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


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.”


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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