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To what extent was the adoption of a scorched earth policy after 1900 by Britain in the Boer War justifiable.

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Introduction

Ashley Register To what extent was the adoption of a scorched earth policy after 1900 by Britain in the Boer War justifiable Those that would argue that the destruction that was wrought during the period when General Lord Kitchener exercised his well-known "Scorched Earth Policy", whereby all Boer farms were destroyed, and the inhabitants taken to concentration death camps was justifiable are generally in the minority. It was in these camps that between 25,000 and 29,000 Boer women and children died, not to mention the more than 15,000 thousand black people whose deaths and numbers were never properly recorded. This method of warfare has left seeds of bitterness which today, after one hundred years, has still not entirely been forgotten. In early March 1901 Lord Kitchener decided to break the stalemate that the extremely costly war had settled into. It was costing the British taxpayer �2,5 million a month. He decided to sweep the country bare of everything that can give sustenance to the Boers i.e. cattle, sheep, horses, women and children. This scorched earth policy led to the destruction of about 30000 Boer farmhouses and the partial and complete destruction of more than forty towns. Thousands of women and children were removed from their homes by force. They had little or no time to remove valuables before the house was burnt down. They were then taken by oxwagon or in open cattle trucks to the nearest camp. Conditions in the camps were less than ideal. Tents were overcrowded. Reduced-scale army rations were provided. ...read more.

Middle

was. It was also simple, and thus was a far more appropriate solution, especially when considering the nature of the war: "an enemy that always escapes, a country so vast there is always room to escape, supplies such as they want abundant almost everywhere" (Kitchener in his letter to Brodrick) It would seem that this was the only solution. However, there was now the question of what to do with the women and children who had become homeless as a result of the policy. Thus camps were set up; it was this clearance of civilians into the 'concentration camps' that would now dominate the last phase of the war. To the world England pretended to act very humanely by caring for the fighting Boers' women and children in "refugee camps". An English school textbook published in 1914 in Johannesburg, but printed in England, Historical Geography: South Africa, by JR Fisher, makes the following claim: "During the later stages of the war, the relations, women and children, of those Boers still in the field, were fed and cared for at the expense of Great Britain, a method of procedure which, though humane, postponed the end of the war, at the expense of many valuable lives and much money." This statement is contradicted by various sources. The Cape Argus of 21 June 1900 clearly states that the destitution of these women and children was the result of the English's plundering of farms: "Within 10 miles we (the English) burned not less than six farm homesteads. Between 30 and 40 homesteads were burned and totally destroyed between Bloemfontein and Boshoff". ...read more.

Conclusion

To this day, Germany is being forced to pay annual compensation to the Jews, which means that Germans who were not even born at the time of World War 2, still have to suffer today for alleged atrocities committed by the Germans. Should England subject herself to the same principles applied to Germany, then should England do everything within her power to reinstitute the Boer republics and to pay annual compensation to the Boers for the atrocities committed against the Boers? This may seem like a bizarre notion, yet on this occasion, the historiography from the last 100 years would work in the favour of the Boers and in theory should do so. The fact that "Their only crime was that they stood between England and the gold of Transvaal." (Pretorius) should justify the actions of the British, despite the fact that there are many reasons for the British actions during the war is fantastical. Essentially, the war was due to the greed of British colonialists, and in retrospect, it would appear that this is a far more bizarre notion than that which would suggest that like the Germans to the Jews, Britain should also pay compensation. Essentially therefore, there is little doubt that the argument that Britain's actions were justified is limited. Few would argue that the Americans had a valuable reason for invading Vietnam with regard to the amount of innocent deaths and suffering that was caused as a result of this; similarly, Britain had a relatively invaluable reason for it's actions, and indeed for the war in the first place. ...read more.

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