The Empire Fractures: Anglo-Australian Conflict in the 1940s
Australian Scholarly Publishing, $34.95 pb, 269 pp
The central contention of this provocative, well-written, and extensively researched study is that Australia underwent a process of decolonisation during the 1940s, and that only by understanding this can we make sense of the subsequent relationships between Australia, Britain and the United States.
The wartime reorientation of Australian affairs away from Britain and towards the United States was viewed as a purely wartime expedient, and even before the war’s end the Australian government (a Labor government, let it be remembered), was looking to renewing the military and diplomatic ties with Britain which the Pacific war had weakened. The election of Attlee’ s government in Britain in 1945 brought with it expectations that a grouping of Labour governments in the Dominions would prove a positive force in remaking Commonwealth relations in the postwar era. The British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, jokingly referred to a meeting of the Commonwealth prime ministers in 1946 as the ‘Imperial Labour Executive’.
It was not to be, and in the field of foreign relations in particular the Australian and British governments found it increasingly difficult to reach agreement or act to a common purpose across a range of issues in the second half of the 1940s. The two overriding issues of postwar history – decolonisation of the European empires and the East-West tensions which rapidly developed into a state of Cold War – emerged early, and agreement between Australia and Britain on either proved impossible, at least until 1949.