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11-08-2015, 17:21

THE DECLINE OF EMPIRE

The war was a transforming force that weakened Europe's abiUty to maintain its Asian and African empires, and it pointed toward a new relationship between the developed and underdeveloped portions of the globe. The participation of large numbers of Indian troops in the British war effort was matched by the role that troops and laborers from French North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and Indochina played in France's war effort. In India, the need for that crucial part of the British Empire to cooperate with the war effort had led to significant change. In August 1917, the British made what historian Judith M. Brown called "a critical departure" by announcing that they were committed to bringing Indians into every branch of the administration and gradually developing institutions of self-government. India was not, in the reformers' view, to become independent, but rather to become similar to white portions of the empire in governing itself under the supervision of the home country. In 1919 the promised reforms got under way. Thus began "a process of adaptation which finally broke the imperial bonds tying India to Britain."io The transforming forces were also at work in Africa. As Robin Hallett has put it, "Wartime service was a powerful solvent in breaking down the isolation of many African communities, while the spectacle of white men trying to kill each other served to erode the mystique of unquestioned white superiority."! i In Egypt, a major staging ground for the Gallipoli operations in 1915 and then for General Allenby's offensive against the Ottoman Empire, the stationing of hundreds of thousands of British troops heightened prewar opposition to the British presence and led to the founding of the important Wafd nationalist party that would bid for Egyptian independence. In the aftermath of the war, Germany's African possessions were transferred to France, Britain, and Belgium as mandates under the authority of the League of Nations. This served to put the governing role of the European powers in question in regions such as British Tanganyika (formerly German East Africa) under some international scrutiny, and they were now bound to govern these territories with a view toward their eventual independence. To the combination of a diminished Europe and colonial peoples aware of their contribution to the war effort was added Woodrow Wilson's universalist rhetoric about the self-determination of peoples. The outward form and size of the colonial empires seemed intact, but the framework in which they existed had now begun to change in a way not visible before 1914. It would take the later impact of World War II—which weakened Europe even more severely and again required the British and French governments to rely on the populations of their empires—to bring the empires down by the 1960s.

 

 

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