Opinion: The British Empire: A legacy of violence?
The British Empire once enjoyed the world’s fifth most advanced technological infrastructure, yet in the early 20th century it was also responsible for the most destructive wars and the most horrific genocides, from the Armenian genocide to the genocides of the Bosnians, from the Bengal famine to the Irish famine.
The British Empire came into being after the United Kingdom colonised an empire that stretched from Ireland to the Middle East. There were no formal boundaries, no fixed frontiers, and no fixed “owners,” who had any say on whether to colonise, or which colonies got colonised first. Britain colonised not just through its military force, but through its cultural hegemony. British culture, once known as the British “Anglosphere,” dominated many of Europe’s largest nations, while its literature, music and art were the inspiration for all the greatest works of Western literature, and the source of thousands of songs. The same was true of India, and the other “Anglo-Asian” nations, namely the Dominions, and South Africa.
This cultural hegemony was in turn fuelled, and perpetuated, by the British Empire’s political, economic and military power, which meant it could dictate the terms of colonial agreements with colonial rulers and use the colonial power to secure its interests.
The British colonial empire was, as historian Peter Ackers has documented, a “worldwide system of rule,” consisting of a system of administrative and judicial power and an “ever-shifting balance of power.” There were, of course, many factors underpinning this power and influence, but Ackers notes a particularly important one: “the ‘British’ conception of the British Empire as a world empire, with its own world system of rules, that was separate from the world system of rule of the colonial empires.”
One of the British Empire’s most important tools in ensuring its control over the world was the British Navy. It was first established