Guide for the aspiring imperialist.

Author:Jones, Curt

Mankind habitually prays for peace, but over and over resorts to war. Seizure of alien territory is imperialism. Not all invasions are wrong. The Nazi conquests in Europe and Africa were clear cases of genocidal aggression, but the Allied conquest of Germany was acclaimed as self-defense.

Every military venture is a prediction that its advocates will like the results. Some schemes pay off. Most fail. The worst miseries are inflicted by governments that can't tell the difference.

The purpose of this discussion is to examine three case studies for clues in framing realistic objectives.

First Case Study: The British Empire

In this protean universe, the relative power of nations is in constant flux. From 1600 to 1900 Europe was in the ascendancy. Britannia ruled the waves. What were its aims?

Objective 1--Profit

In 1600, Elizabeth I chartered the East India Company to trade for the exotic commodities of tropical lands. Then, peaceful trade gave way to conquest. British imperialism concentrated on the importation of sugar, tea, tobacco, and coffee, and the development of plantations to grow them. The stoop labor was assigned in India to indentured workers, in the Caribbean to slaves. In the words of Simon Schama, Britain created an "empire of soldiers and slaves".

Objective 2--Military Advantage

Economic prosperity requires political stability. Afro-Asian divisions by class, caste, dynasty, sect, and language group enabled ten million Britons to dominate 100 million Indians and untold numbers of Arabs and Africans. In India, fifteen hundred British officials and 50,000 soldiers (many of them Indians themselves) were normally adequate for the job.

In British eyes, the military benefits of the garrison in India were threefold: Keeping the peace in India; providing a base for the defense of the empire in southeast Asia and the Pacific; and serving the delusion--long held by all the Europeans--that the acquisition of overseas dependencies was advantageous in Europe's 1000-year civil war.

Objective 3--Hubris

Genghis Khan was not the first ruler to succumb to the fantasy of world conquest. The British, complacent in their empire on which the sun never set, were not the last. By 1900, the Empire controlled a fourth of the planet. Winston Churchill said in 1942 "I have not become the King's First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire." On July 26, 1945--seven weeks after the end of World War II--Clement Attlee replaced Churchill as Prime Minister of a war-torn United Kingdom. In 1947 India and Pakistan were granted independence. By 1971, the British Empire was no more.

Net Assessment

No empire has won a Nobel Peace Prize. However, Kipling's "white man's burden" was not all hot air. Many British officers in "the colonies"--as they were called--were dedicated to the welfare of their charges. Britain gave India a subcontinental rail system and--most important of all--a common language. The Raj challenged enormities like caste, female infanticide, and suttee (the obligation of a widow to throw herself on her husband's funeral pyre). In the Caribbean, The British Anti-Slavery Society achieved in 1833 the first organized emancipation of slaves. In Egypt, Lord Cromer injected an element of law and order into the corrupt system of government that had flourished under Khedivial rule.

Nevertheless, the record on the adverse side was more compelling:


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