Saturday, June 2, 2007

The British Empire in 3 minutes

Empire Name: British Empire (1700 - mid 1970s).

Type of Government: Strong Constitutional Monarchy. Prime Minister as head of government wielding the real power.

Golden Age: 1860-1910.

Periodic Breakdown:

1750-1815: Empire expands in India, Canada, the Caribbean and Africa. British Navy rules supreme after the Battle of Trafalger (1805). Major setback – loss of American colonies through revolution.

1815 – 1860: Empire continues to expand. Period of Pax Britanica. Britain separates herself from the continent and focuses on building her global Empire. Agents of Empire include: the Army, the Navy (especially gunboat diplomacy), Missionaries, Corporations (such as the British East India Company, small time businessmen and Politicians.

1860-1914: The Golden Age. Empire is the most powerful force on the planet. There are British colonies on all the continents (except Antarctica). Setbacks occur in the Crimean War which force a second period of isolation. However relations with France continue to improve. The chief rival emerging in Europe is Germany who having defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War will start to rival the Brits at sea especially during the post-Bismarck era. The US is emerging as an economic force to be reckoned with.

1914-1918: Brits are victorious in First World War and take over many possessions once controlled by the Ottoman and German Empires. Victory comes at a high cost. The war in itself resulted in a tremendous loss of life and forced the Empire into a debt held by the US.

1918-1939: Class warfare further weakens Empire. The coming of the Great Depression worsens matters. Pressure for local rule escalates throughout Empire.

1939- 1945: If not for the US and the Soviets the Brits would surely have lost much of their Empire to the Germans. It didn’t happen but after WWII British governments would be forced to focus on domestic issues that was accompanied by a retreat from Empire.

1945 – Early 1970s: The Two World Wars have combined to weaken the Empire. Britain is very much a second rate power behind the USA and the Soviets. The development of the bomb gives the Brits a boost but not for too long. A humbling diplomatic defeat in the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956 (at the hands of the Americans) weakens the Empires authority as more nationalities win their independence from London.

Main sources of strength: The Royal Navy, first comers to the Industrial Revolution, Protestant work ethic, early restrictions on totalitarianism, liberalism, a disciplined army, its dynamic use of technology (such as cable laying for communication, railroad building), a global vision and its education system.

Weaknesses: Class distinction, Pomposity of rulers, supply lines overextended, fought too many land wars.

Important Figures (To name but a few)

Duke of Marlborough
Horatio Nelson
Viscount Palmerston
Benjamin Disraeli
William Gladstone
Queen Victoria
Field Marshal Kitchener
Winston Churchill
David Lloyd George
Cecil John Rhodes
George Goldie
Joseph Chaimberlain
Marquess of Salisbury
William Pitt
General Charles Gordon
Robert Clive
Duke of Wellington
Robert Peel

Wars won: Ashanti Wars, Boxer Rebellion, Burma Wars, Chinese campaigns of General Gordon, Indian Campaigns (including the Mutiny and the Sikh Wars), Conquest of Yemen, Kaffir Wars (South Africa), Malay campaigns, Maori Wars, Napoleonic Wars includes Peninsular War, Nigerian War, North American War (Part of the Seven Years war), Opium Wars (I and II), Second Anglo-Boer War, Seven Years War, Sudanese Campaign, War of the Spanish Succession (includes Queen Anne’s War), Wars to control East Africa, World War I, World War II, Zulu Wars

Wars Lost: American Revolution, First Anglo Boer War, the Easter Rebellion and the Early Afghani Campaigns.

Inconclusive Wars fought:
Crimea, War of 1812 and the later Afghani Campaigns.

Reasons for Decline: The economic, political and social costs of World War I and World War II, the Rise of the USA, Germany and the USSR as competing global powers, overextension of resources, nationalist rebellions across the Empire.

Key Contributions to World Civilization:

Spread concept of liberal democracy throughout Empire even if it didn’t always apply it.

Building of an infrastructure in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, to name a few.

Provided a fertile environment for scientific, artistic, industrial and cultural progress.

Acted as a bulwark to the many totalitarian regimes that it faced in Europe ie. Napoleonic France, Nazi Germany, Czarist Russia, Second Reich Germany etc.

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