Paper BearIssue: Spring 1999
In the twentieth century, and as far as I am aware in all history, there have been only two cases of the overwhelmingly non-violent abandonment of what had been a vast empire: the British and the Soviet/Russian. Of these, the latter was, on the face of it, by far the more surprising. The British Empire had been gravely weakened by the Second World War, which Britain had effectively lost before she was saved by the Soviet Union and the United States. Even before that war broke out, the British Empire in India at least had been badly undermined by Indian nationalism and the ostensibly liberal and democratic ideology of the British people and state. Having lost India--the strategic, economic and emotional core of the Empire--the expensive, irrelevant bits and bobs that remained hardly seemed worth saving, even if Britain had been economically capable of doing so. The Suez debacle cruelly underlined the new realities. In the final steps, imperial retreat was crucially affected by the deep unpopularity in the electorate of using military conscripts for imperial policing duties.