Confirmation Bias

I am always amused by the way Defenders of the Myth approach the Boer War with a very fixed notion of what they want to have happened – ie. that the Boers were helpless, innocent victims of a nasty British bully, but, at the same time, also the greatest warrior race in the entire history of warfare. With that set of (rather contradictory) National Party fantasies firmly decided upon and out of the way, they then desperately hammer / twist / simply ignore any inconvenient facts to fit their preferred version. In psychology, this failing is known as ‘Confirmation Bias’ and the True Believers – even the so-called ‘academic’ ones – have it in spades.

Confirmation Bias is defined by the American Psychological Association as ‘the tendency to look for information that supports, rather than rejects, one’s preconceptions, typically by interpreting evidence to confirm existing beliefs while rejecting or ignoring any conflicting data’ and, furthermore, it is typically used as a defence mechanism: ‘People are susceptible to confirmation bias to protect their self-esteem (to know that their beliefs are accurate)’. Most tellingly of all is the statement: ‘The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs’.

Thanks to decades of Apartheid-era propaganda, the Defenders of the Myth certainly have deeply entrenched beliefs, and their self-esteem / sense of self-worth seems inextricably linked to the Apartheid-era myths being true[i]. What is more, these fellows simply have no clue as to how History is normally studied – ie. that one steadily forms opinions and draws conclusions based on evidence, facts and references[ii]; instead, they see it entirely as a political exercise and a chance to play the victim. To such types, what actually happened in the Boer War is completely irrelevant, and all that matters is keeping their comforting fantasies alive. Thus it is that any and all facts and evidence that do not fit the National Party narrative are simply dismissed out of hand[iii].

It would be like an especially thick-headed and ignorant detective – think Inspector Clouseau, rather than Sherlock Holmes – arbitrarily deciding who had committed a murder, and then utterly ignoring any and all evidence which contradicts this preferred assumption. Rather than working his way through the facts of the case and building his theory based on these, the detective instead dogmatically insists on sticking resolutely to his preferred culprit, no matter what other troublesome evidence comes to light:

True Believer Detective: “Professor Plum strangled him with the rope in the drawing room!”
Open-minded person: “But Professor Plum was in a different country at the time of the murder?”
True Believer Detective: “Ah! But that’s what he wanted you to think!”
Open-minded person: “Well, we have 100 witnesses who can confirm he was in Hong Kong at the time?”
True Believer Detective: “Ah! But they are all lying!”[iv]
Open-minded person: “OK… but there is also CCTV footage, hotel bookings, credit card transactions, phone records, airline tickets?”
True Believer Detective: “Ah! But those are all faked!”
Open-minded person: “OK… but Professor Plum is in his 90s, has a withered arm and is confined to a wheelchair, and the victim was a 25-year-old, 6’6” cage fighter – how could the Professor possibly have strangled him?”
True Believer Detective: “Err… yeah… but… err… Concentration Camps!”

That might seem like an exaggeration, but it is essentially how every ‘debate’ with a Defender of the Myth proceeds:

There were had hardly any Imperial troops in theatre at the start of the Boer War – their own estimates showed that 200,000 men would be needed in the event of war with the republics[v], but only 20,000 were available – how can you pretend London was planning an invasion?
“Ah, but that’s because the British thought the war would be easy!”

There was no British army ‘massing on the border’: how do you explain that the invading Boers got all the way to Dundee before encountering British troops[vi]?
“Ah, that’s because the Boers were so clever, they got round the masses of British troops!”

The British army had hardly any bridging equipment available – the army held just 80 yards’ worth of pontoon bridges and yet in places the Orange River, for example, was 300 yards wide [vii] – so how does support the notion of an impending invasion?
“Ah, but that’s because the British are stupid and couldn’t plan!”

Far from being ready to invade, General Buller actually wanted to abandon Northern Natal, and pull back behind the Tugela River[viii] – but was stopped from so doing by the Natal government who didn’t want to abandon the coal mines as there was only two weeks’ worth of coal in the colony[ix] – how does any of the support the idea that Britain was poised to invade?
“Ah, but the British were so stupid that they thought two weeks of coal was enough!”

One of the most damning findings of the Post-War Royal Commission was that there was no plan for war in place for war in South Africa[x] – how does that tally with your fantasy of British aggression?
“Ah! But that’s because the British are so arrogant, they didn’t think they needed a plan!”

Why, just a few weeks before the Boer invasions, did the British military establishment reject the proposal to raise a regiment from the Uitlanders, with General Butler telling their leaders that ‘England is not preparing for war, even if the Transvaal is preparing.[xi]?
“Ah! But that’s because they were so stupid, they didn’t think they needed to prepare!”

Surely you cannot be so ignorant to be completely unaware of the fact that the leaders of the Transvaal had been planning for war since at least 1887[xii], and they were the ones who mobilised first, and that they significantly outnumbered the imperial garrison, and that they were the ones who declared war, and that they were the ones who started the war by invading British territory?
“Errrr… but these were not real invasions… and… err… but… err… Concentration Camps!”

This is the sheer, pig-headed, willfully blinkered ignorance that one has to endure in an encounter with a typical Defender of the Myth. Actual historical events and incidents are utterly irrelevant to them, and they have absolutely no interest in learning about the conflict; instead, they are entirely – and fanatically – fixated on pretending that the National Party version / their self-pitying fantasies are true.

Nothing as insignificant and troublesome as facts and references will ever get in the way of their story-telling, but at least they provide entertainment.


[i] As just mentioned, it always amuses me that such types want to portray the Boers – and thus, by extension they feel, themselves – as a race of invincible warriors / unbeatable Titans… yet, in the same breath, claim they were helpless victims of a horrid bully. Needless to say, neither of these self-serving, ridiculous claims is true, but it would be nice if they would make their minds up.

[ii] I am not too proud to admit that I too believed a lot of the myths back in the day – it was only when I started researching in depth that I realised what ‘everyone knows’ about the war was nonsense

[iii] A favourite is to claim that anything they don’t like, or which challenges National Party dogma, is ‘a Jingo source’. They will use this excuse even if the reference is a book written by, for example, a French economist, or – indeed – a Boer General. To the True Believers, ‘Jingo source’ = anything that challenges the myths that help them sleep at night

[iv] If this were a discussion about the Boer War, it is at about this point that they start screaming that all the sources being used are ‘Jingo sources’

[v] Churchill, My Early Life, p.228

[vi] The Boers invaded Natal on the 11th of October 1899. The first significant action was Talana Hill – fought on 20th October

[vii] Symonds, Buller’s Campaign, p.115

[viii] Pakenham, The Boer War, p.97

[ix] Burleigh, The Natal Campaign, p.9

[x] The 1903 Royal Commission into the war highlighted this failing as one of its primary findings: quite simply, there was no plan in place to invade the two Boer republics. As The Spectator thundered in August of that year, the report was so damning as to be ‘surely one of the most amazing documents to which a General can ever have had to sign his name. Not only had there been no preparation for the Boer War, but there had been no preparation for any war of any kind whatever. Every arrangement that was made seems to have been made on the supposition that the British nation, even three weeks before the Boer commandos marched into Natal, was about to enjoy the blessings of eternal peace.’

[xi] Gibson, Story of the Imperial Light Horse in the South African War 1899-1902, p.17

[xii] Fraser, Episodes of my Life, p.84-127


  • Chris Posted March 9, 2024 9:44 am

    Sounds like Hitler ( Kruger ) , Ribbentrop ( Reitz / Smuts ) , Poland ( Swaziland / Natal / Cape )and the outbreak of the WWII ( ABW )

  • Chris Posted March 9, 2024 9:46 am

    I am sorry but the below is absolute nonsense and REAL “Jingo-Sauce”

    “Every arrangement that was made seems to have been made on the supposition that the British nation, even three weeks before the Boer commandos marched into Natal, was about to enjoy the blessings of eternal peace.’

    • Bulldog Posted March 9, 2024 4:11 pm

      This was the condemnation of the lack of preparation by HM government – hardly jingo-sauce, whatever that means. It is in no way controversial to state that, in late 1899, the British army was not in the right shape / size to fight anything other than fairly minor colonial actions. Units were not organised into Divisions, for example, in the way that European armies were. Few officers had experience at commanding units bigger than Brigades.

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