Colonial Wars, 1815–1960

TitleColonial Wars, 1815–1960
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsVandervort, Bruce
EditorBlack, Jeremy
Book TitleEuropean Warfare, 1815-2000
CityNew York

The purpose of this chapter is to provide an account of the wars fought by European armies outside Europe from the age of rapid imperial expansion (1815–1914) to the era of equally rapid imperial decline (1914–1960). In the halcyon days of empire building in the nineteenth century, these conflicts were often called ‘small wars’ by European military writers to distinguish them from wars waged by Europeans against each other. This label referred not only to the smaller numbers of soldiers engaged in colonial warfare, which was accurate enough, at least for the 1800s, but to a presumed gap in warmaking capacity between European armies and their less advanced foes whose perception owed as much to racialist ideology and a Eurocentric worldview as to rational assessment. In the course of the twentieth century the label lost much of its descriptive power, as colonial wars became increasingly broad in scope and, with the absorption by non-European peoples of nationalist ideology and modern military technology, began increasingly to resemble the ‘total wars’ waged among Europeans. 

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