Empires Come and Go: The UK’s Decline to a US Colony
The United Kingdom remained an imperialist power only as long as it could maintain control of its colonies. With an economy devastated by World War I and World War II, the British Empire began to disintegrate. After losing India in 1948, a pivotal point in the history of the British Empire was the 1956 Suez Canal crisis, in which Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal for Egypt and faced off Britain, France and Israel. A rising entity at this time was the United States of America, a country born out of the removal of the shackles of imperial Britain, safe in the knowledge that only it, and the other emerging superpower, the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics, possessed stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
Britain had originally colonized North America, so it cannot be considered odd that the US opposed Britain’s objectives over the Suez Canal. Indeed, the US failed to support Britain and the allied forces during the Second World War until the US itself was actually engaged in the war. Lately the UK has fallen over itself to support the US in its imperialist wars in the Middle East. Further, almost seven decades after the end of World War II, the US military still maintains around 10,000 troops in the UK and treats its former imperial master like a colony. When it comes to empires, history is ironic.
Unlike the UK, which had long been a net importer, the US had many natural resources, of which a significant proportion were still untapped in the 1950s. The US did not appear imperialistic in the old sense of the word, though it did believe in free trade between countries. Hypocritically, however, the US had developed its own imperialist sphere of influence in the Americas, with the Monroe doctrine as early as in 1823. In the aftermath of World War II, politically and ideologically the US set itself up as the main proponent of capitalism, and created a “Cold War” enemy of the USSR, and a real-war enemy of North Korea, then gradually a real-war enemy of other weaker countries such as Vietnam.
All this time, US industries and commercial ventures were stretching their capitalist tentacles further around the globe in a kind of creeping imperialism of stealth. This too was how the British Empire started. Explorers were sent out to various outposts where the union flag would be planted and trading posts established until they became big and powerful, like the East India Company. Big and powerful companies see themselves as being in need of protection, so military posts were established to “keep the peace,” as imperialists saw it, or “subjugate the indigenous population” as those born and bred there saw it.
Imperialists colonize countries to steal their natural resources, and the boards of multinational corporations have become international in their composition. This may explain why the UK is so ready to support Uncle Sam at the drop of a hat. But there are enigmas. For example, what is the imperialistic protracted interest in Afghanistan? It is hardly the jewel in the crown of eastern exoticism, yet there have been several attempts to colonize this country, or, failing that, to make it a sphere of influence.
None of these attempts was successful in the long-term. Afghanistan has been rightly called the “graveyard of empires.” The British empire was defeated twice in Afghanistan, once in 1842 and again in 1919. The Soviet empire also lost there in 1989 after a bloody decade of fighting. In December 2012, France withdrew the last of its troops from this harsh and barren country. The UK and US are due for troops to leave by 2015. But will they ever leave or will their stay accelerate the collapse of the US empire?
Afghanistan’s main resource is opium, but that would not really account for 19th-century British designs on the country. Back then it was the Khyber Pass, one of two main routes from the east to the west. The Khyber Pass is still important today, but less so because of western control over air space. The US has announced that it wants to keep some military bases in Afghanistan. This might be disturbing for its own population, most of whose inferior living standards are approaching free fall. When Afghanistan was under the Soviet sphere of influence, it was providing education for girls as well as boys, but fundamentalists did not want girls to be educated and tried to overthrow the government, so Kabul asked the Russians for protection.
The US, and the UK under Margaret Thatcher, chose to support the Mujahideen, and education was pushed back 100 years, which grossly disadvantaged the female population. President Hamid Kharzai does not want the US to stay, but he will probably be bought off with taxpayers’ money, or threatened with the consequences of not conforming to US demands. The US and UK have caused nothing but death in Afghanistan with their perpetual “war on terror.” They had no right to invade in the first place. And what did UK and US soldiers die, or get maimed, for there? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
A book fell into my hands recently. It is in the series “Little Stories of Great lives.” Give or take a year or two, it is 100 years old and typical of books printed for schoolchildren of the day to glorify imperialism. It is about Lord Frederick Roberts, the only other military leader besides Winston Churchill to have had a state funeral. Privately educated, at Eton and Sandhurst, Roberts followed his father into a military officer’s career. He would become responsible for defending the empire mostly in India. In May 1857 there was word of an intended mutiny at Lahore from a Sepoy regiment. Upon inspection, two of the men’s muskets were found to be loaded. They were found guilty at a court-marshal and sentenced to be fired from canons as an example before the rest of the regiment.
“It was the task of Roberts to escort the doomed men to the guns. As they were marched across the barrack-square, one of the men asked if it was true that they were to be blown from guns.
“‘Yes,’ replied Roberts; then there was no further conversation till the men were bound in place. One of them then requested that some money might be taken from his clothes and given to his friends.
“‘No,’ answered Chamberlain [the Brigadier], ‘it is too late.’”
British imperialistic justice was seen to be done. The abominations that have taken place in recent wars show that war and the defense of empires dehumanizes men. Today the UK is a colony of the US with no free will. We have several US bases here in the UK. Cowardly acts of torture and degradation show the real need to get rid of all the bad laws of the 21st century, laws that could normally only be enacted during war, laws that allow for imprisonment without trial, extra-judicial drone killings, and a whole host of other legislation that bears heavily on the planet and its ecosystem. Nation states do not have to have a US military base on their soil. It is not compulsory.
Ecuador and Uzbekistan have got rid of their US bases. Germany, Japan and South Korea should do the same. Cuba should get rid of the US’ naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Even in the disputed treaty that permitted the US to continue with its naval base, there is no provision for building a gulag or any other prison camp. The US has broken the terms of the treaty and continues to defy international law in having a presence there.
It is the same for Afghanistan. It is of no advantage to Kabul to have US bases and prisons on its land. Likewise, it is of no advantage to Iraq, or the UK, or anywhere else for that matter. All these countries must remove the yoke. While the US is investing, using borrowed money, in military bases all over the world, its own people are dying in the streets from starvation and a lack of affordable medical care. While the dollar remains the God of America and everyone bows down to worship a piece of scrip that carries the message “In God We Trust,” the United States is doomed. Likewise the rest of the world. The message on any future currency should be: “We put our trust in the People.”