Taking responsibility as a nation for past actions

Britain is an island with a proud history, its dynamic people have been full of innovation, determination and have adapted well through the changes of civilisation. Britain was the first of the post medieval countries to establish a Parliamentary Democracy and our law and order is respected around the world. We live in a free society and freedom of speech has been a fundamental value of our nation. We have taken the English language to the world, a rich language that in many ways has made the world a much smaller place. And our heritage in the sports we have brought to the world and our music has certainly made the world a more entertaining place!

Against the Spanish Armada, Napoleon and Hitler our nation remained undefeated despite the odds being against them. We have led the world through our entrepreneurship, industry and inventions and during the two World Wars, we showed the strength and courage and resilience of our people, we stood firm against a Fascist regime determined to spread its ideology across the globe.

There is another side of this story, the dark side of our victories and successes the actions of our shadow self, our shame and guilt. Some of these include conquest, slavery, genocide, racism, apathy, greed, corruption, abuse, denial and the destruction of the natural world.

Carl Jung once said, ‘Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected’.

Britain has a shadow side, as does every nation, like the individual and how we have treated others is a part of that. I believe that a nation’s path to enlightenment and evolution lies in taking a deep and painful look at itself and exploring how an enlightened nation would act when addressing the awkward actions of its ancestors.

The first step is acknowledging something needs to be done. Britain’s reach across the globe leaves it terribly exposed; especially now when it no longer has the economic might it once had. If politicians were to acknowledge the crimes of previous generations, compensation would be due, and the fear that brings leaves the UK and other former empires in a state of paralysis on the subject.

I argue that money plays too big a role in society and its power needs to be curbed. Here is an example of how money stops the UK from facing up to its crimes of the past and facing the future with a clean slate.

It is not the fault of any living person of the actions of previous generations, but collectively we should shoulder the responsibility of making amends, for we are still reaping the benefits as a society.

The next step should be an apology, a deep meaningful apology on behalf of the nation, by the nation. It is very common to see acts of mourning and remembrance for loss of life at events, an example being when a former football player dies, how the crowd give a minute’s silence, during Parliament an MP will express their sadness for the loss of a member of their community. Each year we remember our fallen soldiers on Remembrance Sunday. Would it not be a sign of a mature nation to remember the atrocities it has also committed, and collect money as a nation during that time to pay back our dues?

As a nation, there are other ways we can make amends for our past other than financial restitutions. We are an innovative people; this may be an area of immense spiritual growth for us and the potential for personal growth too. I would like to see programs introduced using funds raised through charitable donations that allow our students to spend a year away from home around the age of 18, travelling to the countries of our former colonies and giving their time to help towards worthwhile projects. Work could include working with conservation projects, caring for elderly and the vulnerable, teaching English or helping to tidy up pollution are just a handful of ideas.

The experience for our youngsters, the future world leaders, will be of immense benefit and help shape our society towards a nation of givers supporting community rather than of individuals who are motivated by self advancement and materialism. The experience working overseas will also help their careers, giving them unique experiences; learn new skills, build networks and broadening their minds and change their view of the world as well as of themselves. Their self confidence will flourish and they will make new friends from different nations and introduce them to a different way of life. They will be at the forefront of finding the solutions to our global problems…

Those that have spent time helping others will gain an advantage with future employers as it will show them to be of a certain nature, a team player who is prepared to work for the common good.

By exposing our youth to the truth of our past and involving them in the process of redressing our past actions and by facing up to our history we can lead the world in raising awareness to the part of human nature that has often lead stronger, more powerful nations to take from others.

The restitution of colonial-era loot

It is now time for the Imperial countries to hand back all of the stolen art, or pay a fair price if the country of origin is happy to receive it. For many years we have enjoyed the benefits of these wonderful pieces of art on display in our great museums. I am pleased to read that the work of restitution has already begun and that France’s Emmanuel Macron seems to be leading the way, in 2017 he said,’ “I cannot accept that a large part of cultural heritage from several African countries is in France … In the next five years, I want the conditions to be created for the temporary or permanent restitution of African patrimony to Africa.”

If we use logic here there should be no debate. People took sacred, priceless and ancient artefacts from another nation without permission, often by force. They have housed these items for many years and shown great pride in the capture of these precious items. What are we saying as a nation if we are not prepared to safely return them? What are we saying to our people, but more importantly what are we saying to the world? These relics do not define them; we should not attach our identity to owning them.

Quite simply, we have no right to display these items and the sooner they are returned the sooner justice can be reached. If we want other countries to follow us, collaborate with us, then we should not judge our importance on a global scale by the size of our economy, or our military might; we should judge ourselves by our integrity our honesty, humility and our ability to admit when we are in the wrong. We have a G7 the wealthiest democracies, how about a W7 the wisest 7 nations? Or an M7 the countries with the highest morals, shouldn’t they be leading the world?

Apologising and asking for forgiveness

I believe that we need to make a formal apology to each nation and people that the British Empire colonised, as well as nations where British slave traders captured their slaves from and any other people that we exploited for our self gain, including our neighbours, the French and the Irish as well as the Afrikaans for our atrocities during the Boar War. The actions of the English over our British neighbours are another matter that also needs to be addressed but I shall not do so here. We should invite representatives to our nation and with all the pomp and ceremony we are famous for make our heartfelt apology, individually to each nation involving each of our generations. This will need to be a very public, televised event. That will be surely broadcast across the World.

South African War Memorial in Cheltenham

We can let the aggrieved know how we plan to make amends and it will take many years, and we should be prepared for that. We should let the aggrieved be heard, allow them time to publicly say what they wish as a nation to be said, and it will hurt to hear. But we should listen and listen well and learn the lessons so we do not make the same mistakes again in the future. When we have shown that we are fully committed to the path ahead, and how we plan to get there, we can then ask for forgiveness.

Posters in a College window on Oxford's High Street

During World War II Britain turned to its Empire and the Common Wealth and called upon the countries under the rule of the Crown to send soldiers, 15 Million men and women served either voluntary or were under duress and fought against the German, Italian and Japanese forces between 1939 and 1942. 150,000 of these were killed in action and 400,000 wounded. Britain paid its soldiers according to their rank and their ethnicity. Black soldiers received a third of that of white soldiers with Asian soldiers receiving more than black soldiers but less than white. There are but few survivors now, but it’s not too late to care for those who remain, many of whom are living lives in poverty. I would like to see a modest pension in place for all of those that remain.

It is never too late to say that you are sorry, the burden of shame we face as a nation needs to be addressed. We may not be forgiven for our actions, but we can at least show our remorse for the cultures we have destroyed and people we have killed and enslaved.

Written by Ben Molyneux