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July 8, 2012 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Given how little thought India’s contribution to the World Wars gets in our collective historical memory, it is almost strange to think that in the First World War India made the largest contribution to the war effort out of all of Britain’s colonies and dominions. Close to 1,700,000 Indians – combatants and non-combatants – participated in WWI. My own area of interest is India’s role in the Mesopotamian theatre.

Bonus: While Amitav Ghosh's entire blog is a wonderful read, here is a four part series extracted from the memoirs of an Indian POW in Italy, to stay within the theme of this post. Part ONE, TWO, THREE and FOUR
posted by infini (7 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
"Indian" soldiers fought in many of the colonial wars also. For example the Taipei Rebellion in China. They helped to sack Beijing and burn the Summer Palace to the ground. Their participation in WWI wasn't a novelty, but an extension of the colonial wars of the 19th century, WWI & WWII were basically the climatic end of imperialism come home to roost. As Sven Lindqvist says:
"The ideas he [Hitler] and all other western people in his childhood breathed were soaked in the conviction that imperialism was a biologically necessary process, which, according to the laws of nature, leads to the inevitable destruction of the lower races. It was a conviction which had already cost millions of lives before Hitler provided his highly personal application."
posted by stbalbach at 11:36 AM on July 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

The British Imperialists may have manipulated Indian citizens into being cannon fodder in WWI but I think India has, of all the countries on the planet, an extraordinary and noteworthy history of peaceful relations with other countries.
posted by nickyskye at 1:47 PM on July 8, 2012

peaceful relations with other countries
You´re exempting Pakistan though; I hope. Both West and East.
posted by adamvasco at 3:14 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

For example the Taipei Rebellion in China.

What? I've been meaning to read that history of the Taiping Rebellion that has been sitting on my bookshelf. I guess this is one more reason to get to it. Until you mentioned the colonial troops participation in the war I'd thought of it as entirely a civil war.
posted by rdr at 4:25 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

...was a biologically necessary process,

So imperialism as a form of natural and amoral (as opposed to immoral) parasitic necessity. That's a really interesting take on it. I imagine slavery had a similar thought process to those who practiced it and made their living off of it...
posted by Skygazer at 4:29 PM on July 8, 2012

Sikhs now march as part of ANZAC parades in Australia, though it took some work to get to that point.
posted by vidur at 4:48 PM on July 8, 2012

I'd thought of it as entirely a civil war.

Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War (2012)

First book to show the western influence on the course of the uprising and war.
posted by stbalbach at 7:35 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

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