Historical events are sometimes subjected to the distortion of

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Historical events are sometimes subjected to the distortion of Powered By Docstoc
					A Subtle Discourse of Imperialism                                     Frédérique Desaulniers
R. Semple 283:20                                                      Le 4 Février 2008

       Historical events are sometimes subjected to the distortion of witnesses. Race,

ethnicity, culture, religion, economic status and castes are all definite influencing factors

that can change ones perspective on a situation. The Indian Mutiny of 1857 had been

extensively explored from numerous view points. Adrian Preston, a historian of military

tactics, wrote the article named IV Sir Charles MacGregor the Defence of India, 1857-

1887. The work argued that Sir MacGregor’s actions were advantageous though not

followed through. In other words, the author demonstrated this study of the Indian

defence policy in a new light. It also portrayed him as a longstanding general whose

advice was valued. Therefore, his plan to devise an army derived from the “reservoir” in

India was acceptable. Moreover, he took risky plunges that could have completely

debunked his reputation but reaffirmed his authority. Consequently, the author, adopting

a military view point, defended the measures taken against the said rebel Indians.

Conversely, the article titled Satan Let Loose Upon Earth: The Kanpur Massacres in

India in the Revolt of 1857 by Rudrangshu Mukherjee argued that the acts of the Indian

rebels were acceptable. The violence which they used against the British troops was

unparalleled as well as justified because of the oppression of the foreign rule. The

pressures exercised upon India at a rapid pace forced the population into a revolt.

Therefore, the author addressed the situation through a socio-historical perspective.

Furthermore, the eye witness accounts that the author included almost seemed unrealistic.

There exist two reasons why there is an appearance of sensationalism or exaggeration.

The first included distortion by fear and the second would be by the Indian’s work to
maintain their power. Ultimately, both authors defended their respective articles and the

courses of action proposed which coincided with their nationality lineage.

        The first article, written by Adrian Preston, attempted to understand the origin of

MacGregor’s scientific undertaking about the Indian defence policy. It promoted the

numerous works, namely this specific study, of Sir Charles which had been overlooked in

the past as this next passage demonstrates: “The military revolution he endeavoured to

bring about was contested on many different levels.”1 In other words, it granted credit to

MacGregor as a general who possessed radical ideas as well as ulterior motives. The

investigation that he conducted was extremely thorough and addressed numerous aspects

of warfare such as: organization, equitation, dress and tactical training. He sought the

transformation of a very ceremonial type of fighting to a tactical warfare in India.

Consequently, he formalized the Indian army as this next passage portrays:

“MacGregor’s groundwork there was logically bound to arise a sense of Indian Army

professionalism.”2 This already, suggested that a stereotype of savageness was associated

with this culture. The innovative tactical education of the defence policy was to be

implemented as soon as possible for the betterment of India’s defence against foreign

nations and internal nationalist. Hence, there laid a subtext of hidden intentions that

justified his action of the greater objective for Britain. The motivation to undertake such a

vast makeover of the army indirectly addressed the central Asian question. Consequently,

this article promoted in a sense and standardized the process of expansionism. Not only

did the British Crown annexed India physically it superposed its culture. This

demonstration of superiority was part of a broader picture. This subtext of British

  A. Preston, “IV. Sir Charles MacGregor and the Defence of India, 1857-1887”, The Historical Journal,
XII, I (1969), 59.
  Preston, “IV. Sir Charles MacGregor”, 58.

imperialism justified their attempts to counter the rebel armies. They represented the

impediment to the complete superposition of British power, rule and control. Ultimately,

the success of this campaign determined their triumph over other sough for territories

throughout Europe. If the insurgency prevailed, Russia would be enabled to invade India

and steal an important position for Britain as this next passage depicts: “The immediate

danger to India […] was not that of full-scale invasion, but the seizure by Russia of a

strategic point enabling her to paralyse British action in Europe.”3 As a result, Britain

would loose pieces of her Empire. Furthermore, the speech adopted included technical

military terms and embraced a very logical type of discourse which augmented its

credibility as well as its worth. Moreover, this article was printed in the Royal Military

College of Canada. The author is also a scholar who wrote extensively about Canadian

warfare. Consequently, this adds to its substance as a historical piece but also as an

indicator of British military greatness. Nonetheless, the extensiveness of his arguments

and the language used might be too heavy for the unaccustomed reader. In conclusion,

this article defended Britain in its position as a European powerhouse overseeing the

transformation of a “reservoir” of Indians to protect India as a colony against its peers as

this next passage shows: “India constituted a vast manpower reservoir, greater than that

of Ireland and Egypt together, upon which Britain relied for the prosecution of her

imperial, military and foreign policies.”4 This wording even illustrated the Indian as an

inexhaustible commodity, taken for granted for British purpose.

    Preston, “IV. Sir Charles MacGregor”, 68.
    Preston, “IV. Sir Charles MacGregor”, 58.

        The second article written by Rudangshu Mukherjee embodied the antithesis of

Preston’s essay. This commentary stirred controversy and shocked an entire community

of historians as well as Indians. It was originally written as a thesis for a senior class

which resulted in its publication. The author is also a scholar who taught at Calcutta

University and held conferences at Princeton, Oxford as well as Harvard. Therefore, the

reader can attest, in retrospect that the writer is highly credible and certified. The article

portrayed a deep fascination for the violence that ensued to a counter attack to the armed

insurrection. The perspective depicted a promotion of the hostility and therefore clearly

took a defensive position on the matter: the brutality was accepted. The British exercised

a form of violence upon India as this next passage illustrates: “Violence […] was an

essential component of the British presence in India.”5 Nonetheless, it turned against the

superior force by claiming the right to rule with violence as this next passage mirrors:

“The right to violence is, therefore, everywhere a privilege that authority enjoys and

refuses to share with those under it: power always insists on violence as its exclusive

monopoly.”6 The arguments lifted by the article all justified the aggression unleashed

upon the Britons during the 1857 Indian Mutiny in Kanpur. The rebel Indians, in his

outlook, solely wanted to preserve their culture, religion and mode of life. The

destruction that India experienced such as the disappearance of their culture, religion and

customs completely oppressed the populace. In return, they revolted. The suffering they

encountered as being penetrated by a foreign country also resurfaced imperialism

throughout the discourse. Contrary to the other article, this downplayed and shunned the

optimism surrounding imperialism and expansionism. Consequently, the transformation

 Preston, “IV. Sir Charles MacGregor”, 59.
 R. Mukherjee, “Satan Let Loose Upon Earth: The Kanpur Massacres in India in the Revolt of 1857”, Past
and Present, 128 (1990), 93.

of Christianized Indians was not promulgated. This engendered internal tensions which

the author did not address. Several testimonies inserted in the article served as proof. The

different accounts of the British and Indians in regards to the mutiny seemed to recreate

an exaggerated portrait of the occurrences as this next passage exemplifies: “British

officers, she said, were severely beaten, and when an officer objected to such behaviour

they abused him in so gross a manner that it made the ears of all tingle”7 Though the

sources are not questioned, there are two possibilities for this sentiment of melodrama.

The first was attributed to the fear that distorted the reality of the situation. As it stated in

the article, the Britons were never subjected to the type of violence inflicted upon them

and it “frightened us to death”8 . Therefore, the fear of the unknown proved to be a major

factor into the given accounts. Moreover, the article being published led the unused

reader to believe word for word these eye witness accounts. The second possibility

included the exaggeration on the part of the rebel Indians. The overstatement by the

Indian rebels promoted the power they held. This enabled the opportunity to support and

promulgate the fear. As a result, the terror stricken Britons would probably resigned their

repression tactics. This propaganda accentuated the natives’ brutishness and savageness.

This engendered the controversy over the article because it generated a negative stigma

unsympathetic to the Indian cause. Conversely, the article generated a reason for foreign

rule: to conquer and civilize. Therefore, the article is directed towards an Indian audience.

In conclusion, Mukherjee argued the rebel Indian actions as justifiable under pretext of

conservation of one nation’s culture and independence. In a broader sense, it advocated

against imperialism and expansionism as well as the use of a colony for economic

    Mukherjee, “Satan Let Loose Upon Earth”, 101.
    Mukherjee, “Satan Let Loose Upon Earth”, 101.

purposes. The writer also uses a different type of discourse than Preston which seemed

more passionate than technical. This enabled him to gain a connection with a wider pool

of readers and acquire their sympathy.

       In comparison, the two articles took different approaches. The Mukherjee article

used a religious-historical analysis whereas the first used a military-historical analysis.

The Preston work really focused on the practical side of the military while the Mukherjee

observed the drive and ambition that is derived from emotions. They both defended their

own tactics to shield their culture and superiority in a given territory. There is an interest

to look into the nationality of each author. Preston, a Canadian, is addressing the issue of

the Indian Mutiny through the perspective of the British. Is it a coincidence that Canada

was formerly a colony of the Empire where the sun never sets? Rudangshu Mukherjee,

on his part, devoted his career to Indian affairs. Therefore, he viewed this problematic

through the Indian perspective. Is it a coincidence that this professor is a popular Indian

historian who teaches at the Calcutta University? We are all a product of passed

experiences through our family and peers as well as personal current encounters.

Therefore, it is surprising that the authors defended the arguments passed down from

previous generations. The violence used by the Indians targeted everything that

represented Britain or their property which is also intertwined with old beliefs. This is the

type of symbolism used to critique the invasion as well as the oppression felt by the

populace. India was used by the Brits and compared to a reserve of men, which was far

better and easier to spare than the Irishmen. This negated the right for Indians to be

treated as human beings and enabled the British to consider them as animals; reaffirming

their right to use abuse. Both articles also tended to use a plethora of themes which were

quite different. The Preston article seemed to use broad themes such as: Central Asian

Question, military training and counter-insurrection. This reaffirmed the logical and

tactical aspect of the work. On the other hand, Rudangshu promoted race, religion and

revenge as the themes of the essay as this next passage portrays: “but we had a war of

religion, a war of race, and a war of revenge, of hope, or national prompting to shake off

the yoke of a stranger, and to re-establish the full power of native chiefs, and the full

sway of native religion.”9 This perfectly demonstrated the nature of the article which

defended a nation who fought for her nationhood. This dichotomy categorized the writers

in political or humanitarian methods.

           To conclude, these articles are similar in a way which they both defended their

own nationalistic pride. With rigour, they threw arguments left and right to defend their

view points with a subtext that could seem invisible. Preston’s article pressed on to

characterize military tactics to be the core of the British excursion in India. Their

superiority in terms of race also justified their overthrowing of the present king as well as

superposing their culture onto theirs. In other words, he acknowledged the benefits of

imperialism. Conversely, Mukherjee pushed for cultural markers and its viciousness. He

portrayed the invasion as a pervasive act of penetration by the British Crown. It destroyed

an entire system of belief, rule and societal order. In other words, he denied the said

benefits. Moreover, Mukherjee was more passionate in his writings and truly convinced

the audience with his arguments. His degree and peer review in the field also gives him

more credibility. Preston who seemed to have a degree of detachment is less convincing

and tended to make his arguments lengthy and heavy. Hence, Mukherjee had a special

    Mukherjee, “Satan Let Loose Upon Earth”, 92.

closeness to his article and the subject. Consequently, the latter’s article, I find is more

evocative and therefore more convincing.


Mukherjee, R. “Satan Let Loose Upon Earth: the Kanpur Massacres in India in the Revolt
of 1857.” Past and Present, 128 (1990), 92-128.

Preston, A. “IV. Sir Charles MacGregor and the Defence of India, 1857-1887.” The
Historical Journal, XII, I (1969), 58-77.