Gad, Sir! I do get annoyed at those, who lack our sense of responsibility, decry our imperialism. It sullies the honour of all those brave lads and lassies who sallied forth from Hampshire and Warwickshire, from Glamorgan and Radnor, from Argyll and Aberdeen, from Tipperary and Tyrone, and from all those other shires that make up this great kingdom, not to conquer and oppress, but to bring the benefits of our industry, our democracy, and our humanity to the less fortunate of this world.
Being flat broke after WWII we were pressured by others, for their own gain, to grant independence and go home well before some colonies were prepared to go it alone in a new world. So, we have post-independence examples like the Hindu-Muslim massacres in India, Nigerian civil wars, tribal slaughters in Uganda, piracy off west Africa and S.E. Asia, Middle-East slaughters, and once-prosperous Rhodesia with equality to all tribes reduced to poverty and oppression in a one-party Zimbabwe. Many former-French African colonies are better off today than ours because the French have retained some control.
When we built the British Empire we had a conscience. We were proud to be members of Her Majesty's Imperial Forces or Civil Service because "imperialism" meant "responsibility". We made mistakes; we were guilty of some greed and cruelty; and we did not thank the Dutch enough for what we learned and took from them, but our admitted shortcomings pale in face of the great contributions we made. Frankly our biggest problems came from among our own settlers.
Most Britons never wanted an empire. Of the hundred colonies we had, only India was profitable to us, so we gave more than we received. As a token of gratitude for our parenthood, millions of Canadians, Australians, Indians, South Africans, New Zealanders, Fijians, and others sprang voluntarily to our aid in two world wars, and we remain grateful for this. Many have remained in the Commonwealth Club. And, let us not forget our erring daughter, the United States, who also came to the rescue of her mother in her hour of mortal danger. Our imperialism could not have been all that bad! Let us take a brief look:
PAX BRITANNICA: Our Royal Navy swept pirates from the seas, permitting all merchants to trade unhindered. Our navy controlled the behaviour of merchants of many nations, punishing abuses against native populations. We fought many "savage wars of peace" to halt tribal and religious aggression. At Egypt's request, we sent troops to stop the slaughter of Christians by Muslims in the Sudan, and we kept peace there for 50 years. Now that we have left, the persecution has returned, but no one seems to care. In India we kept peace among warring groups, and we stopped the Afghans from raiding Indian farming villages. We also outlawed widow-burning and murder cults. We tried to limit the cruelties of the caste system. In Africa we stopped the Arab slave trade. In Nigeria, the Gold Coast (Ghana), Nyasaland (Malawi), and Uganda we stopped inter-tribal warfare and the exploitation of weaker tribes by the stronger. In the South Pacific we stopped cannibalism.
HUMAN RIGHTS: When we started our empire, there were precious few human rights anywhere. We pioneered fair play, sportsmanship, and sympathy for the underdog. Much of our concern grew out of our sufferings during our industrial revolution. In almost all cases we cared more for our colonial charges that did their own rulers. In most of our African colonies we restricted the purchase of land by Europeans, even though the lbo, Hausa, Kikuyu, Swazi, and Zulu had taken these lands from other peoples. The Swazi King Mbandzeni sold 67% of Swaziland to Swiss and German speculators in return for Greyhound racing dogs. British taxpayers bought it back, replaced the king, and gave the land back to Swazi cattle herders. When mine owners in South Africa increased profits by importing cheaper labour from India because Indian maharajas sold their own people into virtual slavery, the British Governor-General in India intervened, forcing higher pay, fixed terms of service, return passage to India, and the right for wives to accompany husbands. In New Zealand we refused independence to our settlers until they guaranteed the rights of the native Maori. There was no slavery in most of our colonies. An exception was the West Indies, but this did not sit well in London, and we freed these slaves long before the U.S. freed its slaves. We bought land in Sierra Leone in 1787 to resettle freed slaves. The Bantu, from whom we bought the land, massacred the first shiploads of freed slaves, so we had to send in marines to protect future shiploads. We drained the swamps, made farm lands, subsidized the freed slaves, and guarded them until 1961 when Sierra Leone became a free member of the Commonwealth.
IMPROVING REAL ESTATE: We were great railway builders, but poor debt collectors. Our railroads eliminated famine in India and we left it with the best railway system in Asia. We never recovered the cost for this or for the railways we built in North and South America. Another example of our many generosities: in 1819 Sir Thomas Raffles bought a mangrove swamp from the Sultan of Johore. British merchants and the Royal Navy transformed the swamp into the metropolis of Singapore which was granted its independence in 1957. Its population is now mainly Chinese attracted there by free enterprise.
EDUCATION: There were no free schools in Britain for Britons in 1809 when we built free schools in Africa for Africans. In fact we built seven schools and hospitals for Blacks for every one we built for Whites. Before 1960 only four per cent of our students got university education, yet we gave such education to thousands from our colonies, many of whom became leaders - like Mohandas Gandhi. In the Gold Coast (Ghana), Governor George MacLean, with 120 men and an annual budget of $19,000, stopped tribal wars and built a prosperous, peaceful country. At independence in 1957 we left a budget surplus of $560,000,000. It took the new ruler, Kwame Nkrumah, only five years to squander this surplus. Even he admitted that, of all colonial powers, the UK was the best.
Perhaps a few lines from Rudyard Kipling will explain our frustrations: “Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed, Go bind your sons to exile. To serve your captives’ needs Ye dare not stoop to less. Nor call too loud on Freedom. To cloak your weariness. By all ye cry or whisper. By all you leave or do, The silent, sullen people, Shall weigh your God and you.
Ye Olde Scribe (with Irish and French blood)