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Global Leadership: How WWI Helped Unravel the British Empire; The Great War began dethroning a superpower-but it was one of the victors

Global Leadership: How WWI Helped Unravel the British Empire

The Great War began dethroning a superpower—but it was one of the victors

ADAM HOCHSCHILD

June 20, 2014 5:32 p.m. ET

The First World War helped to dethrone a superpower—paradoxically, one of the victors. In 1914, Britain sat atop the greatest empire history had ever seen. King George V and Queen Mary had recently been crowned, with tremendous fanfare, the emperor and empress of India. London was the world’s banker, and the Royal Navy dominated the seas.

But after 4½ years of war, more than 700,000 Britons were dead, and hundreds of thousands were gravely wounded—many missing arms, legs, eyes, genitals. The country’s elite was particularly devastated, for it had provided the young officers who led their troops out of the trenches and into machine-gun fire: Of men who graduated from Oxford in 1913, for example, 31% were killed. Britain was now deeply in debt—chiefly to the fast-rising U.S. During the war, the economy of the U.S. boomed, its territory was unharmed, and because of its late entry into the war, its combat casualties were comparatively light.

The Great War brought hundreds of thousands of soldiers and supply troops from India, Africa and the Caribbean to Europe. There they saw that their colonial masters weren’t all-powerful and that white society had dramatic divisions of class and politics. Their expectations rose. The very first political meeting where men from different West Indian islands discussed working together for their rights took place, following a mutiny, on a British military base in Italy in 1918. “Nothing we can do,” an alarmed official wrote the following year, “will alter the fact that the black man has begun to think and feel himself as good as the white.”

Often led by returned veterans, protests broke out in India, British Honduras, Nyasaland and elsewhere; the Royal Navy had to dispatch a warship to contain unrest in Jamaica. The long, slow unraveling of the British Empire had begun.

—Mr. Hochschild is the author, most recently, of “To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.”

 

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KB Kee is the Managing Editor of the Moat Report Asia (www.moatreport.com), a research service focused exclusively on highlighting undervalued wide-moat businesses in Asia; subscribers from North America, Europe, the Oceania and Asia include professional value investors with over $20 billion in asset under management in equities, some of the world’s biggest secretive global hedge fund giants, and savvy private individual investors who are lifelong learners in the art of value investing. KB has been rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as an analyst in Asian capital markets. He was head of research and fund manager at a Singapore-based value investment firm. As a member of the investment committee, he helped the firm’s Asia-focused equity funds significantly outperform the benchmark index. He was previously the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. KB has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy, value investing, macroeconomic and industry trends, and detecting accounting frauds in Singapore, HK and China. KB was a faculty (accounting) at SMU teaching accounting courses. KB is currently the Chief Investment Officer at an ASX-listed investment holdings company since September 2015, helping to manage the listed Asian equities investments in the Hidden Champions Fund. Disclaimer: This article is for discussion purposes only and does not constitute an offer, recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any investments, securities, futures or options. All articles in the website reflect the personal opinions of the writer.

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