United Kingdom

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United Kingdom

United Kingdom
United Kingdom

Two World Wars and the power politics of the 20th century have wrought drastic changes in the small, island state that once held sway over the greatest empire the world has seen, that unfurled its flag in every quarter of the globe. Within the lifespan of a single generation, the term British Empire has been almost forgotten, though its ghosts haunt television and cinema screens with flickering images of durbars and red-coated regiments charging to tunes of glory. This loss of empire has left the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland still seeking a new world role - a search that is proving prolonged and painful for a nation that has given the world so much.

To many of the great nations she once ruled, and to many others, Britain left her greatest legacies of all - the poetic and expressive language in which Shakespeare wrote; and the principles of parliamentary democracy, hard won over many centuries and preserved at appalling cost in the two great struggles for survival which all but bled her to death.

Indeed, if the First World War left her seriously weakened, the Second left Britain shattered. Dominions and colonies were demanding - sometimes forcibly - the freedom and independence they, too, had fought for. Britain, her financial and economic resources devastated, had little choice but to start dismantling an empire that was becoming an increasingly insupportable burden.

Besides, the mother, country herself had embarked upon an expensive social revolution of her own - erecting the cradle-to-grave umbrella of the Welfare State. She could not afford that, either. But somehow, with much belt-tightening, it was done and, like so many things British, became an example for others to learn from and adopt.

Setting an example, 'doing the right thing', ranks high among the qualities valued by many Britons. In general they are proud of their country and its record - which has led many former subject nations to model their governments and institutions upon Britain's. Indoctrinated from childhood with ideals of sportsmanship, fair play' and social responsibility, they can also exhibit a dogged determination to get their 'own way, and a sublime faith in their ability to do so, Inventive and practical, they often succeed - by ingenuity or, as they put it, 'muddling through'.

Slow to anger, courageous and cunning when roused, they have disposed of adversaries who have taken their penchant for modesty, understatement and readiness to negotiate as signs of weakness. As recently a 1982, in a brief, bloody war fought 8000 miles from home, they destroyed a numerically superior, well-equipped Argentinian army, which had occupied one of their few remaining colonies, the Falkland Islands.

Apart from the fighting qualities of' the men engaged, a notable factor in this victory was the success of Britain's vertical takeoff Harrier jet fighter, a versatile and highly maneuverable aircraft. It was a typical product of British inventiveness, and the admiring American armed forces have bought hundreds. But not all such inventions are successfully exploited in Britain. From electronics to pharmaceuticals, aeronautical engineering to medical technology, too many British scientists have had to look overseas for the backing to exploited their discoveries - or have watched while other countries have made their ideas reality.

One cause has been a lack of technical expertise at the very top of many British firms; another a feeling that marketing and salesmanship are somehow distasteful - anything made in Britain was automatically the best, and any sensible person ought to know that.

Disillusionment came as postwar shortages in some products and prewar work practices reduced Britain's capacity to produce at competitive prices, and high-quality - often superior - products began to flow from overseas industries employing more advanced equipment and work methods. Notably successful in penetrating Britain's markets, both at home and overseas, were her former adversaries, Germany and Japan.

Britain is fighting back, but with over 3 million unemployed and once-great industries in decline, all her resources of brainpower, energy, sheer grit and will to win are needed if she is to resume a truly effective role in world affairs.

Next: Divided Nation

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