In "Is America in Decline?", a post I put up just yesterday, I quoted Roger Kimball to the effect that we should all just take a deep breath and cheer up. By my reading today--I was making notes on the post-war handoff from the British Empire to the United States as the guarantor of free trade and world world order--depressed me all over again. The collapse of the British Empire, my reading reminded me, happened fast.
In the course of the Second World War, of course, American power very quickly came to overshadow that of the British--within just a year or so of entering the war, we already had more men on the ground in Europe than did the British, and our vast production of materiel, numbering hundreds and hundreds of ships and tens of thousands of aircraft, completely overwhelmed the modest British production of materiel. Yet Churchill continued to conduct himself as if the Empire remained a geopolitical force, seeming to suppose that Britain could recover after the war, once again achieving great power status.
Early in 1947, the Attlee government, faced with the vast costs of enacting socialism, including the National Health Service, engaged in a major retrenchment, handing off responsibility for Greece and Turkey to the United States with just six weeks' notice. By the time of the Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953, Britain was able to field little more than a token force. (Just compare the casualties: The U.S. suffered 33,000 dead and 106,000 wounded; the Commonwealth--Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand--some 1,300 dead and 4,800 wounded.)
Then came the Suez operation of 1956, in which Britain, behaving like a global power for the final time, joined France and Israel in capturing the Suez Canal from the Egypt of Gamar Abdul Nasser, who had nationalized the canal. When President Eisenhower opposed the operation, it collapsed, forcing the British and French, and, a few months later, the Israelis to withdraw their forces. Not long after British Prime Minister Antony Eden, Churchill's successor in the Conservative Party, resigned in humiliation.
And that was that. Still in possession of an empire as late as 1947; forced off the world stage in humiliation by late 1956. In just a decade--collapse.
Of course, the British had us, a law-abiding democracy, intent on peace and free trade, to take their place.
Whom do we have to take ours?