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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: March 2012

Afterword: Improvement, Progress and Development


On the Legitimacy of the Civilizing Mission

More than 100,000 Indian soldiers, most of them hailing from the Panjab, fought in Great Britain's army on the battlefields of Belgium and northern France during the Great War of 1914–18, also known as World War I. Along the vast system of trenches criss-crossing Flanders and the Champagne region they were witness to how nations that understood and defined themselves as the most civilized ones of the world waged the most barbaric war that had hitherto been fought on the European continent if not worldwide. However, by far the largest numbers of Indian soldiers, namely more than 600,000, were sent to Mesopotamia to attack and ultimately invade the Ottoman Empire's eastern provinces, which later came to form Iraq. Furthermore, since the ‘Western powers’ regarded the Ottoman Empire to be an ‘Oriental’ state, which was by definition (again according to Western understanding) a despotic regime and for that reason not a part of the world of civilized nations, military campaigns in the ‘East’ did not receive the same attention as did the west-European theatres of war, even though warfare in the former was as gruesome as in the latter.

Despite the disastrous warfare in Mesopotamia killing tens of thousands of Indian soldiers, it was the gruesome war in Europe which deeply influenced the Indian soldiers' perception of European powers, their ‘culture of warfare’ and, more generally, their civilizations.

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