"The sun never sets on the British Empire", as the old refrain goes, "because even God doesn't trust the British in the dark."

In the year 1919 after the treaty of the Versailles, the sun truly did not set on the British Empire. The list of territories and dependent states of the British crown was incredibly vast, with Britain controlling 458 million people, a fifth of the world population, at its height in 1922. However, at the same time, by the 1922 the British Empire was already in a state of decline. Politically and Economically, Britain was quickly losing its hegemony as the world's premier nation, with Britain being overtaken by the rising powers of the twentieth century in terms of GDP and international clout.

In 1914 Britain entered into WWI fighting against Germany and the Central Powers. While in the previous century, Britain had received little challenge to its colonial empire after the Napoleonic wars, the winds were changing at the end of the 19th century. Although at one point Britain, with its expansive navy and colonial holdings, dominated international trade, by 1913 Britain had been overtaken by both Germany and the United States in terms of total export value. Although Britain had lost no wars or ceded no territory, the gradual industrialization of the other great powers had created a situation in which Britain's lead in industry had been caught up with. In 1870 British population was 7 million more than that of Germany's 24 million, but at the outbreak of WWI Germany's population was 65 million, 24 million more than Britain's. The late industrialization of giants like Germany and the US shifted the balance of the previous single state system to the point where Britain was challenged across the board with an unwieldy empire and too few resources.

At the end of WWI, Britain was in much worse condition that it had started. Although on paper the empire expanded and added millions of new subjects, the war had killed 700,000 british soldiers and led to over 7,000,000,000 pounds in damages/lost commerce. More than that however, Britain was fundamentally challenged for power for the first time since the early 19th century. The effect of the first World War on Britain can be seen as the opposite of that of the United States, while the US enjoyed its new-found global position and increase in economic strength, Britain's damaged industry wallowed in debt while competition grew from the outside. The British system of mercantilism based on hard colonial power waned as the British population approached its asymptote and the British nation lost its edge in industry.

Thus, the colonial empire of the British was called into question. As it was an empire established first and foremost by British naval and military superiority, when Britain's economic growth began to slow, naturally the hegemony of Britain over its colonies was questioned as well. Although vast colonial holdings had been a strain yet possible previously, threats from newly militaristic nations like Japan in the 1920's created a situation where the continued stability of British territories seemed impossible. Furthermore, challenges on continental Europe once again threatened Britain, with the rising of pro-military regimes in Italy and Germany during the period. Britain simply did not have the resources to hold on to its colonial empire at this point, and it was only a matter of time before its colonial empire was questioned.

The Second World War was not so much the cause of the British Empire's fall, but its inevitable conclusion. A decrease in relative economic and military power became instantly visible in war where monetary might afforded battleships and airforces. British embarrassments across the empire, epitomized in the fall of Singapore, revealed the stagnation and instablity of Britain's vast holdings all while Britain fought a defensive battle for its life against an encrouching German army. While in the previous war, Britain needed to be allied with America in order to win, in this war Britain needed America's alliance simply to avoid destruction; it was clear that Britains moment as the world's preeminent power was over. At the end of 1945, Britain was in economic shambles, owing billions of dollars to the United States in order to piece the country, let alone the empire, back together. From this point on, Britain's premiership had officially ended, with American control over reserves of British Sterling making Britain effectively a secondary state. British power had dissolved and so did its foreign holdings, by the 1970s Britain's colonies had effectively been reduced to Honk Kong and a few outlying islands, for the British Empire did not fall with a bang, it fell with a whimper.


Works Cited
Brendon, Piers. The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. Print.Ferguson, Niall. Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power. New York: Basic, 2004. Print.United Kingdom. House of Commons Library. Social and General Statistics Section. By Joe Hicks and Grahame Allen. Web. 6 Apr. 2012. <http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/rp99/rp99-111.pdf>.

http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/rp99/rp99-111.pdf

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/hitch/gendocs/pop.html popluation britain

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWinGermany.htm //population for germany