The process of decolonization within the British Empire from 1890 to 1997 Essay
The process of decolonization within the British Empire from 1890 to 1997
In reviewing the process of decolonization within the British Empire from 1890 to 1997, how far do you agree that the Boer War was the key turning point in Britain’s relationship with its Empire?
Decolonization is the withdrawal of the British Empire and in turn the granting of sovereignty to the original occupiers of the territory. It has been suggested that the Boer War may have been the main cause of the demise of the British Empire, which can be seen as the key to some extent. The Boer took place between 1899 and 1902 and was between the British and the Dutch, taking place in South Africa. However, other factors such as the two world wars and other independent struggles such as the giving back of India and the Suez Crisis can arguably be seen as contributing to its decline.
The Boer War, which took place in a Dutch Colony in South Africa ultimately ended in the British conquering the Boer’s which, after 3 long years of fighting in a battle that ‘would be over by Christmas,’ did not however, but was successful in severely damaging British pride and her economy. Thus, other nations began to see the British Empire as a diminished force; consequentially leading in Britain losing their label as being the only ‘world super power.’
Milner who along with Chamberlain and Rhodes was later blamed for the whole catastrophe, decided to invade South Africa, on the acclaim that there was an enormous fortune to be made in diamond and gold mining in the Boer republics of the Transvaal. Although Britain won the war, they were not successful however in each battle and proved that the army was not as strong as it was first seen and portrayed. A number of battles took place, such as The Battle of Colenso, as well as battles in Valkanas, Pieter’s Hill, and the siege of Ladysmith, Kimberly, and Meeting.
The British were unfamiliar with these ‘savages,’ tactics and this often lead to ‘bush fighting,’ which the English thought to be the wrong way in conducting war. In a letter to Gorge Hull in Kimberley from Walter Hart Wayland near Belmont, Wayland stated that ‘My own opinion is that the Boers will make but a poor stand when once active operations against them begin,’ referring to how the troops from Orange River will ‘drive the Boers across the boarder.’ At first the Boers were thought to have not been in the area, which was to be a rather over-confident comment seeing as the British walked straight into an ambush of Boers. 900 were killed on the Magersfontein Hill, using unconventional fighting methods, The loss of 22,000 lives and ï¿½222,000,000 caused the Boer War to be a humiliating experience for the British. How could they be considered one of the world’s elites when it faced so many struggles fighting against ‘savages,’ in their own colonies?
Anti Imperialism grew as a substational amount of the British Public began to disagree with the Government and its tactics. The anti-Boer feeling that was spread by Milner, lead to Britain making an enemy out of the Dutch, and seeing as Holland was so close by, it was not particularly helpful that potential allies disliked each other. Boer General J.C. Smuts, late Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa concluded that ‘Lord Kitchener has begun to carry out a policy in both (Boer) republic of unbelievable barbarism and gruesomeness which violates the most elementary principles of the international rules of war,’ which depicts the fact that the British were meant to be ‘civilizing’ the world, and put them in a bad light in the British press back home.
The fact that many women and children were killed under British hands, in concentration camps surely proves that even they weren’t acting in the normal ‘British manner.’ This also backs up the statistic that 75% who were killed died from horrific conditions and diseases alone.
In conclusion, although the Boer war highlighted weaknesses in the British army; draining their sources and creating a low British morale, it was not the only factor in decolonization and does not necessarily mean than the British were any less of a strong and powerful elite (apart from of course considering the damage done to the military and economic sectors.) It could even be considered that although the Boer War was overshadowed by the extreme loss of life and money, it helped highlight Britain in the sense that it highlighter her weaknesses and in putting an end to ‘splendid isolation,’ she began to search for allies in the form of the Anglo Japanese.
There have been two theories as to the reasons behind the decolonization of India. The first theory, from an Indian perspectives depicts the idea that the Indians drove the British out through a substantional rise in Nationalism. The other argument which is believed by some historians is that after WW1, India was no longer economically viable or useful to the British, and so decolonizing it seemed like a good option as trading with India for goods such as spices was no longer needed.
European Civilization threatened the traditions of India causing tensions between the Indians and the British as well as the fear that the British were trying to insert the Catholic church into India, causing a backlash. At first, the British were successful in holding back Indian rebels, an example being the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 where Delhi was struck by rebels. India, however is a vital example of how it seems, the British were driven out indicating that ruling over other countries was just not tolerable anymore.
The decolonization of India can somewhat be put down to a number of acts and protests on behalf of the Indian People. One person who particularly helped the movement was Gandhi, who thoroughly believed in peaceful protest stating ‘Violent means will give violent freedom.’ He was not against the British as such, but wanted India to run under it’s own government, once stating “I think it would be a good idea,’ referring to what he thought about western civilization.
When India declared their Independence, it became apparent that Nationalist pride would soon swoop through the other colonies too. This may explain the speech made by the British Prime minister in which I quote ‘the wind of change is blowing through Africa…’ suggesting that in this day and age the Government knew that Britain keeping hold of her colonies was no longer socially acceptable; of course the fact that America were threatening to invade if Britain did not ‘release,’ her colonies in the name of a free marker may have contributed, whereby Africa’s colonies received their independence from 1957-1964.
When World War One erupted, all intentions were focused on protecting Britain and so making a profit from trading with Empires was not the key issue anymore. However, the people living in the colonies proved to be useful to the British as they fought along side them. For those indigenous people this merely provoked nationalistic views, as they didn’t believe they should be forced to fight in a war which they did not involve them.
A fear in communism also irrupted around this time, and so the elites who were making a profit from the colonies, were distracted by the fear of losing money elsewhere. This took the limelight from decolonisation, which was by this time not the countries main priorities.
Therefore it can be suggested that World War One was more inflectional in the process of decolonization than any of the other factors mentioned due to the sheer number of impacts it had on Britain. It completely crippled the economy, as most wars would’ but this one was far more costly than the Boer war.
An example of how the war affected the British economy would be when there was an economic boom in 1919-20 in America after Britain bought substantional amounts of ammunition from them, and finished with the Wall Street Crash on 1929 in which the British decided to go on the notions of lasses faire which lead to ‘inflation, strikes and increased wages,’ taken from the encyclopedia of world history.’ The government responded with the Emergency Powers Act (1920), restoring its wartime emergency authority.’ Overall, the British economy was crippled, and cost the Government 8 billion pounds, taking women out of work and placing soldiers back into it, as well as paying for reparations and causing a huge rise in foreign debt; making maintaining the Empire far less important.
I believe the British and the rest of the world superpowers who formerly had colonies never really relinquished full control of former colonial countries back to the indigenous occupiers. I believe decolonization is a concept that does not really exist as the former colonizers have maintained a portion of control over the societies by means of military, economic and political influences. An example of such control being exerted is the neo-colonial control being orchestrated by the West today on poor countries such as ones in Africa.
However, in the context of decolonization it is arguable to say that World War One was the most significant factor as it completely took the focus away from the Empire and crippled Britain’s economy so much so that the Empire was becoming more of a nuisance than a profitable cause. This, coupled with a post war anti colonial Government, I think were the main reasons which spurred on decolonization. Although Nationalism in her colonies was clearly on the rise, it can not be disputed that after World War One, decolonization was no longer economically or morally viable anymore and out weighed the benefits of keeping on the Empire.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 6 September 2017
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