At its zenith, the British Empire was the largest empire to have ever exist in history, stretching nearly 13,012,000 sq. miles and governing a populace of 458-million people. The sun never sets on the British Empire was attributed for a reason.
Coming back to the charge-sheet on British Empire, its inept management and indifference to its colonial subjects is simply unparalleled. It distorted its colonies with boundary conflicts, failed to suppress civil strife, caused deliberate famines and siphoned off economic wealth, inter alia. It left behind a trail of ashes, burying nations in coffins before they gained independence.
1. Impact on India
Before the British Empire stumbled on to the Indian shores, the region was the 2nd biggest global economy. However, its growth rate stagnated to 0% during British colonialism. As Industrial Revolution revamped a Europe coming out of the medieval ages, the imperial power purposefully kept technological advancements at an arm’s length from the natives. Infrastructure and institutions build under the colonial rule prioritized the exploitation of resources rather than aid local development, disempowering the natives.
The nefarious Indian famines were all preventable, mostly occurring due to incompetent British management and the corrupt civil servants under her employ. In his inevitable frustration, the then Governor General of India stated about Winston Churchill: Winston’s grasp of India is as ghastly as that of George Washington about America.
The British departed from India leaving it in tethers and smithereens, its border disputes unresolved, it’s institutions underdeveloped, it’s economy dependent and civil strife rife, as nascent founded nations were left to pick up the pieces.
Playing the divorced wife, British Empire drained India dry from its financial wealth, shipping it off to London. It purposefully withheld domestic investments to eliminate local competition, which would have conflicted with British commercial interests.
In essence, British Empire crashed, burnt and plundered during its heydays, with its aftereffects still resonating half a century later.
2. South African Apartheid
What is apartheid? It is a racial segregation legislation enforced in South Africa during 1948-1994. The black majority was sidelined as white minority captained the ship with self-serving laws. However, this apartheid system was planned and approved under the British Empire.
Ensuring its stellar track-record of worsening political turmoil, it advocated Boer republics to further sideline and malign the black population. The Native Land Act (1913) evicted blacks from their property constitutionally, creating slums.
Apartheid was waived off by De Klerk government as banned political parties were reinstated. This eventually led to Nelson Mandela rising to win the elections in 1994.
3. The Potato Famine
The Irish hatred of British is age-old, yet justified all the more. Once upon a time in 1845, a staple Irish crop, potatoes began to rot. In the next decade, 750,000 Irish souls perished due to the ensuing potato famine as Irish population fled to United States, Canada and United Kingdom. The remainder of Irish population could be counted on fingers (figuratively).
Enter the British Empire: With its illustrious record of resolving crises, it only added fuel to the proverbial fire. It felt the free market would weather the crisis. In 1846, disaster struck, as the Corn Laws were repealed, which merely milked the ongoing Irish potato famine. The legislation protected local farmers from foreign competition, leaving them grasping at straws.
Britain began to rely on a system of workhouses, which had originally been established in 1838, to cope with the famine. But these grim institutions had never been intended to deal with a crisis of such enormity. Some 2.6-million Irish entered overcrowded workhouses, where more than 200,000 people died.
4. Thriving Slave Trade
Admittedly, British Empire wasn’t the trendsetter in case of slave trade; it was merely tasked with consigning manpower to Portugal and Spain. However, there was a shortage of labor in North American colony, and British slave traders hopped on the gravy train.
Britain soon graduated to becoming the biggest slave exporter in European continent, keeping its hegemony over 50% of the African slave labors. Thus, the self-righteous British Empire conducted slavery for 245 years.
It also stood with pro-slavery Confederates during American Civil War. However, the upstanding British Empire abolished slavery, as it turned its sights to more capitalistic endeavors in Africa and Aisa.
5. British Empire goes Scarface
The Chinese Empire (Qing Dynasty) saw little attraction in trading with European merchants. Thus, they set the terms of trading (alliteration) with which European merchants worked. However, the British saw things a tad bit differently. Chinese had a weakness for opium and British Indian colony was full of it. Thus, smuggling began, which was soon banned due to its effects on Chinese population.
As Britain championed the seas, Chinese ports were on lock-down and Chinese negotiated against their will. It started the now famously termed 100-years of humiliation for Chinese. Coastal cities were taken, including Shanghai. The Treaty of Nanjing inaugurated 5 ports to trade, tariff was fixed on imported items (5%) and a cost of British warring expenses was to be paid by China (21-million silver ounces). Lastly, Hong Kong Island went under British control.
As if the treaty wasn’t humiliating enough, denting Chinese pride, France and Britain renewed assaults on China and occupied Beijing. More insulting treaties gave more trading routes, flexibilities and several ports opened to European trade.
6. It’s Time for Africa
The European interests in Africa paved way for Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, a blatant lie by all means. Concerns for Africa’s heritage, culture and respect for its diverse ethnic communities were shoved under the carpet. Imaginary lines were plotted on Africa for personal agendas.
The morally upright Britain needed to secure its trade routes, hence the interest in South Africa and Egypt. It eyed the untapped mineral resources and gold reserves of Transvaal, the rest is painfully obvious.
Africa reeks today of poverty, disease, malnutrition and children dying from preventable causes as a result of uneven development and extractive institutions, kudos to the colonial empires and associated interests. The false pretense of civilizing Africa couldn’t be farther from the truth.
7. British Empire Gets Cold Feet
Germany nullified the Treaty of Versailles in 1935, terming it unequal and unjust. The proverbial calm before the storm was lurking.
British Empire along with France adopted a policy of appeasement, giving Hitler impetus to pursue his militaristic policies unhindered. In 1936, United Kingdom remained unhinged to German reoccupying the demilitarized Rhineland, shrugging off the Treaty of Versailles; which was an insult in itself; one can hardly blame Hitler for violating it. The events eventually snowballed into another World War, recording roughly 50-million casualties.
8. The Industrial Revolution
The 17th century heralded the Age of Industrial Revolution as it took Europe by storm in 18th century. Industrial Revolution formed social classes; it revamped working methods and simplified manual labor, advanced military warfare and propelled faster imperialism by European forces. It raised the standard of living, yet struck with great vengeance.
Ironically enough, Britain gave birth to the first slums, which provided fertile grounds for cholera and other diseases. Sanitation, stagnant water, improper sewage and improper town planning became the by-products of Industrial Age. Factory hours ranged between 12-16 hours and to cut-down costs, women and underaged children were hired.
Since the Industrial Age, a 400% rise in population was seen in a single century alone, putting strain on world’s resources. As the world population spirals out of control, the natural resources decrease proportionally. Today, mankind wages a titanic war in attaining equilibrium and controlling climate change.
9. The Middle-East Crisis
Before WWI, the middle-east crisis was unheard of, nonexistent essentially. Fresh from WWI victory, Britain along with France partitioned the Arabic provinces of Ottoman Empire into their own spheres of influence. Lines were drawn on a map without paying heed to the complex ethnic or sectarian make-up of the ancient region. In the case of Palestine, the Britsh government confirmed their support for an establishment of a Jewish homeland while promising the contradictory to the local natives.
British decided to move out from Palestine in 1947. UN passed a plan to divide Palestine into two halves. This proposal was welcomed by Israelis and repudiated by Arabs. As British withdrew ownership in 1948, the fate of Palestine hung in the balance, war erupted between Arabs and Jews. The Jews declared the territory the state of Israel.
Today, the war between Sunnis, Shiites and Jews is waged with no plausible solution in sight, spiraling off terrorist factions as an added bonus.
10. Horrors of the Indian Partition
Possibly the biggest British blunder in Empire’s rap-sheet would be the inept partition of India, punctuated by incompetence, carelessness, indifference, shoddy paperwork and irrational decision-making. Subsequent to WWII, Muslim-Hindu riots graduated from beginner-to-this is mental level.
With the partition plan signed and sealed, an eruption of mass expulsions and an orgy of massacres was about to roll out.
In this eventual cross-border migration, a record number of Muslims-Hindus breathed their last, and an estimated 5-milllion became refugees. This biblical monstrosity was simply beyond the control of British Empire and Indian Congress. Gandhi was saddened by this seemingly unstoppable ocean that bled human blood. Eventually, he became a casualty of Indo-Pak partition.
More importantly, the boundary commission headed by Cyril Radcliffe planted seeds of hatred and regional divide, as he made a meal of boundary distribution. All thanks to him, the Kashmir province remains a bone of contention, giving rise to terrorist factions and nonstop in-fighting in the region to this day.