Discussion On Whether The British Empire Was Good Or Bad

In this essay I will be focusing on some of the different aspects of how the British Empire was good and bad. Historians are still arguing either way depending on their viewpoint. There are many points supporting each side of the debate. I personally I think that it is not clear-cut as the British Empire certainly pillaged resources from countries including their minerals, jewels, fine silks, food and cultural artifacts but on the positive side the Empire did bring order and structure to many more primitive cultures, such introducing railways, industry and commerce.

The British Empire was a worldwide system of dependencies under the sovereignty of the crown of Great Britain. At its height in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was the largest empire in history and covered about a quarter of the world’s land surface with territory on every continent. Trade ties with nations outside of its sovereignty reinforced its global dominance. In the 20th century the empire disintegrated as nations were granted independence. Many of these former British Empire colonies subsequently formed the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth is an association comprising the United Kingdom, its dependencies, and many former British colonies that are now sovereign states with a common allegiance to the British Crown, including Canada, Australia, India, and many countries in the West Indies and Africa. The Statute of Westminster formally established the commonwealth in 1931.

I will discuss some of the points commonly used in debates about whether the Empire was good or bad.

For my first example I will suggest that the British Empire forced colonies in different countries to adopt the British Culture, meaning that the colonies lost many of their normal traditions and their culture. This significantly affected their way of life because it meant that their children despite being borne as British children/citizens would often still not be given all the opportunities that local British born citizens would have. They would be discriminated against and also with the passage of time they would lose and forget many of their ethnic traditions and cultural identity. Such as the situation that was allowed to develop in India where it was satisfactory for an Indian British Citizen to take up arms and fight in the British Colonial regiments for King and country but they were not allowed the democratic right to vote in the British elections. Their children were forced to read and write English and not learn the traditional language of their forefathers.

For my second example on how the British Empire was bad I will talk about how the British colonialists cheated people on the prices they would pay for natural items such as minerals and commodities such as gold and diamonds. The British people would often bring relatively worthless gifts to the Chiefs of the colonies who would be misguided to believe they were very valuable and therefore offer in return gifts of true value to the British.

British Soldiers could behave irresponsibly with instances of urinating in fresh water supplies of locals. Burning crops, homes and buildings as well as torturing local resistant people who refused to abide by their new rules. They put many people into bondage or slavery. They forced many cultures to adopt the Christian faith rather than following their own religion.

The British often supported puppet leaders, who were put in charge of ‘puppet’ governments. They were puppets because they would always do as the British asked rather than do what their people needed. If such a leader refused or went against the British will, then that leader would be removed and replaced by a more cooperative person. To some extent this is still being done today. Although some puppet leaders have turned around and become thorns in the backs of their former masters!

When the British Empire decided to give up their colonial interests in a country then despite having become very important to the normal order of that society they would often leave without overseeing a smooth transition of power to a new government, leaving because chaos, death and destruction. A relatively recent example of this behavior is when the British withdrew from India in 1947 and the subsequent blood bath that ensued.

In summary, there are many examples of how the British Empire was bad. However this really does depend on your point of view.

10 December 2020
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