Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Category: Colonialism

Happy Birthday Prince Charles!

I wrote this in November 2013


If Prince Charles really did exert some influence in getting things moving in the case against those accused of murdering a British tourist and raping the tourist’s Russian girlfriend, I take my hat off to HRH. I have my doubts about tourism being good for Sri Lanka, but I would hope people could come to visit us without being raped or killed. Prince Charles himself will be coming to Sri Lanka for the CHOGM, which starts on 15 November.

Charles celebrates his 65th birthday on November 14. I read in the Times of India that London-based entrepreneur-philanthropists Cyrus and Priya Vandrevala will splash out hundreds of thousands of pounds on a concert by the Philharmonia Orchestra as part of a birthday reception and dinner at Buckingham Palace. I hope that does not mean that Charles has changed his mind about coming here.

For most British males the big thing about reaching 65 is that you get your state retirement pension. I do not suppose Charles would have been too anxious about that, not being short of a bob or two.

I have long taken an interest in Charles’s career. When I was a child, Charles’s mother waved to me outside Moreland’s England’s Glory Match Factory. My aunties worked in the factory in very menial capacities. I met Charles’s aunt, Princess Margaret, in later years. She was extremely small and her skin was smoke-cured like a kipper’s.

Charles and I are near contemporaries and during my childhood I was used to seeing pictures of him all the time. I was, like him, born, and grew up in, state-subsidised housing. I was born in a council house in Coney Hill, Gloucester, not far from a Victorian Gothic lunatic asylum. We later moved to another council house at Longlevens, not far from the greyhound track and the football ground.

As Emil Van der Poorten so charmingly put it – I come from the gutter.

Charles enjoys state subsidised housing of a different kind. He was born in Buckingham Palace and now lives at Highgrove, in my native Gloucestershire, and has accommodation in London at Clarence House. He has another gaff in Scotland at Birkhall. He has a few other places to doss down – Balmoral, Sandringham, Windsor Castle, Holyrood House, Craigowen Lodge, Delnadamph Lodge, Llwynywermod, Tamarisk, Hillsborough Castle.

Like Charles, I followed my mother’s occupation at first. My mother was a cleaner in the NHS; Charles’s mother was not.

My father was a private in the Royal Pioneer Corps. Charles’s family all have high military ranks and he himself is a General in the British Army, an Admiral in the Royal Navy and an Air Chief Marshall in the Royal Air Force. He is Colonel-in-Chief, Colonel, Honorary Air Commodore, Air-Commodore-in-Chief, Deputy Colonel-in-Chief, Royal Honorary Colonel, Royal Colonel, and Honorary Commodore of at least 36 military formations throughout the Commonwealth.

He gets to dress up for all these roles. Being a royal is like being in a big playpen.


Monarchy seems a bit like Colombo Telegraph in that people can use a variety of weird and wonderful names. As well as being called a “grovelling little bastard” by Spike Milligan, Charles has been called Prince of Wales since 1958, but in Scotland, his title is Duke of Rothesay. He is also called Duke of Cornwall. When his mother departs this earthly realm, he will become Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Duke of Normandy, Lord of Mann, Lord of the Isles and Paramount Chief of Fiji. As a royal, Charles has no surname, but when he feels the need to use one it is Mountbatten-Windsor, (Mountbatten is the name chosen during the First World War by the Battenbergs and Saxe-Coburg-Gothas to conceal their German origins).

The London Daily Mirror is a UK paper that is read by  Chavs and Pikeys, white trash from the gutter like me,  the great unwashed working class – sorry, I meant to say loyal subjects. For its special 60th birthday issue the UK Daily Mirror revealed some fascinating facts about Prince Charles.

Chuck wears handmade shoes that cost £650 a pair. Turnbull & Asser make his shirts and, from 2006, his made-to-measure suits, which cost up to £2,500. Previously, Savile (no relation to Jimmy) Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard handmade his suits, at £4,000 a pop. This should set an example of frugality to all of us in this age of austerity – time for us all to cut our clothing expenses. As Thoreau wrote: “Beware of any enterprise that requires the purchase of new clothes”.

No fancy silk monogrammed Jimmy Palmers for our Chas – he always sleeps in the nude. Calm down, Ladies!

Whatever about his seeming extravagance at the taxpayers’ expense, Charles has  a reputation for caring about the planet. He runs his 32-year-old Aston Martin on bio-fuel made from English wine. Better than drinking the foul brew!

Jimmy Savile was a frequent visitor to Charles’s many homes. Charles sent a Christmas card saying: “Jimmy, with affectionate greetings from Charles. Give my love to your ladies in Scotland”. Princess Diana described Savile as a “sort of mentor to Charles. Prince Charles led tributes to Savile on the national treasure’s death in October 2011.


Savile, a former Yorkshire miner, ballroom manager, wrestler and disc jockey has been posthumously rocking the British establishment with tremors being felt in the BBC, National Health Service, the press, police, Crown Prosecution Service,  academia, charities, toffs’ clubs and the papacy. From his humble origins, Savile rose to become a knight of the realm, Papal Knight­Commander of St Gregory the Great, a member of the exclusive Athenaeum club, an advisor to Israeli governments, a confidant of popes, princes and prime ministers.

Jim, who had a TV programme called Jim’ll Fix It,  used his power-base to rape and molest children, some of them sick or disabled. It appears he used the premises of the BBC and the NHS to carry out his nefarious deeds. Prince Charles himself was entertained by Savile at his Glencoe cottage retreat, llt na Reigh, in the Scottish highlands where Savile is alleged to have abused more than 20 victims.

A previous trip by Prince Charles to Sri Lanka cost £300,000. In 2004, the Royal Family cost Britons £36.7m. Palace gardeners cost £400,000 a year.

Most of her subjects are feeling the pinch of austerity but the Queen is forever giving An Béal Bocht (the poor mouth). Documents disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that in 2004, the Queen asked ministers for a handout to help heat her palaces.  Royal aides were told that the £60m worth of energy-saving grants were aimed at families on low incomes and if the money was given to Buckingham Palace instead of housing associations or hospitals it could lead to “adverse publicity” for the Queen and the Government. The Queen is set to receive an inflation-busting 22 per cent ‘pay rise’ over two years. She is now expected to be given £37.9 million in 2014-15 to run her Household and conduct official engagements, up from £31 million in 2012-13.


Human delusion is a serious problem in many contexts. Seeing broken Britain as a Ruritanian fairyland is not helpful. People who say that the monarchy contributes to the unique and positive character of British democracy, rarely give concrete practical examples of how the Queen make  a difference in real life. Are there examples of the Queen exerting a positive symbolic function in the way Juan Carlos did with the Spanish fascists?

Did the Queen try to stop the invasion of Iraq, which most of her subjects opposed?  All the royal family have a fetish for dressing up in military uniforms. I wonder if the royal family expressed their solidarity with the British armed forces by trying to persuade Her Majesty’s Government to give a better deal in terms of equipment, homes and pensions.

The Colonial Project

A version of this article was published in Lakbima News.

In Lakbima News, Malinda Seneviratne took issue with Juliet Coombe about racism and imperialism. Malinda’s article set me thinking about the fate of individuals in an imperial situation and how distinctions between oppressors and oppressed are not always clear. It is a complex fate to be a human in an imperial context.

I was born in England but have chosen to be an Irish citizen and a Sri Lankan resident. How have I benefited from Empire? How has my family enjoyed the plunder? My English maternal grandfather and my Irish father both served in the British army when Britain had an Empire. Were they complicit in oppression and plunder?


My own family were from the servant class. My mother’s father, Sam King, was a groom at Berkeley Castle (centuries ago,  Edward II had been horribly slain with a red-hot poker at the Castle). Sam  later drove the pony and trap for a doctor on Clarence Street in Gloucester. There he met my grandmother who was a maid, a country girl come to the city for employment, for another doctor. Sam’s service for the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie provided the experience to serve King and country in a cavalry regiment in Palestine during the First World War and during the British Mandate.


I have a collection of postcards he sent home. Mostly he was pleading for tobacco. A few strange  photographs were among the postcards. One seems to show a number of Arabs hanging from a gibbet.

As a child I spent many hours in Sam’s company but he mostly sat silently chopping up his Mick McQuaid pipe tobacco or pottering about in his garden. Occasionally, he would say “Don’t despise your old granddad” but we never discussed what happened during his imperial service.


Imperial service  certainly did not make him rich. He lived in a modest council house, an island of respectability in a sea of delinquency and squalor. I was scared to walk down his street. His youngest daughter said that he had tried to slit his throat with a razor while drunk on rough cider during the Great Depression.

My father also served in the British army. He was born in County Cork in 1916, the year of the Easter Rising, when a group of poets and intellectuals made a blood sacrifice against British imperialism. He taught me much about “800 years of British oppression”. Cromwell’s 1649-53 campaign remains notorious in Irish popular memory as it was responsible for a huge death toll among the Irish population (40%?). The reason for this was the counter-guerrilla tactics used such as the wholesale burning of crops, forced population movement (ethnic cleansing) and killing of civilians. In addition, the whole post-war Cromwellian settlement of Ireland has been characterized as “genocidal”, in that it sought to remove Irish Catholics from the eastern part of the country. Malinda quotes Lasantha David as saying he needs to get over the colonials for stealing his loot and making his great great grandfather cut sugar cane”. As well as stealing Irish land the British also sent, after Cromwell’s depredations, Irishmen to the West Indies to work on the sugar plantations as slaves.

My father instilled in me a love of Ireland and taught me about Irish history and culture. Despite his pride in the country of his birth and his hatred of what the British Empire had done to it, he did not hesitate to volunteer for the British army when it was facing the Nazi threat. He felt grateful to England for giving him work and a wife.

Some might argue that it was a history of British oppression which forced this intelligent and witty man to leave school at 12 and work for a butcher and then to leave his family to make his way in a strange land. The England he found in the 1930s would certainly have seemed strange to an Irishman in his twenties brought up as a devout Catholic with decent moral values. Signs saying “No dogs, no blacks, no Irish” were not uncommon. He met my mother when he was a labourer helping to build the council house (number 9 Stanway Road, Coney Hill, not far from the lunatic asylum) that her family were to move into. He struggled to gain acceptance from her family. “He’s Irish. He won’t stick with you”, they warned.

My father  made light of his war service in the Pioneer Corps. That was not one of the glamorous regiments. It was the stuff of music-hall humour and was portrayed as a motley collection of ineffectual blokes dredged into the army by the war’s insatiable hunger for bodies, any bodies – clerks, light labourers, intellectuals and incapables, unfit to fight, but fit to prepare the way for or clean up after the proper soldiers. Their job was to tidy up the war.


Michael Young, in his influential book The Rise of the Meritocracy, (1958) took an unflattering view of the Pioneer Corps.  He claimed that the morale of these ‘hewers and drawers  … these dull-witted men’ was spectacularly increased ‘when the stupid were kept together… and they were no longer daunted by having superior people to compete with.’  In fairness to Young, it should be noted that his intent was satirical and his book was a prescient critique of how the cult of IQ measurement would create a dangerously smug ruling class and a profoundly demoralized lower class.

When I was a very small child my father took me to the gasworks where he was employed. I was terrified. It was like a Gustave Doré illustration for a sermon on hell, with huge roaring furnaces dwarfing the men stoking them, coughing in the fumes of coal and coke, stripped to the waist, straining with shovels, their bodies basted like meat.

There were men of all nations, the Irish, Poles and Ukrainians as black as the Jamaicans, men thrown up by the ebbing tide of war, stranded victims of dying empires and dictatorships. There was Jan the Pole who lost his home and his country, first to the Germans and then to the Russians, and walked across Europe to England, dodging the Nazis and the Red Army. Petrenko, the Ukrainian who hated the Russians so much he was proud to boast of being in the infamous Waffen SS. There was Henry, the Jamaican, whose ancestors had been torn from Africa and shipped as property to the Caribbean to make the fortunes of Bristol merchants.

The British oppressed and plundered close to home as well as globally. I struggle to accept that I gained much personally from the plundering oppression of the British Empire. True, I  was the recipient of free education and health care and was the first of my family to go to university.  Clement Attlee presided over the consolidation of the welfare state as well as the dismantling of the empire.

When I was born, the empire had entered its precipitous decline as a result of the effort of winning the war. Life was grey and grim in post-war Britain. In his book A World to Build, historian David Kynaston brilliantly evoked what life felt like then.

No supermarkets, no motorways, no teabags, no sliced bread, no frozen food, no flavoured crisps, no lager, no microwaves, no dishwashers, no Formica, no vinyl, no CDs, no computers, no mobiles, duvets, no Pill, no trainers, no hoodies, no Starbucks. Four Indian restaurants. Shops on every corner, pubs on every corner, cinemas in every street, red telephone boxes, Lyons Corner Houses, trams, trolley buses, steam trains. Woodbines, Craven ‘A’, Senior Service, smoke, smog, Vapex  inhalant. No launderettes, no automatic washing machines, wash every Monday, clothes boiled in a tub, scrubbed on the draining board, rinsed in the sink, put through a mangle hung out to dry. Central heating coke boilers, water geysers, the coal fire, the hearth, the home, chilblains common. Abortion illegal, homosexual relationships illegal, suicide illegal, capital punishment legal. White faces everywhere. Back-to-backs, narrow cobbled streets, Victorian terraces, no high-rises. Arterial roads, suburban semis, the march of the pylon. Austin Sevens, Ford Eights, no seat belts, and Triumph motorcycles with sidecars. A Bakelite wireless in the home, Housewives’ Choice or Workers’ Playtime or ITMA on the air, televisions almost unknown, no programmes to watch, the family eating together. ‘Milk of Magnesia’ Vick Vapour Rub, Friar’s Balsam, Fynnon Salts, Eno’s, Germolene. Suits and hats, dresses and hats, cloth Caps and mufflers, no leisurewear, no ‘teenagers’. Heavy Coins, heavy shoes, heavy suitcases, heavy tweed coats, heavy leather footballs, no unbearable lightness of being. Meat rationed, butter rationed, lard rationed, margarine rationed, sugar rationed, tea rationed, cheese rationed, am rationed, eggs rationed, sweets rationed, soap rationed, clothes rationed. Make do and mend.’

Food rationing continued until my eighth year. Some look back to the 50s with nostalgia, claiming that it was a gentler, more human time before the permissive society drove everyone demented. There may have been good things about that time but it would take a Dante to contrive a hell quite as awful as a dark wet Sunday afternoon in the outer suburbs of a provincial British town in the 1950s.

After the war, after the horrors they had witnessed, many men of my father’s generation opted for the quiet life, while the government tried to make a better job of making a land fit for heroes than had been done after the First World War. My parents were offered a home by the local council. It was a dilapidated Nissen hut that had seen much war service. In  the year of my birth, 40,000 people were living in a thousand disused service camps. My father, with characteristic stubbornness, refused it. He also stood his ground and refused a ‘prefab’. ‘Homes fit for heroes’ indeed! He continued to live with my mother’s family in the house that he had helped to build before the war.

In that house I was born.

The flamboyant Churchill jibed at Prime Minister Attlee’s dullness by saying. “An empty taxi pulled up and Mr Attlee got out”. But dullness was what the nation wanted. Dullness was good if it also meant security. The Attlee government provided monetary benefits for the poor, and health care free to all, regardless of circumstances. My parents lived through the austerity years and through to the “never had it so good” days of the MacMillan era. We baby-boomers came of age during those years of relative affluence.  We absorbed the optimism and creativity of the Beatles and the cynicism of the satirists. We were rebellious and arrogant, refusing to acknowledge that the fruits we were enjoying were paid for by the suffering of previous generations.

I did not come to Sri Lanka to make bucks. Some Sri Lankans did tell me I could have an easy life here but I find I am working harder than ever. That’s OK because I don’t have to commute to an office. I cringe when I see pink-faced Europeans throwing their considerable weight about. I become a little-pink-faced myself when I hear foreigners referring to “the locals”  and drooling about the quaintness of it all. I am eight hours away from Colombo’s fleshpots. I have little in the way of loot. I strive, on my modest resources, to help my local community through the local Buddhist temples. In my writing for a Sri Lankan audience I try to make a positive difference by sharing  helpful experience without arrogance. In my writing for a foreign audience I try to dispel misconceptions and to convey the subtle complexities of Sri Lankan reality. I hope that, now that I have chosen a former British colony as my permanent home, I do not come across as an imperialist plunderer.

NGOs Speak with Forked Tongue

This article appeared in Lakbima News on April 1. It has disappeared from the paper’s website. This was not an April Fool’s joke because I have the print edition in front of me. I did not imagine seeing it on the website because someone e-mailed me about it only today, April 10. I saw it on the website and a few people commented. Where has it gone?


Susantha Goonatilake called his 2006 book on foreign-funded NGOs in Sri Lanka Recolonization. In his conclusion he wrote: “Sri Lankan NGOs emerged in the late 1970s when the then government cracked down on democracy, transparency and accountability and killed locally-grown civil society… Sri Lanka thus became a partial NGO franchise state, with the NGOs attempting to erode the country’s sovereignty.”

Neo-liberal imperialism leads to the assumption  that poor countries cannot modernize without foreign help. In the 1990s this “help” meant blackmailing developing countries into accepting the Washington Consensus – deregulation and liberalisation of markets, privatisation and severe cuts in the public sector and undermining sovereignty. The World Bank learnt  obfuscatory cant  from its NGO partners and NGOs reciprocally learnt to be “businesslike”. By stressing citizen “participation”, institutional “transparency”, respect for “the rule of law” and the flourishing of “civil society”, the bank was camouflaging its authoritarian preference for imposing its  doctrinaire free-market policies which can be lethal for the weak economies of developing countries.

In my recent article on the subject of cant I gave passing mention to the strong showing that NGOs are making in the jargon department. I now want to give NGOs the more detailed attention they so richly deserve. Much NGO language is verbiage  that is never translated into action, aphasic gobbledygook  that displays the arrogance of the outsider and is not designed to communicate. NGO workers themselves like to joke about  language like “Successful Good Practice Related to Local Ownership and Crosscutting Holistic Gender Empowerment for Excluded Adolescent Girls based on Positive Deviance Methodology”. This is in-crowd humour displaying group solidarity against the funny “locals”.

Let me remind you that Dr Johnson defined cant as: “a whining pretension to goodness, in formal and affected terms”, “a particular form of speaking peculiar to some certain class or body of men”.

For NGO condescension in abundance check out this blogsite:

I know a lot of this stuff is intended as self-deprecatory humour but it still comes across as arrogant and esoteric. A blogger on that site called D (none of these people are prepared to use their real names) finds armed militias a source of humour. “Rebel presence means that the EAW (Expatriate Aid Worker) is doing some hardship living (and getting hardship pay!). Rebels remind the EAW that he is living in a dodgy place. And we all know EAWs like dodgy places.” If only Tamil civilians in the north could have got some “hardship pay” for their proximity to the “rebel presence”! “Rebels, militias and freedom fighters — what would the hardcore EAW do without them?”

Bit too close to the truth, what?

During the Sri Lankan conflict there were many accusations of NGOs supporting the LTTE rebels beyond a reasonable boundary of humanitarian neutrality. Two employees of Care International were arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate defence minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. It  is interesting to note that Care is based in Atlanta, Georgia but in its mission statement specifically excludes itself from doing any poverty alleviation work in the USA. Is there no poverty in the USA?

A blogger called J finds sexual exploitation amusing: “Few things say, ‘I am one with the people’ like nailing the hot, local office manager or getting nailed by the suave local driver.”

There are those who argue that foreign aid is bad for recipients and donors. William Easterly , who is  the main proponent of this view, sent out a twitter call for aid workers to help him compile a dictionary of AidSpeak.

Here is a selection of the contributions:

 “beneficiaries” : the people who make it possible for us to be paid by other people

 “civil society involvement”: consulting the middle class employee of a US or European NGO

“community capacity building” : teach them what they already know

“entrepreneurial” : vaguely innovative and cool, but definitely nothing to do with the hated “market”

participatory stakeholders” : people who should solve their own problems

 “participation” : the right to agree with preconceived projects or programs

“Global North” : White academics; “Global South” : Indian academics

“pro-poor” : the rich know best

“outreach” : intrude

 “sensitize” : tell people what to do

 “tackling root causes of poverty” : repackaging what we’ve already done in a slightly more sexy font –

I wrote in these pages about 27-year-old  Joshua M Schoop, who spent three months in the Northern province while studying for a Masters in International Development at Tulane University, Louisiana. He wrote: “Natives are suffering immensely from the impacts of the war”. Does anyone use the word “natives” anymore? “Several international and community-based organisations are operating in the area, assisting where they can, while further perpetuating  a dependence on foreign aid.” Josh, are you not planning a career based on such dependence? Today, Louisiana has poverty, crime and health indicators, particularly for blacks, equivalent to  third- world nations. Most of Sri Lanka’s social indicators are better than Louisiana’s. America’s  civil war lasted four years and ended 145 years ago. I have been to Louisiana and the war does not seem to have ended. Sri Lanka’s civil war lasted 30 years and ended less than three years  ago. The Reconstruction era was a difficult period in American history. Progress is already being made in Sri Lanka but we are too slow for Josh.

It was good of Josh to take the trouble come over here to Sri Lanka to help us out when there is so much for him to do back home. How does Sri Lanka benefit from twenty-somethings with little experience of life bringing their jargon over here?

A couple of years back I had some e-mail exchanges with a fellow Irish citizen who had made her career with a US-based NGO whose speciality was fostering democracy. A previous posting had been in Bosnia. Now she was bringing democracy to Sri Lanka. I  wondered how  a young Irishwoman would, in practical terms, address the particular nature of Sri Lanka’s democratic deficit. Would she walk into a local Pradeshiya Sabha and disarm the politico-thugs? Would she go to the parliament with a whip and drive out all the thieves, murderers and rapists? Would she use her Irish charm and eloquence to persuade the president to repeal the 18th Amendment? Would she sort out the leadership crisis in the UNP?

I think it more likely that she would sit in a Colombo office dispensing cant.

A young  British woman posts on Facebook to her friends abroad jottings about life as an NGO intern in Sri Lanka. She finds there are often stupid things in Sri Lankan newspapers. It seems that train journeys can be uncomfortable and fellow passengers smell and have unpleasant eating habits.  Batticaloa and Vavuniya leave something to be desired compared to Didsbury. At one point she did have the grace to describe as  this as “spoiltwesternwhinings”. There are compensations: “Swimming in the Indian Ocean, cricket on the beach, blagging a press pass for the Galle Literature Fest, stalking Richard Dawkins, surfing, fancy beach party….”

I am reminded of something that Gomin Dayasri wrote about the unhealthy symbiosis between NGOs, the Bretton Woods agents of neo-liberal capitalism, foreign journalists and what he calls “Colombians” –  the western-orientated English-speaking elite:“Such comfortable digs are not in the market in the recession-stung home country. There is exotic food and groovy watering holes at affordable prices. NGOs provide the freebies and roll out the red carpet…With the LTTE gone where will they go? After few more horror stories to demean the Security Forces and back to the west to face the shock treatment of recession. War is an investment relief to the Foreign Correspondent. The order will soon come to pack the flak jackets and return to a not so sweet home and to wait patiently for a call to another exotic destination?”

Simon Akam reported from Sierra Leone for the Literary Review that NGO-speak has  infected broadcasting and government in that benighted country and is being absorbed into the local language, Krio: “The national dialogue is framed in the vernacular of NGOs…. What Sierra Leone needs is a functioning central government to deal with the allocation of resources, both domestic and those provided by aid. The issues at stake are too large to be dealt with by smaller institutions…. Instead, numerous foreign NGOs – a surfeit of white people in white Landcruisers – surround a weak central bureaucracy. None of them has the means to perform the grand functions that are needed; even if they did, concern about sovereignty would probably prevent them.”

Humanitarianism is a multi-billion-dollar business. Analysts at Development Initiatives estimate that the humanitarian aid sector globally was worth at least $18 billion in 2008. World Vision International, spent over $6.5 million on relief assistance in 60 countries that year, distributing over half a million tonnes of food to 8.5 million people. NGOs  are huge corporate businesses and they offer a career structure. NGO workers can build up an image of saintliness as well as developing a lucrative CV.


The Toxicity of Taxonomy- Stereotyping the Irish

For years I had confidently attributed one of my favorite quotations to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “All generalizations are dangerous including this one”. It seems it was not Emerson. Some have claimed it for Mark Twain because he often wrote witty things like that. Now, it seems that the favourite is Alexander Dumas but am not sure whether it was père or fils.

The most dangerous generalizations are those about race.

Can’t you take a joke, you Irish thicko?

A very dear friend of mine keeps sending me e-mails with titles like “You’ve got to love the Irish”. These e-mails are compilations of “Irish jokes”.  My secondary response, after the initial “racist bitch” was: “Why have you got to love the Irish?” Her reply was: “Because they are so dumb”.

I patiently explained to her that, although the jokes did indeed illustrate elements of  stupidity, they were actually made-up stories and were not evidence of stupidity in the real world. Indeed, if the jokes are constructed by an Irish person, they often demonstrate ans Irish person getting the better of someone else through faux naïvety.

Call me literal-minded, pedantic if you must. “Political correctness gone mad” some will cry.

My very first (and very mild) comment on an Open Salon  post many years ago caused the poster to call me a nasty little troll in public. His ‘real-life-friend’ (RLF)  applauded him and, when I objected, said that I was mentally ill. As evidence on OS of my unsurpassed genius became  unassailable, RLF began to court me with endless praise and urged others to read my brilliant work. He called me wise and witty. Unfortunately, he found it impossible to address me without adopting a stage-Oirish accent. I asked him why he did this, why my mere Irishness was so irresistibly risible to him. I asked him if he would ever contemplate addressing his hero Obama in the tones of a nigger minstrel. He fell out with me again and called me “prickly”.

Where is my sense of humor for God’s sake!?

George Bernard Shaw, in his essays, warned English tourists not to visit Ireland because the Irish were determined to resist English illusions about them: “it is a point of honour with the Modern Irishman to have no sense of humour”. Modern Ireland was in full reaction against both servility and the construct of  the “stage Irishman”.

In this essay I will mainly be concentrating on the fraught Irish/British relationship, but there is a good deal of literature about  Irish identity in the USA.

In an essay entitled “Passing from Light into Dark,” in the Journal of Multimedia Studies, John McClymer  set out to “deepen and complicate the ongoing scholarly conversation about race, ethnicity, acculturation, and their interrelationships”. He compared the acculturation of other European immigrants in the USA with the Irish experience. “Becoming ‘American’  meant entering a culture in which European and other nationality groups contended with each other — as well as with their Yankee ‘hosts’ — for pride of place. It was a culture which insisted upon the salience of ethnic stereotypes. In 1883, for example, the first Swedish Directory, a compilation of all the names, addresses, and occupations of Worcester’s Swedes, contained this joke, in Swedish. The priest asks:

‘Patrick, the widow Murphy says you stole one of her best pigs.
Yes, Father.
What have you done with it?
I slaughtered it and ate it up, Father.
Oh, Patrick, what will you answer on Judgment Day when you stand face-to-face with the widow and her pig and she accuses you of having stolen it?
Father, did you say the pig will be there?
Yes, of course I said that!
Well then, I would answer: ‘Mrs. Murphy, now you have your pig back!’

Few of the Directory’s readers had been in the United States for more than a couple of years. Yet they were already learning ‘Pat and Mike’ jokes. This suggests that ethnicity itself was a form of acculturation rather than an alternative to it.”

Seeing the funny side of genocide

Someone called David Price did a post on Open Salon titled “Solution to the Irish Problem”. Please  join his imaginary friends  and read it for your enlightenment.

The solution to the “Irish problem” was to send all the Irish to Holland where they would be incompetent enough to flood the place and subsequently perish by drowning. Imagine someone writing a post entitled “Solution to the Jewish Problem” or “Solution to the African-American Problem” in which the solution consisted of extermination of a race by drowning. Hitler had a “Final Solution” to the “Jewish Problem”.

Racism and misogyny

People who are prejudiced against one group will probably be prejudiced against another.
An Open Salon  blogger calling himself  XJS and Me (who had written posts about his friendships with “negros” and his sexual relations with an under-age girl)  weighed in with remarks like “Don’t worry- Padraig is having his period”. “I also attempted to find pics of Plaidrag C and was constantly directed to sites listing proctologists.”

“plaidrag mumbles and whines: ‘I don’t love misogyny, homophobia, racism, plagiarism and bad grammar.’ Proof that the whiny little baby hates itself’.”

“I’m surprised that an Irishman wouldn’t understand when someone is teasing them and think they’re attempting to pick a fight. I guess your mind doesn’t work without a sufficient amount of I spell my name with the letters of the alphabet.”

I replied: “There you go again with the racial stereotyping. You have no idea whether I take alcohol or not. Many Irishmen take a pledge of abstinence by wearing a Pioneer pin. I am living in Sri Lanka where Buddhist precepts forbid alcohol. You assume things about me without any knowledge because of my racial origin. That is what is called racial prejudice.

Why should an Irishman be expected to take it? The Irish sense of humor is meant to include taking insults from ignorant bigots. If they object they are lacking in a sense of humor, like those uppity ‘negros’.”

History of the Irish stereotype.

Although he was Irish, Edmund Burke was no Irish separatist. Nevertheless, he  questioned the common English view that the Irish were rebellious and emotional children. He saw in English stereotypes of the Irish, projections onto a neighbouring people of elements which the English denied or despised in themselves. He empathised with India and prophesied the end of empire even before it had fully formed.  In the House of Lords,  he said in 1794: “I do not know a greater insult that can be offered to a man born to command than to find himself made a tool to a set of obscure men, come from an unknown country, without anything to distinguish them but an usurped power…”

Matthew Arnold opposed Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill because the “idle and imprudent Irish” were too infantile to govern themselves. According to Declan Kiberd, Arnold did not allow lack of knowledge to prevent him considering himself an authority on Ireland. “He was the ultimate surveyor, the Celt the consummately surveyed”. Even those who actually studied the Irish at close hand in later years were often guided by his unsubstantiated theorising. The stubborn complexities of real life had to be shoe-horned into Arnold’s simplistic schema. As Declan Kiberd put it, recalcitrant reality  “had to be converted back into a more familiar terminology of books over facts. And yet it was with the tyranny of facts that Arnold had proclaimed the Celt quite unable to cope!”

Anti-Irish behaviour was a part of British life from the Middle Ages and the stereotype was a long time in the making (remember Shakespeare has a comic Irishman, Captain Macmorris,  in Henry V). The mid-Victorian years – between the Famine and the emergence of the Home Rule movement – witnessed by far the most intense examples. In his book, The Eternal Paddy, Michael de Nie examines anti-Irish prejudice, Anglo-Irish relations, and the construction of Irish and British identities in nineteenth-century Britain. The Eternal Paddy offers a detailed analysis of British press coverage of Ireland over the course of the nineteenth century. This book traces the evolution of popular understandings and proposed solutions to the “Irish question,” focusing particularly on the interrelationship between the press, the public, and the politicians.

De Nie claims that British press opinion about the Famine was profoundly influenced by ideas about Irish incapacity. The very Irishness of the Irish was the reason for their problems. The remedy was to encourage the Irish to be more British. Ireland needed to become a country of industrious, well-fed farmers, free of peasant superstition and fecklessness and of grasping, wasteful landlords.

Declan Kiberd has written: “The stereotypical Paddy could be charming or threatening by turns. The vast numbers of Irish immigrants who fetched up in England’s cities and towns throughout the 19th century found that they were often expected to conform to the stereotype: and some, indeed, did so with alacrity…Coming from windswept, neolithic communities of the western Irish seaboard to the centres of industrial England, many found it easier to don the mask of the Paddy than reshape a complex urban identity of their own. Acting the buffoon, they often seemed harmless and even loveable characters to the many English workers who might otherwise have deeply resented their willingness to take jobs at lower rates of pay”.

The stage Irishman

The “stage Irishman” made an appearance in the novels of Charles Lever  and Samuel Lover (sitting alphabetically on my bookshelf – Lever and Lover) as well as in the theatre. Mackatawdry, Mackafarty,  Phaelim O’Blunder and  Bet Botheram O’Balderdash were characters created to portray the Irish as buffoons.  Playwrights from Ireland created similar  characters to ingratiate themselves with the London audience. However, a recurrent strategy of the Anglo-Irish writers was to subvert the stereotype by allowing their characters to defeat others with comical aplomb while pretending to be stupid.

Dion Boucicault developed a more sympathetic stereotype in his sentimental melodramas (one of his characters provided Flann O’Brien with one of his many pseudonyms, Myles na Gopaleen).  Somerville and Ross  wrote a series of books set in the 1890s  that became a TV series starring Peter Bowles in the 1980s. My Irish father did not live to see the series but would not allow the books in the house. It is significant that the TV series was a co-production of Ulster TV and Radio Telefís Éireann, epitomising the complicity of the Irish in their own stereotyping. In one episode at a servants’ ball,  a groom called  Slipper says  that ‘The English and the Irish understand each other like the fox and the hound,’ to which a lady replies, ‘But which is which?’ The answer is, ‘Ah well, if we knew that, we’d know everything!’ Somerville and Ross provided a rural buffoonery  that pre-echoes some of the attitudes of affectionate indulgence combined with  amused superiority that one still finds today in some jokes about “the Irish”.

My enjoyment of one of my favourite films, Bringing up Baby is somewhat marred by the “comic” antics of Barry Fitzgerald.

Irish people did not take these distortions lying down. A movie called Smiling Irish Eyes (1929) was taken off at Dublin’s Savoy after demonstrations led by the actor Cyril Cusack and a future president of Ireland. Hitchcock’s version of Sean O’Casey’s  Juno and the Paycock   was burnt by crowds in Limerick in 1931. Cusack’s daughter Sinead, Mrs Jeremy Irons, is currently appearing in that play at the Royal National Theatre in London.

There have been protests in Ireland recently about a video game  called Red Dead Redemption . One of the characters in the game,  the town drunk, is called “Irish” and is, the game says, “usually found stumbling around and getting into trouble with sober townsfolk while attempting to talk his way out”.

Anti- Irish cartoons.

In his essay “Paddy and Mr Punch”, Irish historian, Roy Foster, describes how the satirical magazine Punch from the 1850s on, in its cartoons, described the Irish as bestial. “Bestial”  was closely related to races with darker skins  and John Beddoe’s ideas on skin colour were influential in finding “negrescence” in the Irish and Welsh.

A charming piece in Punch: “A creature manifestly between the Gorilla and the Negro is to be met with in some of the lowest  districts of London and Liverpool by adventurous explorers. It comes from Ireland, whence it has contrived to migrate…When conversing with its kind it talks a sort of gibberish. It is, moreover,  a  climbing animal, and may sometimes be seen ascending a ladder with a hod of bricks…The somewhat superior ability of the Irish Yahoo to utter articulate sounds, may suffice to prove that it is a development, and not, as some imagine, a degeneration of the Gorilla.”

When a scheme was hatched in 1852, to set up an Irish sugar beet industry, Punch compared the Irish  with the “lazy West Indian Negro”.  “See vomited from hundreds of ships , to crawl like wingless vermin over the country, tens of thousands of Irish, the sons and daughters of beggary; the blight of their own land, and the curse of the Saxon”.

Perry Curtis in Anglo-Saxons and Celts, published in 1968,  just as the British army was moving into Northern Ireland, offers the thesis that Victorian caricaturists had a deliberate intent to portray the Irish as subhuman and therefore deserving of oppression. Punch’s cartoons became more virulent as the Irish turned to violence in response to their oppression. An Irish  beggar approaches John Bull: “Spare a thrifle, yer Honour, for a poor Irish lad to buy a bit of…a Blunderbuss with”.

In 1971, Curtis published  Apes and Angels: the Irishman in Victorian Caricature (1971). Its central thesis was that Victorian anti-Irishness was fundamentally racist. According to Curtis, an American, images of the Irish in political cartoons underwent a change from  harmless, whiskey-drinking peasants to  apelike monsters threatening  law, order, and middle- class values.

Mass Irish migration coincided with industrialisation, Catholic emancipation, Fenianism, Irish agrarian violence and the struggle for political independence. All of these made the Irish Other appear threatening. The incoming group provided a ready-made scapegoat for the disease, overcrowding, immorality, drunkenness and crime of the urban world.

Catholic chapels were attacked in 1882 and Irish iron workers driven from Tredegar in Wales. “Every Irishman who showed himself out of his house was stoned, and his house, in many cases, gutted, his furniture being thrown out and destroyed,” according to one police report. Similar incidents have occurred in more recent times in reaction to the Birmingham and Guildford pub bombings. I recall sitting in the Irish Club in Gloucester  with my sainted aunt who was on a visit with her son and his wife. Our pleasant evening was marred by a brick being thrown through the window.

Patronising preconceptions

Even in high-flown literary criticism, patronising stereotypes can be found. The fiery Irish poet and critic Tom Paulin (he has been called an anti-Semite for his strong views on Palestine) takes  the highly esteemed Canadian critic, Hugh Kenner, to task. “For Kenner, Ireland is a paradise of speech, a land flowing with soft and honeyed words. He believes ‘that the mind of Ireland is held by the reality of talk,’  … What Kenner terms ‘an Irish Fact’ .. is something that exists only in the mind of the beholder or on the tongue of the talker. The result of this conception of Paddy the Big Mouth is a critical prose which first wraps itself in a rebarbative stage-Irishness and then tries to insinuate that it is really ironising its own loquacity”.

Paulin’s view is that Kenner is adopting a prose style that “exports Irishness to Britain and America, an essentially comic and servile style that reduces all Irish people to clowns falling about in the darling haze of barroom chat and overworked anecdote.”

Yeats’s stated mission for the Abbey Theatre was, Paulin believes, more noble than this exalted Paddywhackery. Yeats’s mission statement: “We will show that Ireland is not the home of buffoonery and of easy sentiment, as it has been represented, but the home of an ancient idealism. We are confident of the support of the Irish people, who are weary of misrepresentation, in carrying out a work that is outside all the political questions that divide us”.

Contemporary representations of Irishness

Mary Hickman of London Metropolitan University  and Bronwen Walter of Anglia Ruskin University have done extensive research in this area, some of it commissioned by British and Irish government bodies.

Professor Hickman has argued that the Irish have been victims of the myth of a British homogeneous white society, that all people who were “white smoothly assimilated into the ‘British way of life’ and that all the problems resided with those who possessed a different skin colour. Different skin colour was taken to represent different culture.” According to Professor Walter: “Hybrid identities of people of Irish descent in England are denied by the ‘white’ mainstream but persist in private interstitial spaces of resistance”.

The myth of white assimilation  ignored the problems that the Irish could encounter in Britain as, when it suited the host population, they  were perceived to have the same advantages. Johnny Rotten’s autobiography is entitled No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish. The title refers to a sign which appeared outside many lodging houses. . My father encountered prejudice when he first went to England in the 1930s. Prejudice persists today as the difference of the Irish is demonstrated by representing them  as drunks and fraudsters in newspapers and  television programmes. Retail entrepreneur, Phillip Green, head of the BHS and Top Shop empire, said of The Guardian’s financial editor, Paul Murphy, when he carried out an investigation into Mr. Green’s accounts, that the Irish were illiterate.  Paul Murphy was born in Oldham and was brought up in Portsmouth. This is an example of  continued racism against the Irish in Britain and stereotyping by name.

Hickman argues that the negative perception of Irishness throughout the years in Britain has created a lot of pressure on the Irish. Their need to assert their identity and their difference has been largely ignored in mainstream British society. Living in the country of the ‘coloniser’ and the negative imaging around the former ‘colonised’ have contributed to their  difficulties. Frantz Fanon wrote  that colonialism must not be understood simply as an economic or a political process but also as a psychological and an ideological one.


Like Roy Foster, Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton recognises that “not all stereotypes are pejorative or patronising”. “The Irish were never just gorillas with gelignite.” “When the English middle classes of the day desired a mode of sensibility less martial and frigid than that of their autistic rulers, it was often enough to the Celtic fringes that they turned”.

Although the Irish might have been seen as a threatening Other their closeness to England could make them unthreatening given the right circumstances. As Eagleton says: “It would be surprising if people who have shared roughly the same cultural and material circumstances over long periods of time did not manifest some psychological traits in common.”  Just as  an English visitor, if not dissuaded by GBS, would find Ireland ineffably foreign but also at the same time reassuringly familiar.

All in all, it is a complex fate to be Irish. England is seen as the old enemy and oppressor but many of us have English as well as Irish blood. The proximity of the two nations means that their history and culture are intertwined. Most Irish people living in Ireland speak English and watch English TV. England is covered with a rash of “Irish” theme pubs.

Irish Historian Diarmaid Ferriter is not sympathetic to the protests about Red Dead Redemption.  “Irish emigrants developed reputations for drinking too much, be it in London or in America. Most Irish characters in early 20th century film were fiery and drunk, and that was 100 years ago. Even in the late 1950s, the Irish prime minister,Sean Lemass, made an official complaint to the BBC about plays and television programmes portraying the Irish as drunks. I don’t see how we can get all pious with it. The difference now, though, is that Ireland trades on the drunken stereotype and therefore should not be surprised when it is picked up by popular culture.”

Prejudice certainly does still exist even on Open Salon. It is of that sneering kind which sets out to condescend and humiliate and then says “can’t you take a joke”. On the other hand, there was a period, it may have passed, when it was fashionable to be Irish.

Basil D’Oliveira

Cricketer Basil D’Oliveira has died at the age of 80. He was picked to play in the England team touring South Africa in 1968. The  apartheid South African government did not like this as Basil was of a dusky hue. Private Eye did this cover.

Sir Roger Casement Part2

Irish Patriot

Although one normally thinks of Irish Nationalist Republicans as being Catholic, Casement was not the first to come from the Protestant Anglo-Irish Ascendancy. Wolfe Tone, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Robert Emmett, John Mitchel, Charles Stewart Parnell and Erskine Childers were heroes of the Nationalist pantheon who were Protestants.

In the 1970s the leader of the Provisional IRA had the impressively Gaelic name of Sean Mc Stíofáin. He was in fact an Englishman called John Stephenson.

Casement had long been interested in Irish history and believed that the Irish had a distinctive character which could not thrive within the existing constitutional framework and relationship with Britain. His interest was transformed from a hobby into a passion by his friendship with Alice Green. She was the widow of the distinguished English historian, JR Green, and built a substantial reputation as a historian in her own right. Her main thesis in her writings was that the English, far from civilizing the savage Irish, had imposed a destructive alien rule on a highly cultured community.

Casement connected his Congo experiences with his analysis of the colonization of Ireland by the English. The English had not only parcelled Irish  land out as property, they had distributed it among themselves and appropriated most of its produce. The population of Ireland had been drastically reduced by undernourishment, disease or emigration. This was particularly devastating in the 1840s when the failure of the monoculture crop caused by recurrent potato blight led to widespread famine compounded by doctrinaire economic policies based on ‘free’ trade.

A commission of inquiry investigating the financial relationship between England and Ireland concluded that, since the Act of Union of 1800, the Irish had actually been overtaxed relative to the English. Even the fiercely loyalist Ulster unionist leader, Colonel Saunderson, said, “When Englishmen set to work to wipe the tear out of Ireland’s eye, they always buy the pocket handkerchief at Ireland’s expense.”

It was easy to see the parallels with Leopold’s ‘system’ in the Congo. In 1904, Casement was not anti-English and continued to be employed by the British crown. However, his passion for Ireland led him to start learning the Irish language in that year and he met the Irish nationalist writer, Stephen Gwynn at the Festival of the Glens. He contributed financially to Irish cultural causes. Gwynn described him thus: “What remains in my mind is chiefly the impression of his personal charm and beauty…Figure and face he seemed to me to be one of the finest-looking creatures I had ever seen; and his countenance had charm, distinction, and a high chivalry. Knight-errant he was; clear-sighted, cool-headed, knowing as well as any that ever lived how to strengthen his case by temperate statement, yet always charged with passion.”

Casement resigned from the consular service in 1912. The following year, he helped form the Irish Volunteers. He worked hard to raise funds for the Irish independence movement but was distrusted by some because of his background serving the Crown and because he was too moderate. However, the extreme Clann na Gael leader, McGarrity was devoted to him. A gunrunning enterprise in late July 1914 which he had helped to organise and finance further improved Casement’s reputation.

In September 1914, Casement met the German Ambassador to the US in New York and attempted to secure German aid for Irish independence. In November 1914, Casement negotiated a declaration by Germany which stated, “The Imperial Government formally declares that under no circumstances would Germany invade Ireland with a view to its conquest or the overthrow of any native institutions in that country. Should the fortune of this great war, that was not of Germany’s seeking,  ever bring in its course German troops to the shores of Ireland, they would land there not as an army of invaders to pillage and destroy but as the forces of a Government that is inspired by goodwill towards a country and people for whom Germany desires only national prosperity and national freedom.” Casement  travelled to Germany and negotiated with Under Secretary of State in the Foreign Office, Arthur Zimmermann and with the Imperial Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg.

The main purpose of his visit to Germany was to talk to Irishmen who were prisoners of war. The plan failed because all Irishmen fighting in the British army did so voluntarily. The Germans, who were skeptical about  Casement but nonetheless were aware of the military advantage they could gain from an Irish rebellion against England They  offered the Irish 20,000 rifles and ten machine guns with accompanying ammunition. This was a mere fraction of what Casement had hoped for.

Casement did not get much thanks from the Irish Republican Brotherhood for his efforts. They deliberately kept him in the dark and even tried to replace him. He did not learn about the 1916 Easter Rising until the plan was fully developed. The German weapons were never landed in Ireland. The British  had intercepted German communications out of Washington and knew there was going to be an attempt to land arms even if the Royal Navy was not precisely aware of where. The arms ship under was apprehended by HMS Bluebell on the late afternoon of Good Friday. About to be escorted into Queenstown (present day Cobh, birthplace of my father) in County Cork on the morning of Saturday 22 April, after surrendering, the ship was scuttled by pre-set explosive charges. Her crew became prisoners-of-war. Casement was put ashore at Banna Strand in County Kerry on 21 April, 1916, three days before the Easter Rising began. He was too weak to travel and was soon arrested on charges of treason, espionage and sabotage and taken straight to London.

Trial and Execution

The trial was something of an embarrassment to the British government. The Treason Act seemed to apply only to treasonous activities conducted on British soil and Casement’s crimes had been committed in Germany. The court decided that a comma be read into the text allowing a broader interpretation.

In his speech from the dock, Casement said that he was being tried by a foreign power which exerted its rights over him and his countrymen by conquest.

“It is a rule derived not from right, but from conquest. Conquest, my lord, gives no title, and if it exists over the body, it fails over the mind. It can exert no empire over men’s reason and judgment and affections; and it is from this law of conquest without title to the reason, judgment, and affection of my own country men that I appeal. I would add that the generous expressions of sympathy extended me from many quarters, particularly from America, have touched me very much. In that country, as in my own, I am sure my motives are understood and not misjudged,  for the achievement of their liberties has been an abiding inspiration to Irishmen and to all men elsewhere rightly struggling to be free in like cause.

We are told that if Irishmen go by the thousand to die, not for Ireland, but for Flanders, for Belgium, for a patch of sand on the deserts of Mesopotamia, or a rocky trench on the heights of Gallipoli, they are winning self-government for Ireland. But if they dare to lay down their lives on their native soil, if they dare to dream even that freedom can be won only at home by men resolved to fight for it there, then they are traitors to their country, and their dream and their deaths alike are phases of a dishonorable phantasy.

If it be treason to fight against such an unnatural fate as this, then I am proud to be a rebel, and shall cling to my “rebellion” with the last drop of my blood. If there be no right of rebellion against a state of things that no savage tribe would endure without resistance, then I am sure that it is better for man to fight and die without right than to live in such a state of right as this.

Where all your rights become only an accumulated wrong; where men must beg with bated breath for leave to subsist in their own land, to think their own thoughts, to sing their own songs, to garner the fruits of their own labours—and even while they beg, to see things inexorably withdrawn from them—then surely it is a braver, a saner and a truer thing, to be a rebel in act and deed against such circumstances as these than tamely to accept it as the natural lot of men.’

In spite of pleas for clemency from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, WB Yeats, and GB Shaw, Casement was hanged at Pentonville Prison on 3 August 1916 at the age of 51. Casement converted to Catholicism just before his execution. After his execution, Casement’s body was buried in quicklime in the prison cemetery.

In 1965, his remains were repatriated to Ireland. Half a million people filed past his coffin as it lay in state for five days. Thirty thousand Irish citizens, including the frail 85-year-old president, Eamon de Valera, the last surviving leader of the Easter Rising, attended a state funeral with full military honors. Casement’s remains were buried in the Republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

Casement’s Homosexuality

Even before his execution, a smear campaign was underway with copies of the so-called ‘black diaries’ being circulated. The documents show Casement to have been a promiscuous homosexual with a penchant for boys and young men. There was always a strong lobby arguing that these were forgeries.

In August 1916, the English poet Alfred Noyes (I remember being subjected to his greatest hit, “The Highwayman” at primary school – it was voted England’s 15th favourite poem in 1995),  was working in the News Department of the Foreign Office.

He wrote: “I have seen and read them and they touch the lowest depths that human degradation has ever touched. Page after page of his diary would be an insult to a pig’s trough to let the foul record touch it.”

Later Noyes  was  in Philadelphia to give a lecture on English poets, but before he could utter a word he was confronted by Sir Roger’s sister, Nina. “A  lady of distinguished bearing rose in the audience and asked if she might say a few words… to my horror and that of the audience, she announced that she had come for the express purpose of exposing the speaker of the evening as a ‘blackguardly scoundrel’. ‘Your countrymen,’ she cried, ‘hanged my brother Roger Casement.’ “

He admitted he might have been mistaken and his admission was seized upon by Casement sympathisers. Twenty years later, Yeats named Noyes in a withering attack: “Come, Alfred Noyes, come all the troop That cried it far and wide Come from the forger and his desk Desert the perjurer’s side”.

In 1957, Noyes tried to make amends  when he published The Accusing Ghost or Justice for Casement in which he argued that Casement had indeed been the victim of a British Intelligence plot.

His conversion, and Yeats’s  protest in verse, cemented the idea that the diaries were forgeries. However, an independent forensic  team published the following verdict:

“The unequivocal and confident conclusion which the Giles Document Laboratory has reached is that each of the five documents collectively known as the Black Diaries is exclusively the work of Roger Casement’s hand, without any reason to suspect either forgery or interpolation by any other hand. The Diaries are genuine throughout and in each instance.”

Jeffrey Dudgeon’s (Dudgeon himself was instrumental in getting homosexual acts decriminalized in Northern Ireland in 1982) annotated 2002 edition of the diaries, accompanied by a perceptive and empathetic biographical treatment, went a long way towards integrating Casement’s nationalist, humanitarian and gay lives.

Sir Roger Casement

Colonialism is rarely totally advantageous to the colonised. The British Empire was not the only villain. Certainly the pre-Nazi German colonial enterprise was not benign to the conquered. The Kaiser’s colonialism was enmeshed with racism. A  fear of guerrilla attacks created  a genocidal mentality and  a policy of total annihilation, including  deliberate starvation. 150,000 Hehe starved in Tanganyika and a further 300,000 people in the Maji-Maji revolt. Sixty  per cent of the Hereros and Nama were exterminated in Namibia.

Little Belgium was particularly vicious.

In a strange episode, Sir Roger Casement, a British diplomat who exposed Belgian crimes in the Congo,  was executed by the British for his part in the Irish rebellion.

In the early sixties, I was staying at the Grand Union Hotel in Cobh, County Cork. The hotel was run and owned by the Allen family. Captain Allen of the Irish Army was home on leave from service with the UN force in the Congo. He gave us a slide show presentation about the Congo. I am glad that he did not go into the atrocities that occurred during that time of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba and the secession of Katanga province under Moise Tshombe.

The Grand Union Hotel long ago succumbed to recession and subsidence. It was located in Casement Square.

Who was this man Casement?

Roger Casement was brought up in Northern Ireland as a protestant, a Unionist loyal to the Crown. He distinguished himself as an honourable member of the British diplomatic service and was awarded a knighthood.

In 1916 he was hanged by the British as a traitor and his body dumped in a pit of quicklime at Pentonville Prison.

Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa has written a novel about Casement. El sueño del celta (The Dream of the Celt), was published in Spanish on 3 November, 2010. The novel won’t be available in English until early 2012.  “Casement is a figure with a complex historical relationship to the UK establishment and there is bound to be significant interest in this novel from a constituency of readers much broader than fans of Vargas Llosa or, indeed, readers of literary fiction,” said the publisher, Lee Brackstone. “We certainly expect to grow Mario’s sales dramatically in the wake of the Nobel with a novel so fixed in British and Irish political and cultural history.”

The Congo Free State

Casement was initially a willing participant in the colonial project. When he got a job with the Elder Dempster shipping line in Liverpool he did not like the idea of being an office-bound clerk. He persuaded the company to let him go as a purser on one of its ships to Boma in the Congo and once there at the age of 20 joined the unpaid volunteers who were working for Henry Morton Stanley, the man who achieved fame by “finding” David Livingstone.

Stanley’s project of opening up the unmapped regions of Central Africa had attracted  King Leopold II of Belgium. However, the King could not arouse the interest of his subjects in colonial ventures and decided to look for financial support outside Belgium. An International African Association was set up with Leopold as its chairman. He stated that his sole ambition was “to open up to civilisation the only area of our globe to which it has not yet penetrated”.

Leopold was tall and striking in appearance but inspired neither the affection nor respect of his own people nor the friendship of his royal cousins. Leopold was first cousin to Queen Victoria, but her son, the future Edward VII , detested him. He founded the Congo Free State, which covered the entire area of the present day Democratic Republic of the Congo, which he ran as a personal fiefdom and business venture.

After the break-up of Stanley’s team, Casement was recruited to the British diplomatic service and served as consul in a number of African locations.

Many people who met Casement at this time  were impressed by him. Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi : “All I can say from personal experience, and long friendship, is that I have always found him sympathetic, clever and fascinating, and that I have met very few men during my whole life who had such an exceptional personality. He possessed an absolutely genuine, though somewhat exaggerated, idealism: nothing whatever would stop him from assisting the weaker against the stronger, because he simply could not help it.”

Poultney Bigelow was one of the best-known American foreign correspondents of the time. He saw Casement as the sort of man depicted in Jules Verne’s novels, “the man who is everlastingly exploring and extricating himself from every imaginable difficulty by superhuman tact, wit and strength.”

In 1890 at Matadi, Casement met young Captain Korzeniowski, who found Casement “most intelligent and sympathetic”.   The captain recalled that Casement had “a touch of the conquistador in  him too; for I’ve seen him start into an unspeakable wilderness swinging a crook-handled stick for all weapons, with two bulldogs Paddy (white) and Biddy, (brindle) at his heels, and a Loanda boy carrying a bundle for all company. A few months afterwards it so happened that I saw him come out again, a little leaner, a little browner, with his stick, dogs and Loanda boy, and quietly serene as though he had been for a stroll in a park.”

The Captain later became Joseph Conrad and transmuted his Upper Congo experience into Heart of Darkness.

Casement was intelligent and sensitive enough to appreciate that there was an underbelly to  the colonial enterprise. He was a published poet. One of his poems, in the style of Thomas Davis, writer of the Irish rebel song ‘A Nation Once Again’, included the lines:

‘Prate not of England’s valour in the field

Her heart is sick with lust.

The gold she wins is red with blood, nor can it shield

Her name from tainted league with men of broken trust.’

The ostensible objective of the enterprise had been to benefit the natives,  not to enrich a colonial power. Trade returns showed that the flow of rubber out of the Congo into Belgium was rapidly increasing but there was an unchanging trickle of imports into the Congo. The main import seemed to be guns. The labour force was not being paid. Leopold’s authority in the Free State was absolute, so only he was in a position to embezzle the State’s funds.

Casement met King Leopold in Brussels in October 1900 and challenged him with these reports. The King pleaded that Belgium was only a tiny country wanting ‘a few- only a few- of the crumbs that fall from your well-stocked British table. And yet in England you are suspicious of us!’

By 1903, Casement was British consul in Kinshasa and was commissioned by the British government to write a report on the human rights situation in the Congo Free State.

There were some criticisms that Casement’s visit was too brief, but he had previous experience; he knew what he was looking for and was not surprised by what he found. He was prepared for Leopold’s possible defence that there might have been isolated incidents of abuse. Casement knew in his heart and his head that there was a ‘system’. The cutting off of hands was the deliberate act of soldiers of the administration, “who never made any concealment that in committing these acts they were but obeying the positive orders of their superiors”. The Free State, Casement knew and felt he could prove, was no more than a gigantic and ruthless commercial enterprise.

He was supported by the campaigning freelance journalist, Edmund D Morel, to whom he donated a third of his annual salary. Morel recalled, ‘The weapon which brought Leopold to his knees was forged by two men in straitened circumstances who, so far as they could see in to the future, had everything to lose and nothing to gain.’

The two men campaigned energetically in many countries to bring the abuses to light. In America, the campaign attracted the support of Booker T Washington and Mark Twain. Twain wrote of, “King Leopold II, who for money’s sake, mutilates and starves half a million of friendly and helpless poor natives in the Congo every year”. He described Leopold as “this mouldy and piety-mouthing hypocrite, this bloody monster, whose mate is not found in history anywhere, and whose personality will surely shame hell itself when he arrives there- which will be soon we hope and trust.”

The Casement Report comprises forty pages of the Parliamentary Papers, to which is appended another twenty pages of individual statements gathered by the Consul. The report demonstrated in grim detail how a slave labour force was maintained by systematic brutality including amputations, vicious beatings, kidnappings and killings of the native population by the Bula Matadi soldiers of King Leopold. The report contained long and detailed eye-witness reports.

Casement gave his own eye-witness reports:  “I was  able to institute a comparison between a state of affairs I had myself seen when the natives loved their own savage lives in anarchic and disorderly communities, uncontrolled by Europeans, and that created by more than a decade of very energetic European intervention”.

“On the 25th of July (1903) we reached Lukolela, where I spent two days. This district had, when I visited it in 1887, numbered fully 5,000 people; today the population is given, after a careful enumeration, at less than 600. The reasons given me for their decline in numbers were similar to those furnished elsewhere, namely, sleeping-sickness, general ill-health, insufficiency of food, and the methods employed to obtain labour from them by local officials and the exactions levied on them.”

“Two cases (of mutilation) came to my actual notice while I was in the lake district. One, a young man, both of whose hands had been beaten off with the butt ends of rifles against a tree; the other a young lad of 11 or 12 years of age, whose right hand was cut off at the wrist. . . . In both these cases the Government soldiers had been accompanied by white officers whose names were given to me. Of six natives (one a girl, three little boys, one youth, and one old woman) who had been mutilated in this way during the rubber regime, all except one were dead at the date of my visit.”

The report led to the arrest and punishment of officials who had been responsible for murders during a rubber-collection expedition in 1903 (including one Belgian national who was given a five year sentence for causing the shooting of at least 122 Congolese natives).

Leopold had been granted control of the Congo Free State under the 1885 Berlin Agreement which carved up Africa between the European colonial powers.  The term ‘Free’ signified the free trade that the Berlin Act obliged Leopold to establish for the benefit of all nations who wished to trade there; a condition that the King managed to flout through awarding territorial concessions for rubber extraction to a number of private companies, some of which were mere disguises for his own aggrandizement The British government demanded a meeting of the 14 Berlin signatories. The Belgian parliament, pressed by socialist leader, Emile Vandervelde, forced Leopold to set up a commission of inquiry which could not avoid confirming the essentials of Casement’s report. In 1908, the Belgian parliament took over control of the Free State from Leopold and it became the Belgian Congo.

Casement was awarded a CMG (Companion of the Order of St Michael St George in 1905 for his Congo work.


Casement had the chance to do similar work in Peru in 1906 among the Putumayo Indians. Public outrage in Britain over abuses against the Indians had been sparked in 1909 by articles in the British magazine Truth. Following two visits, Casement submitted a report to the British foreign secretary, dated 17 March 1911, in which he detailed the punishments carried out by the British-registered Peruvian Amazon Company.

“Men, women, and children were confined for days, weeks, and often months. … Whole families … were imprisoned–fathers, mothers, and children, and many cases were reported of parents dying thus, either from starvation or from wounds caused by flogging, while their offspring were attached alongside of them to watch in misery themselves the dying agonies of their parents.”

Some of the men exposed as killers in his report were charged by Peru and others fled. The main culprit, Julio Cesar Arana, was never prosecuted. He instead went on to a successful political career, becoming a senator, and died in Lima in 1952 at age eighty-eight.

On returning to London, Casement campaigned on behalf of the Anti-Slavery Society.

Casement was knighted by George V for his efforts on behalf of the Amazonian Indians.

Five years after his Putumayo report to the foreign secretary, Casement’s body was in quicklime at Pentonville prison.

More in Part Two

Obama Tortured by British Shock!

The London Times reported a while ago that  Hussein Onyango Obama, Barack Obama’s paternal grandfather, was arrested in 1949 by the British during the Mau-Mau uprising in Kenya and subjected to horrific violence which left him permanently scarred and embittered against the British. He worked as an army cook but became involved in the independence movement aimed at overthrowing colonial rule.

“The African warders were instructed by the white soldiers to whip him every morning and evening till he confessed,” Sarah Onyango, 87, Hussein Onyango’s third wife, the woman President Obama refers to as “Granny Sarah” said. “He said they would sometimes squeeze his testicles with metallic rods. They also pierced his nails and buttocks with a sharp pin, with his hands and legs tied together with his head facing down,”

Onyango served with the British Army in Burma during the Second World War. Although a member of the Luo tribe from western Kenya, he sympathized with the Kikuyu Central Association, which evolved into the Mau Mau. Mrs Onyango said that her husband had supplied information to the insurgents. “His job as cook to a British army officer made him a useful informer for the secret oathing movement.”

Mr Onyango was probably tried in a magistrates’ court on charges of political sedition or membership of a banned organization, but the records do not survive because such documentation was routinely destroyed in British colonies after six years.

British involvement in Kenya began late in the 19th century when at the Berlin Conference of 1885, European nations carved up the African continent. East and southern Africa fell under the British sphere of influence. In 1888, the Imperial British East Africa Company was granted a Royal Charter to administer East Africa until, in 1895 the British government established a Protectorate.

Kenyan society was clearly divided along racial lines during colonial rule. White Europeans dominated politics, economics and were at the top of the social scale. Asians occupied the middle levels of society. They were mainly involved in small-scale agriculture and industry, retail, trade, skilled and semi-skilled labour and generally worked in the middle level of the civil service. Africans, who formed the majority of the population, were mostly poor farmers and had very little say in how Kenya was run.

The occupation of land, particularly in the Kikuyu areas of the cool central highlands, by European settlers had long been a source of bitter resentment. By 1948, 1.25 million Kikuyu were restricted to 2,000 square miles, while 30,000 white settlers occupied 12,000 square miles of the best agricultural land.

Settler farming was uneconomic, supported by government subsidies for most of the colonial period, whereas early Kikuyu cash-crop farming was efficient and undercut settler prices. But Africans were soon banned from growing tea, coffee, and sisal, and a minimum price set for maize removed their advantage. Some Kikuyu were allowed to occupy land as tenant farmers with no legal rights on white settlers’ farms, which had been their homes, in exchange for their labour. The real income of these Kikuyu fell by about 40% during the period 1936 to 1946 and fell even more sharply after that. The settlers demanded ever more labor and further restricted access to land in an attempt to turn the tenant farmers into laborers. Overstocking, soil erosion, and hunger spread. “Improvements”, like the digging of terraces by female forced labour, were bitterly resented.

Thousands migrated to Nairobi whose population doubled between 1938 and 1952. By 1953, almost half of all Kikuyu had no land claims at all. The results were worsening poverty, starvation, unemployment and overpopulation.

After World War II, there was an increase in the number of white settlers in Kenya. Most were demobilised British officers who hoped to benefit from the comfortable lifestyle that was available to them and their families. Black Africans who had served with British forces during the Second World War returned home to Kenya with hopes for a better life. I have met the spoilt offspring of some of these creatures.

There was a civil war among the Kikuyu because some Kikuyu managed to retain their land and forged strong ties with the British. Divide and rule.

The Mau Mau were able to be portrayed as savages by the British because of lurid tales of oaths which included promises to kill, dismember and burn settlers and rituals which included animal sacrifice or the ingestion of blood. There were rumors of cannibalism, congress with goats, orgies, ritual places decorated with intestines and goat eyes.

A State of Emergency was declared in October 1952. Troops arrested nearly 100 Kenyan leaders, including future president Jomo Kenyatta. In the first 25 days of Operation Jock Scott, 8,000 people were arrested. The British fielded 55,000 troops in total over the course of the conflict, although the total number did not exceed more than 10,000 at any one time. The majority of the security effort was borne by the Kenya Police and the Tribal Police/Home Guard. Over the course of the conflict, some soldiers either could not or would not differentiate between Mau Mau and non-combatants, and reportedly shot innocent Kenyans. Many soldiers were reported to have collected severed rebel hands for an unofficial five-shilling bounty,

The small numbers of British troops, a high degree of popular support for the rebels, and the low quality of colonial intelligence gave the Mau Mau the upper hand for the first half of 1953. Over 1800 loyalist Kikuyu (Christians, landowners, government loyalists and other Mau Mau opponents) were killed. The Mau Mau mainly attacked at night, emerging from the forests. They attacked isolated farms, but occasionally also households in suburbs of Nairobi. Only the lack of firearms prevented the rebels from inflicting severe casualties on the police and European community.

In 1954, Nairobi was put under military control. Security forces screened 30,000 Africans and arrested 17,000 on suspicion of complicity, including many people who  were later revealed to be innocent. About 15,000 Kikuyu were interned and thousands more were deported to the Kikuyu reserves in the highlands west of Mount Kenya. Entire rebel leadership structures, including the Council for Freedom, were swept away to detention camps and the most important source of supplies and recruits for the resistance evaporated. The authorities repeated the exercise in other areas so that by the end of 1954 there were 77,000 Kikuyu in concentration camps. About 100,000 Kikuyu squatters were deported back to the reserves.

One British colonial officer described the labour camps thus: “Short rations, overwork, brutality, humiliating and disgusting treatment and flogging – all in violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights.” Cholera swept through the camps. Official medical reports were ignored, and the British lied about conditions in the camps.

Atrocities were committed on both sides. Mau Mau militants were guilty of human rights violations, and many of the murders of which they were guilty were brutal in the extreme. More than 1,800 Kenyan civilians are known to have been murdered by Mau Mau, and hundreds more disappeared, their bodies never found.

Kenya’s whites saw the killings by the Mau Mau as irrefutable proof of African barbarism, but Africans were engaging in practices perfected in Europe. Galician serfs hacked their Polish landlords to pieces in 1846; Spanish peasants used the scythe and the axe on latifundista families in the civil war; Ukrainian peasants did the same or worse to their better-off neighbors between 1941 and 1944.

In January, 1953, Mau Mau murdered a white couple and their six-year-old son on their farm with knives. Many settlers sacked all their Kikuyu servants. Europeans, including women, armed themselves with any weapon they could find, and in some cases built full-scale forts on their farms.

In March 1953, 1,000 rebels attacked a loyalist village, where 170 non-combatants were hacked or burnt to death. Most of them were the wives and children of Kikuyu Home Guards serving elsewhere. In the weeks that followed, some suspected rebels were summarily executed by police and loyalist Home Guards, and many other Mau Mau implicated in the massacre were brought to trial and hanged.

Only 32 British civilians were killed by Mau Mau militants. The number of Mau Mau fighters killed by the British was about 20,000, and large numbers of Kikuyu not directly involved in the rebellion were persecuted. Lawyers acting for Kenyans suing for compensation have documented about 6,000 cases of abuses including fatal whippings, blindings and rapes.

A British officer, describing his exasperation about uncooperative Mau Mau suspects during an interrogation, explained that:

“I stuck my revolver right in his grinning mouth and I said something, I don’t remember what, and I pulled the trigger. His brains went all over the side of the police station. The other two Mickeys [Mau Mau] were standing there looking blank. I said to them that if they didn’t tell me where to find the rest of the gang I’d kill them too. They didn’t say a word so I shot them both. One wasn’t dead so I shot him in the ear. When the sub-inspector drove up, I told him that the Mickeys tried to escape. He didn’t believe me but all he said was ‘bury them and see the wall is cleared up.’”

Many settlers took an active role in the torture of Mau Mau suspects, running their own screening teams and assisting British security forces during interrogation. Many white settler volunteers ran the concentration camps. Mrs. Katharine Warren-Gash—who liked to think of herself as a “white Kikuyu,” ran the women’s camps at Kamiti. There they were interrogated, whipped, starved, and subjected to hard labour, which included filling mass graves with truckloads of corpses from other camps. Many women gave birth at Kamiti, but the infant death rate was overwhelming. The women buried their babies in bundles of six at a time. Mrs. Warren-Gash brought the archbishop of Mombasa to Kamiti, where he conducted a mass oath-cleansing ceremony in person.

Neil Ascherson, in the New York Review of Books, described an encounter he had in Cyprus in the late 1950s. “Pordy Laneford had come from Kenya. He sat on his hotel bed, a chinless wonder with watery blue eyes and a small moustache, and chatted about himself. He was even younger than I was. Pordy had been named after a Devonshire trout stream which ran past his family home, a bankrupt farm (as he described it) run by a military father who collected medals and taught his children about the Empire. Pordy also took up medal-collecting and Empire. He signed up with the Rhodesian police. But soon, to his surprise, he was discharged ignominiously for torturing an African suspect. He looked around for ‘something which was good fun and sort of helped to hold the Empire up.’ In Kenya, the Mau Mau rebellion had begun, so Pordy joined the infamous Kenya Police Reserve, the paramilitary force recruited mostly from white settlers. He explained to me how important it was to kill captured suspects at once, without waiting for the ‘red tape’ of trials and witness statements. ‘Killing prisoners? Well, it’s not really the same thing, is it? I mean, I’d feel an awful shit if I thought I’d been killing prisoners.’”

“I had met other Pordys before, in different parts of the Empire. It was that schoolboy innocence which made them so terribly dangerous, because it was an incurable condition. They were worse, in many ways, than those compulsive sadists who emerge whenever licensed savagery is in prospect. For Pordys, torture was just a lark, a naughty sport like shooting pheasants out of season. Addicts are treatable. Fun-lovers will always hanker for more fun.”

Ascherson was reviewing books by Caroline Elkins and David Anderson.

Caroline Elkins, Associate Professor of History at Harvard has written a book on the period, Imperial Reckoning: the untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya, which won a Pulitzer Prize and a lot of attention.

According to her calculations, up to 320,000 Kikuyu—nearly a third of the population—may have passed through the more than 50 camps, a figure which does not include the people, mostly women and children, held behind barbed wire in the fortified resettlement villages.

She also attempts to put a figure to the total loss of Kikuyu lives, the born and the unborn. She projects population growth from the 1948 census total, compares the result with the 1962 census figure, and finds a gap between them of over 136,000—at the very lowest estimate of growth rates. In her introduction, Elkins declares: “I now believe there was in late colonial Kenya a murderous campaign to eliminate Kikuyu people, a campaign that left tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, dead.”

Lawrence James, who has written extensively on the British Empire, criticized Elkins’s book as being one-sided. James in turn was criticized for being too kind to the British. A number of historians have questioned her methodology and asserted that her figures are grossly exaggerated.

Demographer John Blacker writing in African Affairs demonstrated in detail that Elkins’ estimates of casualties were grossly over-estimated.

In the Journal of African History, Kenyan historian, Bethwell Ogot, wrote that the Mau Mau:“Contrary to African customs and values, assaulted old people, women and children. The horrors they practiced included the following: decapitation and general mutilation of civilians, torture before murder, bodies bound up in sacks and dropped in wells, burning the victims alive, gouging out of eyes, splitting open the stomachs of pregnant women. No war can justify such gruesome actions. In man’s inhumanity to man there is no race distinction. The Africans were practicing it on themselves. There was no reason and no restraint on both sides, although Elkins sees no atrocities on the part of Mau Mau”.

David Anderson went into the surviving trial archives of Emergency Kenya. He examines the grounds on which at least 1,090 Africans were sent to the gallows within a few years—a total without parallel in the late British Empire. He then uses the evidence to reconstruct in detail the story of the Mau Mau rebellion, with its intricate background and its terrible consequences.

Caroline Elkins did lengthy archival research in Kenya and London but also uses oral testimony, which can be unreliable. Nevertheless, the brutality revealed in her interviews is in all too many cases corroborated by witnesses who could not have cooked up the stories in collaboration. Chroniclers of King Leopold’s “Congo Free State,” for example, have always lamented that the firsthand witnesses to its atrocities were all European or American.  Nobody let the Congolese speak for themselves.

The “Hola Massacre” has become part of British, as well as Kenyan, history. On March 3, 1959, a hundred detainees in the remote Hola camp defied orders to go to work. A force of five hundred riot police had already been assembled. When the prisoners refused to pick up their spades, a prearranged onslaught began. An hour later, ten prisoners had been clubbed to death and dozens lay dying or injured. In spite of a frantic cover-up campaign, Britain’s domination of Kenya was fatally damaged.

Anderson writes: “What is astonishing about Kenya’s dirty war is not that it remained secret at the time but that it was so well known and so thoroughly documented.”

Ascherson comments: “The British need to believe that their Empire was run and eventually dismantled with restraint and humanity—as opposed to the disgusting brutality of the French, Dutch, Belgian, Portuguese, Spanish, and German colonial empires. Punctures in that belief have to be mended.”

“The myth that British colonialism guaranteed a minimum standard of behavior toward ‘natives’ cannot—or should not—survive the evidence of twentieth-century Kenya. In the field, the security forces behaved like Germans on an antipartisan sweep in occupied France. In the detention and work camps, and the resettlement villages, the British created a world no better than the universe of the Soviet Gulag.”

Padraig Colman

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