I have never quite understood why Amazon lets people review products they have not bought, and it is rather telling that the few ‘one star’ ratings my books get are all from people who are not ‘verified purchasers’. It would be rather like me posting a review of a car I had never driven, or of a hotel I have never stayed at… so quite how this helps others judge a product is beyond me.
On the other hand, at least it gives a chance for disgruntled Defenders of the Myth (is there any other sort?) to stamp their feet and bang their little drums of self-pity online, ranting about a book they haven’t bought. And at least we get to be amused by their desperation to keep their Apartheid-regime fables alive.
I recently came across an especially entertaining such ‘review’ on the amazon.co.uk site. It was penned a few years ago by someone who claimed to be called ‘Hennie Bester’ and to be based in the UK – it was, of course, not a verified purchase. Here is the opening paragraph:
But hang on: what’s this… ‘Hennie’ posted exactly the same ‘review’ – word for word – on the same day, over on amazon.com. Again, it was not a verified purchase (of course), and not only did he mysteriously change his name to ‘Larsen Bjørn’ for that one (evidence, perhaps, of his surreal Viking fetish?), but he also pretended to live in the USA:
And it gets even more entertaining: also on amazon.com, there is another one-star review by another obvious idiot, this time called – wait for it – ‘H.J. Bester’:
I mean, what are the chances? Goodness me, the lengths that the frazzled and cornered True Believers will go to, in their last-ditch efforts to protect their much-adored Apartheid-era myth.
So now that we have confirmed that Hennie / Larsen[i] (“will the real National Party fanatic please step forward”) is nothing more than a bare-faced liar with an agenda, let us have a look at the rest of the so-called ‘review’ he sneakily posted under two different names. After a bit more of a pointlessly waffling preamble, poor old Hennie finally builds up enough steam to sagely declare that he has something very important to share, (so do please pay attention at the back):
I am writing to tell you that Ash book (sic) manages to achieve controversiality quite easily. But that’s about all it has going for it. The approach is so overly provocative, the outrage so wearingly articulated, and the position so tragically barren that you will do yourself a great favour to avoid it altogether.
Of course, the real reason Hennie is desperate for people to ‘avoid Ash book’, is that he is terrified that they will see through his much-cherished myths, and realise they’ve swallowed NP propaganda. Despite frantically tapping out his lengthy one-star ‘reviews’, Hennie is unable to name a single mistake in the book, or to challenge a single reference. Instead, he relies entirely upon flinging insults and making bizarre, misspelt statements:
Having “straw-menned” (sic) ignorant Afrikaners, he has a bit of a problem – modern historians are the greatest exponents of the myths he has set himself out to debunk. So how does he deal with them? Well, what is the most telling attitude of a colonising imperialist? His vast self-sense of superiority and patronising attitude, of course. He knows what’s best for the subjects, and if they happen to be post 1902 historians, so be it. Pakenham? – Leftist bleating! Rodney Davenport? – Bosh!
Devastating stuff… except that this is simply not true.
For a start, by far the best account of the conflict is the official four volume[ii] History of the War in South Africa 1899‒1902. This was (obviously, to anyone except Hennie, apparently) written ‘post 1902’, by General Maurice and his team of officers. Indeed, quite how an account which covers the entirety of the Boer War could possibly have been written ‘pre 1902’ escapes me, but clearly ‘Hennie’ and ‘logic’ are not well acquainted.
Writing in the 1950s, Professor Eric Walker, in his brilliant A History of Southern Africa also told it how it was, thereby refuting the myths Hennie so cherishes. It is little wonder the Apartheid Government, desperate to keep their fables of victimhood alive, removed Walker’s work from the approved curriculum. Also writing in the 1950s, Colonel Martin published his The Concentration Camps: 1900‒1902: facts, figures, and fables, an excellent and well-researched book which shatters the sort of things Hennie likes to believe, and which help him bask in the warm glow of faux-victimhood.
More recently, Andrew Roberts dismantled National Party myth in his magisterial biography of Lord Salisbury, while Tim Jeal’s biography of Baden-Powell takes Pakenham’s blatant lies about that great man to task. John Stephens demolishes the self-serving nonsense about it being ‘all about gold’ in his excellent Fuelling the Empire, while several books by the estimable Dr Damian O’Connor cut through the haze of self-pitying Apartheid-era fables with wit and verve. Then we have South African academic, Dr Elizabeth van Heyningen, whose ground-breaking work took on the myths and old wives’ tales which (amazingly) still surround the concentration camps.
Other modern-day South African historians challenging Hennie’s preferred National Party version include Guy Keeling, with his excellent, The Raw War, Hugh Rethman’s books on the Boer invasion of Natal, and the brilliant research and writing by Robin Smith and Peter Dickens. Another South African, Professor Bill Nasson, has produced recent work, exposing the horrific way that the ‘noble Boers’ treated non-whites during the war, a subject also written about brilliantly by Peter Warwick.
On the broader subject of British colonialism, new work by Professor Niall Ferguson and Professor Bruce Gilley is challenging the 1960’s Leftist rubbish about it an ‘evil Empire’, and driving a re-evaluation of the Imperial period. Professor Nigel Biggar’s recent best-selling book on the subject, Colonialism, A Moral Reckoning, has opened up the discussion still further, and is causing many (or, at least those with intelligence and open minds) to completely re-assess what they thought they knew about the subject.
So despite what helps hapless Hennie to sleep at night, modern historians are clearly NOT the ‘greatest exponents’ of his much-loved National Party myths. Though still appealing and comforting for some, these fables and lies are increasingly being shown up as the nonsense they are… which perhaps explains why Hennie felt the need to beg people not to read my book.
Clearly a stranger to punctuation marks, and obviously realising that I present facts to which he has no answer, Hennie (predictably enough) takes the coward’s way out, and claims to have ‘suffered from fatigue’ while reading it. This is presumably why he made no attempt whatsoever to point out what actual mistakes I have made, but nevertheless, poor old Hennie hopelessly blunders blindly on:
Hyperboles abound and accumulate at a frightening rate. “Ridiculous” “abundantly clear” “rubbish” and “utter rubbish” can be used only so many times before the reader suffers from fatigue, and then it dawns that this attempt at debunking is actually one man’s one-dimensional tirade framed in the language of the imperialist version of an annoyed schoolkid.
Despite my shattering myth after myth, and providing references for every statement I make, Hennie frantically squeals that I offer no insights:
But that is not where it stays. A good historian would trace important historic events as antecedent events to the current world. This often provides profound insight. Not Ash, he is totally and utterly barren of such insights. There is perhaps a reason for it, in that real historians[iii] have described the Boer war (sic) as an event that exacted too high a price from the empire. Now, if true, which it is, that is an extremely bitter pill to swallow if you are an empire throwback living in the 21st century.
Perhaps, with no adult on hand to help him with the long words, Hennie missed the insights I raised about the oft-ignored Secret Conferences of 1887 for example… or about the pre-war gun-running and rabble rousing by Kruger’s well-funded spooks… or about the utterly botched Bogus Conspiracy. All of these ‘smoking guns’ are studiously overlooked by the likes of Pakenham and Pretorius, in order, one can only presume, to keep Apartheid-era myths intact. Indeed, far from Kruger, Kommandos and Kak offering ‘no insights’, even the late, great Ken Gillings confessed to being blown away when he learned about the Bogus Conspiracy from my work.
Similarly, Baron Roberts FRLS FRHistS described just how ‘insightful’ he found the book to be: ‘This is 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.’
A review in the Royal Canadian Military Institute’s journal, ‘SITREP’, declared Kruger, Kommandos and Kak to be ‘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.’
And a review of Kruger’s War in the highly-respected RUSI journal included the statements:
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.[iv]
So plenty of examples of ‘insights’ there, and one is left to assume that, even if we believe he read it, poor old Hennie simply couldn’t understand the book (or, more likely, desperately didn’t want to), and so – in a fit of desperation – resorted to just making that bit up.
And as for his assertion that un-named ‘historians’ have described the Boer War as ‘an event that exacted too high a price from the empire’… well, some National Party puppets and other fools may well have declared that, but shrill claims that – such was the ‘heroic’ resistance of the Boer guerrillas / terrorists – Britain was nearing bankruptcy in 1902 are completely refuted by a glance at UK Defence spending over the centuries, in which the Boer War barely registers as a blip:
So, in reality, it is actually Hennie (and other equally fanatical Defenders of the Myth) who needs to ‘swallow a bitter pill’ and accept that – funnily enough – the Boer War didn’t ‘nearly bankrupt the Empire’, as they love to sagely assure one another at braais.
Of course, when faced with this inconvenient reality, True Believers simply start screaming that what they really meant was ‘moral bankruptcy’ (whatever that disconcertingly vague phrase means). It is probably fair to say that the methods Lord Kitchener employed to defeat the Bitter Einders prompted a few perennially-offended lefties to join the squawking ranks of the anti-Imperial ‘Little-Englanders’. But, aside from these self-loathing hand-wringers, the notion that the Boer War ended popular enthusiasm for Empire is far-fetched in the extreme. The reality (unfortunately for those who enjoy trumpeting that the Boer War marked ‘the end of the British colonialism’), is that the Empire only finally reached its greatest extent in 1923 – ie. a World War, and almost a generation, after British victory in the Boer War[v].
And it wasn’t until the decades following the Second World War that Britain started the slow retreat from Empire. There were, of course, nascent ‘liberation’ movements[vi], but the winding-up of Empire was overwhelmingly due to the crippling debts London had incurred by leading the fight against Nazism, and, with Washington keen to relegate Britain to a junior partner[vii], the USA was applying massive financial pressure to further its own, short-sighted, goals. Either way, the British Empire only finally fizzled out to just a few remnants by the early 1970s – ie. some three generations, and two World Wars, after victory against the Boers[viii].
Indeed, more than anything, the Boer War proved the strength of the bonds of loyalty and brotherhood that tied together the greatest Empire in history[ix]. Keen to counter Boer aggression, volunteers joined contingents which were swiftly raised in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ceylon, Burma and elsewhere. These units were mobilised to Southern Africa to fight alongside not only the regular British army, but also their kith and kin from Natal, the Cape Colony, and Rhodesia. Numerous new regiments were formed from Loyalist volunteers in South Africa[x], and thousands of British civilians left comfortable, safe, and well-paid jobs to join hastily raised-units like the Imperial Yeomanry, Lovat Scouts, and City Imperial Volunteers. One should also never forget those brave men who flocked to join the Natal Indian Ambulance Corps (raised by non-other than Mahatma Gandhi[xi], and funded by Natal’s Indian business community), nor the tens of thousands of Africans who served loyally – also mainly in non-combat roles – for the Empire against the invading Boers.
It is remarkable that it takes a Frenchman, writing at the time, to sum up what is clearly too complex for the likes of half-witted Hennie to grasp:
‘…he cannot be made to see that all these countries scattered over the surface of the globe can form a whole; he is always expecting a break up, and is firmly persuaded that the smallest event might bring it about … his prophetic vision sees Ireland, India, Burmah, Jamaica, Australia, New Zealand, the Cape, Egypt, Canada, proclaiming their independence, as if that magic word expressed the highest hopes of all these countries. You cannot get it into his head that they are all loyal to England, because they are happy under her rule and because there is something quite wonderful in her power of organization and administration.’[xii]
With Hennie’s infantile temper tantrum reaching fever pitch, he then unleashes his distinctly less-than-terrifying wrath against anyone who dares read my work with an open mind. In so doing, he makes it clear that his problem is not actually with my research, or the facts I presented (none of which, remember, he was able to refute); instead, and as I had suspected from the very start, poor hare-brained Hennie is simply cursed with an irrational, pathetic, but nevertheless rather entertaining, dislike of all things British, (even including Land Rovers, apparently[xiii]):
This brings me to Ash’s fans. The fact that they exist is remarkable in itself. My guess is that this is Ash’s’ (sic) same confirmation bias at work – certain individuals wear their patronising / imperial attitudes just under the skin, and driving a Land Rover, watching the (sic) Royal Ascot on TV, and looking up your lineage in Debretts (sic) is not always sufficient. Thus if someone comes up with the right sounding argument to push the case for the empire, there will be an outlet, especially if dumb Dutchmen and republican leftists get their comeuppance.
And so, with that off his puny chest, and in a spectacular crescendo of blinkered, sheeplike ignorance, hapless Hennie ends his (ahem) ‘review’ with a final, panic-stricken plea to other True Believers to avoid the book at all costs, lest it impacts continued wallowing in their preferred ocean of delusion and self-pity:
Even if a book is not well written, a redeeming argument or insight can make it a worthwhile read. And even if a book does not have a redeeming insight or argument, attractive prose can make it worthwhile. But if a book makes a risible argument, using a breezy patronising and ultimately, an extremely irritating style of writing you have a perfect storm of “kak” converging. Stay. Away. Far away.
Of course, if Hennie (or whatever this lying fool’s name really is) had found even a single statement in that book that he could have proven to be false, or felt he could have challenged a single one of my thousands of references, he would have done so. Completely unable so to do, however, he had nothing left in the tank but to claim that, by daring to shatter National Party myths, I am ‘patronising’ and ‘irritating’. Unfortunately for hopeless Hennie / lying Larsen, one-star ratings (none of which were from confirmed buyers) only account for 3% of the reviews for Kruger, Kommandos & Kak on amazon.co.uk – and this despite his duplicitous determination to post not one, but three of them.
In stark contrast, 83% gave the book 5-star and 4-star reviews. The follow-up, Kruger’ War, has done even better, with 100% of the ratings being 5-star.
Isn’t it amazing what happens when – unlike Hennie – people have a genuine interest in the subject, and are capable of reading a book with an open mind.
[i] Rather than tediously referring to ‘Hennie / Larsen’, I am going to stick with ‘Hennie’ for the rest of the article. I am also presuming this disingenuous imbecile to be male – I doubt any female could be as pig-headed, or opinionated about a book they haven’t read / understood, to post no less than three fake reviews of it – so I shall refer to Hennie as ‘he’ throughout
[ii] plus four volumes of maps
[iii] Yes, in the wacky world of Hennie, Fellows of the Royal Historical Society are, funnily enough, not ‘real historians’
[iv] For the full review, see: http://www.chrisash.co.za/2018/04/26/review-of-krugers-war-rusi-journal/
[v] Britain gained control of German colonies in both East and West Africa, plus Samoa, in the Treaty of Versailles. On 29 September 1923, the Palestine Mandate became law, and the Empire reached its maximum extent
[vi] These generally aimed to ‘liberate’ people from fair and decent British Colonial rule, and instead to force them to live (or, often, quickly die) in a corrupt and chaotically-run failed state
[vii] The American stab-in-the-back over Suez in 1956 is probably the most blatant example of this
[viii] Picking a date for the ‘end of Empire’ is a pretty arbitrary exercise: some point to the Suez Crisis as the beginning the end, others have claimed that the Falklands War of 1982 was ‘the last Colonial War’ Britain fought, while a few even note the 1997 handover of Hong Kong as the final curtain call of the British Empire
[ix] At its height, the British Empire covered over a quarter of the land on Earth. No other empire has come close to matching this
[x] Among many others, the plethora of locally-raised units included the South African Light Horse, Imperial Light Horse, Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry, Kitchener’s Horse, and the Namaqualand Border Scouts.
[xi] Before rather cynically reinventing himself as a ‘half-naked fakir’, Gandhi also loyally served the Empire in the 1906 Bambatha Rebellion, as the Sergeant Major of the Indian Stretcher Bearer Corps
[xii] M.J. Farrelly, The Settlement After the War in South Africa, p.61
[xiii] Through the clouds of blue smoke billowing from his exhaust, one can picture Hennie lurching and spluttering about in a knackered old, back-firing Toyota Tazz (on the rare occasions when he can afford fuel and get his old skedonk to start), so it is little wonder he looks up at Land Rover drivers with ill-disguised jealousy