Vol. XVI No. 1, Spring 1996

Book Reviews

Carruthers, Susan L. Winning Hearts and Minds: British Governments, the Media and Colonial Counter-Insurgency 1944-1960. London and New York: Leicester University Press, 1995.

This is an important and useful book. Its central theme is that of the presentation by British governments of four major post-1945 colonial counter insurgency campaigns to the metropolitan British public, their electorate. As Carruthers sets out in her introduction, this news management had to take place in the general climate of opinion of the post-1945 years, that colonial empires were anachronistic, as well as the developing Cold War and a need to justify British policy against United States or Soviet Union criticism, especially the latter.

In the first case study dealing with Palestine Carruthers notes that Jewish terrorists were portrayed as a gangster virus infecting a Jewish community already unstable and suffering from a martyr complex. The London government had to show that the British public was solidly anti-terrorist for domestic political rea sons and to impress the United States. Government communiques, persuasion of newspaper editors to send out journalists considered sound, contacts with leading journalists, parliamentary speeches and answers to staged questions, control of the speed of news release to ensure the official side secured advantage, the dispelling of allegations of security force excesses and whispering that a Jewish victory would lead to oppression of the Arabs were all employed, one aim being to try thereby to persuade the Jewish Agency to disavow terrorism. The difficulties facing London's news management were certain differences between the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office, fears that too much concentration on Jewish terrorists would lead to anti-Semitism in Britain, and above all the absence of any clear viable British policy for Palestine.

Shortage of newsprint paper and a measure of immediate post-war apathy limited public attention on Palestine. Sheer distance was to have the same effect on public interest in the Malayan campaign. Here, for some considerable time, semantics were seen as an important presentational factor, and the insurgents were to be portrayed as illegitimate "bandits." Only after the arrival of General Templer, toward whom Carruthers is unnecessarily critical, was the term "CT" (Communist Terrorist) used instead, as part of a claim, dubiously founded, of Kremlin direction of the insurgents, and one a little more credible that a terrorist victory would lead to Chinese oppression of the Malays. More usefully London, despite again differences between the Foreign and Colonial Offices, was able to make much of the beneficial side of colonial rule and the promise of independ ence. Carruthers argues that London's main concern was the conversion of newly independent or emerging Asian nations to the causes of the West rather than those of communism or China.

In the case of Kenya, Carruthers stresses the bureaucratic mismatches between the Colonial Office, the colonial government and on occasions the military command. While accepting that the overall news management in Kenya was the most successful of the four campaigns studied, she notes that the ground was especially favorable. Mau Mau could be presented "with an image in accord with the popular stereotype of the untrained African," so securing a general "remarkably consensual position in the British press," though criticism of security force excesses was never spared. In discussing technique Carruthers sets out the Colonial Office aversion to the wish of the Foreign Office's Information Research Department (a descendant of the Second World War Political Warfare Executive) to portray Mau Mau as communist-inspired. She also, perceptively, observes the use of iconography in the production of official photographs smart African soldiers and policemen contrasted with scruffy Mau Mau.

The last campaign studied, Cyprus, did not carry a British press consensus. The official line that EOKA (National Organization of Cypriot Fighters) repre sented only a small terrorist faction held only diminishing credibility and many papers sympathized with Greek aspirations. Other themes developed by London were a good colonial record, the position of the Turkish minority, fear of com munist profit from any conflict with NATO, and Western strategic needs. Carruthers describes, wryly, the about turn that had to be made in the case of Archbishop Makarios, in the early stages the principal villain but at the end the interlocuteur valable. From this she judges the London propaganda and news management effort (which had had to include censorship in Cyprus and the jamming of Athens radio) as successful only in the short-term. In her conclusion she claims, jus tifiably, to have shown that British governments had both a wish and a need to mediate the public perception of events.

This reviewer would add only a few comments to this brief summary of a very full scholarly work. It is not easy to decolonize. British governments had to be very sensitive to any Churchillian charges of "scuttle." Whether in Palestine in 1948 or the Falklands in 1982, a London government could not accept a situation of being thrown out. Carruthers mentions the despatch of young sol diers, but this theme could have been developed further. Conscription, necessary if Britain was to fight even small-scale colonial campaigns and maintain a Rhine Army, was politically unpopular, but the need for it had to be made clear to the electorate. There were also military casualties, a notable one being the only son of a greatly respected Field Marshal and former Viceroy of India, and these too had to be justified. The work occasionally digresses into fascinating sidelines, such as insurgent propaganda and the propaganda measures taken by local co lonial governments; these latter in Malaya included voice aircraft, black propa ganda, community listening receivers and leaflets. Intriguing though these are the work would have benefited more from a concluding chapter on the last and least successful colonial campaign, Aden, where a major policy change following a change of government in London led to a departure in the form of a military withdrawal over the beaches, a political debacle albeit a military achievement. Aden also included some in-fighting within the British military (over the survival of a Scottish regiment) that impinged on operations, and sharp if wide of the mark controversy over interrogation.

Carruthers admits the difficulty of assessing the overall impact. Perhaps if viewed through a slightly wider lens one might claim that the hearts and minds won were those of the British people, in particular within the Conservative Party, to acceptance of the end of empire. The campaigns with their outcome (except in the case of Aden) in the end acceptable to Britain were not fought, or defended politically, in vain.

Debate on the subject can open with this seminal work, and any library concerned with decolonization will need copies.

Anthony Clayton
De Montfort University