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Social and Political Consequences of War

The period from 1899-1948 has great significance in British history and consequently world history, as it contains seminal events that led to culmination of British Empire and ended its unsurpassed dominance in the world affairs in the capacity of the most powerful nation of all times.

This epic period starts with Boer wars (1899-1902) in South Africa where Britain gained a major victory but against the international opinion, marking end of its territorial expansion of the Empire , and it terminates with the end of Second World War, with a torn and bleeding Britain that had emerged through unparalleled hardship and plight after being forced into two almost consecutive great wars. This period brought indelible changes in the political and social outlook of Britain, affecting both its internal and external approach.

It saw the beginning of the end of British imperial policies, end of the period of laissez fair, reconsolidation of democratic ideals and an insight into British problems of rapid colonization and industrialization that were so far ignored under euphoria of economic growth and expansion . Society, politics and the First World War The Boer wars of 1899 forced British imperial mindset to realize that its polices of armed territorial expansion was no longer in favor, neither in the international community nor in the domestic quarters.

Although Britain gained victory in the Boer wars, the public was weary of rising costs of war, setting off alarm bells within the government . In the subsequent years Britain followed a policy of forming strategic coalitions and strengthening its colonial rule against the impending war that was increasingly appearing inevitable. When the First World War broke out, it was by far the biggest armed confrontation in the history of mankind and a war where Britain was involved in its full extent with all its dominions and colonies standing with it.

The initial days of war were enwrapped in a false sense of excitement and it was a widely held belief that with the economic might and superior naval force Britain would decidedly help its allies Russia and France to overcome Germany and that the war would be over before Christmas of 1914 . When the war threatened to extend further a huge number of British young me volunteered to join the armed forces, swelled by feeling of patriotism and unified hatred of Germany. The effect of the Great War was severe on Britain and the country lost more than 750,000 men apart from bearing the economic strain of the war .

However, as indicated by later historians with a better vantage point, the effect of an entire nation involved in the massive war efforts brought many positive results for the society. For example, the mass participation forced the political parties to concede various concessions and rewards to the working population thereby creating conditions that removed some of the glaring inequalities in the British society and casting a liberalizing effect on the general social attitude and behavior .

The compulsions of war days had brought home many lessons, especially redefining the relation between aristocratic and working class. In the war fields, on many occasions the cavalry men, belonging to feudal orders, had to hide in muddy trenches under the protection of working class soldiers operating the machine guns . These and various other similar events leveled to some extent the rift and former sense of alienation demarcating the British social structure.

The common plight shared by soldiers of all background and the united efforts put in agricultural and industrial workers in moving the war machinery back home combined to remove any opposition to universal suffrage, and in 1918 the Representation of Peoples Act was passed that allowed all males and females above 30 years to cast their votes. It was a watershed event in the British parliamentarian and democratic history and one of the first and major outcomes of the Great War .

The effect of the war also had a sobering effect on British ambition as it was visible to her that she could no longer continue to charter the course of world before the rising might and huge potential of the United States. The war brought some socialist elements in the British capitalist and industrialist structure and saw the first Labor government ever elected to power in 1923. Society, politics in the interwar years

Although Britain had fought diligently and resolutely against the Central Powers and secured a remarkable win in the Great War, its economy was under strain, industries had over produced goods, its debt was mounting and the Great Depression of 1929 had caused immense hardship for the working class and increasing the number of unemployed persons over 3 million by 1932. One of the important result of the human casualties suffered by Britain in the Great War was public anger on war, arm race and protests against paying additional taxes to further militarize the nation.

This created problems for government and it was forced to reconsider its plan for overt military expansion. The political atmosphere of nation had generally turned in favor of peace, disarmament and armistice and many political parties, especially the Labor party adopted policies reflecting these overwhelming public sentiments . An important indicator of public mood was a peace ballot in 1934 where 11 million people voted for disarmament and popularity of anti war literature . This was a remarkable change for a nation that had always taken pride over its historic military and naval achievements.

However the most important change sweeping through British society was growing realization that its days of Imperial hegemony were about to end and the struggle within to come in terms with this reality . As the prospects of another major confrontation with Germany started to take realistic shape, Britain drew all its strength, spread in the world in the form of its dominions, virtually over straining itself but nonetheless creating a redoubtable stand before the mighty German designs .

There were ideological problems as well as Britain could not expect its dominion to support its cause against an expanding German design and yet continue to wield its own imperial rule over them. The Second World War and aftermath Despite all her imperial strength and dominance, Britain could not assimilate the impact of Second World War and more than consumed itself in protecting its national integrity rather than ideals that it aimed to defend in the beginning of the war .

To survive against the German onslaught Britain invested itself heart and sole, wrecking its national economy to sustain the massive and truly global war efforts against the axis power. The end of War saw Britain once again sitting on the victorious table, but on this occasion internally wrecked, bereft of its former dominance and relegated to the second level status before the United States of America, its imperial glory for once and all time having come to conclusion.

Although with the help of generous American aid and through its own array of industries and enterprise Britain was able to build its economy piecemeal, and even surpass previous figures of industrial production, its former status of a great power was completely lost. Emerging from this tumultuous period of 1899-1948, Britain retained just a shade of its earlier dominance. A war torn Britain was forced to shed its Imperial wings, freeing countries of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Greece and Turkey and getting once again reduced to the size of an island nation.

In the following years Britain also realized its incapacity in maintaining a fully operational army, air force, navy and nuclear system and it got increasingly dependent on USA .


Lloyd. T. O. The British Empire, 1558-1995. Oxford University Press. Oxford: 1996. Smellie. K. B. 1962. Great Britain since 1688: A Modern History. University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, MI: 1962. Pugh, Martin. State and Society: A Social and Political History of Britain, 1870-1997. Arnold: London: 1999

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