April 12th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Red Star over Canberra

EDITORIAL: Behind the bid for UN Security Council seat

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd's ideas summit looms

BIOFUELS: Ethanol doesn't have to compete with food

QUARANTINE: AQIS blamed for equine influenza outbreak

FINANCE: Right and wrong way to tackle financial crisis

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The American elections / Rudd's honesty / Conservative blues / NATO's fastidious peace-keeping

TAIWAN: KMT victory paves way for improved China ties

EUROPE: The Dutch disease - how low can you go?

BIOETHICS: Man - a vanishing species?

OPINION: Twilight of the British Raj

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Beijing's one-child policy a demographic powder-keg / A nation of dunces? / Fragility of the affluent society

High cost of foregoing trade deal (letter)

Finlandisation? (letter)

News Weekly's stand on global-warming (letter)

Earth Hour a silly idea (letter)

BOOKS: THE LITERACY WARS: teaching children to read and write in Australia by Ilana Snyder

BOOKS: ORIGINS: An Atlas of Human Migration edited by Russell King

Books promotion page

Twilight of the British Raj

by Mark Braham

News Weekly, April 12, 2008
Criticism of Mick Keelty, the Australian Federal Police chief, over his handling of the Dr Mohammed Haneef affair, reveals a disturbing ignorance of the inherited mental baggage carried by Indians - in particular, university graduates and professionals who are first-generation middle-class and whose poverty-stricken grandparents suffered under the exploitation, bullying and unbelievably appalling mismanagement that caused suffering to the last generation of British India.

Mark Braham, a former British army officer who served in India during World War II, recalls the events preceding India's painful partition along religious lines in 1947 and its independence from British rule.
Louis Mountbatten (left),
Pandit Nehru and
Edwina Mountbatten.

British upper middle-class families had served India for generations. They set standards of behaviour and service which produced respect, even great affection, between officers and servants. If they were not all paragons of Christian living, pre-World War II, their code of living, behaviour and service was rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition of a stable church.

Moreover, restricted clubs and social life meant that breaches of the accepted codes did not become public. The press in India, for example, would not dream of publishing stories about British civil or military officers which reflected on their morals, sexual or financial.

Had such not been the case, the last viceroy and vicereine, Lord Louis and Edwina Mountbatten, would have been called back to Britain before the viceroy could put into effect the rushed, criminally irresponsible plan that involved a partition plan to set up a separate state for Muslims, one of at least six major minority religions, along with dozens of minor faiths.

Mountbatten's record in war of criminal irresponsibility - actions that involved the unnecessary slaughter of thousands - was capped by his plan for Indian independence and partition. This involved withdrawal of British troops, followed by the widely predicted "fear, disruption, misery and widespread death and destruction", as described by Trevor Royle in his study, The Last Days of the Raj (John Murray, new edition, 1997).

Royle also observed: "Even before independence there had been carnage in the Punjab and Bengal; now that they felt themselves to be their own masters, the inhabitants also believed that they were at liberty to protect their own homelands or to rid them of neighbours who had suddenly become aliens.... Most politicians, British, Indian or Pakistani, feared that there would be violence; few could have realised how terrible the massacres would be."


The slaughter, moreover, involved scenes of horror and human misery matching the worst horrors in eastern Europe during the recently ended war. Families were slaughtered in their homes, which were then set alight once their possessions had been removed. Their bodies were left to be eaten by vultures who became so filled that they could not fly. Fifty-mile columns of starving refugees, from infants to the aged, were a common spectacle.

Conservative estimates put the death toll from partition at one million (Mountbatten's estimate, to the press in England, was a mere 100,000). Ironically, British rule of India had traditionally been based on the principle of "divide and rule", yet was prepared to drop it as soon as it suited the London Government.

The ultimate responsibility must lie with the Attlee Labour Government that succeeded Churchill in the first post-war election in July 1945. Labour had swept to victory on promises of establishing a welfare state, a national health service, jobs, pensions, and expected early demobilisation following such reduction of overseas commitments as granting Indian independence. Thus Labour had the armed forces' vote.

Mountbatten's service record included three ships sunk. In the Royal Navy, he was known as the "master of disaster", especially after the ill-fated Dieppe raid when he was Director of Combined Operations.

The raid was Mountbatten's personal brainchild, "the Intelligence for which was undertaken by his personal friend, the Cuban playboy and racing driver, the Marquess de Casa Maury, who ignored the advice of a special forces unit which had already raided Dieppe and had concluded that it was the wrong target to attack", according to Andrew Roberts in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006).

Roberts wrote: "The cracking of the German naval codes... allowed Mountbatten to know that there was an escorted enemy convoy in the Channel, which could not fail to compromise the operation by warning the German forces in Dieppe of the raid hours before it started. Yet despite this compete loss of tactical surprise the raid still went ahead."

There was insufficient naval and air cover. A force of 6,100 Canadians, British, Americans and Free French - the bulk of the force from the Canadian Second Division - went it. They were massacred. Of the 4,963 Canadians, 3,369 were killed, wounded or captured. Neither Mountbatten, nor his friend the Marquess, was involved or anywhere near the action.

After World War II, Indians had lost their traditional respect for the British. This was not only inevitable in the context of the political fight for independence, but the pre-war standards of officers, military in particular, had dropped alarmingly.

In 1941, junior British officers serving in England could volunteer for attachment to the Indian Army. Thus I sailed in May 1942 with a draft of 500 junior officers, aboard the Strathaird.

Our first posting was to the Indian Military Academy (IMA) for a course in Urdu. In the officers' mess we were introduced to the chit system - that is, signing chits for extra courses at breakfast or drinks at night. To my astonishment, I learned that some officers were signing false names, which the bearers could not read, on the pretext that the Indian contractor was overcharging. The rumour also went around that the British commandant of the IMA was bribed by the contractor.

There was a good deal of drunken behaviour. Even when I joined my regiment, the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force), I was disgusted when, on one occasion, following a heavy drinking session, I called on another officer and found him fast asleep, having emptied his bowels on the sheet.

When I had been posted to the Officer Cadet Training Unit at Sandhurst, the first lecture we received from our company commander included the warning: "Any officer who cannot hold his drink will be returned to his unit." RTU meant "back to the ranks".

This resulted in one hilarious procedure one morning, when the company sergeant-major, orderly sergeant and a cadet marched solemnly to the cadet's room in order to smell his mattress and confirm his story that someone had thrown a glass of water over him to wake him up. It was true.

But standards in wartime, throughout the Western world, had fallen dramatically, and this had its effect on India and Indian attitudes towards not only the British but the West generally.

Corrupt reign

Add to this the Mountbatten couple's corrupt reign in India. Mountbatten, a cousin and intimate of the Duke of Windsor - an admirer of Hitler, banished by Churchill to the Bahamas and kept under strict surveillance during the war - married Edwina Ashley, daughter of another Hitler admirer and member of the Anglo-German Fellowship, Hitler's mouthpiece in Britain.

On her mother's side, her grandfather was Sir Ernest Cassel, a German Jew who built railways, donated hospitals, acted as financial adviser to Edward VII and was converted to Catholicism by his Scottish wife; hence he had two religions, and kept neither, which doubtless explains his last known thoughts on life: "I have had everything in the world that I did not want, and nothing that I did."

Cassell outlived his only child Maude, so he left everything to the elder of his two granddaughters, Edwina, who had looked after him in his old age. Thereupon Edwina became the richest heiress in Britain, just the girl for Mountbatten, who had royal blood, connections and looks.

For reasons best known to Mountbatten, Edwina, who did magnificent war work, found a kind of happiness with other men, the most important being Pandit Nehru, first Prime Minister of India. She died at 58, a bundle of Nehru's letters by her side.

Between Attlee and his anti-Semitic Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin, the Mountbattens must bear responsibility for the creation of Pakistan, potentially the first nuclear terrorist state, a partition that should never have been allowed, and in the same year, 1947, not imposing the partition recommended by the UN, that of Palestine.

Between Attlee and Mountbatten we can only guess at the depth of prejudice that exists in the minds of the grandchildren of those whose respect for the British departed during the war.

I remember walking in the main street of Calcutta while on leave there in 1943. I saw starved bodies in the gutters, a family living out of the dustbins at my hotel and emaciated beggars being eaten by jackals.

But why, then, should educated Indians, graduates of British universities, holding good jobs in Britain, act as terrorists to kill innocent people? Why, too, as a responsible police officer or lawyer must enquire, would any responsible person remain on social terms with relatives whose views he is likely to be aware of?

Commissioner Mick Keelty was doing his job.

- The author Mark Braham was a British Army officer during World War II, after which he migrated to Australia. An Orthodox Jew, he is author of Stronger than Fiction: Jews and Christians Are Natural Allies (London: Minerva Press, 1999).

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