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23 Mar 21

How did British society respond — or fail to respond — to the use of torture in its overseas empire after 1945? The most intense period of decolonization was marked by a series of military conflicts known formally as “states of emergency”: counterinsurgencies which targeted anticolonial movements with overwhelming and often brutal violence. In this talk, Erik Linstrum discussed the networks of activists, soldiers, journalists, filmmakers, and others who bridged the gap between the conflict zones of empire and everyday life in Britain. Paradoxically, Linstrum argued, the forms of communication that increased awareness of violence also undermined action to stop it. The history of knowledge about colonial violence is thus not only a story of open secrets, but of tactics that blurred epistemology and ethics. Contemporaries insisted on the unknowability of definitive evidence of violence, distinguished between knowledge and the duty to act on it, and valorized the acceptance of “hard truths.”

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