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Subject History

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631209379.1999.x


The gaining of independence by colonies. Decolonization long preceded the twentieth century (the USA became independent in the eighteenth century, the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in Latin America as a result of the Napoleonic Wars), but the collapse of most empires did not take place until after the Second World War. From 1945–60 40 countries with a population of 800 million, over a quarter of the world's inhabitants, became independent in an unprecedented and in many ways unexpected series of events. The European powers were weakened and humiliated in the war by the ease with which Japan overran their colonies in Southeast Asia: the British, Dutch and French empires there ceased to exist, as did the Italian empire in Africa. When the war was over the two victorious superpowers, the US and Soviet Union, were both opposed to colonialism, as was the united nations , whose charter stated that all peoples had the right to freedom and justice. Britain, with the largest empire, was a huge debtor nation in 1945 and wanted to concentrate on economic recovery at home: it did not want to use its scarce resources in fighting colonial wars. In India Britain was faced with a strong nationalist movement led by nehru and inter-communal violence between Muslims and Hindus. A quick solution was needed, so in February 1947 attlee , the British Prime Minister, announced that Britain would ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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