A newsletter in church today carried a piece by a recently deceased priest on a French  Trappist monk, Charles de Foucauld, who is a candidate for beatification and the  late author was one of those involved in the presentation of his cause to the Vatican. De Foucauld, an aristocrat, was a commissioned officer and saw service in Algeria where the local population failed to appreciate the benefits of French, colonial rule and frequently vented their anger on the occupying forces. The writer  makes the point that the French colonialists could be fairly brutal. Last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris and the killings by young men of Algerian descent  at the Charlie Hebdo  office were condemned by the Western press; few articles at the time made any link  with the slaughter in 1961 of an estimated   300 peaceful Algerian nationalist demonstrators by Parisian police.

The English author notes in an aside that Britain too had an Empire – ‘although in many places it was mostly benign rule ‘. This is glaringly wrong and the kind of casual myth-making which is tolerated, even in Ireland,  where colonial rule saw British soldiers in recent times,  adopt, with Westminster approval,  a shoot-to-kill  ordinance and the murder of innocent  civilians , most notably in Ballymurphy and on Bloody Sunday in Derry. There are elements within the Irish establishment press that would portray the role of the British army in the Six Counties at the end of the last century as that of a peace-keeping force. The truth, of course , is that the armed forces were active combatants.

Winston Churchill was a  ruthless exponent of Empire.  Many of his most brutal deeds are documented in Professor Caroline Elkins’s book, ‘Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire’.  The tactics condoned by Churchill, the Colonial Secretary, to crush aspirations for independence and freedom included the most vile methods of torture such as electric shock treatment and burning with cigarettes. Churchill saw local Kikuyu as ‘brutish children’ . That racism marked too his dealings in India and the Middle East where he regarded the Palestinians as ‘barbaric hordes’.

The known Aboriginal population of Australia at the time of white colonisation was 500 000; today it is   247 000. Scots pioneers in Victoria  were often land-grabbers and squatters whose vicious ruthlessness was notorious. With the Welsh and the Irish, they played a full part in the harsh treatment  of the indigenous people, including forced repatriation and the separation of children from their families.

Colonialism was a malign force which suppressed the human rights of people across the world. The Americans, for example , could not sell their  tobacco rice, sugar, furs etc to any country but England. We worked in Zambia in the early seventies, a few years after independence had finally been granted. The colonial legacy was alive and thriving; copper,  its most important  resource, was owned and managed by Western multinationals and its value was decided, not in Lusaka, but on the London tin market. At the time of Independence,  there were only five secondary schools in a country four times the size of Britain.

We have a duty to challenge fearlessly these myths about ‘benign empire’ wherever they occur. Revisionism and political apologists must not be allowed to depict the Empire in favourable terms because,  in fairness to all those who suffered under it, the reverse was true.

Colonialism destroyed lives , hopes, cultures and identities; many are still living with the effects.  Winston Churchill was the progenitor of modern Iraq.

The consequences are reverberating today  in Aleppo.




  1. Oz 2015 October 31, 2016 at 11:31 am #

    One of the things that I regard the British should not be let away with .Is what they did in India.After a so called “mutiny” there.
    The caught some indian Rebels.
    These Indian Rebels had a religious belief.
    One of the tenets of this religion was that in order to enjoy the afterlife a person who died had to leave a full body behind. I.e no cremations etc.
    So the Beloved Hun strapped these poor creatures to cannons… They then fired these canons and the recoil of which caused death in the first instance but in the second instance it “broke” their bodies. Basically tore their limbs from them.
    The idea been that this would deny these people their belief system.Deny them an “afterlife”.

    An act of Terrorism if ever there was one.
    Absolute vileness is ingrained in them
    once you understand that.. Everything else is easy to understand.
    British apologists in Ireland are scum too..For kowtowing to the former tyrant.

  2. Wolfe tone October 31, 2016 at 12:12 pm #

    Indeed British empire terrorism apologists will often say that the British rulers of whichever country they happened to reign over at a period in time ‘often left the country peacefully’. What they don’t say is that they left after wreaking untold terrorism on the native population and had successfully settled others and assimilated natives to ensure their bidding and interests were maintained. I guess they underestimated Mugabe when they granted him the reigns of power. They thought they’d placed a dictator that would ensure their interests were maintained but alas he didn’t follow through. Hence their vitriol for him.

    • John Patton October 31, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

      Their very uninvited presence in the colonial countries was malign. They were taken by force or the threat of it. The deprivation of self determination is an act of tyranny. They were the school bullies – give me your tuck s hop money or I’ll batter you. Submission should not be confused with respect.