Imperialism, World War 1 and Anti-Colonialism. Essay

Great Britain’s Imperialism found its strongest expression in the economic exploitation of resource-rich India, which provided valuable raw material and also constituted a significant market for manufactured British goods (Lecture 5). By 1930, India was caught up in a nationalist, anti-colonial movement aimed at ending British rule, spearheaded by Gandhi. Gandhi’s Salt March, depicted in the photograph as Source # 1, demonstrates the efficacy of Gandhi’s strategy of non-violent protest. The Salt March of 1930, one of the greatest examples of non-violent protest, was a part of the non-cooperation movement organized by Gandhi and the Indian National Congress against British Imperialism. This was in response to the British Salt Laws which heavily taxed Indian salt in order to boost salt import from Britain. Gandhi used his inspirational leadership and mass following to lead the march to India’s salt flats. Joined by thousands of Indians, “Gandhi himself walked halfway across the land to the Indian ocean to publicize his readiness to use salt taken from the sea in defiance of the law” (Lecture 10). The Salt March proved to be very effective. The British resorted to mass imprisonments but were finally compelled to start political negotiations for the ultimate end of colonial rule in India. The Salt March was the spark which ignited India’s mass movement for independence through non-violence. Gandhi’s choice of salt as the focus of protest is potent symbol of the economic exploitation which is a hallmark of Imperialism.

Great Britain was the greatest imperialist nation in history. In fact, “By 1914, the British Empire included one-fourth of all the land and people of the Earth” (Lecture 5, 5). As tension built up in the prelude to World War 1, Britain countered the threat of the ‘Triple Alliance’ composed of Germany, Austria- Hungary and Italy, through its ‘Triple Entente,’ with France and Russia and a further alliance with Japan in 1902. When the Entente declared war on Germany in August 1914, all Britain’s colonial possessions and dominions, including Australia, were incorporated into the war. The Australian recruiting poster, which serves as Source # 2, demonstrates that nationalism played a major role in instigating war. Although Australia is separated geographically from Europe, it very definitely identified itself as a ‘white’ nation with strong ties to the mother-country, Britain. It is evident that the excessive nationalism, termed the “fatal flaw in the European system” is prevalent in Australia too and Australians saw the war from Britain’s point of view and adopted the “my country-right-or wrong” variety of nationalism” (Lecture 6, 2). The poster shows the national flag as a rousing, revered symbol, glorifies the soldier and emphasizes that the nation’s World War 1 effort requires the patriotic contribution of every man and woman, through taxes, factory work or nursing.

World War I was ‘great’ in every aspect, including the large number of casualties. Roughly 9 million were killed and 21 million wounded. (Lecture 6, 1). The popular perception of the war ending in a speedy resolution proved false and the hostilities dragged on. The first-hand account of the Battle of Passchendaele in October 1917, which is Source # 3, shows that trench warfare was a novel development in World War 1 and drastically increased casualties. Trench warfare was a defining characteristic of the Western warfront. The Germans and the allies dug themselves into defensive, fixed positions across stretches of ‘no-man’s land.’ The bleak landscape described depicts the battlefields of Europe which were marked for four years with miles of trenches, barbed wire and nests of machine guns and artillery. Trench warfare resulted in great casualties for both sides but no substantial territorial gains. The war was held to a long stalemate on the Western front. At intervals, one side or the other attempted to break the stalemate by launching an offensive. This resulted in carnage never seen before, with the new weapon- the machine gun, adding to the horror. The account of the injured waiting for aid is particularly poignant in the light of the knowledge that “To make matters worse, it was impossible for medical corps to reach the injured who lay in the ‘no man’s land’ between the positions” (Lecture 7, 3). The letter unequivocally denounces the tragic destruction of war.

The ‘New Imperialism’ which spread through the world in the nineteenth century exemplified European expansion for the purpose of exploitation. The aim was to extract “whatever was possible from the countries they controlled; whether raw materials, natural resources, or the sweat and blood of laboring native populations” (Lecture 3, 1). The previously unknown ‘Dark Continent’ of Africa was opened up to imperialism through adventurers and missionaries. King Leopold 11 of Belgium took control of the Congo in what is acknowledged to be the most extreme instance of human and material exploitation in the history of Imperialism. The cartoon, which is Source # 4, depicts the rape of the Congo by Leopold. The British journalist Henry Stanley facilitated the private acquisition of the Congo by Leopold through the International Association of the Congo in 1979. Using the pretext of Social Darwinism, under which the supposedly superior Anglo-Saxon nations colonized Asia and Africa in order “to take up the white man’s burden” (Lecture 4, 1), Leopold acquired enormous tracts of African territory (8 times larger than Belgium) by cheating the tribal chiefs through spurious treaties. He went on to amass a personal fortune of about $ 20 million through the brutal treatment of native workers in extracting rubber from the Congo before handing over the colony to the Belgian government.

The policy of Imperialism adopted by the Western powers altered the landscape of the globe and the course of history. The underlying motivation for territorial expansion was largely based on economic gain and political power. The search for economic profit led to the exploitation of overseas possessions for raw material, as seen in India and the Congo. The attempt to establish strategic bases to consolidate political power engendered rivalries and conflicts between the major powers in different parts of the world. As the theater of imperialism went on to include more areas, this rivalry “would contribute to the outbreak of world war” (Lecture 4, 5). World War 1 quickly engulfed the entire world mainly because of the alliances formed among the nations to protect their expansionist interests. The horror of war was increased manifold by the technological advances which resulted in new machines of destruction. In the aftermath of the War, a natural reaction which set in was the anti-colonial struggle for self-determination. The moving force behind Anti-Colonialism was the sense of nationalism which was determined to break the stranglehold of Imperialism.