Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Never apologise, but by all means try to explain


I am glad David Cameron resisted the temptation, while at Amritsar, to apologise in a speech for the killings by British soldiers there, a sad and dreadful thing though it was. It was worse than a crime. It was a blunder. But perhaps the Indians should apologise for the Mutiny and for invading Goa. 

Although he did say, in the visitors’ book at Jallianwala Bagh, the walled garden where the killings took place, that it was “a deeply shameful event in British history.” And it was, although Andrew Roberts, like Kipling, takes another view and thinks the massacre justified. The truth is that Communist and Fascist regimes can govern using methods like this but, although the Mutiny had been followed by similar massacres by the British, the British as Christians could not rule like this indefinitely. As Max Beerbohm said in another context, the nonconformist conscience makes cowards of us all. Their Christianity was what brought about the decision of the Afrikaners to give blacks the vote rather than to continue to rule by sheer brute force.

The Amritsar Massacre led to Gandhi and other nationalists deciding that they wanted India to be independent and this led in less than a generation to partition, where not three hundred but up to a million people may have died.

There is no end to the apologies that every country can make but there is on balance very much to be proud of about the British Empire which did much more good even than the Roman Empire and certainly very much less harm. Democratic India, with common law and speaking English, sans suttee, is a great British achievement.

Africa also gained very much from British rule but it remains to see how our former colonies in Africa turn out. So did the Caribbean, despite slavery. However terrible slavery was and it was (as was serfdom in Europe), it was an African institution which whites adopted and it brought Africans to civilisation. This point is made by the (black) Governor of Jamaica in a great interview. It also made them Christians.

Pope put the case for colonialism best:

'For forms of government let fools contest
Whate'er is best administered is best.'


  1. I agree.I am also glad Mr.Cameron stopped short of a formal apology. Even Mr. Cameron is not that idiotic.

  2. You're so vain, you probably think this comment is about you.


  4. What rot most of those points are - I hope to have time to go through them. Slavery an African institition which we abolished. We do have many blots on our record though one of which was annexing the two Boer republics which outraged all liberal opinion and the Guardian at the time. The Boers were rightly the great liberal cause. But how much good we did in Africa and elsewhere.

  5. I, for one, agree on the fact that the British Empire was better than the Russian one, the Ottoman one, the Mongolian one etc, but can you blame me for not liking empires at all? And apologize is the least one can do after doing harm, no matter how much good he did before or after. Your attitude reminds me of some Romanians denying the Holocaust in our country. There are no angels, we all make mistakes, but we should apologize when we realize we were wrong.