This is one of the easiest and quickest ways of throwing content up here but I do not care. In part because I think this is fun and also because I have no idea how many people see this nor do I really care. Anyway, this is the final project from my other last program at Evergreen, The Victorian World. I think this is also a paper that represents everything Evergreen strives for in that I was able to connect two rather disparate programs together. In this paper I was arguing that the “Colonial Wound” that Frantz Fanon argued affected the collective psyche of the former colonized in his book The Wretched of the Earth also affects the colonizers. I had read Fanon in my previous program Re-Interpreting Liberation which I had taken in the Fall. Luckily this paper was in English so I do not really have to explain as in theory you, the reader, have a basic grasp of the English language. And if you don’t, this doesn’t mean much to you anyway. But I consider this paper, along with the one I did in Spanish, as one of my best and accomplished what Evergreen tries to do: interdisciplinary learning.
Any event of sufficient size, range and impact causes a trauma to some. Wars, famines, plagues and colonization are all good examples of society-wide traumas. It is safe to say that colonization has a profound impact on the colonized. The wound inflicted on the collective psyche and memory of a people who have been colonized is not easily healed. We can see the effects of that wound on former British colonies all over the world. Some have faired better than others. Some, especially the White settler colonies, have seemingly been able to avoid the wound.
But the trauma of empire is not restricted to the conquered peoples. The British themselves carry a wound from their days as the conquering legions. We can see this wound, on both sides, in the art created at the time and today.
We can see how the colonized have reacted to their ordeal. In Mangal Pandey: The First Rising, the subtitle itself is evidence of the Indian perception. Where the British saw an army mutiny, the Indians see the first attempt at independence from their overlords. Like any historical epic, it romanticizes the story and the characters. There is the callous British officer, the noble sympathetic British officer, the heroic Indian nationalist with anachronistic beliefs, the maidens, and even a comedic fool. I believe this movie resists the temptation to brand the British as wholly evil, that is most likely the product of time.
It seems the Indians, or at least some, are not as people of history as other former colonies. The Irish, victims of possibly the longest period of colonial rule of any British colony, are a good example of the lasting colonial wound. After almost 800 years under the English thumb has resulted in a great deal of bitterness. The Irish still remember the atrocities inflict upon them by the English. The massacre of Drogheda, the Battle of the Boyne, the Potato Famine, the Easter Rising, the War for Independence, and the Troubles are all burned in the minds of the Irish. Some are still willing to fight, die and kill for crimes that happened to people long dead and beyond living memory. The fact that the trauma is still paraded through the streets by the Orangemen does not help facilitate healing.
In Heaven’s Command we see how Ireland suffered under British rule. Following Wolfe Tone’s failed rebellion in 1798, The English Parliament passed the Act of Union. (Morris, 156) In a move that the English thought would make the Irish happy, the Irish merely saw another humiliation. (Morris, 156) It is not strange that to see why the Irish were unhappy by the Act. The change that is presented in Morris appears to be that the Protestants lording over the Irish have moved from Dublin to London. (Morris, 156) The English then proceeded to crush the Irish economically, destroying what little industry the island had and their agriculture suffered a depression in prices. (Morris, 156) The English furthered their humiliation by denying the Irish security on their own lands. The English landlords could always raise rents and evict any tenant. (Morris, 156-157) The callous reaction to the Famine did nothing to help Anglo-Irish relations. To prevent Irish peasants from robbing the shipment of food for export, soldiers were deployed to protect the caravans to the ports. (Morris, 165) The English however did not acknowledge any fault for the famine they saw it as an Act of God, the fault of no one. (Morris, 166-167) The Irish as a people of history remember these and other crimes. (Rainey) With the fact that Ireland has yet to recover from the Famine demographically, it is clear to see why the Irish remain embittered towards the English. (Rainey) The wounds of the Empire are still fresh on the minds of the Irish.
The wounds of Empire are clear and generally expected in the colonized and formerly colonized. But the conquerors are not immune from receiving a wound as they plant their flags and march on foreign soils. A contemporary manifestation of this wound can be seen in two stories we have read in this program. In The Man Who Would Be King, we see a cautionary tale about imperialism from a man who is arguably one of the more prominent supporters of the Empire, Rudyard Kipling. We see two men, who in their imperial arrogance, resolve to go out into the heights of Hindu Kush and make themselves kings of the Kaffirs. In the end, they miscalculate and are destroyed by the people they sought to rule. It appears to me something dawned on Kipling. That Empire may be the glorious and romantic thing, but it is not assured that the British (or any other imperial power) will always be successful.
We can see the effect of the Empire on the conquerors in the film Zulu. Made almost a century after the event, the film presents an epic reinterpretation of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift. In the film an enlisted soldier asks something to the effect of “why us?” when he sees the Zulu Impi arrayed before them. The sergeant beside him replies calmly “because we are here” and maintains his rigid stance. In this exchange it is possible to see the films ambivalent feeling towards the Empire. That soldier was a young man, who had no quarrel with his Zulu equivalent. He is only there because someone above him told he had to be. In this case it is his Sergeant. But there is a man above his sergeant telling him the same thing and so on up the chain of command, up to the Colonial Governor, the Colonial Secretary and the Prime Minister. The filmmakers portrayed the soldiers at Rorke’s Drift, who were mostly Welsh with English officers, as men reluctant to be there driven to fight out of survival and not an imperial duty.
It would be easy to portray the events of that day on the Veldt as a heroic defense fought by proud imperial soldiers against a backwards and savage enemy. But the filmmakers did not and instead took an ambivalent view. The Zulus were shown to be human and even honorable foes, with the fictitious singing salute as they withdrew. The film seems to realize that the cost of Empire takes its toll on both sides. In someways the film is a heroic epic, set in the style of a Western last stand. And yet it is in someways it sees the Empire as an impersonal entity that throws young men into danger without fully explaining why.
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness can also be seen as another effect of the wounds of empire on the conquerors. Conrad describes the descent of a supposed civilized man into a most inhuman creature. Kurtz changed from a proper Victorian man into a marauding tyrant who has blurred the line between God and Man and the line between civilization and barbarism. Even a paragon of European civilization, a humble Christian who values honor, honesty, fairness and kindness can descend into the hateful, depraved, violent and vain darkness that lies buried in all of us. Separation and isolation do strange things to the mind. The colonizer overlord suffers a wound much like the people he rules. In the end, the man sent to fetch Kurtz is unable to tell the truth. How can you tell the world that cannot fathom such depravity and such a fall from grace that one of their sons succumbed to the darkness within his own soul? A darkness that in all likelihood exists within in us all. Is it better to lie and protect everyone involved and the idea of the Empire and the supremacy of Europeans or reveal the truth that could shake those beliefs to their core? Imagine the reaction if the truth of Kurtz’ actions were revealed? If a European, a gentleman of rank and power, could become such a wretched creature; how can you defend the idea of European supremacy and the White Man’s Burden? If the only thing separating a “civilized” European and a “savage” African or Asian is that razor thin, what is stopping the entirety of civilization from coming undone? The conqueror has the luxury of avoiding the pain of the wound for a while. It is not unreasonable to try to avoid the pain.
The wounds of the Empire run deep sadly. They haunt the subconscious minds of entire nations. They can drive men and women, young and old, to fight, to kill and to die for injustices inflicted on upon people beyond memory and for wars long over. There are far too many Irishmen, Orange and Green, who are willing to kill because of the events of the Boyne, Drogheda, and the Famine. The conquest haunts the minds of denizens of the Indian subcontinent. They have romanticized history, where the British saw a native troop mutiny the Indians see the first attempt to gain independence.
Yet the wound is visible on the colonizer as well. Even during the Empire, some men saw the horror and dangers of the Empire. Kipling, an ardent defender of the Empire, wrote a story of an imperial adventure gone terribly wrong. Conrad describes the descent of a civilized man into the dark depravity that lurks in the hearts of all men, regardless of their birth and the color of their skin. The wounds persist to this day in the colonizer as well as the colonized. Their is ambivalence towards the Empire, what it meant, what it did and if it truly was the act of good and tool of civilization as it was and is portrayed. “Why us?” is a statement that many men and women have asked while looking across the field towards other men and women they have been told are their enemies. These wounds may have been inflicted decades or centuries ago, but they are still fresh in many ways. They are still with us and they may always will. We can only hope there can be some kind of healing and hopefully they will not beget more wounds.