From Brexit as imperial nostalgia to all things transregional, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Evan Smith and Steven Gray
History & Policy
In recent years, three of the biggest proponents of closer ties between Britain and the Commonwealth have been from the right side of politics – Boris Johnson, UKIP’s Nigel Farage and Conservative MEP Dan Hannan. Since the announcement of the ‘Brexit’ referendum, all three have also come out in favour of a vote for Britain to leave the European Union (EU). With this, Johnson, Farage and Hannan have suggested that if Britain left the EU, closer economic and political ties could be formed with the developed nations of the Commonwealth – namely Australia, New Zealand, Canada and, possibly, South Africa. This has chimed with support from politicians in these countries, such as New Zealand PM John Key, who has pushed for relaxed immigration restrictions between these Commonwealth countries. It also seems to have chimed with respondents to a recent poll in The Daily Express.
Johnson and the others have tapped into a long held argument by sections of the Tory right and the far right that Britain should break from its agreements with Europe and turn towards the Commonwealth. Looking back at the last referendum concerning Britain’s membership within the European Economic Community (EEC), Enoch Powell, the right-wing Tory group the Monday Club and the National Front all campaigned that Britain would be better served by abandoning Europe and reconnecting with the ‘white Commonwealth’. This included closer ties with apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia, which had both left the Commonwealth in the 1960s in protest to pressure from other Commonwealth countries to dismantle the official racist political structures in both countries. [continue reading]
My conversation with the son of Soghomon Tehlirian, the man who assassinated the organiser of the Armenian genocide
Soghomon Tehlirian Junior doesn’t have much time for those who want the Armenian genocide recognized by the world. “The Armenians keep trying to tip things out of the grave,” he says. “It’s three generations ago. It’s history. Everyone killed a lot of people. You can’t go back to the Spanish inquisition and the Roman Empire and bring it back. That’s not me. I never remember my father saying one bad word about the Turks. He just wanted to live his life in peace.”
I listen to the brisk, youthful voice of this 86-year-old Armenian talking to me down the phone from America and I have to shake my head to remember that his father, Soghomon Tehlirian, was the assassin who shot dead Mehmet Talaat Pasha, the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire and organizer of the 1915 genocide of one and a half million Christian Armenians. [continue reading]
The Chinese in 18th and 19th century South Africa are recorded as historical and statistical footnotes: mentioned in passing in prison inventories, court cases and notices of enslavement and exile. But everywhere you read closer, their personalities, that individual who lived and loved, as well as their complex social realities, keeps breaking through. Ongkonko, the most prominent Chinese man in Cape Town in the 1700s, exiled to South Africa after being found guilty of high treason in Asia. His love, Thisgingnio, the only Chinese woman convict recorded at the Cape. Lemuko, who insisted on very clear manumission papers for every slave he bought and freed. And then, even the anonymous ones: the gang who formed a human pyramid to escape out of prison; the prosperous bakers with slave runners who incurred the ire of white competitors; and the Chinese men the records disapprovingly say bought women out of slavery and married them because they were polygamists.
The Chinese footprint in South Africa is nearly a millennium old. Carbon-dated shards of Chinese porcelain in the collection of colonist Cecil John Rhodes dating from the 1100s and also later, were found at Mapungubwe, an early site of civilization in South Africa’s north and also at the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, giving credence to historical writings that southern Africa was one of the main gold suppliers to the Ming Dynasty. Stories of pre-colonial shipwrecks mention enslaved Chinese children stranded in South Africa. The contact continued in various waves throughout the past five hundred years, and in the 20th century, South Africa was the only country on the continent’s mainland that had local Chinese citizens, born in the country and representing fourth- and fifth-generations of South African Chinese. (Under apartheid they were classified as “non-whites” like all of the country’s black population, and were more specifically classified as “coloured” under apartheid’s racial classification laws.) [continue reading]
Okinawan Women Demand U.S. Forces Out After Another Rape and Murder: Suspect an ex-Marine and U.S. Military Employee
Translation by Emma Dalton
Introduction by Steve Rabson
A 20-year-old woman missing since late April was found dead on May 16, 2016. The suspect is a former Marine who is a civilian employee of the U.S. military at Kadena Airbase. Local police report that he confessed to the woman’s rape and murder, and told them the location of her corpse. This crime comes barely six weeks after a U.S. sailor assigned to Camp Schwab was arrested for the rape of a Japanese woman in a Naha hotel. Following that crime, Lt. General Lawrence Nicholson, III Marine Expeditionary Force commander, visited Prefectural Governor Onaga Takeshi to ”express my deepest regret and remorse at the incident.”
What General Nicholson called “the incident” is one of more than 500 crimes designated as heinous under Japanese law, including approximately 120 rapes, committed by U.S. forces in Okinawa since it reverted from U.S. military occupation to Japanese administration in 1972. As Takazato Suzuyo points out in her interview below, the 120 reported rapes are only “the tip of an iceberg” since most rapes in Okinawa and elsewhere go unreported. [continue reading]
What academic insights did you personally gain by investigating issues in general and migration and anti-imperialism in particular transregionally?
By training I am a historian of Latin America from Germany, but I hold a British PhD. So, my interests have always been transregional, although for a long time without knowing it. My first book was onnationalism in postcolonial Argentina — a phenomenon incomprehensible without references to historical processes and constellations outside the „region“ of Latin America. Likewise, most of the historical migrations that I have looked at were transregional — mostly from Europe to the Americas. Finally, my second book oncolonial migration and anti-imperialism in interwar Paris was by definition transregional in that European overseas empires usually stretched over various regions, and so did anti-imperialism. For this reason, imperial history has mostly been transregional in one way or another also, without necessarily using the term. [continue reading]