Opinion: The British Empire: A legacy of violence? | Editorial
When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, Britain was the most powerful world power ever seen. Britain then was the second, and by the early 1990s, the world’s first, permanent superpower. Britain enjoyed nearly 80 percent of the world’s economic output, 80 percent of its raw materials and more than 20 percent of its international trade. Britain had the world’s largest navy and the world’s largest army. It had the biggest air force in the world and the second largest navy and aircraft carrier. Britain possessed almost one fourth of the world’s naval vessels, almost one third of its aircraft, 60 percent of the land area and half of its population.
The British Empire was not only the world’s biggest military power but also the world’s biggest economic power. The British economy in the 1920s and in the 1930s was the second biggest in the world and produced 20 percent of the raw materials needed by the rest of the world.
The most striking feature of the British Empire was its size. British military power overwhelmed its British colonies, Britain’s size was immense and its reach was far-reaching. British troops were stationed on every inhabited continent, and in every country in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, except for North and Central America. British trade extended to almost every nation in the world. From the West Indies to Korea, from the Red Sea to the Sahara Desert, British trade was ubiquitous. It encompassed everything from tea on tea ships to cattle in Africa to tin in the Caribbean to cotton in India to tea in Afghanistan. Britain was the world’s biggest trader and the largest supplier of all kinds of raw material.
Yet Britain’s size belied its economic strength. The British Empire was not just an empire, it was an empire that had become a superpower and a world power. When America was emerging as the world’s most powerful nation, Britain was the dominant power in the world. British trade was the largest and Britain was the biggest importer of all the goods and raw