Sins of Empire


Posted by Bob Lord

David Anderson, has an excellent op-ed in today's Times, Atoning For The Sins of Empire. The piece mainly is about how the supposedly benevolent British engaged repeatedly and systematically in torture during their reign. They are now starting to pay compensation to their victims and their descendants.

Anderson softly yet convincingly suggests that America will one day find itself in Britain's current position.

On Vietnam:

A case already before the courts concerns the 1948 Batang Kali massacre in colonial Malaya, now Malaysia. There, the relatives of innocent villagers — who were murdered by young conscript soldiers ordered to shoot by an older, psychopathic sergeant major — have asked for compensation. For Americans, the case has eerie echoes of Vietnam.

And, to conclude his piece, on Guantanamo:

Torture is torture, whoever the perpetrator, whoever the victim. Wrongs should be put right. Whatever wrongs were done in the name of Britain in Kenya in the 1950s, the British government has now delivered modest reparations to some victims. And maybe we in Britain have also finally begun to come to terms with our imperial past.       

Would the United States be so accommodating to a similar claim? In the current political climate, probably not. But times change. Fifty years from now, will Americans face claims from Guantánamo survivors? You might, and perhaps you should.

Empire is never benevolent. It also is never "exceptional." Trite expressions like "American exceptionalism" or "America is the greatest country in the world" are naive reflections of empire. Ultimately, hisory will see the sins of our empire as no more exeptional than those of the empires that preceded us, except perhaps for their enormity and brutality.