Friday, February 18, 2005

Mr Wong, Chopper Gleasby and The Ponce Ride Again

I had the pleasure of attending a RUSI Military History Circle event today, during which we were addressed by Dr David Anderson, author of "Histories of the Hanged: Britain's Dirty War in Kenya and the end of the Empire". I mentioned the book briefly here.

I came to the event with a certain sense of trepidation, as you may imagine having read my earlier post. My fears were entirely misplaced and I am happy to report that I enjoyed one of the most enlightening and entertaining ninety minutes of my time since I arrived in London last September - I think it is safe to say that this view is one that was held by the other attendees at large.

Having hedged my bets somewhat in my initial post, I would now like to come off the fence and recommend that readers opt for Dr Anderson's book over Dr Elkins' "Britain's Gulag". The latter book was raised as a subject matter during the event and it is clearly apparent that the two authors approach the subject from different angles.

Dr Anderson comes at the subject with the thesis that the Mau Mau Emergency was a war with few, if any heroes in it. He has uncovered numerous instances of atrocity and "not cricket" type behaviour by security forces (to go into it all in depth is beyond the scope of this post, suffice it to say that the British Army under General Erskine and many members of the British government come out of the matter, if not unscathed then at least without their reputations devastated - the allegations against European settler based security forces and elements within the King's African Rifles, however, are carefully documented and seem to me conclusive). However, he takes the view that the event should be viewed as a broad human tragedy and supports a reconciliation-based line (he stated in no uncertain terms that reparations for Mau Mau would be entirely the wrong route to go down). At no point does he attempt to argue that the Mau Mau were the "good guys" and he notes that in fact loyalist Kenyans played the key role in bringing Kenya to independence.

I have not read Dr Elkins' book, but the impression gained from the discussion that ensued following the lecture is that she is pretty firmly in the Mau Mau camp and take the rather George Gallowayesque line that Kenyans loyal to the United Kingdom were little more than high-living colonialist stooges who got what was coming to them.

Anyway, if you are going to read one of the two books, I would strongly urge you to go for "Histories of the Hanged". I am very impressed indeed.

On a final note, Dr Anderson argues compellingly that Jomo Kenyatta had nothing whatsoever to do with the Mau Mau.


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