Manual End of Empire

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Asian American Critique and the Cold War
  1. The Atlantic Crossword
  2. The End of the Empire -
  3. End of empire
  4. The Historian 134: The End of Empire
  5. Robin Winks

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The Atlantic Crossword

By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Disambiguation page providing links to topics that could be referred to by the same search term This disambiguation page lists articles associated with the title End of empire.

If an internal link led you here, you may wish to change the link to point directly to the intended article. The British, as a result, were often involved in a three-sided contest. Battles for imperial survival had to be fought both with the native inhabitants and with already existing settlers — usually of French or Dutch origin. None of this has been, during the year post-colonial period since , the generally accepted view of the empire in Britain. The British understandably try to forget that their empire was the fruit of military conquest and of brutal wars involving physical and cultural extermination.

A self-satisfied and largely hegemonic belief survives in Britain that the empire was an imaginative, civilising enterprise, reluctantly undertaken, that brought the benefits of modern society to backward peoples. Indeed it is often suggested that the British empire was something of a model experience, unlike that of the French, the Dutch, the Germans, the Spaniards, the Portuguese — or, of course, the Americans.

The End of the Empire -

This benign, biscuit-tin view of the past is not an understanding of their history that young people in the territories that once made up the empire would now recognise. A myriad revisionist historians have been at work in each individual country producing fresh evidence to suggest that the colonial experience — for those who actually "experienced" it — was just as horrific as the opponents of empire had always maintained that it was, perhaps more so.

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New generations have been recovering tales of rebellion, repression and resistance that make nonsense of the accepted imperial version of what went on. Focusing on resistance has been a way of challenging not just the traditional, self-satisfied view of empire, but also the customary depiction of the colonised as victims, lacking in agency or political will.

End of empire

The theme of repression has often been underplayed in traditional accounts. A few particular instances are customarily highlighted — the slaughter after the Indian mutiny in , the massacre at Amritsar in , the crushing of the Jamaican rebellion in These have been unavoidable tales. Yet the sheer scale and continuity of imperial repression over the years has never been properly laid out and documented. No colony in their empire gave the British more trouble than the island of Ireland. No subject people proved more rebellious than the Irish.

The British often perceived the Irish as "savages", and they used Ireland as an experimental laboratory for the other parts of their overseas empire, as a place to ship out settlers from, as well as a territory to practise techniques of repression and control. Entire armies were recruited in Ireland, and officers learned their trade in its peat bogs and among its burning cottages. Some of the great names of British military history — from Wellington and Wolseley to Kitchener and Montgomery — were indelibly associated with Ireland.

The particular tradition of armed policing, first patented in Ireland in the s, became the established pattern until the empire's final collapse.

The Historian 134: The End of Empire

For much of its early history, the British ruled their empire through terror. The colonies were run as a military dictatorship, often under martial law, and the majority of colonial governors were military officers. Normal judicial procedures were replaced by rule through terror; resistance was crushed, rebellion suffocated. No historical or legal work deals with martial law. It means the absence of law, other than that decreed by a military governor. Britain's harsh treatment of sepoy mutineers at Manjee in , with the order that they should be "shot from guns", was a terrible warning to others not to step out of line. Mutiny, as the British discovered a century later in , was a formidable weapon of resistance at the disposal of the soldiers they had trained. To defend its empire, to construct its rudimentary systems of communication and transport, and to man its plantation economies, the British used forced labour on a gigantic scale.

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From the middle of the 18th century until , the use of non-indigenous black slave labour originally shipped from Africa was the rule. When black slavery was abolished in the s, the thirst for labour by the rapacious landowners of empire brought a new type of slavery into existence, dragging workers from India and China to be employed in distant parts of the world, a phenomenon that soon brought its own contradictions and conflicts. As with other great imperial constructs, the British empire involved vast movements of peoples: armies were switched from one part of the world to another; settlers changed continents and hemispheres; prisoners were sent from country to country; indigenous inhabitants were corralled, driven away into oblivion, or simply rubbed out.

There was nothing historically special about the British empire. Virtually all European countries with sea coasts and navies had embarked on programmes of expansion in the 16th century, trading, fighting and settling in distant parts of the globe.

Robin Winks

Sometimes, having made some corner of the map their own, they would exchange it for another piece "owned" by another power, and often these exchanges would occur as the byproduct of dynastic marriages. World empire, in the sense of a far-flung operation far from home, was a European development that changed the world over four centuries.

In the British case, wherever they sought to plant their flag, they were met with opposition. In almost every colony they had to fight their way ashore. While they could sometimes count on a handful of friends and allies, they never arrived as welcome guests.

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The expansion of empire was conducted as a military operation. The initial opposition continued off and on, and in varying forms, in almost every colonial territory until independence.