arack Obama is no Anglo-phile, said Ben Macintyre in the London Times. Nor has he any reason to be. It recently emerged that Obama’s Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was imprisoned and tortured by colonial British authorities for two years during the 1950s, when the Mau Mau insurgency was rebelling against British rule. Obama is far too sophisticated to have “some knee-jerk anti-British attitude” because of the long-ago treatment of a relative he never knew. Yet Obama apparently feels little warmth toward Britain. In his memoir, the British come across as “ill-dressed, pasty-faced, and racially arrogant; cramped, spotty, and joyless.” The Obama era, then, could pose an uncharacteristic challenge to British-U.S. relations. We will have to interact with Obama based not on “the glory of shared victory over evil in the Second World War,” but on “the more complicated history of decolonization.”
It was certainly “an inglorious chapter” in British history, said TheTimes in an editorial . All through the 1950s, the British authorities brought “the full panoply of repression” to bear in crushing the Mau Mau insurgency, including “detention, compulsory registration, livestock seizure, reeducation measures,” and the most brutal forms of torture, including pliers to the genitals. According to Obama’s paternal grandmother, “Mama Sarah” Onyango, her husband was whipped twice a day while in custody. No wonder Obama is “less than impressed” with Britain. Still, we know from his appointment of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state that he is “magnanimous” with former rivals. “Britain may yet be able to start afresh.”
Let’s face it, said Owen Bowcott in the London Guardian online, U.S. relations with Great Britain are not exactly at the top of Obama’s to-do list. With the global economy in free-fall and his country mired in two wars, Obama surely will not be “fixated on extracting revenge from the U.K.” Britain’s “colonial sins” are unlikely to “pose a risk to our relationship with the soon-to-be most powerful person on Earth.”
True enough, said Andrew Anthony in the London Observer. But still, instead of wallowing in our guilt, let’s learn from it. The Obama family’s experience demonstrates the horrors of imperialism. “Yet similar atrocities are being committed today in the name of anti-imperialism.” In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe has driven his country into “poverty, ruin, and disease” while loudly boasting that he is guarding the people’s independence from white rule. In Sudan, leaders who have been charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity claim that the court is an agent of Western powers seeking to subjugate them. In those cases, “anti-imperialism is little more than an excuse for tyrants to visit misery and terror on their own populations.” If the West has learned anything from the experience of Hussein Onyango Obama and others like him, it will denounce all such abuse—no matter whom the perpetrator is.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why ABC threw its Bachelor under the bus
- How rain helped the Mongols conquer Asia
- Why I'm sick and tired of seeing naked women on HBO
- Why Ted Cruz is the real-life Frank Underwood
- 10 things you need to know today: March 12, 2014
- Here's proof that Justin Bieber is just as spoiled as you always thought
- Why are so many elderly Asians killing themselves?
- Here's how Iran is covering Russia's invasion of Crimea
- Poll: Twice as many Americans say sugar is more harmful than marijuana
- How the U.S.'s obsession with cars is hurting the middle class
Subscribe to the Week