NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 23, 2008

Peter Clarke's new book, "The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire," focuses on the forces behind Britain's last imperial days and their effects, says the Wall Street Journal.

It is a complicated story, says the Journal, involving economic imperatives, political obstacles and social demands -- but Clarke makes it all clear and captivating.

According to Clarke's book, Britain's imperial collapse is partly due to its wartime commitments and subsequent monetary crisis:

  • During WWII, Europe's gross national product plunged 25 percent, while America's increased 50 percent.
  • WWII left India a creditor on a vast scale, with Britain owing it huge sums in the form of the sterling balances.
  • Britain also owed a great deal to the United States, due to the terms of the Lend-Lease program, which allowed Britain to receive billions of dollars of material and supplies from America.
  • In the aftermath of WWII, Britain could not even adequately feed its own people (who faced more draconian rationing in the late 1940s than during the war).

Clarke also explains how violent uprisings in India and Palestine contributed to Britain\'s imperial collapse:

  • In the Indian subcontinent, huge numbers were dying in sectarian killings.
  • In Palestine, Jewish terrorists hanged two British sergeants and booby-trapped their bodies to kill those cutting them down.
  • Britain could not afford the cost of large troop deployments and the other costs of governing India and Palestine.

The manner in which Britain gave up its responsibilities in these two regions has been the subject of much debate and criticism.  What Clarke has demonstrated beyond question is that its retreat had long been inevitable, determined by decisions taken earlier in the decade, says the Journal.

Source: Martin Rubin, "Losing Hope, Glory and Assets," the Wall Street Journal, June 20, 2008.

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