The British Empire, good or bad?

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The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby tmssmith » Wed Aug 26, 2009 12:47 pm UTC

I've just finished reading a fascinating book called 'Empire' by Niall Ferguson. He presents, in my view, a very well balanced history of the British Empire and I would definately recommend it to anyone interested. He reaches the conclusion that the Empire was undoubtedly a good thing, even if it did have some serious issues.

He credits it with, among other things, the creation (or expansion) of a global free market, the spread of democracy, reducing the differences in GDP in nations within the empire and saving the world (with a bit of help!) from the Nazi, Japenese and Italian 'Empires' by sacrificing itself during and after the Second World War, which he suggests would have been, and indeed were, many times worse than the British Empire.

On the other side, I was shocked by how endemic racism was within the empire, the ethnic cleansing that occured, slavery (although it then played a leading role in ending slavery) and the general oppresion of 'inferior' peoples.

What do people think, and why?

Poll removed. This is SB where the knee jerk voting reaction is not particularly welcome. People are expected to explain their position in words.

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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby General_Norris » Wed Aug 26, 2009 12:57 pm UTC

If you understand the British Empire as the actions taken by it's governants that influenced the country I would say it was not very much different than the rest of the world at at time. So it was well, average.

I think it was just a step further than the rest of the other powers but it was not that better.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby athelas » Wed Aug 26, 2009 1:42 pm UTC

Good - it brought good governance to many areas of the world that had known only warlordism. Upon reading Lee Kwan Yew's memoirs (Singapore prime minister), it struck me how responsible they were in trying to withdraw in such a way that stable governments could take over. That they succeeded in Asia but failed in Africa says more about the indigenous population and social systems prevalent, but also underscores how much of an improvement British administration was, while it lasted.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby mikhail » Wed Aug 26, 2009 1:50 pm UTC

On balance, was the British Empire good or bad?

42.

Coming from a nation where a million people starved to death while the British continued to export food from the country, a nation which yielded its national language and suffered laws that prevented the free practice of the majority religion, land ownership by or education of Catholics, I'm a little biased against them. Asking me to weigh things like that against speculation about the development of trade and democracy is like asking how much money you'd sell your grandmother into slavery for. Some people will have an answer, but the correct one is that the two things can't be exchanged.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby mister k » Wed Aug 26, 2009 2:09 pm UTC

Judging a nations actions by current morals is perhaps impossible. How do you balance the right of a nation to be free against the benefit that might be given by a more "advanced" nation ruling it. I'm not sure you can, and the problem with deciding that Britain made countries better off is that we cannot see what would have happened if they'd left well alone. If Britain had opened trading links with these nations, provided education and culture, perhaps these nations would have become partners rather than peons? Who knows, and making such a large judgement is hard to do. The nations of Europe have many atrocities to answer for, the problems in Palestine, Kashmir, Rwanda, to name but a few countries were spurred on by empires.

Its a tough question indeed, there are two questions here perhaps:

1)judging by our current system, was the British Empire right to act in the way it did
2)Did the British Empire end up being a net benefit to the world

I would argue the answer to 1 is clearly no. Ignoring the nastier actions that the BE did, ultimately conquering someone because you believe you can rule them better than they can rule themselves is pretty much unjustifiable to my mind. The answer to 2 is effectively unanswerable because we don't know what would have happened if the BE had acted differently/had never existed.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Mechanicus » Wed Aug 26, 2009 4:54 pm UTC

Overall, I'd say the British Empire was detrimental. I don't even know how I would quantify how many lives is worth any infrastructure, stability or governance we may have left them after the Empire, but I have a feeling the bad outweighs the good.

Still, I have to wonder whether it was 'better' than the alternatives. Certainly, it left countries economically better after it left compared to the French and Belgian Empires, and perhaps the Dutch and Italian (but there's not much to go on there). I would also agree that we (largely) seem to have left them free to govern themselves after the Empire, while rumours persist that the French government still has significant power over its former colonies. And Britain did actively destroy the slave trade (admittedly after it gave it a giant boost). But you hear alot about the atrocities committed by the British colonisers; from arguable genocide in Tasmania to the famines in Ireland, India, etc. The best you can say is that some of them resulted more from neglect than policy (if indeed we ever had any policy on empire). Certainly, I see everyone as better than the Belgian Empire - you can't really get much worse than what King Leopold did and have an entire central African country as your personal rubber and copper farm, with absolutely horrific and barbaric practices. Not that the Belgians themselves knew about this; it was the King's personal fiefdom.

I have to wonder what the other empires were like, but there's not much about how the French Empire treated its peoples, and I haven't found much on the Spanish either. I don't suppose anyone knows any good books on these?
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Heisenberg » Wed Aug 26, 2009 6:45 pm UTC

This is a ridiculous question. First, as an American, I have a positive bias towards England. However, it seems that the argument here is "British terrorism, occupation, and slavery was not nearly as bad as, say, Portuguese terrorism, occupation, and slavery. In addition, we stopped oppressing these people relatively early." To me, this does not result in the British Empire being "Good." You can make an argument for "least horrific," but "good" is right out.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby TheKrikkitWars » Wed Aug 26, 2009 7:25 pm UTC

Heisenberg wrote:This is a ridiculous question. First, as an American, I have a positive bias towards England. However, it seems that the argument here is "British terrorism, occupation, and slavery was not nearly as bad as, say, Portuguese terrorism, occupation, and slavery. In addition, we stopped oppressing these people relatively early." To me, this does not result in the British Empire being "Good." You can make an argument for "least horrific," but "good" is right out.


SB is not the place for emotive language; and leading statments.

Related: application of absolute moralism, in reference to a long and chequered history extending for nearly 800 years will likely lead to somewhat erronious results at best.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby bigglesworth » Wed Aug 26, 2009 7:44 pm UTC

TKW is right. For example, you can hardly argue the British Empire harmed Scotland, given that it gave it security and increased trade.

Also, in many cases you have to compare the British to what was there before. Were the British occupiers of India really any worse than the Mughal occupiers?
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Philwelch » Wed Aug 26, 2009 11:50 pm UTC

tmssmith wrote:saving the world (with a bit of help!) from the Nazi, Japenese and Italian 'Empires' by sacrificing itself during and after the Second World War, which he suggests would have been, and indeed were, many times worse than the British Empire


The British Empire was clearly insufficient to oppose all three of those empires on its own, and it's debatable whether it was even necessary. By my understanding, their contribution against Japan was negligible, their contribution against Germany was far outweighed by that of Russia, and Italy on its own was never a significant threat to the world in the first place.

In fact, the western Allies' only contribution to the European theatre was not to protect Europe from the German empire, but from the Soviet empire. With Allied forces holding Italy, France, and (west) Germany, the Iron Curtain was drawn significantly further east than it would have been otherwise. Of course, this is far less of an accomplishment (just ask the Polish how they feel about the British role in WWII and their half-century of Russian domination) and is far less attributable to the English alone (as the American Marshall plan and Berlin Airlift were the main stopgaps against Russian expansion after the war).
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Vaniver » Thu Aug 27, 2009 12:33 am UTC

Beneficial. Stated reasons why aren't particularly convincing; either you understand the majority of the issues and know where your priorities are, which make the decision fairly easy, or you have a single issue that you judge it on, or you don't understand the issues and so will misinterpret or misunderstand the debate.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby TheKrikkitWars » Thu Aug 27, 2009 1:04 am UTC

Ultimately, if you like the way that the world is largely industrialised and democratic, then you owe at least some of that to both the dissapation of industrial and engineering innovations by the tendrils of the empire during its last 100 years, and the way that it managed the withdrawal of it's control from what is now the commonwealth to prevent absolute chaos where possible.

It was overall beneficial to world politics and stability; but several countries and ethnic groups can very well claim to have been wronged quite badly by some of the worse mistakes of the empire.

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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Carnildo » Thu Aug 27, 2009 1:28 am UTC

Philwelch wrote:
tmssmith wrote:saving the world (with a bit of help!) from the Nazi, Japenese and Italian 'Empires' by sacrificing itself during and after the Second World War, which he suggests would have been, and indeed were, many times worse than the British Empire


The British Empire was clearly insufficient to oppose all three of those empires on its own, and it's debatable whether it was even necessary. By my understanding, their contribution against Japan was negligible,

It's the forgotten front of the war, but fighting in the Southeast Asian Theatre was almost exclusively done by British Empire forces. The US provided air and logistic support, but most of the men on the ground were from India. Similarly, much of the early fighting in the south Pacific (especially New Guinea) was done by Empire forces -- it wasn't until early 1943 that the United States provided the majority of the forces there.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Sharlos » Thu Aug 27, 2009 1:48 am UTC

Most of the early fighting in the pacific was avoiding getting conquered.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby TheKrikkitWars » Thu Aug 27, 2009 2:01 am UTC

Sharlos wrote:Most of the early fighting in the pacific was avoiding getting conquered.


The Point. You appear to have missed it;

Large portions of the pacific ocean were surrendered with minmal resistance because they were strategially less important, and difficult to hold, but for three years, most of the available resources in that theatre were poured into Burma, to prevent the establishment of the land based logistics and comunications required to invade Asia, and link up with the axis forces in the balkans and central asia.

Anyhow, this is beginning to get has gotten off topic, because how the British Empire fits into the overall strategy of WW2 is but a minute part of what its overall scope for contribution to humankind.

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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Nordic Einar » Thu Aug 27, 2009 2:58 am UTC

bigglesworth wrote:TKW is right. For example, you can hardly argue the British Empire harmed Scotland, given that it gave it security and increased trade.


At the cost of massive destruction of culture, the Highland purges, revoking our rights to sovereignty, and forcing us into military bondage as the sole way to continue our traditions (only military Scots could wear the kilt, etc).

Given the alternative I'm certain my ancestors would much rather have been their own sovereign nation and had any "increase in trade" brought about by consensual trade agreements between themselves and their lowland neighbors.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Nath » Thu Aug 27, 2009 3:53 am UTC

As an Indian, this is a difficult question to answer. My kneejerk response is 'aaugh! evil!', but I know reality is a bit more complex than that. The British certainly exploited India for a long time, but a lot of Indian attitudes and habits -- good and bad -- have been influenced by British rule. Government, education, values, tea. Oh, and cricket. An India that had not been occupied by the British would not be the same country we call India today.

Well, for one thing, it wouldn't really be a country. India the modern political entity probably wouldn't exist, but India the cultural unit would probably be alive and well. (It's a ridiculously diverse cultural unit, of course, but much has been written about why all these bits and pieces are ultimately part of the same culture.) Instead of the Republic of India (and Pakistan, Bangladesh etc.), the subcontinent would probably be a mess of smaller states with various political systems and religious breakdowns. On the whole, most would probably be richer than they are now, but less stable and with less long-term potential than the (relatively) united India we have now.

Someone mentioned sati. I should point out that the British were neither the first nor the last to try to eliminate this, or any of the other harmful, medieval (but thankfully not too widespread) aspects of Indian culture. They were also not above exploiting and exacerbating these things when convenient, to make people easier to rule. It's hard to say whether they did more good or harm in this area.

I realize I only talked about one country in the Empire, but I think it's a fairly representative example of why it's hard to give a simple yes/no answer to this question.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Philwelch » Thu Aug 27, 2009 4:07 am UTC

TheKrikkitWars wrote:On behalf of my Grandfather and Great Grandfather, both of whom served in the far east in the Burma Campaign; I'd like to point out that troops from the empire (Including troops from England, India, the Nepali Gurkas, Native Burmese and Australia) were instrumental in preventing the Japanese from spreading into southeast asia and central asia in 1941-1943, fighting a brutal jungle campaign with heavy losses and appaling conditions in Japanese POW camps for those captured alive. Without this sacrifice from the commonweath, combined with the pressure exerted by the Chinese (both nationalist and maoist in an uneasy co-operation) Japan stood to gain a dangerous grip on asia, and leave russia surrounded by axis forces.


I'm sure most of those countries would have banded together with or without the British empire, though the empire may have helped them form a more cohesive defense than they would have formed on their own. But it was chiefly the United States that brought the war to Japan, and the British themselves were nowhere to be seen on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, or in the naval battles at Coral Sea and Midway. Likewise, the British were completely uninvolved in the eventual atomic bombing of Japan.

To continue on this personal theme you've developed: your grandfather and great grandfather may have fought to defend an empire from the Japanese, but my father and grandfather fought to destroy Japan's own imperial ambitions.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Zamfir » Thu Aug 27, 2009 8:11 am UTC

This post was 100% bad. -Az
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby TheKrikkitWars » Thu Aug 27, 2009 8:53 am UTC

Philwelch wrote:Likewise, the British were completely uninvolved in the eventual atomic bombing of Japan.


Erm, and all those german and central/east european scientists found their way to the manhattan project how exactly? The non-aligned nordic countries and britain were instrumental in saving these people whilst america was too busy being protectionist, that they eventually made their was to america is owing to the forsight of people in several countries along the way.

Philwelch wrote:To continue on this personal theme you've developed: your grandfather and great grandfather may have fought to defend an empire from the Japanese, but my father and grandfather fought to destroy Japan's own imperial ambitions.


Cool beans, might I ask why you feel that the American effort in relclaiming the pacific sea routes, and staging attacks on the japanese mainland is so important, yet containing the spread of japanese imperialism can be dismissed as "they would have done it themselves"? I'm sure the russians would have anhiallated the japs in good time (they invaded manchuria* and pushed to the sea of japan in a startling mechanised campaign during the same week the atomic bomb was dropped.), so the americans should have stayed at home; oh wait, that actually sounds pretty rude and dismissive put like that doesn't it?

I'm sure there are a lot of Australian, Filipino, Dutch and Royal Marines veterans who would resent the fact that their fighting in the pacific alongside the americans gets ignored because their units were intigrated into an American led campaign.

*It's roughly the size of alaska, No mean feat taking it in such a short time.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby General_Norris » Thu Aug 27, 2009 11:21 am UTC

Mechanicus wrote: and I haven't found much on the Spanish either. I don't suppose anyone knows any good books on these?


By that time Spain only had one important colony, Cuba. They were more like second-rate citizens.

I'm going to restate my opinion. The British Empire was not better than the alternatives but it was better than what the colonies had before, mainly because they were stuck in pre-industrial state. Consider that the most developed countries are the ones that are close historically to Europe.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Decker » Thu Aug 27, 2009 12:42 pm UTC

I think this is simply a very difficult question to answer, mainly because we really have no idea what would have happened if the British Empire DIDN'T have the influence that it did. Life may have been better, or worse, or about the same but different. You could go on about "Well, maybe this would have happened" untill we all get old and never really get anywhere.

Fact is, it already happened and debating if it was a good thing or a bad thing really isn't going to do us much good now (except for writing alternate history books.)

Unless you guys are just asking questions for the sake of asking questions (an activity I approve of), in which case feel free to ignore me completely.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Vaniver » Thu Aug 27, 2009 1:58 pm UTC

Nordic Einar wrote:At the cost of massive destruction of culture, the Highland purges, revoking our rights to sovereignty, and forcing us into military bondage as the sole way to continue our traditions (only military Scots could wear the kilt, etc).
I was under the impression that the kilt wasn't really a national tradition until the British tried to outlaw it.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Philwelch » Thu Aug 27, 2009 5:00 pm UTC

TheKrikkitWars wrote:
Philwelch wrote:Likewise, the British were completely uninvolved in the eventual atomic bombing of Japan.


Erm, and all those german and central/east european scientists found their way to the manhattan project how exactly? The non-aligned nordic countries and britain were instrumental in saving these people whilst america was too busy being protectionist, that they eventually made their was to america is owing to the forsight of people in several countries along the way.


Could you give me some sources about the Manhattan Project personnel, and how many of them were supplied by the British?

TheKrikkitWars wrote:
Philwelch wrote:To continue on this personal theme you've developed: your grandfather and great grandfather may have fought to defend an empire from the Japanese, but my father and grandfather fought to destroy Japan's own imperial ambitions.


Cool beans, might I ask why you feel that the American effort in relclaiming the pacific sea routes, and staging attacks on the japanese mainland is so important, yet containing the spread of japanese imperialism can be dismissed as "they would have done it themselves"?


The Midwayans wouldn't have risen up to defeat the Imperial Japanese Navy without the United States. The Burmese and Indians and Chinese and Aussies would have put together a defense against the Japanese without the British. So the British only get partial credit for containment, while the Americans get full credit for taking the strategic initiative and defeating Japan.

TheKrikkitWars wrote:I'm sure the russians would have anhiallated the japs in good time (they invaded manchuria* and pushed to the sea of japan in a startling mechanised campaign during the same week the atomic bomb was dropped.), so the americans should have stayed at home; oh wait, that actually sounds pretty rude and dismissive put like that doesn't it?


1. The Russians didn't make a move until after the first atomic bomb was dropped.
2. Letting the Russians conquer the Japanese empire would not qualify as "saving the world from a totalitarian empire". In fact it may even be a step back. A Communist Japan would be far less free than the Japan that MacArthur rebuilt.

TheKrikkitWars wrote:I'm sure there are a lot of Australian, Filipino, Dutch and Royal Marines veterans who would resent the fact that their fighting in the pacific alongside the americans gets ignored because their units were intigrated into an American led campaign.


Ha, but the Philippines were part of the *American* empire. So if you're claiming the Australians as part of the British Empire, then we get to claim the Philippines. The Dutch are another country entirely.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby MarshyMarsh » Thu Aug 27, 2009 10:35 pm UTC

Philwelch wrote:That entire post up there, why did you feel you needed to quote it in it's entirety?


Wheee, long rants bitching about people, rather than points. Don't do it again. -Az


Now back on topic, counter-factual history whilst an obscure and factless branch of study is still exciting to imagine what might have been.
The British Empire was an ever evolving organisation, only succesful in its endeavours due to the power and might of the British Navy the most powerful navy on the seas at the time and able to protect Britains interests in its colonies without having to cross land to reach them. To quantize how Good it was is an immense task, but I think it is achievable by looking at the legacy of the empire.
Slavery is all but extinct in the western world and equality between race allthough not perfect is still better than it was.
Mass production and industrialisation are still important parts of todays societies, we would simply not be as advanced as we are if Britian did not lead the way in industrialistion and use its might to advance technology at an unprecedented weight.
Countries such as India are now posied to be the worlds greatest superpowers, its British legacy has not died away and it still maintains an immensly rich culture which still reveres and cherishes its ancient practices and religions.
The Pakistan/India dispute was on the surface a British created problem, the hasty construction of a new state and apparent use of the religious distractions to safely pull out of India. Yet this dispute is deeper than it seems, it is a religious dispute a clash of cultures which has happened throughout Indian History (less so in the South which has been relatively protected from the influence of Muslimrule).
The Brtish Empire exhausted itself in the destruction of Nazi Germany and protection of the colonies and allies in the rest of the world. Before the Second World War it was the worlds biggest super power and attempted to maintain peace with the League of Nations (France being the other big player). The US at the time was maintaining a selfish policy of isolationalism and took little interest in world affairs or protection of Democracy or prevention of war. Instead the US Superpower looked to maintain its riches by profiteering from the rest of the world. The Second World War changed everything, Britian was no longer in a position to govern so much of the world, it has exhausted itself and pushed its people. The US was now the important player, strong rich and relatively moral it emerged as the new "Good" Super Power and has policed the world since (with support from various other countries).
The sacrifice of the Empire for moral reasons and defending of attacked peoples was a good thing, a very good thing. The British Empire gained only destruction and debt from the Second World War, it could no longer maintain the colonies and attempted to ensure these colonies continued on in a democractic fashion.

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The Empire has dark routes in conquest, slavery, destruction and raping of the world. However in its last years it did help protect the Western ideas of good, and no longer persued colonialisation tied to the US with huge debts the Empire ended, leaving a coalition of countries (The Common Wealth) which work for peace whist the remainder of the Empire itself (British Isles, Northern Ireland, Various Islands, Antarctica) still attempts to try to preserve the peace in the world (whilst using a very succesful tertiary/banking economy to give its people a relatively comfy lifestyle).
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Dream » Fri Aug 28, 2009 12:08 am UTC

Philwelch wrote:
TheKrikkitWars wrote:
Philwelch wrote:Likewise, the British were completely uninvolved in the eventual atomic bombing of Japan.


Erm, and all those german and central/east european scientists found their way to the manhattan project how exactly? The non-aligned nordic countries and britain were instrumental in saving these people whilst america was too busy being protectionist, that they eventually made their was to america is owing to the forsight of people in several countries along the way.


Could you give me some sources about the Manhattan Project personnel, and how many of them were supplied by the British?

Britain and Canada were both consulted on the decision to nuclear bomb Japan, and both gave their official approval. Britain had a veto over the US nuclear arsenal from the inception of the Manhattan Project until about 1947. The CPC, the Combined Policy Committee oversaw British, Canadian and US cooperation in nuclear weapons development. The extremely (in)famous Klaus Fuchs was a British ex-German scientist seconded from Edinburgh University to Los Alamos.

These are matters of record. Read some actual history before you go demanding citations. The commonly known history of the bomb is far from the actual events.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Arete » Fri Aug 28, 2009 12:35 am UTC

Tiny, small, entirely huge point of order.

Ireland, Scotland and Wales were NOT part of the British Empire. At the time of the British Empire, they were English. Part of England. They had no separate National identity / governance at this point, barring regional identifiers on military units. All this huge QQ about potatoe famine, landlords and so forth was entirely prior to the British Empire. Yes, Cromwell [17th C] eradicated large amounts of Irish people, and yes, the new protestant settlers (ironically... largely from Scotland) as compared to the first wave of English / Welsh settlers were highly aggressive. And yes, all this QQ about Ireland, Scotland and Wales largely arose.... oh... after the height of the British Empire. Or shall we not remember the original dates of Irish revolt? [circa.. early 20th C].

But, please. Wales ceased to be an individual country sometime in the 14th C. Scotland.. well.. Bonny Prince Charlie?* And Ireland... yep, that'd be Cromwell. These places might have artificially regained some national identity later, but that's simple nationalism trying to re-write history. British Empire arose in the 19th C. That's 400-200 years after these places were conquered.

Any and all attempts to link "the British Empire" with this are asinine and non-historical.


Here's a challenge: I can provide sources for everything I just said. Claiming otherwise just isn't true. And yes, I get that the potatoe famine was bad, one side of my family left Ireland during it. But don't conflate the issues - Cromwell is to blame for the set-up in Ireland, not the Empire formed rather later.


p.s.

Cromwell was a republican. Ironic for Ireland, no?

*Officially, Scotland ceased to be a separate country from England with James I, who was also James VI of Scotland. He 'united' both countries, which lead into the English civil war. So, you can argue that Ireland was the last country to cease to have a nationality, but... its within 50 years. Which is still 250 years prior to Empire formation.


[edit]

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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Philwelch » Fri Aug 28, 2009 6:23 am UTC

You have to be careful throwing around words like "country" willy-nilly. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are indeed separate "countries" in British parlance: they are not part of England but part of the United Kingdom. However, the UK is a single nation-state and the individual countries of the UK are not internationally recognized as separate countries anywhere outside of international sporting.

That having been said, subsuming other countries into a nation-state is a form of imperialism: for instance, it was imperialistic for the Soviets to annex the Baltic states, and for the Americans to annex Hawaii, Alaska, what used to be large parts of Mexico, and an entire continent of what used to be called "Indian country".

Interestingly enough, Ireland was one part of the British nation-state (as opposed to a possession like India) that fought for and won its independence.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Zamfir » Fri Aug 28, 2009 6:51 am UTC

Niall Ferguson goes farther than a mere intellectual question about the British Empire. The conclusion he draws, and the one that buys him lucrative columns, is that the US should model itself on the British Empire.

In Colossus, from 2004 or so, he argued that the US should should for example not promise independence to Iraq, but rule it indefinitely as a benevolent empire (perhaps with democratically chosen local rulers for the internal rule), and that the US should adopt such a policy in general if it happened to control some country.

More in general, he argued that the US should train its elite students to be interested in other cultures, learn the languages of the empire, and then send them out to rule the empire. His claim was basically that the US was at the moment a grossly irresponsible empire, and that moving towards a more official, British-style empire would be good for the US and for the rest of the world.

If you think the British Empire was a clear positive development, than there should be at least something in this extension. At leats it makes the discussion a lot more relevant.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby mister k » Fri Aug 28, 2009 9:05 am UTC

Arete wrote:Seriously, the whole post is RIGHT UP THERE.


During the early 20th century Britain still very much had an empire. Ireland was directly governed after the act of the union in 1801. The great irish famine in 1846 led to the death of millions of Irish people, and, despire supposedly being a part of the nation state of the UK, the British govt did very little to help.

Niall Ferguson goes farther than a mere intellectual question about the British Empire. The conclusion he draws, and the one that buys him lucrative columns, is that the US should model itself on the British Empire.


Yeah, and I utterly disagree with that. The overall consequences of the British empire MIGHT have been positive, but such a role was ethically hideous, and not tenable. Admittedly the current model is not any better, but I was hardly for the invasion of Iraq in the first place.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Sharlos » Fri Aug 28, 2009 5:05 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:Niall Ferguson goes farther than a mere intellectual question about the British Empire. The conclusion he draws, and the one that buys him lucrative columns, is that the US should model itself on the British Empire.

In Colossus, from 2004 or so, he argued that the US should should for example not promise independence to Iraq, but rule it indefinitely as a benevolent empire (perhaps with democratically chosen local rulers for the internal rule), and that the US should adopt such a policy in general if it happened to control some country.

More in general, he argued that the US should train its elite students to be interested in other cultures, learn the languages of the empire, and then send them out to rule the empire. His claim was basically that the US was at the moment a grossly irresponsible empire, and that moving towards a more official, British-style empire would be good for the US and for the rest of the world.

If you think the British Empire was a clear positive development, than there should be at least something in this extension. At leats it makes the discussion a lot more relevant.

Or.. we could wait for the American 'empire' to collapse and continue with a growing 'weak confederacy/international law' sort of global interaction.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Heisenberg » Fri Aug 28, 2009 7:53 pm UTC

TheKrikkitWars wrote:SB is not the place for emotive language; and leading statments.

I apologize for poorly defining my argument. In Southeast Asia, the British Empire was only marginally less brutal than its mainland European counterparts. The aggregate effect of imperialism on the region was severely detrimental, and the stripping of resources has made this region one of the poorest in the world to this day. The word terrorism is not emotive when used in this context. Imperialists in SE Asia were experts in the use of terror. The only way that several hundred Europeans controlled an entire region was the fact that if you crossed them, they would torture you to death and eradicate your entire extended family.
TheKrikkitWars wrote:Ultimately, if you like the way that the world is largely industrialised and democratic, then you owe at least some of that to both the dissapation of industrial and engineering innovations by the tendrils of the empire during its last 100 years,

This is operating under the assumption that without British intervention, other regions would not have industrialized or democratized. Ever. I don't buy it.
Carnildo wrote:It's the forgotten front of the war, but fighting in the Southeast Asian Theatre was almost exclusively done by British Empire forces.

Lovely, but why were they needed? Could it be because for generations, any independent or aggressive members of the population were killed? I think it's reasonable to assume that if this region were freed from the yoke of imperialism a century earlier, it would be more than capable of defending itself.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Nordic Einar » Fri Aug 28, 2009 11:56 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:
Nordic Einar wrote:At the cost of massive destruction of culture, the Highland purges, revoking our rights to sovereignty, and forcing us into military bondage as the sole way to continue our traditions (only military Scots could wear the kilt, etc).
I was under the impression that the kilt wasn't really a national tradition until the British tried to outlaw it.


While it is true that the kilt was not a national tradition amongst the lowland Scots until the 1700 and 1800's, I am not a lowland Scot. Nor were the lowland Scots subjugated in the same manner as the Highland Scots. Lowland history is intermingled with English history due to their proximity with England and their propensity to support and desire English titles.

I am a Highlander. I claim membership of clans MacGregor, MacKenzie and Sutherland, by blood and marriage. The kilt and pipes were very old symbols of Highland identity amongst my kin; twelve Highlanders and a bagpipe make a rebellion. This is very specifically WHY England banned both the pipes and kilt; to break Highland spirit. So my kin left; some to Australia, many to Nova Scotia. It was either that, or let our traditions die.

Arete wrote:Tiny, small, entirely huge point of order.

Ireland, Scotland and Wales were NOT part of the British Empire. At the time of the British Empire, they were English. Part of England.


I may not be able to speak for my Irish or Welsh cousins here, but I damned well sure can speak for MY kin; the Highlands (and oft Lowlands) resisted the yoke of English tyranny for as long as England existed as a nation. To all those Scots who fled the Highlands to places like Nova Scotia and Australia, I doubt a great deal that they felt "English".

No one honestly believes that Scotland as a nation, today, should separate from the UK. But to suggest that Scotland did not suffer at the hands of England is disingenuous at best, and does a disservice to the spirit of independence the Highland Scots had maintained since the Romans were forced to build Hadrians Wall. The Scottish were not, and I dare say are not, "English".

Arete wrote:But, please. Wales ceased to be an individual country sometime in the 14th C. Scotland.. well.. Bonny Prince Charlie?*


Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite uprising ended in 1745. The formation of the First British Empire began as far back as 1583; it segued seamlessly into the Second British Empire around 1750, a mere 5 years following the end of Scotland's last major uprising. Hell, the East Indian Trading Company had become the predominant military and political power in India only 12 years later.

Arete wrote:*Officially, Scotland ceased to be a separate country from England with James I, who was also James VI of Scotland. He 'united' both countries, which lead into the English civil war. So, you can argue that Ireland was the last country to cease to have a nationality, but... its within 50 years. Which is still 250 years prior to Empire formation.


Aye, in the same vein that English and French thrones were oft held together by the same royal ties; I doubt very seriously anyone would suggest that France and England were ever "the same country". In fact, both English and Scottish parliaments refused him the right to be titled "King of Great Britain"; both nations very clearly did not consider one another the same but rather were simply ruled by the same royal line. They both held onto a spirit of national individualism, even when "united" by a common king.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Arete » Sat Aug 29, 2009 12:39 am UTC

Hello.

I'm 50% Scottish. I even have the privilege of wearing Tartan. Not a kilt though. That's a male thing. I can trace my family way back into the period where we helped sack York (yay!) and stole a lot of sheep. It isn't a coincidence that I have a lot of Australian relatives. In places like Perth, Cairns and so forth.

Peter Young was the son of merchant, born in Dundee in 1544. In 1569 he was made tutor to the infant King James VI, and later became Almoner to the King. He was knighted in 1605 after many years of service in various embassies. http://www.scotclans.com/scottish_clans ... story.html

We're border scum. The kind that fought the English.. a lot... while Highland "nobility" didn't.

So yes - we aren't 'high' Clan, but we got there ;) Oh, and claiming that Hadrian's Wall is some kind of reference to the total uberness of Celtic spirit is just dumb, and totally delusional. Although the 9th got lost up there (and unlike various legions in Germanica, probably wasn't wiped out - and please, do you *know* what Caesar did to that province to discover where the bodies where?!) Roman documentation clearly shows that... there wasn't anything up there worth fighting for. Remember: Romans were noted for amazing engineering and total ruthlessness in getting what they wanted. Carthage. The major hub of N. African civilisation was wiped out [literally - down to foundation stones] over a war. Somehow, I doubt Highland Celts posed even a fraction of the problem... if they'd found Highland Scotland interesting or worthwhile.

So yes.. please cut down on the infantile Nationalism there.

But anyhow:

English / Island history is way before the "British Empire".

Are you telling me that the Scottish, Welsh & Irish 'nationals' who were instrumental in shaping the British Empire didn't think they were part of the "United Kingdom". I'd strongly suggest this is totally false. They also profited highly from it.

Fun facts:

1) During the early 20th century Britain still very much had an empire. Ireland was directly governed after the act of the union in 1801. The great irish famine in 1846 led to the death of millions of Irish people, and, despire supposedly being a part of the nation state of the UK, the British govt did very little to help.

Yes, the Sudan / Panama canal incident is largely recognised as the end of the British Empire. There's actually a huge influential body of work that suggests that the UK sacrificed the "Empire" (through treaties, Commonwealth diffusion of power, direct action and so forth) during WWII and after. And please notice that date: 1801. From Cromwell to 1801, the English didn't directly govern the province.

So.. ?

2) Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite uprising ended in 1745. The formation of the First British Empire began as far back as 1583; it segued seamlessly into the Second British Empire around 1750, a mere 5 years following the end of Scotland's last major uprising. Hell, the East Indian Trading Company had become the predominant military and political power in India only 12 years later.

Yes.. before this rise of this ultimate Patriot, the mighty, racist English got tired of all this and got a couple of DUTCH people to come rule the land.

Yea. Ho-hum. Damn those Nationalistic bastards. Obviously getting an Empire together from their own country.

William III (14 November 1650 – 8 March 1702) was a sovereign Prince of Orange by birth. From 1672 he governed as Stadtholder William III of Orange over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic. From 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland, and as William II over Scotland.[2] He is informally known in Northern Ireland and Scotland as "King Billy". A member of the House of Orange-Nassau, William won the English, Scottish and Irish crowns following the Glorious Revolution, in which his uncle and father-in-law James II was deposed. In England, Scotland and Ireland, William ruled jointly with his wife, Mary II, until her death on 28 December 1694.

Learn some history already.

Somehow, a peaceful 'invasion' in which no lives were lost, and an entire country (or countries) got a ruler of a different nationality, who was invited in, and accepted by the nation as a whole.

Compare this to some jumped up spoiled child, who tried to invade, got hardly any support, and got beaten down instantly.

Ignoring the advice of his best commander, Lord George Murray, Charles chose to fight on flat, open, marshy ground where his forces would be exposed to superior government firepower. Charles commanded his army from a position behind his lines, where he could not see what was happening. Hoping Cumberland's army would attack first, he had his men stand exposed to Hanoverian artillery for twenty minutes before finally ordering an attack.

After his defeat, Charles indicated to the remaining supporters of the Jacobite cause in England that, accepting the impossibility of his recovering the English and Scots crowns while he remained a Roman Catholic, he was willing to commit himself to reigning as a Protestant. Accordingly he visited London incognito in 1750 and conformed to the Protestant faith by receiving Anglican communion at the Church of St Mary-le-Strand, a noted centre of Anglican Jacobitism. On Charles's return to France he reverted to Catholic observance.



If you know *anything* about the period, being a devout Roman Catholic was more divisive than where you came from, at that time. Thus - Dutch, good (Protestant); Silly jumped up alcoholic who was Roman Catholic - bad. Bearing in mind if you know the history of the period, the Dutch & English were competitive rivals (naval) at this time as well. Holland was a major player in European history for a while, post the collapse of Spanish power. So... William of Orange is akin to asking your populace to invite your direct Nation based country of hate (let's chose Cuba for you Americans) to rule your land.


But sure, you wallow in Nationalist Jingoism enough, I'm sure those facts aren't important.


Oh. And serious point: there's no co-incidence that the 19-20th C is called "THE RISE OF NATIONALISM AND THE NATION STATE". Before that, it wasn't even a serious fucking concept. Or did you miss the whole point of this all?
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Philwelch » Sat Aug 29, 2009 2:16 am UTC

Arete wrote:Are you telling me that the Scottish, Welsh & Irish 'nationals' who were instrumental in shaping the British Empire didn't think they were part of the "United Kingdom". I'd strongly suggest this is totally false. They also profited highly from it.


Heh...not so much on the Irish, who fought a series of long, bloody conflicts to leave the United Kingdom.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby General_Norris » Sat Aug 29, 2009 11:39 am UTC

Nordic Einar, you might not think so, but you came across as a nationalist who is blind with pride. You talk about Scottish people as your "kin", I'm sorry to hear I'm not your "kin" because I was born in other place. Perhaps should try to word everything much more carefully.

And Arete is right. For example Spain had no national identity until 1808 and it's was the first country to have one*. Napoleon thought of Spain as an ulcer because he didn't expect peasants to defend their country.

*Or France if you want but they are closely related.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Sat Aug 29, 2009 3:46 pm UTC

General_Norris wrote:If you understand the British Empire as the actions taken by it's governants that influenced the country I would say it was not very much different than the rest of the world at at time. So it was well, average.

It's not easy to make hard and fast comparisons between the British Empire and that of the Belgians, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italians, Germans and the US's Manifest Destiny. If nothing else, they existed in different time frames, but more importantly they took on the experience very differently. France was far more ideological, and even if their actions weren't always to the standards of the "civilising mission", they did the best job of giving their subject populations a high quality education. And the Belgians...yeah, not good. The British fit somewhere in between "well-intentioned ideologists" and "tyrannical fuckpots".
athelas wrote:Good - it brought good governance to many areas of the world that had known only warlordism. Upon reading Lee Kwan Yew's memoirs (Singapore prime minister), it struck me how responsible they were in trying to withdraw in such a way that stable governments could take over. That they succeeded in Asia but failed in Africa says more about the indigenous population and social systems prevalent, but also underscores how much of an improvement British administration was, while it lasted.
India, Hong Kong and Singapore weren't administered the same way Africa was. If nothing else, Britain didn't really bother to educate indigenous Africans for roles in the bureaucracy, so it's no wonder things kinda fell down afterwards. But really, British administration was excellent where it benefited the British. They'd build telegraph poles and railway lines, which meant you could get a direct line from Accra to London, but forget about communications or transport within and across Africa.
Heisenberg wrote:The word terrorism is not emotive when used in this context. Imperialists in SE Asia were experts in the use of terror. The only way that several hundred Europeans controlled an entire region was the fact that if you crossed them, they would torture you to death and eradicate your entire extended family.
Cept terrorists don't do this. "Tyrant" is the word that would describe such behaviour.

For my vote: I can honestly say I don't know. It's arrogant to suggest democracy wouldn't have spread in places if Britain hadn't wanked on them. It's heartless to ignore their indiscriminate slaughter of native populations. It's brainless to suggest they left their ex-colonies with nothing worthwhile, or to suggest they weren't prepared to improve the lot of those they subjugated. How do you quantify all that? One thing can be said: I don't think they left a single population untouched enough to give an unbiased answer.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby kingofdreams » Sat Aug 29, 2009 3:57 pm UTC

resitsting urge to get off topic in response to the Roman empire diversion
So then you post it in tiny text? How about no. -Az

and the matter of the betrayal of the Stuart Monarchy, the corruption of the union and the subsequent systematic attempt to utterly annihilate the foundations of a culture

completely agree (well not completely) with Nordic Einar points well grounded, as for arete I find your manner pointedly hostile and confrontational, having pride in ones heritage is not offensive, and not jingoistic you will note that he has not insulted any other national identity his points are well considered and you are resulting to the point of 'shouting' over him the idea of nation state might be rooted in yet to emerge germanic quibbles but clan loyalty and family ties certainly were extant at this point bonnie prince charlie is not the anthropomorphic incarnation of scottish identity but a petulant and talentless child obsessed with obtaining what he saw as his birth right. I do believe fervently in devolution, and the need for development of Scotland's infrastructure (an impossibilty with the current administration) so that it can one day regain independence (although its kind of nice the simmering resentment towards England despite the breeding of social tension and hatred creates a rather pleasent air or unity and community, I was at the gathering of the clans recently in Edinburgh).

despite my personal problems with England I cast my vote in favor of the British Empire, exploiting force that it is and despite the fact that it spread industrialization as a hoard of locusts in its wake and despite the fact that it led to the formation of power block politics, and despite the fact that it contributed heavily to the uneven trade practices of the modern way and despite the mix up of cold and silver standards leading to the opium wars in perhaps the worlds oldest consistently gestalt civilized group and despite the racial division that would ensue, at least people all over the world drive on the proper side of the road, that and the world is a pretty shitty place all ready, Britain was a place holder, it was preceded in its exploitations and it was rivalled by contempories at the time, at least with its end it closed a chapter (those who disagree keep it clean now)

Less tiny text and a more cohesive use of the written language please.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby Azrael » Sat Aug 29, 2009 5:34 pm UTC

It's time the participants in this thread start discussing this topics like rational adults rather than repeated demonstrating that any topic relating to national pride, identity or historical consequence is just way to fucking hard for you to handle responsibly.

I have refrained from issuing ... 6? ... warnings because I'm really not sure how/why/where this conversation went left on me. So this thread is now on probation.
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Re: The British Empire, good or bad?

Postby A. Akbar » Thu Sep 03, 2009 1:03 pm UTC

The Midwayans wouldn't have risen up to defeat the Imperial Japanese Navy without the United States. The Burmese and Indians and Chinese and Aussies would have put together a defense against the Japanese without the British. So the British only get partial credit for containment, while the Americans get full credit for taking the strategic initiative and defeating Japan.


First, as a New Zealander this is ever so slightly inaccurate. I'm going to lump the Aussies and Kiwis together here as at that point we shared a "trans-tasman national psyche" but New Zealand (and by extension Australia) entered the war purely because we saw ourselves as part of Britain and her empire.


Addressing only my own countries (U.K and N.Z) I believe that the Empire was a net benefit for New Zealand. It directly lead to the formation of New Zealand/Aotearoa as a nation, tellingly NZ saw itself as a a somewhat unofficial part of Britain right up till the U.K joined the the EEC and thus betrayed us in the 70's. Too tired to prolong this post (fittingly due to studying for history schol exam) but I'll leave with this, said by our greatest prime minister-
"I am satisfied that nowhere will the issue be more clearly understood than in New Zealand - where, for almost a century, behind the sure shield of Britain, we have enjoyed and cherished freedom and self-government. Both with gratitude for the past and confidence in the future, we range ourselves without fear beside Britain. Where she goes, we go. Where she stands, we stand. We are only a small and young nation, but we are one and all a band of brothers and we march forward with union of hearts and wills to a common destiny."
The impact of Empire is seen almost unanimously as a thing of pride and positive (barring a few treaty issues).
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