A Closer Look at the Effects of Western Imperialism

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Coty Novak
Gold Pd. 6
The Inevitable, Incessant Empire
When one says “imperialism,” what is the first image to come to mind, one that truly represents the practice? Is it the enslaved African, the poor soul who is subjugated, treated as a beast, and physically tortured? Is it the Trail of Tears, the infamous Native American migration forced by the United States government? It would seem as though the word “empire” has taken on a negative, almost sinister meaning in recent years, particularly in the popular media. Ask any child about empires, and they’ll go on about the evil, planet-destroying Darth Vader and his army of Stormtroopers, or about big alien motherships descending upon Washington DC and destroying all signs of life. So, to the modern citizen, “imperialism” seems to entail destruction, domination, and overall evil. It becomes necessary to look closer and give a more thorough examination of the phenomenon that seems to have started this attitude. Over the last two centuries, the Industrial Revolution, along with the discovery of the American continents, sparked a desire in European nations to expand and conquer. This started with the aforementioned Americas, but as the colonies gained independence, European nations were already moving on to places like Africa and the Philippines. Soon enough, almost the entire globe seemed to either be an imperial nation or a colony of one. In many of these colonies, the subjugated peoples faced such hardships as slavery, mass death due to disease or violence, and forced change in culture. While these negative effects are impossible to ignore, it must be noted that Western imperialism has improved other parts of the world, the parts in which a synthesis of cultures and an exchange of ideas truly takes place. Western imperialism, while causing strife for the subjugated, has led to global improvements, such as the increase in trade and wealth, technological improvements, medical advances, and increasing cultural integration. In its initial stages, Western imperialism brought disease, slavery, death, cultural oppression, and destruction to the lands conquered. In his famous novel, Things Fall Apart, the African author Chinua Achebe depicts the gradual and chaotic takeover of a native African tribe by European settlers. One village violently rebelled, but the superior technology of the Europeans gave them a clear advantage. “Everybody was killed, except the old and the sick who were at home and a handful of men and women…” (Achebe 169). After this initial period of conflict, the European colonists asserted power. The Europeans began to exploit the land for their economic gain, and to do it cheaply, they employed slave labor, chaining the native populations into servitude. European colonists, as author and one-time imperialist Joseph Conrad describes in Heart of Darkness, bound Africans in chains for the purpose of harvesting ivory. The African standard of living was more or less destroyed. Conrad, on his travels, could see “every rib” (Conrad 18). And, of course, with the Europeans came disease. The Africans had less experience with European diseases, and so hadn’t developed any immunity to the diseases. The Africans, like the Native Americans a century prior, began dropping like flies. The harmful effects of imperialism didn’t stop at physical ones, however. After the American Revolution, Britain adopted a policy of New Imperialism: a practice of subjugating conquered nations not just in political rule but in culture as well. In her essay “On Seeing England for the First Time,” Jamaica Kincaid discusses the effects of British rule on her native culture, how everything is “Made in England”, how the schoolchildren are conditioned to perceive England as “Jerusalem,” as a wonderful place to be revered by all, while the native culture slowly died. The initial strife between colonizers and colonized had violent and tragic outcomes, with the majority of the...
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