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Empire’s should be measured by their legacy, not their longevity. Quality, in terms of what influences endure, is how to judge an empire’s contribution to the world. The British Empire’s legacy is one that has had a positive effect on the lives of billions.
It’s ironic to watch people complain and condemn, in English, the British Empire and its colonies in a medium invented by an Englishman (the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee).
It’s reminiscent of that sketch in Monty Python’s Life of Brian in which the rebel leader asks the question, “What have the Romans ever done for us?!”
One by one the answers come: the aqueduct, sanitation and public health, the roads, irrigation, medicine, education, the wine (very popular), public baths, public safety, and peace.
Of course it’s true that there were terrible events, cruel people, catastrophic errors of judgement and other examples of the corruption of the human soul but then there were all these things in every empire before or since.
If the British Empire is to be judged only on these aspects then so must every other one and it’s surprising just how many there have been.
The capacity for cruelty and barbarism at one end of the spectrum, and spiritual, artistic, and scientific achievement at the other end is something that all humans possess.
The net result is that the British Empire may not have lasted the longest but it was the biggest (23.8% of the world’s land area) and its influence is being felt all over the world today, and that’s likely to continue for many years ahead.
The list of British inventions is long and comprehensive. It covers just about every aspect of human life. If you want a more detailed list you can divide this down into lists of English, Scottish, and Welsh inventions.
All the above are practical things. They are inventions that have contributed to the worlds of engineering, medicine, agriculture, science, technology etc.
They have enhanced people’s lives making them better and more productive. They have enriched and improved the lives of billions.
The list of inventions don’t take into account Britain’s contribution to the world in terms of everything from art, culture, music, government, architecture, and language, to sports, the postal service, and sense of humour.
The English parliamentary and judicial systems were adopted and absorbed by many former colonies. English is the first language of over 400 million people. It’s also spoken and understood by about 1.5 billion people around the world.
Oh, and let’s not forget what we won the Battle of Britain and held out against the Nazis when the rest of Europe was under the jackboot.
Despite all this, mention the British Empire anywhere and you’re likely to provoke some vitriol from those obsessed by the Slave Trade. Briton’s make an easy target for these arguments because we are, generally speaking, open and honest about our country’s past.
However, the people who cannot see anything else but this part of our history are often the same ones who seem unable to confront the Arab nations about their participation in the northern and eastern African slave trades.
Nor can they admit to the uncomfortable truth that many Africans become wealthy by participating in the slave trades with both the Europeans and the Arabs.
It should be apparent, even if it is only grudgingly admitted by some, that the net result is of British Empire’s legacy is one of enormous good to the world.
It is recognition of this combined with the long and fascinating history of Britain from the Stone Age to the present that makes me proud to be British.
It is also what draws millions of tourists to visit Britain each year to marvel at our landmarks, whether they were built 500 or 5,000 years ago.
In the years to come that influence will continue to reverberate around the world but it’s not a series of waning ripples from a past event. It is a strong pulse emanating from the beating heart of Albion as it continues to grow and develop as a nation.