I meant to post this article on Tuesday the 24th but it was delayed by the arrival of our latest grandson, Hayden Hilario Rhodes Garza. The baby was due to arrive June 9th. Mother, father, brothers, and new little son are all doing well. The grandparents are delighted.
Yesterday, May 24th, was Empire Day.
It’s no longer observed because there is no empire.
But, at one time, not so long ago, it was celebrated by people in more than a quarter of the world’s countries.
Seventy years ago, on June 8th, 1946, the British Empire celebrated one of its greatest moments, the victory one year before over fascism and Japanese imperialism. Troops from all over the world were in London for a victory parade. It was to be the Empire’s victory swan song. As with other empires before it, it was broke after fighting two global conflicts, militarily over-extended and tired. We see a similar scenario today with the United States.
Empire Day began in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1901, the same year Queen Victoria died. It was started by a local headmistress, Mrs. Clementine Fessenden, who wanted the children in her school to remember the deceased monarch and give thanks for all the achievements of the Empire during her reign. They also chose Queen Victoria’s birthday, May 24th, to celebrate it. One of those achievements was Canada’s independence in 1867. Queen Victoria herself chose Ottawa as the nation’s capital.
In recent decades I’ve been able to visit many of Britain’s former colonies and lived in two of them. I’ve always made it a point to ask older people how things compare now to the way they were prior to independence. Without exception, everybody has replied that things were better under British rule. They give different reasons. The lack of corruption in colonial times often comes up as many today are living in very corrupt societies.
I remember, almost forty years ago, listening to an elderly man in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) lecturing myself and my colleague on how the British Empire was the prophesied Kingdom of God. It wasn’t, of course. It was not perfect. But many believed, including some in Rhodesia, that it was the fulfillment of biblical prophecies about Ephraim becoming “a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48: 19). According to one historical account, this was widely believed in the trenches of World War One. Ironically, it was that conflict that shattered faith in Empire.
Internationally, the end of the empire has left an incredible vacuum. Note the following prophetic paragraph written by America’s pre-eminent historian of the 1930’s, James Truslow Adams. This paragraph concluded his history of “The British Empire 1784-1939.” It’s particularly interesting because it was written in the year that the British Empire went to war against Nazi Germany, while the United States remained neutral. Mr. Adams showed Americans what was at stake.
“In this world crisis, we in America have a great stake. We know that stability is impossible without respect for law and order, for the honesty of the written and spoken word. Without liberty of thought, speech and press, progress is impossible. What these things mean to the world of today and tomorrow has been amply demonstrated by the negation of them in certain great nations during the past few years. Different peoples may have different ideals of government but to those who have been accustomed to freedom of person and of spirit, the possible overthrow of the British Empire would be a catastrophe scarcely thinkable. Not only would it leave a vacuum over a quarter of the globe into which all the wild winds of anarchy, despotism and spiritual oppression could rush, but the strongest bulwark outside ourselves for our own safety and freedom would have been destroyed.” (page 358)
This is exactly what has happened. This paragraph helps us understand the world we have been living in. During the last seventy years, as the Empire fell apart, we have witnessed a world of endless upheaval and increasing threats to our own freedom and security.
Two regions in particular were kept in relative peace by British rule. The Middle East was one; the North-West frontier of the Indian Empire, the Raj, was the other. Today, these are areas where the peace of the world is constantly threatened.
Queen Victoria’s passing was a great loss for the Empire; but the collapse of the Empire itself has been a disaster every bit as great as the fall of Rome.