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Chapter 1 discusses attempts to coordinate colonial military resources for the South African War, and how the war led many to doubt whether the British Empire could be effectively defended, or its people and resources effectively coordinated in moments of crisis. It then shows how these doubts structured ongoing state-building projects in British colonies, specifically the federation of Australian colonies into one Commonwealth in 1901 and the abortive attempt to federate New Zealand with Fiji. The chapter ends by demonstrating that this fashion for large federal projects was an attempt to solve imperial dilemmas of security and population control, and was freighted by racial politics.
The final chapter runs through and beyond the Armistice and into the 1920s, showing how the war, for many British subjects, did not end in 1918. The chapter emphasizes the anti-conscription movement in Ireland and the subsequent Irish war of independence. It explores how republican ideas like those in Ireland tried to solve the same crises of security that had plagued the empire. It finishes by discussing the Chanak Crisis of 1922, in which colonial pressure helped forestall a potential British war in Turkey, an important milestone marking shifts in the empire’s military and political hierarchy.
The book begins by placing the reader within the British Empire’s “crisis” of the early twentieth century, through the eyes of a few observers trying to warn their contemporaries of a forthcoming doom. It acquaints the reader with the book’s central contention – that this sense of crisis created an empire–wide preoccupation with security that sparked militarization and realigned imperial politics – before providing an overview of the book’s structure, sources, and methodology. The introduction will also contextualize this moment of crisis with some others in British imperial history, before transitioning the reader into the book’s narrative beginning with the South African War.
This chapter explores how these efforts at resolving the empire’s crisis began to fail and produce unintended consequences. It traces the breakdown of cooperation on naval strategy and shipbuilding among colonial governments, especially that of Wilfrid Laurier’s and Robert Borden’s naval bills in Canada. It shows that the deep involvement of colonists in the forthcoming world war was not a certain proposition between 1910 and 1914, and that the empire’s security crisis threatened to derail colonial state-building projects in India and South Africa.
Spanning the years 1907 to 1909, this chapter deals mainly with two crucial imperial conferences. The first debated the constitutional meaning of “Dominion status” for a select few British colonies, while the second looked to the empire’s geostrategic survival in light of the German naval threat. At both conferences, British and colonial representatives responded to constitutional and security crises, hoping to forge a new imperial community in which the rights of membership hinged on contribution to collective security.
The book closes by looking at the British Empire’s path through the 1920s, including belated attempts at integrating India into the empire’s new military and diplomatic institutions. It reflects on several British colonies entering the international community as states, culminating in the Statute of Westminster in 1931 that renounced Britain’s legislative supremacy over their parliaments.
Chapter 5 takes the narrative to the outbreak of the First World War, and compares the colonial response to the mobilization for South Africa at the beginning of the book. The chapter focuses mainly on conscription, the ultimate expression of state sovereignty over individuals, and the way conscription forced a reckoning with unresolved political questions across the empire. It covers the fraught attempts by the British government to resolve the racial exceptions listed in Military Service Act 1916, and the debates in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada about whether to follow in Britain’s footsteps on their own unprecedented military manpower problems.
This chapter familiarizes the reader with some of the political and military reforms posed as the “lessons” of South Africa. It focuses on the Government of India, specifically the debate about whether to keep the Commander in Chief of the Indian Army subordinate to the civilian government there. This debate implicated some of the era’s most polarizing figures, such as Viceroy George Curzon and General Herbert Kitchener, as well as the Indian National Congress and the rulers of the subcontinent’s Princely States. The chapter situates India at the center of the empire’s open question on civil-military relations and the British constitution.
The British Empire entered the twentieth century in a state of crisis, with many in the legal establishment fearing that the British constitution could no longer cope with the complexity of imperial institutions. At the same time, the military establishment feared the empire was becoming impossible to defend from multiplying threats. In this innovative study, Jesse Tumblin shows how Britain and its largest colonies, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and South Africa, were swept up in a collective effort to secure the Empire in the early twentieth century. The hierarchy of colonial politics created powerful incentives for colonies to militarize before World War I, reshaping their constitutional and racial relationships toward a dream beyond colonial status. The colonial backstory of a century of war and violence shows how these dreams made 'security' the dominating feature of contemporary politics.
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