Past and Present, Vol. 210, Supplement 6, 196 – 210.
It was indeed empire that European leaders at the end of World War II needed to reconstruct. They had come very close to losing a struggle with another form of empire, the Nazi Reich, and in South East Asia they had lost valued territories to a country that had dared to play the empire-game with them— Japan. At the same time, both British and French leaders felt, with some reason, that they had been saved by their empires: by the resources in men and material contributed by the dominions and colonies of Great Britain and by the symbolic importance of French Equatorial Africa’s refusal to follow Vichy, followed by the contributions of North African territories and diverse African people to the reconquest of European France from the Mediterranean. Both post-war governments acknowledged the dilemma they faced: their physical and moral weakness at war’s end meant they had to find new bases to re-legitimate empire, and their economic weakness meant they needed the production of empire all the more. Both were acutely conscious that another war might make them dependent on empire yet again. Leaders of political movements in the colonies were aware of exactly these points too.