From inside Iran’s revolutionary courts to today’s secret Scramble for Africa, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
BBC World News
After Iran’s Islamic Revolution secretive courts were set up to try suspected ideological opponents of the regime, with no jury, no defence lawyers and often no evidence beyond a confession extracted from the defendant by means of torture. Those who survived them still bear the psychological scars today.
In the living room of their flat in Calgary, Canada, Shoreh Roshani and her mother Parvin are watching a flickering video. Shoreh has her arm around her mother, and both women are weeping softly. The grainy footage, which only recently came to light, is of a trial in 1981 and shows the final hours in the life of Shoreh’s father, Sirus. Shortly after it ended, he and the other six defendants were taken away and shot. Their crime was to have been leading members of a religious minority called the Bahais – heretics, in the eyes of the rulers who had swept to power two years earlier in Iran’s Islamic revolution. [continue reading]
On November 13 1960 a significant but now obscure event transpired in downtown Kyŏngju. Leaders of the newly-formed Kyŏngju Victims of Massacres Bereaved Families Association (Kyŏngju p’ihaksalja yujokhoe), other survivors, monks, and shamans gathered together in solidarity to perform a belated public memorial (chahaptong wiryŏngje) for victims of pre-Korean War and-Korean War era massacres. Led by figures now forgotten to Korean history, such as Kim Hachong, Ch’oe Yŏngu, and Kim Hat’aek, the ceremony demonstrates the degree to which South Korea’s anticommunist ideology had effectively eviscerated the lines between the personal and the political for victims’ families.
Remaining photographs from that day reveal the profound political stakes involved as thousands gathered to honor their dead ancestors. The timbre of this day was captured in the slogans written on banners (hyŏnsumak) which flanked the proceedings. While some implored attendees to “weep in sympathy for a thousand years for the souls with no graves” and to “shout throughout the fatherland’s mountains and valleys”, those narrowly dealing with mourning and catharsis constituted a minority of the messages on display. More prevalent were slogans that carried with them a specifically political character. One called for the establishment of a special law to prosecute the perpetrators of previous massacres. Another directly accused police officers of murder and called for the expulsion of corrupt public officials. Most pointedly, Yi Hyŏpu, head of the local Minbodan (a right-wing militia) in 1949 initiated a large killing spree in Kyŏngju, was called out as a murderer to be “banished from the earth”. [continue reading]
Two members of the Cambridge spy ring were so drunken and unstable that US officials were stunned they had been employed by the Foreign Office, papers released to the National Archives show.
The defection of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to Moscow in 1951 left the US State Department’s confidence in British officials “severely shaken”. Both had been involved in notorious drunken escapades, the files say. US officials were “highly disturbed” and demanded Britain “clean house”. Burgess and Maclean were part of a group of Cambridge graduates working as double agents and passing official secrets to their spymasters in Moscow. The files, released online on Friday, also reveal [continue reading]
Radicating blank spaces on maps of the “dark continent” was an obsession of Western powers during the 19th-century scramble for Africa. Today, a new scramble is underway to eradicate a different set of blank spots. The U.S. military has, since 9/11, engaged in a largely covert effort to extend its footprint across the continent with a network of mostly small and mostly low-profile camps. Some serve as staging areas for quick-reaction forces or bare-boned outposts where special ops teams can advise local proxies; some can accommodate large cargo planes, others only small surveillance aircraft. All have one mission in common: to eradicate what the military calls the “tyranny of distance.” These facilities allow U.S. forces to surveil and operate on larger and larger swaths of the continent — and, increasingly, to strike targets with drones and manned aircraft.
According to an internal 2013 Pentagon study obtained by The Intercept on secret drone operations in Somalia and Yemen between January 2011 and summer 2012, a secretive unit known as Task Force 48-4 carried out a shadow war in the region. The task force, with its headquarters at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, operated from outposts in Nairobi, Kenya, and Sanaa, Yemen. The aircraft it used — manned and remotely piloted — were based out of airfields in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya, as well as ships off the coast of East Africa. [continue reading]