The act of Imperialism refers to process where one nation attempts to take control of other countries for either raw resources or strategical purposes. All throughout history we can see this act being used to exploit neighboring areas to benefit their own empire, at the expense of other nations. The benefits would include an increase of wealth, an increase in world power status, and even an increase in military strength. With the added strength to a nation’s army, they would be able to maintain authority worldwide and used the conquered countries as bases as well as for fortification purposes.
From the year 1870, a period known as “New Imperialism” began for several European nations. With this, hungry European powers started expanding worldwide to conquer more land such as Africa and Asia. Around the year 1878, most of the African continent was unexplored but by 1914, the continent was carved up and in control of various European powerhouses. This taking of the nations there was called the “scramble for Africa.’ This was one of the most dramatic examples of imperialism in the late nineteenth century. Various pieces of literature were written around that time that showed the belief that the Europeans were a superior race to the Africans. One such is the poem, “The White Man’s Burden” where the author, Rudyard Kipling, writes a poem that stating how it the burden of the “White Man” to take care of the so called “inferior” people beneath them in the society like the African people. He would say that the “civilizing missions” by the European nations were necessary in order to help the “inferior” people. Most Europeans at the time agreed with such imperialist sentiment.
A variety of these “civilizing missions” were made during the period of New Imperialism. One kind were the religious missions that European countries had sent before. Nations like Spain, France and Great Britain sent religious missionaries to Africa, Asian and India. The goal here was to unite as many of these so called “inferior” people under one God. Countries like Netherlands, Italy, and Belgium sent missionaries too, but to raise morale of troops stationed there. In this instance, the goal of religious conquest was a motivation for European expansion into new areas during the age of New Imperialism.
More missions that took place were based upon the idea of Natural Selection as put forth by Charles Darwin, in the year 1859 from the book “The Origin of Species.” The belief here that only the strongest will survive was made popular from this book and spread across European nations like a plague. The idea of “Social Darwinism” rose and meant that if an “inferior” nation like Africa could survive, they would need the assistance from stronger nations like from Europe. In the 1897 essay “Social Growth” by Herbert Spencer, it is put forth that the non-European nations are “a minute group of living molecules” and have little chance of survival on their own. It is even said that “the primitive group never attains any considerable size by simple increase” and that they must have “social integration” with the Europeans to actually advance as a society. Such way of thinking only motivates imperialism even further.
In Europe, the upper class heavily favored the act of imperialism way due to the potential profit it could generate for them. All these wealthy people needed was a ship to conduct a business overseas. Even Vladimir Lenin claimed that imperialism was “highest form of world capitalism” at the moment. European merchants too, at the time also saw this as a way of making profit as they could easily exploit these African nations to improve their economic situation. When these merchants found valuable resources which were scattered around africa, an army would be sent to harvest these valuable minerals to send back to Europe. Workers were often sent but sometimes the native population would be forced into slavery. These slaves would be forced into learning the European way of culture. Unfortunately, the “scramble for Africa” would cause political and economic underdevelopment that would still exist for years to come. The influence of imperialism is clear here in that the occupation of new land meant opportunities opened up to gain more wealth to improve an economic situation, something so valuable to a country. With these benefits, it is only natural here that imperialism would be sought after by European nations. This only fueled rivalry between them.
World War I, one of the most deadliest wars in history happened due to imperialism as well. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand led to an imperialistic move by Austria-Hungary over Serbia. A domino effect would soon follow with nations declaring allegiances and war on each other. They did not hesitate as all that rivalry fueled up from expansion of their territories made these countries resort to extreme circumstances in the form of war. Even World War II, was caused by Imperialism. Germany who lose the first World War were forced to take responsibility for all that had happened. This made Adolf Hitler angry and hungry to gain more land to establish empires in Europe. The idea of Nazism became the main idea of German imperialism. Japan had a similar idea and believed in the idea of Social Darwinism that they were the strongest race on the continent of Asia. This would of course lead them to fight in the war to expand the Japanese empire to provide raw materials for its expanding heavy industry.
Motives for imperialism included benefits to the economy, an ethnocentric vision of the world, exploration purposes, or even for religious means. All these combined to make imperialism the most influential “ism” from 1800-2000. Simply put, imperialism caused many dramatic events. Whether it cause the enslavement of innocent people to the death of millions of people it can have such disastrous effects. Nations get too greedy with power and decide to expand its empire, resulting in tensions across the whole continent. Other nations soon follow suit and do the same resulting in mass instability.
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