Postimperial Europe c. 1947-1980
Superquiz Section IV
Buchi Emecheta (1944-)
• Buchi Emecheta (1944-) emigrated from Nigeria in
– left her government office job to follow her husband to
– Her husband pursued a Western education upon arriving
in London
• Emecheta supported her family just as she had done in
• She has since become a successful novelist
• Emecheta represents the migration that resulted when
colonies gained their independence following World
War II
Conditions and opportunities in London did
not meet the expectations of immigrants
• This situation rang especially true for colored
• Emecheta encountered hiring and housing
– She later wrote that almost all notices contained the
phrase “Sorry, no coloureds”
– Emecheta began to think she should be ashamed of the
color of her skin
• Emecheta also encountered difficulties obtaining
health care for her five children and herself
– Her husband left Emecheta for another woman which left
the family with no support
• Emecheta realized she was a second-class citizen in
both Nigeria and England
Buchi Emecheta (1944-)
• She then secured a job in the library at the British
• Emecheta began writing fiction in the 1970s
• Her work focused on the African past as well as women
immigrants to Europe
• The novels In the Ditch (1972) and Second Class Citizen
(1974) helped Emecheta rise to international fame
• She published the autobiography Head Above Water in
• Negative feelings toward immigrants increased as
European empires ended, even as Emecheta gained
literary success
The changing European landscape
• The three decades following World War II saw Europe lose almost
its entire empire
– War so severely weakened imperial powers that empires began
disappearing soon after the conflict’s end
• Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Portugal slowly recovered from
their war efforts
– The war also bankrupted Europe
– A new generation of leaders emerged in the colonies during World
War II
• To some extent, Europe had never fully controlled its colonies
– Resistance remained a constant threat and European powers struggled
to maintain control over foreign peoples
– A peaceful status quo was rarely maintained except by those who
became rich from interactions with imperialists
• Decolonization evolved as empires grew
– Liberation movements kept Europeans alert and aware throughout the
20th century
– Colonial resistance only increased as Europeans continued their
violence against colonial subjects
Immigration to this dynamic
• Tens of thousands of colonial subjects immigrated to
European capital cities
– These native peoples adopted the doctrines of opportunity
and equality previously preached by the West
– Immigrants sought political asylum and safety from civil
turmoil as well as economic opportunity
• Europe needed workers to rebuild the continent
following World War II
– This labor shortage dramatically reshaped Europe during
the second half of the 20th century
• Many immigrants were admirers of British or French
culture, eager to get a taste of the real thing
– Buchi Emecheta immigrated to England full of hope, as did
countless other immigrants
European self-assessment
• The disintegration of empire forced Europeans to look at themselves
in a new light
– They lost the traditional idea of dominant imperialism
– These citizens became dependent on cheap labor
– Soldiers and former colonial administrators returned to Europe
• Neighborhoods changed into immigrant microcosms
– People from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Cameroon
especially established their own communities in Europe
• Artists produced films capturing nostalgia and memoirs incorporating
violence, racism, and the loss of white supremacy
• “New Europeans” such as Buchi Emecheta also contributed to this
– Multiculturalism and citizenship were brought to public attention
• The end of empire transformed Europe as well as the entire world
• Europeans both wanted and expected to keep
their empires following World War II
• The weakness of Europe following the war as
well as the mobilization of colonial resistance
ended European political domination
Decolonization occurred in two waves
• This process refers to the elimination of imperial rule
• The first wave occurred right after the end of World War II
– Burma, Sri Lanka, India, and Palestine gained independence during this
– The ability of Britain to maintain its colonies collapsed
• Resistance from the colonial leadership and masses further weakened the
British Empire
– Lebanon and Syria quickly gained independence from France
– France only relinquished Vietnam and Algeria after much violence
• The second wave of decolonization began in Ghana in 1957
– Decolonization fervor soon spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa
– Some states once again quietly received independence while others
endured violent European attempts to retain political power
• The process of decolonization had mostly come to an end by the
– Britain lost the most through these developments
• Bonds of economics, society, and culture
remained strong between Europe and its
former African and Asian colonies
– Both sides received some shelter from the Cold
– These bonds also allowed the development of
• This relationship saw industrialized Western nations
economically exploit the newly politically independent
The Legacy of War and the End of Empire
• The end of World War II
• Winston Churchill primarily sought to protect and strengthen
the British Empire during World War II
– The extended conflict had the exact opposite effect on every
imperial power
– Asian and African soldiers revealed the farce of European
• These forces experienced slaughter and depravity on a larger scale than
in World War I
– Colonial troops discontent with empire met plenty of opportunity
• African forces often came in contact with highly politicized AfricanAmerican or Indian troops
• Many African soldiers also met other Africans, leading to a growth of panAfrican Ideology
– Soldiers often learned about complex technology that imperialists
had kept out of their hands
• Colonial troops also improved their reading and writing through the war
Communique of the Pan-African
Congress, 1945
‘‘We are unwilling to starve any longer
while doing the world’s drudgery in
order to support by our poverty and
ignorance a false aristocracy and a
discredited imperialism.’’
Discrimination ran rampant
throughout World War II
• African soldiers constituted roughly 20% of the Free French
forces in the war
– They participated on the front lines as much as their European
– Ceremonies celebrating French cities’ liberation made these
troops invisible
• No Africans could be seen in the company of troops that celebrated the
liberation of Paris
• Indian soldiers actively participated in the defeat of Japan
– They merely looked on to the ceremonial return of Indonesia to
the Dutch and Vietnam to the French
• Returning veterans who suffered discrimination joined civil
rights and liberation movements
– African American soldiers did the same in the United States
The progress of war destabilized the
already weak system of colonial control
• The height of World War II combat saw the colonies
mostly running themselves
• Forced labor and conscription of millions of colonial
subjects aggravated tensions against imperialism
– Forced labor during World War II provoked the deepest
and longest-lasting hatred toward imperialists
– This involuntary servitude served as a rallying cry for
• It also constituted the subject of countless films and novels
• Pay differentials between British and Indian soldiers
sparked riots near the end of the war
• One Caribbean school teacher informed his high school
students that, “When white men kill each other, it is a
blessing for blacks”
Colonial entrepreneurs flourished
under the desperation of the Allies
• The imperial powers were too engrossed in the war effort
to compete with or prohibit entrepreneurial ideas
• Converting raw materials into finished goods in the colonies
also saved money on shipping to hard-pressed imperial
• India subsequently developed an aircraft industry during
World War II
• Enterprises such as steel, iron, and oil flourished alongside
the growth of banking, finance, and trade outside of
– Wealthy manufacturers and landowners joined groups
supporting colonial independence after the war effort to
support their newfound business independence
Problems of the Lower Classes
• The problems brought by World War II to lower colonial
classes only exacerbated their dislike for imperialists
– Colonial citizens especially felt the impoverishment that
accompanied World War II
– The imperial powers did not consider the well-being or
economic development of colonies a high priority during the
• Colonies subsequently experienced rapid urbanization, social
upheaval, and famine between 1939 and 1945
• The disruption of trade caused grave poverty throughout Africa and
other colonial regions
– Rural peoples flocked to cities to free themselves from the
financial uncertainty of plantation life
– World War II simultaneously increased discontent with
imperialism and created favorable conditions for revolt
• Urbanization, the uneven increase in individual wealth, and advanced
industrialization allowed the colonies to rebel soon after the war
Colonial Rebellion
• Algeria, Vietnam, Indonesia, and many other
colonies experienced widespread rebellion soon
after the conclusion of World War II
– Many colonized leaders assumed that the end of
World War II meant the end of empire
– Liberation from Europe, however, sometimes took
decades to achieve
The end of South Asian empires…
• South Asia constituted the first major region
to achieve its independence from Europe
– British interference and violence characterized
this process
• Protests erupted in the region in 1945 and
– The first such protest responded to the British
prosecution of Indian soldiers who had not
supported the Allies
– Subsequent rebellions addressed landowning
rights and work conditions
• The British had previously proposed several
self-serving, self-government plans for South
– One plan called for the creation of distinct
countries based on religion
– This option made little practical sense due to the
mixture of religions present in South Asia
Mohammed Ali Jinnah
• Mohammed Ali Jinnah of
the Muslim League called
for his followers to
advocate for an
independent Muslim
• Hindu and Sikh
shopkeepers were
subsequently murdered
throughout northwest
India and beyond
Chaos and Violence
• Another plan constituted the development of a
loose confederation of small, independent states
– Regional leaders became inspired by this plan
• These leaders mobilized their supporters, including wealthy
• The British would have greatly benefited from a
South Asia comprised of weak nations dependent
on British political and economic power
• Resistance to this plan constituted months of
– This chaos consisted of violence, increasing murder
rates, and the flight of millions of South Asians trying
to find refuge among people of similar religion
• Mahatma Gandhi and
other politicians
traveled across South
Asia in an attempt to
calm tensions and
promote harmony
across religions and
economic classes
chaos in the Indian subcontinent led to
British withdrawal
• In 1947, Pakistan was created for Muslims, with an
independent India becoming a Hindu state
– Religions remained intermingled throughout South Asia
– India remained within the British Commonwealth
• The trading reach of India reached far and wide
• India remained plagued by ongoing violence and
religious jurisdictional disputes
– Emigration increased as a result of these factors
– Small states within India also did not know how to relate
to the central Indian Government
• A radical Hindu assassinated Gandhi on January 30,
• Superpowers soon competed for influence in
India, Pakistan, and smaller states in South
• Britain’s domination over 500 million South
Asians came to an end
• Economic connections replaced the British
political grip on Asia
– The British did retain Hong Kong in East Asia
– International businessmen sought to reestablish
the globally-funded British economic prosperity of
the pre-World War II era
East Asian Empires
• Mao Zedong (1893-1976) and other
Communists defeated the corrupt Nationalist
government in China
– Jiang Jieshi headed the Nationalist party
– The United States financed this opposition to the
East Asian Empires
• Communist rule
– abruptly ended the political and economic
influence of Europe and the United States in China
– gained support from its focus on the plight of
• Mao emphasized the differences between his
version of Marxism and those of Stalin and
– The Chinese undeveloped industrial proletariat set
China apart
– Mao did follow in the footsteps of Lenin and Stalin
through his collectivization of agriculture, rapid
industrialization program, and brutal repression of
privileged classes
– The Western powers in NATO only saw Mao as
another Stalin
The Chinese
• China had few ties with the West until the
– Hundreds of millions of Chinese experienced
political and social turmoil under the brutal
schemes of Mao’s government
• The Chinese Revolution spurred both the
United States and the USSR to increase their
involvement in Asian politics
– The Cold War complicated decolonization for both
Europeans and colonial subjects
The USSR v. United States: an indirect
confrontation in Korea
• After Korea’s liberation from the Japanese, the peninsula had split
in two at the 38th parallel
– Soviet-backed North Korea invaded American-backed South Korea in
• The United States maneuvered the United Nations Security Council
into approving a police action against North Korea
– This action set a precedent for European intervention in the 1990s
• The Americans deployed 400,000 troops to South Korea to help
repel the North Korean invaders
– These combined forces pushed far into North Korean territory
– Once they neared China’s border, the Chinese army came to the aid of
North Korea
• 2.5 years of stalemate followed
– A peace agreement was signed in 1953
– Korea remained divided at the 38th parallel, its prewar border
Southeast Asian empires
• The Korean War provided a push for independence in Southeast Asia
– The region provided high stakes in the Cold War, leading to a high number of
• The peasant armies commanded by the Communist leadership of Ho Chi Minh
caused the French to surrender Indochina
– Indochina incorporated
• Vietnam,
• Cambodia, and
• Laos
• Indochina had suffered under the sharp fall in agricultural prices during the
1920s and 1930s
– The toll of World War II after this economic depression hit Indochinese peasants
• Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh soldiers fought the French army and big landlords in
the south
• The United States began funneling money into the French side of the
– Officially, the United States retained its anti-imperial position
• The guerilla tactics of the Viet Minh forces pushed the technologically superior
French army to withdraw after the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954

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