Opinion: The British Empire: A legacy of violence?
by John A. T. Robinson
It may be that one day soon historians will be able to trace the origins of our civilisations back beyond the birth of Christ. For now, however, a new study has led some to wonder about our civilisations.
In a new book: ‘The British Empire: A legacy of violence’, by the historian, Paul Kennedy, it is claimed that ‘The British Empire began as a British military enterprise, born out of an English martial tradition and informed by practices and ideas of the martial world, and that these were transformed and reshaped over the generations that followed’.
The argument begins with the historical facts that, for around 200 years after first contact with the Europeans, the indigenous population of the Americas were being ‘conquered’ by the invader, that native societies were being ‘civilised’ by the invader, and that the invader was ‘exploiting’ the Indians. The book is then built on a particular argument. According to Kennedy, ‘British rule in India and its empire have been characterised by military and martial violence on a scale and with a frequency unprecedented in world history.’
If there were such a thing as an average person in India, or indeed in Britain or the United States, who would deny that the British Empire is characterized by violence, either within its borders or on a global stage? Those who have been involved in the military and political history of the British Empire, from the time of its creation in the days of William the Conqueror to the present, are all, at the very least, skeptical about the scale and character of violence associated with what has come to be known as ‘The British Empire’.
The argument that Kennedy presents, if it were accepted, would imply that all civilisations have been marked by violence. It would also imply that the British Empire has been at the forefront of violence. It might be said that this could happen because the British have been