Decolonization, populist movements and the formation of new nations, 1945–70
OF all the major unintended consequences of the Second World War, the decolonization of the European colonies was the most improbable of all. When the War began it seemed at first to be just another white man’s war. This is to say that ever since the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, the first of the really major modern conflicts to convulse the globe, it was an article of faith mutually agreed between the major combatants that however fierce the warfare might be between the European powers, it was their war: a war between civilized combatants for the realization of civilized objectives in no way altering the general dominant relationship exercised by the European powers and peoples over those they had long colonized. Of course, the pretence was always challenged; in part by the need to recruit the indigenous or other oppressed peoples to help pursue these conflicts, and in part by the fact that the colonized and the oppressed often perceived the schisms and the conflicts among the ruling élite as providing them with unrivalled opportunities for pursuing their own causes. The French Revolution was barely two years old when the slaves revolted in St Domingue. The Civil War in the United States was still in its infancy when Frederick Douglass recognized it as presenting an unrivalled opportunity for promoting the cause of slave emancipation: ‘God be praised!’, he said. And Wendell Phillips, the abolitionist, expostulated: ‘I [now] believe in a sunny future, because God has driven them mad: and in their madness is our hope’.1
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