Suez: End of empire

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The Times pronounced not only on Anthony Eden's life when he died in 1977 but on the life of Britain when it wrote of him: "He was the last prime minister to believe Britain was a great power and the first to confront a crisis which proved she was not."

The conventional verdict on the Suez operation is given by historian Corelli Barnett, who wrote about Suez in his book, The Collapse of British Power.

"It was the last thrash of empire," he told me. "A last attempt by a British government to do the old imperial thing in defence of far-off interests. It was a complete folly."

It is not easy these days to cast back 50 years to 1956. Britain still had an empire. Memories of World War II were fresh and English schoolboys were taught that Britain (England more like) had won the war.

There was some understanding that the Americans had come in, but at a late stage and almost no mention of the Soviet Union at all. We were told: "British is best."

Underneath, though, all was not well.

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