Trust me on this; moral courage is far rarer than physical courage. I heard something on the radio a couple of days ago about soldiers and killing. It mentioned that soldiers who weren’t sure they were doing the right thing when they opened fire often had problems later dealing with what they’d done. It also made the point that most soldiers don’t actually shoot at the enemy anyway. I think it came out that two or three British paratroopers, highly motivated troops usually, were responsible for most of the 13 deaths on Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland in 1972; one of the few occasions in which ballistic evidence is available.
Anyway, that got me to wondering what the Scots Guardsmen who took part in the 1948 Batang Kali Massacre in Malaya had been told. The cold-blooded murder of around two dozen ethnic-Chinese rubber plantation workers can’t have been easy to talk a bunch of National Servicemen into committing. We know from affidavits provided in the 1970s to a British Sunday newspaper by some of members of the patrol involved in the massacre that they were told if they didn’t want to take part, they could guard the women and children. We know that the official version that the plantation workers were shot while trying to escape is tosh. But I for one am unclear to exactly what the Guardsmen were told by their commanders to justify the massacre. The arrival of trucks to take the women and children away from the plantation makes it obvious that this was not the work of a “rogue” or out-of-control patrol. They came through the jungle rather than along the road because they believed that offered the best chance of catching communist guerrillas at the plantation. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the plantation workers were indeed active supporters of the guerrillas, and some of them might even have been more involved than that. But the British Government doesn’t want you or me to know what was going on that terrible day in December 1948. It recently refused to hold a proper inquiry and in 1993 successfully persuaded the Malaysian Government to abandon its attempts to get at the truth. Once again, I ask: “Who is the British Government protecting?” I’d be very surprised if it’s a bunch of squaddies.