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A thoroughly jaundiced view of the history of the British Empire can be found on the Athena Learning DVD tersely titled "Empire." Written and hosted by Jeremy Paxman, it tells the shameful story of how Britain decided it was in charge of the world—or at least those parts of it not already inhabited by whites—and destined to make those parts thoroughly British.

There are five hour-long episodes in this 2-disc set, each looking at the subject from different points of view. "A Taste for Power" discusses the taking over of (mostly) India by diplomacy and broken promises and by military troops. "Making Ourselves at Home" shows how the families of the governors and soldiers took over acres of land and built British-style homes and clubs.

"Playing the Game" connects the goal of the "public" schools to make no-nonsense hard playing Christians out of the boys who would carry these ideas when they went to rule countries of which they knew or understood nothing. (This is where Michael Palin of Monty Python appears briefly to heighten the absurdity of that mindset.)

"Making a Fortune" is the most shameful of all: the slave trade, forcing opium on the Chinese, and other indications of what being religious meant to them back then. Finally, "Doing Good" starts with the sincere attempts of Dr. Livingston to spread his religion to the Africans (he succeeded, we are told, in making a single conversion!) and goes on to the otherwise motivated British such as Cecil Rhodes, who wanted power.


The feeling of history repeating itself (this is being written two days after the attack on Paris by ISIS) comes from the story of how the Mau Maus decided that Kenya was for the Kenyans and did something about it by decapitating the most prominent of the British governors. The British reaction, as always, was even crueler; but that is all part of believing that one's way is the right way.

The greatest irony of all is today's white Brits complaining of all the commonwealth people in their cities. Of course, they had no part in the original crimes against humanity done by the past regimes; but they are reaping the whirlwind. Will other governments around the world ever learn what it is to consider their culture superior and therefore to have the "right" to advise other nations how to act?

This should be required viewing for those in power who can so easily abuse it and then wonder why nobody likes them.

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts and Entertainment section. Visit for past reviews.