Britain’s imperial amnesia

FT columnist Gideon Rachman writes, in an excellent essay, “It would be helpful if future British politicians understood the significance not just of 1939, the year that the second world war broke out, but also of 1839, the year that the first opium war broke out.”

[L]eading Brexiters and advocates of “Global Britain” misunderstand the past — with dangerous consequences for the future. They speak warmly of returning to Britain’s historical vocation as a “great trading nation”, when it was actually a great imperial nation. ….

The East India Company went to war when its trading privileges were threatened, and ended up extending its rule over most of India. And when China tried to stop the opium trade in the 19th century, Britain went to war again — sinking the Chinese fleet and forcing the Qing dynasty to cede Hong Kong. ….

But while the British elite may have largely forgotten their own imperial history, the countries that Britain sees as crucial to its future as a trading nation most decidedly have not.

Shashi Tharoor, head of the foreign affairs committee of the Indian parliament, has just published an excoriating account of Britain’s imperial rule in _India, Inglorious Empire_. …. It would help them [Brits] to see the world through the eyes of the emerging economic superpowers of the 21st century — India and China — countries once colonised or defeated by Britain; and that, in consequence, harbour decidedly ambivalent feelings about the UK

Gideon Rachman, “Brexit  reinforces Britain’s imperial amnesia“, Financial Times, 27 March 2017 (gated paywall).

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