A Land of Their Own: 6 Colonies That Gained Independence Following World War II

Indian Troops fighting in Burma in 1944. Wikipedia

World War II had many far-reaching consequences. One important consequence was that it proved to large powers that their respective colonies might go their own way after the war. Colonies became the the battleground of the Cold War, as one by one they moved toward independence and chose their own allies and their own governing systems.

Some colonies took advantage of the situation right away, while others worked with their rulers for a gradual process toward independence. But in the decades following WWII, dozens of countries claimed their independence. In 1945 there were 35 members of the United Nations, but by 1970 the membership had risen to 127, with the bulk of new members being newly independent colonies.

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British India

In 1939, the British government was looking for support and soldiers to fight in World War II. British India declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939 and sent over 2 million soldiers to fight. However, the largest political party in India, the Indian National Congress, demanded that India be given its independence in return for helping Britain during the war. London refused the condition and the Congress decided to start a “Quit India” campaign in August 1942.

The outcome of the campaign was the British imprisoning tens of thousands of leaders of the “Quit India” movement. The movement for independence died out for a period, with the Muslim League in India still being large supporters of the war. Billions of pounds were sent from India to Britain to help the war effort in addition to the troops. Nationalism in India rose again when Subhas Chandra Bose joined with the Japanese to create the Indian National Army made up of Indian POWs to fight against the British.

The final nail in the coffin of the relationship between Britain and India was the 1943 famine in Bengal which led to millions of deaths. Churchill was reluctant to send food aid, and Indians began to wonder what they were getting out of their arrangement with the British. When the war ended, India was in a position of power emerging as the fourth largest industrial power and having proved their economic, political, and military strength.

By the end of the war the Indians were no longer willing to accept a British ruling class, and it was clear that the people of Britain were in no position either militarily or economically to fight India. When the Indian navy and the armed forces mutinied, the British realized they could no longer call on the Indian military force in times of crisis. In 1946 political prisoners of the independence movement were released and discussion began between the Indian National Congress Party and Britain. On August 15, 1947 India was granted independence.

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