From the US legacy of apartheid to Putin’s plot to get Texas to secede, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
US News & World Report
In the days since nine people were killed in Charleston, much of the debate has centered around a flag. On Monday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for the Confederate battle flag to be removed from the state Capitol grounds, acknowledging that for many, “the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.” It was a long overdue but impressive statement.
Dylann Storm Roof, the man who killed those nine people while they gathered in their church to pray, proudly waved the Confederate flag as a symbol of his fealty to white supremacy. But he had a fondness for two other flags as well, ones that were stitched to his jacket: the flags of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and apartheid-era South Africa. Though the now-defunct flags flew over distant shores, they too once had a significant impact on American politics. [continue reading]
As a young U.S. Army soldier during World War II, Rollins Edwards knew better than to refuse an assignment. When officers led him and a dozen others into a wooden gas chamber and locked the door, he didn’t complain. None of them did. Then, a mixture of mustard gas and a similar agent called lewisite was piped inside.
“It felt like you were on fire,” recalls Edwards, now 93 years old. “Guys started screaming and hollering and trying to break out. And then some of the guys fainted. And finally they opened the door and let us out, and the guys were just, they were in bad shape.” Edwards was one of 60,000 enlisted men enrolled in a once-secret government program — formally declassified in 1993 — to test mustard gas and other chemical agents on American troops. But there was a specific reason he was chosen: Edwards is African-American. [continue reading]
Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe was heckled and jeered at a tense commemoration on Tuesday marking the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa. Angry shouts of “Go home!” could be heard during a speech in which Mr Abe lamented the enormous price paid by Okinawans during the bloody three-month conflict.
Police arrested several men who tried to protest against the prime minister’s visit to the southern island as his motorcade drove to the memorial venue, according to media reports. American troops invaded Okinawa in March 1945 at the end of the second World War, mounting an attack that left 223,000 Japanese Imperial Army soldiers and civilians dead – roughly a quarter of the local population. More than 50,000 US troops were killed or injured. [continue reading]
In Sloviansk, a city in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, council meetings have rarely been as turbulent as they were towards the end of last month. The reason was the decision by the mayor, Oleg Zontov, to move for a vote over the application of a law that had only just been passed by the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko. This “law on the condemnation of communist and Nazi totalitarian regimes”, voted through by parliament on 9 April, prohibits all defence of Nazism and communism.
The sale of communist souvenirs, and even the singing of the Internationale, is now banned in Ukraine. Individual offenders risk up to five years in prison. Members of organisations risk up to 10. The legislators were seemingly not worried about the risk of deepening the cultural abyss between western Ukraine and the Russophone east of the country, a centre of Soviet industrialisation between 1930 and 1950, and a place where nostalgia is ever present. [continue reading]
Nathan Smith, who styles himself the “foreign minister” for the Texas Nationalist Movement, appeared last Spring at a far-right confab in St. Petersburg, Russia. Despite roaming around in his cowboy hat, Smith managed to keep a low-key presence at the conference, which was dominated by fascists and neo-Nazis railing against Western decadence. But at least one Russian newspaper, Vzglyad, caught up with the American, noted that TNM is “hardly a marginal group,”and quoted Smith liberally on the excellent prospects for a partial breakup of the United States. Smith declared that the Texas National Movement has 250,000 supporters—including all the Texans currently serving in the U.S. Army—and they all “identify themselves first and foremost as Texans” but are being forced to remain Americans. The United States, he added, “is not a democracy, but a dictatorship.” The Kremlin’s famed troll farms took the interview and ran with it, with dozens of bots instantly tweeting about a “Free Texas.”
For Russians, this was delicious payback. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union two decades ago, many Russians have come to blame the United States for their plight; a seething resentment over U.S. culpability in the loss of Russian national power is one of the reasons Vladimir Putin is so popular. It has only worsened since the United States has led an international effort to isolate and sanction Moscow over its annexation of Crimea and incursions into eastern Ukraine. Thus, over the past 15 months there has been a sudden, bizarro uptick of Russian interest in and around the American Southwest, most notably Texas, where secessionist sentiment never seems to entirely die out (TNM’s predecessor group, the “Republic of Texas,” disbanded after secessionist militants took hostages in 1997). In a rehash of the Soviet Union’s fate, numerous Russian voices have taken to envisioning an American break-up, E Pluribus Unum in inverse—out of one, many. [continue reading]