Fables of Freedom: The Less Deceived
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The ‘victory’ of 1945 was a celebration of freedom, but it was also a decisive moment in the history of Britain’s decline as a world power. With the economic structure of its former ‘greatness’ severely shaken, with its physical and human resources massively depleted, and with its foreign policy heavily overshadowed by the actions of the United States and the Soviet Union, Britain could no longer sustain its role as a leading imperial nation. As Correlli Barnett has argued in The Collapse of British Power the nation ‘emerged into the post-war era with the foundations of her former independent national power as completely destroyed as those of France or Germany, but with the extra and calamitous drawback that, as a “victor”, she failed to realise it’. British power had ‘quietly vanished amid the stupendous events of the Second World War’ (Barnett, 1972, p.593). If the notion of victory was in some ways an illusion, so too was the glorious promise of ‘a world fit to live in’, one of many slogans that accompanied the euphoric election of the Labour Party to office in 1945.
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