Military history is the scholarly field in which the concerns of the present day press most keenly on the study of the past, and no issue in British imperial history has greater contemporary relevance than that of the means by which agents of the colonial state suppressed dissidence and elicited complaisance in the last years of their rule. At stake are the personal fortunes of the survivors of colonial insurgency, the reputation and liabilities of the British state and a set of wider questions about how states conduct irregular wars against non-state actors. And for all of these reasons, historians interested in the role of the armed forces and intelligence services in policing the empire and fighting colonial counterinsurgency have often found themselves in conflict with the post-imperial British state over issues of access to the documentary record. Under the Waldegrave Initiative on Open Government, from 1993 the British government has attempted, on the one hand, to grant historians access to some previously classified material, while on the other, retaining its right to arbitrate on which historical documents are made available.
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