From using historical maps to thwart Chinese expansion, to the world’s retreat from globalization, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Yesterday, the Philippines opened an exhibit featuring dozens of maps spanning over 1,00o years of history—a collection that the Philippines says disproves China’s claim of sovereignty over a rocky shoal in the South China Sea, which has provoked increasing tensions between the two countries.
The exhibit held by the Institute of Maritime and Ocean Affairs includes maps from as far back as 1136 A.D. that purportedly show China’s southernmost territory has always been the province of Hainan—which would undercut China’s claims to much of the South China Sea, including territory that is claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam, among other countries. Ancient maps of the East Indies, of which the Philippines was a part, are shown to include what is today known as the Scarborough Shoal, a small piece of land about the size of three rugby pitches to the west of the Philippines, home to valuable fisheries and potential fossil fuel reserves. [continue reading]
The government of Ronald Reagan was so worried that leftwing opposition to General Augusto Pinochet might erupt into open civil war that in 1986 the US government considered offering political asylum to the Chilean dictator. Documents recently discovered in US archives reveal that a mission headed by US army general John Galvin went to Chile in 1986 to assess the growing street protest and guerrilla efforts to upend the unpopular Pinochet regime.
As the US began to understand the depth and passion of the opposition, fears of civil war forced Reagan officials to look for alternatives including, as one document stated, “An honorable departure for President [Pinochet], who would be received as a guest of our [US] government.” The documents, unearthed by Chilean journalist Loreto Daza at the US national archives and records administration in Maryland, detail high-level Reagan administration debates on policy options to ease Pinochet out of power. “One of the possibilities was to offer him [Pinochet] asylum.” [continue reading]
We think of authors as people who lay themselves bare in their books, but perhaps reviewers of books reveal their innermost fears and beliefs as well. That can be true even when—as in the distinguished British periodical the Economist, founded in 1843—the reviewers hide behind anonymity. When Mr./Ms. Anonymous of the Economist reviewed my book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism on Sept. 4, they didn’t much care for it, and that didn’t surprise me.
In the last couple of decades, the Economist and its suspender-wearing core readers have usually been reliable allies of market fundamentalism—the idea that everything would be better if measured first and last by its efficiency at producing profit. I, on the other hand, argue in the book that U.S. cotton slavery created—and still taints—the modern capitalist economy which the Economist sometimes seems to prescribe as the cure for all ills. I’d like to think we all agree that slavery was evil. If slavery was profitable—and it was—then it creates an unforgiving paradox for the moral authority of markets—and market fundamentalists. What else, today, might be immoral and yet profitable? [continue reading]
There is a mood abroad that says history will record that sanctions against Russia marked the start of an epochal retreat from globalisation. I heard a high-ranking German official broach the thought the other day at the German Marshall Fund’s Stockholm China Forum. It was an interesting point, but it missed a bigger one. The sanctions are more symptom than cause. The rollback began long before Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, began his war against Ukraine.
The case for calling a halt to business as usual with Moscow is self-evident to anyone who considers that international security demands nations do not invade their neighbours. The valid criticism of the west is that it has been too slow to react. At every step, the Russian president has ruthlessly exploited US hesitation and European divisions. [continue reading]