An Evaluation of Imperialism in 19th Century Europe

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There are many actions taken by the Europeans of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that, in retrospect, modern people view as abhorrent. Among these practices, and possibly at the top of the list, is European imperialism in Africa. Really beginning in the late 1870s and early 1880s, European imperialists managed to subdue an entire continent of people in less than 40 years. However, before one dismisses these actions as a lapse in human reasoning and morality, he or she must consider the motives and attitudes of the Europeans towards their imperialistic actions in Africa. Though to the modern observer these actions may appear wretched and evil, Europeans of the time did not see them as such. Rather, Europeans had strong economic and political motives for entering these countries, and the attitudes of the time towards the indigenous African people supported European intervention. In fact, until around the time of World War II, attitudes towards imperialism in general were quite positive. The motives behind European imperialism were varied. Most countries sought some form of political or economic benefit from colonies. Some imperialists, such as Leopold of Belgium, thought colonies would bring power. Leopold II, the king of Belgium during the era of imperialism, desired colonies because he knew that Belgium could never expand in Europe. Since his borders were backed so tightly with surrounding nations, the only way to gain more land would have been war; war that Belgium would lose to the greater powers surrounding it. Leopold is also quoted as saying, “…history teaches that colonies are useful, that they play a great part in that which makes up the power and prosperity of states, let us strive to get one in our turn…” (Doc. 1... ... middle of paper ... ...arbaric state and creating order (Doc. 11) (Doc. 12). Another French observer, Eugéne-Melchior de Vogüé noted that modern power had to wrest from the hands of the uncivilized tribes of Africa. Modern power was no longer confined to Europe: it spanned the whole globe (Doc. 10). This French observer noted what many thousands of others saw: the change in the nature of power. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were characterized mostly in modern minds by the rapid colonization of Africa and Asia. Modern people can do nothing but judge the decisions that their forefathers made. In the modern eye, the atrocities committed were in way worth the temporary economic or political benefit. Though the actions taken by the European nations at the time were, by almost all modern standards, abhorrent, they were decisions that were made. The best humanity can do is try to under

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