From historicizing Britain’s post-Referendum depression to digitizing thousands of Afghan periodicals, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
The terms whirling around this referendum campaign have been that voting for Brexit is an act of immense self-harm and suicide. David Cameron himself had warned that leaving the EU would be an act of “economic self-harm”, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also said that Britain would be committing an act of “self-harm” if it voted out. Christopher Scheuermann wrote from London in Speigel that “Brexit is an act of deliberate self-mutilation”. Earlier in June Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was said to have written the “second longest suicide note in history” by throwing his weight behind the Stronger in Europe campaign, while the PM David Cameron fell on his sword after the results were announced. Distinguished historian Simon Schama has diagnosed the results as “an unnecessary act of self-harm”. Churchill’s famous aphorism is being quoted in this context too: ‘The trouble with committing political suicide is that you live to regret it.’ This is a national crisis that has triggered a global one, but it has also caused many internal, emotional and psychic impasses.
One day someone will have to write the emotional history of this Brexit crisis, and it may be helpful then to consider some illuminating comparisons. These past days I couldn’t help but being struck by the parallels between our present circumstances and the Munich Crisis of September 1938, an international crisis that had serious ramifications on the home front. Then as now national crisis was internalised. Then too a suicidal instinct, a death wish projected onto the nation as a whole, was seen to be driving national policy. [continue reading]
Coolie connotes somebody who performs thankless, backbreaking physical labour. The word is often explained as being part of the indentured labour system that followed the abolition of slavery in the 1800s, particularly gaining popularity in the mid- to late-1800s. It is often almost exclusively used in relation to Asian labourers, especially Indian and Chinese people.
In South Africa (and parts of the Caribbean and the Pacific islands) the word is laden with history and is a racially pejorative term to refer to an Indian person. Yet, a number of western academics of Indian descent (often living in the West) have used the term coolie as a descriptive term denuded of history and racial value. This includes suggestions by academics that “coolitude” needs to be celebrated and reclaimed. Since ‘coolie’ is completely associated with Asian indenture, it has historically provided the line between the enslaved African and the indentured (and by implication, un-enslavable) Asian. [continue reading]
…The occasion for sending a delegation of the Hitler Youth to Japan in 1940 was not the signing of the Tripartite Treaty in September of that year, as Victoria suggests, but rather the 2600th jubilee of Japan’s imperial dynasty two months later (November 1940). The original plan called for sending hundreds of German workers to Japan on ships operated by Kraft durch Freude (“Strength through joy“), the national socialist organization for recreation and leisure. With the outbreak of the war in Europe in September 1939, however, ocean travel from Germany to Japan became impossible; furthermore, many young Germans were then conscripted immediately into military service. Thus, only a small delegation of the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) and an even smaller one, consisting of members of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Workers’ Front), were sent to Japan in late 1940. They traveled by means of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the only remaining connection between Germany and Japan.
The six members of the Hitler Jugend delegation, led by Heinrich Jürgens, head of the Far East Department of the Reichsjugendführung (Head office of the national youth organization), began their tour by visiting the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo and Korea, which had been a Japanese colony since 1910. They were impressed by “the idealism, sense of national identity, commitment, strong will, and courage“ [“dem Idealismus, dem Nationalbewußtsein, der Einsatzfreudigkeit, dem starken Willen und Mut”] of the young Japanese who were trained in Harbin to become farmers and settlers in Manchukuo and they were equally impressed by the achievements of the Japanese in Korea. [continue reading]
Last weekend’s assault on the social and cultural centre in Hammersmith was carried out with a can of paint, but cut through the west London Polish community like a rapier, until the tip reached Jan Black. Black is 94 and does not always answer the phone. When he did on Sunday, to hear that an expletive had been daubed on the glass doors of the centre, known by its Polish-language acronym Posk, the news came as a powerful shock. Black was born Jan Stangryczuk in eastern Poland, only four years after the first world war. He still carries the name in his Polish passport, and his accent is still as thick as kiełbasa (Polish sausage). But he had lived 76 years in Britain without ever encountering such hatred. “I have always had friendship and respect here, and there has been respect for my people, for as long as I’ve been here,” Black says.
That is a lot of history. He arrived in Belfast in 1940 on a freighter, the Highland Chieftain, carrying a cargo of meat from Buenos Aires and other provisions for a nation at war. Black’s father had emigrated to Argentina five years earlier and Jan had spent his early teenage years on a South American farm. But then war broke out in September 1939 with the Nazi invasion of his homeland. [continue reading]
Hoover Institution Library & Archives
This month, Hoover Library & Archives announce the launch of an online digital repository that will allow users access to one of the most significant collections of Afghan periodicals in the world. The Hoover’s Afghan Partisan Serials (APS) collection is a major contribution to the preservation of Central Asian history and consists of a careful selection of more than four thousand individual issues of twenty-nine newspapers and journals published in Dari, Pushto, Arabic, and English. Here Afghanistan’s social and intellectual landscape is represented by the Taliban and anti-Soviet mujahedeen groups, the Communist People’s Democratic Party; exiled loyalists to the deposed Afghan monarchy; independent humanitarians and intellectuals; and minority political parties that emerged following the post-2001 transition toward democracy.
Professor Abbas Milani, Hoover fellow and the Hamid & Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies at Stanford University, reflected that “Afghanistan was a cauldron of the Cold War. It has also been a hotbed for varieties of Islamic radicalism. It has been hitherto hard for scholars and commentators to access primary sources from that country’s many political and ethnic groups. Here is a rare, rich, and easily accessible collection of critical sources from some of the most important political voices of modern Afghan society during a tumultuous periods of transition. If Clifford Geertz is right that the best way to “cover” Islam is to allow Muslims to speak for themselves, this is an indispensable collection of primary sources from forces in that society allowing us to hear and read, analyze and understand their unmediated voices.” [continue reading]