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Was the British Empire a curse? The Long Way Back: Margot Bennett sounds a warning that all such imperial projects are doomed


December 31, 2020   5 mins

“The essence of cosy catastrophe,” wrote the science fiction author Brian W Aldiss, “is that the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking) while everyone else is dying off.” He was thinking, perhaps, of John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids (1951), in which the protagonists, despite occupying a London where blinded citizens are hunted by lumbering carnivorous plants, are quietly pleased that the end of civilisation has also terminated the stultifying conventions of 1950s marriage.

Readers in the 1970s, when Aldiss was writing Billion Year Spree, his history of science fiction, might have thought of Survivors, Terry Nation’s TV series that killed most of the British population with plague — but which, by its second series, was as much a paean to self-sufficiency as The Good Life. Readers in the 2020s may think of other stories: the post-apocalyptic Fox sitcom The Last Man on Earth, or Raised by Wolves — Ridley Scott’s new TV series about an android couple bringing up humanity’s last survivors. There’s even, I think, an echo of Aldiss’s idea in the discussions we’re having — on Zoom calls between friends and at the World Economic Forum — about whether a better world might emerge after the Covid-19 crisis has passed.

The name of Margot Bennett does not appear in Billion Year Spree. It doesn’t appear in many places. She is a scandalously forgotten writer. Even her murder mysteries, for which she received a Golden Dagger Award, have fallen out of print. Only the second-hand section will now yield her blue-spined Pelican, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Atomic Radiation, or The Furious Masters — a creepy story about an alien spaceship and its influence on an English village. You’ll have to search hard, too, for the book I think is her masterpiece, a novel of 1954 set in a post-catastrophic England that is anything but cosy: The Long Way Back. It is a scaldingly witty corrective to two ills that seem as present today as they did in the 1950s: British self-importance and British self-pity.

In Bennett’s future, mainland Europe has sunk beneath the waves. The British Isles remain, but the Savoy is gone, there are no cars to be requisitioned and the tins of pineapple chunks and luncheon meat ran out long ago. The plants have turned carnivorous. (Thankfully they can’t move.) Monstrous canine mutants, the sabre-toothed descendants of household pets, stalk the forests. Britons live in caves and on potatoes. They worship a god that is a personification of fear. “We fear,” goes their litany, spoken by a four-foot tall tribesman named Brown. “We fear illness, death, fire, dogs, fever, madness, desolation.”

This is not a story about the conquest of that fear. The Britons we encounter are not the protagonists of the story. We don’t see this country through their eyes. Bennett’s heroes are members of a survey team despatched from the continental superpower of Africa. Grame, a restless technician, and Valya, a tough soldier, have come to “investigate primitive Britain,” an obscure and hazardous backwater whose inhabitants they view with horror, pity and contempt. “Savages,” breathes Valya, when she encounters her first tribal Englishmen. “And speaking in a dialect of our own language. It’s a miracle.”

The Long Way Back reverses the conventions of imperial literature that we associate with Kipling or Edgar Rice Burroughs. Its African explorers speculate about mining British coal and shipping it back home. They worry about the health of the natives. (“If only we could educate the mothers to feed their children properly,” Valya declares, wondering if calcium supplements would help thicken their fragile skulls.)

For Bennett’s original readers — still two years away from the Suez Crisis that triggered Britain’s period of decolonisation – such humour must have seemed astonishing. In the age of Brexit and BLM, it plays differently — demonstrating that, over six decades later, the tensions and contradictions within Britain’s post-imperial identity have yet to be resolved; that the process of decolonisation remains incomplete.

The real greatness of the Bennett’s novel, though, lies in a quality it shares with the book it most resembles. In Heart of Darkness (1899), Joseph Conrad takes his narrator, Marlow, from the Thames to the Congo, reminding us that London was once considered “one of the dark places of the earth”. Conrad also questions the imperial paradigm of light and darkness. Not enough for many readers: Chinua Achebe considered it “a totally deplorable book” by “a bloody racist”. His novel does, however, suggest that the colonial impulse is a form of moral malaise, and in Bennett’s technocratic future Africa — a single political entity — this malaise is taking hold.

It’s a warning that all such projects are unsustainable. Not much, perhaps, to console anybody toiling behind barbed wire in Xinjang province, but one that might encourage members of post-imperial societies like ours to look back on the past with more humility.

And here Bennett has a warning for those whose politics are shaped by anxiety about the status of their nation. The British expedition of The Long Way Back is a stunt to restore morale; to make Africa great again. Valya diagnoses the problem: “Soldiers desert from the army
 miners don’t want to go down into the earth; mothers hide their children to avoid the grading machine; people walk past the news boards without reading them; and political meetings can’t be held without a conscripted audience.”

Grame is an embodiment of that dissatisfaction and disengagement. He wants to quit his job in IT and study cosmic rays instead, but the reply to his request, issued by an administrative computer, comes as a series of questions: “Have you an adequate tobacco-room? 
 Have you an adequate sex-cubicle?”

Frustrated by this treatment, he volunteers for the expedition. A lecture on British history is part of the training — a peculiar, garbled, dream-like account of the nation he is preparing to explore. The Romans ruled Britain. Russia was a colony of the Romans. The Romans were led by Napoleon. In Britain, people kept dogs, played ball games and idolised a figure called Crom Well. The lecture is not given by a single authority, but is picked up like a song, which must be acquired and then passed on to new arrivals. With each repetition, the speech becomes more weird and incoherent. “It ensures the continuity of tradition,” Grame is told.

A similar historical tangle seems to have entered conversations about Britain today. Except these are not happening across a gulf of time and space, they’re in the mouths of ministers and campaigners. They are not as weird as Donald Trump’s historical monologues — in which Frederick Douglass walks the modern world, Canada burned down the White House, and American forces took control of the airports during the War of Independence – but they are a puzzling mess of memories and impulses. Magna Carta. VE Day. Sunlit uplands. Project fear. The Luftwaffe. “The greatest vassalage since King John paid homage to Philip II at Le Goulet in 1200.” Those peculiar exhalations on British national superiority that sometimes emerge from the education secretary. All primary sources for future historians to piece together, in the hope of finding a picture that looks like something. Unless, of course, they’re engaged in other, more urgent projects.

This is the uncosiest thought in The Long Way Back. Margot Bennett’s Britons eat potatoes and fight among themselves. And nobody cares what they think.


Matthew Sweet is a broadcaster and writer. His books include Inventing the Victorians and Operation Chaos: The Vietnam Deserters Who Fought the CIA, the Brainwashers and Themselves.

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Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
3 years ago

As an Englishman born and bred I refuse to apologise for the Empire, neither will I glorify it. It is a fact of History. For 400 years Britain joined in the struggle to build a sphere of influence, bases for military and trading use and land to exploit. This was all part of Europe’s development and expansion coupled with the Enlightenment, scientific progress, economic growth and political advance. It was a phase in the march of history and to blame the likes of Warren Hastings and Cecil Rhodes is ridiculous. They were caught up in the whirlwind.
That is not to say that they and many others were guiltless of wrongdoing, indeed terrible wrongdoing in some cases. But that should not detract from the great good that empire did, especially the British Empire. Not least it facilitated the spread of the Christian Faith which in many parts of the world continues to be vibrant.
I am impressed by the fact that as the sun set on our Empire it dawned on the Commonwealth much at the behest of our former colonies. So empire couldn’t have been all that bad, could it?

Dodgy Geezer
Dodgy Geezer
3 years ago

A rambling piece that tells us far more about Mr Sweet’ s prejudices than M Bennet’s book.

ANY discussion of Empire needs to consider what the practical alternatives were. And these were straightforward. Either a high technology state took over the governance of an undeveloped country, as happened in Rhodesia, for instance, or the country was left to become the prey if a rich individual, as happened in the Congo. No prizes for guessing what the indigenous inhabitants would have preferred…

Imran Khan
Imran Khan
3 years ago
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer

As far as Africa goes it would have been much better if it had remained under some form of European and Asian rule. An uncle of mine is still of the opinion that when the Europeans and Asians are expelled the next thing is war and starvation. Can’t make him wrong on that.

David McKee
David McKee
3 years ago
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer

This is true. I was reading recently, of a deputation of African leaders from what is now Botswana, to Britain in the 1890s. They engaged with the British people, who were a sympathetic audience. The Africans wanted to be ruled by the British, as opposed to being a possession of Cecil Rhodes’ British South African Company.

This is not to say that this was the best of all possible worlds from the Africans’ point of view. I expect they would rather have been left alone.

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
3 years ago
Reply to  David McKee

Erm, Botswana wasn’t entirely keen on foreign rule. They didn’t Christianise just to please the British. They were trying to modernise to avoid the genocidal Germans next door. The British left them mostly alone anyway. Botswana wanted British protection, not direct rule.

A better example would be the small tribes in West Africa that had their slave-society taken down and rebuilt by the British. Many of them wanted the British there to avoid a return of the slavers.

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
3 years ago

It’s very telling that some people in African countries trusted the British to protect them.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago
Reply to  Giulia Khawaja

Boer concentration camps.

Mau Mau Uprising.

Through the 1920s and 1930s the British Colonial government classified the native workers as being in one of three categories; squatters, contractors, or casual.

The British enacted ordinances which eliminated the rights of squatters, effectively forcing them to work for British settlers rather than for themselves, and kept labor costs low. Most of the laborers were of the Kikuyu people, and among them there was rising discontent with the British settlers, who paid them poorly, offered little in the way of medical care, and housed them in primitive conditions.

Kikuyu were rounded up into “work camps.” One and a half million people were held in camps or villages surrounded and fortified by British troops. The camps bore signs which read, “Labor and Freedom.” Torture and mass executions were common, including men being anally raped with bottles and other devices by guards.

Some Kiyuku were dragged by military vehicles until their bodies broke into pieces. Others were mauled by guard dogs before being executed. How many died in the British camps is unknown because the Colonial Office and Foreign Office connived to destroy the documentation.

The Irish Potato Famine and Charles Trevelyan

The British did not cause what we know as the Irish Potato Famine, which affected potatoes across the continent of Europe as well as Ireland. It was caused by a potato blight which destroyed the potato crops. But the starvation in Ireland and the deaths which resulted from the famine were wholly preventable and the British Empire did little or nothing to prevent it other than assign a man with a near psychotic hatred of the Irish in general and the poor in particular, Charles Trevelyan to direct their policy. As the rate of deaths from the famine were nearing their peak, the man tasked with providing aid to the suffering wrote to Lord Monteagle that the famine was an, “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population.”

I could go on but you get the picture….

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

I must have been ten, so over fifty years ago, when a teacher tutted, “The Mau Mau, so cruel,” and said no more.
I was staggered. From what I knew of the English upper classes, there was every chance a good proportion of its emissaries to Kenya were downright sadists, plenty more indifferent to the lives of anyone outside their class, and a few ‘good, decent’ people nonetheless there to do their jobs or farm ‘their’ land and fit in with white society.
Even if the Mau Mau were cruel and the English saints, the answer still seemed glaringly obvious to me, and I haven’t changed my mind much since either. I was glad to hear of Hague’s apology, and hadn’t really expected it in my lifetime. I wasn’t at all surprised at the admissions themselves, but sad theirs may be the last such case. The British like to imagine themselves as they are with each other in public, not as how they can become when subduing their unwilling subjects in faraway lands.

I’m not so sure the English didn’t cause the Potato Famine. Ireland’s exports to England continued as before, including “peas, beans, onions, rabbits, salmon, oysters, herring, lard, honey and even potatoes,” on top of horses, calves, ham, bacon, millions of bushels of grain, a million gallons of alcohol and 822,681 gallons of butter, during the years of the famine, with British soldiers protecting the trade.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

“I’m not so sure the English didn’t cause the Potato Famine.”

I agree completely. Better to have said the English didn’t cause th blight.

Trevelyan’s continued export of 1000s of tons of high quality food stuffs from Ireland to England certainly was the cause for the famine which more accurately should be called out for what it was”genocide.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

Well done Hockey Mom, you’ve been reading your history and are not too far from the truth.
The Boer Concentration Camps argument needs more in depth discussion, but undoubtedly it was appalling however you look at it, and fortunately we have photographs to prove it.

Also I notice a improvement in your grammar, the use of capital letters at the start of a paragraph etc.

Are you in fact ‘one of us’ in exile in Oregon, due to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” perhaps?

Benjamin Jones
Benjamin Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

What are your views on the Roman Empire? Unwanted invaders or a welcome civilizing influence on the wilder fringes of their conquered lands?

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
3 years ago
Reply to  Giulia Khawaja

In some outlandish far-future role reversal, I’d trust the Botswanans to protect us too.

David Morley
David Morley
3 years ago
Reply to  Dodgy Geezer

Yes – it seemed to be going somewhere – and then just didn’t.

Muscleguy
Muscleguy
3 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

Welcome to modern writing. Which seems unsure of itself. In the past we would have had a long inquisition with examples across the former empire, not just Africa.

This was not about Empire, it was a thin excuse to laud some forgotten writers. Blame the headliners perhaps who have misrepresented the article.

ralph bell
ralph bell
3 years ago

One of the problems of people constantly demonising the colonialists is that the views of the people in those countries are rarely taken. I lived and worked in Zimbabwe in the early 90’s and the local rural population held the British in high regard for the improvements they made to infrastructure and their fairness, particularly when compared to tribal Presidents leaders.
I don’t believe all the colonisers were there to line there own pockets or lord it over the locals, I think many genuinely had a passion to support development: educationally, medically, bureaucratically and technologically, just as people do today who are involved in development and those who want to genuinely learn from others.

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
3 years ago
Reply to  ralph bell

An interesting point. I discovered a few years ago that, thanks to my grandfather, who was in the Colonial Medical Service in West Africa before WW1, that I have three mixed-race Ghanaian cousins, two of whom I have since met. When I spoke to one about the uncomplimentary way the British Empire is now discussed here, she said: “We didn’t see it that way. We actually felt proud to be part of something big. We were only a little country”. Little in influence, I suppose.

I might add that two of those cousins, now retired, had worked in the UK (one worked in the NHS for 40 years). One has a son who works here still, and a daughter in Australia, where Commonwealth citizenship probably eased her residency application.

The world is complicated. The reality is multi-faceted. But there’s no doubt that the countries we ruled wanted independence: they all had mass movements in favour of it. They were also split across tribal lines. We had enough time to teach them how to run a modern democratic state, but largely didn’t do so. I’m not surprised they fell into some disarray afterwards.

Jim le Messurier
Jim le Messurier
3 years ago

‘…one that might encourage members of post-imperial societies like ours to look back on the past with more humility.’

Here we go again. The same tired old bull***t. Perhaps it’s time the writer met someone who wasn’t from his little bubble. Then he might find that the only ’empire’ around here worth the name is his precious EU, the one he was perfectly happy to stay in.

It’s only the Guardian, C4 and the BBC who go on about this supposed ‘harking back’to ’empire’. No one else. To such an extent that they can’t help bringing it up while simultaneously slagging off the one country, Britain, without which there would not have been a free Europe with which to enter into, or leave, a union.

Perhaps he could look out from his bubble and show a bit more humility himself while meditating upon those who built, paid for, and suffered in, this country of ours (most of whom had no say in the matter) in order that he might be able to do what he does.

And by the way, Britain didn’t get rich from the Empire, rather it got an Empire because it was rich to begin with – in natural resources, geographical position, and the propensity of it’s people for invention and enterprise. We worked with the hand we were given, like all peoples, everywhere. We’re not better than anyone else, and no one seriously thinks that….but judging by the numbers of people wanting to come here, we are still a great country, and it’s about time we stopped apologizing for that.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago

your big lie is dying a bad death and your efforts to prolong its tortured passing will only make your suffering worse.

Colonialism: How the British Empire Stole $45 Trillion from India. And Lied About It.

There is a story that is commonly told in Britain that the colonisation of India ““ as horrible as it may have been ““ was not of any major economic benefit to Britain itself. If anything, the administration of India was a cost to Britain. So the fact that the empire was sustained for so long ““ the story goes ““ was a gesture of Britain’s benevolence.

New research by the renowned economist Utsa Patnaik ““ just published by Columbia University Press ““ deals a crushing blow to this narrative. Drawing on nearly two centuries of detailed data on tax and trade, Patnaik calculated that Britain drained a total of nearly $45 trillion from India during the period 1765 to 1938.

It’s a staggering sum. For perspective, $45 trillion is 17 times more than the total annual gross domestic product of the United Kingdom today.

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
3 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

Utsa Patnaik is a Marxist economist and ideological monomaniac whose only obsession is ranting against her cartoon version of British imperialism. As a Marxist she demonstrates that she has learned absolutely nothing from the 20th Century, and, having nothing constructive to offer, has to fall back on her hatred.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago
Reply to  GA Woolley

And as a raging monomaniac fueled by raw hatred, she’s presumably incapable of comprehending the obvious truth that the East India Company got the ball rolling out of pure unadulterated philanthropic benevolence, and none but these noble motives led the Crown to later take over this selfless mission. Only an ignorant marxist would dare to suggest otherwise, for example by dragging in the word capital as if that had any bearing on the conduct of the Company..

Rather than slag her off for her politics and supposed character, why not indicate what’s wrong with her research?

notgodzod
notgodzod
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Hear hear! I know very little about these particular issues but agree entirely with your message – that we should concatenate on evidence and reason rather than ad hominem attacks.

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
3 years ago
Reply to  GA Woolley

Ad hominem (or feminam) arguments are generally taken as a sign that the person putting them forward hasn’t got any legitimate arguments.

Does anyone seriously think we invaded and subjugated (and killed many of) these people out of the goodness of our hearts? The Indian Mutiny was provoked by callous disregard of the sensibilities of Indian soldiers. That’s how much those ruling them cared.

A case of: “They went to do good, and they did pretty damned well”, perhaps?

mark taha
mark taha
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

And the way we crushed the Mutiny is a tribute to the old British Army. I ask anti-imperial
bigots to compare and contrast Rhodesia and Zimbabwe.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

we would find these threads to be much more sparse if not for ad hominems…conservative ideologues have little else to contribute these days.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago
Reply to  GA Woolley

ad hominem in arguement is the last refuge of a lying sack of excrement…and one good turn deserves another.

Jim le Messurier
Jim le Messurier
3 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

It’s not a ‘big lie’, anymore than your claim is, which could just be a big, fat, Marxist half-truth. (Marxism is absolutely brilliant at half-truths).

Nigel Biggar, who is a Regius Professor of Theology at Oxford University, has a markedly different view from your Marxist (Wikipedia: ‘Utsa Patnaik is a Marxist Professor..’), and Professor Biggar’s writing on the subject came out at approximately the same time as Patnaik’s.

It is, by the way, Marxism that seems to be ‘dying a bad death’, as a way of looking at the world.

But as we are focussing on monetary estimates of Britain’s despoilment of India’s resources (which I would never dispute took place – it was an ‘Empire’ after all) I also wonder what price could be put on the adoption of the English language and education system by India, and the influence that has had on India’s economic fortunes over the last 30 years.

Perhaps your Marxist Professor might care to turn her attention to that for it surely should be entered into the equation when we are looking at cost/benefit.

Muscleguy
Muscleguy
3 years ago

You come across as someone with a hammer to whom all problems are a nail. Yours is to hammer everything you see or identify as ‘Marxist’. Then you go on an ad hominem attack which ignores the issues.

Jim le Messurier
Jim le Messurier
3 years ago
Reply to  Muscleguy

Ridiculous comment, wrong in everything.
I didn’t identify Patnaik as a Marxist, she does.
There was no ‘ad hominem attack’. Calling someone a Marxist, according to their own ID, isn’t an ‘ad hominem’. Look it up.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago

“I also wonder what price could be put on the adoption of the English language and education system by India…”

that tells us all we need to know about who and what you are…English language was imposed on India not adopted by India”as you well know.

Jim le Messurier
Jim le Messurier
3 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

Yes, just like latin, saxon, norse, norman-french were all at some time ‘imposed upon’ the people who lived in these isles. They weren’t consulted about it, but they still ‘adopted’ it. It was, apart from anything else, a means of social and commercial advancement. Native languages were never prohibited – neither here nor in India. Given the fact that the number of British officials in India never exceeded 100,000 in a population of many millions, they could never have achieved that even if they had wanted to (which they didn’t). When the British left India, English could have been demoted from it’s putative ‘dominance’. It wasn’t. India, whether you like it or not, ‘adopted’ English, as did the Fijians, Hong Kong Chinese, Malayans, Singaporeans and many others, no matter how much coercion or ‘imposition’ you project.

Andrew Pyne
Andrew Pyne
3 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

And what was the equivalent figure – in NPV – for the amounts taken out by the Mughals? I would be interested to learn more about how Patnaik calculated that figure. It’s an intriguing and suitably extravagant number – but meaningless without understanding methodology and context.

Richard Martin
Richard Martin
3 years ago

The modish idea that colonialism is necessarily a Bad Thing and should always be opposed is, of course, delusional. Empires of one sort or another have always existed, and always will, and sometimes they are good, and sometimes less so. It is easily demonstrable that the the British Empire was, on the whole a Good Thing for all parties.
The more interesting thing is why, and perhaps increasingly, these modish delusions crop up. For instance, the notion that democracy is at all times and in all places the basis for best governance: the odd thing is that we pretend that we think that it is, when we actually all know that it is not. Or take slavery: we in the west beat ourselves up for endorsing a system for a few generations, when it was endemic (and still is) in some parts of the world, notably Africa, for centuries. In fact, rather than taking the blame for it, the west should really be taking the credit for mostly eradicating slavery as part of the colonial process.
I assume that these delusions are part of the west’s decline of confidence, but is that decline terminal?

Imran Khan
Imran Khan
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Martin

there is a decline of confidence in the left leaning Guardianistas an BBC. I thing what the Tories now need to do is halt the Marxist March Through The Institutions.

William Cameron
William Cameron
3 years ago

Britain should stop apologising for colonialism. It brought schools, roads, hospitals, primary health care, sanitation, the rule of law, non corrupt police and learning.
Some countries that were colonised had some of these things – none had all of them.
And today -freed from colonisation- many have regressed to become unhealthy , hungry dangerous ,corrupt places.

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
3 years ago

And are being colonised by the Chinese.

Muscleguy
Muscleguy
3 years ago
Reply to  Giulia Khawaja

The Chinese are developing them. They looked at the road and rail network in Africa and went ‘this is illogical’ which it is. They stop before Anglophone vs Francophone borders.

The Chinese came and connected them up. Built them to the coast. On those language borders local trade is thriving because now it’s possible. The language barriers are not so large. Tribal languages are often common or intelligible.

In the Pacific they have replaced Island wooden wharves built by Australia and NZ with concrete ones, gravel roads with tarseal, grass runways with concrete. All improving trade.

Yes they use their workers, their companies. But they are also improving things. Which the West could have done, but did not. It is logical, it is sensible, it is proportional.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago

wow that is some mind numbing willful ignorance you’ve got going on…and so proud of it no less.

David McKee
David McKee
3 years ago

Essentially, this is yet another piece which assumes that Brexit is being driven by imperial nostalgia. Where on earth Remainers got this idea from, I don’t know. There was some loose talk about Empire 2.0, but that’s as far as it went.

“(T)hey are a puzzling mess of memories and impulses. Magna Carta. VE Day. Sunlit uplands. Project fear. The Luftwaffe. “The greatest vassalage since King John paid homage to Philip II at Le Goulet in 1200.” Those peculiar exhalations on British national superiority that sometimes emerge from the education secretary.”

Never mind the dodgy grammar, here’s the thing. This is the only part of the article which links it to the here and now. Yet it has nothing to do with empire. So there is nothing to attach it to the rest of Mr. Sweet’s piece.

I am a student at SOAS. If I wrote an essay like Mr. Sweet’s, it would be torn limb from limb by the academic historians. Whatever their personal opinions, they are very good at their jobs, and don’t put up with any nonsense.

Chris Hopwood
Chris Hopwood
3 years ago
Reply to  David McKee

Isn’t the Canzuk concept which some brexiteers are pushing for imperial nostalgia?

Teo
Teo
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Hopwood

A CANZUK network, rising above pending trade wars and driving its own course, could help smooth the course of world affairs in the 21st Century, amidst the prowling cacophony of neo-nationalism.

Brexit was hijacked by the globalist NeoCons.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago
Reply to  Teo

said the neo-nationalist itching to burn down some 5G cell towers.

Teo
Teo
3 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

A lefty tin foil for the people retort.

Muscleguy
Muscleguy
3 years ago
Reply to  Teo

You assume Canada, Australia and New Zealand want to or can rescue the UK via trade.

When the UK entered the EEC it cut those countries out. I was a kid in NZ, I remember. All diversified their trade and thus do not vast potential surpluses with which to supply the UK. They already take all the UK goods they want. You can buy Irn Bru in NZ for eg.

NZ & Oz have free trade deals with China, the US and the EU (pending). Why would they want to stint those markets to supply the UK? Which betrayed them.

They will sell us wool mind, LOTS of wool. World prices are depressed. Be prepared to wear more wool again, including in the summer and in the rain. I’m wearing a Swandri bush shirt. Felted wool with lots of its natural lanolin left. It’s pretty waterproof, windproof and very warm. Comes with a detachable hood. Forest green.

Andrew Pyne
Andrew Pyne
3 years ago
Reply to  Muscleguy

Why would they need to ‘stint’ trade with China to enter into a broader free trade relationship with the UK? It’s not a zero sum game. (That said shared values should count for something.)

Fergus Mason
Fergus Mason
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Hopwood

No.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  David McKee

In a recent survey far more Dutch people were ‘proud’ of their country’s former empire than were British people ‘proud’ of their country’s former empire. The fact is that most British people accept the empire as a fact but have no desire to recreate it.
Until recently, most people below the age of 50 were barely aware that we even had an empire. They are more aware now because they are constantly told that they should apologise for it. This article is just the usual nonsense.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

That’s interesting because at the end of WWII we were tasked with restoring the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) to them.

We used recently surrendered Japanese troops to suppress an incipient rebellion by Indonesian nationalists. The veteran Japanese proved excellent troops and we soon prevailed, thus allowing us to return the place to the undeserving Dutch.

The returning Dutch, with all the ineptitude one would expect from a nation that had been under Nazi control for five years, immediately provoked yet another rebellion.

After three years of fairly brutal combat, costing about 100,000 Indonesian dead and between 5-8000 ‘Dutch’ lives, the Dutch “chucked in the towel ” in 1948 and admitted abject defeat.

No such savagery was ever executed in the British Empire during its sad dismantlement in the period 1945-67.

Michael Cowling
Michael Cowling
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Curiously, I have had discussions with people in Indonesia about their history (ex-Dutch colony). Several of them have commented that Malaysia was luckier, because they had been a British colony and the Brits had done various things better than the Dutch: starting with educating the locals.

Andrew Pyne
Andrew Pyne
3 years ago

Similar to conversations I have had with Vietnamese and Cambodian friends about the French….

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

The Dutch were appalling bad imperialists in comparative analysis with ourselves.

Just look at the brutal campaign they waged in the East Indies (Indonesia) between 1945-8.

I attempted to expand on this in an earlier post, but the UnHerd Censor, deep in his/her Fuhrerbunker in the Big Bagel objected.

He/She must be a distant relation of Peter Stuyvesant?

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

It appears than any criticism of the Dutch Colonial Record is verboten!

Any idea why?

I think the solution is that I used the dreaded ‘N’word. Abbreviations are not acceptable apparently!

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

That’s interesting because at the end of WWII we were tasked with restoring the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) to them.
We used recently surrendered Japanese troops to suppress an incipient rebellion by Indonesian nationalists. The veteran Japanese proved excellent troops and we soon prevailed, thus allowing us to return the place to the undeserving Dutch.
The returning Dutch, with all the ineptitude one would expect from a nation that had been under the National Socialist German Workers’ Party control for five years, immediately provoked yet another rebellion.
After three years of fairly brutal combat, costing about 100,000 Indonesian dead and between 5-8000 ‘Dutch’ lives, the Dutch “chucked in the towel ” in 1948 and admitted abject defeat.
No such savagery was ever executed in the British Empire during its sad dismantlement in the period 1945-67.

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

But plenty before that. The Bengal Famine, the Indian Mutiny, the Amritsar massacre, countless battles with local rulers, all cost thousands of lives.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

The two Bengal Famines were certainly reprehensible.
Amritsar, a minor affair, but much over hyped I’ll grant you.
The Indian Mutiny an avoidable disaster, more the fault of the Crown trying to tell the East India Company how to rule. (Memsahibs and Missionaries).

I’m surprised you omitted arguably the greatest sin, The Second Boer War, and that you also allowed me to sneak Mau Mau past you.

mark taha
mark taha
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

The Dutch didn’t put themselves under Nazi rule.

Imran Khan
Imran Khan
3 years ago

I thought when the article dropped into my inbox that we in for a discussion on why the British Empire was bad but instead I was treated, if that’s the correct description, to a rambling series of unconnected writings some of them from science fiction. Given that the BLM anti white movement is now in full cry maybe a more balanced assessment of the relevant history is appropriate.

All successful groups of people sooner or later need for a variety of reasons to look outside their own boundaries. The reasons are many, an expanding population with a constant supply of food necessitating population transfer, the search for new raw materials and just curiosity. When the first Europeans sailed down the coasts of Africa they found basic communities which had nothing they wanted as they were in search of the Spice Islands which they knew existed as cloves and other spices were reaching Europe overland and through Islamic traders. One thing they did discover about Africa though was that it was a slave society as they were constantly offered people as products by the multitudinous rulers from what is now The Gambia down to southern Angola.

Initially traders, it became necessary for the Europeans to fortify their trading bases and this gradually led to treaties with whatever ruler was in a position to sign a document. Europeans were empire builders by accident not intent.

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
3 years ago

This is what happens if you read lots of books and don’t do much else. Events are seen through lenses supplied by novels and the gossip of intellectuals, and people are thought to be astute if they relate current affairs to events and ideas that only exist in books. Extra points are awarded if the novels referred to are obscure, and are the sort of thing your audience wish they had read but have not yet got round to.

I’ve lost count of the number of articles I’ve read which explain how Britain’s loss of empire accounts for Brexit, Thatcher, racism, and the latest winner of The Great British Bake Off. All of them emanate from London, I bet most of them are by Oxbridge humanities graduates, and not a few seem to have been goaded into life by a looming deadline. In real life, though, I’ve never met anyone who considers this a topic worth a second thought.

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

Does your “real life” include any Remainers? I’ve certainly heard some odd statements from Leavers. One says she voted Leave because she wanted to “keep the pound, and the Queen” (neither of which was at risk).

Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers
3 years ago

Pretty much the only blessing about this piece is that almost no one will read it.
It is the sort of entitled self indulgent twaddle that has millions of us (including me) walking away from the BBC and its ilk. Good riddance to them and this form of regressive nonsense.

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Rogers

speaking of “… of entitled self indulgent twaddle…” you and yours provide an inexhaustible supply of it.

Dave Weeden
Dave Weeden
3 years ago

I don’t think Matthew Sweet deserves the opprobrium in the comments below. OTOH, I think Unherd publish too many disguised book reviews, as this undoubtedly is. At school, I had an English teacher who wrote “RELEVANCE” on his blackboard (maybe lots of times, maybe just the once). I think his point was that exam essays should have some relevance to the question. This piece feels like a revivified undergraduate essay, tweaked to fit the issues Unherd seems to exist to address. As a “book I’ve read I bet no one else has” piece; it’s quite entertaining, and almost makes me want to search the book out. What people are objecting to is that it’s not the piece they expected (which for some appears to be “all Brexit, all the time”).
This really is a flaw with Unherd’s format. It really needs a books section where contributors can write about books, and relevance to current affairs or the Zeitgeist be damned.

David Uzzaman
David Uzzaman
3 years ago

In deciding the relative merits of the British Empire it’s worth considering what the alternative would have been. If the British had not gradually acquired India would the country had united under a democrat self governing republic two hundred years early. It seems unlikely. Before us it had been conquered by the Moguls and we arrived simultaneously with the French who if might well have taken it. Likewise we much of Africa, the French, Belgians and Germans all competed with us for colonies. As the article says much of the history of the world is tied up with the building and destruction of Empires. There was nothing particularly wicked about the acquisition of our Empire. We don’t blame the Italians for the Roman Empire which lasted considerably longer than ours.

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
3 years ago
Reply to  David Uzzaman

They were blamed at the time, and by Romans themselves: “They build a desolation, and call it peace”. Julius Caesar was accused of war crimes against the Gauls, long before the concept was formalised, as his campaigns had killed an estimated one million of them. Indeed, one senator suggested he should be put on trial, before a jury of Gauls!

As for alternatives, the same arguments against British imperialism also apply to other Europeans, and I think it’s generally accepted that “they were doing it too” isn’t a defence. If we had all stayed at home, and traded legitimately, it is highly likely that our influence would have spread anyway, and probably no less quickly. Much Roman influence spread this way – it wasn’t all conquest. Neighbouring countries often adopted Roman ways because they admired them.

Would non-European countries have united under democratic governments? Possibly not immediately, but then, some of the imperial countries weren’t democracies either.

Gary Greenbaum
Gary Greenbaum
3 years ago

I’d have preferred the article without the side punches at China and Trump.

David Cockayne
David Cockayne
3 years ago

The article title, I imagine, was generated by an inadequately trained AI program.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago

Typical elitist tripe-cherry picking a few misspeaking incidents as “monologues”, wandering through anecdotes-what is the point of this? Conrad was a man of his time, I wonder if Achebe imagined an Africa with no Wilberforce?

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
3 years ago

For a hilarious half hour take on the same theme as The Long Way Back, try Babakiueria (from “What do you call this place?” – puzzled looks – “Barbeque area?” – “I take this land Babakiueria for His Majesty.”), a 1986 Australian mockumentary on how Aboriginal Australians encountered European Australians and colonised them.
I think you’ll split your sides laughing, even if, as many commenters so far appear to, you think the Empire was the best thing since sliced bread.

Derek M
Derek M
3 years ago
Reply to  Ian Perkins

Of course both of these tales are just that, fictional tales. Perhaps it makes Africans and Aborigines feel better about themselves but the fact is that they didn’t develop advanced civilisations of their own

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
3 years ago

It’s only BLM and it’s white followers who stress over colonialism. The former colonies have moved on. Britain is part of their past, not their future. On a visit to the mountains in Pakistan a couple of years ago, I was interested to see a sign advertising “British era bungalows” as holiday homes.

Ralph Windsor
Ralph Windsor
3 years ago
Reply to  Giulia Khawaja

The White Man’s Burden is now a burden only to the Woke Man (Although still generally white, of course).

Diana Durham
Diana Durham
3 years ago

As garbled as the plots you try to summarise, and use for incoherent
extended metaphors.

Claire D
Claire D
3 years ago

The history of empires is quite large.
I always remember the historian Christine Carpenter’s admonition – do not try to make patterns out of history.
Too many people ignore this wise advice.

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
3 years ago
Reply to  Claire D

We are a pattern-seeing animal. It leads to a lot of our mistakes.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ba

Paul Booth
Paul Booth
3 years ago

What?

Charles Rense
Charles Rense
3 years ago

Sure. A curse passed down from previous apex world powers dating all the way back to the Egyptian empire. Now it’s America’s curse. Maybe China’s curse next. I hope not though, because that would break the trend of the curse becoming gradually less terrible and more benevolent each time it’s passed.

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
3 years ago
Reply to  Charles Rense

Very true.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

The British Empire was the greatest Empire the world has ever seen, with the sole exception of Ancient Rome.

Dave Weeden
Dave Weeden
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

You could have saved a few words and said “the second greatest” then.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave Weeden

Agreed, thanks. It would much better grammatically, I am duly admonished.

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

You could say it was an improvement on Ancient Rome. We didn’t crucify anyone.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Giulia Khawaja

Not really. We went in for : hang,draw, castrate and quarter. Quicker I grant you, but far more messy!

Incidentally the Romans claimed to have ‘borrowed’ Crucifixion from the
Carthaginians. It was normally applied only to non Romans ( JC for example).

Roman citizens, such as St Paul were be beheaded. Quick and painless, if slightly messy.

What happy days!

Ralph Windsor
Ralph Windsor
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

I always admired Scipio Africanus for biffing the Carthaginians. I hope he was not also responsible for the Romans adopting Carthage’s favoured execution technology.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Ralph Windsor

No, it’s seems to have been adopted much earlier, although the sources differ.

Either way it was perhaps one the most excruciating and lengthy methods of execution ever devised. Brilliantly parodied in that epic film ” The Life of Brian” as I am sure you will agree?

Nun Yerbizness
Nun Yerbizness
3 years ago

“Margot Bennett … is a scandalously forgotten writer.”

that is a very long list.

Ralph Windsor
Ralph Windsor
3 years ago
Reply to  Nun Yerbizness

Not so much “scandalously forgotten” as just forgotten. Except in the BBC perhaps.

Caroline Galwey
Caroline Galwey
3 years ago

Every nation, people and human group thinks it’s the best, and weaves a tissue of national myths. Mr Sweet seems to think this is OK for everyone except the British and Americans.

Teo
Teo
3 years ago

More or less consider the British Empire as being comparable to a Blackwater type enterprise than a geopolitical (state) endeavour that can be retrospectively moralised over. The only present day contention is with some British politicians delusional Empire building in the backyard of the UK.

Imran Khan
Imran Khan
3 years ago
Reply to  Teo

Don’t understand the last sentence. Can you clarify?

David Cockayne
David Cockayne
3 years ago
Reply to  Imran Khan

Something to do with fish, perhaps.

Teo
Teo
3 years ago
Reply to  Imran Khan

A major issue of Brexit was EU free movement, Brexit merely swaps out EU free movement for the acceleration of free movement into UK from the Commonwealth Nations. A nostalgic globalist policy of bringing the Empire home.

Richard Turner
Richard Turner
3 years ago

Colonisation is part of the human condition. Homo Sapiens colonised and displaced the Neanderthals, Alexander colonised the world, as did the Romans. The Normans colonised Britain, the Bantus colonised Southern Africa and displaced the San to the Kalahari. To discuss the process as right or wrong is to apply value judgements that have as much meaning as condemning the Romans for colonising Britain. To wit I might add what did the Romans do for us?

David Foot
David Foot
3 years ago

I had no idea that the British Empire is all about carnivorous plants and
all the other science fiction so alien to me and as commentators have remarked,
the last phrase I have not been able to translate in to English either, but any
way let us talk Empires.

Politics must operate on the base of MERIT, reality should not be warped
unless those warping it can afford that luxury and we can’t. That is how the
Empire came to be and that is how the British Crown and Empire created some of the
most desirable places where most want to live in and are prepared to die with
their children to get in to these nations of the old Empire. In this respect
the Empire has something to show unlike every other system which I can think
of. It was an Empire based on commerce and business more than anything else and
making natural resources available to economies.

This is completely different to practically all the other ideologies like
Marxism, African nationalism, religions like Islam which have created mostly
hell holes but which the UK young seem to be so keen on today, it is suicidal
on their part and totally inexplicable.

The Empire was much more than the sum of its parts and when the 1945
Marxists sent the parts flying it was a catastrophe for many parts which
thrived on the Imperial regime as they got order and purpose, sadly this was
undermined by nationalism and Marxism which never have been able to replace
that Imperial order of things so admired, perhaps they were not taught to love
it properly. Even nations close by like Tibet suffered.

Our Empire was the first ever organization of mankind in history which spent
shed loads of money to free slaves and not to make them. The Empire effectively
ended slavery. Even Marx chose to live and die in its capital and so did other
enemies like Gandhi who ended up splitting India in the good India, the bad
India and the even worse India, with two nuclear powers who hate each other’s
guts and share a massive border, what could possibly go wrong with the Marxist
withdrawal of Empire? Next door Burma has still not woken from the nightmare of
de-colonisation either. Africa well perhaps not go there nor chose Aden for our
holidays.. Fantastic job the Marxist de-colonisers they should take the biscuit.

When I saw the title I thought straight away (like many here) of the
catastrophe of decolonization and how the Rhodesian “breadbasket of Africa”
was decolonized by Marxists and turned in to the “parasite of Africa”
Zimbabwe which not only doesn’t feed other parts of Africa but it has thrown
away its resources and doesn’t even feed itself either! Zimbabwe has
effectively taken off mankind loads of food and even consumes food needed for
other places and other people. Is that OK for the de-colonisers of Eaton,
Oxford and Cambridge? Would the Black History Hamilton go walking through the
streets of Zimbabwe, Nigeria etc with his black history books and no body
guards? That would certainly get rid of such a tiresome ungrateful critic of
his country’s greatness even though he doesn’t even live in “his”
country. Perhaps a better description would be “perhaps the fastest hypocrites
on four wheels”.

The justification and the need for colonialism is there, and is clear
perhaps in Zimbabwe never so many black people have been killed or starved or
lived under a more tyrannical and bad managed regime AFTER the Empire was taken
out.

Does London have sovereignty (responsibility) to change anything now? London
doesn’t. So what further damage can the Marxists do to what is left of the old
Empire? These people in the hell holes have reputedly voted for not
dependence or independence. The Marxists who force outcomes without merit have
come up with the idea bleeding the UK dry if they can.

The UK also has its own poor and homeless people and children not all well fed
or educated so the Marxists are determined to undermine our state and fix the
outcome as Marxists always do and ignore the merit and warp any responsible
redistribution of wealth in the UK taking wealth off its poor and giving away
what should be due to them and they give it out to the parasitic regimes which
they created with their decolonization.

The Marxists are effectively propping up the corrupt which they left behind,
so that these last longer (even though they no merit to survive the Marxists
will them to survive), it is so Marxist it is untrue, Marxism is everywhere,
it has colonised everything in the UK even in the Conservative party, there is
a woman MP determined to warp the proper redistribution of wealth in the UK
taking from her own needy people and in this way sinking the UK and she is a
Conservative.

The next stage of what is left of the once great Empire has to be the Marxist
decolonization and re-establishing a politics of success always choosing merit
first unless we can afford a luxury of forcing an outcome. This would be a fair
outcome for the ones who stared the unparalleled success story thanks to the
Tudors and from their time and which came closest to giving mankind a planetary
government based on merit.

The alternative today to success in England is what the Marxists/ IRA sought
in 2019 the invasion of England by an incompatible people who hate England and
who bring their own law but who are prepared to vote Marxist. Finally the
Marxist want to split England itself (the Marxists kept the nationalist enemies
of England united after 1997) killing the heart of the Empire for good never to
resurrect again.

This would take England back even to before the Tudors. As one of them is
reputed to have put it “the English are a race not worth saving

Derek M
Derek M
3 years ago

“The tensions within the UK’s post-imperial identity have yet to be resolved” – really? Perhaps only in the minds of people like the author, BBC presenters and the like, the fully paid up members of the cosmopolitan, metropolitan liberal elite. The rest of us have actual real issues to think about

Ivan Ford
Ivan Ford
3 years ago

I found the article interesting, but I’m not sure that it addressed the question in its title. ‘Was the British Empire a curse?’ I also found myself wondering about the perspective inherent in some of the comments below. Was the empire a curse, well it was and it wasn’t is probably the reality. Yes we built roads, rails and administrations, (the last often with people imported to our colonies from the Indian sub continent). I’m sure there are those in our former possessions who regret the loss of stability and competent relatively uncorrupt administration, just as there are those in Britain who hark back to a golden time, usually located between 20-40 years ago. Or, possibly given the Leave vote pre-joining. I recall speaking with an Indian man who told me of his own and his friends fondness for the old days of the `Raj. But I suspect that his was a minority view. base on the same golden age syndrome as he was to young to remember the Raj. Whether curse or otherwise no one can deny that our former empire had a profound impact upon those nations we ruled over. It, also had and has a profound impact on our national psyche.

It seems to me that for much of my life I have listened to politicians and pundits pontificating on our sense of ‘fair play,’ our civilising influence in the world. The incorruptibility of our institutions. I have heard arguments that our imperial behaviour was so much better than that of other European imperialists. But there is always a shadow side, rarely acknowledged, the arbitrary delineation of territories and the consequent disruption of tribal relations. The brutality perpetrated against those who opposed our rule and the post colonial meddling, which has included keeping some pretty unsavoury characters in power.

In general our collective highly selective memories’ form the basis of an unhealthy British exceptionalism and are used to bolster a sense of British superiority, of our exceptionality, based in part on a sense of the glory and superiority our imperial past and of our marital prowess, the duel myths, that we stood alone during the early years of WW2 and that we won the war.

Whereas, American industrial might and Russia’s willingness to sacrifice as many people as were needed to beat the axis was the reality. Alarmingly, for our future such naive and selective myths feed into the exceptionalism narrative, perpetuating the idea that the world out there is champing at the bit as it awaits the entrepreneurial swashbuckling Brits freed from the EU yoke. I emphasise that this is not an anti-Brexit argument, (I am writing this on 31st December 2020 year zero will soon begin). I’m merely concerned that some of our fellow citizens are delusional. No matter what our politicians tell us we are a relatively small player, punching well above our weight. ‘God is usually on the side of the big battalions.’ So my view is that if our empire was a curse it is as much a curse for us as it was for those we subjected to our imperial ambitions

Davy Longshanks
Davy Longshanks
3 years ago

All the while authors such as this go round poo-pooing the concept of ‘national superiority’ (as he puts it) and spending time squinting through the fog of the past (that will never lift) I can think of at least one country that right now actively does pursue national superiority and will not stop until that goal is achieved. The author of this article would not be free to write an article like this there though.

Davy Longshanks
Davy Longshanks
3 years ago

Hhh

Davy Longshanks
Davy Longshanks
3 years ago

Interesting article I thought

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago

Thanks, Matthew. According to an Amazon reviewer of “The Long Way Back”, in the novel Europe was destroyed in a nuclear holocaust in 1984. Poor 1984 got a terrible advance billing from British novelists for what was really quite a wonderful year, certainly in economic terms, when the Western democracies were just at the beginning of the Great Moderation. As to the Chinese colonialist project in Sinkiang being unsustainable, whatever gets you through the night, Matthew. The Uyghurs are not in a majority in Xinjiang now and with continued inmigration of Han Chinese they could as thoroughly Sinicize Xinjiang as they already have Inner Mongolia. This won’t necessarily happen. Look at how wrong people turned out to be about the inevitable Russification of the Baltic States, which even such an intelligent observer as Colin Thubron predicted in what turned out to be the dying years of the Soviet Union. However, right now what is happening in Xinjiang really bears no resemblance to British subjugation of Nigeria or Bengal. It is more like the Germanic tribes in England marginalizing and assimilating its Celtic inhabitants. That colonization project, if you want to call it that, has worked for more than a millennium now, and seems unlikely to be reversed.

Davy Longshanks
Davy Longshanks
3 years ago

Great article