The exercise of imperial power on the periphery

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  • Created on: 06-04-13 16:50

The Coercion interpretation

When the colonial authority was threatened, the British reacted violently (source H).

  • Limitations on the use of coercion

The British authorities realised that using coercion created resentment amongst the local population encouraging resistance. The British did not have the men or resources to govern without the consent or cooperation of those whom they ruled e.g. source K, page 56.

General Edward Dyer ordered his troops to open fire on a group of unarmed Indians who had disobeyed an order banning public gatherings by congregating near the Sikhs’ holiest shrine in Punjab. Hundreds were killed and more than 1,000 injured. This resulted in local outrage and protest in Britain in which the General was forced to retire.

This demonstrates colonial authorities employing coercive tactics which were restricted by metropolitan pressures. British politicians and voters did not want the Empire to be perceived as a torturous one but they were not inclined to spend excessive amounts of money on the military. Therefore the actions of ‘men on the spot’ were controlled by the numbers of men and weapons available.


The technology and ‘native bashing’ interpretation

By the twentieth century, developments in air, land and water transport allowed troops to reach crises even more quickly than before. Britain began to place greater emphasis on air power for investigation, supply and attacking enemies. For example when the RAF helped defeat a revolt in Iraq in 1920. As a consequence many troops could be safely withdrawn from certain areas without compromising security. For example, between 1921 and 1928, the garrison of Iraq was reduced from 23 British and Indian battalions to two battalions.

Newsinger believes that ‘imperial occupation inevitably involved the use of violence and that, far from being a glorious affair, it involved considerable brutality against people who were often virtually defenceless’. Britain relied on weapons such as the machine gun to maintain authority.

The ‘native bashing’ interpretation can be disproved. In the nineteenth century, Britain did not always have the technological advantage when engaged in a colonial conflict. For example, in New Zealand in the 1860s, the Maori possessed European musketry and used trenches to limit the impact of artillery. Their eventual defeat was due to lack of numbers rather than primitive arms. Local groups had the advantage of fighting in terrain they knew.

Mike Snook challenges the ‘native bashing’ interpretation and argues that the ‘portrayal of Queen Victoria’s enemies as helpless victims of imperialism serves only to demean the often sophisticated indigenous societies at the time. In military terms it belittles their intelligence, their fighting spirit and their capacity for a degree of guile as highly developed, if not more so, that that of their British opponents’.

Approaches that utilise the theories of hegemony and false consciousness

A colonial state cooperated with Britain because of the rewards on offer or from fear of being tortured. But coercion fails to explain why few British administrators and soldiers were able to maintain authority over the indigenous people.
British rule has been

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