From 17th-Century Lessons for US-Iranian relations, to the great escape that changed Africa’s future, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
The recent decision by Congressional Republicans to invite a foreign leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, to debate the American President in matters of foreign policy, followed by the direct intervention of 47 Senators in that foreign policy through their letter to Iran, has created an uproar over the perceived breach of the power of the executive by the legislature.
Though Joe Biden has dubbed it “unprecedented,” all week commentators have debated whether there have been any such incidents in American history. Yet this infringement on the rights of one branch of government by another is far from new. In fact, the modern political party emerged from just such a crisis in government, in England in the 1670s. [continue reading]
In a couple of months, we’ll mark the centennial of the sinking of the Lusitania, a history-bending event that will probably engage Americans not very much more than any of the other commemorations of the First World War over the past seven months. The United States lost some 115,000 soldiers in the First World War, more than in Vietnam, Korea, and all other post-1945 conflicts combined. Yet the war’s impress on the American mind—once seemingly so deep and indelible—has faded. The war men once called “the Great” has receded almost beyond memory in this country that did so much to win it.
It’s not so elsewhere, of course. I was in a business meeting in a Toronto office building on November 11. At 11 a.m., a buzzer sounded and the intercom announced the two-minute silence that still marks the hour of the armistice in the countries of the former British empire. The participants looked uncertainly at each other. Wasn’t it kind of…hokey to stop and stand? And yet, pause and stand they did, until the intercom buzzed again. Could such a scene occur in an American office? I doubt it. [continue reading]
On the 50th anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery, many Americans have turned their thoughts to how their legacy has begun to be slowly dismantled. But for his main story on Sunday night, John Oliver turned his thoughts to a different group of Americans who still don’t have equal rights in the voting booth: the residents of the U.S. island territories, including Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Marianas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.
As Oliver points out, the populations of these territories are mostly minorities, and the original rationale for denying them equal voting rights was racist: It called them “alien races” who don’t understand “Anglo-Saxon principles.” Even Justice Henry Billings Brown, the man who wrote the famous “separate but equal” decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, suggested this thinking should only stand “for a time.” So why is the Obama administration still citing these decisions more than a century later? Oliver has a knack for putting these issues in terms anyone can relate to: “It’s like for over a century, America’s computer has been saying, ‘An update to your country is available,’ and we’ve been clicking ‘Remind me later’ again and again and again.” [continue reading]
When Lilica Boal was a little girl in Tarrafal, a dusty colonial town at the northern reaches of the Cape Verdean island of Santiago, she could see a concentration camp from her home. “The prisoners would arrive in trucks covered in black cloth so no one could see who was inside,” she says. “Once they were in the colony there was almost total silence about their lives.”
The inmates were Europeans, opponents of the dictatorship in Portugal, the colonial power. They couldn’t see Lilica either – from within there was only a line of barbed wire, a deep ditch, the patrolled, crenellated walls and beyond the black and bare volcanic hills that must have seemed a long way from home. Yet Lilica knew more than most and that knowledge would mark her life. Inside was a 16-year-old Portuguese communist, Guilherme da Costa Carvalho, whose family would visit regularly. As there were no hotels in Tarrafal, they would stay with Lilica’s family. “We had a very close relationship,” she recalls, now an elegant, watchful lady in her 70s. “His mother suffered greatly.” [continue reading]