This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Marc-William Palen

From the surprising American support for globalization and remembering the life of an influential U.S. imperial historian, to the fascinating legacies of Dien Bien Phu and the American war in Vietnam. Here are this week’s top picks in imperial & global history.

America’s Role in the World 
Wall Street Journal

Less Military Interventionism, More Trade?

New WSJ/NBC news polls provide what for some might seem to be contradictory opinions regarding how Americans see their country engaging with the globe.

The studies show Americans have consistently opposed military interventionism since 2003. Also, whereas in September 2001 only 14% of respondents felt the United States should become less active in world affairs, the number has skyrocketed to 47% in April 2014.

WSJ poll 1

And yet, perhaps suggesting that a growing number of citizens think that the United States should make trade deals, not war, some surprising results from another WSJ/NBC news poll asking whether American-led economic globalization was good or bad; in the recent wake of the Great Recession, oddly enough, the percentage of Americans who thought globalization is ‘good’ has jumped from 25% in 2008 to 43% this April.

WSJ poll 2

Marty and Me
James Livingston

Over at the excellent U.S. Intellectual History Blog, James Livingston offers an insightful, critical, and candid dedication in memory of Professor Martin J. Sklar, ‘one of the great historians of the 20th century’, who passed away last week. Sklar was the founding editor of the radical Studies on the Left and a co-founding editor of In These Times. Having studied under William Appleman Williams in the 1960s, Sklar quickly established himself as a leading figure within the highly influential revisionist Wisconsin School of American Open Door imperialism:

Marty had already made original contributions to the revisionist cause with his M.A. Thesis on Wilson and the China consortium.  . . . The key to that analysis . . . was the significance Hay accorded to investment in defining “a fair field and no favor” as the goal of an Open Door world.  To my knowledge, Sklar and Parrini are the only revisionists from the Wisconsin school convened by Harrington and Williams who have understood and emphasized this dimension of modern American imperialism, as theory and in practice . . . and none, save perhaps Hardt & Negri, have grasped its post-imperialist implications.  (Long story short: Hobson and Hilferding notwithstanding, once investment rather than trade drives imperial goals, the “transfer of technology” becomes the material means of hegemony, and this transfer must reduce the quotient of exploitation in the relation between imperial powers and host nations.  Dependency and “world systems” theories make sense as far as they go, in other words, in explaining uneven development as a consequence of free trade, but when investment supersedes trade as the key variable in international economic relations, their explanatory adequacy wanes.). . . as early as 1900, US policy-makers were designing and implementing, to the extent American power permitted, the post-imperialist world order they called the Open Door.  In doing so, he was both preserving and transcending what Williams had wrought in Tragedy [of American Diplomacy].

A US Soldier Searches for His Vietnamese Son
Sue Lloyd Roberts

The BBC‘s Sue Lloyd Roberts has a moving story about family reunion, decades after the U.S. war in Vietnam:

A tall, thin American wearing a straw hat wanders through the narrow streets of Ho Chi Minh City, clutching a photo album. At his side is a Vietnamese interpreter and fixer, Hung Phan, who has helped dozens of former American soldiers locate their long-lost children over the last 20 years. His latest client, the American under the straw hat, is Jerry Quinn. He has come to Vietnam to find his son.

The Siege of Dien Bien Phu
BBC Radio 4

Speaking of fascinating stories of Vietnam, listen to this BBC Radio 4 programme on the end of the French Empire in Indochina:

‘After the humiliations of WW2 France was insistent on reasserting itself as a world power. In their Vietnamese colony the nationalists led by Ho Chi Minh were just as determined to gain independence. The showdown to a seven-year guerrilla war came in 1954 at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Survivors, politicians and historians explain how the horrors of a 56-day siege ended with the French garrison being virtually wiped out. In Paris desperate politicians even considered using American atomic weapons to try to save Dien Bien Phu.

Julian Jackson, Professor of Modern French History at Queen Mary, London, recounts how French soldiers lost an empire in the mountains of Vietnam and how 60 years later the defeat still resonates in contemporary France. For the other European powers it marked the beginning of the end for their colonies in Africa and the Far East. Dien Bien Phu was the first time native forces had defeated a modern well-equipped army. The lessons were not lost on rebels from Kenya to Malaya.

It also had profound implications for the onset of the Cold War. In Washington the battle led to President Eisenhower’s first articulation of the domino theory about the possible expansion of communism. For Moscow and Beijing, Dien Bien Phu represented a great leap forward. For the USA the political vacuum left by the French abandonment of Indochina was to lead to their own 10-year war in Vietnam.’