This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Mujahedeen rebels fighting Soviet troops, Afghanistan, 1980. Credit: Associated Press
Mujahedeen rebels fighting Soviet troops, Afghanistan, 1980. Credit: Associated Press

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

From the failings of the CIA’s covert military aid, to the World Bank’s role in a bloody land war in Honduras, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

C.I.A. Study of Covert Aid Fueled Skepticism About Helping Syrian Rebels

Mark Mazzetti
New York Times

The Central Intelligence Agency has run guns to insurgencies across the world during its 67-year history — from Angola to Nicaragua to Cuba. The continuing C.I.A. effort to train Syrian rebels is just the latest example of an American president becoming enticed by the prospect of using the spy agency to covertly arm and train rebel groups.

An internal C.I.A. study has found that it rarely works. The still-classified review, one of several C.I.A. studies commissioned in 2012 and 2013 in the midst of the Obama administration’s protracted debate about whether to wade into the Syrian civil war, concluded that many past attempts by the agency to arm foreign forces covertly had a minimal impact on the long-term outcome of a conflict. [continue reading]

Joseph Brean
National Post

In the aftermath of the Second World War, as the United Nations debated a ban on “cultural genocide” in its 1948 Genocide Convention, Canada urged its delegate to try to spike it. Early drafts included this controversial concept, now used by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to describe residential schools policy. It was known as Article Three, and if it was not removed from the final draft, Canada was willing to abandon the entire Genocide Convention, records show.

A 1948 document that mentions the term
A 1948 document that mentions the term “Cultural” Genocide. The Secretary of State for External Affairs, Canada to Canadian Delegation to ECOSOC, Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, dated July 26, 1948. Government of Canada. (for Joe Brean story)/pws

“Following for Wilgress,” reads a telegram sent July 27, 1948 from the Secretary of State for External Affairs in Ottawa to the Canadian delegation at the Palais Des Nations in Geneva. L. Dana Wilgress was an ambassador to the U.S.S.R. right after the Second World War, later High Commissioner in London. At the time, William Lyon Mackenzie King was acting as his own foreign minister. Released later under access to information, the message had been copied to the Justice Department, delivered in code, labelled “IMPORTANT,” and approved by R.G. “Gerry” Riddell, who would later be Canada’s permanent UN delegate. “You should support or initiate any move for the deletion of Article three on ‘Cultural’ Genocide. If this move not successful, you should vote against Article three and if necessary, against the Convention. The Convention as a whole less Article three, is acceptable, although legislation will naturally be required to implement the Convention,” it reads. [continue reading]

Joshua Oppenheimer: Why I Returned to Indonesia’s Killing Fields

Sean O’Hagan

Joshua Oppenheimer is showing me a copy of a handmade book entitled Dew of Blood. Written and illustrated by a former village school teacher called Amir Hasan, it describes a series of killings he helped carry out as a death squad leader during the Indonesian genocide of 1965. That was the year in which more than a million suspected communists were executed following a military takeover.

The passage Oppenheimer haltingly translates describes the murders of Hasan’s first five victims, whose bodies were thrown into a well on a palm oil plantation. It is written as a kind of dark fantasy complete with graphic drawings and collages. “He imagines that the ghosts of the victims rise up out of the well to describe the ensuing killings,” says Oppenheimer, “so he has drawn these gory pictures and used generic comic-book imagery to record what he sees as his heroic role in the mass killings of his fellow Indonesians.” As documentations of a genocide go, it is perhaps unique, being the testimony of a perpetrator rather than a survivor and one recounted with apparent glee and lack of remorse as a kind of violent, self-glorifying graphic novel. [continue reading]

AP Images of Vietnam War Make Homecoming in Exhibit

Jocelyn Gecker
Associated Press

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — They were the images that communicated the horrors of war in ways words could not. They were so much more than just photographs, Vietnam’s president said Thursday, recalling black-and-white images he said he will never forget from the war that ended 40 years ago: A Buddhist monk consumed by flames in a fiery suicide. A screaming Vietnamese child running down a road naked, as her skin burns from a napalm attack.

Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk, sets himself on fire and burns to death, Saigon, Vietnam, June 11, 1963.
Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk, sets himself on fire and burns to death, Saigon, Vietnam, June 11, 1963. “Vietnam: The Real War,” opens Friday, June 12, 2015, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/Malcolm Browne, File)

“They gave the whole world a full picture of what was going on in Vietnam,” President Truong Tan Sang told The Associated Press ahead of an exhibit of the AP’s wartime photographs in Hanoi. “I believe these photos made an enormous contribution to bringing the war in Vietnam to an end.” “Vietnam: The Real War,” a collection of 58 photographs taken by the AP, opens to the public Friday, marking a homecoming that officials say is historic and an emblem of changing times. Forty years after the war ended, it is the first time that the collection is being exhibited in Vietnam, where the conflict is called the “American War.” [continue reading]

‘Bathed In Blood’: World Bank’s Business-Lending Arm Backed Palm Oil Producer Amid Deadly Land War

Sasha Chavkin
Huffington Post

Glenda Chávez walks between the orange trees of her family’s grove, approaching a low wire fence that divides her property from Corporación Dinant’s Paso Aguán plantation. On Dinant’s side of the fence, rows of spiky palm oil trees stretch for miles across the green landscape of northern Honduras. “Here,” she says in a soft, determined voice, pointing to a spot on her side of the fence where a search party found the last traces of her father’s life.

Gregorio Chávez, a preacher and farmer, disappeared in July 2012. Hours later, men from their peasant community found the machete he’d taken with him to tend to his vegetables. The men also found drag marks in the dirt leading toward Dinant’s property, Glenda says. Four days after Gregorio Chávez disappeared, searchers discovered the preacher’s body on the Paso Aguán plantation, buried under a pile of palm fronds. He had been killed by blows to his head, and his body showed signs that he may have been tortured, according to a government special prosecutor investigating his death. Glenda and the other villagers immediately suspected he had been killed for speaking out from the pulpit against Dinant, their adversary in a battle over ownership of land that the company long ago incorporated into its vast palm oil operations. [continue reading]