Whether or not Mahatma Gandhi really said: ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you, then you win’ is debatable, but it is a great quote nonetheless. Now, I would be the first to admit that I have little in common with the man Churchill described as a ’seditious Middle Temple Lawyer, now posing as a half-naked fakir’, but ever since ‘Kruger, Kommandos & Kak’ exploded onto the scene almost 10 years ago, the reaction of those desperate to preserve the Boer War Myths has been broadly in line with this quote.
A certain Prof Pretorius, who I soon came to realise was essentially The Exalted Cyclops of the Boer War Myths Cult, was dug up and dusted off to mindlessly spew out a truly laughable ‘review’ in some low-brow Afrikaans rag – a ‘review’ in which he roundly mocked the book, and, on the strength of a spelling mistake, frantically tried to wave away the inconvenient facts I had dared to raise. Presumably in his desperation to try to keep the lunatic fringe of Far-Right Afrikaner extremism on-side, his ‘review’ dismissed my work as ‘insulting’ and ‘without merit’, as well as claiming (without feeling the need to provide any evidence) that I didn’t use ‘reliable sources’[i]. In addition to blatantly misrepresenting my research and statements, he also treated his spell-bound readers to his rather bizarre fantasies about what I wear under my kilt. So much for the standard of academic debate at the University of Pretoria.
Inspired and energised by this ridiculous ‘review’, the faithful – if brainless – guard dogs of National Party myth set down their double-brandies for a moment, and quickly swung into action. My inbox rapidly filled with hate mail, much of which referred to the ‘review’ written by their all-knowing Guru. These bleating fools demanded that I remove the book from sale, and issue a public apology (in Afrikaans, nogal). A rather pathetic online group mobilised themselves to submit ‘one star’ reviews on Amazon – reviews of a book none of them had read. Little mobs of amusing wide-eyed hecklers would rock up at any talks I gave, all faithfully, and unthinkingly, spouting the rubbish written by their High Priest. One intemperate fellow claimed he had contacted Home Affairs and reported me as an illegal immigrant, but will be disappointed to learn that my door wasn’t kicked in during the night and I was never deported. Several of these utter morons went as far as to threaten to kill me – though none had the balls to even take a swing at me; clearly they are every bit as cowardly as they are willfully ignorant.
Supremely confident that their Apartheid-era myths were unassailable, the True Believers had skipped the ‘ignore’ bit of the quote, and gone straight to the ‘laughing’ and ‘attacking’ phases. Pride comes before a fall, however, and in his disingenuous efforts to ridicule my work, their Spiritual Leader had only succeeded in drawing attention to it. In his arrogance, he had thus entertainingly shot himself in the foot, as, thanks largely to his ‘review’, ‘Kruger, Kommandos & Kak’ enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame: it was widely discussed on social media, and there was – for a short time – something of a buzz about the book. Positive and balanced reviews, written by more intelligent and less fanatical people, started popping up in rather more highbrow publications, and those who actually took the time to read the book quickly realised that, for whatever faults it may have had, it was undeniably well-researched, copiously referenced, and thought-provoking.
But don’t just take my word for it: in a review of my work by none other than the best-selling, and highly-esteemed historian, Andrew Roberts[ii], for example, it was described as:
‘… revisionist history at its absolute best. With meticulous scholarship but also an attractively waspish turn of phrase, Chris Ash turns everything we thought we knew about the Boer War on its head. After reading this, you won’t think of that conflict in the same way again.’
Another review, this one in the Journal of the Royal Canadian Military Institute, also noted the impact my work would have – at least on those with an open mind on the subject – and even managed to avoid any bizarre giggling about my undergarments (or lack thereof). It described ‘Kruger, Kommandos & Kak’ as:
‘well researched revisionist history that debunks established myths of the war and meticulously reconstructs its pivotal battles, actions and events… Revisionist history serves the purpose of discerning historical fact from evidentiary sources through research and inquiry to reveal new perspectives and truths. It is the essence of historical scholarship. This book delivers on all these counts. As a well researched, ground breaking piece of scholarship, the text is effective and defendable on these grounds’.
Which rather makes one wonder if the Grand High Wizard was reviewing the same book. A review of the second edition – retitled ‘Kruger’s War’ – was published in the Royal United Services Institute Journal, and stated:
“Chris Ash takes on these myths one by one and does a very good job of eviscerating them. Deploying a wide variety of contemporary sources and having the benefit of living in South Africa for 20 years, he brings a fresh pair of eyes and a lot of clear thought to the subject… Chapter 11 is particularly good at describing the mechanics of the counterinsurgency campaign and the regular beatings that de la Rey, de Wet and Smuts took at the hands of the not-so-hapless British soldiers in battles that Pakenham either ignored or skated over. For this reviewer, this chapter is worth the price of the book alone… All in all, this is an important contribution and a very necessary correction to the established narrative of the Anglo-Boer War. Perhaps this is the beginning of a proper reappraisal of Britain’s imperial past. It is long overdue.”
As well as reviews like this, my research and writing on the Boer War saw me elected as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society[iii] – clearly the gate keepers of that illustrious Royal Society did not agree that my work is ‘without merit’, no matter what self-serving nonsense the Grand Dragon of the Boer War Myth Cult sweepingly declared to his extremist gaggle of sheep-like minions.
And so, almost a decade later, still completely unable to counter any of the points I raised, their attempts to mock and attack me having failed, and seeing their much-cherished Apartheid-era myths crumbling around their ears, the True Believers appear to have lurched awkwardly and desperately back to the ‘ignore’ phase; a couple of days back, a friend sent me another article[iv] which the Exalted Cyclops wrote more recently. This is little more than a very boring list of various books and papers which have been written about the Boer War, and which he likes to think reflects the differing and ever-changing ways the conflict has been viewed over the decades. With matchless – but all too predictable – conceit, he shamelessly included his PhD thesis and some of his own (God-awful) books. Amusingly, even the hapless John Boje, military history’s answer to Frank Spencer, gets a mention – presumably in recognition of his sycophantic hero-worship, and as a reward for the blatant lies he told about my writing[v]. But the list studiously avoided any mention whatsoever of the inconveniently troublesome twosome of ‘Kruger, Kommandos & Kak’ and ‘Kruger’s War’.
With time running out on the National Party fantasy version, it would appear that even the High Priest of the Defenders of the Myths has gone from gleefully mocking and attacking my work, to sulkily ignoring it, and burying his head in the sand. I imagine he now desperately wishes it would just go away so his much-loved, and oh-so-comforting, fables of Boer innocence and victimhood can stagger on a little longer.
Realising, perhaps, that the game is up and the inevitable fourth phase of the Gandhi quote is looming, one is left to wonder if the final response of the last remaining True Believers will be to stick their fingers in their ears, and scream: “la-la-la-la! I can’t hear you!”
[i] Amusingly, I actually referenced his books – could those be the unreliable sources he refers to?
[ii] Andrew Roberts, Baron Roberts of Belgravia FRSL FRHistS, best selling historian and author of dozens of books, including: Napolean: A Life, A History of the English Speaking Peoples since 1900, Salisbury: Victorian Titan, and George III: The Life and Reign of Britain’s Most Misunderstood Monarch
[iii] I was also elected as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in recognition of my cartographical work for The Boer War Atlas
[iv] Publications: A historiography of the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902: 120 years of fruitful labour