Pigeon Chess

In all the many times I have discussed the Boer War with people over the years, I struggle to remember many who have approached the subject with anything resembling an open mind: instead, entrenched dogma is the order of the day. As the saying goes, ‘most people don’t listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply’ and many (be they from the South African extreme Right or the British extreme Left) will frantically swat away anything that in anyway challenges how their preconceptions about the war, then spout some far-fetched claim or wild assertion. Indeed, these utterly dogmatic types really have no interest in hearing another side of the debate, and are instead determined only to roar their comforting Apartheid-regime propaganda (or equally laughable Marxist rubbish) in response.

As their position is not one based on any knowledge of the period or the conflict, and is instead inspired entirely by ignorance, self-pity, emotion and misplaced loyalty, trying to open their eyes by using things like ‘facts’ and ‘logic’ is rather a pointless task; as Jonathon Swift observed, ‘You cannot reason people out of positions they didn’t reason themselves into’. Indeed, one might as try to have a rational discussion with a Flat Earther or a Suicide Bomber.

From experience, I am very aware that methodically presenting a logical argument to such people is a complete waste of time, even if one presents completely undeniable and irrefutable facts:

“Britain did not want to ‘steal the diamonds’ – the diamond fields were in Griqualand West, which was British territory”

“Britain clearly did not want to ‘grab control’ of the Transvaal – London granted self-rule to the Transvaal in 1906 – just four years after winning the war. In elections held the following year under the colony’s new constitution, the former commander of the Transvaal’s forces in the war, Gen. Louis Botha, led his Het Volk party to a majority and became prime minister with the support of Jan Smuts”

“Britain did not ‘attack’ the republics – the republics were the ones who started the war by attacking British territory”

None of these salient facts can reasonably be disputed by anyone with even the most basic grasp of history or geography, but you will rarely find someone who will say: “really? Goodness me – I didn’t know that”… instead, the standard response from True Believers™ is to ignore what one has just said, get angry, start to scream uncontrollably about concentration camps, and then pretend the British murdered their granny. When she was a baby.

I recently read a quote which perfectly sums up how it feels to try and have any sort of rational, sensible debate with most people about the Boer War: “it is rather like trying to play chess with a pigeon; it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory”.

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