Monday, July 9, 2018


I have a passion for history especially British and American history.

As an historian you very quickly learn to appreciate is that there are two sides to every story (as it is with most things in life).    Another truism is that too often in winning side in any conflict gets to write the history.   I have yet to come across an account of the Falklands War written from an Argentinean perspective nor anything on the 1st or 2nd Gulf Wars telling the Iraqi side of the story.

For those who have an interest in the forces that shaped India leading up to independence can I commend to you the book 'Inglorious Empire' by Dr Shashi Tharoor published by Scribe 2017.   Tharoor is an Indian career diplomat who currently serves as a Congress Party MP.   He is the author of 14 books and has won numerous literary awards including a Commonwealth Writers Prize.

A review of the book in the Irish Times (hardly unbiased but ... ) reads 'Inglorious Empire is a timely reminder of the need to start teaching unromanticised colonial history in British schools.   A welcome antidote to the nauseating righteousness and condescension pedaled by Nial Ferguson in his 2004 book Empire'.

Strong words indeed perhaps inspired by this descriptive of the Indian Civil Service as "neither Indian, nor civil, nor a service".    A perhaps better descriptive was that 'the British ruled nineteenth-century India with an unshakeable self-confidence buttressed by protocol, alcohol and a lot of gall'.

Well worth reading.  



James said...

Interesting, but hardly an exception to what is most commonly taught about British colonial history in India. In fact, I would argue that Prof Niall Ferguson, in his book 'Empire' offered a welcome alternative view point to the normal self-flagellating Western-taught history (noting that the book you are reviewing is Indian, not Western).

Rev Dr Jules Gomes, a former history lecturer at Liverpool Hope University, and originally from India writes this about the British colonial legacy in India: He points out that after British folk would apologise to him and his wife for 'what we did in India', he would answer "What did you do? Build roads and railways. Bring law and order. Unify five hundred squabbling fiefdoms under petty maharajahs into a single country that had never existed. Create the world’s largest democracy. Give us the English language (and not just so that we could sell you Viagra through call centres in Bangalore). Real education (not the New Labour child-centred absurdity). So shut your fake guilt factory and take your patronising fatuity elsewhere."

Prof Nigal Biggar of Oxford is another academic who has braved the Western consensus that they never did anything right. This (paywalled) article ignited a furious response, but is what he says wrong:

Anyway, I shall look out for the book, because as you rightly say, it is very important to read both sides. I only wish to observe that the side almost universally pointed out to us is one of British failure in India (and the rest of the empire), despite what is more accurately a mixed picture - British empire had positive and negative results, and it is not shameful to feel ambiguous about it.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Yes James

The anti white shouters and haters in Australia would have it that nothing good for Aboriginals came out of British colonization. (They are damned lucky they didn't get the French.)

No, all the Aboriginals got was a twenty year plus extension of their life expectancy along with sheep and cattle to eat, western education, medicine, transport, TV, radio and not to mention Victoria Bitter.

The Veteran said...

James ... not disputing what you say. But I did find it interesting to read an Indian POV. I agree with your comment that there were both positive and negative outcomes to British colonialism. We can celebrate the positive as long as we recognise the negative.

gravedodger said...

A neighbour c1972: there are three sides to every "fact" yours, mine and the truth, not much else to say!!

Many thanks John Corbett you were an inspiration, a true good bastard.

I was so fortunate to have known you.

Anonymous said...

To even start on the subject let alone write so many paragraphs without mentioning the East India company shows a complete misunderstanding of "colonialism" and India in general. Suggested reading.."The Honourable company" and as an overview "The corporation that changed the world".

India become a part of he British empire almost by default when it inherited the most successful business (with it's own army and navy) the world has ever seen and India was not a united country as such, it was a large ill defined area fought over by warring Maharajahs for centuries. Not dissimilar to the situation in NZ really.

Lord Egbut