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Monday June 24th 2019Tim Candler9

 

    The Bantu had been reduced to servitude, the Great Chaka Zulu defeated and land for white settlers plentiful, yet in 1880 South Africa was a territory divided between two powerful interest groups, neither of them remotely saintly. On the one side were the Dutch Boers and on the other side were the British. In the December of 1880 the Boers and the British could contain themselves no longer and traditional hostilities commenced. By the March of 1881 the Boers had made their point, the British pulled back, and generally speaking it was a win for the Boers. In the October of 1899 hostilities recommenced. This time the British planned to overwhelm the Boers. The Boers were heavily outnumbered and in 1900 they were reduced to guerrilla tactics. And the British Commander, a man named Kitchener came up with the idea of Concentration Camps. He would dramatically reduce Boer support for guerrilla forces by rounding up Boer women and children, as well as Bantu tribes suspected of sympathizing with the Boer cause, isolating them in camps. The camps were not well run, little attempt made, thousands and thousands of Boer civilians died of hunger, disease, many were deported and it was shameful, but the war continued for another two years. Kitchener had an attitude toward his enemy that included the idea that his soldiers should think in terms of hunting down and killing Boer fighters as a sporting event. The enemy corpses were to be thought of as hunting trophies, like Antelope or Buffalo and success was to be defined in terms a weekly bag of killed, captured and wounded. And it's also true that Winston Churchill who'd been a horse soldier when the cavalry charged at the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan in 1898, became a correspondent for the Daily Mail so he could see the Second Boer War, he was actually captured by the Boer, he apparently escaped and was able to become a war hero of the British Empire, which certainly helped his political career, so I guess it's all about how you define Atrocity. And the founder of the Boy Scouts movement, a man called Baden Powell, fought in the Boer War and other colonial wars in Africa including the British war against the Ashanti Empire, which went on for years and years. Powell's manual for military scouts served as inspiration for the Boy Scout movement. The point is these famous men knew about Kitchener's concentration camps, and if they didn't it was because they didn't want to, or reckoned there was nothing wrong with it.

 

Past

    But the fact that powerful groups can act in such a way toward us people and apparently justify it as perfectly all right, acceptable nothing wrong with it, and go on to live highly respectable lives came very much into a qualitatively different kind of focus following the Second World War. An attempt was made at the United Nations to persuade the world that we people had rights, not because of the circumstance of our birth but simply because all of us are human beings, for god's sake. There were many reasons, many motivations driving the Second World War, not all of them inspiring, yet the ideal, the thing that might permit the millions of dead to rest easier, not feel wasted, was a hope for a better world, a more peaceful and cooperative world in which to live and not have to die gloriously in act of patriotic duty. An articulation of hope for a new sort of future were expressed in Four Freedoms. Freedom of Speech. Freedom of Worship. Freedom from Want. Freedom from Fear. In the December of 1948, to promote such a possibility the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 9 was a ban on arbitrary detention, you couldn't just put people into prison without giving them a trial in a court, you couldn't round them up without due process, and if you did you had to look out for them because of Article 6 "Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law"-(It would be the law of the country in question.) And certainly, it could be that our species is functionally incapable of maintaining such a fine ideal, so all this high falutin is only something we organize around when we're heartily ashamed of ourselves and beg for mercy. In 1948 there were 58 members of the United Nations. 48 countries voted in favor of the Declaration. 8 countries abstained. And 2 countries couldn't bring themselves to vote. Have to suspect those numbers might have changed a little since then, but who's kidding who, the powerful are allowed to get cynical it might seem until they need good and willing help to go out and die heroically for them and then it's back to bribing us with inspirational blather about future possibilities. Either way, get depressed and call it what you want, a concentration camp is where people are hidden away so you don't have to treat them or think of them as people like you, with feelings, emotions, bodily functions, dreams, hopes, wishes, nutritional needs, clothing, a little privacy sometimes and things like teeth which might need to be cleaned occasionally. But you got to start somewhere? In his 1913 article that's remembered as "Sunlight is the best disinfectant" Justice Brandeis had a context that included this "Public opinion is a sort of atmosphere, fresh, keen and full of sunlight, like that of the American cities, and this sunlight kills many of those noxious germs where politicians congregate..... Selfishness, injustice, cruelty, tricks and jobs of all sorts shun the light; to expose them is to defeat them."   

  

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