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By John Darwin

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Extra info for Britain, Egypt and the Middle East: Imperial policy in the aftermath of war 1918–1922

Example text

For they were a reflection also of the new uncertainties in Britain's economic circumstances, and of the structural weaknesses which the war had served to reveal and to create. The dislocations of the economy in 1919, the short-lived boom of 1920, and the depression 36 BRITAIN, EGYPT AND THE MIDDLE EAST which set in in 1921 were a prelude not to the full revival of Britain to her nineteenth-century pre-eminence as a commercial and financial power, but rather to her relative decline as an industrial producer in the world market and, even more, to her decay as the heart and centre of international finance.

Nor did it signify a firm decision by ministers to tailor their political objectives in the imperial sphere to those levels of military spending which they believed acceptable to domestic opinion. Churchill, on whom fell the task of constructing a new regular army, at first intended that it should be larger than the army of 1914, with a strength of some 209 000 men. 16 But this assumption that the army's commitments would merit an increase in its resources was immediately attacked by Lloyd George and found such disfavour in all parts of the political spectrum that at the end of the coalition government the Conservative campaign guide for the election of 1922 could announce with pride and pleasure that the estimates for 1922-3 had assumed a smaller army in terms of manpower than had been maintained in the last year before the war.

In the Middle East, including Egypt, and in India,' Churchill told the Cabinet in July, ' ... ' 21 Nor were these imperial crises confined to distant provinces of the Empire. By the summer of 1919, the progress of nationalist insurgency in Ireland was demanding, on Churchill's reckoning, an enlarged imperial garrison of some 60 000 men- a force very nearly as large as that maintained in normal times in India. Thus, even admitting that home defence would not impose a real burden on the army 'for years to come', there seemed, to the generals at least, little scope for reducing the army below its previous peacetime establishment since, in Wilson's gloomy prophecy, 'we are much more likely to need troops of an expeditionary nature for our overseas possessions today than we were in 1914'.

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