The analysis of the histories of the almost 200 countries in the world found only 22 which have never experienced an invasion by the British.
They are: Andorra, Belarus, Bolivia, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Guatemala, Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mali, Marshall Islands, Monaco, Mongolia, Paraguay, Sao Tome and Principe, Sweden, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Vatican City.
Many of these could perhaps have benefited from a British invasion, or at least from losing a war or two. As the old Italian man in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 explains to Nately, the idealistic young American soldier:
“You put so much stock in winning wars. The real trick lies in losing wars, in knowing which wars can be lost. Italy has been losing wars for centuries, and just see how spendidly we’ve done nonetheless. France wins wars and is in a continual state of crisis. Germany loses and prospers. Look at our own recent history. Italy won a war in Ethiopia and promptly stumbled into serious trouble. Victory gave us such insane delusions of grandeur that we helped start a world war we hadn’t a chance of winning. But now that we’re losing again, everything has taken a turn for the better, and we will certainly come out on top again if we succeed in being defeated.”
The other way to prosper — in general — is to have been an official part of the British Empire. The study, however, drew its net rather wider than that:
Stuart Laycock, the author, has worked his way around the globe, through each country alphabetically, researching its history to establish whether, at any point, they have experienced an incursion by Britain.
Only a comparatively small proportion of the total in Mr Laycock’s list of invaded states actually formed an official part of the empire.
The remainder have been included because the British were found to have achieved some sort of military presence in the territory – however transitory – either through force, the threat of force, negotiation or payment.
Is Britain unique?
“Other countries could write similar books – but they would be much shorter. I don’t think anyone could match this, although the Americans had a later start and have been working hard on it in the twentieth century.”
This dry line reminds me of Not The Nine O’Clock News’ old Cold War joke that the “Americans had been late for the last couple of world wars, so wanted to be really punctual this time.”
The only other nation which has achieved anything approaching the British total, Mr Laycock said, is France – which also holds the unfortunate record for having endured the most British invasions.
Naturally, this depends on how far back one goes. France qua France may not come close to the British total, but they did take over the whole archipelago in 1066 — the last time that Britain was successfully conquered — which radically altered the course of British history. So they have that.