Subject Material

A British Cover-Up

Published: 26.04.2012, Updated: 04.03.2017
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Seen from today’s viewpoint British colonial history is clearly a tale of disrespect and violation. But at the time the British saw it as their God-given right and duty to bring their idea of civilisation to the colonies. Besides, it brought necessary and cheap raw materials to keep the wheels rolling in "the Workshop of the World”. This meant that the colonies were left largely impoverished when they gained their independence. Now new investigations reveal an even darker side of Britain’s colonial history.

  1. Insurgent
  2. Reputation
  3. Deportation
  4. Impoverished
  5. To put a lid on
  6. To sue
  7. Vengeance
  8. Disrepute
  9. To reveal
  10. Former
  11. Classified


The “W” Files

A group of Kenyan police on a search at a deserted village for Mau-Mau members during the 1948-52 war between the British coloniA group of Kenyan police on a search at a deserted village for Mau-Mau members during the 1948-52 war between the British colonial administration and the Mau-Mau, drawn chiefly from the Kikuyu tribe  Last year a group of Kenyans sued the British Government for allegedly having been tortured during the Mau-Mau rebellion against the British colonial administration in the 1950s. In connection with this case The Foreign Office has opened an archive with records that reveal massive violation   of insurgents during British colonial rule. The  papers have been kept from the public for more than fifty years, a fact which puts the Foreign   Office in an “embarrassing and scandalous  position” according to historian Tony Badger who has been appointed to monitor the publishing process. The records were classified as “Watch-Files” and the British colonial authorities were instructed to keep the material from the post-colonial governments. Many documents     were destroyed or dumped in the ocean to protect the reputation of the Empire. Last week the remaining 8,800 records from 37 colonies were discovered in a secret Foreign Office Archive in Buckinghamshire.

Brutality and Terror

The files report the “elimination” of enemies of the colonial authorities in Malaya and Kenya, and give detailed information of deportation, murder, and torture, including a case where a man was said to be “roasted alive”. Another file reports the alleged massacre of 24 unarmed villagers in Malaya by soldiers of the Scots Guards in 1948. No wonder that the British Government and Foreign Office have wanted to put a lid on this information, because it brings to light a practice that puts the British authorities into disrepute. And it may become worse. The on-going Mau-Mau case in addition to the publication of the “W”- files may open up for other former colonies to take legal action against Britain. For the British Government it seems to be time for a history lesson with a vengeance.

Follow this link for a full review on the case:
Britain destroyed records of colonial crimes 

Comprehension and Discussion

  1. Do you think the establishment of a colonial empire like the British would have been possible today? Why / why not?
  2. What is a watch-file?
  3. Explain the phrase “post-colonial government”.
  4. Some would probably say “let bygones be bygones” – and claim that it does no good to dig in the past like that. Do you think it is important that such matters are brought to light?
  5. (Optional) What rules should apply for interrogation of prisoners of war in your opinion? Where do you draw the line between discomfort and abuse?
  6. (Optional) Wars and conflicts put people under pressure. How do we prepare investigators, riot police and soldiers for the tasks at hand to prevent abuse and torture? 

Vocabulary - Pair Off

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