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Which Regions Are Fighting For Independence – Part 2 (3:07 mins)
Which Regions Are Fighting For Independence (3:07 mins)
Which Countries Still Have Colonies (3:10 mins)
Decolonization and Nationalism Triumphant – Crash Course World History #40 (12:48 mins)
Which Regions Are Fighting For Independence – Part 3 (3:07 mins)
Before we begin, take a few seconds to look at a current political map of the world. Pretty colorful, isn't it? Sure, there are larger areas on the map, like Russia and Brazil, but Eastern Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia all have several colors snaking around and crammed in between one another, don't they? Well, a big reason for the numerous amounts of countries in the world today is the process of decolonization that occurred after World War II (WWII) in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Indeed, as recently as 70 years ago, the political map of the world was far less colorful than it is today. Now there are over 200 nations on the planet!
For nearly a half millennium, from the Age of Exploration through the 19th century, Western Europe had spent vast amounts of resources fighting for control of territory, resources, and people of other continents. By 1900, nearly the entire continent of Africa, parts of South America, and most of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific were considered territories or colonies owned by countries like Great Britain, France, or Germany. After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after World War I (WWI), the Middle East was similarly split between Great Britain and France. Thus, by the end of World War I, most of the world was colonization, controlled by European countries.
Considering the expansive reach of the colonial system, from South America to Southeast Asia and everywhere in between, it's important to remember the different causes and experiences of decolonization. Indeed, where some countries were granted their independence by their colonial masters, others had to fight for it. Similarly, internal desire for independence from the colonial powers varied greatly, and so did the colonizing countries' pressure from the international community. In other words, every country has its own unique and different independence story.
Regardless, a few general trends should be noted. After WWII, national self-determination became an objective for some countries and international organizations like the United States and the United Nations. People for national self-determination largely believed the inhabitants of a region should be able to decide what government is best for their country. This anti-colonial international sentiment, combined with a nation or people's demand for independence, often forced the hand of the colonial nations in this period, and helped make decolonization all the more likely. Now we'll cover the regions of the world colonized by the Western powers. Self-determination was a major influence which encouraged global independence movements, but it was not the only reason which aided the end of colonies and imperialism. Another reason was that many European countries no longer had the resources or money to maintain control over their colonies after fighting World War II. Also, it seemed pretty hypocritical to fight for democracy and the end of Adolf Hitler’s tyrannical rule in Europe, but not allow freedom and democracy in your colonies. Another factor in independence movements was Nationalism, or pride in your country or culture, helped unite people and encouraged independence movements.
The 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement between Great Britain and France secretly created the colonization of the Middle East. This would become known as the Mandate System, where outside countries, usually Britain, France or the U.S. would assume control over an area, until that area was stable enough to rule and control their own country on its own. That was the idea at least, but often times these areas were treated like colonies, being exploited for natural resources and used to sell goods.
Both Great Britain and France already had troops in the region allied with local movements trying to weaken the Ottoman Empire. After the World War I, the French and British drew the lines of most modern states in the region, including Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, and Palestine. The puppet states the Western governments set up were essentially under European control. This fact was made all the more apparent after WWII when Great Britain and the newly formed United Nations agreed to split Palestine in two and create the Jewish state of Israel. Much of the conflict and strife in the region today can be drawn back to these borders drawn by the Western colonizers and the creation of Israel.
After WWII, the French and British came under serious pressure to eliminate their influence upon the Middle Eastern states, especially from the United States and the United Nations. Though the British did not relinquish their mandate of Palestine until after the creation of Israel, the French removed their mandate over Syria and Lebanon during WWII and recalled the last of its troops from the two new countries in 1946. Likewise, Transjordan became the Kingdom of Jordan in the same year when the British removed their own mandate.
Africa was unique among continents after WWII in that virtually the entire continent was under colonial rule. Indeed, over the past few hundred years, France, Portugal, Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, and Italy had divided up its territory and resources between themselves, in an event known as the Scramble for Africa. As a result, the African experience of decolonization varies wildly. For example, many French and British colonies were granted their independence with little bloodshed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In contrast, Portuguese colonies that became the states of Angola and Mozambique were required to fight long, hard wars of independence. The decolonization of Africa, be it through war or peaceful means, took place mainly between 1956 and 1975, with its most intense period occurring in the early 1960s.
Decolonization in South and Southeast Asia was a longer affair. Indeed, parts of Indian society had been peacefully fighting for Indian independence from Great Britain since the 19th century. For example, the foremost organization calling for Indian independence, the Indian National Congress, was created in 1885. As a result, the movement for independence was likely farther along in India by WWII than in any other country.
Non-violent organizers, like Mahatma Gandhi, had mobilized large portions of society, and several violent suppressions of protests by British officials, such as the Amritsar Massacre in 1919, had turned popular sentiment against the colonizers. Recognizing both domestic Indian cries for independence and worldwide anti-colonial sentiment, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee realized maintaining peaceful British control over India would be impossible, and he agreed to grant the expansive territory its independence in 1947.
Before doing so, however, Attlee and the British government divided the colony into two states: India for the Hindus and Pakistan for Muslims. This resulted in the mass migration of millions of Hindus and Muslims who suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of the border. The partition did not end the violence in the region either, as the two countries fought over the border region of Kashmir, which still remains a contentious territory today.
The other hotspot of decolonization in Asia was Vietnam. The Vietnamese had been clamoring for independence from the French since before WWII. After WWII, armed conflict routinely broke out between Vietnamese guerrillas and French forces. In the 1950s, the United States began tacitly supporting the French and later the democratic South Vietnamese government in order to hinder the spread of communism.
Meanwhile, the communist North, led by Ho Chi Minh, was secretly being supported by both the Soviet Union and China. After a U.S. naval vessel was attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, the United States began bombing North Vietnam and sent troops to the former French colony the following year. After nearly a decade of fierce and internationally controversial violence, the United States withdrew its troops in 1973, and the North Vietnamese united the country under its communist government when it took the Southern capital, Saigon, in 1975.