From ‘Historians for Britain’ to finding MORE secret UK colonial files, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
If the recent election victory of the Conservative party means one thing for historians, it is that we are going to be called on constantly over the next two years to provide context for wideranging discussions of British membership of the European Union. Yet anyone who assumes that the role of historians will simply be to provide sober, objective corrections to the mythologies, fictions and fantasies peddled by politicians, campaigners and the many pub bores who will doubtless blight our lives in the coming debate must think again. For sure, it will often be necessary to remind that it was a Conservative prime minister who first applied for Britain to join the EEC; that it was a Conservative prime minister who eventually took Britain in; that it was a Conservative prime minister (Margaret Thatcher, no less) who signed the Single European Act; and that it was a Conservative prime minister who accepted the Treaty of Maastricht. But as the formation of the pressure group ‘Historians for Britain’ shows only too well, many of those mythologies, fictions and fantasies that will circulate over the coming time will actually be penned by historians themselves.
‘Historians for Britain’ first came to attention with a joint letter to The Times in 2013; they have since created a website; they are currently exercising the minds of their colleagues with a manifesto-style proclamation published by the highly-regarded magazine History Today. It some ways they are refreshingly honest, noting their ties to businesspeople with similar agendas; in other ways they are a little bold in their claims (strip out the journalists and the purveyors of coffee-table history-as-entertainment and the list of ‘dozens of Britain’s leading historians’ looks rather thinner than it first appears); in other ways (‘we are independent and non-partisan’) they make themselves look faintly ridiculous. [continue reading]
Fifty years ago, the magazine made the case for it being ‘the right war at the right time’
It’s easy to forget now, 40 years after the Fall of Saigon and freshly removed from the prospect of Iraq and Afghanistan lapsing into “another Vietnam,” that there was a time when many believed that escalation in Vietnam was the right thing to do. Among the prominent voices who felt that way were the editors of TIME who, 50 years ago today, on May 14, 1965, published an influential essay backing the President’s decision to step up the ground campaign in Asia. It was, the headline proclaimed, “The Right War at the Right Time”:
Obviously, after overcoming his early hesitation, Lyndon Johnson will not allow the U.S. to be pushed out of Viet Nam. For if that were to happen, Americans would only have to make another stand against Asian Communism later, under worse conditions and in less tenable locations. As Demosthenes said about expansionist Macedonia in the 4th century B.C.: “You will be wise to defend yourselves now, but if you let the opportunity pass, you will not be able to act even if you want to.” Despite all its excruciating difficulties, the Vietnamese struggle is absolutely inescapable for the U.S. in the mid-60s—and in that sense, it is the rightwar in the right place at the right time.
Anticipating counterarguments, the essay swatted away objections. An American offensive wouldn’t be interfering with a civil war because Communism was a worldwide issue. [continue reading]
The storm-centre of the anti-German rioting shifted yesterday from Manchester and Liverpool to London. It was only late on Tuesday night that London showed any marked disposition to join in the attack on alien enemies, but though it was late in beginning its “crusade” it has managed to compress into the space of twenty-four hours so much destruction and violence as were spread over four or five days in Lancashire. Indeed, as far as personal violence is concerned, yesterday’s outbreak in London was vastly more serious than anything that has occurred in the North. Some Germans were pursued into their homes by the mob and pitched through the windows into the street, others were ducked in troughs, and others had their clothing stripped off their backs.
The police, assisted by special constables, and in some cases by Territorials, did what they could to protect the fleeing aliens, but they were able to do very little owing to the size and ferocity of the crowds. A number of German butchers who ventured into Smithfield Market in spite of the warnings given on Tuesday met with particularly rough treatment. There was a bad riot at Southend last night, and the troops had to be called out to control the crowds. One unfortunate feature of the rioting, common to Liverpool and London, was that some of the victims were Russians. The Liverpool Stipendiary Magistrate passed particularly heavy sentences yesterday on rioters who were proved to have attacked Russian and neutral subjects. [continue reading]
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has located a new cache of colonial-era government documents, VICE News has learned. The documents, some with “Top Secret” classifications and tantalizing subject titles, originate in the Colonial Office — the long-ago-disbanded government department that oversaw the colonies of the British Empire. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) confirmed to VICE News that the files were located last year, during an audit of government offices that revealed a staggering 170,000 historic files which had never been made public. Some are long overdue for release, and have been held unlawfully, in violation of the UK Public Records Act. The discovery of the colonial-era documents is likely to arouse unease among historians — some of whom have accused the government in recent years of purposefully suppressingdamning material from Britain’s Imperial days.
Indeed, this is not the first time that the FCO has uncovered a large trove of long-lost, and sometimes incriminating, historical documents. In 2011 — after repeated denials, and amid a protracted legal battle — the FCO admitted to unlawfully holding 1,500 Kenya files (nearly 300 boxes, occupying 100 linear feet) at Hanslope Park: a sprawling and secretive high-security government compound in Buckinghamshire that the FCO shares with intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6, and where government scientists reportedly develop counter-espionage techniques. [continue reading]