38.12 Close of the Period of Overseas Expansion¶
We have already noted how the enterprise of Italy in Abyssinia had been checked at the terrible battle of Adowa (1896), in which over 3,000 Italians were killed and more than 4,000 taken prisoner. The phase of imperial expansion at the expense of organized non-European states was manifestly drawing to a close. It had entangled the quite sufficiently difficult political and social problems of Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Russia with the affairs of considerable alien, unassimilable, and resentful populations; Great Britain had Egypt (not formally annexed as yet), India, Burmah, and a variety of such minor problems as Malta and Shanghai; France had cumbered herself with Tonkin and Annam in addition to Algiers and Tunis; Spain was newly entangled in Morocco; Italy had found trouble for herself in Tripoli; and German overseas imperialism, though its «place in the sun» seemed a poor one, derived what satisfaction it could from the thought of a prospective war with Japan over Kiau-Chau. All these «subject» lands had populations at a level of intelligence and education very little lower than those of the possessing country; the development of a native press, of a collective self-consciousness, and of demands for self-government was in each case inevitable, and the statesmen of Europe had been far too busy achieving these empires to have any clear ideas of what they would do with them when they got them.
The Western democracies, as they woke up to freedom, discovered themselves «imperial», and were considerably embarrassed by the discovery. The East came to the Western capitals with perplexing demands. In London the common Englishman much preoccupied by strikes, by economic riddles, by questions of nationalization, municipalization, and the like, found that his path was crossed and his public meetings attended by a large and increasing number of swarthy gentlemen in turbans, fezes, and other strange headgear, all saying in effect: «You have got us. The people who represent your government have destroyed our own government, and prevent us from making a, new one. What are you going to do with us?»