Impacts of Two World Wars on the British Empire

Impacts of Two World Wars on the British Empire

A month after Pearl Harbour, however, saw the collapse of much of the British imperial structure in the Far East. Malaya was invaded (via Indo- China), and the sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse destroyed the confidence of the navy. Hong Kong fell on Christmas Day 1941. As a result of the fall of Singapore in February, 1942, l 00,000 British, Australian and New Zealand troops were captured. This shook the empire to its foundations.  The Japanese swept through Burma and reached the frontiers of India; they took British, Dutch, American and French possessions in the Pacific, and thus extended their power uncomfortably close to Australia and New Zealand.

The success of the Japanese in the Far East, marked the start of the decolonisation process. Victory of the yellow man brought reverberations in the British Empire. To the nationalist leaders in Asia and other parts of the empire it was a signal that the British Empire was fragile and therefore the struggle for attaining independent nationhood began with India leading the way.

The British, nonetheless, did reconquer their lost Far Eastern empire but Britain’s imperial standing was already too damaged to be able to maintain the empire as it did before 1939. “After 1941 the Soviet Union and the United States bore an increasing share of the war effort. Neither of these powers were particularly friendly towards British imperialism; the Soviet government disliked the Empire from conviction based on theory, the Americans from habit. In some respects President Roosevelt was as inclined to trust Stalin as Winston Churchill. This meant that neither Russia nor the United States considered it their duty to help maintain the British Empire.”15 The United States’ anti-colonialism attitude also became a pressure on the British Empire.

1. D.MCINTYRE, The Commonwealth of Nations. Origins and Impact, 1869-1971, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Oxford U. P., 1977), pp. 336-7.
2. ibid., p. 337.
3. D.JUD and P. SLINN, op. cit., pp. 84-5.
4. P. KENNEDY, Strategy and Diplomacy 1870-1954, (London: Fontana, 1984), p. 18.
5. A.L. BURT, The Evolution of the British Empire and Commonwealth from the American Revolution, (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1956), p. 679.
6. ibid.
7. ROYAL INSITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL Affairs, Political and Strategic Interests of the United Kingdom, (London: Oxford U.P., 1939), p.4.
8. ibid., p. 148.
9. ibid., p. 115.
10. ibid., p. 116.
11. ibid., p. 148.
12. ibid.
13. ibid., p. 149.
14. ibid., p. 9.
15. ibid.

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