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Mobilization, Rejuvenation and Liquidation: Colonialism and Global War

Chapter
Part of the Themes in Comparative History book series (TCH)

Abstract

The Second World War poses some difficult interpretive problems when viewed from the perspective of later European decolonizations. The standard textbook theme on this matter is that the impact of total war on the UK’s strategic and, above all, economic capacities was such as to make the loss of empire inevitable, even if the African dénouement was subsequently delayed. In this bald state, however, the argument is facile. The facts were rather to the contrary: the successful orchestration of massive colonial war efforts indicated that Britain still had the leverage to operate an aggressive imperial states-system, if it chose to accept the costs of doing so. In this sense, as John Gallagher has so vividly portrayed, the Second World War was a time of imperial revival, when the traditional collaborative coalitions at the periphery were shocked into a new and powerful, if short-lived, equilibrium.1 On the other hand, quite clearly the 1939–45 conflict did trigger changes at a variety of levels — diplomatic, strategic and economic — which transformed the contexts of European empire and shifted the odds against, not in favour of, their long-term (and sometimes even their short-term) survival.

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2 Mobilization, Rejuvenation and Liquidation: Colonialism and Global War

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© R. F. Holland 1985

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