Friday, October 22, 2010

'CONCENTRATION CAMPS' - The Brain Child of the British Imperialism

Whenever the term ‘Concentration Camp’ comes across anyone the normal psychological tendency is to immediately associate it with the Nazis of Germany. Such has been the profound influence (a perfect case of classical conditioning) of popular media and the works of western historians that it has been deeply ingrained in the minds of common people that anything linked to the concentration camps has a direct or indirect Nazi bearing.

However as we all say that Truth is always more obscure than what people perceive it to be and out of the realms of time it emerges to haunt of its pure bearings upon us. Some what similar is the story of the Concentration Camps which has been orphaned by historians and caretakers of world media of its true progenitors who happen to be the Imperialists of the British Empire. Yes it was not the Nazis or the Soviets who led the genesis of such camps, in actuality it were the British who devised these camps for the first time during the Boer Wars and used them to exterminate several people who were not party to their nefarious designs in the region of Southern Africa. 

A Concentration Camp (an English term) in its literal sense is an area of confinement that is designed to detain a large number of people with an objective to either imprison (slave) by making them to do labor work or to exterminate them in the long run.

This British Brainchild in its inception did owed its horrific inspiration to similar kind of camps which their American Brethren had once used in the early years of 17th Century to detain large number of Native Americans and the Spanish colonists who had made them to quell the populace in Cuba during the famous Ten Years War (1868-1878).However never before they were used on such a massive scale with an intent to target such a huge population present in a widespread area.

In order to know about the inception of such Concentration Camps it is exceedingly important to know the backdrop and circumstances that lead to the subsequent mass deaths in them. This story begins with the British Occupation of Cape Colony (now a part of modern South Africa) from the hands of the Dutch East India Company in view of protecting the region from the rapid French expansion during the Napoleonic era.

This bilateral arrangement of self-interests borne out of fear was going to prove very costly for the Dutch as their settlers of Cape Colony popularly know as “Boers” (Dutch name for farmer class) were about to face the unpleasant surprises which their British friends had in store for them. The Boers immediately began facing harassment at the hands of the newly arrived British settlers and they were also constantly discriminated by the British authorities in command of the region. This kind of ill-treatment forced them to migrate away from Cape colony to new areas in the interior with a view for re-settlement in perpetual peace.

After their pain staking efforts they subsequently managed to establish two independent Boer states known as “Orange Free State” and “Transvaal Republic” in the 1850(s) which immediately got their much desired moments of peace in view of the British Empire recognizing their status of independence for the time being. However the imperial nature of nations back then didn’t encouraged them to follow a “Live and let Live” policy on a long term basis for the love of their neighbors.

Soon huge exploration of several Gold and Diamond mines took place in these regions which turned around the fortunes of both the Boer States. This news came as the much feared venomous antidote for re-awakening up the devilish state of play of which the British Empire had become a champion by then. They immediately took the stock of the situation and keenly noticed that the Boer States had a liberal migration policy. Seeing this chink in their foe’s armor they prompted Europeans worldwide to come to these regions in order to reap the glowing fortunes which they offered and very soon wave after wave of outsiders known as “Uitlanders” (mostly British) began to swarm these regions. Meanwhile the British began militarily encroaching upon the lands of Transvaal Republic leading to the outbreak of The First Boer War in which the British suffered a major setback and had to sue with an uneasy peace.

However their lust for these regions kept on rising more and more like a bushfire as new explorations of several more mines took place over there. Meanwhile the Boers began to realize that they had become outnumbered in their very own territories and the “Uitlanders” now in majority along with the active support of the British were posing an extremely dangerous political challenge for them. This jolted them from their slumber and they begin to initiate steps in order to curb the alarming rate at which the influence of “Uitlanders” was rising. This was met with vehement opposition from the British authorities who began to hatch a conspiracy to again wrest Transvaal Republic from the Boers.

Thus this sparked of the Second Boer War where after several twists and turns the British managed to gain strong military control in the two regions. Seeing the developments Boers resorted to their favorite strategic tool of Guerilla Warfare as a response to the might of British army led by the very conventional Lord Roberts who after initial success began to face severe setbacks owing to the organized prowess of the Guerillas fighters who were now ruling the roost in the countryside.

This paved way for the new leadership of the infamous Lord Kitchener who was known for devising his very own unconventional ways to vanquish his unconventional enemies. He was a highly experienced military commander who had faced such kind of warfare before and hence he came up with his vilely thought out “Scorched Earth” policy which aimed to deny the Boer’s of the necessary conditions that were conducive for their Guerilla operations.
A typical Guerilla style of warfare demands for it’s combatants to live of the land and also to win the moral support of people in the arduous terrain in which they operate. The British who were determined to deny these bare necessities to their foes began to strike down every thing that could possibly assist in the sustenance of the Boers in order to make life a living hell for them. Some of the measures adopted by Kitchener in this regard were destroying crops; burning homestead and farms; poisoning water catchments; killing livestock; selective targeting of active enemy supporters; and last but not the least interning the Boer & the African women ,children and workers into their so called Concentration camps.

Thus the Boer war witnessed the birth of such camps on official records with the British christening them as “Concentration Camps” for the first time. If the Boer’s Guerilla tactic was the problem the British Concentration Camps were the solution. These camps initially were designed for accommodating the influx of Refugees during the war however with the sudden shift in the strategic outlook of the army under the leadership of Kitchener they were now transformed into devil manes which were meant to radiate fear, horror and terror among the populace of the Boer state. The British idea was simple; to completely break the resistance of their enemies by all inconceivable means possible and then they began to ruthlessly execute this idea into a very grim reality.

This event became notoriously the first time in the history of modern world where a whole nation was subject to being vehemently crushed with the imperial boot with such amount of brutal efficiency and systematic effort. The mass targeting was so acute that nearly the entire regions were forcibly depopulated and made to dwell in the horrible living conditions of the camps.

These camps soon began to be flooded with innocent people and the authorities now exceeded the capacity of these camps accentuating the horrible conditions even more. They deliberately administered the overcrowded camps poorly and purposely denied even a proper breathing space to the internees. The British authorities knowing very well that the camps were facing poor hygiene, bad sanitation and health issues, did nothing to alleviate the crisis.

Soon worst hygiene, forced malnutrition, deliberate overcrowding, filthy shelter etc began to take their toll as thousands of internees began to fall prey to these demons of death one by one. In absence of availability of proper medication (which was of course not a priority in the British plan of action) the epidemics such as measles, typhoid, cholera and dysentery began unleashing an evil dance of death upon the innocent lives of detained women and children.

The native Africans were treated with the same brutality as their Boer countrymen despite the fact that the British authorities didn’t perceive them as potential threat. The notion was simple to inject the minds of people of Boer nations with such a vicious degree of horror that it rankles in their minds for generations to come.

The British efforts paved of as the Boers being mired by extreme psychological & physical pain eventually surrendered in 1902 and their status of independence was lost as their territories now officially were placed in the British Empire.

Despite the win there was a huge outcry within Britain as well as the world for the manner in which they crushed somebody’s freedom with such inconceivable measures. The English radical liberals raised this issue and many committees were formed in order to unearth the truth behind the whole incidence. The death of Boers mostly women & children under 16 years was placed around 28,000 while that of native Africans was placed around 20,000 (hotly disputed by black groups who place it well above 1,00,000). However the descendants of Boer families say that the statistics were heavily downplayed and the actual figure was very high than what was published by the British investigative reports.

World over it was widely held view that deliberately denying people proper living conditions leading to their subsequent death is as much tantamount to murder as much is shooting someone with a gun.

Thus the war left the bitter legacy of British Concentration Camps and their unparalleled stories of horror which paved the way of the use of such laboratories of death in times to come. The British Empire was actually quite unmoved by this brutal incidence of mass murder as they continued the use of such concentration camps in the Asian regions after assessing their triumph of this experiment during the Boer Wars.

This notorious legacy is very much evident today in the form of such Concentration Camps that have been evolved to covertly detain people by the NATO forces quite recently in their so called War of “Freedom” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

© 2010 Neelabh Chaturvedi. All Rights Reserved.


  1. DUDE!


    and very well written!


    this is a good article man! this's hell of a good article!

    you're good!

  2. Hey Thanks Behzad for your valuable feedback and compliments.

    I really appreciate them and take them as a motivation for writing more articles with the same consistency in the future.

  3. keep writing dear awesome i got lot of information throgh ..good very good keep it up

  4. what an eye opener, although a proud south african, and speaking afrikaans i've became more interested in what have happened during those concentrating camps. ive visited a few of them during my holiday and some of the stories made me sad , proud, and yet more a patriot towards my birth being. thanks for you blog, you will be blessed.

  5. Well written although your cynicism alludes you. this may be because imperalism controlled India to and whether it bore negative effects on India is debatable. Whereas in Africa again the effect are debatable but nonetheless some good aspects of british imperialism was brought forward by Britain. Free trade, modernisation of military and economic practices etc. providing people with Jobs albiet most not paid and forced.