‘One of the most significant wars…’

Just when I thought the various online True Believers could not possibly entertain me any further, I was made aware that an especially ignorant one had popped up recently, and spewed out the following utter rubbish:

There is so much nonsense in Mr Otto’s silly little rant – a rant which manages to be both self-congratulatory and self-pitying all at once – that it is difficult to know if he actually believes the rubbish he has written, or if he is playing for laughs.

Of course, spitting out unreferenced, made-up remarks about the British expecting the war to be ‘over by Christmas’ is par for the course with these types, but I was greatly amused by his preeningly arrogant declaration that the Boers were ‘unbelievably brilliant fighters’.

Clearly Mr Otto is deeply ignorant about the Boer War, otherwise he would know that these ‘unbelievably brilliant fighters’ completely failed in their invasions of Natal and the Cape Colony, despite initially enjoying a hefty numerical advantage over the unprepared and scatted Imperial garrisons. Not only that, but these ‘unbelievably brilliant fighters’ proved utterly incapable of capturing the remote outpost of Mafeking – let alone Ladysmith or Kimberley. It even took these ‘unbelievably brilliant fighters’ six weeks to finally subdue tiny Kuruman – despite enjoying an advantage of around 12 to 1[1], and there being no regular soldiers among the defending forces[2].  

Unfortunately for Mr Otto – and other such self-congratulatory fellows – when put into context, the republican record in the Boer War is actually rather poor… though, of course, the Apartheid government was determined that the self-appointed ‘Chosen People’ would never be aware of this, so instead they were force-fed bullshit about the martial brilliance of the Boers – bullshit which is still eagerly believed by simple-minded folk today. In reality, however, the average 20th Century Guerilla War lasted 9 years[3] – and they were often lost by the ‘Government’ / ‘Conventional’ forces. In contrast, the guerrilla phase of the Boer War lasted about 2 years: meaning Mr Otto’s ‘unbelievably brilliant fighters’ were defeated in less than a quarter of the average time for such wars.

And though people like Mr Otto like to squeal about the nasty British bullies ‘overwhelming’ the poor, innocent Boers, the reality is that Kitchener did not have anything like the numbers that modern-day military theory states are required to win such a counter-terrorism campaign[4]. Furthermore, these ‘unbelievably brilliant fighters’ were defeated by conventional forces which did not enjoy any significant technological advantage over them – which was certainly not the case in other such guerrilla wars as the century went on: just think of the Americans in Vietnam and the Soviets in Afghanistan.

So Mr Otto’s claims about the Boers being ‘unbelievably brilliant fighters’ are every bit as ridiculous as they are easy to disprove.

Of course, such conceit is typical of True Believers, and barely worth wasting one’s time on, but what entertained me more than this puffed-up arrogance was Mr Otto’s other sweeping declaration: that the Boer War was ‘one of the most significant wars of the 20th Century’. Like most of the things that tumble thoughtlessly out of the mouths of Defenders of the Myth, this is just complete and utter hot air. What, one wonders, was especially ‘significant’ about the Boer War?

Surely not even one as poorly-read as Mr Otto could possibly claim that the Boer War was as ‘significant’ as, say, the Second World War – a war which saw the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust, which essentially ended the era of Colonialism, bankrupted the British Empire, and saw the world split into two competing blocs for the next 40+ years. It saw the first use of jet-fighters, guided missiles, radar and nuclear weapons. It ended the era of the battleship, and ushered in the era of the aircraft carrier. Indeed, the Second World War changed pretty much everything.

Similarly, Mr Otto cannot possibly be ignorant enough to think that the Boer War was more ‘significant’ than, for example, the First World War. This was a war which completely changed the map of Europe, which saw the death of three great Empires, and the drive for an expanded franchise in the UK. It announced the meteoric rise of the United States, and saw Russia fall to the ghastly scourge of Communism. It saw the use of tanks, armoured cars, poison gas and aircraft, of submarine warfare against merchant shipping and strategic bombing by Zeppelins, of industrialised warfare on an unprecedented scale, and the changing-of-hands of vast, far-flung territories.

So, assuming that even the hopelessly deluded Mr Otto would agree the Boer War is somewhat less important an event than either World War, which 20th Century wars, one wonders, does he want to believe it was more ‘significant’ than?

What, for example, makes the Boer War more ‘significant’ than the Philippine-American War? Fought almost concurrently with the Boer War, this conflict – in which some put the Filipino civilian death toll as high as a million – saw America establishing colonial rule over the Philippines which would last until 1946. It also signaled a shift in the balance of power from the old European Empires – the Spanish had ruled the Philippines for almost 400 years – to an increasingly assertive and powerful United States, keen to establish itself as top dog in the Pacific.

Similarly, what is more ‘significant’ about the Boer War than, say, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05? Again, this war signaled an important ‘changing of the guard’ with a European Great Power defeated by an ’upstart’ Asian nation – something which most had considered unthinkable. With well over a million men committed to the war by each side, the size of the battles, and the casualties inflicted, dwarfed those of the Boer War[5]. Japan’s victory saw them embark on a dangerous path which would ultimately bring them into conflict with the USA, whereas Russia’s almost unbelievably embarrassing string of defeats[6] exposed the inherent rottenness of the Tsarist regime, and sparked the Revolution of 1905[7] – which led directly to the 1917 Revolution, and a communist takeover.

Likewise, why is the Boer War more ‘significant’ than the barely-known Italo-Turkish War of 1911-12? This saw an expansionist and confident Italy seize Libya from the declining Ottoman Empire which had ruled it since the 16th Century. Emboldened by the defeat of the Ottomans by Italy, the ‘Balkan League’[8] then seized their chance and attacked them in the Balkan War of 1912-13, winning a remarkable victory and capturing 83% of the Ottoman Empire’s territory in Europe – lands the Turks had ruled for hundreds of years. 

And so one could continue; it is simply ridiculous to suggest that the Boer War is somehow more ‘significant’ that French invasion of Morocco, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Russian Civil War, the Spanish Civil War, the Chinese Civil War, the Third-Anglo Afghan War, the Polish-Soviet War, the Rif War, the Irish Civil War, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the Arab Revolt in Palestine, the Greek Civil War, the various Arab-Israeli Wars, the Malayan Emergency, the Algerian War, the Sudanese Civil War, the Suez Crisis, the endless wars in the Congo, all the various post-WW2 ‘liberation’ struggles and bush wars in Africa, the Soviet-Afghan War, the Iran-Iraq War etc etc etc.

So if we strip away all the tiresome ethnocentric South African exceptionalism, what is it which makes the Boer War especially ‘significant’ in the context of the 20th Century?

Though many enjoy making all manner of ridiculous claims about it, the Boer War did not see the British army switching from scarlet to khaki[9], nor did it see the first use of concentration camps. Nor was it the first guerrilla war, nor the first time that trenches, machine guns or barbed wire had been used in warfare. It was, of course, neither the longest war Britain had ever fought, nor – despite the rubbish True Believers love to tell one another – was it the most expensive war Britain had ever fought[10]. Despite the wishful thinking that one can hear regurgitated round a thousand braais, it did not herald the end of the British Empire: indeed, the Empire only finally reached its greatest extent in 1924, and it would take two World Wars, the devastatingly costly defeat of Nazism, and another 50-odd years before the sun slowly started to set on Britain’s Imperial Glory.

Some like to claim that the Boer War increased tensions between Britain and Germany. There is probably an element of truth in this, but those tensions pre-dated the war, and, given Germany’s increasing militarism and expansionism during the latter part of the 19th Century, were unavoidable in any case. No one can claim that the Boer War caused the assassination of the Arch Duke Ferdinand, and the subsequent Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia, which sparked the Great War.

Indeed, one could argue that the Boer War did not usher in enormous changes even in Southern Africa. Yes, there was much-needed ‘regime change’ in the Transvaal with Kruger’s corrupt despotism driven out, and the Union of South Africa coming about some years later. And, of course, pretty much everyone was better off without Kruger’s crackpot republic causing trouble all around it. But after the war, the subcontinent was still run by European settlers (both British and Boer), just as it had been before, and would continue to be for almost another century. Equally, the expected post-war influx of British immigrants never happened, meaning the demographics of the region were scarcely impacted by the conflict, and South Africa did not become a new Australia or Canada. British victory meant that the African majority were spared the horrors of living under Kruger’s ghastly regime, but other than that, not a great deal changed for them. Indeed, a couple of generations later, things would get much, much worse for them.

Like most things that True Believers like to tell one another, the claptrap spouted by Mr Otto might make him, and others of his ilk, feel better about themselves. But it really has no grounding in historical reality.


[1] Rayne Kruger, Goodbye Dolly Gray, p.165

[2] The miniscule outpost was defended by officers of the Cape Police, supported by local volunteers – about 80 men in all. They held off some 1,000 Boers until the invaders brought up artillery to bombard the village into submission. See: Amery, The Times History of the War in South Africa, Vol.2. p.297, and Maurice, History of the War in South Africa 1899‒1902, Vol.3, p.3

[3] Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco, p.433

[4] Modern counter-insurgency / counter-terrorism theory dictates that a 10:1 advantage is required for victory. See the U.S. Army / Department of Defense, Counterinsurgency Handbook, pp. 1–13

[5] The Battle of Mukden, for example, was fought over a 50 mile front, lasted more than two weeks, and involved over 600,000 men – of whom 164,000 became casualties

[6] After sailing 18,000 miles from the Baltic Sea, for example, the Russian fleet was virtually annihilated at the Battle of Tsushima

[7] The uprising included the famous mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin

[8] This alliance comprised Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro

[9] This had happened long before the Boer War, with the move to khaki taking place over decades. The last major action in which the British infantry wore red was the Battle of Ginnis, fought in 1885

[10] In a chart of British Military Expenditure over the centuries, the Boer War barely registers as a blip. For those interested in statistics and facts, rather than self-serving fairy-tales, see my blog article: https://www.chrisash.co.za/2020/08/15/financial-ruin-part-2/


  • Peter Dickens Posted December 7, 2022 4:11 pm

    I believe Mr Otto was merely posting another commentators marketing in a Facebook group. The ‘watch our conversation’ was ‘Jerm’ – a political commentator and this his podcast interview with Mark Weber: https://jermwarfare.com/conversations/mark-weber-anglo-boer-war

    • Bulldog Posted December 8, 2022 6:40 am

      You are probably right: few of these die-hard True Believers are capable of thinking for themselves.

      • Peter Dickens Posted December 9, 2022 11:57 am

        I would br interested to hear your views on Mark Weber, an American historian specialising in The South African War (1899-1902) and his podcast with ‘Jerm’ – to me he came across as overtly sympathetic to the Boer cause, he also toed the old Nat narrative and therefore came accross imbalanced and somehow lesser informed .. your thoughts?

        • Bulldog Posted December 17, 2022 11:44 am

          I’m not aware of this fellow… though from your description, he sounds very much like one to avoid.

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