Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/August 2015/Op-ed

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Civil Disobedience, Mutiny, & the Pursuit of Liberty

The British East India Company was the first component of the British Empire. After a nationalistic uprising threatened the authority of the company, the British Empire took control of the colony's government. India would remain an Imperial British Colony until 1947, whereupon the British Empire restored the independence of India.
By TomStar81

In 1915, the world as we now know it flew far fewer flags that it does now. Imperialism, an ideology that compelled European nations to overrun existing lands with pre-existing governments and install their own people in order to run (and in more than a few cases exploit) the land in question to further the case of the crown, the cause, the companies, or whatever other reason compelled the imperial powers to invade and occupy in the first place. Among the existing imperial powers at that the time the largest was the British Empire, whose total land mass and acquired peoples was among the greatest intercontinental empires to have ever existed. It was precisely due to its status as an intercontinental empire that the British Empire was in retrospect referred to as "the empire upon which the sun never sets" (or alternatively, as the U.S. education system teaches, "the sun never sets on the British empire").

Among the numerous colonies that comprised the Greater British Empire was India, whose introduction to the British Empire resulted in a handful of changes to the existing empire, most notably control of the sea from entrance to the Persian Gulf and suitable points to stage the Imperial British armed forces in an expansion into the Asia-Pacific region. From a standpoint of the British Royal Family, the introduction of India also resulted in a change to the titles, awards, and honors held by the family. For what would be the only time in its history, the Royal British Family would incorporate the titles "Emperor" and "Empress" into their dynastic succession specifically to lay claim over India. Yet the dream that all people have to live free still burned brightly in the hearts and minds of those in British India, and with the mass mobilization of forces for World War I those nationalists in British India sensed a chance to rise up for independence in 1915 in hopes that Britain would be unable to effectively deal with the rebellious independence supporters.

India's British history dates to 1757, when the East India Trading Company made its first mark in what is today India. By 1858, it had become a full fledged colony of the British Empire due to the Indian Rebellion of 1857, which compelled the crown to take a direct role in the government of India. When World War I began there was an unprecedented outpouring of loyalty and goodwill towards the United Kingdom from within the mainstream political leadership. Contrary to initial British fears of an Indian revolt, India contributed massively to the British war effort by providing men and resources. About 1.3 million Indian soldiers and labourers served in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, while both the Indian government and the princes sent large supplies of food, money, and ammunition.

However, Bengal and Punjab remained hotbeds of anti colonial activities. Militancy in Bengal, increasingly closely linked with the unrest in Punjab, was significant enough to nearly paralyze the regional administration. From the beginning of the war, an expatriate Indian population, notably from the United States, Canada, and Germany, headed by the Berlin Committee and the Ghadar Party, attempted to trigger insurrections in India along the lines of the 1857 uprising with Irish Republican, German and Turkish help in a massive conspiracy that has since come to be called the Hindu–German Mutiny.

In February of 1915, a segment of the Indian nationalist movement made their initial move. Beginning with the Ghadar Mutiny and the Singapore Mutiny, the pro-independence segment of India attempted to capitalize on the fog of war and the alliance system then causing chaos on an international level to instigate open revolt in hopes of restoring India's independence. This initial attempt had included elements from the then Neutral United States and nations comprising or siding with the Triple Entente, and also attempted to rally Afghanistan against British India. This first attempt failed through no fault of India's nationalist movement - an espionage agent for the British had learned last moment of the planned uprising and had passed along the intelligence to his superiors, compromising the element of surprise. All the same, in 1915 the first attempt was made by the nationalists to separate India from Britain. While the force was with the nationalists, the world's major military powers were not; as a result as a request for assistance put out by ranking flag officers in the hot zone, this initial uprising was put down by a combination of spare British forces in the region (which at the time were few and far between) and the assistance of the armed forces of France, the Russian Empire, and the Empire of Japan, whose collective military reinforcements were enough to put down the initial uprising and suppress the mutinous elements of the Indian army who had rebelled against lawful authority in British India.

In the aftermath of this failed attempt to liberate India by force, the surviving nationalist movement was suppressed by means of a massive counter-intelligence operation and draconian political acts (including the Defence of India Act 1915) that lasted nearly ten years and saw a widespread - and at times international - crackdown on the movement. Although this initial attempt had failed, its legacy would live on in subsequent attempts to liberate India from the British. These attempts included the Annie Larsen arms plot, Christmas Day Plot, events leading up to the death of Bagha Jatin, as well as the German mission to Kabul, the mutiny of the Connaught Rangers in India, as well as, by some accounts, the Black Tom explosion in 1916. The Indo-Irish-German alliance and the conspiracy were the target of a worldwide British intelligence effort, which was successful in preventing further attempts. American intelligence agencies arrested key figures in the aftermath of the Annie Larsen affair in 1917. The conspiracy led to criminal conspiracy trials like the Lahore Conspiracy Case trial in India and the Hindu–German Conspiracy Trial in the United States, the latter being the longest and most expensive trial in the country at that date.

While India would not be freed from the British Empire during the 1910s, the goal of Indian independence which the nationalists aspired to would be realized in the 20th century with the breakup of the British Empire following World War II. On 15 August 1947, India regained its independence thanks in no small part to Mahatma Gandhi, whose non-violent tactics helped the pro-independence movement in its goal to see India separate amicably from the British Empire.

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Surprised that there is no mention of the Amritsar massacre Hawkeye7 (talk) 20:04, 28 August 2015 (UTC)

  • I kept my scope limited to WWI exclusively as it relates to the op-ed, so since the war ended [sic] in 1918, and this was 1919, I left it out of this op-ed. It was a judgement call, although if we do a post WWI op-ed it would definitely get a mention. TomStar81 (Talk) 08:38, 6 September 2015 (UTC)