Winston Churchill and the British Empire


Figure 1.--

Churchill had been brought up in Victorian Britain. He came to see the Empire as a great force for good in the world. [Cannadine] Churchill for all his admiration of America, Churchill had conflicting views. He blamed President Wilson and American idealism in large measure for the rise of the modern Totalitarian states. Churchill in contrast saw the great Continental Empires and aristocratic families as a force for stability. Dividing those empires on national and democratic lines was introducing dangerous American ideals. He was also disturbed by the hostile view of the British Empire in America. Churchill was an advocate of the Empire. There is no doubt that he saw the Emire as essential for British power and place in the world. But that is not all he saw in empire, he saw the Empire as a great civilizing force of emense good for theEmpire's subjects. We know today that there were also many negative aspects of colonialism. These negative consequences were even more manifest in other European colonial empires, but were very much present in the Bristish Empire as well. What is now often ignored are the many positive aspects of colonialism. He said upon becoming primeminister that he had not taken the office to oversee the disolution of the British Empire. One of the great ironies of World War II was that by refussing to deal with Hitler after the fall of France, Churchill was in fact dooming the Empire. It was not Hitler that was an enemy of the Empire. He in fact saw the Epire as a force for stability. What he wanted was for Britain to acceed to Germany's domination of the Comtinet and support or at least acquiesence for his anti-Bolshevik crusade in the East. Churchill of course had no choice because after defeating the Soviets he would have inevitably renewed the assault on Britain. Churchill and the understood this, Pétain and Vichy did not. The major enemies of the British Empire were in fact Stalin and Churchill's great World War II partner, Franklin Roosevelt. Many would of course say that in choosing to defy Hitler and reject a British Vichy, Churchill was in fact choosing what was really great about Britain, a concept of liberty that had first been conceived by England's yeoman farmers. [Schama]

Victorian Morality

The origins of empire were trade, profit, and power. It was a Hobbseian drive for power among the European powers. In thisit was no different than the graet empirs of the ancient world. This changed in the 19th century. As some of the same impetus to end the African slave trade. The Arabs also played a major role in the slave trade, but there was no comparable effot in the Arab world. We see constant constant vilfificaton of the Industrial Revolution, blaming it for child and female labor, poverty, imperialism, pollution, war, and just about every evil imaginable. While thr were undeniably abuses and exploutatin of labor, in fact the Industrai Revolution created wealkth on a a previously unprecendented level. And with this came a new middle class which people from huble origins entered in huge numbers. nd rge Victorian Middle class had very diffeent ideas about the world and moral rectitude. It is not that poverty and child labor nevr existed before, the difference with the Victorans is that they saw such matters as evils that need to be corrected. And the Victorins saw empire in a new light. They saw it as part of a Christian civilizing mission. We may see this as white wshing an evil system, but the Victrians were very serious with what e English poet Rudyard Kipling famoously called 'the white man's burden'. Now there were many Europeas includng Britain that still viewed empir in terms of power politucs, but there were also who seriously saw it as a humanitarian undertaking. And many believed that both concepts were valid. Churchill had been brought up in Victorian Britain. He came to see the Empire as a great force for good in the world. [Cannadine] Churchill sincerely believed that Britain was uniquely position to promote progress and enligtenment around the world. One author from a 21st crntury perspective describes it as a bad combination of Tudyard Kipling and Gilber and Suliva. Churchill was, howver, sincere in his convistions.

Imperial Rivals

Britain may not have lived up to the lofty ideals of Victorian moralism. But it is probablly fair to say that they did better than their European rivals, although here we are still assessing European colonial regimes and would be interested n any insghts readers may have. The Dutch and French like the British brought modern technology and health care to their colonies. We believe that the British gave greater attention o efucation and in India and the Dominions fostered the development of local denocratic institutions. The British also with only limited exceptions after the loss of the North American colonies fostered freerade whuch prmoted economic growth in the Empire. This was not the same in the other European colonies. And some of the other colonial regimes were not only more explotive, but also more violent. The Belgians in the Congo were nothing short of sinister, runing a nightmarish private royal plantation.. And the Germans even during the Imperial could act with genocidal violonese such as the as the Herero War. And this does not include the murdeous vision of the German, Japanese, and Soviet imperialists during World War II.

Racism

Racim is another issue that as to be considered in connection with Churchill and Brtish colonialim. Racism was crtainly part of the the British vision. This has, however, to be taken in context. Racism at the time ws prevalent throughout Europe and North America.And the Britsh version does not se aticularly virulent. hil America galied with olnialism, it was vr a full participant, but racism as anoher matter. American racism seems much more virulent tha attitdes in Britain. In fact the British view while definitely looking n their imperial subjects as the 'lesser breeds without the law' also belived that they were capable of redemtin and regeneratin under the guiding light of the benevolent rule of British imperial rule. [James] And one author points out with some accuracy that Churchill's conversatin never moved much beyond that of a late-19th century regiental mess, albeit with a little more imagination. His epitats would now not be acceotable in polite society. We are not entirely sure id these quotes refect deep-seated racism or irritations when confronted with coonial disffection with British rule. Ghandi in paricular cold inspire the worst in Churchill in this regard.

Churchill's Commonwealth Vision

Churchill was a colonialist, but he did not see the Empire as a static institution a permanent abject subservience to Britain. He saw the Empire as evolving polity. He believed that there was the possibility if not the need foe political nd sicial evolution. But this had to be within the framework of sustaining Brirain;s role as a great power. And he did bor=t see democracy and parlimentrian government as resytricted ti=othe white dominions. In fact there were important democrtic instirutiins developing in India with the development of the Congress praty. There were restructions on the political rights of Britain's imperial subjects which Churchill justified as necessary fir moral and mterial develiomrnt. This is not unlike modern Chinese authorities might argue when speaking honestly. Differences with apiring politicians withinin the Empire, especially in India which was moving toward autonomy more rapdly than the other non-Dominion colonies was over the speed that developmental status would endure. The Indians were intent on independence now and Churchill wanred t aintain a developmental status for some time. [James]

Concerns with America

Churchill for all his admiration of America, Churchill had conflicting views. He blamed President Wilson and American idealism in large measure for the rise of the modern totalitarian states. Churchill in contrast saw the great Continental Empires and aristocratic families as a force for stability. Dividing those empires on national and democratic lines was introducing dangerous American ideals. He was also disturbed by the hostile view of the British Empire in America.

Advocate for Empire

Churchill was an advocate of the Empire. There is no doubt that he saw the Emire as essential for British power and place in the world. But that is not all he saw in empire, he saw the Empire as a great civilizing force of emense good for the Empire's subjects.

Europen Colonialism

We know today that there were also many negative aspects of colonialism. These negative consequences were even more manifest in other European colonial empires, but were very much present in the Bristish Empire as well. What is now often ignored are the many positive aspects of colonialism. The internet permits fascinating conversations with people arond the world. We have had conversationswith Indians that fail to see any value with the British Raj and emphazize admitted British lapses in correct imperial conduct. We are not sure hw cmmon tese attitudes are, but they are clearly many who do.

Negative aspecs


Positive aspects


Free Trade


World War II

Churchill understood that itwas the Empire that made Britain a great power. Without the Empire, Britain woud have been a second-class European power. [James] It was the Empire that gave Britain the powerto fight th Germans in Worl War I and stop Hitler in World War II. He said upon becoming primeminister that he had not taken the office to oversee the disolution of the British Empire. One of the great ironies of World War II was that by refussing to deal with Hitler after the fall of France, Churchill was in fact dooming the Empire. It was not Hitler that was an enemy of the Empire. He in fact saw the Epire as a force for stability. What he wanted was for Britain to acceed to Germany's domination of the Comtinet and support or at least acquiesence for his anti-Bolshevik crusade in the East. Churchill of course had no choice because after defeating the Soviets he would have inevitably renewed the assault on Britain. Churchill and the understood this, Pétain and Vichy did not. The major enemies of the British Empire were in fact Stalin and Churchill's great World War II partner, Franklin Roosevelt. Of course Stalin was no enemy of empire. He like Hitler wanted an empire of his own. He did no want Britain to have an empire because it gave the British the power to resist Sovietagression. Many would of course say that in choosing to defy Hitler and reject a British Vichy, Churchill was in fact choosing what was really great about Britain, a concept of liberty that had first been conceived by England's yeoman farmers. [Schama]

Decolonization

Churchill's vision for the Commomwealth and and extended period of British tutelage was undone by a number of factors beyond Churchill's control which began the process of decolonization.
First and perhaps the most significant was World War II. While Britain emerged victorious, it was bankrupted by the War in fact on able to continue fighting because of massive American aidtheough Lend Lease. This left Britain fundamentally weakened and unable to continue its role as a great power.
Second was Churchill's and the Conservative's defeat in the General Election held after VE Day (1945). The British people trusted Churchill to win the War, but not to bring about undamntal social change which after 6-years of war time sacrifices many craved. This brought to power Clement Attlee's Labour Party. Attlee did oversee major reforms, some like a National Health System very popular. Britains exprience with Labour Government's term in Government also resulted in economic stagnation. Briain declined from the most prosperous European country to an economic backwater as even devestated Grmany rapidly surpassed Britain which had to maintain rationing into the 1950s. And Atlee and Labour had a much different attitude towad the Empire. Immediately Atlee moved to grant independence to India, of course the centerpiece of the Empire--the Jewel in the Crown in Victorian parlance. And while further grants of independence did not follow immeduately, Indian independence meant that apiring politicians throughout the empire began to organize and agitate for indepencence, most far less prepared for independence than India. An aging Churchill was returned to power (1951). But he was only a shadow of his former self and no longer had the vigor to pursue his vision of Empire nor did the British people see this as an important or even beneficial goal.
Third was the Cold War. Britain had to throw its energies in the international arena into opposing Soviet expansionism n Europe and for this as in Word War II it needed the Americans. Briain did not have the capability or desire to fihjt colonial wars, although it wa forcdc to do so in Malaya and Kenya. This gave another huge empetus to politicians emering in the colonies. It became increasinly clear that Britain would not fight to rtain its colonies. And here not only were the Soviets pushing decolonization or supporting violent national libeation movements likehe oviets, but Britain's American ally while not agreively pushing de-coloniaztion, did support the basic idea. [James] This meant that while America backed Britain and the other Western European countrie against the Soviets in Europe, Bitain was on its own as regards the Empire. And soon preared or not, Britain began colony after colony independence. One of the unanswered questions of history is if the tragic history of decolonizations would have been more sucessful had alower more controlled process have been pursued.

Sources

Cannadine, David. In Churchill's Shadow: Confronting the Past in Modern Britain (Allen Lane History).

James, Lawrence. Churchill and Empire: A Portrait of an Imperialist (2014), 448 p. James we believes accurately describes Churchill's belief in the Empire and efforts to mainatin that Empire. We do take issue wih one contntion. James borders on the contention that Britain evetually bcame a kind of lap dog of Amerian foreign policy, defending what he sees as America's informal empire. Quite a numbr of British politcans have made similar charges. It is true that th United State did not support Churchill's imperial vission. Out problem in this idea of an American empire put forward by a range of left-wing authors critcal of America's role in the post-War role. Now Britain and France and the other Euopeean poers had an empire. And the Soviets had an empire. These wererealk empires. American dallied with empire, pimarily th empire. But the idea of an informal' empire is in effect an admission that there was no empire at all. And American goreign policy has increated a world that any country that adopts effetive policies can develop their economies and succed in the world. We firstsaw this in the European Economic Miracle and then with the Asian Tigers. An then even Communist China began to take advantage of the post World Wa that America created.

Schama, Simon. A History of Britain.








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Created: 12:18 AM 7/24/2014
Last updated: 12:18 AM 7/24/2014