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Imperial Endgame: Britain's Dirty Wars and the End of Empire (Britain and the World) [Paperback]

Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 May 2011 Britain and the World
The story of the British Empire in the twentieth century is one of decline, disarray, and despondency. Or so we have been told. In this fresh and controversial account of Britain's end of empire, Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon rejects this consensus, showing instead that in the years 1945-1960 the British government developed a successful imperial strategy based on devolving power to indigenous peoples within the Commonwealth. This strategy was calculated to allow decolonization to occur on British terms rather than those of the indigenous populations, and to thus keep these soon-to-be former colonies within the British and Western spheres of influence during the Cold War. To achieve this new form of informal liberal imperialism, however, the government had to rely upon the use of illiberal dirty wars. Spanning the globe from Palestine to Malaya, Kenya to Cyprus, these dirty wars represented Britain's true imperial endgame.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (3 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 023024873X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230248731
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 391,770 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

'Grob-Fitzgibbon challenges the popular view that Britain shed its empire politely, like a tea party at the vicarage in an Agatha Christie mystery. He makes it clear that the reality was very different. Withdrawal from empire was difficult, dangerous and dirty and the politicians, diplomats, soldiers and policemen who brought empire to an end did so in a way not brought out as powerfully and persuasively before. For anyone worried about how things might end in Iraq or Afghanistan, Grob-Fitzgibbon's excellent, dispassionate, forensic analysis will make uncomfortable but illuminating reading.'
- Colonel Alex Alderson, MBE, Director of the United Kingdom Counterinsurgency Centre

'Imperial Endgame is a controversial and important book. Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon has no time for conventional pieties. Junking the tired story of disarray and humiliation, he shows how Britain ruthlessly disposed of the Empire on its own unsentimental terms. This strategy often involved dirty tactics and dirty wars but the objective was clear: to keep newly-independent states within Britain's sphere of influence.It's abold re-telling of the decolonisation story, pulledoff with great style and panache.'
- Richard Aldous, author of The Lion and the Unicorn, and Eugene Meyer Professor of British History and Literature at Bard College, New York, USA


'The end of the British Empire was characterized not only by relatively smooth transitions to independence but also by the winning of independence by violent means of insurgency. Imperial Endgame is an excellent history of the British counter-insurgency campaigns marking the end of colonial rule, above all in Palestine, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, and Aden. '
- Wm. Roger Louis, University of Texas at Austin, USA

'Comprehensive and well-handled study' - English Historical Review
 
'...a very good, detailed account from a high politics and strategy viewpoint...One of the most valuable aspects of this book is its retailing of the atrocious methods Britain often resorted to in order to attempt to keep 'order' in the face of all these postwar challenges to its colonial rule.' - Bernard Porter, History Today
 
'The work is very accessible, combining diplomatic history (much of it ased on primary documents) with accounts of how the situation on the ground often caught the 'imperial masters' off-guard.' - Roger Mac Ginty, University of Manchester, The Round Table
 
'This is a very welcome study of an important, and topical, dimension to the last phase of British colonial rule...In recounting the methods employed by Britain to maintain 'order', the author presents a much-needed counterweight to the elegantly phrased, and intentionally reassuring opinions so often encountered in the recorded views of contemporary policy-makers. That he does this by considering so diverse a range of case studies only serves to make his account more compelling. In short, this book offers a timely and valuable corrective to any lingering historiographical complacency on British disengagement from empire. As such, it promises to enrich discussion of a central theme in contemporary British (and world) history, and deserves to have a wide readership.
- Larry Butler, H-Soz-u-Kult, H-Net Reviews. October, 2013

Book Description

In this fresh and controversial account of Britain's end of empire, Grob-Fitzgibbon reveals that the British government developed a successful strategy of decolonization following World War Two

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Taking It From The Top 28 Jun 2012
By S Wood
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbons "Imperial Endgame" is promoted as a book that challenges the consensus story of the end of the British Empire, asserting that rather than being a tale of "decline, disarray and despondency" it was a series of "illiberal dirty wars" focussed on "maintaining Western influence" in their soon to be "free" [my quotation marks!] colonies. The main focus of his attention are the wars in Palestine, Kenya, Malaya and Cyprus along with events in Aden and Egypt (the Suez Crisis during 1956).

So far so good. But... and this is a big but. Rather than being a bold attempt at re-telling the oft told story of the end of empire Grob-Fitzgibbons has written a seriously flawed book that peddles an updated version of a sorry old discourse that is impossible to regard as a serious effort at historical understanding.

The natives, or "indigenous peoples" are by and large absent with a few exceptions where they can preform to the authors satisfaction, eg. the letter from an ex Mao Mao adherent to the official in charge of his "rehabilitation". They are more likely to appear in the tally of kills and injuries, or as the dupes of pernicious ideologies, than in any way that might give more than a cursory idea of for example, why they were in revolt? or how popular was their revolt against the British authorities?; or more broadly what did being in the sphere of "western influence" exactly mean to the ex-colonies (issues relating to the economics of the empire as it mutated, and the degree of autonomy these ostensibly free ex-colonies gained are apparently beyond the writer). Historical context and the contemporary global context are covered in a manner that is barely satisfactory.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A much needed reappraisal 14 Jun 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It is high fashion within historical circles to view the demise of the British Empire as an unmitigated catastrophe both for those in Whitehall and for those who served abroad in imperial outposts. As it was once popular to view the acquisition of the Empire as having occurred in a `fit of absence of mind', so too have historians of Britain's decolonization characterized its closing acts.

Contrary to the bold assertions of men like Harold Macmillan who infamously heralded the `Winds of Change' that swept across Africa in the 1960s as the culmination--rather than the failure--of Britain's civilizing mission, recent scholars (as well as international media and activist groups) have not been kind to the leaders of empire, nor have they looked with favor on the legacies that empire left behind. Moreover, the story--as it has thus far been told--leaves little doubt that the twilight years of the British Empire were chaotic, labyrinthine, unnecessarily messy, and nothing short of a disaster for all those territories once painted red on the map, not least for the British, themselves. True to form, the contention has remained that the approach of Britain's post-war leaders proved to be ad hoc, at best.

Enter Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon.

Grob-Fitzgibbon offers a wholesale reassessment of British decolonization and asks some necessary--if uncomfortable--questions. What emerges is a lucid and hard-hitting account of Britain's so-called `Dirty Wars' of Empire. Quite rapidly, it becomes clear that the British did not shamefully abandon their empire in a cowardly spirit of flippancy or irreverence; rather, a succession of British Governments from 1948 to 1960 formulated and adhered to a concerted policy for dealing with the onset of colonial nationalism.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A much needed reappraisal 14 Jun 2013
By Blake A. Duffield - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It is high fashion within historical circles to view the demise of the British Empire as an unmitigated catastrophe both for those in Whitehall and for those who served abroad in imperial outposts. As it was once popular to view the acquisition of the Empire as having occurred in a `fit of absence of mind', so too have historians of Britain's decolonization characterized its closing acts.

Contrary to the bold assertions of men like Harold Macmillan who infamously heralded the `Winds of Change' that swept across Africa in the 1960s as the culmination--rather than the failure--of Britain's civilizing mission, recent scholars (as well as international media and activist groups) have not been kind to the leaders of empire, nor have they looked with favor on the legacies that empire left behind. Moreover, the story--as it has thus far been told--leaves little doubt that the twilight years of the British Empire were chaotic, labyrinthine, unnecessarily messy, and nothing short of a disaster for all those territories once painted red on the map, not least for the British, themselves. True to form, the contention has remained that the approach of Britain's post-war leaders proved to be ad hoc, at best.

Enter Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon.

Grob-Fitzgibbon offers a wholesale reassessment of British decolonization and asks some necessary--if uncomfortable--questions. What emerges is a lucid and hard-hitting account of Britain's so-called `Dirty Wars' of Empire. Quite rapidly, it becomes clear that the British did not shamefully abandon their empire in a cowardly spirit of flippancy or irreverence; rather, a succession of British Governments from 1948 to 1960 formulated and adhered to a concerted policy for dealing with the onset of colonial nationalism. Only by ensuring that decolonization occurred on its own terms could the British Government guarantee the completion of its liberal imperial mission and secure the continued dominance of western values in the increasingly bi-polar world which came to define the Cold War era.

Far from lauding British actions, however, Grob-Fitzgibbon's account is not for the faint of heart as it acknowledges, in great detail, precisely the kinds of heavy-handed, illiberal measures (most notably in Kenya) employed across the Empire. Officials in London decided quite early on that such actions were unavoidable if they were to guide colonial peoples to independence and responsible self-government. Though, in the words of Grob-Fitzgibbon, questions of morality are best left to "philosophers and kings."

Expertly written, masterfully researched, Grob-Fitzgibbon's appraisal makes for necessary reading for anyone interested in post-war British history. It provides global context to the Cold War, proving that East-West considerations cannot be separated from decolonization; it demonstrates the drastic steps the British Government was willing to take to ensure it had its say in the framing of the post-war world; it displays an erudite discussion of British counter-insurgency techniques; and it raises a number of pertinent questions that might reasonably be applied to American experiences in dealing with its own empire.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Daring Perspective 12 Aug 2013
By Rebecca Spann - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon's Imperial Endgame is a study of Britain's final decades as an empire. Unlike many studies that emphasize weaknesses within the British Government or highlight indigenous rejection of British overlordship, Grob-Fizgibbon takes a controversial and thought-provoking approach in his argument that decolonization was, in fact, a successful goal of Her Majesty's Government. The events that took place in Palestine, Malaya, Kenya, and Cyprus each presented unique challenges and responses from both Great Britain and indigenous resistance, all of which pushed toward an intentional and gradual decolonization, while maintaining positive international relations via the Commonwealth. The story Grob-Fitzgibbon unveils is an incredibly readable perspective of the upper echelons of the British Government and military from the mid 1940s through the early 1960s, one that challenges the historiography of previous studies. Any comprehensive study of British decolonization would be greatly enriched by the detail in Imperial Endgame.

In his introduction, Grob-Fitzgibbon sheds light on his eye-catching title with an explanation of the "dirty wars" fought through decolonization. Like in all wars, most of the important decisions were made by officials safe behind their desks worlds away from the kill zones, innocent civilians of these areas were killed in mass numbers, and prisoners were horribly mistreated or even killed when their captors were forbidden to do so. Since the emergence of the Cold War, the rules for war have changed considerably. Britain, in the past, followed formal, "civilized" rules when engaged in war. Like the conflicts between the U.S. and North Korea or Vietnam, Britain's "dirty little wars" were a clash between the advanced West and a varied indigenous resistance with no rules or codes whatsoever. Unlike the United States' conflicts, the bloody battles of British decolonization were an imperial strategy that intended to secure the colonies within the Commonwealth through a transfer of power from Her Majesty's government to independent governments developed with liberal ideals.

Before decolonization, the empire's intended role was to educate the colonized parts of the world about Western values. Britain served as a teacher of civil liberties and civic virtues, a guardian and guide to a better existence for those of "inferior" cultures with equally "inferior" values. World War II changed the game for the Empire. Attlee replaced Churchill, representing a major shift in British politics, and though Germany no longer was a threat to the world, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union endangered the stability only just achieved. The age of empires was rapidly ending, and many describe a series of fumbling mishaps when discussing decolonization. Each "dirty war" however was a unique learning experience complete with setbacks and disappointments, the costs of which were very dear, but as a whole, this process was quite successful.

It is difficult to find a book on Britain's final decades as an empire without finding criticism that typically highlights these years as a fumbling series of stubborn decisions made with little or no regard to the soon-to-be decolonized areas they effected. The pivotal difference in Grob-Fitzgibbon's argument to previous studies is that these dirty wars were only as dirty as they had to be, remained strictly within the borders of the colonies, and intentionally relinquished power to newly established governments on Britain's terms. These nations remain in the Commonwealth of Nations today. This book does not attempt to discuss the aftermath of the imposition of liberal imperialism on these areas after they achieved their independence. Instead, it focuses on the decolonization process itself which offers valuable insight into the purposeful dirty little wars that ended the British Empire.
3 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Taking It From The Top 28 Jun 2012
By S Wood - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbons "Imperial Endgame" is promoted as a book that challenges the consensus story of the end of the British Empire, asserting that rather than being a tale of "decline, disarray and despondency" it was a series of "illiberal dirty wars" focussed on "maintaining Western influence" in their soon to be "free" [my quotation marks!] colonies. The main focus of his attention are the wars in Palestine, Kenya, Malaya and Cyprus along with events in Aden and Egypt (the Suez Crisis during 1956).

So far so good. But... and this is a big but. Rather than being a bold attempt at re-telling the oft told story of the end of empire Grob-Fitzgibbons has written a seriously flawed book that peddles an updated version of a sorry old discourse that is impossible to regard as a serious effort at historical understanding.

The natives, or "indigenous peoples" are by and large absent with a few exceptions where they can preform to the authors satisfaction, eg. the letter from an ex Mao Mao adherent to the official in charge of his "rehabilitation". They are more likely to appear in the tally of kills and injuries, or as the dupes of pernicious ideologies, than in any way that might give more than a cursory idea of for example, why they were in revolt? or how popular was their revolt against the British authorities?; or more broadly what did being in the sphere of "western influence" exactly mean to the ex-colonies (issues relating to the economics of the empire as it mutated, and the degree of autonomy these ostensibly free ex-colonies gained are apparently beyond the writer). Historical context and the contemporary global context are covered in a manner that is barely satisfactory.

Instead the reader has to endure a narrative that is almost entirely anchored on the views, debates and actions of individuals within the top military and political echelons of the British State. These views should form a part of any book exploring the end of the British Empire, what it is not acceptable is when these views form the backbone of the book rather than a part of it, when they should be contrasted with the views of those with whom the British State was in conflict with, and a systematic attempt at understanding what was actually happening in each colony.

Though the book never crudely proclaims its sympathy and admiration for the British Empire in the Niall Ferguson/Andrew Roberts sense it essentially preforms the same function: giving a partial and sympathetic view of the British Empire, how it ended and its legacy. The author also extends his sympathy to the so called "liberal" imperialism that has so blighted the post cold war world making the poverty of his outlook explicit. This is one to avoid.

An excellent alternative to this book is Peter Clarkes The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire: The Demise of a Superpower, 1944-47 which is a far superior work albeit one that covers a shorter period of time.
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