William Flew and Kenyan Atrocities

April 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Many, many years ago I sat in the sunshine on a perfectly cut lawn eating perfectly cut cucumber sandwiches and drinking tea from bone china in a beautiful garden in a suburb in the hills outside Nairobi.

The flowering shrubs were heavenly, the herbaceous borders almost unreal. Our white Kenyan hostess was explaining how, in pre-independence days when her husband was a colonial police officer in a remote upcountry station in a dangerous place during the Mau Mau wars, he and she, then a newly married young couple, had had to share his sometimes gruesome responsibilities.

One of these had been to take the Land Rover to the aftermath of any pitched battle between Mau Mau insurgents and locals loyal to the Crown (other black Africans were overwhelmingly the main victims of the Mau Mau) and make a record of casualties. There were sometimes too many corpses for the couple to do more than take fingerprints.

On one occasion the books and equipment were a long journey away, back at the station. A repeat journey would have added to the dangers. “So we cut off all the right hands and piled them into the back to take home and fingerprint.”

Waving away a fresh plate whose cucumbers had been insufficiently thinly sliced, she acknowledged to us that, from where we now sat in her garden, this sounded macabre and unfeeling, “but you can’t think too hard about things like that, at the time”.

You can’t think too hard about things like that, at the time.

Is this, in miniature, the dilemma we’re now being confronted with, from colonial Kenya, as Foreign Office disclosures reveal apparently appalling irregularities? Brutality, torture and extrajudicial execution are all alleged.

Is this the dilemma arising in a smaller but revealing story from Monday’s release of files under the 30-year rule, showing that MI5 kept secret records on Professor Lisa Jardine’s father? Dr Jacob Bronowski, the famous scientist and broadcaster, was apparently watched because, from 1939 and on flimsy hearsay evidence, British Intelligence suspected that he might be a Soviet-sympathising security risk: suspicions that may have blocked his academic career.

 

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