As I have noted previously, the Russian invasion of the Ukraine has put today’s True Believers in a rather awkward spot. The great panjandrum of National Party Myth, poor old Prof Pretorius, was forced to engage in some hilarious mental gymnastics, for example, in his frantic (and typically hypocritical) attempt to explain how it is that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is dastardly and wrong, while Kruger’s invasion of British territory was perfectly acceptable:
The spectacle of the increasingly frazzled and beleaguered High Priest of Boer War Myths tying himself in knots to defend the indefensible is always good for a laugh, and it was equally entertaining to see none other than President Putin indulge in a similar attempt to blatantly rewrite history. In his recent interview with Tucker Carlson, perhaps the most remarkable of Putin’s many ridiculous claims was that Poland was to blame for being invaded in 1939:
‘the Poles had not given the Danzig corridor to Germany, and went too far, pushing Hitler to start World War 2 by attacking them. Why was it Poland against whom the war started, on 1st September 1939? Poland turned out to be uncompromising, and Hitler had nothing to do but start implementing his plans with Poland’.[i]
So basically, in the fevered-mind of Putin, because Poland refused to give in to Hitler’s demand to hand over a chunk of their land (and their only port), they were responsible for being invaded. Nazi Germany, he wants us to believe, had no choice in the matter and were the innocent party in all this.
As utterly ludicrous and ahistorical as Putin’s claim obviously is, it is no more ludicrous and ahistorical than the similar tales the True Believers like to tell one another to justify and explain away Kruger’s invasion of British territory in 1899.
We are always assured that the poor old innocent Boers simply had ‘no choice’ but to start the Boer War by invading British territory – as though this course of action was completely out of their hands, rather than something they had been actively planning for since at least 1887[ii]. The excuse given for this invasion is that – apparently – the wicked, scheming British had ‘gathered a massive army on the border’ and London was poised to invade[iii]… but – so we are always told – the clever old Boers foiled this dastardly plot with a (completely innocent and entirely justifiable) ‘pre-emptive’ invasion of their own[iv]. And, we are also always told, it wasn’t actually a real invasion anyway – all the poor old innocent (invading) Boers wanted to do was ‘take up defensive positions, just over the border’.
Of course, this is self-serving nonsense, dreamt up by Kruger-apologists and force-fed to the generations of South Africans unlucky enough to grow-up under National Party rule. That some still actively promote this utter rubbish is rather telling, and a damning indictment of the teaching of History in South Africa.
There was no ‘massive British army’ on the borders of either republic[v]. Indeed, the simple reality is that the Boers greatly outnumbered the scattered Imperial garrison in the theatre when they started the war by invading British territory. The fact that no True Believer can ever explain which units comprised this ‘massive army’, where they were, or who commanded it is instructive… as is the inconvenient fact that, in Natal, the invading Boers made it all the way to Dundee before encountering British troops – 9 days after they invaded[vi]. Over on the Western Front, the invading Boers did not fight a significant action for 6 weeks. So where, one wonders, do the Defenders of the Myth imagine all these ‘masses’ of British troops suddenly disappeared to?
Equally, despite many years of my asking, no one has ever been able to tell me where these mythical ‘defensive positions, just over the border’ were. Or indeed, why invading someone else’s territory would be acceptable, whatever far-fetched, post-facto reason is dreamt up.
The fact is that the True Believers haven’t thought about any of this at all, because if they did, they would realise they were talking rubbish. For all the time they spend hanging out on Boer War Facebook Groups / echo chambers, they simply have no interest in learning what actually happened, and their only focus is on making sure the Apartheid-era fables stagger on for a bit longer.
In this respect, the True Believers are exactly like Putin: they desperately want their fantasy version of events to be believed, and thus make up whatever they want, dreaming up excuses and lies which are blatantly nonsense to anyone with genuine knowledge of the subject and an open, enquiring mind. The Defenders of the Myth are not historians – they are propagandists, with an agenda to push and a much-cherished comfort-blanket of victimhood to maintain.
[ii] Fraser, Episodes of my Life, p.84-127
[iii] This despite the most damning finding of the Post-War Royal Commission being that no plan existed for war in South Africa, let alone one to invade the republics
[iv] Which, coincidentally and apparently just as justifiably, just happened to involve a mass looting spree, the re-naming of the towns they took, and the ending of the rights enjoyed by non-whites living in their areas they captured
[v] The only Imperial – not British – troops near the border of the Transvaal were the 600-odd men of the recently-raised Protectorate Regiment, formed to defend Mafeking when an invasion by the Boers seemed likely – and thank goodness they were
[vi] The Battle of Talana Hill, in which the invading Boers were defeated by Penn Symons’ 8th Brigade