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In Refence To: Shooting an Elephant by George Orwel

A former police officer George Orwell of the British Empire describes his personal experience with IMPERIALISM.

In Reference To: Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell

This essay is an interesting true story told by a former police officer of the British Empire, about an event that occurred while he was stationed in Burma. It is an interesting war story, told from the trenches of imperialism, by a young Englishman who describes his difficult job as "the dirty work of the Empire." It is a revealing personal account of George Orwell, as one uniformed and armed agent of the British imperial police authority, who has engaged in a cruel act of brutally shooting and torturously killing an elephant, in front of a local/native crowd of "two thousand at least and growing every minute." Orwell explains that it was the appearance of this crowd that was his most compelling reason for shooting and killing the elephant. He describes his desperation as he acts "solely to avoid looking a fool." In the aftermath, this sense of entrapment destroys Orwell's moral certainty and confidence in his ability to present solid and valid reasons for his action.
Interestingly, Orwell defensively rationalizes killing the elephant with reference to the Indian coolie who had been killed by the elephant; he justifies this reasoning for destroying a valuable asset of the British Empire as "it put me legally in the right and it gave me sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant."
"The Burmese population" as Orwell acknowledges "had no weapons" and the fact that "were quite helpless" in times of crises, and as subjects of the Empire, they must resort to the agent and symbol of their hated oppression to provide for their protection as police service in their occupied communities. While "ill-educated" for the job in his official position, an intelligent man like Orwell is certain of his declaration "But, I did not want to shoot the elephant." For Orwell, the actual killing of a peaceful-looking elephant is his defining lesson of enlightenment in the futility of superior power of the British Empire.

An unpretentious Orwell with his confessional narrative style reveals several facts about British imperialism in South East Asia. First, the actions or behavior of those who are in charge and control of invaded/occupied lands, are merely human reactions [responses], to the actions or behavior of the local/native population in the invaded/occupied lands. Orwell clearly describes his own lack of command, of exerting determined control over the crises before the shooting, as he writes: "I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly."
Secondly, the "Imperialist" as an individual invader/occupier is constantly subjected to collective hate and faced with ridicule and scorn of the colonized/oppressed population in the invaded/occupied lands.
Orwell confronts the imperialist social structure that which creates an individual and personal struggle he conclusively defines as: "the struggle not to be laughed at." This transforms the Imperialists in their role of British law enforcement officers to the unintended role of common Indian "sahib" [slave-owner] masters, who must publicly display authority and coercive power in situations and times of crises.
Thirdly and most pertinently, foreign imperialism as an act of control or dominion over the occupied territories is an exercise in futility for it will eventually transform the imperialist. It will increasingly cause disappointment in his own ideals, while he is confronting his anxiety over diminishing degree of his own moral certainty. The "Imperialist", as the creator and enforcer of the social structure of colonization, while engaged in the daily process of applying oppressive economic and political rule, will only act up to the very expectations of his colonized/oppressed people in the invaded/occupied lands. Orwell makes this point explicitly in the following statement:
"... that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys."

Finally, there is this lesson to be learned from history, in this essay, from Orwell's individualized narrative and personalized perspective of events and facts in history: When and where the "Imperialist" is armed with his superior gun by the virtue of his colonialist social structure, as Orwell personally relates to the experience in British colonialism, while he was "standing in front of the unarmed native crowd" in the land of the invaded/occupied, the ruler in the role of a police officer, shall be burdened to act against his better judgment, and will be forced even to shoot and kill an elephant that "looked no more dangerous than a cow." The good judgment of the agent of imperialism will be discarded under the conditions created in torwell.ru/library/articles/elephant/e/e_eleph.htm social environment of colonialism. The system of colonialism/imperialism in practice, will lead to self-destruction of the "Imperialist" simply by constraining him to act and behave as he is expected to act; he shall be compelled to act as a colonizing detestable foreign intruder [in fact, rather than act and lead, he shall be driven and manipulated by the conquered, captured, and entrapped local/native culture and people, to react and re-assert his authority and power].
The "Imperialist" will fail in his reign; will fail in administering, applying, and in enforcing political policies of economic exploitation for the good of the Empire. He will fail eventually by abandoning, by quitting his policy of colonialism over the invaded and occupied territories; he will be debilitated as a dysfunctional agent of imperialist force by either aggressive or passive resentment or resistance. He cannot endure his endeavor against the overwhelming national will of local and native peoples in a place like Moulmein, in lower Burma, for the British Empire; or thereafter, in a place once called Saigon, in lower Vietnam, for the American Empire.

Orwell's story is a required reading for all!
VISIT: orwell.ru/library/articles/elephant/e/e_eleph.htm

homepage: homepage: http://orwell.ru/library/articles/elephant/e/e_eleph.htm

another quote 07.Dec.2006 13:51


I concur an excellent essay by Orwell. One of my most repeated quotes comes from it. In referring to becoming a policeman and an enforcer of empire, Orwell says, "A man wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it." Profound, indeed, and elegantly stated. And a caution for all well meaning people who attempt to change a system by joining it. The power of the role can and usually does overwhelm the individual in that role.

Thanks for the reminder about this great essay.