By the end of World War II, strategists in Washington and London looked ahead to a new era in which the United States shouldered global responsibilities and Britain concentrated its regional interests more narrowly. The two powers also viewed the Muslim world through very different lenses. Mapping the End of Empire reveals how Anglo–American perceptions of geography shaped postcolonial futures from the Middle East to South Asia.
Aiyaz Husain shows that American and British postwar strategy drew on popular notions of geography as well as academic and military knowledge. Once codified in maps and memoranda, these perspectives became foundations of foreign policy. In South Asia, American officials envisioned an independent Pakistan blocking Soviet influence, an objective that outweighed other considerations in the contested Kashmir region. Shoring up Pakistan meshed perfectly with British hopes for a quiescent Indian subcontinent once partition became inevitable. But serious differences with Britain arose over America’s support for the new state of Israel. Viewing the Mediterranean as a European lake of sorts, U.S. officials—even in parts of the State Department—linked Palestine with Europe, deeming it a perfectly logical destination for Jewish refugees. But British strategists feared that the installation of a Jewish state in Palestine could incite Muslim ire from one corner of the Islamic world to the other.
As Husain makes clear, these perspectives also influenced the Dumbarton Oaks Conference and blueprints for the UN Security Council and shaped French and Dutch colonial fortunes in the Levant and the East Indies.
[Husain] presents a convincing case in arguing that Britain, exhausted and virtually bankrupted by World War II, was more than happy to try to exchange its actual empire for an ‘informal empire’ based on the British Commonwealth—if only it could persuade the richer, fresher, more ambitious United States to take up new global responsibilities… Having spent a quarter of its national wealth fighting fascism, an exhausted Great Britain handed on the baton to the United States in democracy’s great relay race, and America caught it deftly despite communist threats in Turkey, Greece, Italy and even France. By the 1990s, it had destroyed European communism. Today, America may be exhausted, but there’s no other nation capable of picking up the baton in the struggles with state-capitalist China and expansionist Russia… Mapping the End of Empire shows us how anarchy was—with some horrific exceptions, such as in the Punjab and Northwest Frontier of India in 1947–48—generally avoided the last time around.
Mapping the End of Empire is a valuable contribution to the literature on international history of the post-war period—one that brings out the strategic impact of perceptions of geography and their value for comparative historical analysis.
This is an original and provocative book… Husain has given us a subtle and persuasive examination of how geographical knowledge and geographically based perceptions of interests fostered different and conflicting world views in Washington and London as the East–West conflict deepened and the process of European imperial retreat began in earnest… Husain’s study provides a sophisticated template for those seeking to explore further the signal roles of geography and mental maps in shaping modern international history.
Aiyaz Husain’s Mapping the End of Empire marks an original point in the literature on British and American territorial aims during and after the Second World War… [Husain’s] strength lies in elucidating American assumptions about the postwar world, and he provides a useful account of the power of geographic thinking when reaching political solutions. Mapping the End of Empire is a worthy and valuable reassessment of the archival records of the Second World War—above all by integrating the geographic dimension into the political settlement of 1945.
A significant and original history that illuminates the divergences between British and American foreign policy in the early years after the Second World War, when these two powers’ ‘competitive cooperation’ was a crucial influence on the emerging world order. Husain makes a powerful and convincing case for integrating the crisis over Kashmir in 1948 and 1949 into our larger examination of Anglo-American policy in the Middle East.
Husain intervenes powerfully in the literature on the European empires’ end with a careful and attentive reconstruction of the different American and British mental maps that shaped U.S. and British policies toward the ‘Muslim world.’ Deeply conceived and beautifully composed, this book is a vital contribution to our understanding of the roots of the modern-day atlas, and of the ways that many of the lines drawn on it after World War II created more vexing and intractable problems than they solved.
- 384 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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