Farewell to the Age of Empires

Decolonization and Independence Movements – 1920 > 1970


            If ever there was the perfect opportunity for the age of empires to end, it was going to be the years following World War II. 

            In 1945, all the conditions looked ripe for decolonization, all the conditions looked ripe for decolonization, for outright independence, for the dawn of a new era where the peoples of the world were free to choose their own economic, cultural and political paths, free from the soft and hard influence of foreign powers bent on pursuing their own selfish goals.

            The European continent sat in utter ruin.  Surely, the major Western powers would prioritize getting their own people back to work and feeling safe before they’d ever again concern themselves with some far off, uncivilized colored peoples.  Surely, the citizens of Western Europe would rather prevent revolutions in their own backyards before they would allow their politicians to funnel much-needed recovery funds to maintain colonies a continent away.  And if Western indifference wasn’t enough of a deterrent to re-colonization, surely there was no way the Soviet Union or the United States would allow global power to return to Old Europe. 

            The two surviving superpowers had no intention of seeing the tremendous cost they bore during the war, both in lives (especially for the USSR) and in economic resources, go for naught.  Their uneasy alliance existed almost exclusively to end the new empirical designs of Japan and Germany – that didn’t mean they in any way approved of a return to the status quo of the early 20th century.  The United Nations put in writing what the victors felt, declaring that empires would no longer be tolerated, that instead the world would strive "to develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions.”

            As for the “them” in the previous sentence, the conquered peoples of the world, this appeared their moment in world history to declare and achieve independence.  The nations of Africa, the Middle East and East Asia had been teased with independence since World War I, only to see their colonial masters renege on their promises when the probable outcomes appeared to be too expensive or too messy.  But just because few nations broke free from their colonial oppressors in the 1920s and 1930s didn’t mean that the independence movements had been squashed. 

             And when the German and Japanese forces unveiled their own armies of imperialism, the global colonial holdings were again pulled into regional clashes.  Resources were drained from local economies at a fraction of their value, citizens were drafted to fight in distant theaters and entire colonies were overrun by Axis belligerents.  Not only did these invasions remove the European perception of invincibility (Britain surrendered a mere seven days after the Japanese invaded Singapore...