After World War II, there was the Chinese Revolution, the negotiated independence in India and much of Africa, and incomplete decolonization where large numbers of European settlers complicated the process as in South Africa.  During this era, why were some decolonizations violent and some peaceful?

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It is hard to know for sure why some countries became independent through peaceful means while others had to fight.  I would argue that it was largely the attitude of the colonizer that determined whether the decolonization would be peaceful.  However, the nature of the independence movement and the geographical...

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It is hard to know for sure why some countries became independent through peaceful means while others had to fight.  I would argue that it was largely the attitude of the colonizer that determined whether the decolonization would be peaceful.  However, the nature of the independence movement and the geographical location of the colony mattered in some instances.

It seems clear from history that some colonial powers were much more willing than others to give up their colonies.  Perhaps the best example of a power that did not want to give its colonies up willingly was France.  France fought very nasty wars in both Vietnam and Algeria.  There was also violence in such places as Madagascar and Cameroon.  By contrast, there was much less violence in the decolonization of the British colonies.  India was allowed to go with little violence.  So were most of England’s African colonies.  The difference seems to stem mainly from the attitudes of the colonial powers.  We can speculate that England, which was not defeated in WWII, felt less of a need to maintain an empire to prove itself as a major power.  By contrast, France’s defeat in WWII might have led it to hold on to its colonies more strongly.

There were some other factors that came into play.  For example, the US was willing to grant independence to the Philippines, but helped France in its struggle to hold on to Vietnam.  This was partly because the Vietnamese independence movement appeared to be communist-dominated while the Filipinos who would be likely to lead the country after independence were anti-communist.  Vietnam’s geographic location may have mattered here too, since it neighbors communist China where the Philippines does not.

Overall, though, I would argue that the degree of violence had more to do with the attitudes of the colonizers than with anything else.

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