Historical Context

Post-World War II
Britain’s loss of empire in the wake of World War II is arguably the single largest defining factor in the shaping of world politics in the last fifty years. Between 1945 and 1985, Britain lost almost all of its fifty formal dependencies in Africa, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the Pacific, South- East Asia, and the Far East and withdrew from a number of countries in the Persian Gulf over which it exerted considerable influence. In the preceding three centuries, Britain had colonized numerous countries and lands, while competing for resources and markets with Holland, Spain, and France, each of which had its own colonies and territories. In the seventeenth century, Britain had gained control over the eastern coast of North America, eastern Canada, the Caribbean Islands, and parts of Africa, which it used to acquire slaves, and had developed markets in India. The colonization of Ireland was also undertaken in earnest during this century. After the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, Britain became the leading industrial power in Europe, whose world economic strength was supported by its superior military, especially its navy.

During the nineteenth century, the British Empire tottered. The abolition of slavery by Britain and its empire in the early part of the century and the emphasis on free trade created an unfavorable economic climate for Britain, and its dependencies became more and more of a burden to manage. However, Britain also viewed its imperialistic expansion as a moral responsibility, using Darwin’s theories of evolution as a rationale for exerting greater control over...

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