amnesia. The story exposed to the public an archival mystery that had long intrigued historians. They describe, in extensive detail, how the government went about retaining and destroying colonial records in the waning days of empire. Tony Badger, a University of Cambridge professor emeritus who monitored the Hanslope files’ release, writes that there was “no systematic process dictated from London”. Elkins paraded with them outside the court. Felicitous timing helped. A careful combing-through of these documents might normally have taken three years. The evidence was insufficient. This drain of resources left India poorer. Her book cut against an abiding belief that the British had managed and retreated from their empire with more dignity and humanity than other former colonial powers, such as the French or the Belgians. “If only all the rest of us could be ostracised and have to make do with a Pulitzer and a full professorship at Harvard.”. We defeated the Nazis. Maybe it was luck. There was a time when the sun never set on the British Empire. Compared with alternative imperial regimes, however, it had much to commend it. Her prose seethed with outrage. Broadly speaking, she thinks end-of-empire historians have largely failed to show scepticism about the archives. SUBSCRIBE TO ALWAYS FIND US: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIAP_iRoHdV3nV3n1JqZGFQ?sub_confirmation=1 Some praised Elkins for breaking the “code of silence” that had squelched discussion of British imperial violence. The files could easily have been trashed on at least three occasions, he says, probably without publicity. It included Indian representatives and unanimously condemned the rogue general, Reginald Dyer, who had ordered the massacre. He thinks Elkins and other historians did “hugely important” work on the case. The Ten Commandments Revisited: 4. When Elkins presented her dissertation proposal in 1997, its premise was “the success of Britain’s civilising mission in the detention camps of Kenya”. But for years clues had existed that Britain had also expatriated colonial records that were considered too sensitive to be left in the hands of successor governments. Agenda never leads to truth or clarity. During the Mau Mau war, journalists, missionaries and colonial whistleblowers had exposed abuses. Incidents of violence against prisoners were described as isolated events. The files indicate that roughly 3.5 tons of Kenyan documents were bound for the incinerator. Just as the hearings were set to begin, a story broke in the British press that would affect the case, the debate about Britain’s Gulag, and the broader community of imperial historians. Don’t go out and be on the front page of the paper.”, She said yes. The turning point came in 2010, when Anderson, now serving as an expert witness in the Mau Mau case, submitted a statement to the court that referred directly to the 1,500 files spirited out of Kenya. The claimants marching beside her were just like the people she had interviewed in Kenya. This helped contain the hatred between Kikuyu who joined the Mau Mau revolt and those who fought alongside the British. A new podcast from ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Company) begins with a very simple premise: throughout the history of the British empire, British soldiers stole an awful lot of artefacts, objects and works of art from around the world, many of which still sit in British museums today. “What’s a nice young lady like you working on a topic like this for?” he asked Elkins, as she recalled the conversation years later. Few imperial powers have been so willing to admit to their own sins. Elkins’s research had made the suit possible. “There is ample evidence even in the few papers that I have seen suggesting that there may have been systematic torture of detainees,” he wrote in July 2011. This is a free service and we will never share your details. They’ve been far more sceptical than that, he says. Later that year, Elkins travelled to the rural highlands of Central Kenya to begin interviewing former detainees. The British, declaring a state of emergency in October 1952, proceeded to attack the movement along two tracks. You still hear this background when she speaks. In this context, dreams offered a glimpse of the tensions that were integral to an undemocratic and hierarchical society, but which remained unsayable – at least to the British. We’re a little tougher. On 6 June 2013, the foreign secretary, William Hague, read a statement in parliament announcing an unprecedented agreement to compensate 5,228 Kenyans who were tortured and abused during the insurrection. It was a tale of systematic violence and high-level cover-ups. She thinks that the fact that those records were manipulated puts a cloud over many studies that have been based on their contents. The facility occupies a 1970s-era concrete building beside a pond in Kew, in south-west London. She found a few hundred. No review was more devastating than the one that Bethwell A Ogot, a senior Kenyan historian, published in the Journal of African History. Maybe it was the squirrel-like tendency of archivists. Threatened and shunned by colleagues and critics, Caroline Elkins persevered and brought to life the atrocities that were committed and hidden from the world for decades.”, But some scholars find aspects of Elkins’s vindication story unconvincing. In order to denigrate all things British, bogus evidence is invented for pupils to use in forming an opinion of the British Empire. IMDb, the world's most popular and authoritative source for movie, TV and celebrity content. Anderson’s review of the evidence shows how the purging process evolved from colony to colony and allowed substantial latitude to local officials. Not that you would think so if you watched Saturday night’s Channel 4 programme, The Massacre that Shook an Empire, commemorating the centenary of the Amritsar Massacre. This marred what was otherwise an “incredibly valuable” study, he says. So I can handle this – don’t worry.”. A scrum of reporters turned out to document the real-life Britain’s Gulag: four elderly plaintiffs from rural Kenya, some clutching canes, who had come to the heart of the former British empire to seek justice. Richard Drayton of King’s College London, another imperial historian, judged it an “extraordinary” book whose implications went beyond Kenya. That’s when the phone rang, pulling her back in. She also came to understand that colonial authorities had herded Kikuyu women and children into some 800 enclosed villages dispersed across the countryside. They argued that Britain could not be held responsible because liability for any colonial abuses had devolved to the Kenyan government upon independence. These heavily patrolled villages – cordoned off by barbed wire, spiked trenches and watchtowers – amounted to another form of detention. Now move on, next question please. Carruthers, a professor of history at Rutgers University at Newark, had cast doubt on Elkins’s self-dramatisation: her account of naively embarking on a journey of personal discovery, only to see the scales drop from her eyes. And she stood behind her work. Foul-mouthed, fast-talking and hyperbolic, Elkins can sound more Central Jersey than Harvard Yard. In camps, villages and other outposts, the Kikuyu suffered forced labour, disease, starvation, torture, rape and murder. One day in the spring of 1998, after months of often frustrating searches, she discovered a baby-blue folder that would become central to both her book and the Mau Mau lawsuit. We receive no independent funding and depend on our readers to help us, either with regular or one-off payments. Elkins was also accused of sensationalism, a charge that figured prominently in a fierce debate over her mortality figures. But that thesis crumbled as Elkins dug into her research. And, as Elkins would eventually learn, Gavaghan had developed the technique and put it into practice. It’s done. The Legacy files could be passed on to Kenya. Events moved quickly from there. A blue cord held together the thin, yellowed pages, which smelled of decaying paper. Read all about it – the truth about British colonialism. An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India (Hardcover) by Shashi Tharoor. Just how wrong could Sanghera be in claiming that Britain, today, promotes Empire as ‘a great thing’? The same document shenanigans that leave Elkins wide-eyed prompt several other historians to essentially shrug. This almost destroyed my career.”. He ruled that the claim could move forward. It set the stage for a rethinking of British imperial violence, he says, demanding that scholars reckon with colonial brutality in territories such as Cyprus, Malaya, and Aden (now part of Yemen). It was also, comparatively, the most benign. Mau Mau was still a banned movement in Kenya, and would remain so until 2002. Yes, imaginary evidence, ‘fake news’ in its purest form, to damn the Brits in general and the Empire in particular. “This is the moment where literally my footnotes are on trial.”. “Who is controlling the production of the history of Kenya? To be a subject of the British Empire, however, was to win first prize in the lottery of imperial rule. Kenyan history, she says, was “an old boys’ club”. Call comes after research reveals more than four in ten Britons view the British Empire as a good thing When Elkins interviewed Kikuyu in their remote homes, they whispered. Afua Hirsch hates the British. Remember the Sabbath. The British government, defeated repeatedly in court, moved to settle the Mau Mau case. To secure a permanent position, she needed to make progress on her second book. The idea was both legally improbable and professionally risky. But if the response to her latest claims is any indication, her arguments will once again be controversial. He needs to do some homework! You can donate here. Britain’s Colonial Office had endorsed it. Enter Elkins. The British Empire was the worst colonial empire ever in History. But she remained nervous about the case. It was a moment when another historian, Niall Ferguson, had won acclaim for his sympathetic writing on British colonialism. The truth is that the Brits may have been top dogs when it came to the size, power and influence of their empire but we have definitely been well down the league table of those who have perpetrated massacres. And she believes there was more going on than the usual academic disagreement. “Good God,” she thought. All rights reserved. In high school, she worked at a pizza shop that was run by what she calls “low-level mob”. Also another truth that goes with this is simply this:- The average Brit couldn’t give a shit about it anyway. He denied violence she hadn’t asked about. “They were simply told that no such collection of Kenyan documents existed, and that the British had removed nothing that they were not entitled to take with them in December 1963,” Anderson writes. THE British Empire was the greatest imperial power that the world has ever seen. “In this very long book, she really doesn’t bring out any more evidence than that for talking about the possibility of hundreds of thousands killed, and talking in terms almost of genocide as a policy,” says Philip Murphy, a University of London historian who directs the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and co-edits the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. To say that a discovery about document destruction will change the whole field is “simply not true”, he says. It also fed speculation that many more colonial abuse claims would crop up from across an empire that once ruled about a quarter of the earth’s population. 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