British Empire

The sun never set on the British Empire, until it did. After World War II the balance of power had truly shifted away from this ageing colonial set up. US-led NATO (headed by the Five Eyes) and the USSR-led Warsaw Pact were the dominate global players who frowned upon European colonialism.

In order to establish such a colossal empire a strong naval and merchant fleet was necessary- Britain is an island, to get anywhere else boats were a necessity. So you could say they got pretty good at building them. Liberalism was an essential ideology behind the Empire- trade was how Europe would enact a delicate balance of power in attempts to avoid destructive continent wide wars.

Unfortunately this simply meant outsourcing violence elsewhere on foreign lands. The latent prosperity within colonies would be funnelled back to Britain instead of staying in the region. The origins of the British Empire can be found in the plantations of Ireland.

Britain was a major player in the slave trade. After losing the Thirteen American Colonies in the War of Independence Britain had to look elsewhere on the globe to find somewhere to pillage and oppress in order to sustain itself. The exploration of the Pacific and the foundation of East India Company in Asia ensured that the loss of America would not mean the loss of the Empire.

Decolonisation and decline of the British Empire occurred after World War II. Britain began a largely peaceful disengagement from its colonies, I say largely peaceful because they were only handed off once non-Communist governments and parties were in place to to over. This was the Cold War remember, and anti-imperialism was beaten by anti-Communism any day of the week.

Relics of the British Empire still exist today; the borders of the new nation-states born from ex-colonies were decided by the old powers, governance structures were passed down, language remained, the Commonwealth means that the Queen is still the Head of State for many countries. In 1945 the number of people under British rule outside the UK was around 700 million, by 1965 this had tumbled to five million, three million of which were in Hong Kong. Once Hong Kong was transferred to the Chinese government this number fell again.

The British Empire is often glorified, the narrative of a civilising mission was present throughout its history and still holds sway today. Former colonies are still recovering- the Sykes-Picot agreement is one reason for the strife in Iraq and Syria at the moment. Decisions made hundreds of years ago on an unwilling population are reaching through history to slap us in the face for our mistakes.

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