This is a year of fiftieth anniversaries. Soon, and very properly, Americans will be celebrating two decisions that truly deserve the adjective "seminal"--those embodied in the Truman Doctrine (birthday May 15) and the Marshall Plan (June 5). Taken together, these decisions went far toward defining the epoch of global politics that followed.
Less likely to get much attention in coming months is a third fiftieth anniversary, that marking the independence of India and Pakistan on August 15, 1947. In its way, though, it is as historically significant as the other two.
The achievement of independence by the Indian subcontinent marked the effective end of the age of European imperialism. Its symbolic significance was enormous: If, in the immediate aftermath of its triumph in the Second World War, the greatest of Western empires was unable to maintain possession of the jewel in its crown, the clear message to the other European colonial powers--nearly all of them recently defeated and occupied in war--was that the game was up. A wholesale, rapid, and somewhat indecorous retreat followed. Within two decades there was scarcely a Western colony left, the number of independent states had trebled, the "Third World" had been invented--and, in retrospect, we were left wondering by what feat of legerdemain had a small number of European states managed to impose their will for so long on such a large segment of the world.
India was the first Third World country and it remains the greatest and most interesting of them. But it has never seized the American imagination--as over the last hundred years its great neighbor, China, so conspicuously has--and it has never figured large in Washington's political and strategic calculations.