Professor compares British Empire to Japan's treatment of WWII PoWs

Professor compares British Empire to Japan’s savage treatment of PoWs during World War II

  • Corinne Fowler compared British Empire with Japan’s treatment of WWII PoWs 
  • She was among those to publish a reported outing National Trust links to slavery
  • Sir John Hayes criticised her comments as ‘blinkered and blinded’

A controversial academic was branded ‘crass’ yesterday for comparing the British Empire with Japan’s brutal treatment of prisoners during the Second World War.

Corinne Fowler made the ‘extraordinary conflation’ while discussing her belief that Britons were reluctant to talk about the country’s past links to slavery.

Professor Fowler was one of the publishers of a 115-page report last September that ‘outed’ many National Trust properties for having links to slavery. 

Among them was Chartwell – Winston Churchill’s home in Kent – because he had once been Colonial Secretary.

Controversial academic Corinne Fowler compared the British Empire with Japan’s brutal treatment of prisoners during the Second World War

In her latest comments on Britain’s links to slavery, she said: ‘One of the parallels we might think about is perhaps Japan, thinking about how they treated prisoners of war.

‘That’s more uncomfortable for them to study and think about than the more obvious national successes.’ 

Professor Fowler, an expert in post-colonial literature at the University of Leicester, told the Chopper’s Politics podcast that when pupils are taught about slavery, ‘we tend to focus on abolition, rather than how formative it was in that much longer history of British involvement with slavery’.

She added: ‘It’s perhaps just that we sometimes confuse patriotism with public relations. And history is something different because really I think it’s not unpatriotic to tell the truth or look at evidence.’

But Sir John Hayes, chairman of the Common Sense Group of Tory MPs which was set up to defend the UK’s history and traditions, criticised the ‘blinkered and blinded’ comments.

He said: ‘These are, frankly, slightly crass comparisons. It’s an extraordinary conflation to compare British history over the last 400 years with Japan’s, which is what Corinne Fowler is effectively doing.’

Another Tory MP, Giles Watling, said: ‘The British Empire had its flaws but it wasn’t the total militaristic domination of other people and it was of its time, not a thing to be ashamed of. The Japanese treatment of prisoners of war was just outrageous.’

Professor Fowler also said she had recently discovered her family’s connection to slavery.

‘My ancestors, for example, were slave owners in Haiti, they were pretty nasty about it,’ she said. ‘But then there are descendants of people who were enslaved in this country.

‘So we can come together around these histories to really have a fuller, more global understanding of the past. And it’s just really important not to weaponise this subject but to talk about it sensibly and talk about evidence and understand in the fullest sense our 400 years of being an empire.’

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