Britain systematically destroyed documents in colonies that were about to gain independence, declassified Foreign Office files reveal. ‘Operation Legacy’ saw sensitive documents secretly burnt or dumped to cover up traces of British activities.
The latest National Archives publication made from a collection of 8,800 colonial-era files held by the Foreign Office for decades revealed deliberate document elimination by British authorities in former colonies.
The secret program dubbed ‘Operation Legacy’ was in force throughout the 1950s and 1960s, in at least 23 countries and territories under British rule that eventually gained independence after WWII. Among others these countries included: Belize, British Guiana, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia and Singapore, Northern Rhodesia (today Zambia and Zimbabwe), Tanzania, and Uganda.
In a telegram from the UK Colonial Office dispatched to British embassies on May 3, 1961, colonial secretary Iain Macleod instructed diplomats to withhold official documents from newly elected independent governments in those countries, and presented general guidance on what to do.
British diplomats were briefed on how exactly they were supposed to get rid of documents that “might embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants (such as police agents or informers)” or “might compromise sources of intelligence”, or could be put to ‘wrong’ use by incoming national authorities.
‘Operation Legacy’ also called for the destruction or removal of “all papers which are likely to be interpreted, either reasonably or by malice, as indicating racial prejudice or bias”.
The newly declassified files revealed that the Royal Navy base in Singapore was turned into the Asian region’s primary document destruction center. A special facility called a “splendid incinerator” was used to burn “lorry loads of files”, Agence France-Presse reported.
The “central incinerator” in Singapore was necessary to avoid a situation similar to that in India in 1947, when a “pall of smoke” from British officials burning their papers in Delhi, ahead of India proclaiming independence, filled the local press with critical reports. That diplomatic oversight was taken into account, as ‘Operation Legacy’ operatives were strictly instructed not to burn documents openly.
But not all the doomed archives could be shipped to Singapore. In some cases documents were eliminated on site, sometimes being dumped in the sea “at the maximum practicable distance from shore” and in deep, current-free areas, the National Archives publication claims.
The newly published collection of documents reveals that the British cleared out Kenyan intelligence files that contained information about abuse and torture of Kenyans during the Mau Mau uprising against British colonial rule in the 1950s. A special committee formed in 1961 coordinated document elimination in Kenya. Yet some files were spared simply when an estimated 307 boxes of documents were evacuated to Britain, just months ahead of the country gaining independence in December 1963.
The existence of some remaining Mau Mau legal case documents was revealed in January 2011.
Even after eliminating important evidence half a century ago, earlier in 2013 the British government was forced to pay 23 million dollars in compensation to over 5,200 elderly Kenyans, who had suffered from Britain’s punitive measures during the Mau Mau uprising.
In another documented occasion, in April 1957, five lorries delivered tons of documents from the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur to the Royal Navy base in Singapore. Files were incinerated there; these contained details about British rule in Malaya, such as a massacre of 24 rubber plantation workers at the Malayan village of Batang Kali in 1948, who had allegedly been murdered by British soldiers.
Despite the mass document elimination, Britain’s Foreign Office still has some 1.2 million unpublished documents on British colonial policy, David Anderson, professor of African history at the University of Warwick, told AFP.
So Her Majesty’s government might still publish more valuable material that can shed more light on how one of the biggest empires in human history used to be governed. Overall, Britain had total control over 50 colonies including Canada, India, Australia, Nigeria, and Jamaica. Currently, there are 14 British Overseas Territories that remain under British rule, though most of them are self-governing and all have leaderships of their own.
British Respect party MP George Galloway has slammed the government’s small payment of £3,000 apiece to Kenyan victims of torture and mistreatment under British colonial rule during the 1950s.
On Press TV’s weekly program Comment, Galloway reviewed the torture Kenyans experienced during the Mau Mau uprising against British colonial rule, explaining that a recent compensation of around £20 million to 5,000 victims is not enough.
“Now that sounds like a lot of money [£20 million] but it actually works out at £3,000 compensation each”, Galloway said.
“We’re talking about men who were castrated by the British colonial administration in Kenya. I’m talking about women who were multiply raped and sexually abused, for that kind of torture. £3,000 ain’t much,” he added.
Galloway also said that British Foreign Secretary William Hague did not accept the legal liability for British colonizers’ brutal crimes in Kenya.
At least 10,000 people died during the 1952-1960 Mau Mau uprising against British colonial rule, with some sources giving far higher estimates.
Moreover, Galloway highlighted that the British government still has “hundreds of thousands” of uncompensated victims of British imperial crimes around the world.
- Over 8,000 Mau Mau victims seek compensation from Britain (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Britain pays £20m to Mau Mau victims (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Foreign Secretary William Hague stopped short of issuing an apology today to the elderly Kenyans tortured by British colonial forces during the Mau Mau uprising.
The Mau Mau movement emerged in central Kenya during the 1950s to get back seized land and push for an end to colonial rule. Supporters were detained in camps and thousands were tortured, maimed or executed.
Mr Hague told the House of Commons that the government had reached a full and final settlement with solicitors of 5,228 claimants totalling £19.9 million.
The government would also support the construction of a memorial in Kenya’s capital Nairobi to the victims of torture and ill-treatment during the colonial era.
But he said the British government continued to deny liability for what happened during the uprising.
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said Labour supported the government.
However left Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn said it was strange of the government to offer compensation but to deny any formal responsibility.
“I’m a bit surprised,” he said, adding: “This is a very strange result, to offer compensation and a settlement for Leigh Day and at the same time deny liability,” he said.
Mr Corbyn pointed out that many MPs in the 1950s raised the issue in Parliament at the time, praising the Kenyans for their “tenacity” in seeking justice.
“When we deny rights and justice, when we deny democracy, when we practise concentration camps, it reduces our ability to criticise anybody else for that fundamental denial of human rights, and I think this is a lesson that needs to be learnt not just in Kenya but in other colonial wars as well where equal brutality was used by British forces,” he said.
Mr Hague said there was no inconsistency in recognising the suffering endured by many of the victims while continuing to deny liability.
More than 8,000 Kenyans, severely mistreated under British colonial rule during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising, are seeking compensation from the UK.
According to the reports, thousands of names have been submitted to the Law Society of Kenya (LSK), seeking multi-million pound compensation from the British government.
“The Law Society of Kenya has received lists of ex-Mau Mau fighters seeking compensation running into billions of shillings from the British government,” LSK chief Apollo Mboya said in a statement.
More names are expected to be submitted from the Kenya Human Rights Commission, the statement added.
There are also reports that Britain agreed on a compensation settlement totaling £14 million. Britain’s Foreign Office, however, has refused to comment on the issue.
At least 10,000 people died during the 1952-1960 Mau Mau uprising against British colonial rule, with some sources giving far higher estimates.
The British government has admitted to British forces’ torturing of detainees at the time following disclosure of a vast archive of colonial-era documents which the Foreign Office had kept secret for decades.
We are witnessing the slow-motion collapse of the second Anglo-Saxon imperium in less than a hundred years. There was something called Pax Britannica under the reign of Queen Victoria, a truly amazing transcontinental empire without peer in world history. That era was England’s apogee. Then, after the Queen’s diamond jubilee in June 1897, England’s prospects darkened, at first imperceptibly.
In the immediate aftermath of those two stupendous British Empire wars of the 20th Century–now known as World War I and World War II–both conveniently blamed on Germany, everything came crashing down. In short order, England was reduced to a zero, thanks to the venality, hubris and fatheadedness of its “elites”. The torch was grabbed by the second Anglo-Saxon power, in the person of our great white father, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his gang of dedicated Reds and starry-eyed Anglophiles.
The upshot was apparent at the Bretton Woods conference in New Hampshire in July 1944. It was here that the victors of the second blood bath decided what the spoils were going to be. England, under the leadership of that unbalanced mountebank, Winston Churchill, was only a nominal victor. The true victors were Washington and world communism.
The former held all the cards outside the communist world, since old Europe and Japan had been left in shambles and partly incinerated. And the once great British Empire of palm and pine was now truly bankrupt, thanks to Churchill and the warmongering machinations of Lloyd George and Sir Edward Grey, among other misguided statesmen, before him.
Benn Steil, director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, is cited in a New York Times article of October 26th, 2012, as suggesting that readers of the recently-uncovered transcripts of the Bretton Woods Conference would discover the British Empire disintegrating before their eyes.
The same Benn Steil has now written a book, The Battle of Bretton Woods. Tony Barber, the esteemed European editor of the Financial Times, reviewed it in the FT weekend edition of February 9th/10th, 2013. Barber remarks that “… Benn Steil explains how two world wars in 31 years bled Britain dry, leaving it with minimal influence over the new international economic and monetary order established by US policymakers in the mid-1940′s.”
The gentleman representing the US at Bretton Woods was Soviet master spy, Harry Dexter White, the son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants. Representing Britain was the celebrity economist, John Maynard Keynes. Alas, the urbane Englishman was reduced to “… the status of an articulate annoyance.” Keynes had warned the Foreign Office not to let the US “… exploit the war as an opportunity for picking the eyes out of the British Empire.” But at that point, what choice did John Bull have? None. The Great Game was over.
In the same article, Barber goes on to review another book on a related topic. “In The Leaderless Economy, Peter Temin and David Vines extend the story that Steil concludes at Bretton Woods, charting the decline and fall of the US-dominated international order that it inaugurated. They contend that the world has not recovered from the banking crisis that erupted in 2008 largely because, unlike in the 1940s, no nation is powerful enough to guide the global economy towards prosperity.”
Barber quotes the authors, Professors Temin and Vines: “Like Britain roughly a century earlier, America has become part of the problem, not the solution.” It is unclear what exactly is being referenced here. The folly related to England’s participation in the Great War of August 1914, the disgraceful Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and its reparations regime, the inability of England to cope with the Great Depression of the 1930s, or British insolvency at the end of the Second World War? Let’s say all three. For my money, the key to everything right down to the present moment remains the Great War.
Does the average American realize that he and she are being bled dry by their own “elites” who suffer from a similar myopia and arrogance as the blockheads in Whitehall who gratuitously catapulted England into two world wars? Of course not. How could they? It is being kept under wraps. Those whose interests are being advanced directly and indirectly by current circumstances do not want the music to stop. Why should they blow the whistle on themselves? Instead, they go with the flow. Everyone in Washington follows the line of least resistance.
Remember the “Peace Dividend”? That was supposed to be America’s reward for winning the Cold War in 1990/1991. Resources would be freed up to use on the home front. But something happened to derail the dividend. What was it? Oh, yes. Saddam Hussein invaded the city-state of Kuwait on August 2nd, 1990. Saddam had misinterpreted the mixed signals sent from his then-ally, America. Washington had abetted Iraq’s war on Iran for nearly a decade. With Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait, Washington was off to the races again. A full-blown crusade was the result.
In the process, half a million Iraqi children were left dead due to the economic embargo imposed by Bush I and Bill Clinton. In the process, America got hit with the atrocity of 9/11. In the process, a disarmed Iraq was targeted for “shock and awe” and overrun as part of the Global War on Terror. GWOT was the private agenda war masterminded by the Neocons for Dick Cheney & Bush II. That private agenda war continues unabated under Barack Obama, who is considered to be some sort of “progressive”.
Concurrently, Afghanistan/Pakistan became a battleground and a hotbed of terrorism. It remains a quagmire for American and NATO troops. Meanwhile, as if more problems were needed, Washington policymakers loudly and shamelessly repeat the false accusation that Iran is running a nuclear weapons program.
G.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Barack Obama knew that accusation was false. Their own intelligence community told them so in writing. Ditto Seymour Hersh in the pages of The New Yorker. No matter. The establishment media does not bark. The campaign against Iran is a rerun of Iraq.
Finally, just the other day somewhere in Palestine, Obama fulsomely embraced Theodor Herzl and his acolytes, thereby rationalizing and condoning the wholesale dispossession of Palestinians forever. Who noticed? It was the line of least resistance as well as Obama’s ticket to the greatest personal reward. No surprise.
America is at war, all right. Yet another unnecessary war of choice. We are being bled dry like England before us. Chalk up a second global Anglo-Saxon ascendancy thrown away and destroyed thanks to the chicanery of foolish men.
Never before seen files on Britain’s cruel colonial grip on Kenya have revealed a desperate attempt to cover up the massacre of unarmed prisoners during the Mau Mau uprising.
Eleven prisoners at the Hola detention camp were brutally clubbed to death and dozens more injured by prison wardens on March 3 1959 after they refused to work.
One of three elderly Kenyans, who last month won a High Court ruling to sue the British government for damages over torture, claims he was beaten unconscious during the incident.
Despite the overwhelming evidence nobody has ever been prosecuted.
Shockingly, the previously secret documents show that British colonial officials refused to identify individuals involved and attempted to blame the deaths on the prisoners “drinking too much water.”
The prison camp was one of many built during the uprising in which suspected rebels were detained by British colonial forces, often in dire conditions.
Shortly before the Hola deaths, a plan had been drawn up by colonial authorities allowing prison staff to use force to make detainees work if they refused, the Foreign Office files released by the National Archives show.
Prison officer Walter Coutts told the inquest into the Hola deaths that the detainees either “willed themselves to death or had died because they drank too much water.”
But a colonial official’s assistant, Kenyan Johannes Ezekiel, said he saw camp commandant Michael Sullivan moving between groups of prison warders, and could “see perfectly well what was going on.”
Mr Ezekiel’s comments were discounted by attorney-general Eric Griffith-Jones, who was in charge of criminal prosecutions, as he was “strongly suspected” to have links with Kenyan nationalist opposition politician Tom Mboya.
After post-mortem examinations revealed the deaths were caused by violence, the commissioner of prisons, who authorised the plan to use force, claimed that he had warned there were risks.
To make matters worse the attorney-general caused uproar in Britain after announcing that no charges could be brought against any individuals.
He said in a secret letter to the Kenyan chief secretary: “No evidence was available to establish whether any, and, if so, what, injuries had been inflicted by the beating in question or on whom.”
The Hola deaths signalled the beginning of the end of Britain’s clampdown on the Mau Mau uprising as colonial authorities began to close prison camps around Kenya in the following years.
Kenya declared independence from Britain just over four years after the Hola deaths, on December 12 1963.
Separate government files, also released for the first time today, show that colonial officials in Cyprus had considered producing adventure comic books and running an essay competition in the 1950s as part of a propaganda bid to stop youngsters rebelling against British rule.
Cyprus won independence from Britain in 1960.
Boxes containing top secret files about former British colonial rule have gone missing, with those relating to Singapore possibly destroyed. Declassified colonial Kenyan files earlier played a key role in proving the UK responsible for grave abuses.
Britain has admitted that it was aware that 170 boxes of files were transferred to Britain from former colonies. But the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minister David Lidington said that the government did not know what had happened to the files afterwards.
“It remains the case that the FCO is still unable to confirm the existence or destruction of 170 boxes of top secret colonial administration files known to have been returned to the UK,” Lidington told AFP.
“There is some evidence that the Singapore-related top secret colonial administration files were destroyed as part of a review of FCO post files in the 1990s.”
The FCO is continuing the search for the files and any evidence relating to their possible destruction.
The revelation comes after files relating to British rule in Kenya and Cyprus were declassified, made public and played a key in a court case by three elderly Kenyans who say they were tortured during the British army’s suppression of the 1950s Mau Mau Rebellion.
At the court hearing an archive of 8,800 secret files were examined. The released documents proved attempts by UK authorities to cover-up the killings of 11 prisoners during the uprising and showed that detainees had been battered to death by warders at the Hola detention camp.
A British court granted a historic victory to the three Kenyans, allowing them to claim damages for the suffered abuses when imprisoned during the Mau Mau uprising, including castration, beatings and severe sexual assaults.
The Kenyan case set a historical precedent and it is estimated that 2,000 other surviving Kenyans imprisoned during the Mau Mau insurgency can know sue the British government, which could have significant consequences for the government.
Overall, Britain used to have total control over 50 colonies including Canada, India, Australia, Nigeria, and Jamaica. Currently, there are 14 British Overseas Territories that remain under British rule. However, all have their own internal leadership and most are self-governing.
- How Britain covered up a brutal Kenya massacre (morningstaronline.co.uk)
Britain has admitted that Kenyan prisoners were tortured and sexually abused under the UK rule in Kenya, local media reported.
For the first time ever, British ministers were forced to issue a public confession admitting that atrocities were carried out ‘at the hands of the colonial administration’.
The admission came via a Whitehall lawyer addressing three elderly Kenyans who had gone to the High Court in London to demand damages and an apology.
Now in their 80s, one of them told the court how he had been brutally castrated in a British detention camp during the Mau Mau rebellion – Britain’s bloodiest colonial war.
If the trio win their case, it would open the door to up to 20,000 Kenyan survivors of the Mau Mau purge to sue Britain for millions of pounds, using no-win, no-fee lawyers.
The Foreign Office is contesting the case because it officially denies liability and maintains the Kenyans have left it too late to make claims.
Yesterday, each of the three claimants walked slowly to the witness stand to deliver their graphic testimony.
But before Guy Mansfield, the Foreign Office’s QC, cross-examined them, he said: “I wish to make it clear that the British government does not dispute that each of you suffered torture and other ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration.”
The Mau Mau uprising began in 1952 to end British colonial rule. Britain initially dismissed reports of unrest, but later declared a state of emergency – introducing the death penalty for Mau Mau members. The violence ended in 1956, but the state of emergency was only revoked in 1960.
- Secret British Colonial Archive Finally Released (Aletho News)
- The Ghosts of Empire Are Returning To Haunt Britain – and the US (Aletho News)
- Britain destroyed records of colonial crimes (guardian.co.uk)
Revealed: Britain’s Orwellian Empire
After his death, George Orwell’s terrifying vision in Nineteen Eighty-Four of a future in which the past could be erased and rewritten at will by a faceless bureaucracy was quickly appropriated in the US and Britain for the purposes of Cold War propaganda. The novel was taken as confirmation of a worldview that divided the globe according to an almost ontological opposition, between a ‘free world’ that clung to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and a ‘them’ who were not only violent and cruel (after all, hadn’t ‘we’ had recourse to massive violence, from the fire-bombing of Dresden to Hiroshima and Nagasaki?), but who offended against the very laws of empirical truth and the sanctity of the historical record. But without in any way detracting from the crimes of the Soviet empire or the Communist Party regime in China, in reality the calculus of violence and horror in the postwar world was never so neatly and cleanly divided, especially once the populations excluded from the Cold War algebra of ‘us’ and ‘them’ begins to be taken into account—namely the populations of the ‘Third World,’ upon whom so much of the bloody Cold War was fought out. The upcoming disclosure of a massive haul of some 8,800 secret files—which one respected British historian has called “the ‘lost’ British Empire archive” (BBC News, 17 April 2012)—may require a rethinking of the whole Cold War narrative. For while the Cold War warriors of the West rightly denounced Stalinist and other regimes for their horrifically cynical and insidious rewriting of the past—airbrushing out not only individuals, but whole institutional structures of criminality, and indeed the fate of whole populations—these archives suggest that the decolonizing British state was also guilty of manipulating the historical record and hiding major crimes against humanity, albeit on a scale that has still to be assessed and fully understood.
The secret colonial archive is comprised of thousands of documents that detail the military and police activities of British colonial administrations in 37 British colonial territories, from Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, and Aden—the scenes of high profile late-colonial wars—to much less well-known and often overlooked colonial flashpoints, such as the Chagos Islands, Guyana, Botswana, and Lesotho. As the prospect of national liberation loomed in each territory, British officialdom conducted a wholesale program of stripping the colonial archives, extracting incriminating documents that recounted acts of murder, torture, and wide-scale human rights abuses, and ‘repatriating’ them to Britain. Significant instances of crimes that are recorded in these files that have emerged so far include the reported murder and torture of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya in the 1950s, the alleged operation of a secret torture center in Aden in the 1960s, and the forced removal of Chagos Islanders to make way for the massive US base on Diego Garcia (Guardian, 18 April 2012). There are indications that documents were also removed that might embarrass British allies, especially the United States.
However, in British law such documents once ‘repatriated’ should have become available for public scrutiny; instead they were hidden, and their existence denied. The secret archive only came to light in 2011 as the result of a court case taken by five elderly Kenyans, who sued the British government claiming that they had been tortured during the Mau Mau Emergency, an uprising led by the Kikuyu people against British rule that lasted from 1952 to 1960, and which resulted in an estimated death toll of between 25,000 and 300,000 (Guardian, 21 July 2011). Historians working for the claimants began to unearth evidence of a secret trove of documents that had been deliberately ‘disappeared’ by the Foreign Office, and which appear to record not only atrocities in Kenya, but also a whole host of criminal state actions across the late-colonial world. According to Professor David Anderson of Oxford University, “the British Government did lie about this,” and as he observes “this saga was both a colonial conspiracy and a bureaucratic bungle” (BBC News, 17 April 2012). Shamed by the revelations in court, the British Government has promised full disclosure, with documents being released incrementally in tranches from this month through to the end of 2013. This is a massive archive, and clearly no firm conclusions can be drawn at present. It will need the scrutiny of activists, civil rights professionals, academics, and civil society groups from across the world to begin to make sense of the material, and to begin to understand its importance not only for the historical record, but also for current political circumstances.
Yet even at this early stage, the revelation of this secret archive offers an important insight into the ways in which the British government cynically and quite deliberately sought to reconstruct the postwar record in order to manipulate wider perceptions of the West’s postwar global role. While sometimes conducted hastily, the winnowing of the colonial archive was calculated and designed with systematic intent. Files that could be left behind after independence were classified as “legacy,” while those considered too sensitive to fall into the hands of post-independence governments were designated as “watch,” and could only be handled by colonial officials who were “British subject[s] of European descent” (BBC News, 17 April 2012).
However, not only was the historical record being quite deliberately edited, but in truly Orwellian fashion the process of censorship was itself carefully concealed. As The Guardian newspaper reports:
Painstaking measures were taken to prevent post-independence governments from learning that the watch files had ever existed. One instruction states: “The legacy files must leave no reference to watch material. Indeed, the very existence of the watch series, though it may be guessed at, should never be revealed.” [Therefore, when] a single watch file was to be removed from a group of legacy files, a “twin file”—or dummy—was to be created to insert in its place. If this was not practicable, the documents were to be removed en masse. (Guardian, 18 April 2012)
Given the complicated and time-consuming nature of the process of combing through the files, it appears that in their haste officials increasingly resorted to the wholesale destruction of sections of the colonial archive. A memo from April 1961 advises: “To obviate a too laborious scrutiny of ‘dead’ files, emphasis is placed on destruction—a vast amount of paper in the Ministry of Defence secret registry and classified archives could be burnt without loss” (BBC News, 17 April 2012). The secret cache of 8,800 files is thus most likely the reduced remnant of a much larger ‘ghost’ archive, comprising files destroyed not only to hide evidence of criminal actions but also to conceal the very program of concealment itself. Although initial indications suggest that this archival destruction was conducted on a massive scale, its full extent may never be known.
The intellectual legacy of the Cold War was the starkly melodramatic opposition of ‘free world’ and ‘evil empire’ so memorably rehearsed by President Ronald Reagan. However, one unacknowledged consequence of the overwhelming focus on the crimes of the Soviet regime was the airbrushing from popular consciousness of the continuing historical role of British colonialism in the postwar period, and its continuity with the emergent US hegemony. The aggressive defense of a late colonial edifice based in the Middle East, East Africa, and the Far East—regions that continue to number among the central battlefields of the US ‘war on terror’—was at the time a serious embarrassment to the Western Cold War vocabulary of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy.’ But it now transpires that the West’s capacity to win the propaganda battle was not simply a matter of the best arguments winning the day, but depended on the bureaucratic manipulation of the past and the systematic liquidation of extensive sections of the historical record.
Orwell himself was in fact much less convinced by the Cold War’s stark oppositions than his subsequent promoters were willing to concede. As a former colonial policeman in Burma, he wrote about the insidious suppression of independent thinking among European colonial administrators in his 1934 novel Burmese Days. And although routinely read as a straightforward Cold War text, his more famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four involves a more complex geopolitical vision than it is usually given credit for. As Orwell explained in a letter to Roger Senhouse dated 26 December 1948, rather than focusing exclusively on the critique of totalitarianism, the novel also sought “to discuss the implications of dividing the world up into ‘Zones of influence,’” an insight that had been prompted by the news of the collaboration between Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin in organizing the postwar world.1 In Orwell’s mind, the suppression of autonomous political action by the emerging geopolitical power blocs of East and West was intimately bound up with the suppression of individual freedom of thought and the destruction of a historical record that functioned according to shared norms of inclusiveness, accuracy, and fidelity to verifiable data. We might speculate with good reason, then, that Orwell would not only have welcomed the revelation of the secret imperial archive, but might not have been so surprised to learn of it in the first place.
Graham MacPhee is Associate Professor of English at West Chester University. He is the author of Postwar British Literature and Postcolonial Studies (Edinburgh University Press, 2011), and co-editor of Empire and After: Englishness in Postcolonial Perspective (Berghahn, 2007).
1. George Orwell, In Front of your Nose: Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters 1946-1950, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, Boston: Nonpareil (2000), 460.
Thousands of documents detailing some of the most shameful acts and crimes committed during the final years of the British empire were systematically destroyed to prevent them falling into the hands of post-independence governments, an official review has concluded.
Those papers that survived the purge were flown discreetly to Britain where they were hidden for 50 years in a secret Foreign Office archive, beyond the reach of historians and members of the public, and in breach of legal obligations for them to be transferred into the public domain.
The archive came to light last year when a group of Kenyans detained and allegedly tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion won the right to sue the British government.
The Foreign Office promised to release the 8,800 files from 37 former colonies held at the highly-secure government communications centre at Hanslope Park in Buckinghamshire.
The historian appointed to oversee the review and transfer, Tony Badger, master of Clare College, Cambridge, says the discovery of the archive put the Foreign Office in an “embarrassing, scandalous” position.
“These documents should have been in the public archives in the 1980s,” he said. “It’s long overdue.”
The papers at Hanslope Park include monthly intelligence reports on the “elimination” of the colonial authority’s enemies in 1950s Malaya; records showing ministers in London were aware of the torture and murder of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya, including a case of aman said to have been “roasted alive”; and papers detailing the lengths to which the UK went to forcibly remove islanders from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
- Britain destroyed records of colonial crimes – The Guardian (guardian.co.uk)