I like George Monbiot. For a start he knows an awful lot of stuff, and for another he’s not afraid to speak out. He had an article in The Guardian the other day that almost literally took my breath away. It was about those Kenyans who had been mistreated by the British during the struggle for independence.
As he says himself, he spares the reader no detail.
“We have been sparing ourselves the details for far too long. Large numbers of men were castrated with pliers. Others were raped, sometimes with the use of knives, broken bottles, rifle barrels and scorpions. Women had similar instruments forced into their vaginas. The guards and officials sliced off ears and fingers, gouged out eyes, mutilated women's breasts with pliers, poured paraffin over people and set them alight. Untold thousands died.”
And of course it was all covered up as officialdom lied and lied again about what they had done and were doing. It’s hard to believe that human beings could do such things to one another but it’s obviously possible. Monbiot suggests it’s because people have been persuaded to think of those they are oppressing as being ‘the other’ - not like us, a lesser species. Almost certainly something of the same thinking obtained in the time of the Irish famine - or An Gorta Mor, to be more exact - the Great Hunger. A million people were allowed to die and a million more had to emigrate, many dying en route in the ‘coffin ships’.
What’s that - the British didn’t let them die? Mmm - sorry, can’t go along with that. If food is being shipped out of a country - food of all kinds - while the people of that country are starving, I’d call that letting the people die. In fact, I’d go further - I’d say An Gorta Mor looks suspiciously like genocide. I’m not saying that the British attempted to wipe out the entire Irish population but that’s not the definition of genocide. What was inflicted on the Irish people killed a million, forced another million to leave the country, and left a psychological scar on the Irish that remains to this day.
I’m writing these words from London, where I’ve always found the people to be at least as good and pleasant as in any other city. So how could their ancestors have been so stony-hearted in the face of Irish starvation? I think Monbiot got it - they thought of the Irish as ‘the other’, and there are still traces of such thinking among portions of the English people.
It’s a hugely interesting as well as ghastly period of our history, the mid-nineteenth century. Maybe we should know more about it.