The Rise and Fall of Empire

The Tools of Empire!

The Crusades were all about religion and empire building but the Crusades are long over.
The Crusades were all about religion and empire building but the Crusades are long over. | Source
Efforts have been made of late to use food as a way of creating a Muslim empire.
Efforts have been made of late to use food as a way of creating a Muslim empire. | Source
One key element to running a successful empire is to recognize change and know what to do about it.
One key element to running a successful empire is to recognize change and know what to do about it. | Source
Australia became a Federation in 1901.
Australia became a Federation in 1901. | Source
Having great battle ships plus wondrous merchant vessels were important ways of, not only keeping an empire together, but expanding it as well.
Having great battle ships plus wondrous merchant vessels were important ways of, not only keeping an empire together, but expanding it as well. | Source
The original tools of empire: COINS, SHIELD, SWORD,  SPEAR AND YOU CAN THROW IN GRAIN.
The original tools of empire: COINS, SHIELD, SWORD, SPEAR AND YOU CAN THROW IN GRAIN. | Source
The British Empire in Glory!
The British Empire in Glory! | Source
The British Empire in decline.
The British Empire in decline. | Source
City dwellers have got to be fed.
City dwellers have got to be fed. | Source
There were and still are hazards in relying too heavily on food coming in from overseas.
There were and still are hazards in relying too heavily on food coming in from overseas. | Source
The 19th Century was not a time of plenty for everyone.
The 19th Century was not a time of plenty for everyone. | Source
Being able to afford your daily bread is important.
Being able to afford your daily bread is important. | Source
The legend and stories dealing with King Arthur were a rallying point for British pride in the 19th Century.
The legend and stories dealing with King Arthur were a rallying point for British pride in the 19th Century. | Source
Images of QUEEN VICTORIA  can still be found in cities such as Sydney, Australia.
Images of QUEEN VICTORIA can still be found in cities such as Sydney, Australia. | Source
Keeping the factories going in Britain was important to the British public.
Keeping the factories going in Britain was important to the British public. | Source
The BRITISH LIONS, Town Hall, Sydney are a reminder of the British Empire in Better times.
The BRITISH LIONS, Town Hall, Sydney are a reminder of the British Empire in Better times. | Source
The Roman Empire ruled over many lands in its time.
The Roman Empire ruled over many lands in its time. | Source
The afterlife was important to the Egyptians and so was their bread. Egyptian grain became important to the Romans.
The afterlife was important to the Egyptians and so was their bread. Egyptian grain became important to the Romans. | Source
The Vikings came to understand the value of land.
The Vikings came to understand the value of land. | Source
There was an arms race between Britain and Germany before World War 1.
There was an arms race between Britain and Germany before World War 1. | Source
U Boat attacks during World War One and World War Two led to food shortages in Britain.
U Boat attacks during World War One and World War Two led to food shortages in Britain. | Source
U Boats sinking ships caused much hardship.
U Boats sinking ships caused much hardship. | Source
In 1918 Germans were starving.
In 1918 Germans were starving. | Source
The Symbol of the Rising Sun.
The Symbol of the Rising Sun. | Source
Air combat took on new meaning during World War Two.
Air combat took on new meaning during World War Two. | Source
The Japanese Zero was a great 1930s fighter aircraft. Not so great in the 1940s.
The Japanese Zero was a great 1930s fighter aircraft. Not so great in the 1940s. | Source
The Atomic Bomb.
The Atomic Bomb. | Source

The British Empire and Other Empires

Today it appears a renegade lot calling themselves Islamic State are out to build an empire on the blood, tears and broken bones of non-Muslims. The chances of their success goes from slim to none. They have made too many enemies and are continuing to make enemies. The USA, Russia and Australia has too much fire power for them to possibly cope with.

Of late efforts have been made in certain parts of NSW, Australia to create strict religious guidelines when it comes to food.

The British Empire has definitely seen better days. India is no longer the crown of the empire. Australia has been a federation since 1901 and there has been talk of Australia some day becoming a republic.

Actually there has been more than just talk. A referendum was put to the Australian people to break away from Britain and become a republic. This referendum was defeated. Australia still remains part of a fading empire.

The United States of America may not appear to be a nation striving to become an empire but appearances can be deceiving. If we can view the people of the USA as empire builders is there a possibility they will fail at this some time in the future?

Can we indeed view the USA as an empire? Well, the USA started off with just 13 British colonies that became states after the breakaway from the British Empire. Now there are 50 states making up the USA. So, yes, there has been empire building in the past if not the present.

Will the USA and other countries on the side of the USA eventually leave Iraq? The USA and Australia did make that attempt. Then civil war broke out in Iraq and USA and Australian forces are back being involved in fighting only religious fanatics seem to want.

It isn't always the big wars that wear down an empire. Sometimes it is the little wars that seem to drag on for too long that drain the coffers and thus cause financial difficulties not easily addressed.

Afghanistan was a financial drain on the British Empire in the 19th Century. Afghanistan was a financial drain on the USSR in the 1980s. Afghanistan has been a drain on the USA and her allies such as Britain and Australia in recent times. And here I am not even addressing the issue of loss of life in such wars.

FOOD!

The history of the world is full of empires that have been raised out of the sand only to collapse under their own weight. The Romans failed in the end for a number of reasons. One reason not so often touched upon was the fact that the city of Roman was becoming far too dependent on grain from Egypt as well as food from elsewhere in the empire. If there was famine or revolt in Egypt the citizens of Rome starved.

All of this is made clear in the television series Rome (2005-2007). It is also touched upon in William Shakespeare's play, Antony and Cleopatra (circa 1607).

In the end the empire became so big and difficult to manage it was broken up into two halves. The Western half, which included Rome, failed long before the Eastern half which included Constantinople, now modern day Istanbul.

It is, of course, true that no city can feed itself. However, once a city, a kingdom, or a country becomes too dependent on overseas interests to satisfy its need for food then that city, kingdom, or country has a weakness that will someday be exploited. This was what the British were afraid of in the 19th Century.

And Britain did come close to being starved into submission by the Germans during the First World War. The Germans used U-boats to sink supply ships. This method of getting at Britain was tried again in the 2nd World War but with less success. In both instances the British people held on.

The British upper class were, for a long time, aware of the need to have a good supply of home grown food on hand in case of war. If war did break out and ships carrying food could not get into port, the people should not starve if the basics were still grown in Britain. This was the argument put forward in the 19th Century was heavily taxing import grain.

Since it was the upper classes who owned the farmland where crops were grown, there were also monetary considerations for keeping grain tariffs against imports in place. In the early half of the 19th Century, the peasantry of England were only aware of the expensive nature of bread due to the tariffs imposed on import flour. Hence there were bread riots.

It was at the beginning of Queen Victoria's reign that these bread riots that threatened to become bloody revolution took place. There was cheap grain to be had in Italy but, by the time the tariff was paid for this import, it was no longer cheap.

The wealthy landowners who grew grain crops in England and other parts of Britain were being helped by this tariff to the point where the commoner was having trouble affording the most common of food - bread.

There had been an economic slump and, in some large towns and cities, factory work was hard to come by. The slump, however, did not last. New places where raw materials for the factories might be obtained cheaply and where British goods might be welcomed at a handsome profit were sought and found.

During the Victorian Age, as much to support the factories and keep workers fed as anything else, the empire expanded. Grain continued to be grown in Britain under the protection of the government up until the 1950s. It was then decided that cheap grain from places such as Italy was more of a benefit than a problem.

During the 19th Century, there were crop failures and starvation in Ireland and in Scotland's north.The English should have aided both the Irish and the affected northern Scots. Unfortunately, the British government contented itself with reports rather than meaningful action. The starving Scots were aided by their countrymen in the south. This was a definite sign that even in Britain the British Empire had its weaknesses.

Grain had been the answer when it came to past civilizations and it seemed a good enough answer for the British. The beauty of grain is that it can be stored for a long time without the need for refrigeration.

The Ancient Egyptians understood that years of good harvest might lead to years of poor or zero harvest. Hence it was a good idea to store surplus grain and have it handy for the bad times. It was also a great idea to have the surplus as a negotiating tool when it came to other kingdoms or empires.If negotiations turned sour, then your armed forces would need the grain to feed them in war.

During the Dark Ages the Vikings raided the coast of France, England and parts of Ireland. Their dragon ships frightened villagers. The booty they collected, including grain, made its way back to their cold lands where it supplemented the local diet.

Eventually, the Vikings came to settle in parts of the lands they regularly harassed and came to understand something of empire. Raids could be chancy affairs. Those being attacked might hide the food and other goods so securely as to make the raid not worth anyone's while. On the other hand, those being set upon too frequently could genuinely have nothing for the raiders to take. Settlement lead to a more stable way of life. It also meant a further base upon which raids elsewhere could be launched.

During the Great War, and also the 2nd World War, German U boats kept vital equipment and food from reaching Britain. Food Shortages ensued despite efforts made by Britain to be self sufficient when it came to the growing of food.

Victory gardens were popular but those living in the cities and large towns couldn't have much of a victory garden. What saved the day during the Great War was the early realization that women could help out when it came to both farming and factory work. The Germans were late in realizing their women could be such a resource.

One of the major reasons why there was an armistice in 1918 was the fact that people were starving in Germany. There had been bread riots. The average German soldier wanted to get back home to see what he could do to solve this problem.

A poor harvest in 1917 and the war going on made for an unhappy combination for the Germans. The British keeping food and medical supplies from the Germans until the treaty was signed in 1919 would lead to resentment and eventually to the 2nd World War.

The USA was not a great power before the First World War. The USA, however, did become a great financial entity in the years between the First and 2nd World Wars. During the 2nd World War the ability of American industry to come to the fore was recognized, especially by the hard pressed British.

Australians needed the support of the Americans to keep the Japanese at bay. The Japanese soldier, at this time, required continuous victories in order to be fed. At the same time the Japanese government were intent on building an empire for themselves in South East Asia.

There was the belief that the Japanese soldier should get his meals, when he could, off of dead enemy soldiers. This is a fine strategy when you are winning. It is not so fine when you are losing. There were Japanese soldiers who actually turned to cannibalism.

What cinched the USA as a superpower was the atomic bomb. It was hard to argue with anyone who had such a devastating weapon.

The USA held on to parts of Germany and also onto Japan well after the 2nd World war had ended. Was this empire building? In any event, Japan was of great use to the USA when it came to the Korean War. It was a place to do repairs on ships, to resupply and also to rest after battle.

After the 2nd World War, the Japanese were no longer interested in military glory or physical empire building. They turned their interests to the manufacturing of goods and to world finance.

Was this a different kind of empire building? Today the Japanese and Chinese are buying up farm land in Australia. This may have devastating consequences for the future of my country.

Future wars may well be fought entirely over food and food production. As the world's human population gets more and more out of hand, people in various parts of the globe will get more and more desperate. As in the past, empires may well rise and fall over food and food production. Drinking water may also become an insure in world conflicts.

The Dove Period and then the Great War

First the Dove then the Eagle.
First the Dove then the Eagle. | Source
The Dove period - Educating your subjects.
The Dove period - Educating your subjects. | Source
The Dove period - Trade.
The Dove period - Trade. | Source
Mighty battleships were no longer so mighty.
Mighty battleships were no longer so mighty. | Source
Torpedoes launched from submarines could sink battleships.
Torpedoes launched from submarines could sink battleships. | Source
London was bombed during World War One.
London was bombed during World War One. | Source
Aircraft improved in design and killing power during World War One.
Aircraft improved in design and killing power during World War One. | Source
From 1914 to 1918 there were marked improvements in military airplanes.
From 1914 to 1918 there were marked improvements in military airplanes. | Source
The race to the moon.
The race to the moon. | Source

THE DOVE AND THE EAGLE OF EMPIRE

EDUCATION AND TRADE VERSUS THE ARMS RACE

It seems to me that empires are best served by trade. Certainly it was true that Rome was doing very well during its trading or dove period. Difficulties with the Greeks turned the dove into the more war-like Eagle.

It should be noted that conquest is an expensive business and it doesn't always pay off. In fact, conquest and the conquered can be a drain on any empire.

In the first half of the Victorian age the British were in dove mode. Education and trade were considered to be the tickets to success at empire. Then Albert died and it all changed. Britain went into eagle mode.

Warring in Afghanistan did not do the British Empire any good and there was unrest in India due to a string of bad policies that had resulted in the deaths of thousands.

Grain in one part of India, for example, could have done something about famine in another part of India if not for British interference. The same thing happened in Ireland.

The First and 2nd Boer Wars were seen as bad business all round. It officially got the Germans offside. Whether they wanted to be offside is a matter of opinion.

Tension between Britain and Germany at the beginning of the 20th Century resulted in an arms race. The dreadnought class battleship ensured for a time that Britain really did rule the waves. The German people, however, were keen to outdo the British and forge for themselves an empire as rich and power as the British Empire.

Germany was only unified in the 19th Century so, in a way, they were the new kids on the block anxious to prove they were as good, if not better, than the other kids.

The money spent on the great battleships was somewhat a waste. Submarines came along and they were less expensive to build. They were definitely more bang for your buck. What's more, a well placed torpedo from a submarine could actually sink a battleship no matter how heavily armed the battleship might happen to be.

By the end of the Great War, planes were capable of sinking battleships and they, too, were less expensive to build than the battleships. Despite all the hoopla about them, the great battleships of Britain and Germany were really only let out to play once during World War One. The result was inconclusive with both the British and the Germans arguing for victory in the battle. In any event, neither side felt it was in their nation's best interests to have another such battle.

During the Great War aircraft improved enormously. The planes that left Britain for France in 1914 could barely make it across the channel. By 1917 the Germans had developed a bomber capable of crossing into England, dropping its load and making it back to France. Zeppelins were first used to bomb the London docks in 1915 and then other parts of London.

Not all the raids by Zeppelins were successful but terror from the sky had arrived. The English channel, even in rough weather, was no longer the protection it had been for the English from either attack or invasion from Europe proper.

Certainly the race to the moon in the 1960s by Russia and the USA was a combination of eagle and dove empire thinking. The USA did not want the Russians to be in a position where they could attack them from space or from the moon. At the same time, outer space was looking very much like a new frontier worth exploring. In 1969 men landed on the moon.

Even seeing the earth from space was really something and continues to be really something. Today we know for sure the shape of our planet and its position in our solar system. It is difficult to argue with the film footage and photographs. What's more, we have a better understanding of our universe and also the nature of life. We can understand how precious our existence is and how rare it is to find a planet that can actually sustain life. If nothing else this should give us an appreciation of what it is to be alive and living on such a wonderful blue world.

Empires and the maintaining of them don't come cheap

The Roman soldier knew how to fight.
The Roman soldier knew how to fight. | Source
In open warfare the Roman soldier was the best.
In open warfare the Roman soldier was the best. | Source
The German hand grenade - World War One.
The German hand grenade - World War One. | Source
Observation balloons were used during the American Civil War (1861-1865).
Observation balloons were used during the American Civil War (1861-1865). | Source
Winston Churchill led the British against the Nazi menace during the 2nd World War.
Winston Churchill led the British against the Nazi menace during the 2nd World War. | Source
THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN - a  Hurricane taking on a German bomber and thrashing the enemy - TALLYHO!
THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN - a Hurricane taking on a German bomber and thrashing the enemy - TALLYHO! | Source
A German bomber art night raining destruction down on Britain.
A German bomber art night raining destruction down on Britain. | Source
A photo of a model of a German ME109 fighter plane. ME109s were in the Battle of Britain.
A photo of a model of a German ME109 fighter plane. ME109s were in the Battle of Britain. | Source
A city in Britain as seen from the bomb site of a German bomber. The yellow represent bomb flashes.
A city in Britain as seen from the bomb site of a German bomber. The yellow represent bomb flashes. | Source
A photo of a model of an experimental and not very successful German rocket plane created near the end of the 2nd World War.
A photo of a model of an experimental and not very successful German rocket plane created near the end of the 2nd World War. | Source
The British tried but there was no way to financially keep up with the USA and the USSR in the Cold War arms race.
The British tried but there was no way to financially keep up with the USA and the USSR in the Cold War arms race. | Source
Various forms of Communism were on the rise after the 2nd World War.
Various forms of Communism were on the rise after the 2nd World War. | Source
Going up against Communism was an expensive business.
Going up against Communism was an expensive business. | Source

THE COST OF MAINTAINING AN EMPIRE

KEEPING IT TOGETHER

The more territory you have the harder it is to maintain in its entirety. The Romans overreached themselves in trying to gobble up the land we now call Germany. If you offer protection to those you govern then you must honor such a commitment or lose that territory.

Maintaining a governing body with soldiers can deplete the coffers. Also, you may have to change your military tactics and even your weapons when faced with strange new lands you wish to conquer.

The Roman soldier was excellent in fighting in formation in open fields against any enemy. He was not so good in a thickly wooded forest where he couldn't get into the kind of fighting formation with his fellow soldiers that usually won the day for him. The forests of Germany and, to some extent, the forests of England cost many a Roman soldier his life because he could not fight the way he was trained to fight.

British soldiers during The Great War were not used to the idea of fighting for years in trenches. It was fortunate that the enemy was also not used to such warfare.

As in the American Civil War, the weapons used during the Great War were far superior to the military tactics on hand. In 1914 you could possibly forgive a general for believing that a cavalry charge could sort things out in no-man's-land. Such a notion in 1915 would have to be looked upon as absurd or dangerously irresponsible.

The only successful cavalry charge I know of during The Great war was the Australian Light
Horse charge at Bathsheba.

It was during the American Civil War that it became apparent that soldiers who charge a heavily fortified position don't stand much of a chance of taking it but an excellent chance of being blown away by the enemy.

Rifles, especially repeating rifles, carried by men behind stone walls, could tear strips out of an advancing regiment while maintaining few loses. During The Great War, well positioned German machine-gunners could decimate advancing enemy troops with little trouble at all. Yet, time and time again, men were ordered to get out of their trenches and face the bullets of the machine-gunners.

In the last year of the war, the tank finally came into its own and it was an Australian major-general by the name of John Monash who made the most of them. He was a very meticulous planner who try to leave nothing to chance. His aim was always to gain as much territory with fewer loses.

After the First World War and then the Second World War, Britain was no longer in a financial position to keep an empire running that stretched from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere. Maintaining an empire where the sun never set upon it was becoming too much.

Australia became a federation in 1901 and was expected to maintain its own army and navy. During The Great War it was also expected to put together its own air force. Even so, the British had a military presence in the south pacific during both wars and beyond.

By the 1960s, however, having ships of war in the pacific was becoming too much a financial burden for Britain. It was a financial burden best left to Australia and the USA.

India got her independence from Britain in 1948 and Pakistan came into being as a newly formed separate entity. British Malay eventually became Malaysia. Even so, it was difficult for some nations to forget about empire.

After World War Two the French wanted Vietnam back. The Vietnamese basically wanted to be left alone by the West. The end result of all this was Australia and America's inclusion in the Vietnam War.

After the 2nd World War China turned communist and the influence of Russia (the Soviet Union) expanded in Europe. The wall separating one part of the German city of Berlin from the other went up. This was a new form of empire. It was based on the ideals of Carl Marx. To the West this was a frightening situation made even more so when Russia got the A bomb.

Was there ever the possibility that Australia would eventually fall to communist influence? In a way, the fighting in Malaya then Korea and finally Vietnam was about stopping this from ever happening. Eventually Russia could not keep up with the financial demands of empire and also the arms race with the USA. A deal was struck between Russia and the USA. Nuclear missiles would be taken off line. In 1989, as a show of good faith, the Berlin wall was taken down.

God and Money are important factors in Modern Empires

The gaining of wealth and the lending of money without a sense of responsibility can be dangerous.
The gaining of wealth and the lending of money without a sense of responsibility can be dangerous. | Source
Water, Food and population growth with be key future issues.
Water, Food and population growth with be key future issues. | Source
The world could really be in trouble if warring religions get their hands on nukes.
The world could really be in trouble if warring religions get their hands on nukes. | Source
The pen please and not the sword.
The pen please and not the sword. | Source
The pen. I am Charlie!
The pen. I am Charlie! | Source

Present day Empires and Empire Builders

OUR 21st CENTURY

The British began the 20th Century with high tech weapons and minor empire building. It seems that the USA has begun the 21st Century with minor wars and possibly minor empire building. 9/11 was the catalyst. Like the attack on Pearl Harbor during the 2nd World War, it stirred things up.

Certainly after the Vietnam War there was a desire among the American public to go for the dove approach rather than the eagle approach to empire.

Today the USA is no longer the financial giant it once was and the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq did drain US coffers. Australian troops resources have also been drained by recent fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Today ISIS is becoming a real threat to peace in Australia as well as elsewhere in the world. Radical Muslims are threatening the stability of Western nations.

Certainly the French remain outraged over the recent killing of artists and writers in Paris. The world is outraged by the pope siding with those particular killers.

How will this century we are in play out? Certainly food and technology will play their part.

Could there be a new empire created around, say, the Muslim faith? It is a possibility.

What made the Cold War cold was the fact that neither side was so fueled by religion that they would let the missiles fly.

With suicide bombers doing terrible things in the name of their god, who knows what could happen if we had an arms race between two competing faiths that were equally insane? Is that a possibility for the future? Add in the grim specter of starvation and it might indeed be a possibility.

I hope you have enjoyed the read.

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Comments 4 comments

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I think we are acting in a suicidal way now by being dependent on foreign powers for energy,not controlling our borders, and allowing our economy to go down the tubes.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia Author

I think you are right dahoglund. The Roman Empire fell because Romans became too dependent on food from outside of Italy, they became too dependent on foreign mercenaries to help fight their wars for them, and they could no longer protect their shrinking borders. Thanks for commenting.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

You are a clear thinker, a fine writer, and an excellent historian. I enjoyed reading this article. It is outstanding. I like the way you put it together. Well done!


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia Author

Thanks James. We both seem to love history.

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