This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

An Asafo flag made by the Fante artists of Africa’s Gold Coast.
An Asafo flag made by the Fante artists of Africa’s Gold Coast.

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

From imperial mass murder to globalizing Garveyism, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Supreme Court Admits British Troops Committed ‘Mass Murder’


Relatives of ‘innocent’ Malayans slain by British troops in 1948 have lost their fight for an inquiry, but their lawyer says the UK courts have conceded ‘mass murder’ occurred. The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the appeal brought by relatives of the 23 men killed in the attack – referred to as Britain’s ‘My Lai’ after a similar atrocity carried out by US troops in Vietnam – would not be upheld.

The Malayan Emergency was fought from 1948 to 1960 in what is modern-day Malaysia between Commonwealth armed forces, including thousands of British troops, and anti-colonial guerrillas.  The UK’s involvement stemmed largely from British ties to tin and rubber interests which were seen as critical to the UK’s post-war recovery. Men from the British Scots Guards regiment were responsible for the attack. The long campaign by the families of the victims has spilled into another row about when cases of colonial brutality are allowed to disappear into history. [continue reading]

Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad

Matt Peppe

The thesis of anthropologist David Vine’s latest book, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, is taboo in American political discourse. It is a radical notion to suggest that foreign bases don’t protect American interests but actively harm them. Candidates who fail to reflexively support U.S. militarism face a political land mine. Even putative leftist Bernie Sanders has refused to challenge the status quo, in which the United States has 800 foreign military bases while the rest of the world combined has 30.

Vine makes his argument by comprehensively detailing the profligate, unsustainable spending on overseas bases, which is undertaken with little to no meaningful oversight by Congressional representatives. This spending is the main driver in perennial budget deficits. It also carries a tremendous opportunity cost. Direly needed investments in infrastructure, education and social programs are neglected at the expense of runaway military costs outside the country. [continue reading]

Tate Show Tackles Experiences of British Empire

James Pickford
Financial Times

Conflict and collaboration across an empire that at its height covered nearly a quarter of the globe are tackled in a new exhibition exploring artists’ reactions to Britain’s imperial experience. Two hundred artworks, maps, photographs and sculptures have been brought together at Tate Britain in London, showing how artists directed their skills to supporting or challenging British imperial ambitions over its four-century history.

Alison Smith, the show’s lead curator, said: “Art was an instrument or tool of empire, used by artists for propaganda purposes, to help in the claiming of territory. But it also functioned more subtly to register patterns of interchange between cultures.” Classic images of empire include George William Joy’s painting of the death of General Gordon at Khartoum in 1885. After he was hacked to death by nationalist Sudanese forces and his story sensationalised by the British media, Gordon became venerated as the ultimate Victorian hero. The artist depicts him standing at the top of the garrison steps, looking down with disdain on the rabble of spear-wielding warriors shortly to dispatch him. [continue reading]

Court Rules Legal Justification For Drone Assassinations Of US Citizens Can Remain Secret

Mint Press News

NEW YORK — The U.S. government can keep secret various memos related to its legal justification for using drones to kill citizens suspected of terrorism overseas, a federal appeals court said in a decision unsealed Monday. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reached its decision in a second round of Freedom of Information Act requests by the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times after an earlier request had succeeded in forcing the government to disclose a redacted version of a 2010 41-page legal opinion prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department describing for the Defense Department the legality of targeted drone attacks.

The appeals court said then that prior public disclosures by senior government officials including President Barack Obama necessitated the document’s release. The Oct. 22 decision by the 2nd Circuit to keep eight memos secret largely upheld an Oct. 31, 2014 ruling by U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in Manhattan. It remained sealed for a month to provide time for appeal. In a decision written by Circuit Judge Jon O. Newman, a three-judge appeals panel said it had ordered the release of the 2010 legal opinion because government officials made public statements about the document in relatively close proximity to its creation. It noted that a 2002 document providing legal advice to the president’s close legal adviser will remain sealed after it did not lead to public statements by government officials until eight years after its creation. ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said he strongly disagrees with the ruling, which allows three “crucial legal memos” to remain secret. [continue reading]

Charting The Significance Of Marcus Garvey And Grassroots Garveyism

Komozi Woodard

It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of Adam Ewing’s The Age of Garvey: How a Jamaican Activist Created a Mass Movement and Changed Global Black Politics.This book represents the dramatic paradigm change underway in Africana Studies that in turn informs significant changes in American historiography. The old scholarship and Cold War historiography was dismissive of Marcus Garvey and the phenomenal global reach of Grassroots Garveyism; thus, Marcus Garvey and the UNIA were either ridiculed or minimized. The Cold War academy routinely dismissed the claims of the UNIA as a mass movement until the file cabinets holding the membership records of the UNIA were accidentally found in a Harlem office building that was being demolished.

Then the new biographers went to work; however, that first generation of scholarship was stuck in the quicksand of the ideological battles from the 1920s framing the issues in terms of Black Nationalism versus Communism– or race versus class. On the one hand in Race First, Tony Martin was a pioneering revisionist who condemned and corrected the dismissive work on Marcus Garvey and the UNIA. On the other hand, Judith Stein summed up the significance of Marcus Garvey and the UNIA as a mass movement that failed because of its business ethos. Tragically that framework blinded students to the vast and complex conversations about ideology, organization, politics and political economy that took place under the big tent of Grassroots Garveyism. [continue reading]

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