Friday, February 8, 2008

The End of Empires and other such tales

One question that always raises curiosity in my all-too-curious brain is why/how do empires rise and why/how do empires end?

Since this is a topic that can be gone on endlessly, I shall go on endlessly about it, but given my limited time constraints, I will pace myself.

Let's look at one, most particular example of the fall of empires, at the World War I, 4 empires: The German Empire, The Russian Empire, The Austro-Hungarian Empire, and The Ottoman Empire collapsed.

Was it do to the war? Maybe, there's a lot of evidence both ways. Since I'm obliged by class to write an essay on the topic in regards to the Russian Empire (likely I will at least), I'll try to share my insights on that.

Throwing out some context info: While those 4 empires fell at the end of WWI, this was the height of imperial empires, and the world's second largest empire fell before WWI: The Qing Chinese Empire started its collapse in 1911, although after effects of WWI ended up contributing to the chaos, its collapse could not be do to WWI which only started 1914.

But let's just briefly (very briefly do to time, and not enough analysis done/looked up on the topic) look at some compare and contrasts between the 4 WWI end of empire scenarios (starting with the German Empire, and I'll fill in the others tomorrow/later):

German Empire:

This empire came closest and might even qualify as a nation-state rather than an empire, however, the ruling ideology was still imperial, with ultimate power and the source of power in the monarch's hands. Also, the German Empire had a large minority of Poles and some other assorted Slavs, as well as a smaller minority of Danes.

It was also a colonial empire, with colonies in the Pacific (throughout but most notably in New Guinea), SW Africa (now Nambia), W. Africa (Togo, part of Ghana, and Cameroon), C. Africa (Rwanda and Burundi) and E. Africa (now Tanzania (excluding Zanzibar)). There were also colonial spheres of influence in China, and semi-colonial partnerships in the Balkans (Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire).

It collapsed into a mess:
The Polish portion and a corridor of majority German territory leading to the sea became part of Poland. Denmark took the Dane-majority portion, although there was still a tiny Danish minority. Still compared to the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian empires after WWI, this was smaller scale.

The German portion was taken over by the Social Democrats. A more radical uprising is put down by returning soldiers (in contrast to the Russian situation where the returning soldiers help carry out the revolution). Briefly a Communist state is established in Bavaria but this too is put down by the returning soldiers.

The fact that many Germans had been left out of the new state (although many Germans had been left out of Germany from its start), helped fuel the dream of reconquest, helping to bolster extreme nationalism.

In terms of human loss, cultural dislocation, and economic damage, Germany was immensely ruined after WWI.

That's a short snap-shot of the fall of the German Empire.

Why did it fall? That's another story for some time that is not now.

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