The inconvenient virtue of the British Empire

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Matthew Stratton

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Matthew Stratton

1 February 2023

6:00 AM

After the recent passing of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and accession of King Charles III, we have heard, among other things, about the evil of the British Empire. While a good faith response to the claim that Her Majesty was the head of a ‘thieving raping genocidal empire’ and that her ‘pain be excruciating’ in her death (while surrounded by loving and adoring family members, the way any one of us would be lucky to die) is unnecessary, it is still worthwhile addressing the vitriol Her Majesty and the British Empire have faced in recent years.

Before any analysis of the virtue of empire can be discussed, it is necessary to understand the origin of the world’s greatest empire. Britain is a small country, slightly larger than Victoria, yet its people ventured to all ends of the globe establishing an empire ‘compris[ing] nearly one-quarter of the world’s land surface and more than one-quarter of its total population’ on which the sun never set by a mere population of 32 million people. By any measure, it is a truly extraordinary feat.

The British Empire provided for their conquered lands. The British spread the English language, the lingua franca of the world. This put all decolonised countries and faithful dominions in a position superior to that of the inhabitants of the French, Russian, Japanese, and any other empire through the very language they read and write. The British also left a legal system to protect victims and enforce contracts – the bedrock and necessary requirement of any democracy. The British spread the virtues of the Christian faith around the globe, giving their peoples a hope of salvation after death.

Put more bluntly in the words of Monty Python, ‘But apart from the language, the legal system, God, medicine, public health, and the roads, what has the Empire ever done for us?’

And of course, there was arguably mankind’s greatest achievement: the costly and forceful ending of slavery in the Empire. The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, after the waving of King William IV’s pen, made the sale and ownership of slaves illegal in the Empire, the cost of which to the public purse was extraordinary. King William’s government paid ‘£20 million to fund the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 [which] was equivalent to approximately 40 per cent of the Government’s total annual expenditure’. A sum so great that it was only fully repaid in 2015 meaning that in our lifetime, the British were still paying to end slavery.

In enforcing the ban on slavery to end the Atlantic slave trade, the British created the West African Squadron to patrol West Africa, the success of which cannot be overstated. ‘Between 1807 and 1860, the Royal Navy, West Africa Squadron seized approximately 1600 ships involved in the slave trade and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard these vessels.

In righting the wrongs of slavery, no country has paid so much in blood and treasure, and has been so committed to the ending of the practice than the British Empire. Without the insistence, and costly enforcement of which including the ‘1,587 men [who] died on the West Africa Squadron’ slavery would have continued on at great expense in lives, and in the continued the allowance of evil.

This is enough to prove the value and glory of the British Empire alone, but we must also consider from what the British made their empire. Yes, through war and conquest like all empires, but from the dirt and sticks in faraway lands, armed only with their ingenuity and cunning made a modern society, and left achievements that the peoples before them could not even comprehend or achieve themselves.

The British Empire made the life of its subjects better, and it is a shame, not a celebration, that it is no longer with us today. The British built entire countries up from the ground in faraway lands and provided for the people because it was the right thing to do. Were it not for the British and for their Empire, the world would have been a much worse place. This is undeniable to any honest observer.

With the turn of the 20th century, we saw Britain once again take leading roles taking down the bellicose German Empire and Third Reich, providing freedom and safety to the peoples of Europe, and returning stability to the continent with enormous sacrifice at home and to the Empire.

In combating Germany and its allies in two world wars, Britain sacrificed more than any other nation on Earth. Britain’s debts to the United States ‘remain resolutely unpaid … [worth] £866m at 1934 exchange rates’, and suffered, ‘715,000 military deaths (with more than twice that number wounded), the destruction of 3.6 per cent of its human capital, 10 per cent of its domestic and 24 per cent of its overseas assets, and spent well over 25 per cent of its GDP on the war effort between 1915 and 1918’. That war alone cost Britain ‘$48,000,000 a day [in 1941 USD]’.

The second world war not only cost Britain and its dominions 373,372 lives and an additional 6,877 in its other colonies, but also its pride. Roosevelt urged Churchill to ‘consider dispatching the British fleet to Canada or the United States in case of German invasion’ calling German control of the fleet ‘the end of hope’ for the war. Additionally, the Destroyers for Bases Agreement required the surrender of British imperial territory to the US for 40 ancient US Destroyers (and if that was not enough, they must all be renamed after American towns and cities).

The world wars shrank and ended the Empire, made Britain poorer, and replaced on the world stage with a new global hegemony. All of this was in the service of combating evil and bringing Britain’s ideals to the world – even if it meant the destruction of the very Empire it was acting to defend.

While the end of the Empire is a shame, there could be no nobler cause to end it. God Save the King and thank God for the British Empire!

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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