a reply to: TrueBrit
And I believe other nations, such as India, most of the continent of Africa, and so on, would have had a better time of it over the last two
I'm from one of those nations, and I'm not so sure. However, I'll admit to bias: my country's experience of British imperialism was relatively benign
(though it certainly wasn't all roses), and besides, I
wouldn't be here myself, if my British forebears (mostly on the wrong side of the
blanket) hadn't been and gone.
The way I see it is this: once industrial civilization got started, it was only a matter of time before it spread, and aggressively. Human nature
being what it is, the power technology put in its wielders' hands would surely end up being used to conquer the world and seize its resources —
human ones included. It was a matter of luck that it happened first in Britain, although the rest of Western Europe wasn't very far behind. On the
whole, I think, it was good luck. What if it had been, say, the Russians?
Each set of world-conquerers learnt something from the mistakes of their predecssors. The Romans learnt from the Greeks, the Arabs from the (Eastern)
Romans, the Spaniards from the Arabs, the French and Dutch from the Spaniards. The British learnt from them all. And since they came later, they had
at their disposal all the new thinking in science, philosophy, ethics, political science and economics that had grown up since the Enlightenment.
Western Europe had become a lot more civilized since the adventure began in 1491, so the British could be more civilized conquerers.
Before the British, my country had the Dutch and before that the Portuguese. Both were pretty awful, their rule not only exploitative but tyrannous
and often arbitrary. When the British turned up, it was a great relief. So much so, in fact, that the nobles of the last remaining independent native
state sold out their king and joined the rest of the country under British rule. Since their king was a despot of Indian origin, they didn't feel any
great remorse about it.
Not a pretty story, but it reminds us that the dirty work wasn't confined to any one nation.
In addition to roads, railways and the entire apparatus of modern society (all of which were designed to benefit them first, and only incidentally
their subjects), the British also gave us the world of modern ideas, the concept of equality before the law, and many other good things from which my
people benefited both before and after independence. That's the good part. They also gave us alcohol, Christianity and prudishness, launched a strong
attack on the established religions of the country that is still deeply resented and a cause of social unreest today, and perpetuated a great many
traditional divisions by endorsing or at least tolerating them. That's the bad part.
Without exactly meaning to, they set off a massive social revolution in my country. They are long gone, but the issues they created remain largely
unresolved. The upheaval continues. In well over a half-century since Independence, we've had regular race riots, an attempted military coup, two
failed popular revolts, a generation-long civil war and numerous political assassinations. Of course the British aren't to blame for all our
postcolonial troubles, but you will see the same story tellingly repeated in many former European colonies. The world has only lately begun to recover
from the traumatic effects of the age of European colonialism. I must say the rise of the USA has not helped here, but has rather made things
A FEW REPLIES TO SUNDRY OTHER POSTERS:
theabsolutetruth: 'The African (slave) trade was well established of its own accord before the British were eventually persuaded (to join it).'
— yes, the Atlantic trade already existed in the time of Charles V of Spain. However, the British turned it into an industry. That was the real
difference between the British and everybody who preceded them: they turned everything they touched into an industry. In this case, human misery was
significantly multiplied as a result. But as much or more misery was caused by the industrial production of opium in Bengal and its export to China.
In my view, this is the greatest crime of British imperialism, and it was heinous indeed.
romilo: 'if British did not exist... maybe someone else had taken their ways and deeds and succeed better or worse.'
I agree. And the prime candidates would have been France and Holland. The Dutch, as I say, were terrible imperialists — so bad the Indonesians
actually preferred the Japanese to them, which must have taken some doing. As for the French, we can all see what a mess they made of their
empire — in Africa, Indochina, even North America. So perhaps, on the whole, we were all better off with the Brits.
Shiloh7: I don't think the average English individual is to blame from what GB/UK gets up to because of the part played by the monarchy and that
institution's greed and lust for power. If you look at our history the way we were serfs its amazing we survived.'
Serfdom began declining in England and Scotland from the fourteenth century onwards. The last English serfs were freed by Queen Elizabeth in 1547. The
English had barely begun assembling their empire by then. They weren't even British yet.
The British empire was built largely by private enterprise, from its beginnings in Sir Richard Morgan's pirate 'free port' in the Caribbean to the
British East India Company. The monarchy did little but hand out royal charters and help itself to a share of the profits. The empire-builders were
mostly men like Robert Clive and Cecil Rhodes — middle-class chancers who wanted to make it big, and didn't they just.
And who, pray tell, fought in those all-conquering red-coated armies if not the ordinary working and farming men of England? Have you forgotten A E
Housman's lines, written for Queen Victoria's jubilee?
Oh, God will save her, fear you not:
Be you the men you 've been,
Get you the sons your fathers got,
And God will save the Queen.
— A Shropshire Lad
edit on 21/4/15 by Astyanax because: of typos.