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Week 8: Violence, Empire and Decolonization



The violence of European colonialisms has become one of the central themes in the history of Empires over the past two decades. This seminar will focus on the period of decolonizations in the second half of the twentieth century, when nationalist insurgencies challenged Dutch, Portuguese, French and British colonial regimes.

Students are asked to read at least one of the core readings with considerable care, both to provide a more general historical overview but also to establish the theoretical basis of discussions about the evolution of counter-insurgency and civil wars, and then to select a case study, again reading in depth. Of course, the more reading you can do the better: but the point here is to fully understand a case, and not to skim.

Seminar Questions

• Why were some wars of decolonization more violent than others?

• What is meant by “hearts and minds” in the context of colonial domination?

• What role was played by indigenous armed forces, including irregular militias, in the wars of decolonization? Were these forces ‘collaborators”?

• Are wars of decolonization different from other types of civil war?

• Is there such a thing as ‘colonial violence”?

Essay Question

What is colonial about colonial violence in the age of decolonization, 1945 to 1980?

Core Readings

Douglas Porch, Counterinsurgency: Exposing the Myths of the New Way of War (CUP, 2013), esp good on Vietnam (ch6), French failures (Ch5), and British COIN (Ch8)

David French, The British Way in Counter-Insurgency 1945-1967 (OUP, 2011), chapters 4 and 5

Stathis N. Kalyvas, The Logic of Violence in Civil Wars (CUP, 2006), pp1-14, then dip in.

A.W. Brian Simpson, Human Rights and the End of Empire: Britain and the Genesis of the European Convention (OUP, 2001)

Case Readings

Matthew Hughes, “The banality of brutality: British armed forces and the repression of the Arab Revolt in Palestine, 1936-39”, English Historical Review CXXIV, 507 (2009), 313-354.

Jacob Norris, “Repression and rebellion: Britain’s response to the Arab Revolt in Palestine, 1936-39”, Journal of Imperial & Commonwealth History 36, i (2008), 25-45.

Paul Dixon, “Hearts and Minds? British counter-insurgency from Malaya to Iraq”, Journal of Strategic Studies 32, iii (2009)

Karl Hack, “Iron claws on Malaya: the historiography of the Malayan Emergency”, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 30, i (1999), 99-125.

Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper, Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain’s Asian Empire (Penguin: London, 2007)

Huw Bennett, “A very salutary effect: the counter-terror strategy in the early Malayan Emergency, 1948-1949”, Journal of Strategic Studies 32, iii (2009), 415-444.

David M. Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005)

David M. Anderson, ‘British abuse and torture in Kenya’s counter-insurgency, 1952-60.’ Small Wars & Insurgencies 23, 4/5 (2012): 700-719.

Caroline Elkins, Britain’s Gulag: the Brutal End of Empire in Kenya (London: Jonathan Cape, 2005)

Huw Bennett, Fighting the Mau Mau: The British Army and Counter-insurgency in the Kenya Emergency (CUP, 2013)

Daniel Branch, Defeating Mau Mau, Creating Kenya; Counter-insurgency, Civil War, and Decolonization (CUP, 2009)

David French, Fighting EOKA: The British Counter-Insurgency Campaign on Cyprus, 1955-1959 (OUP, 2015).

John A. Nagl, Counter-insurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife (Westport CT: Praeger, 2002)

Martin Evans, Algeria: France’s Undeclared War (OUP, 2012)

Sylvie Thenault, Histoire de la guerre d’independance Algerienne (Paris: Flammarion, 2005)

Raphaelle Branche, La torture et l’armee pendant la guerre d’Algerie 1954-1962 (Paris: Gallimard, 2001)

Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (London: Macmillan, 1977)

William Minter, Apartheid’s Contras: An Inquiry into the Roots of War in Angola and Mozambique (London, 1994).

Richard Dale, ‘A Comparative Reconsideration of the Namibian Bush War, 1966-89’, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 18, 2 (2007), 196-215.