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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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prometheus       4/1/2009 5:17:00 AM




  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

 
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John G    Bretton Woods   4/1/2009 10:55:03 AM
Bretton Woods in my opinion. Without going into specifics it's when the batton got passed (or snatched) from Britain to America. We were broke after 2 world wars our economic capacity had been smashed and the Americans (absolutely no disrespect intended) came out better than before the war and they took advantage of that like any country would have.. All Americas major competitors had been more or less obliterated and the American homeland and its economic clout was more or less untouched. Everyone needed American "Aid" or in other word goods that helped establish the post war hedgemony that America has enjoyed. Meanwhile the Empire was left in ruins by far biggest "jewel in the crown" India having been promised Independence for help defating Germany all the other Comonwealth nations facing the threat of rising Communism turned to America and then so did Britain. Back to Bretton: Keynes wanted their to be a gloabl reserve currency (much what like China and Russia are calling for now) but the US vetoed this and international trade has been predominantly in USD (and by far the largest reserve currency) ever since ensuring the US can run a trade deficit without having to revalue their currency. In fact this fits in nicely with current events including the G20 meeting in London as we speak. If events were different and Britain with GBP had kept its dominant position with the Gold Standard and preferantial trade agreements with all of Empire  who knows? But under that scenario without US hedgemony desuading the USSR we could have had nuclear war who knows.
 
Quite a bit of waffle but more or less what I think.
 
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Herald12345    Agreed.    4/1/2009 11:04:46 AM

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.

When Britain ceded dominance in the Pacific Ocean to Japan, that was it. Nothing else really mattered.
 
Herald
 
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John G    Bretton Woods   4/1/2009 11:12:00 AM
Bretton Woods in my opinion. Without going into specifics it's when the batton got passed (or snatched) from Britain to America. We were broke after 2 world wars our economic capacity had been smashed and the Americans (absolutely no disrespect intended) came out better than before the war and they took advantage of that like any country would have.. All Americas major competitors had been more or less obliterated and the American homeland and its economic clout was more or less untouched. Everyone needed American "Aid" or in other word goods that helped establish the post war hedgemony that America has enjoyed. Meanwhile the Empire was left in ruins by far biggest "jewel in the crown" India having been promised Independence for help defating Germany all the other Comonwealth nations facing the threat of rising Communism turned to America and then so did Britain. Back to Bretton: Keynes wanted their to be a gloabl reserve currency (much what like China and Russia are calling for now) but the US vetoed this and international trade has been predominantly in USD (and by far the largest reserve currency) ever since ensuring the US can run a trade deficit without having to revalue their currency. In fact this fits in nicely with current events including the G20 meeting in London as we speak. If events were different and Britain with GBP had kept its dominant position with the Gold Standard and preferantial trade agreements with all of Empire  who knows? But under that scenario without US hedgemony desuading the USSR we could have had nuclear war who knows.
 
Quite a bit of waffle but more or less what I think.
 
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John G    BRETTON WOODS   4/1/2009 11:14:30 AM
 
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afrikan_neekeri       4/1/2009 1:27:09 PM
Hmm... the UK was the first nation to industrialize and because of that able to achieve the highest GDP per capita in the world troughout the 19th century. The rest of the world had to develop at some point, too. The standard of living/GDP in the UK is much higher today than 50 or 150 years ago. The British Empire dissolved with its colonies when they became more of a burden and their economic/strategic importance wasn't what it used to be. 1910, 1922, 1947, the 50's and 60's... the last nations to become independent were Rhodesia and Zimbabwe in the 80's.
 
The same thing happened to the Japanese/German/US/Spanish/Belgian/Dutch/Portuguese and most of the French colonies, too. And I'm thankful for that. In the late 19th century the population of the United States and Germany was larger than that of the British Isles and the GDP of these countries soon overtook that of the UK. In the 1940's the population of the US was 150 million, more than three times that of UK and the country's industrial output had overtaken anything else in the world.
 
Both world wars were extremely expensive but they didn't kill off the British Empire. Countries like Germany and Japan paid a much larger price, a large portion of their cities lay in ruins after the WW2 but still their were able to overtake the UK in terms of GDP in less than two decades. In 1950 the GDP of the United States was 1 455 916 million USD, UK 347 850 million USD, Germany 265 354 million USD, Japan 160 966 million USD. 

In 1973 the United States had more than doubled their GDP, now 3 536 622 million USD, Japan had achieved an economic miracle because now their GDP was almost eight times of what it used to be 20 years ago, 1 242 932 million USD, (west)Germany had a GDP of 

944 755
million USD whereas the UK achieved 675 941 million USD.
 
So mostly it was just a matter of other countries achieving faster economic growth due to better politics, population growth, more innovative technologies, etc. Just look at what happened to the British car industry, for example. 
 

 
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JFKY    And Britain was forced to cede dominance in the Western Pacific   4/1/2009 1:36:10 PM
Because it could no longer sustain a 2 Ocean Navy.  It could not afford to build a battle fleet for the Pacific, however small, and contain the Kaiser's Navy...and the reason it couldn't contain the Kaiser's Navy, was that Britain was in second place to Germany in industrial production.  And IF, Germany hadn't had to maintain a large Continental Army Germany would have surpassed Britain as a Naval Power.  1919, Washington, London, Bretton Woods are all just the outward sign of Britain's passing as the PREPONDERANT System Hegemon. 
 
Had there been no First World War Britain's dominance would have continued longer, there is no doubt.  The demographic losses, the political/psychological scarring, and the fiscal bankruptcy of Britain produced by the war hastened Britain's exit as system hegemon.
 
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buzzard       4/1/2009 1:43:55 PM
I'm in the WW I ended the empire camp. Yes, there were other forces which likely would have dragged it down eventually, but WW I had a traumatic effect on Western Europe in general. It did bad things to their confidence in their own  civilization, and introduced a bunch of philosophies and thought patterns which have proved very destructive over time.
 
Watching large portions of your population mowed down in a very poorly managed war, for some rather specious reasons can have that kind of effect on a civilization I suppose. The British Empire was merely among the casualties. 
 
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Panther       4/1/2009 6:37:20 PM
Pretty cool thread. The American revolution didn't break the British bank, as already has been pointed out. Any tax revenues the British lost after they lost part of their North American empire was more than made good else where. After the revolution, both the US and Britain kept trading with one another as if there was never a war in the first place, with the exception for the war of 1812 of course.
 
What event marked the decline, i don't know? I'm rather torn between two camps: The growing industrial might of her main industrial rival nations at the dawn of the 20th century or WW1 (The Great War)?

 
 
 
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Armchair Private       4/1/2009 6:47:18 PM

What Event Marked the Decline of the British Empire?

1971, and the ending of the direct convertibility of Dollars into Gold.

Empires, hegemons, great, super and hyper-powers are really just a realpolitik recognition that one civilisation is so organisationally superior that they allow that civilisation to significantly, noticeably, out-compete their rivals. The measure of that out-performance can be land controlled or people ruled, numbers and quality of weapons produced, GDP, two ocean navies, victorious battles or Hollywood films, but those are the consequence of that superior performance, not the cause of it.

On the cusp of pre-history a charismatic cheiftan, might gain this advantage simply by controlling far more fighting men than any of his peers. The agricultural revolution allowed for, and then caused ever greater concentrations of peoples, until something we might recognise as the modern day city came about.

The birth of the city, was the birth of the British Empire, equally so of US Hegemon. The city engenders specialisation of each individual into varying fields of activity ? if I'm selling wheat for a profit, I don't need to learn how to be a blacksmith too. As long as I can buy my plough off of the blacksmith for less time/effort than it takes me to make one myself, I'm always gonna prefer the trade. The trade allows me to grow and sell more wheat, and the blacksmith gets paid, and becomes a better blacksmith ? everyone is a winner. This positive feedback loop is why Ninevah was fielding chariots in battle before the britons had discovered the wheel.

But Trade, in turn, requires another thing for it to reach greater heights ? the Rule of Law. Blind, incorruptible, free, and over-ruling all else - ideally. Law allows Trade to go beyond the blacksmith trading with the farmer, Law allows people who have never met, and may never meet to trade their goods via middle men ? merchants, with each transaction at every stage being more profitable for each party (otherwise they wouldn't be trading). The merchants now able to dedicate their time to no longer making ploughs, or growing wheat but to searching out who needs a plough or some wheat the most. Another positive feedback loop, magnifying the first.

By the 1600s, and for whatever reason, the Greco-roman-celtic-judaeo-christian-anglo-saxon-norse-renaissance influences that had accumulated in England for the past 1000 years reached a critical mass, and the lucky collection of experts, and geniuses that made up Elizabeth I's Privy Council gave birth to what was arguably the first nation state. Now, for the first time, all those positive feedback loops of trade were occurring not over a city of a few hundred thousand, but a nation of a few million. And the trade was no longer just in goods and services but, with organisations like the Royal Society, it was in knowledge too. (Newton said he was standing on the shoulders of giants.)

Frankly, catholic spain and france with a combined population 7 times that of protestant England had little chance to compete. The efficiencies that trade, and the rule of law bought to england enabled her to focus much more force, be it martial, diplomatic or scientific to any endeavour than either of her main competitors were capable of.

The english civil war put the icing on the cake, with the birth of a sovereign parliament the rule of law was now near-absolute. For over two centuries the British out competed everyone. Not until, others, notably Germany and the US, copied and improved the systems the British first codified did anyone change this.

The British empire - if it was anything - was the spread of trade, the distributing and increasing democratisation of learning, and the concept of law. Did the adoption of the main tenants of the british empire by its rivals mark its decline? I argue no, the British today are hugely more wealthy, hugely healthier and work a lot less hard than their forbears had to when the US and Germany overtook the UK in pig iron production.... by every absolute measure Britain has yet to decline.

Rome, Egypt, Babylon, the Chinese, Mayans, Aztecs, Russians, Ottomans, and Mongols can stick that in their pipe and smoke it.

The central tenants of the British empire are what we now call 'globalisation' 'capitalism' and 'democracy' and they are the dominant features of most of the rest of the world. China will forever play france, to the US's england, until they dump their tired corrupt n

 
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