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International Coalition for British Reparations: People of the World, it's Time to get Paid.

A $58 Trillion Call For British Reparations

02.14.2007 - The Daily Pennsylvanian

So reads the motto for the International Coalition for British Reparations, founded by Philadelphia advertising executive Steven Grasse.

Claiming that Britain is responsible for all the world's troubles, the ICBR wants the British government to pay reparations equaling a total of $58 trillion to be distributed equally to every man, woman and child on earth - except, of course, the British.

Because the British, the ICBR alleges, are to blame for all the world's bad inventions, including - but not limited to - genocide, machine guns and the Black Plague.

And yes, Grasse is completely serious, even if he admits to a bit of falsification (coincidentally, the machine gun was invented by a guy from Maine).

"Young people take it at face value that we live in an evil country," Grasse said. "We're trying to get young Americans to stand up and realize that everything isn't our fault."

Instead, Grasse says, it's all Britain's fault.

"Its really a funny idea, but when you dig into it, you realize, holy shit, it's true," he said.

Or is it?

Penn History professor Jonathan Steinberg noted the Magna Carta, the establishment of the first free market for books and newspapers and the abolition of slavery - almost 60 years before the U.S. - as rebuttals to the idea that Britain only contributed evil to the world.

"Britain was an empire like any empire," he said. "It did a lot of good things."

But Grasse is adamant about his thesis, which will be discussed at length in his book, The Evil Empire: 101 Ways that Britain Ruined the World. To be published on April 23 (the Queen's birthday), it will catalogue what Grasse thinks are Britain's most egregious failures over the years.

The book, which accuses Britain of making cocaine look cool and playing nice with Hitler, is meant to be entertaining, while still prompting legitimate discussion about Britain's historical record.

And in a world where The Daily Show has become a popular news source, Grasse feels young people are more likely to read this kind of history.

"It's designed to make you angry," he says.

And a few are getting angry - ICBR's petition for reparations money has garnered close to 800 signatures, and the Web site gets hundreds of hits a day.

Grasse even tried to get a commercial shown through Comcast on Fox News's The O'Reilly Factor. The spot was eventually pulled, and a Comcast representative said the company reserves the right to drop any ads that are false, unsubstantiated or misleading, though she didn't know any specifics about Grasse's ad.

Grasse acknowledges that $58 trillion for Britain's supposed injustices may be a bit too much to push for.

But that's not necessarily the point: "The goal is to get Britain to apologize for colonialism and past wrongs," he says.

And even though the movement does maintain a serious agenda, humor remains at the core of its mission.

"It's performance art," Grasse said. "It's very serious, but very cheeky."

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