Remembrance? Remember everything

2nd November 2005

There is a growing clamour in Ireland for those who served in the British armed forces to be honoured. At the same time, the campaign by revisionist historians and commentators against ‘physical force’ republicanism gathers pace.

Each year it becomes more acceptable in Ireland to take part in Remembrance Sunday, the day on which the British remember their war dead. Those who advocate on behalf of the Irish in the British Army do so out of compassion for these men and their families. They believe that the Irish people in general should forget their differences with the British and take part in the Remembrance Day events.

They are totally wrong.

Let me explain why by the use of one example.

The British declared an emergency in Kenya in 1952 at the outset of the Mau Mau Rebellion. Over the following nine years some 200 British police and soldiers were killed. 32 white settlers were killed by the African rebels.

At the same time over 1,000 Africans were hung in British jails after ‘trials’. 10,000 to 20,000 Kenyans were killed in ‘battles’ with British forces.

As the military campaign intensified the British regime in Kenya entered a period of absolute and unrestrained depravity. Tens of thousands of Kenyans were rounded up and herded into camps. Torture and murder became daily events. Prisoners were mutilated and beaten to death during interrogation. Sexual violence against prisoners, men and women, was rampant.

A wholesale attack on the civilian population ensued. In Nairobi in two weeks in 1954, 20,000 people were sent to the detention camps and another 30,000 were deported internally to tribal reserves. The conditions in the detention camps were appalling. Caroline Elkins, a historian working on the history of the British in Kenya, estimates that up to 100,000 people died in the camps due to disease, neglect and brutality.

So that’s one brief tale of Britain’s history in the world. The British Empire covered a quarter of the globe so there are many other tales. Some are not-so-bad and some are worse.

What is so objectionable about Remembrance Day is it’s attempt to set aside the bad bits in the history of Britain’s armed forces. It is an attempt to sanitise history, to commemorate these men in a totality of decency where no such totality exists.

If we are to remember the past, we should do it honestly. If the British want to remember the British soldier, then they should also remember the soldier and civilian that he killed.

I fear that the present campaign to remember Irish soldiers of the Great War is an underhand attempt to rehabilitate the British Empire in Ireland.

And the fact is that we were up to our necks in the British Empire, at all military and administrative levels. This is not something we should be proud of, or that we should be commemorating.

It’s time that the British faced up to their bloody history. We should be helping them or forcing them to do it, rather like the Koreans are doing to the Japanese. We shouldn’t collaborate in a deceit or a travesty.

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