To What Extent was World War Two the Key Turning Point in Britain's Relationship with her Empire?

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To What Extent was World War Two the Key Turning Point in Britain’s Relationship with her Empire?

World War Two had a significant impact on Britain’s relationship with her Empire. It was the final trigger in the decolonisation of India and showed up Britain’s weaknesses as a world power. However, decolonisation did not begin with the Second World War and there are events both before and afterwards, which had just as great, if not more significant impact on Britain’s relationship with her Empire.

One of the most important results to come out of the Second World War was to establish the ‘World Powers’. Prior to the War, Britain was considered one of the greatest powers in the world with an expansive army and navy, as well as the forces of its colonies, at its disposal. Britain used this image to help protect their empire, wanting others to believe that they could crush anyone who attacked them. They were especially proud of their Navy, which was maintained so that it was the size of the second and third largest navies put together. To other countries, Britain seemed liked a formidable enemy and they would not have been keen to cross her.

World War Two, however, changed this perception of Britain. The British found themselves unable to defeat the Germans alone, especially after the defeat of France. Instead, they had to rely on help from the two new super powers – the USA and the USSR. The USSR provided the valuable resource of manpower, forcing the Germans to fight on two fronts, therefore lessening the pressure on the British fighting on the Western front. The USA also contributed men, but their most important contribution was that of financial support. They loaned Britain money to help finance the war effort, meaning that by the end of the war, Britain was heavily in debt to them. Britain was no longer an independent country, able to defend itself and its Empire; she now relied on the two new Super Powers.

That does not mean, however, that Britain lost her power completely. She still retained much of her empire and was considered one of the ‘big three’ along with the USA and USSR, but her role was very much in third place.

These changes in international relations led to Britain being put under pressure to decolonise. The USSR objected to the Empire on ideological grounds, believing that Imperialist policy conflicted with their own Communist views. The USA was also anti-imperialist. They objected to the Empire because they many of those under British rule had shown they wanted independence, such as in India and the Dominions, and they felt it was wrong to deny such people their freedom. Both powers also had economic objections to the British Empire, as it limited their ability to trade freely throughout the world. The USA had a huge influence on Britain and if Britain wanted to retain their support and financial aid which was so desperately, it was clear that they would have to decolonise. However, the USA were not in support of abolishing the Empire completely; the Cold War began in the Post-World War Two period, and it was important to the USA that extra territory should not fall into the hands of the USSR. Therefore a compromise was reached whereby the USA expected decolonisation, but only when there no risk of the former colonies falling into the control of the USSR, rather than becoming independent countries.

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The Second World War also led to an increase in nationalism among the people living in the colonies. Britain’s colonies and dominions contributed a great deal to the war effort and the people in these countries began to want the independence and ‘freedom’ they were supposedly fighting for.

The British Empire did shrink during and after World War Two, especially in the Far East. However, there are also places where it remained strong; Britain showed no inclination to decolonise in Africa and the same strong feelings of Nationalism present in some colonies was not found in Africa. ...

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