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Rule Britannia

I must respond to Johann Hari's despicable and cowardly attack on mein your pages--cowardly because he knows that if he called me awhite supremacist in a British publication, I would sue him forlibel and doubtless take tens of thousands of pounds off him forthe entirely undeserved slur ("White Man for the Job," April 23). Ido not have links to white supremacism. In 2001, as the biographerof Lord Salisbury, I spent an evening giving an historical speechon the founding of the town of Salisbury (now Harare) in Zimbabweat a dinner of expat South Africans, where I recall no racistremarks of any kind being made. Far from being "silenced" by myfather's business career, I am incredibly proud of his achievementsin the British army, Oxford University, our century-oldfamily-owned dairy, and the British fast-food industry. In my book AHistory of the English-Speaking Peoples since 1900, which Hariclearly hasn't read, I write in positive terms about U.S. fastfood. The reason that Caroline Elkins has attacked me as"incredibly dangerous and frightening" is that I take issue withher in my book over her absurd figure of up to 400,000 supposedlykilled in the Mau-Mau Emergency, when almost all other historiansput it at less than one-tenth of that total. I have never approvedof massacring civilians, and it is disgraceful of Hari to suggestotherwise. Also, it is a mark of Hari's sloppiness that he hasaccused me of telling President Bush that internment was pursuedsuccessfully in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, when in fact I saidSouthern Ireland in the 1930s and 1940s. I am also doubtful thatProfessor Amartya Sen really told Hari that no "substantialfamine[s]" took place after 1947 in the areas of the Indiansubcontinent formerly ruled by Great Britain, since Sen himself haswritten a book on the 1974-1975 Bangladesh famine, which claimedthe lives of more than one million people. As for accusing me ofHolocaust denial over the Boer war concentration camps, mymethodology is fully set out in my life of Lord Salisbury, whichHari has also clearly not read. It is also, in my view, outrageousto use the word "Holocaust" in any other context than the Shoah.

As for Hari's claim that I am "mocked by all serious historians," inaddition to having been elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Societyof Literature, taking a First from Cambridge University in ModernHistory, having an honorary doctorate from a U.S. university, andwinning International PEN's Silver Pen award, I have also won GreatBritain's foremost award for nonfiction, the Wolfson History Prize.If that's being mocked, please can I have more of it?

Andrew Roberts

Author, A History of the English-Speaking peoples since 1900

Johann Hari responds:

Andrew Roberts's letter is extraordinarily helpful, since itdemonstrates precisely the defects I was describing in my article.Allow me to deal with just a few. First: Roberts seems not torealize that the Springbok Club--a group he toasted as "the heir toprevious imperial achievements" on the anniversary of Rhodesia'sUnilateral Declaration of Independence--is a white supremacistorganization. Perhaps he should have noticed the flag of apartheidSouth Africa, which was flown at the meeting he addressed. Perhapshe should have looked at the organization's founding statements,which call for "the reestablishment of civilised European rulethroughout the African continent." The fact that Roberts apparentlydid not sense any racism at an explicitly, aggressively racistmeeting under a whitesupremacist flag to mark the anniversary of awhite-supremacist declaration reinforces my point, rather thanrebutting it. Second: It seems that it is Roberts, not I, who hasnot read his book. If he turns to pages 151-153, he will find apassage arguing that, after the Amritsar massacre--of unarmedcivilians--"it was not necessary for another shot to be firedthroughout the entire region." He then claims that, if GeneralReginald Dyer had not massacred the civilians at Amritsar, "manymore than 379 people would have lost their lives." Then hedescribes Indians as grateful to Dyer for the massacre andcomplains that Dyer was in a terrible bind where massacringcivilians and not massacring civilians would have been equallyproblematic: "[M]oderation was taken advantage of as weakness whileseverity was denounced as murder." Isn't it a defense of killingcivilians to claim that the Amritsar massacre was "necessary" andsuccessful in saving lives? Third: Roberts can only use NobelPrize-winning economist Amartya Sen to defend himself bymisparaphrasing him. Sen said that India, as a democratic republic,had not suffered any famines since the British left. Roberts triesto wriggle out of this by claiming Sen was talking about the entireIndian subcontinent, so he can drag in a famine in a differentcountry: Bangladesh. Fourth: On the Boer concentration camps, turnto page 31 of Roberts's most recent book. Roberts dismisses the"war crime" against the Boers in scare quotes and refers to theabuse that killed more than 35,000 people as "the supposedill-treatment of the women and children in camps there." He claimsthe victims died because they were too stupid to take medicine. Inreality, they had been burned out of their homes by a primeminister who said they should be forced as far from where theylived as possible because "the further the Boer families are takenfrom their homes the more they will feel it." Fifth: Both at hislunch with President Bush and in a speech to the HeritageFoundation, Roberts said internment worked "in Ireland," withoutspecifying a period of Irish history. His audience cannot beexpected to hear subclauses that were not voiced out loud. Isuspect this is a retrospective narrowing of Roberts's words aftersome of them were shown to be absurd.

Finally: Roberts can only defend himself from the charge that he ismocked by "almost all serious historians" by deliberatelymisquoting it. He prefers to change my words to a strawman claimthat he is "mocked by all serious historians," a charge I did notmake. Of course there are a few historians located on the farright--or those prepared to reward it periodically in order toappear balanced--who choose to laud Roberts. If this is Roberts'sway with quotations and sources, it is no wonder his histories areso radically divergent from the truth.

A more complete version of this exchange is available at

department of corrections:

Please note that our April 23, 2007, issue should have been labeledVol. 236, Number 14 instead of Vol. 236, Number 12. We regret theerror.