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Subject: What Event Marked the Decline of the British Empire?
Godofgamblers    3/31/2009 2:45:59 AM
When did the Decline of the British Empire Begin? I think in the case of the French Empire, the beginning of the end was very clear: The War of 1871. The creation of Germany and the military fiasco with Napoleon III at its head was the deathknell of France’s ambitions as a world superpower. The creation of Germany meant an eclipsing of France’s greatness, a new rival (a rival which was much more powerful) and the defeat of Napoleon III dashed all hopes of a New Empire. But for the British, the timing of the decline is much less clear. Some may argue that WW2 ended Britain’s reign as it was destitute and had to relinquish many of its colonies (notably India). I feel that WW1 marked the end; the mass culling of its elites in the suicidal Franco-Prussian War Part 2 killed off the best human resources of the Brit Empire. Some say the Boer War marked the beginning of the end as a handful of brash upstarts managed to better the British army. Or did the decline begin with the US Revolutionary War? Your comments, as always, are much appreciated, Gentlemen…
 
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JFKY    I doubt anyone at any time said,   3/31/2009 3:53:12 PM
"At this moment The (Insert name here) Empire is in decline."  As I say it IS a rhetorical point, but Farwell does have a PhD, in History and IS English so it's not like he hasn't given some thought to the idea.  But I like the point any way, at Majuba Hill, for the first time the natives turned back the Red Coats.  The defeat did embolden the Boers in the Second Boer War, which really was something of a debacle for the British.  The Boers felt that they had turned the Brit's back once and so felt they could do it again, after all they had even more firepower in the 1890's.  After "Bloodying the British Nose" early, the Brit's agreed to the Boer terms, so why not again in 1899?  As I say Farwell says, it's a literary idea, but as he says IF one had to pick one moment at which the Empire could be said to have reached its high water mark and receded...it would be Majuba Hill.
 
Certainly the basis for decline was economic...Britain could no longer out-produce its rivals, such as Germany, the US, or Japan.  Britain began to use diplomacy in order to secure its position, the Japanese Treaty in 1904?  The Entente with France, 1904?  Britain found it very difficult to maintain he Two Power Standard, and after 1919 it abandoned the attempt.  but the ground-work for that abandonment began in the 1880's and 1890's.
 
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gf0012-aust       3/31/2009 5:19:43 PM

Britain's REAL decline occurred when Britain ceased being the dominant World Economic power, sometime in the 1880's/90's.  Certainly by 1900 Britain did not produce as much steel, iron, or coal as Germany and certainly not America.  It meant that Britain would not be the richest nation on the planet or the most militarily dominant.  And that was the decline, the First World War only put the seal on that, actually bankrupting Britain, but the handwriting was on the wall 20-30 years prior to the Versailles Conference or the London Conference or the Washington Conference.

Germany m,ight have out produced Great Britain in metal resources and coal prior to WW1, but they never had the naval power, projection, persistence - and even resource redundnacy via colonies to ever outpunch the British.  WW1 saw the Brits as the dominant naval power (and was regarded as such by the US when the tried to "handcuff" them via the washington treaty.

I'd argue that their first slip from international dominance was via Versaille, and the final nail was the Greek Civil War in 47 when they have to go to the US to get them to hold the line against the Greek  communists as they were bankrupted after 2 world wars.

 
 
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ambush       3/31/2009 6:55:36 PM

  I think the end of the British Empire was at the end of World War II when it started giving up the Empire and or lack the will to defend it.  Granted the Empire had lost economical preeminence in many areas prior to that but it was still a major Naval as well as maritime power.

At the end of World War II the Empire was bankrupt; it could not maintain the Navy necessary to secure its empire and with  it the necessary sea lanes.  

Once again Mahan?s The Influence of Seapower Upon History, 1660-1783, comes into play.

 The United States, sadly, played a role in this fall of the empire.  FDR actually thought he UK would posed a greater threat to post WWII peace than the Soviet and he sought minimize Churchill influence at Yalta as did Truman at Potsdam. It was also the US that pushed for an independent India.  Following World War II it was the US mainly Truman and Ike that pushed Western European powers to shed their colonies.  Let us not forget that whole Suez crisis.  Often this was done before the colonies were able to assume self rule.

 
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Godofgamblers    ambush   3/31/2009 10:15:36 PM

  I think the end of the British Empire was at the end of World War II when it started giving up the Empire and or lack the will to defend it.  Granted the Empire had lost economical preeminence in many areas prior to that but it was still a major Naval as well as maritime power.


At the end of World War II the Empire was bankrupt; it could not maintain the Navy necessary to secure its empire and with  it the necessary sea lanes.  


Once again Mahan?s The Influence of Seapower Upon History, 1660-1783, comes into play.


 The United States, sadly, played a role in this fall of the empire.  FDR actually thought he UK would posed a greater threat to post WWII peace than the Soviet and he sought minimize Churchill influence at Yalta as did Truman at Potsdam. It was also the US that pushed for an independent India.  Following World War II it was the US mainly Truman and Ike that pushed Western European powers to shed their colonies.  Let us not forget that whole Suez crisis.  Often this was done before the colonies were able to assume self rule.



Thanks for your comments. I agree with you, ambush, that by the end of WQW2 the game was up but the decline didn't start with the Battle of France; when the Brits met the Germans they literally dropped their guns and ran at Dunkirk. How did it come to this? How was it that Germany was able to sweep various European powers (two of them superpowers) off the map in a few weeks? I think we have to look back to see the beginning of the decline. I think the Crimean War is a good candidate for the "beginning of the end".

"In an attempt to gain access to the Mediterranean through the Straits, the Russian army had invaded the Ottoman territories of Moldavia and Wallachia. Soon afterwards an Anglo-French army went to the Balkans to prevent the Turkish empire from being controlled by the Russians. The allied troops were landed at Varna and fell prey to cholera almost immediately. In the time that it took to ship out the troops to the Black Sea, Austria-Hungary had demanded that Russia withdraw totally from the two area, which Russia did. So far as the allies were concerned, that left nowhere in the Balkans for them to fight. However, Britain and France were determined to fight Russia somewhere, so they decided to invade the Crimea and destroy the naval base at Sevastopol. They landed at Eupatoria on 14 September 1854, intending to make a one hundred mile triumphal march to Sevastopol the capital of the Crimea, with 50,000 men.

http://www.strategypage.com/militaryforums/cid:image001.jpg@01C9B164.FB00A820" width="308" border="0" alt="" />

The Battle of the Alma. Click on the thumbnail for a larger image

On 20 September 1854 the Battle of the River

 
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Godofgamblers    ambush   3/31/2009 10:16:18 PM

  I think the end of the British Empire was at the end of World War II when it started giving up the Empire and or lack the will to defend it.  Granted the Empire had lost economical preeminence in many areas prior to that but it was still a major Naval as well as maritime power.


At the end of World War II the Empire was bankrupt; it could not maintain the Navy necessary to secure its empire and with  it the necessary sea lanes.  


Once again Mahan?s The Influence of Seapower Upon History, 1660-1783, comes into play.


 The United States, sadly, played a role in this fall of the empire.  FDR actually thought he UK would posed a greater threat to post WWII peace than the Soviet and he sought minimize Churchill influence at Yalta as did Truman at Potsdam. It was also the US that pushed for an independent India.  Following World War II it was the US mainly Truman and Ike that pushed Western European powers to shed their colonies.  Let us not forget that whole Suez crisis.  Often this was done before the colonies were able to assume self rule.



Thanks for your comments. I agree with you, ambush, that by the end of WQW2 the game was up but the decline didn't start with the Battle of France; when the Brits met the Germans they literally dropped their guns and ran at Dunkirk. How did it come to this? How was it that Germany was able to sweep various European powers (two of them superpowers) off the map in a few weeks? I think we have to look back to see the beginning of the decline. I think the Crimean War is a good candidate for the "beginning of the end".

"In an attempt to gain access to the Mediterranean through the Straits, the Russian army had invaded the Ottoman territories of Moldavia and Wallachia. Soon afterwards an Anglo-French army went to the Balkans to prevent the Turkish empire from being controlled by the Russians. The allied troops were landed at Varna and fell prey to cholera almost immediately. In the time that it took to ship out the troops to the Black Sea, Austria-Hungary had demanded that Russia withdraw totally from the two area, which Russia did. So far as the allies were concerned, that left nowhere in the Balkans for them to fight. However, Britain and France were determined to fight Russia somewhere, so they decided to invade the Crimea and destroy the naval base at Sevastopol. They landed at Eupatoria on 14 September 1854, intending to make a one hundred mile triumphal march to Sevastopol the capital of the Crimea, with 50,000 men.

http://www.strategypage.com/militaryforums/cid:image001.jpg@01C9B164.FB00A820" width="308" border="0" alt="" />

The Battle of the Alma. Click on the thumbnail for a larger image

On 20 September 1854 the Battle of the River

 
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Godofgamblers       3/31/2009 10:20:55 PM

The Battle of Majuba Hill, 1881, First Boer War.


Looks interesting.... i'll look it up. thanks buddy.
 
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Godofgamblers       3/31/2009 10:26:49 PM


The Boar War was costly for sure, but it had no impact on the decline of the British Empire. A lot of parallels can be drawn between the British and Roman Empires, but one that stands out here is the dogged determination to ultimately win and the ability to adapt. Even though the Brits were humiliated several times during those wars, they didn't quit and eventually won.In fact, the lessons they learned would prove very useful in future wars.



 

No, the decline started when it lost its industrial dominance towards the end of the 19th century. It got steeper following the massive cost (both in monetary and human terms) of World War One. And World War Two finished it off completely.




Hope that helps.







B.L. 


We share the same opinion, BL. In my mind, WW1 was an aberration in human history and that sort of suicidal wave attack war is a thing of the past. The loss of human capital must have been irreplacalbe as at that time, unlike today, everyone felt it to their duty to sign up, the rich and the poor, the elite and the uneducated, regardless of the fact that it was pure suicide. How did Britain go from brilliant generals and admirals to the butchers that conceived the Battle of the Somme? A real mystery.
 
I'm surprised though that no one has mentioned the American Revolution. Does anyone know the financial loss that the war cost the UK and the loss in the tax take? Was it as significant as the loss of India?
thx
 
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Godofgamblers       3/31/2009 10:33:27 PM

this is an interesting one GoG. i'd usually take the line that a variety of events [rather than one single event] contributed to the decline of the british empire [though this is more because i'm not thoroughly versed in the history of the empire than anything else]. i suppose i could fill in for herald here [though he might disagree] and say that the decline of the RN marked the decline of the empire. i'm sure we can all agree that the navy was pivotal in maintaining global influence and empire. so when the RN began to shrink, so too would the empire. however, i'm not well versed enough in naval history either, so i'm not entirely sure when the RN began to decline significantly [aside from usual fluctuations in size of fleet]. i'd hazard a guess at the washington naval treaty, but i'm most likely incorrect.
BtheB, yes I quite agree, which is why it is an interesting exercise in historiography. It is quite difficult to pinpoint the exact moment but the decline of the navy would be logical. However, what if we turned the question on its head and re-thought it like this:
The decline did not come about in the navy but due to changes in the outside world. The navy remained powerful but the world changed. The navy found itself in a situation where naval power was not a trump card as it once was. In a European war it simply was not enough in itself to do the job. As a worldwide power Mahan's principiles held, but in a pure land war, naval power alone was not enough to decide the issue, and the UK lacked the manpower and industrial base to compete with Germany, in both world wars.

 
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the British Lion       3/31/2009 11:01:03 PM
"I'm surprised though that no one has mentioned the American Revolution. Does anyone know the financial loss that the war cost the UK and the loss in the tax take? Was it as significant as the loss of India?
thx"
 
 
 Sometimes historians split the British Empire into the 1st and 2nd British Empire. The 1st consisting of their North American holdings and the 2nd being more global. The American Revolution is often considered to mark the end of the 1st British Empire (something I personally have never understood, considering Canada wasn't lost, but that's by the by). It is true however that following the American Revolution more effort was put into expanding the empire across the world, and the focal-point of the empire certainly did change, from N. America to India.

It should be noted however, when discussing it in terms of the fall of the empire, that the empire actually did nothing but grow following the Revolution. And in fact, during the Revolutionary War, some islands were captured from France that were actually more profitable to the Brits than the 13 colonies ever were. So the financial loss was mostly offset.

 Sometimes historians split the British Empire into the 1st and 2nd British Empire. The 1st consisting of their North American holdings and the 2nd being more global. The American Revolution is often considered to mark the end of the 1st British Empire (something I personally have never understood, considering Canada wasn't lost, but that's by the by). It is true however that following the American Revolution more effort was put into expanding the empire across the world, and the focal-point of the empire certainly did change, from N. America to India.

It should be noted however, when discussing it in terms of the fall of the empire, that the empire actually did nothing but grow following the Revolution. And in fact, during the Revolutionary War, some islands were captured from France that were actually more profitable to the Brits than the 13 colonies ever were (can't remember the name of them at the minute, I'll look them up later). So the financial loss was mostly offset.


B.L.
 
 
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the British Lion    Woah   3/31/2009 11:02:32 PM


"I'm surprised though that no one has mentioned the American Revolution. Does anyone know the financial loss that the war cost the UK and the loss in the tax take? Was it as significant as the loss of India?


thx"

 


 

 Sometimes historians split the British Empire into the 1st and 2nd British Empire. The 1st consisting of their North American holdings and the 2nd being more global. The American Revolution is often considered to mark the end of the 1st British Empire (something I personally have never understood, considering Canada wasn't lost, but that's by the by). It is true however that following the American Revolution more effort was put into expanding the empire across the world, and the focal-point of the empire certainly did change, from N. America to India.

It should be noted however, when discussing it in terms of the fall of the empire, that the empire actually did nothing but grow following the Revolution. And in fact, during the Revolutionary War, some islands were captured from France that were actually more profitable to the Brits than the 13 colonies ever were. So the financial loss was mostly offset.


 Sometimes historians split the British Empire into the 1st and 2nd British Empire. The 1st consisting of their North American holdings and the 2nd being more global. The American Revolution is often considered to mark the end of the 1st British Empire (something I personally have never understood, considering Canada wasn't lost, but that's by the by). It is true however that following the American Revolution more effort was put into expanding the empire across the world, and the focal-point of the empire certainly did change, from N. America to India.


It should be noted however, when discussing it in terms of the fall of the empire, that the empire actually did nothing but grow following the Revolution. And in fact, during the Revolutionary War, some islands were captured from France that were actually more profitable to the Brits than the 13 colonies ever were (can't remember the name of them at the minute, I'll look them up later). So the financial loss was mostly offset.




B.L.



 
Not sure how that happened... http://strategypage.com/CuteSoft_Client/CuteEditor/Images/emembarrassed.gif" align="absmiddle" border="0" alt="" /> apologies for my sloppy posting!
 
B.L. 
 
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