The Guardian

David Olusoga: ‘Black soldiers were expendable – then forgettable’

Black and Asian troops fought beside white comrades – but after the armistice came the violent return of racial subjugation
American troops from the 369th black infantry regiment arrive back in New York after the end of the first world war. Composite: Bettmann

Although the guns on the western front fell silent, literally with military precision, at the striking of the 11th hour on 11 November 1918, the end of war did not mark the coming of peace. The convulsions and instability that had been let loose upon the world continued to play out in ways that no armistice could prevent, and to ends that often suited the interests of the victors.

A century after the end of the first world war, few of those convulsions are well remembered in Britain. The centenary of the Russian revolution came and went without much fanfare, as will the anniversary of the German revolution. One of the many effects and after-effects of the first world war that have been forgotten is the way in which the war challenged the racial hierarchies of the early 20th century and how, in 1919 and the early 1920s, those hierarchies were violently reasserted. This is part of a wider amnesia.

In most of the nations who engaged in the conflict, the role played by the four million non-white non-Europeans who fought and laboured on the western front – and in other theatres

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