Postwar Italian governments avoided war-crimes trials for atrocities in Ethiopia or Libya simply by preventing historians from examining the relevant documents in the Ministry of Defence. This sleight of hand is not restricted to a nation in which being furba (crafty) is considered a virtue. This April, the British government decided to ‘regularise’ 2,000 boxes of Foreign and Commonwealth Office files occupying some 110 feet of shelving in an obscure repository. These documents were ‘released’ – to use plain English – because some of their contents were about to be made public, due to court orders in a compensation case brought by four elderly Kenyans who claim they were grievously tortured during the Mau Mau emergency.
While he has not been able to use documents that have not been officially acknowledged for half a century, the US historian Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon has done an outstanding job in assessing British counterinsurgency operations in Palestine, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus and Aden during the winding-down of the empire. The