Why CBE, MBE and OBE are just as bad as wearing a Nazi Armband

By Mark Leech FRSA

This is going to be painful and it will rattle some gates – but it’s important to remember the crimes of which we as the ‘British Empire’ have all been guilty and accept we have nothing to be proud about; particularly in the awarding of meaningless medals in its name.

A couple or three times a year I watch on social media as people with absolute pride and egotism display the meaningless Gongs and Bongs that have been bestowed upon them as Commander, Member and Officer of the British Empire – CBE, MBE and OBE respectively.

In many cases those who have received these are good people, people who have spent a lifetime giving their time, effort and money to those less fortunate than themselves – while others have done nothing more than a civil service job they were paid, often very well paid, to do; the Sir Humphrey Appleby’s of this world.

What astonishes me however is how many of these people who display their medals like a peacock displaying its feathers fail to realise they are really medals of dishonour and represent a part of our history where we have nothing to be proud of at all.

The ‘British Empire’ was the origins of Colonialism, the heart of a world where black lives didn’t matter at all, where blacks were seen as inferior, to be bought and sold as slaves, then later to be employed for a pittance doing menial jobs and whose lives did not matter at all.

At its height in 1922, the British Empire governed a fifth of the world’s population and a quarter of the world’s total land area. Although the proponents of Empire say it brought various economic developments to parts of the world it controlled, the other side of the truth coin are the massacres, famines and the use of concentration camps by the British Empire – in much the same horrific way as the Nazi’s behaved twenty years later; but which we have airbrushed out of history.

Take the Boer concentration camps that existed during the second Boer War (1899-1902), here the British rounded up around a sixth of the Boer population – mainly women and children – and detained them in concentration camps that were overcrowded and prone to outbreaks of disease, with scant food rations – of the 107,000-people interned in these camps almost 30,000 Boers died, along with an unknown number of black Africans.

Then we have the Amritsar massacre. Here peaceful protesters defied a government order and demonstrated against British colonial rule in Amritsar, India. On 13 April 1919, they were blocked inside the walled Jallianwala Gardens and fired upon by Gurkha soldiers. The soldiers, under the orders of Brigadier Reginald Dyer, kept firing until they ran out of ammunition, killing between 379 and 1,000 protesters and injuring another 1,100 within 10 minutes. Brigadier Dyer was later lauded a hero by the British public – but in truth he was a mass murderer.

Next those with these medals appointing them as Commanders, Members and Officers of the British Empire need to take their responsibility for the partitioning of India. In 1947, Cyril Radcliffe was tasked with drawing the border between India and the newly created state of Pakistan over the course of a single lunch. After Cyril Radcliffe split the subcontinent along religious lines, uprooting over 10 million people, Hindus in Pakistan and Muslims in India were forced to escape their homes as the situation quickly descended into violence. Some estimates suggest up to one million people lost their lives in sectarian killings – all done in the name of the British Empire.

What about the Mau Mau’s? Thousands of elderly Kenyans, who claim British colonial forces mistreated, raped and tortured them during the Mau Mau Uprising (1951-1960), have launched a £200m damages claim against the UK Government.

Members of the Kikuyu tribe were detained in camps, since described as “Britain’s gulags” or concentration camps, where they allege they were systematically tortured and suffered serious sexual assault. Estimates of the deaths vary widely: historian David Anderson estimates there were 20,000, whereas Caroline Elkins believes up to 100,000 could have died.

Finally, the Indian famines where between 12 and 29 million Indians died of starvation while it was under the control of the British Empire, as millions of tons of wheat were exported to Britain as famine raged in India.

In 1943, up to four million Bengalis starved to death when Winston Churchill diverted food to British soldiers and countries such as Greece while a deadly famine swept through Bengal. Talking about the Bengal famine in 1943, Churchill said: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits.”

Still proud of your CBE, MBE or OBE now?

How sad you must be.

Don’t wear it with pride – instead tear it from your breast, walk to the shore and throw it as far as you can into the sea where it should sink without trace, without ceremony and without any regret; it represents nothing that is good.

Don’t put the letters CBE, MBE or OBE after your name unless you are happy to align yourself with the horrors that are associated with the British Empire and what was done in its name to millions of innocent people.

And to those who are reading this while looking forward to reading the next New Year’s (dis)honours list I can only say I feel sorry for you – for your stupidity in hankering after a medal that is meaningless, for seeking to belong to a disgraced British Empire that hasn’t existed for a century, and more than anything for failing to realise in a world where at last we realise black lives matter, just so out of touch with reality you really are.