This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Farm laborers from the Twin Falls camp, July 1942. LC-USF34-073809-E. From Uprooted Exhibit.
Japanese Farm laborers, Twin Falls camp, USA, July 1942. LC-USF34-073809-E. From Uprooted Exhibit.

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

It is a week of How’s: From how to read photos of Japanese internment to  how Piketty misses informal empire and unfree labor – here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

How to Read Documentary Photographs

Peter Pappas

While many are aware that the US government forcibly removed and incarcerated more than 120,000 U.S. residents of Japanese ancestry during WWII. Few people know that the government recruited some of these same people to work at farm labor camps across the west to harvest crops essential to the war effort.

japanese internment 2
From Uprooted: Japanese Americans register for sugar beet labor in Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado. Photographed by Tom Parker, September 1942. Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Uprooted: Japanese American Farm Labor Camps During World War II is a traveling photography exhibit (and website) that tells this story and provides a treasure trove of resources for historians, teachers and students. Uprooted draws from images of Japanese American farm labor camps taken by Russell Lee in the summer of 1942. Lee worked as a staff photographer for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), a federal agency that between 1935 and 1944 produced approximately 175,000 black-and-white film negatives and 1,600 color photographs. [continue reading]

How Money Warps U.S. Foreign Policy

Peter Beinart
The Atlantic

On Sunday, when Hillary Clinton used an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg to take pointedly more hawkish stances than President Obama on Syria, Iran, and Gaza, observers chalked it up to her presidential ambitions. As one Democratic operative told Politico, Clinton’s advisors are “good poll readers.” On Tuesday, when Rand Paul declined to oppose U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, commentators interpreted it the same way.

The assumption that hawkishness is politically smart is deeply ingrained in the media’s coverage of the 2016 presidential race. But it’s bizarre. Because in both parties, the polling data is overwhelming: Americans think U.S. foreign policy is too hawkish already. Foreign policy has always been more elite-driven, and more insulated from public opinion, than domestic policy. But today’s elite-mass gap is the largest in decades. And regardless of your foreign-policy perspective, that’s a problem for American democracy. [continue reading]

How to Make Sense of the US and the Post-Colonial World

Simon Stevens

Review of Robert B. Rakove, Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)

The central historical problem that Robert B. Rakove sets out to solve in Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned World is how to explain the remarkable transformation in the relationship between the United States and much of the postcolonial world over the course of the 1960s. The assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 was met with genuine grief in many postcolonial states, reflecting the positive and hopeful light in which the United States under Kennedy had been widely viewed. And yet by the second half of the decade, the United States “had come to be seen not as an ally to Third World aspirations but as a malevolent foe. Polarizing accusatory rhetoric unusual in the early 1960s became unremarkable by the decade’s end, emerging as a lasting feature of world politics, a recognizable precursor to contemporary denunciations of the United States” (p. xviii).

This shift, Rakove argues, was a consequence of changes in U.S. government policy. Positive perceptions of the United States in the early 1960s resulted from the Kennedy administration’s pursuit of a policy of “engagement” of the “nonaligned world.” The subsequent souring of relations was a consequence of the abandonment of that approach under Lyndon Johnson. Central to Rakove’s argument is the distinction between Kennedy’s approach to states in the Third World that were “aligned” in the Cold War and those that were “non-aligned.” Common historiographic characterizations of Kennedy’s policy toward the Third World as aggressive and interventionist have failed to appreciate the significance of this distinction, Rakove suggests. In the cases of states that the U.S. government perceived to be already aligned with the West, especially in Latin America and Southeast Asia, the Kennedy administration was intolerant of changes that might endanger that alignment, and pursued forceful interventionist policies—including sponsoring coups and other forms of covert action—to avert that possibility. But with regard to non-aligned states, Kennedy pursued “an ambitious program of outreach” that, though the administration never gave it an official name, Rakove characterizes as a policy of “engagement” (pp. xx-xxi).[1] [continue reading]

How Piketty Misses Informal Empire and Unfree Labor

Adam David Morton
For the Desk Drawer

Piketty posits that there are key differences between the history of capital in the United States compared to Europe stating that ‘the United States, the first colonised territory to have achieved independence, never became a colonial power itself’ — This is then succeeded by the statement that ‘the world of 1913 was one in which Europe owned a large part of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, while the United States owned itself’ — This is regarded as the major difference between capital in the New World and Old Europe: a greater emphasis on the control of foreign capital and colonial possessions in Europe compared to the United States.

However such a rose tinted view of the role of US empire is challenged by 1) the history of United States imperialism and the territorial expansion of the American state, consider here just the example of the 1846-48 Mexican-American War and the annexation of present-day California, Arizona, Nuevo Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Texas, and parts of Wyoming, Colorado and Wyoming; and 2) how it came to be that the American state developed the interest and capacity to superintend the making of global capitalism, considering here the political economy of American empire as developed by Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin in The Making of Global Capitalism (2012)[…]

[…]the chapter closes with a comment on the historical role of slavery to imperialism with the statement ‘Attributing a monetary value to the stock of human capital makes sense only in societies where it is actually possible to own other individuals fully and entirely—societies that at first sight have definitely ceased to exist’ — This position seems entirely remiss in failing to acknowledge the role of unfree labour in contemporary capitalism and issues of trafficking, forced sex work, indentured and bonded labour, unpaid labour in the household, and other racialised and patriarchal forms of forced labour that still exist today on a worldwide scale. [continue reading]