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Shooting in the back of the neck

So, when talking about the colonies:

“The prisoners were marched up to the guns… and lashed to the muzzles,” he wrote. “The guns exploded… I could hardly see for the smoke for about 2 seconds when down came something with a thud about 5 yards from me. This was the head and neck of one of the men… On each side of the guns, about 10 yards, lay the arms torn out at the shoulders.”

Nigel Biggar, in his new history of British colonialism, acknowledges the brutality of Britain’s response to the mutiny but argues that the use of violence is “essential” to any state, as is “the deterrence of others through fear”. He adds: “Whatever one thinks of ‘blowing from a gun’ as a method of execution, it was not indiscriminate, insofar as the victim had been judged guilty of some crime.”


Biggar’s response to the treatment of Indian rebels exemplifies his approach. One might have thought that a professor of theology would have paused before attempting to find moral exculpation for such savage punishment.

Dunno really, how savage is that punishment. Sure, it looks savage, which is part of Biggar’s point. Very certainly dissuasive to the onlookers. But to the executee? Certainly faster and less painful than short drop hanging (note, standard drop and long drop both post-date the Indian Mutiny). More certain and faster than shooting.

So, as a method of execution it looks awful but to the person most intimately involved almost certainly “better” than other methods of execution at the time. Assuming that execution at all is allowable of course.

Which, this being The Guardian, of course it is. It’s entirely allowable to shoot the bourgeois in the back of the neck because building socialism. Of course.

Then there’s this:

Biggar describes the compensation as a necessary “political compromise”. That is a legitimate view; but a moral account should surely dig deeper into the ethics of providing recompense for lost “property” when that property consisted of other human beings.

Bollocks. It was a bribe. A bribe to make it happen. Money damn well spent.

23 thoughts on “Shooting in the back of the neck”

  1. Whom, asks the guardian, can we invite to write a review on an appraisal of Britain’s colonial history? Let’s ask “an academic author [whose] focus is on the philosophy of biology, and contemporary theories of multiculturalism, pluralism and race”.


  2. Ironically reading through the guy’s articles I’d say by Guardian standards he looks a moderate. My guess is he’s at 356 degrees to the Left on the current political spectrum which classes him under the current ‘Overton Window’ as ‘Soft Left.

    But given, as the great ‘BiS’ says we live in Richard Murphy’s world, where someone like Nicola Sturgeon can be described apparently with no irony as a ‘Neoliberal’, the intellectual climate in academia especially is fairly clear. It’s probably more repressive in terms of intellectual restrictions than the Third Reich or contemporary North Korea.

  3. It was not just some random act of brutality. It was in the code of the Indian Army as the punishment for mutiny and ( I think – citation needed ) was carried over from the Mughals.

    The recompense for slave owners was provided because Britain is (was) not France or Russia. We don’t just expropriate stuff from people. The slaves were bought from thei owners at a fair price and then freed.

    Streamed some of Bettany Hughes’ latest for C4 last night. Not her best. She went to Jordan and completely failed to explain properly the water management system in Petra. Also had to allow herself a dig at the cruel and barbarous Crusaders vs Chivalrous and honourable Saladin. Yawn.
    How did she get so fat being a vegetarian ?

  4. Reader’s poll here. How do we feel about execution by cannon vis a vis lions? (N. Korea favours anti-aircraft guns, doesn’t it?) From an entertainment point of view, of course.

  5. BiS

    I think Kim was just trying stuff out. Flamethrowers were used in one case.

    Which of course could allow us to go and experiment with animatronic dragons, for that Game of Thrones experience.

  6. Channel 4 news Studio – Krishan G-Murthy rehearses for a special interview with PM, on the anniversary of the patriotic great war of india first independence.
    Prime Minister – There have been growing calls for people who write in the Guardian newspaper for you to speak up on things happened in the 19th Century. Will you take this opportunity now to apologise for such atrocities as blowing up of Indian Patriots from the barrels of cannons?

    meanwhile : C4 Toilets- PM
    Rishi- (talking to himself in the mirror)-
    This is a test of one’s loyalty. Loyalty is very important. Yes it is. You’re going to go out there, say i’ve had a lovely evening. Go home, jerk off and that’s all you’re going to do.

  7. Well, I was at school 60 years ago and we were taught about the horrific execution method of “blowing from the muzzle of guns”.
    It was seen as horrific by the victim, we were told, because religious belief said that an incomplete body wasn’t resurrected (or reincarnated, I forget which.
    It was therefore a deterrent.
    Was that not true? Am I misremembering?

  8. The whole problem with this kind of article is that they start off knowing how awful some bit of history was and go looking for examples to justify the position. Compared to what?

    PS. The Empire. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t even to the benefit of the people of Britain. I wish they’d stop going on about it as if it was my fault. It WAS NOT me.

  9. The recompense for slave owners was provided because Britain is (was) not France or Russia. We don’t just expropriate stuff from people

    …………. except Russian oligarchs.

  10. My late mother used to recount that at one time convicts were given a choice of hanging or a salt-free diet. Most chose the latter, unaware that it meant a slow and extremely painful death…

  11. ‘It wasn’t even to the benefit of the people of Britain.’

    Rhoda. I do remember reading that it cost twice as much to send the convicts to Oz as it did to keep them in hulks in Britain. Of course it was certainly rare that any got back to the UK after their sentence.

    As for India, one might reasonably argue that it was all the fault of the wicked Injuns, who failed to maintain proper law and order, and allowed the foul, fiendish Frogs to attack honest—well peaceful anyway traders.

    As for the usual whine about WHITE people owning BLACK slaves – I emphasise the skin colour, since we all know that to protest about black people owning white slaves is racism – I always feel that they were simply conforming to the customs of the country. Of course the British government wasted British lives and British money suppressing this custom. I have only to say Benin Bronzes to point out how the local blacks and the rest of the left feel about that. But I do incline to the feeling that a simple bribe, as Tim points out, was the cheapest and easiest way to sort out the squabble once abolition was decided upon. One has only to compare it to the American civil war to see that.

  12. “was carried over from the Mughals”: so I understand. But that means the British were guilty of cultural appropriation which is presumably what the grumble is really about, eh?

  13. Yeah dearieme. But if they’d just hanged them, they’d have been imperialistically imposing their foul foreign customs on the indigenous natives. So they’re guilty either way, as you expected.

  14. IIRC Saddam (or one of his sons) would feed people he’d taken a dislike to through industrial shredding machinery, feet first. I can think of a few instances where such treatment might be justifiable.

  15. IIRC the US government invented a yarn that Saddam (or one of his sons) would feed people he’d taken a dislike to through industrial shredding machinery, feet first.

    IIRC it was the Kuwait government that invented the yarn about babies and incubators.

    We do know one horrible thing about the Regime of the Clinton Crime Family and its attitude to Iraqis.

  16. I believe it’s the case (source is Charles Allen’s wonderful book Soldier Sahibs, but my memory of the book may be playing me false) that as a manner of execution being blown from a gun was seen as being far preferable to being hanged – which would of course make total sense, given how long a traditional hanging can take. Resulting in prisoners falsely claiming to be eligible for the former, rather than latter, punishment.

    Not the best story in that book, of course. “Gentleman, I apologise for being responsible for the lateness of your dinner this evening. I am afraid that I have had to hang your cooks”.

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