The Rise and Fall of the Colonial Empire
According to the Traditions and Encounters, the process of decolonization refers to “a form of regime shift, a changed relationship between the colonizing power and colony. ” Such decolonization occurred with the end of European empires in African and Asian countries after the pressures of the First and Second World War and the rise of nationalism. The period between the years 1900 to 1959 reflect a shift of power between the European colonial powers and the nationalist movements of their colonies.
The strength and movement of key countries led others to follow suit on the movement for independence. Traditions and Encounters best describes the decolonization movement as: Decolonization, in essence the relinquishing of all colonial possessions by imperial powers of the ends to empires, brought the world to its current international standing. Imperial agents lost their control, new independent states gained autonomy and self-determination, and – given the concurrent developments in the cold war – the globe was no longer demarcated by clearly identifiable spheres of influence.
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The factors that contributed to the rapid decline of the colonial empire in Africa and Asia between 1919 and 1949 are agreements such as The Atlantic Charter, the effects brought on by both World Wars, the achievements of the United Nations, the colonies’ desire for self-determination and the rise of nationalism. The Atlantic Charter was a critical factor in the decolonization of European colonies in Africa and Asia that established a vision for post-war settlement.
The meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill changed the course of World War II, and therefore affected the course of world history. According to the documentary, The Atlantic Charter: The End of Colonialism, the Atlantic Charter provided a blueprint for the United Nations while marking the end of world order built on European colonial empires. It was a joint declaration that documented the goals of the Allied powers concerning the war. Before World War II, British and French empires dominated the world. The United States was anti-colonialism and remained isolated.
Their isolation ended when Germany invaded Poland, and Britain sought the United States’ involvement in the war. The documentary stated that Adolf Hitler’s invasion of France caused Churchill to officially “set out to woo” Roosevelt. The United States did not support colonialism like the British Empire did. The threat of Germany to Britain continued to increase, so Roosevelt and Churchill decided it was necessary to meet face-to-face to sort out their intentions in the war. Britain started with the goal of enlisting the United States’ help.
The British did not want a commitment that bound them to the U. S. after the war, while the Americans desired that Britain end colonialism. The eight points of The Atlantic Charter were reached without a formal commitment from the United States to enter the war. The Axis Powers interpreted the agreements made in the Charter as a potential alliance against them. It may have sparked Hitler in changing his timeline of Germany’s progression in the war and the exterminations of the Jewish population. In Japan, it caused militarists to push for a more aggressive approach against the Allied Powers.
The attack on Pearl Harbor followed causing the United States to enter the war. The third point of The Atlantic Charter, which stated “the people’s right to self-determination”, sparked much debate among Britain’s colonial empires. According to The Atlantic Charter, Churchill agreed to respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they live. Although Churchill stated his meaning of the point to have been referring to those empires ruled by Nazi Germany, he was unable to cap the desires of the colonies for independence.
India, among many nations, attempted to persist with pressure on Britain for colonial independence. The colonies that arose after World War I experienced a shift of power following World War II. An important outcome of World War II was the end of empire. The emergence of the United States and the Soviet Union as superpowers who supported the overthrow of empire helped to make decolonization possible. Following World War II, many European countries were weakened and left in a state of depression. The effort to rebuild their countries on home soil widened the gap the stood between them and their olonies. Focus was shifted and the leadership that reigned in the colonies decreased. India and many other colonies were able to take advantage of Europe’s weakened state and the chaos that broke out post-World War II. The United Nations (UN) was founded “when nearly a third of the world’s population lived in territories that were dependent on colonial powers. ” The decolonization that occurred across the African and Asian nations is considered one of the first great accomplishments of the UN. The international trusteeship system was established by The United Nations Charter.
Affirming the principle of self-determination, the Charter describes the responsibility of States for territories under their administration as “a sacred trust” in which the interests of their inhabitants are paramount. The purpose of the UN Charter was to encourage respect for human rights. Fundamental freedoms were necessary for all with no discrimination of race, sex, culture, etc. Institutions like the United Nations provided nationalists from both nations with opportunities to challenge the colonial rule.
According the United Nations, it provided a new accountability for the colonial powers “that changed the perception of colonialism from a source of pride to embarrassment. ” India was considered to be in the frontline of the struggle for the end of colonialism. Their efforts provided hope for millions of people in the colonies that were Africa and Asia. Although many nations emerged throughout Asia and each encountered different pursuits for freedom from imperial control, nationalists all over rallied the Asian people. The end of British rule in India catalyzed the independence of Asian colonies.
According to Traditions and Encounters, Mohandas Gandhi was an independence movement leader in India who helped conduct a peaceful resistance to Britain’s attempt to regain control of India after their influence dwindled post-World War II. A feeling of nationalism arose when the Indian population united under the view that Britain was the cause of India’s suffering and violence. Gandhi used this newfound sense of nationalism to rally the support for Indian independence. That independence was successfully achieved in 1947, and India served as proof that the colonies could gain such freedom from the colonial powers.
Other colonies began to follow suit and many achieved the decolonization. The role of the African elites fueled nationalism through the leaders who arrived with ideological arguments. Traditions and Encounters explains that unlike Asia, Africa was struggling to form pan-African identities due to internal divisions in various African states. Algeria’s war for independence from the French caused France to focus all of its attention on Algeria, allowing all of its other territories to gain independence in Africa. Algeria eventually gained independence from France, but many lives were lost.
From the war stemmed one such elite leader, Frantz Fanon, who encouraged the colonies to gain independence through violent revolution. Such African nationalists took advantage of their Western education Before World War II even occurred, African nationalism had come about among the native people, such as the Herero in Namibia. According to the film Namibia: Genocide and the Second Reich, the Germans who claimed Namibia as a colony forced the Herero into slavery, and the people were forced to unite in a way that would help them withstand all the devastation brought upon them.
In the aftermath of one such [German] raid, Maharero, the Herero chief of Okahandja, and his councilors were persuaded into signing a protection treaty with Imperial Germany. Unfortunately for the Herero, Germany saw the treaty solely as a further substantiation of its claims to German South West Africa… It too three years of unremitting warfare and vague promises of British protection before Maharero and his councilors decided to annul their treaty with Germany.
The African nationalists that were quieted during the events of World War II began to reappear when rumors of decolonization arose. Ideas brought from the Western world were combined with the traditions of African culture and used as weapons against the imperial powers. Ghana succeeded in gaining independence from Britain and catalyzed the end of empire in the rest of Africa. According to The Wind of Change: The End of Colonialism in Africa, Kwame Nkrumah provided leadership that allowed strategies for action against colonization to take place.
A mixture of violent activism and nonviolent agitation occurred, and eventually Kenya negotiated independence from Britain. Africa was given a chance to find their place in an independent society by reconstructing their identities and societies. It can be concluded that the most important contributing factor to decolonization was the widespread nationalist movement that occurred across the colonies. The feeling of pride in one’s country began to peak after World War I, but grew in strength in the colonized countries that sought independence after World War II.
Those that were rallied by the elite nationalists came together under the idea that freedom is sacred and they deserved it just as much as any other nation. Once key countries in both Africa and Asia, such as India and Algeria, gained that freedom, they stood as proof to the rest of the colonies that their dream was possible and the fight was worth it. Due to the persistence of those peoples, we now have the world we know today.
The Atlantic Charter: The End of Colonialism. Dir. Peter Du Cane and Matthew Kelley. Electric Pictures and Wildfilm Australia, 2002. DVD.
Namibia: Genocide and the Second Reich. Dir. David A. Olusoga. BBC Productions Bristol, 2005. DVD.
The Wind of Change: The End of Colonialism in Africa. Dir. Peter Du Cane. Humanities and Sciences, 2002. DVD. Films for the
Bentley, Jerry H. and Herbert F. Ziegler. Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past, edited by Michael Ryan. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008.
Gewald, Jan B. Herero Heroes: A Socio-Political History of the Herero of Namibia, 1890- 1923. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1999.
United Nations. “Global Issues: Decolonization.” Accessed October 7, 2011. http://www.un.org/en/globalissues/decolonization/index.shtml