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July 13, 2006



Interesting. Thanks for the info!


I'd nearly forgotten about this interesting, but brief moment, in history - will have to look up book!


What a shame. If only we were occupied by the British rather than the Spaniards and Americans, maybe we've become a prosperous country. I just look at Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and some other former Southeast Asian colonies and it makes me wonder if we'd end up as prosperous as they are right now.

It seems that the British has a bit of Midas touch in their colonies. Unlike Uncle Sam who touches gold and it turns to rust. The Brits could have been better colonial masters as some would put it... UNLESS anyone here can prove me wrong (apart from the massacre in India and Zulu land)...

If only we had tea as our main source of export back then, maybe it would have made the Brits interested...


The Middle East, including Iraq and Palestine, was under the British rule. A lot of today's problems in that area can be traced to the ad-hoc way they partitioned the place. Same goes with the partition of Pakistan from the rest of India which Gandhi opposed. In these areas, the British have a lot to answer for.

Also, we should not forget what is happening to Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) today.


cvj -- There's a lot in what you say and I agree that the Brits have a lot to answer for.

Still, if I can just add a few comments on the examples you mention. British interests in the Middle East were in the form of "mandates" granted by the League of Nations after the First World War. Thus they were of short duration and qualitatively rather different from "colonies". As for the arbitrary boundary delineation (and especially British support for the creation of Israel), I agree that these have caused a host of problems. On the other hand, in the first half of the 20th century Arab nationalism was in a nascent stage and the area was contested by rival Arabian families (like the Sauds in what was to become Saudi Arabia). No doubt the drawing of boundaries could have been done better, but almost any straight lines drawn through the rather muddled situation that prevailed would have caused problems.

In the case of partition in the Indian subcontinent, sure Gandhi opposed it, but Jinnah was in favor. The British didn't arbitrarily impose partition; they had to pick one option and despite the horrendous suffering of partition, I am not sure they chose the wrong one. The post-war history of Spain, Ireland, Morocco, Indonesia, and even the Philippines shows the difficulty of keeping a significant religious and cultural minority within a nation state. My feeling is that, even if Gandhi's vision of a greater India had been pursued, the Muslim parts would have broken off sooner or later.

As for Zimbabwe, the Brits should never have been there in the first place, but, at least since the 1960s, they performed reasonably honorably, first by supporting "no independence before majority african rule" (which led to Ian Smith's unilateral declaration of independence) and then by brokering the Lancaster House talks that led to a peaceful transfer of power in 1980. Zimbabwe's problems in the last 50 years were caused first by the obstinacy of the white minority and latterly by the megalomania of Mugabe -- these seem to me causes that are particular to Zimbabwe, they don't provide many insights into the benefits or otherwise of British colonialism in general.


Torn, thanks for the clarification. You're right, it may not be appropriate to put the British mandate in the Middle East on the same level as its other colonies. It has more in common with the United State's 40+years occupation of the Philippines. After all, both the Middle East and the Philippines were hand me downs from Ottoman and Spanish empires respectively. In which case, Napsie's point above would be valid. Perhaps the British legacy of having an honest and efficient civil service as well as its decentralized system of justice based on Common Law provided its former colonies with a good foundation. As far as what-ifs go, it may not have been a bad trade-off to having a majority-Malay Muslim Philippines as a province of Malaysia.


It is all well and good pointing out the "mess" that has been left in India and the Middle East, but it is a well known fact that a colony's culture dictates the end result of an occupation. Many cultures were so well and truly incompatable that education and change by the Empire was impossible, thus leaving little to achieve after they got what they came for.

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