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The destruction of the British Empire

dresden8

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This is a thread I have oft pondered but never fully brought to fruition but...........

The only combatant fully wedded to the destruction of the British Empire were the Americans. Even Hitler admired them and merely wanted to to emasculate their resistance to him. Italy wanted minor Mediterannean gains, Bulgaria and Romania had..... what?

I posit the theory that in the second world war the only power that wanteed to see the end of the British Empire was the empires greatest ally and it's best "hope".

So, why?

Hundreds of years of pre-eminence, 100 years of empire p1ssed away.

Why?
 


firefly123

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The British empire self destructed like most empires do.
It was fading fast after world war one and crumbled the minute real pressure was Brought to bear on it. They couldn't even control their nearest colony. This was partially due to weakness and partially due to an enlightenment within the British establishment that knew it was immoral to ride roughshod over other people's ambitions for Independence.
 

APettigrew92

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This is a thread I have oft pondered but never fully brought to fruition but...........

The only combatant fully wedded to the destruction of the British Empire were the Americans. Even Hitler admired them and merely wanted to to emasculate their resistance to him. Italy wanted minor Mediterannean gains, Bulgaria and Romania had..... what?

I posit the theory that in the second world war the only power that wanteed to see the end of the British Empire was the empires greatest ally and it's best "hope".

So, why?

Hundreds of years of pre-eminence, 100 years of empire p1ssed away.

Why?
It came down primarily to economics.

The British could run protectionism for as long as it suited them. In order for the USA to become the dominant economic power long term, they needed Britain to do away with trade restrictions.

It also, especially to many Americans, seemed odd to be the "arsenal of democracy" that was giving guns to an ally who had no designs on decolonization. Many African commentators said that Hitler was mimicking British colonial policy yet made the error of delcaring war on the white man.

Economics with a small amount of politics. Roosevelt was staunchly anti-empire, yet Truman was a softer touch.

As much as we like to take credit, it was two disasterous wars and a failure to move with the times that doomed the UK.
 

dresden8

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Indeed. I saw one of those 7 up type programmes where one on the children upon graduation joined the colonial service.

A 23 year old grad with six blokes with bolt action rifles to control 50,000 black people.

That's the failure of empire writ large there. The empire was a bluff. Unless large scale troop commitment followed an uprising, game over.

But still.......

In WW2 the only power wedded to the destruction of the British Empire was courted as an ally by the British.

Roosevelt gave the Russians a pass as he emasculated the British.

Even though the full humiliation didn't come to pass until 1956. Maybe that's the point.
 

Dadaist

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This is a thread I have oft pondered but never fully brought to fruition but...........

The only combatant fully wedded to the destruction of the British Empire were the Americans. Even Hitler admired them and merely wanted to to emasculate their resistance to him. Italy wanted minor Mediterannean gains, Bulgaria and Romania had..... what?

I posit the theory that in the second world war the only power that wanteed to see the end of the British Empire was the empires greatest ally and it's best "hope".

So, why?

Hundreds of years of pre-eminence, 100 years of empire p1ssed away.

Why?
If Germany wasn't intent on destroying the British Empire, why did they formulate advanced plans for a land and sea invasion of Britain itself?
 
R

Ramps

If Germany wasn't intent on destroying the British Empire, why did they formulate advanced plans for a land and sea invasion of Britain itself?
Trying to force the public to put irresistible pressure on the UK govt. to make a deal.
 

Dadaist

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Trying to force the public to put irresistible pressure on the UK govt. to make a deal.
So after the Germans won the Battle of Britain, they were going to allow the men in the top hats to continue to rule half the World?

Administer the Empire, perhaps. But not to govern it. And, of course, it would no longer be a British Empire by that stage, as it would be under German control.
 
R

Ramps

So after the Germans won the Battle of Britain, they were going to allow the men in the top hats to continue to rule half the World?

Administer the Empire, perhaps. But not to govern it. And, of course, it would no longer be a British Empire by that stage, as it would be under German control.
Which parts of the British Empire do you think the Nazis were truly interested in (in 1940)?
 

Lumpy Talbot

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No
Certainly the Americans took over strategic parts of what was the British Empire in return for supplies and equipment at the lowest point of WWII.

When Britain was three weeks from bankruptcy (ie not being able to pay its civil servants which is an interesting interpretation of bankruptcy which has even happened in the US since the war) the US supplied eleven warships on an emergency basis in return for strategic bases from the South Atlantic upwards. When the eleven ships arrived some of them had to be condemned as unserviceable. The lesson I suppose is never buy from a salesman in a state of desperation.

Then again after the war when US Secretary of State James Forrestal was asked when US bases in the UK would close he responded 'The Brits will just have to get used to them'.

So it was not only loss of Empire to the US but effectively a very polite form of the same thing Putin did to the Crimea- occupation.

This latter was what De Gaulle was referring to when he vetoed the UK's entry to the Common Market repeatedly in the 1960s saying 'The UK is an American aircraft carrier off the coast of Europe'.

These realities, albeit unpopular, echo down to today in what is called euphemistically called the 'special relationship' between Washington and London.

It also explains Anthony Eden having the lead snapped back by Washington over the Suez crisis when he personally learned who was in charge (and it wasn't Downing Street) and Blair's later obsequiousness to George Bush.
 

dresden8

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If Germany wasn't intent on destroying the British Empire, why did they formulate advanced plans for a land and sea invasion of Britain itself?
Because they were at war? Germany had no plan to invade Britain until they were already at war.
 

Mad as Fish

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If Germany wasn't intent on destroying the British Empire, why did they formulate advanced plans for a land and sea invasion of Britain itself?
I don't think they did. A senior officer sat down for a couple of weeks to plan Operation Sealion and then gave it up as a bad job. The German might was in its army but they did not have the experience, training or equipment to mount a large scale amphibious invasion. Much of this is hindsight and it was a real scare for the British at the time, but looking back it would have been doomed from the start.

Anyway, Hitler was hoping that Britain would sue for peace and invasion would not be necessary, invading Britain would detract from his plans for Russia as well, not that his little trip out east worked for him either.
 
Last edited:

Mad as Fish

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Certainly the Americans took over strategic parts of what was the British Empire in return for supplies and equipment at the lowest point of WWII.

When Britain was three weeks from bankruptcy (ie not being able to pay its civil servants which is an interesting interpretation of bankruptcy which has even happened in the US since the war) the US supplied eleven warships on an emergency basis in return for strategic bases from the South Atlantic upwards. When the eleven ships arrived some of them had to be condemned as unserviceable. The lesson I suppose is never buy from a salesman in a state of desperation.

Then again after the war when US Secretary of State James Forrestal was asked when US bases in the UK would close he responded 'The Brits will just have to get used to them'.

So it was not only loss of Empire to the US but effectively a very polite form of the same thing Putin did to the Crimea- occupation.

This latter was what De Gaulle was referring to when he vetoed the UK's entry to the Common Market repeatedly in the 1960s saying 'The UK is an American aircraft carrier off the coast of Europe'.

These realities, albeit unpopular, echo down to today in what is called euphemistically called the 'special relationship' between Washington and London.

It also explains Anthony Eden having the lead snapped back by Washington over the Suez crisis when he personally learned who was in charge (and it wasn't Downing Street) and Blair's later obsequiousness to George Bush.
Ah yes, the special relationship which basically equates to 'I'll sit on your face and you can suck it up limey'.

BTW, I hadn't realised it was De Gualle who first referred to Britain as an an American aircraft carrier.
 

between the bridges

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Ach sure all good things come to an end, but our language is still spoken by a number of subservient races...
 

blinding

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When you have to rely on the Russians backed be American money to beat the Germans then; "Its all over"

Tony Blairs subservience to George Bush must have been galling to all Self- Respecting Brits.
 

Strawberry

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So after the Germans won the Battle of Britain, they were going to allow the men in the top hats to continue to rule half the World?

Administer the Empire, perhaps. But not to govern it. And, of course, it would no longer be a British Empire by that stage, as it would be under German control.
That's not a commitment to destroy the British Empire then, more a commitment to take it over.
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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The main motive for imperial expansion (not just British expansion) was, perhaps is (considering China's recent involvement in Africa) the protection of trade.

E.H.Carr (page 167) was, by 1942, already trying to envisage the post-War world, and reflected:
It is extremely important that there should be, at the end of this war, a clear understanding of the changed position of Great Britain since the palmy days of the nineteenth century. Lack of this understanding was responsible for many of the disastrous incidents of the period 1919-39. The confusions of British foreign policy in this period were rather the result than the cause of the decline in British power and prestige in international affairs; and they occurred because the change in the situation was not realised and faced either by British statesmen or by the British public. [...] By 1913 Great Britain, Germany and the United States ranked approximately equal as exporting countries. The total production of Germany was as great, that of the United States more than twice as great as that of Britain.
When the post-Civil War US surpassed, and then nascent Germany matched Britain as dominant trading nations, the whole world economy became increasingly competitive.

We might as well consider that the nature of the exports and trading was not comparable: the US and Germany (and, in the last half-century, the Far Eastern nations) trounced Britain's outdated technologies. Masefield, after all, was as early as 1902:
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
My bottom line, then, isn't about crude German hostility to Britain's imperial reach (after all: one was continental, the other maritime). The Roosevelt family's anti-imperialism might be a valid consideration — it is there with Teddy as much as FDR, and was engrained in the US State Department long before — in the 20th century; but I'd argue by the time that becomes effective the world had fundamentally changed.

I'd be arguing that, apart from a very brief moment in the late Victorian period when it was the Tory Party's poisonous Unique Selling Point, "imperialism" should have been a passing fad for most British people. But, the poison so pervaded the British body politic that Dean Acheson (5 December 1962) could draw blood with his:
Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role.
That says nothing which isn't implicit in Carr twenty years earlier.

Come to think of it, that British obstinacy in recognising its contemporary place in the world lies at the root of the current #Brexit palaver. Carr had it aright there, too: the last third of Conditions of Peace addresses Britain and Europe and The New Europe. Presciently, too.

Someone out there must be doing Carr for the United States in the mid-21st century. I remember a teacher speculating that, in the great tides of world history, imperial dominance moved sunwise around the globe, from east to west. If the 19th was the "British century", then the 20th was the American turn. Now we need to adapt to power and influence shifting across the Pacific. Mr Trump is the voice of unreason against that, as purblind as the pre-War British politicians were in recognising the new realities.
 

Dadaist

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Which parts of the British Empire do you think the Nazis were truly interested in (in 1940)?
With the Germans had boots on the ground in North Africa, and planning for Barbarossa would have been in the advanced stages. The initial goal would have been the oil fields of the Middle East.

If they had achieved this goal, god knows what the effect would have been on the Eastern Front.
 

Dadaist

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That's not a commitment to destroy the British Empire then, more a commitment to take it over.
How would that not have been seen as a destruction of any notion of a British Empire.

If Britain had lost the Battle of Britain, they were hardly going to stand down their forces all over the World without a fight.
 

Strawberry

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How would that not have been seen as a destruction of any notion of a British Empire.

If Britain had lost the Battle of Britain, they were hardly going to stand down their forces all over the World without a fight.
I took the OP to mean that the US was the only belligerent during WW2 which had the intention of decolonising the British Empire. The Germans, if they had won, would hardly have given the colonies their independence. They would simply have taken over where the British left off, hence they wouldn't have destroyed an Empire, merely stolen one for themselves.
 


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