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Should We Be Proud Of The British Empire?


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#31 RedRevolver

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Posted 23 August 2009 - 10:21 PM

Should we feel proud? No, not at all. Proud would be to not feel ashamed of the way we tried to completely rearrange the religion and morality of cultures that were different to ours, to not be ashamed of enslaving and discriminating against several races of people, to not be ashamed of the largely negative impact of the Empire that still resonates today.

However, we should definitely not forget the British empire, or believe that Britain should not have a standing in today's world because of it.

#32 S Batchelor

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Posted 01 September 2009 - 12:22 PM

Should we feel proud? No, not at all. Proud would be to not feel ashamed of the way we tried to completely rearrange the religion and morality of cultures that were different to ours, to not be ashamed of enslaving and discriminating against several races of people, to not be ashamed of the largely negative impact of the Empire that still resonates today.

However, we should definitely not forget the British empire, or believe that Britain should not have a standing in today's world because of it.



In all honesty, you have the right of the British Empire in many respects, the missionary movement was a cultural imposer, trying to teach colonial citizens how to be 'civilised'. We certainly did discriminate against several races of the Empire. However, it is worthwhile to take exception to the idea that firstly the British Empire enslaved it's population, and that it had an overall negative impact today. Unfortunately many of the myriad positive benefits of the Empire we have today our so intrinsic to our existence that we cannot but help taking them for granted, and when trying to evaluate whether the Empire was a 'good thing', we completely forget about them.

Firstly, slavery. Yes, the British Empire (henceforth referred to as BE) did partake in the slave trade, as did every other european world power. However, the african triangle trade would not have been even remotely feasible had the African tribal chiefs not been willing to sell their people into slavery. They suffered a huge surprise when the Royal Navy started to blockade the slave trade, because they saw it as central to their own economies. Which neatly brings me onto the second part of slavery: we were one of the first countries to ban it, and certainly the country most active in trying to prevent it. Due to the Royal Navy's intereference the number of slaves transported to the Americas dropped sharply, and when we bullied the other European powers, Spain and France, into dropping Slavery too the number of slaves transported dropped again. Rather intriguely it was our former colony of the US that was the most difficult to try and stop partaking in slavery, perhaps if they had never gained their independence then the shameful profiteering of slavery might have ended the world over some 40 years earlier.

Secondly: It is and always be utterly fallacious to argue that the Empire was a negative thing. Firstly, of the effect it has on the world today: of 50 odd countries once part of the Empire, 26 are now Parliamentary democracies; the benefits of liberal capitalism are still all around us; English is the first language of over 350 million people, and the second language of more than 400 million people. Never has there been a more uniting force than that of the Empire, we created the modern idea of India, before it was seperated out into minor principates, and today it is on the cusp of becoming a super power. I defy you to name one other country that has done more for the World than Britain, the years of the BE were the most peaceful and economically prosperous in all human history. Secondly, WW1 and WW2. We would have not been able to win either of those Wars without the BE. This is especially relevant for WW2, when Hitler offered allowing Germany to have European Hegemony in exchange for the continuation and expansion of the BE. We gave up our Empire in order that the Japanese, Germans and Italians could not have theirs; a noble sacrifice I believe, and no more so when you consider that for all the faults of the BE it was a thousand time less racist and more liberal than a German, Italian and Japenese Empire would have been.

Overall I believe that the BE was a fundamentally good thing, and it would damn nice if the school syllabus was less obsessed with teaching students to be ashamed for our roots and instead showed them that we did good with the BE.

#33 MrJohnDClare

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Posted 01 September 2009 - 02:39 PM

Overall I believe that the BE was a fundamentally good thing, and it would damn nice if the school syllabus was less obsessed with teaching students to be ashamed for our roots and instead showed them that we did good with the BE.

Thank you for your contribution, which was erudite and lucid.
However, I must challenge you on this final statement, which threatens to stereotype both History teachers and History teaching. Most teachers nowadays are concerned to help the pupils to a reasoned, balanced judgement.

As for the National Curriculum, I think it is concerned to help all pupils to appreciate their roots. However, we have to understand that there are very many pupils today who do not see those roots as being white British; and it is important that ALL children, of whatever ethnic background, are enabled to enjoy history from their own standpoint.
A black pupil, whose ancestors were taken as slaves to the Caribbean, and whose immigrant grandparents suffered discrimination despite being Empire citizens, might have a very different 'take' on issues like the abolition of slavery and the 'good' of the Empire.

#34 S Batchelor

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Posted 01 September 2009 - 04:13 PM

When you consider that the population of England is 92% British White, and the same can be said for the proportion of students in the UK, surely we owe more to the majority of students than to simply teach a different and not entirely factual version of history in order to not offend the sensibilities of the few? A black pupil could instead by shown that despite the British promotion of the Slave Trade, it was also the promoter of abolitionism across the world; and that despite being of original African descent they have as much claim on the better parts of the Empire as heritage, that they too can be proud of even British White victories over African tribesmen, as being British now transcends ethnicity and is quite simply a cultural thing. What I'm trying to say is History should be taught so that a White student can feel as much shame over the acts of slavery as a black pupil. They will only respond differently if you treat them differently.

#35 MrJohnDClare

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Posted 02 September 2009 - 12:39 AM

I absolutely agree with much of what you are saying.

I agree with your statement:

A black pupil could instead be shown that despite the British promotion of the Slave Trade, it was also the promoter of abolitionism across the world

although I think you will find that in most classrooms teachers not only teach this, but they also show the role that black Britons played in helping to achieve abolition; abolition was not a favour bestowed by white Britons upon the black slaves.

I also agree very much with your brilliant point that

[a pupil] of original African descent [can] have as much claim on the better parts of the Empire as heritage ... as being British now transcends ethnicity and is quite simply a cultural thing.


and I am impressed by the sentiment that

History should be taught so that a White student can feel as much shame over the acts of slavery as a black pupil



What I would dare to challenge, however, is the preassumptions behind your phrase: 'despite being of original African descent' which is pejorative in tone (one must be SO VERY careful with langaue)

and also I wonder how or why we 'can be proud of even British White victories over African tribesmen'?
I am not closed to being persuaded, but I would personally feel that the actual victories, their motivation and methods were often things of which we ought to be ashamed.
It was afterwards, as rulers, that the British did some of the things of which I would suggest we canfeel genuinely proud.

What do you reckon?

#36 08ratsmae

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Posted 07 October 2009 - 06:01 PM

i think we should as we live in England,
england has made msitakes but so has everybody i think we should forgive them as things like this do not happen any more
(although i do find it interesting!!) :rolleyes: <_<

#37 Marx

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Posted 07 October 2009 - 07:53 PM

When you consider that the population of England is 92% British White, and the same can be said for the proportion of students in the UK, surely we owe more to the majority of students than to simply teach a different and not entirely factual version of history in order to not offend the sensibilities of the few?


If we teach a not entirely factual version of history, doesn't this lead us open to then deciding "We'll now only teach the events that Britain looked good in." and then maybe to "We'll only teach what our government finds correct" 1984 style <_< . Why should we be ignorant and deceitful for the 92% ? Although the history books are only written by the winners of conflict, does hoping to prevent embarrasment make it right to lie ? Would it not be right to teach history as the winner wrote it, rather than alter history as and when we please ?

#38 Cyfer

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Posted 07 October 2009 - 10:00 PM

As for the National Curriculum, I think it is concerned to help all pupils to appreciate their roots. However, we have to understand that there are very many pupils today who do not see those roots as being white British; and it is important that ALL children, of whatever ethnic background, are enabled to enjoy history from their own standpoint.
A black pupil, whose ancestors were taken as slaves to the Caribbean, and whose immigrant grandparents suffered discrimination despite being Empire citizens, might have a very different 'take' on issues like the abolition of slavery and the 'good' of the Empire.


I agree with you on the point that all cultures should 'enjoy' history although our teacher has made this so one sided it's unbelievable! Reading your comments on the sterotypical teacher make me livid. Is just our teacher different? The only work she set us that shows black people also took a vital role in the abolition was 'extension', which only me and my friend managed to get to. Now it's the same with the Industrial Revolution. She has not even mentioned the standard of living debate and the optimist's point of view which i would strongly argue for.
You already know that i do not care much about feelings and ethnics although this is not my only mentality for saying that we should be taught both sides of the story! Not having to go do extra research by ourselves which I'm sure no one does unless our teacher sets a research homework.


When you consider that the population of England is 92% British White, and the same can be said for the proportion of students in the UK, surely we owe more to the majority of students than to simply teach a different and not entirely factual version of history in order to not offend the sensibilities of the few? A black pupil could instead by shown that despite the British promotion of the Slave Trade, it was also the promoter of abolitionism across the world; and that despite being of original African descent they have as much claim on the better parts of the Empire as heritage, that they too can be proud of even British White victories over African tribesmen, as being British now transcends ethnicity and is quite simply a cultural thing. What I'm trying to say is History should be taught so that a White student can feel as much shame over the acts of slavery as a black pupil. They will only respond differently if you treat them differently.


I agree with this but in a rather abstract way. I'm also not of British decent and we've been taught about how Britain opposed my culture/country. Just because someone is of different colour does that give them special privileges? No. If teachers can talk about the destruction of other cultures but not those from the Carribean or Africa than opinion is pointless.

I absolutely agree with much of what you are saying.

I agree with your statement:

A black pupil could instead be shown that despite the British promotion of the Slave Trade, it was also the promoter of abolitionism across the world

although I think you will find that in most classrooms teachers not only teach this, but they also show the role that black Britons played in helping to achieve abolition; abolition was not a favour bestowed by white Britons upon the black slaves.

I also agree very much with your brilliant point that

[a pupil] of original African descent [can] have as much claim on the better parts of the Empire as heritage ... as being British now transcends ethnicity and is quite simply a cultural thing.


As i said before. Our teacher only set this side of the argument as extension. I'm actually quite disappointed with my teacher this year, the teacher i had last year was amazing but she left.

History should be taught so that a White student can feel as much shame over the acts of slavery as a black pupil



What I would dare to challenge, however, is the preassumptions behind your phrase: 'despite being of original African descent' which is pejorative in tone (one must be SO VERY careful with langaue)

and also I wonder how or why we 'can be proud of even British White victories over African tribesmen'?
I am not closed to being persuaded, but I would personally feel that the actual victories, their motivation and methods were often things of which we ought to be ashamed.
It was afterwards, as rulers, that the British did some of the things of which I would suggest we canfeel genuinely proud.

What do you reckon?


I agree with this. The crude ways which they created over that period of time should not be pride worthy in any way. Neither should the African tribe cheif's willingness to sell his people be.
Neither do i believe should we be proud of ending our slave trade first. We started it first. And society was bound to bring it down one day. We should, though be proud of how we 'bullied' (as a person put it so well ^^) other countries into stopping the slave trade.


~Cyfer

#39 MrJohnDClare

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Posted 25 October 2009 - 10:52 PM

If you are interested in this topic, there is a very lively and occasionally heated discussion on YouTube here.

#40 Cyfer

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Posted 02 November 2009 - 09:16 PM

interesting but it doesn't really address a point that I've been thinking over for... the last 5 mins.


So the 'best' empire. Let's consider our options.

Can't include the first human migration to countries.

Roman Empire
Byzantine Empire
Ottoman Empire
Chinese Empire
Mongolian Empire
Aztec Empire
British Empire


I'll start in an easy way.
The Aztec empire cannot be accounted for since half the people in the world would skin my ass if I considered them since they only used fear to rule, and there was no one else in the empire. Many uprising etc...

Ottoman + Byzantine both were very successful empires but they existed for such a short time that I cannot consider them.

Chinese Empire. One of my favourite. They controlled most of Asia through cunning and politics, mixing up other countries into tribes and keeping them separated, using organized events to stage lots of mini civil wars and therefore controlled the land with others not knowing of this.

Roman Empire. Arguably the best along with the British Empire. Both created things far beyond the capabilities of the world so far but it had only one nation with, at the time it created these things, much smaller land mass than Britain, with much, much less people than Britain. So the invention of these ideas are worth alot more until you account for the majority of worker's literacy rate and education in times of the Industrial revolution and how large a population Britain had. With these factors in mind I cannot separate which is better in terms of advancement and Rome eventually had more land mass than Britain so I put it in a higher ranking.

Mongolian Empire. Invented nothing. Basically rised due to one person so nothing in technology. Also although they did create amazing tactics and organization so did the Romans and even though the Mongols had a larger scale of organization, It didn't really matter with the same system. They controlled roughly a mass twice as big as the Roman Empire and 4 times as big as the English one. Now I know someone will come up of the witty answer that they controlled the desert which is just an empty space and easy to control. Well, I would like to see a single Roman or English army marching through half the world as a single unit (yes they did get separated in the late middle life of Genghis Khan). They destroyed so many incredible forces that arguments like these, in my opinion are not valid. E.g. the Romans had the largest army but until they got it. Who was there to oppose them? The land was basically scot free until they got a stable society.

I conclude that the Roman empire is the best in my opinion. Hopefully you can see why from my point of view in these nearly indiscernable ramblings :(

#41 historylover123

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 05:26 PM

On one hand, I think we should be because of all the power we have now probably because of it. But on the other hand, slavery and violating human rights are certainly not good things.

What do you lot think?



I think we should be proud of the good things we have done, like winning 2 world wars, but we should be ashamed of the slavery and some bad things that we just sat back and watched happen, like the rwandan genocide. We should try and not forget the bad things but we should be proud of our country.

#42 Cyfer

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Posted 16 November 2010 - 09:30 PM


On one hand, I think we should be because of all the power we have now probably because of it. But on the other hand, slavery and violating human rights are certainly not good things.

What do you lot think?



I think we should be proud of the good things we have done, like winning 2 world wars, but we should be ashamed of the slavery and some bad things that we just sat back and watched happen, like the rwandan genocide. We should try and not forget the bad things but we should be proud of our country.


Proud of winning two world wars? How can we be proud of that, knowing what occurred after each of them? How can we be proud knowing that we partook in a war that only caused low living standards for the people of Britain, a less stable economy and gave rise to a superpower that almost dominates today's age.

#43 MrJohnDClare

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Posted 17 November 2010 - 01:43 AM

Proud of winning two world wars? How can we be proud of that, knowing what occurred after each of them? How can we be proud knowing that we partook in a war that only caused low living standards for the people of Britain, a less stable economy and gave rise to a superpower that almost dominates today's age.

I'd be careful saying that in the hearing of anyone over the age of 50!
You're liable to get lynched.
And you're clearly a product of a society which enjoys the freedoms that the soldiers who died in WWII bought for you with their lives.
I agree with you to a certain degree - the British Empire broke itself defying Hitler.
IMHO, it was the greatest thing that the British nation has or ever will do.
As Churchill said: 'If the British empire and commonwealth last a thousand years, men will still say, "THIS was their finest hour"'.

#44 sxychick2011

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Posted 09 January 2011 - 06:10 PM

On one hand, I think we should be because of all the power we have now probably because of it. But on the other hand, slavery and violating human rights are certainly not good things.

What do you lot think?

I agree with you 100%.I feel like 50%proud 50%not proud. :lol:

#45 Andrew W

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Posted 23 August 2011 - 01:50 AM

Being proud of the Empire must come with conditions if you want to be a good historian; indeed, being proud of your nation's past anywhere in the world must necessarily come with strings attached.

A good example of this can be found in Australia where the so called 'History Wars' have been going on for the past few decades. The battlelines are drawn between those who want to see History through rose tinted specs and those who take the negative 'black armband' view of Australia's past. Contentious debate rages for example about the early settlers and the massacres of the original inhabitants, the aboriginal peoples. Before the 1970s, Australian history was unashamedly positive, before a revolution in thinking which looked at the darker aspects of the country's past including brutal riots against Chinese settlers and the 'stolen generations.'

John Howard, the former Australian Prime Minister, likes to claim to want balance in History and railed against this new 'black armband' view but in reality falls squarely in the 'rose tinted specs' camp. He will frequently be heard arguing for more positive information about Australia's past in museums and in school text books. The trouble is that he is inconsistent on whether Australians have a link to their past. He will talk about how Australians should be proud of their country's past achievements (for example its explorers and its discoveries) and how their actions made Australians who they are today. However, he will also say that Australians today cannot be blamed for the mistakes of previous generations and for that reason did not attend Kevin Rudd's apology to the stolen generations. In essense what he is doing is cherry picking history to create back slapping propaganda. Historians on the other side of the fence are just as guilty; some 'black armband' historians have been found to make figures up when describing massacres in order to present a particularly dark view of Australian settlers.

The trouble is if you want to claim ownership of the ingenuity and the heroism of the past you have to own the morality too. John Howard is where he is today not only because Charles Sturt explored Australia and made expansion possible or because of the discovery of gold; he is also here today because white Australians forced Aboriginal people off the land, sometimes by killing them. History is a package and if you offer to carry it, you must take the full load. If you try to carry only pieces of it, all you really have is hot air!

So back to the Empire. Is it possible to be proud of it? Certainly but if you are a good historian you will be forced to accept that you are proud of something which at time was brutal to its occupants from the potato famine in Ireland to the massacres in the British Raj. You must own it all.

Personally, I prefer to see History in terms of progress. I don't use History to feel proud, I use History to understand how we can be better people in the future. Besides a handful of exceptions (the rise of Christianity which led to iconoclasm and a European Dark Age or the rise of Fascism in interwar Europe) I think the world has generally progressed for the better decade by decade. Certainly, the recession we have now is less awful than the recession of the early 1980s which itself was better than the depression of the 1930s for those at the bottom of society. We have learned to look after the most vulnerable with more care now and will probably improve in the future.

Applied to the British Empire, society has learned that subjugation of other nations is not the best approach and that country's leverage off one another better through cooperation (the UN, the EU, the World Bank, the IMF and so forth). Society is though still learning this lesson; whilst India, Brazil and China have become economic powerhouses the west still looks down on other nations and the process of outsourcing popular in western democracies can still lead to cultural chauvinism against Asia, Africa and South America.




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