This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Yehudi Menuhin playing with Benjamin Britten, circa 1955. Getty Images.
Yehudi Menuhin playing with Benjamin Britten, circa 1955. Getty Images.

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

From Kissinger’s shadow to endless war, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

‘Kissinger’s Shadow,’ by Greg Grandin

Mark Lawrence
New York Times

“Arrest Henry Kissinger for war crimes!” Thus chanted protesters as they disrupted a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee in January. One demonstrator brandished handcuffs within inches of Kissinger’s head just after the former secretary of state, who had been invited to appear before the committee, took his seat. Once the Capitol police restored order, though, the event gave way to a frenzy of praise for the grand old man of American foreign policy. George Shultz, another former secretary of state scheduled to testify, inspired a standing ovation in the hearing room by praising Kissinger’s “many contributions to peace and security.”

Such is life for one of America’s most polarizing figures, and so it has been for as long as Kissinger has walked the national stage. The competing narratives are familiar, even stale: Kissinger’s champions hail him as a great statesman whose bold initiatives ended the Vietnam War, bolstered world peace and helped restore American power in an era of national decline. His detractors — members of a “hate Henry industry,” as the New York Times columnist William Safire once put it — view him as an immoral cynic who coddled dictators and enabled appalling bloodlettings on three continents. [continue reading]

Benjamin Britten’s ‘Lost’ Malaysian Anthem

Alex Marsall
BBC News

Malaysia’s national anthem is the gently stirring Negaraku, or My Country. It talks about Malaysians living together “united and progressive” and their desire for the king to have a “successful reign”. It is, in other words, like dozens of other anthems – a song popular within its own borders that is unlikely to grab attention overseas. But things could have easily turned out completely differently. Back in the 1950s, Malaysia (which was then the Federation of Malaya) came very close to adopting an anthem by one of the most important composers of the 20th Century – a man whose name alone might have made the anthem as famous la Marseillaise or the Star-Spangled Banner.

In 1957, the country’s government asked Benjamin Britten to write it an anthem. He accepted the challenge, composing the tune below. However, the government mysteriously rejected it and it instantly disappeared, never to be recorded until now. Did they make the wrong choice? I’ll let you judge. [continue reading]

Early Global Connections: East Africa between Asia, and Mediterranean Europe

Global Middle Ages Project

Ancient East African communities organized themselves along ethnic lines but were linked to each other and to communities outside of their region through numerous networks of interactions at various scales. On this site, we explore these spheres of interaction and try to understand the rise and sustenance of cosmopolitan urban polities on the East African coast.

Tightly knit to the story of urbanism is the story of trade and trade connections. Relatively recent systematic, problem-oriented research on the Swahili coast and its hinterland has enabled us to understand the ecological, cultural, and economic milieu in which complex chiefdoms and urban polities arose in Eastern and Southern Africa in response to global long-distance exchange in the Indian Ocean. [continue reading]

Pinochet Directly Ordered Killing on US Soil of Chilean Diplomat, Papers Reveal

Jonathan Franklin

General Augusto Pinochet directly ordered the 1976 assassination of a Chilean diplomat who was killed in a car bomb in Washington DC, according top secret US intelligence documents declassified by the Obama administration.

The documents, which were handed to the Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, on Tuesday in Santiago by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, also show that the former dictator was so concerned with covering up his role in the murder that he planned to assassinate his own head of intelligence, General Manuel Contreras. [continue reading]

Toward a History of Clean and Endless War

Samuel Moyn
Just Security

It is idle — but interesting — to speculate on what future historians will say about our own time. True: We can never know, and would probably find ourselves shocked by what future generations conclude really mattered, even as the things we care passionately about prove trivial in hindsight. But guessing about the verdict of history can prompt useful deliberation about our choices now, and how long our justifications of them might stand.

This season’s Dissent features a debate between Just Security editor David Cole andmyself regarding civil libertarianism and human rights advocacy in our era of endless war. When we imagine our future chroniclers, we might easily indulge the belief that our main accomplishment is, well, just security — especially given the successful campaign to correct the excesses of the first stages of the war on terror. In my piece, I worry that our legacy is likelier to be seen as endless war, and whether cleaning it up by bringing its conduct within moral (and legal) constraints helped cement the outcome. [continue reading]

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