The postwar Empire
DOI link for The postwar Empire
The postwar Empire book
The SecondWorld War had a dramatically diﬀerent impact on the British Empire than on the United Kingdom. While the war in many ways uniﬁed Britain, it contributed to the dissolution of the Empire. Humiliating defeats at Japanese hands undermined the prestige and authority of colonial rule in Asia. The military situation grew so dire that it compelled the British to do something that would have been unthinkable prior to the war: oﬀer independence to India. And even though Britain ultimately was on the victorious side, the postwar era would see rapid decolonization that not only transformed the British Empire, but also impacted society and culture in Britain itself. In the two decades following the war, the population under British rule decreased from
700 million people to only 5 million, while men and women from the Empire increasingly came to settle in Britain. This chapter will examine the causes, patterns, and impact of postwar decolonization.
It occurred in three broad phases: the achievement of independence by India and other Asian colonies in the late 1940s; the independence of African and West Indian colonies in the 1950s and 1960s; and the achievement of independence by other British colonies and possessions after the 1960s. But although decolonization occurred quickly, the British did not surrender their empire passively. Instead, they sought to reconstruct it as a source of power and prestige in a postwar world that was dominated by the two superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union. This process was marked by the high ideals of the British Commonwealth of Nations, but also by the brutal violence on the part of colonial authorities who sought to maintain British control; the idea of a peaceful and orderly British withdrawal from empire is largely a myth. Lastly, this chapter will explore important aspects of empire’s impact on life in Britain, which continues to this day.