Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Colonial Archives and the Art of Concealment

The dismantling of empire is never a pretty sight.  Today the Foreign Office has begun to release some of the files held secretly in Buckinghamshire (where else but Le Carre country?) and the Guardian is up in arms.  So it should be.  Much of what is extant from the files that were held in former colonies is as disgraceful as might be expected.  And much that is worse has been destroyed.

Except that these seem to be just the files from the colonies - those not destroyed in situ.  Savingrams poured into London day after day recounting, analysing, warning, seeking decisions, recording, panicking even; diplomatic bags and deliveries of copies of material arrived by slower routes.  Allies, most particularly the United States, and other decolonising European states, were fully embedded in matters of interest to them.   The destroyed data were not unique documents - merely those copies kept in local archives and offices.

Yet we are led to believe that they are lost, evidence of colonial wrongdoing gone forever.  They are not.  They are merely in another place (another part of Bucks?) and all the more secure because of the misleading emphasis on local destruction.

And if you ever wondered where the arrogance and enormity of the British secret state derived, start by looking at these damaged, partial, redacted archives that have been wrung from your ruling classes.

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