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THE ARMED FORCES AND DECOLONIZATION

[Dr. Bo Huldt, Department of History, University of Lund, Lund, Sweden]

Introduction

The theme for the Ottawa conference is 'Armed Forces and Colonial De- velopment'. The topic for this paper, 'the armed forces and decolonization', may seem a rather liberal interpretation of the conference theme. Nonetheless, its claims on our attention are clearly justified. By choosing this perspective we are focusing on one aspect of the major transformation in international politics that has taken place since 1945 and which - from a macro-historical viewpoint - al- lows us to talk about 'discontinuities', 'winds of change', 'the end of an age and the beginning of a new era', etc.. l

The most obvious point of departure when discussing the relationship be- tween the armed forces and the process of decolonization is to refer to the fun- damental impact of the two world wars upon the colonial empires. The mobiliza- tion of the colonies - above all in the Middle East, in West Africa and in British India - in the total war effort of the colonial empires, and the subsequent changes imposed upon traditional societies, cultural and ideological patterns, etc..., in the colonies constitute one aspect of the process of transformation at least partly conditioned by the world wars. In British India 800,000 men were put under arms during the First World War', in the second war the figure was close to two millions. The colonies both provided manpower reserves and functioned as bases for training, organization, supplies and war production. With intensified com- munications, the exchange of people and things, ideas and goods, the war effort in the colonies also contributed to the political mobilization and awakening that became the force behind the decolonization process. 2

Great importance has often been attached to the symbolic impact of the de- feats sustained by the colonial powers in Asia under the hands of the Japanese. The fall of Singapore in February 1942 has been regarded as the death-blow to colonialism in Asia. Greater attention, however, should perhaps be directed to developments that took place in Asia - Indochina and Indonesia - during the pe- riod of Japanese occupation with the rise of new political forces, guerilla move- ments, etc.... When the colonial powers returned after some three years the situa- tion had changed and this time factor - rather than the military defeats in them- selves - became of decisive importance.

Ultimately, however, one might venture the observation that the enormous costs - in human lives and materiel - that the two world wars imposed upon the colonial powers broke their will to hang on to colonial possessions, to maintain empires, once it became obvious that additional (and rising) costs would have to

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