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Lying In State

June 22, 2020 - 03:06 -- Admin

History, as the government tells it, is one long lie, airbrushing a
host of atrocities.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 17th June
2020

When Boris Johnson claimed last
week
that removing statues is “to lie about our history”, you could almost
admire his brass neck. This is the man who was sacked from his first job, on
The Times, for lying about our history. He fabricated
a quote
from his own godfather, the historian Colin Lucas, to create a
sensational front-page fiction about Edward II’s Rose Palace. A further lie about
history – his own history – had
him sacked
from another job, as shadow arts minister under the Conservative
leader Michael Howard.

But, Johnson
tells us
, “We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend
to have a different history.” Yet lies and erasures are crucial to the myths on
which Britain’s official self-image is founded, and crucial to hiding the means
by which those who still dominate us acquired their wealth and power.

Consider the concentration camps Britain built in Kenya in the
1950s. “What concentration camps?”, you might ask. If so, job done. When the Kikuyu
people mobilised to reclaim the land that had been stolen from them by British
settlers and the colonial authorities, almost the entire population – over 1
million – were herded
into concentration camps
and fortified villages. One of these camps, as if
echoing Auschwitz, had the slogan “Labour and Freedom” above the gates.
Even Eric Griffith-Jones, the attorney general of the colonial administration
in Kenya, who was complicit in these crimes, remarked
that
the treatment of the inmates was “distressingly reminiscent of
conditions in Nazi Germany”.

Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of prisoners died. Many
succumbed to hunger and disease, including almost all the children
in some camps. Many others were murdered. Some were beaten to death by their
British guards. Some, as the governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, acknowledged
in a secret memo, were
roasted alive. Others were anally raped with knives, rifle barrels and broken
bottles, mauled by dogs or electrocuted. Many were castrated, with a special
implement the British administration designed for the purpose. “By the time I
cut his balls off,” one
of the killers boasted
, “he had no ears, and his eyeball, the right one, I
think, was hanging out of its socket”. Some were rolled up in barbed wire and
kicked around the compound until they bled to death. If you know nothing of
this history, it’s because it was systematically censored and replaced with
lies by the British authorities.

Only in 2012, when a group of Kikuyu survivors sued the British
government for their torture and mutilation, was an
archive
, kept secret by the Foreign Office, discovered. It revealed the extraordinary
measures taken by colonial officials to prevent information from leaking, and
to fend off questions by Labour MPs with outright lies. For example, after 11
men were beaten to death by camp guards, Sir Evelyn Baring advised
the colonial secretary
to report that they had died from drinking dirty
water. Baring himself authorised such assaults. In implementing this decision,
Eric Griffith-Jones warned
him
“If we are going to sin, we must sin quietly.” When questions
persisted, Baring told his officials to do “an exercise … on the dossiers”, to
create the impression that the victims were hardened criminals.

As it happens, Sir Evelyn Baring was the grandfather of Mary
Wakefield, the wife of Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings. Last
month, her own truthfulness was called
into question
, as an article she wrote in the Spectator, discussing her
experiences of coronavirus, created the strong impression that she and Cummings
had remained in London, rather than travelling to Durham, against government
instructions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Baring’s family fortune was made from the
ownership of slaves, and the massive compensation paid to the owners when the
trade was banned.

The hidden Kikuyu documents that came to light in 2012 were part
of a larger archive, most of which was systematically
destroyed
by the British authorities before decolonisation. Special Branch
oversaw what it called “a
thorough purge
” of the Kenyan archives. Fake files were inserted to
take the place of those that were expunged. “The very existence” of the deleted
files, one memo insisted, “should never be revealed.” Where there were too
many files to burn easily, an
order proposed
that they “be packed in weighted crates and dumped in very
deep and current-free water at maximum practicable distance from the
coast”. So much for not editing or censoring our past.

The same deletions occurred across the British Empire. We can only
guess at what the lost documents might have revealed. Were there more details
of the
massacre of civilians
in Malaya? Of Britain’s dirty
war in Yemen
in the 1960s? Of the catastrophic famine the British
government created in Bengal in 1943, by snatching
food
from the mouths of local people and exporting it? Of its atrocities in
Aden and Cyprus? One thing the surviving files do show us is the British
government’s secret
eviction
of the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, to
make way for a US air base. The Foreign Office instructed its officials to deny
the very existence of the indigenous islanders, so that they could be removed
without compensation or parliamentary objections.

The erasures and deletions continue. In 2010, the disembarkation
cards of the Windrush generation of immigrants from the Caribbean were
all destroyed
by Theresa May’s Home Office. Many people suddenly had no means
of proving their right to citizenship of this country, facilitating her cruel
and outrageous deportations. In 2013, the Conservatives deleted the
entire public archive
of their speeches and press releases from 2000 to
2010, and blocked access to web searches using the Wayback Machine, impeding
people trying to hold them to account for past statements and policies.

This week, the Prime Minister asked the head of his policy unit,
Munira Mirza, to set
up a commission
on racial inequalities. She is part of a network of
activists whose entire history has been, in my view, confused and obfuscated.
It arose from the Revolutionary Communist Party and Living Marxism magazine. As
these names suggest, they purported to belong to the far left, but they look to
me like
the extreme right
. In 2018 I discovered that one of its outlets, spiked
magazine, had been heavily
funded
by the US billionaire Charles Koch. Other sources of funding remain
obscure. In common with some of her comrades, Mirza has cast
doubt on institutional racism
. Her new role has caused dismay among
anti-racist campaigners, who fear yet more editing of history.

Lying about history, censoring and editing is what the political
establishment does. The histories promoted by successive governments,
especially those involving the UK’s relationship with other nations, are one
long chain of lies. Because we are lied to, we cannot move on. Maturity, either
in a person or in a nation, could be defined as being honest about ourselves.
We urgently need to grow up.

www.monbiot.com