Facts about Atrocity: Reporting Colonial Violence in Postwar Britain
| 22 August 2017
What did people in Britain know about the violence of counterinsurgency campaigns at the end of empire in the 1940s and 1950s? In many ways, British knowledge about colonial violence was widespread. But it was also fragmented and ambiguous: whispered among family and friends; dramatized in the fictions of stage and screen; and distorted by partisan and ideological battles. This article focuses on the response of journalistic outlets, including The Times, the Guardian, the Observer, the New Statesman, and the BBC, to reports about torture and other forms of brutality.
Paradoxically, it was not despite but because of their commitment to the pursuit of truth – embodied in professional ideals such as neutrality, factuality, and restraint – that reporters often failed to communicate the depth and breadth of violence in the colonies. In the space between the
familiar poles of propaganda and secrecy, epistemological grey areas and emotional grey areas – uncertainty, ambivalence, denial – defined British responses to colonial violence.