‘The crimson trail of Britain across the world’: German representations of British Imperialism around the First World War

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This paper will examine changing German perceptions of British imperialism around the First World War. It will focus on the representations made in the German White Book and how British officials reacted to its publication in 1919. The White Book was a report published to counter the claims in the British Foreign Office Blue Book which sought to justify the confiscation of Germany’s colonies. The Blue Book depicted Germany as an intrinsically cruel and incabable colonial power by disclosing the horrors suffered by the Herero and Nama in German Southwest Africa. The Blue Book, therefore, had a clear diplomatic purpose and portrayed the confiscation of Germany’s colonial empire as an act of humanitarian intervention.
While the Blue Book is by now an established part of the historiographies of the First World War and of German and British imperialism, the White book has largely been ignored and overlooked by historians. A consequence of this has arguably been, that our view of German colonialism to this day is, that it was exceptionally brutal and perhaps even preceding the horrors committed by Nazi Germany. Perhaps this is why the White Book has been overlooked as the cliché of ‘the victors write history’ has prevailed. Instead, by doing the obverse – approaching the view on colonialism at Versailles from the losers perspective – this paper will seek to discuss how British imperialism was viewed and presented in the White Book and, furthermore, how the British reacted to it.
Crucially, the White Book did not directly seek to justify the brutalities committed by the German colonialists, but rather to contextualize them. By pointing to the excesses of the British Empire in a variety of locations including Southern Rhodesia, Australia and India, the White Book was in fact echoing many of the views expressed today regarding colonial violence. Instead of Germany being uniquely brutal, it argued, German colonialism merely followed the norms of its day where colonial violence was common for all the colonial powers, Britain included. Although the White Book and the appeal by the German delegation after the First World War to restore the German colonial empire failed, the White Book nonetheless reveals an instructive microcosm of how imperial powers interacted and used information about violence. It remains provocative to consider, that the German delegation, in their contextualization of their own brutalities to those of Britain, preceded the claims now made by historians that the colonial powers collaborated and were engaged in shared projects against the colonized.
Publikationsdatojun. 2018
StatusUdgivet - jun. 2018
BegivenhedBritain and the World Conference - University of Exeter, Exeter, Storbritannien
Varighed: 21 jun. 201823 jun. 2018


KonferenceBritain and the World Conference
LokationUniversity of Exeter

ID: 189450450