Lessons From the British Empire
January 13, 2010
by William P. Meyers

Site Search

Also sponsored by Peace Pendants at PeacefulJewelry

Popular pages:

U.S. War Against Asia
Barack Obama
Democratic Party
Republican Party
Natural Liberation


In 1500 there was no British Empire. True, the English held Wales and bits of France, but at best were a second class nation. Spain, Turkey (the Ottoman Empire), China and other nations were all far more formidable. But with a bit of piracy, a bit of industry, and a good deal of violence, the largest empire the world has seen was forged over the next four centuries.

Somehow we have been taught to see the British Empire as a benign creature, but the British created it by killing everyone who would not cooperate with them. If France had not intervened, they probably would have killed enough Americans post 1776 to ensure we would still be paying homage to the Queen today.

The building of the British Empire is a fascinating story, but I want to focus on its fall. This happened in the two decades after World War II. I am wondering if, and when, the American Empire will collapse, and what the world will look like when that happens.

World War I was tough on the British; in retrospect it was the beginning of the end. The British (and their French, Italian, and Russian allies) would almost certainly have lost the war if the U.S. had not intervened. But they won, and they held onto their colonies. Already in almost every British colony there were people demanding national independence, but the British bribed them with a few crumbs of self-government and graft, delaying the day of reckoning. Germany and the Ottoman Empire were defeated, but it was a bitter defeat. Britain had to borrow a mountain of money from the United States to get through the war. The U.S. emerged stronger, the British weaker, in the great global commercial competition that shaped the 19th and 20th centuries. Britain did gain control of much of the oil-bearing lands of the Middle East, but that was not enough to offset the heavy cost of the war.

When Nazi Germany grabbed half of Poland (roughly the half Britain carved out of Germany at the end of World War I), the British started World War II by declaring war, along with their ally France. Many, many people crushed by the British Empire, while not liking Hitler or his racist crew, were happy to see England (and France) on the ropes. In Asia, with the help of the Japanese, Burma declared independence (as the Philippines declared independence from the U.S., and China and Manchuria each declared independence from the British-U.S. puppet government of Chiang Kai-shek, and the Vietnamese declared independence from France). Britain came close to losing India as well when an independence army attacked from Burma.

Great Britain was on the winning side of World War II, and cooperated in the development of the atomic bomb. But the U.S. emerged with the world's only complete, unbombed set of factories. Britain was heavily in debt, and her colonies were not eager to be help pay off that debt. Colony after colony sought and won independence. Britain tried to keep up its military expenditures, but its shrinking colonial base could not also support a high standard of living in England at the same time. By 1960, Britain was pretty much finished as a world military and economic power, although it took much of the world longer to recognize that.

The United States of America is suffering from appallingly bad governance, and has been for decades. True, for the most part we don't have traditional colonies, but our economic and military sphere amount to nearly the same thing. Or better: the benefits of colonies without the responsibilities. All over the world, people want independence. Instead our network of military bases has expanded.

Our factories were never bombed, but they have effectively disappeared as production has moved to China, Mexico, and other nations. Even Germany has a better industrial base these days.

America could be saved. We could withdraw all of our troops from overseas, take a truly defensive posture, and use the saved taxes to revitalize the U.S. economy. We would not be the masters of the world anymore, but ...

It would be better than waiting for our ruling class, military-industrial complex to destroy what little most of us still have.

III Blog list of articles