Thursday, May 22, 2008 5/22/08-The Boer War

In today's encore excerpt--the Boer War. By 1898, the Boers, farmers descended from the early Dutch settlers of the Cape of Good Hope [in present day South Africa], were striving to retain their independence in a land now governed by the British. Yet the strategic importance of South Africa and the recently discovered gold in their lands meant that their independence was difficult for the British to abide:

"[British Colonial Secretary] Chamberlain and [Alfred] Milner provoked the Boer War, believing that the Boers could be bullied quickly into giving up their independence, ... It was 'the British Empire against 30,000 farmers.' ... [But] what Vietnam was to the United States, the Boer War very nearly was to the British Empire, in two respects: its huge cost in both lives and money--45,000 men dead and a quarter of a billion pounds spent--and the divisions it opened up back home. ...

"By the summer of 1900, ... the British Army had advanced into Boer territory, capturing both Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, and Praetoria, capital of the Transvaal. ... Despite the loss of their principal towns the Boers stubbornly refused to surrender. Instead, they switched to guerrilla tactics. ... In frustration, [British Commander] Roberts adopted a ruthless strategy designed to hit the Boers where they were most vulnerable. ... British troops were authorized to burn down the Boers' homes systematically. In all, around 30,000 were razed. ... The only question this begged was what to do with their wives and children, whom the Boer guerrillas had left behind when they joined their commandos ... After some dithering, the generals came up with an answer. They herded the Boers into camps--to be precise, concentration camps. ... Altogether, 27,927 Boers (the majority of them children) died in the British camps. That was 14.5 percent of the entire Boer population, and they died mainly as a result of malnourishment and poor sanitation. More adult Boers died this way than from direct military action. A further 14,000 of 115,700 black internees--81 percent of them children--died in separate camps."

Niall Ferguson, Empire, Basic, 2002, pp. 226- 233.


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