Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hussein Onyango and Obama's longstanding grudge against England

Several months ago, I searched for an article, I had once read, pertaining to Barack Obama's grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, and the alleged suffering he had endured while being imprisoned by the British army during WW 2. This information, I believed, would shed some light as to why the President had given former British PM, Gordon Brown an unusually chilly reception at the White House last year. It would also explain why the President felt compelled to remove a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office shortly after he was sworn into office - in February 0f 2009.

But unfortunately, I came up short, and couldn't relocate this piece of information. However, upon hearing Rush Limbaugh discuss this subject on his radio program today, I decided to give it another go, and managed to find the information within minutes.

The following article is from the January 16, 2009 edition of the London Evening Standard. You may prefer to read the article there in its entirety. It's definitely an interesting read, and one that offers the reader a glimpse into the President's peculiar psyche, and his idiosyncratic policies/agenda:
Will Obama forgive Britain for his grandfather’s torture?

SIXTY years ago, a Kenyan working for a British Army officer in Nairobi was incarcerated in a high-security prison. The 54-year-old cook had become involved in his country's struggle for independence and his British captors brutally tortured him to extract information about the insurgency that later became known as the Mau Mau rebellion.

According to the cook's family, the British held him for two years during which he was "whipped every morning and evening". "They would sometimes squeeze his testicles with metal rods," they recalled...

That cook, we now know, was Hussein Onyango Obama, the paternal grandfather of the American President-elect Barack Obama. His beatings at the hands of the British Army, alongside whom he'd served in Burma during the Second World War, had left him, his family say, "prematurely aged", with "permanent physical scars" and "a lifelong loathing of the British".

On the eve of Tuesday's historic inauguration of the first black US President, we may pause to wonder: has the torture of his grandfather affected Obama's feelings towards the British? Might it subtly impact American foreign policy and the primacy of the so-called "special relationship" between the US and Britain?

These questions are perhaps not as fanciful as they may seem. Obama has no obvious link to Britain and is likely to be the least Anglophile American leader in decades. Unlike Bill Clinton, who was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, and George W Bush, who venerated Winston Churchill and kept a bust of him in the Oval Office, all Obama has is a grandfather who was tortured by British colonialists...

In his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father, [Obama] gives great prominence - 35 pages - to his grandfather's life story as told to him by his step-grandmother Sarah on his first trip to his ancestral home in western Kenya in 1986, prefacing it as follows: "It had all started with him. If I could piece together his story, everything else might fall into place."

When Sarah had finished, Obama recounts, he dropped to the ground between the graves of his father and grandfather and wept. "When my tears were spent I felt the circle finally close. I saw that my life in America - the black life, the white life, the sense of abandonment I'd felt as a boy - all of it was connected with this small plot of earth an ocean away. The pain I felt was my father's pain. My questions were my brothers' questions. Their struggle, my birthright."

He tells of his grandfather's shocking physical state after his release by the British. "When he returned to Alego he was very thin and dirty. He had difficulty walking, and his head was full of lice. From that day on he was an old man." At another point in his book, he describes sitting on an airplane next to "a pale, gangly young Brit still troubled with acne" and feeling a "flush of anger" and wondering, "Was I angry at him?"

If, as Obama poetically puts it, his pain is his father's pain, and by implication his grandfather's, has he internalized his ancestor's embitterment against the British?

Interestingly, some foreign policy briefing papers currently circulating on Capitol Hill raise this very question. Wess Mitchell, co-founder of the independent think-tank the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, says there has been speculation as to whether Obama's putative "submerged psychological grievance" might affect a special relationship that goes back decades - to Ronald Reagan's powerful chemistry with Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair's "third way" consanguinity with Bill Clinton...

[Some] political analysts say Obama's background - white American mother, black African father - has taught him to see racism through both lenses. "He's not going to bear a grudge," says Stryker McGuire, an expert in Anglo-American relations and the former London bureau chief of Newsweek. "He's likely to view the torture in the broader context of the ills of colonialism, and might even see parallels with American abuses of power."

But Richard King, professor emeritus of American history at Nottingham University, wonders what Obama really feels about his grandfather's story. "He's constructed an adult self that handles personal racial situations with such coolness that it's hard to know what he truly feels, but his grandfather's story seems to have deeply affected him and how it gets woven into his performance as President is going to be fascinating to watch."

As Barack tells it, Hussein Onyango Obama was born in 1895 - the year that the 600-mile-long railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria was begun by the British... During the Second World War, Onyango left his family to serve as cook to a British Army captain and traveled with the regiment to Burma, Ceylon and Arabia before returning home three years later.

Barack listened to Sarah, now 88, telling him this story, a feeling of "betrayal" came over him, he says. "My image of Onyango was of an independent man, a man of his people, opposed to white rule. What Granny told us scrambled that image completely, causing ugly words to flash across my mind. Uncle Tom. Collaborator. House nigger."

But Onyango's life was about to take a dramatic turn. He'd returned from the war at the age of 50 to find things changing rapidly and his countrymen clamoring for independence. At first he was skeptical it would amount to anything but in 1949 he appears to have got caught up in events and was imprisoned, accused of being "a subversive" and of passing sensitive information to the fledgling independence movement.

In his book, Obama says only that his grandfather "received a hearing" and was "found innocent" after being held "for more than six months", but recently Sarah elaborated, saying that he had supplied information to the insurgents...

Sarah added: "He was arrested by two soldiers and taken to Kamiti prison outside Nairobi. This was like a death camp because some detainees died while being tortured. We were not allowed to see him, not even taking him food. He was told he would be killed or maimed if he refused to reveal what he knew of the insurgency. This was the time we realized that the British were actually not friends but enemies...

According to Sarah, the "fighting combative spirit" shown by her husband during Kenya's independence struggle lives on in his grandson, Barack.

It's a quality the new American president will need in abundance when he is sworn in on Tuesday. Gordon Brown is unlikely to be the first national leader invited to Washington but it remains to be seen whether Obama's grandfather will, from the grave, dent the special relationship.
Indeed, it seems as if Obama's grandfather has already, from the grave, dented that special relationship. Obama's psyche and his political agenda have been greatly shaped by his grandfather's past.

But in truth, Obama's mindset has been molded by a great many luminaries, who are not counted among his kin, including the distinguished Reverend, Jeremiah Wright; the venerable die-hard communist, Frank Marshall Wright, and a host of American patriots and veritable heroes, who've kindly bequeathed unto this nation, not only their incredible and inspiring legacies, but also one of the greatest American Presidents of all time, Barack Obama.

I leave the reader with one final question to ponder:

Why does Barack Obama choose to express his grievances solely with Britain, and America - because of slavery - and yet, he - and Louis Farrakhan and Rev. Wright, for that matter - seem to be completely enthralled by the very countries who sold their ancestors into slavery?

Go figure!

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