Who was Guilty of Starting the Boer War?

Michael Willis focuses on the origins of the Boer War in a way that could make for a stimulating role-play.

British people fought, followed and supported the second Boer War of 1899-1902 with infectious enthusiasm. Historians have their doubts about how deep-rooted this enthusiasm was in the working class, but when British troops relieved a small force besieged at Mafeking in May 1900 hundreds of thousands went on to the streets intoxicated by military success. War news excited a record million people to buy the patriotic, imperialist Daily Mail. The war was the main issue in the 1900 general election won overwhelmingly by the Conservative government which seemed to have won the war.

All this produced a bad hangover. Quick victories on the battlefield were followed by an 18-month guerrilla war when the British invented the concentration camp.

The Elgin Commission’s report in 1903 exposed all kinds of military inefficiencies in running the war, and there was some short-term disillusionment with imperialism. Later the British government introduced extensive self-government for the Boers when they created the new Union of South Africa in 1910. The war soon looked like a big mistake. Why had it been fought and who was guilty of starting it?

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