The empire of violence : strategies of British rule in India and Ireland in the aftermath of the Great War
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This dissertation focuses on British imperial violence in India and Ireland just after the First World War. It compares incidents of violence in each place to argue that British violent repression was an essential component of the imperial system. It also analyzes the public reaction to these events to show new, sharp divisions in British politics that had significant implications for the fate of Ireland, then waging a war for independence. Specifically, this dissertation compares, by way of case studies, the “Amritsar Massacre” of April 13, 1919 and the administration of martial law in Punjab, to the ways in which Crown Forces exacted reprisals against unarmed civilians during the Irish war for independence, including the incident of November 21, 1920, commonly referred to as “Bloody Sunday,” when British ex-military officers opened fire on a crowd watching an Irish football match. The authorities in Punjab and Ireland committed reprehensible acts that resulted in official government inquiries. The Hunter Committee, as the inquiring body into the Punjab incidents is known, condemned the shooting at Amritsar. The Government of India forced the officer responsible, General Dyer, to retire. The British reaction to this was sharply divided between Conservatives and Irish Unionists who championed Dyer and Liberals, Indian and Irish nationalists who felt the government had been too lenient on the man. Similarly, countless voices decried the excesses of imperialism and the use of reprisals against the Irish Republican Army (IRA), but for varied reasons. The public reaction to these Irish and Indian developments, along with British policy, transpired in the context of a “crisis of empire.” Britain was beset by unrest not only in Ireland and India, but also in Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. Colonial nationalists radicalized by the war and Wilsonian notions of self-determination demanded self-government while Britain fought fiscal insolvency, domestic unrest, Bolshevism and Pan-Islamism. In this global context, concessions to moderate nationalists would have to be made and coercion used only as a last resort. In this sense the imperial system was changing, and the old guard stood determined to fight it.