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The Library of Babel

A Spin-off of http://bookwormshead.blogspot.co.uk

Niall Ferguson - Empire

Empire: How Britain Made The Modern World - Niall Ferguson

I swear I will write a proper review as soon as possible.

Good but extremely partial book.
Ferguson did his homework and reveals a good deal of interesting stuff on the rise and fall of the British Empire.

However, the author does indulge way too much in justifying British colonialism.

Take the episode he describes involving a British officer savagely killing in cold blood an unarmed boy in Calcutta.

According to Ferguson, the difference between British forces and, say, Nazis is that whereas German soldiers would have never dared to criticize this behavior from one of their officers, British troops in India cried 'shame, shame' to their superior.

And yet, they did nothing to stop the guy and Ferguson doesn't even bother to tell us whether the officer kept his high rank in the army (as he likely did) after his barbarian act. Biased stuff.

Would a Turkish policeman or a Syrian soldier cry 'shame, shame' when one of his colleagues hit and kill an innocent civilian peacefully picketing on a public square? And would that cry make him more civilized?
I don't think so. Fighting to stop the killing or stepping back from his police or army ranks would.

The problem is that the scene portrayed by Ferguson here sounds like edifying fiction to me. Something like 'we let the killing go, but actually we disapprove it and we're quite horrified by it'

Honestly, could you visualize British troops standing on the ramparts of an Indian fortress in the late 19th century and giving cries of 'shame, shame' when their colonel is killing a boy down in the street?

But let's suppose for a moment that that really happened. Then what? Did the soldiers welcome their colonel in the fortress by shaking their heads in disbelief? Did they tell him 'What you did is wrong, sir'. Oh. come on! Let me be skeptical about that.

What I fail to understand when living in the UK is how some historians of this country (Max Hastings, to name another one) genuinely believe that England has an anti-militarist tradition.

I mean, seriously? Did British troops had picnics in the US, India, Myanmar, Afghanistan, South Africa and in a score of other former colonies of theirs? Oh no, wait, they were actually bringing civilization.

Not that Mr. Ferguson here denies that the mighty British Empire actually began with privateers attacking Dutch and Spanish ships and trade ports with the blessing of the Kings and Queens of England. No, the historian makes that clear and that makes his book worth.

But what follows later is not as convincing as the very first chapters of the book. Niall Ferguson does take a side and that should have been avoided to make 'Empire' better.

Oh well, I'll get back on this one.
Off to Paris, now!