This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Dan Mouer in Vietnam in 1966. The magazine was sent by his wife, along with a batch of chocolate chip cookies. New York Times

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

From how Playboy explains Vietnam to a more dangerous globalism, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.


How Playboy Explains Vietnam

Amber Batura
New York Times

There’s a famous scene about halfway through “Apocalypse Now” in which Martin Sheen’s river boat pulls into a supply base, deep in the jungle. While the crew members are buying diesel fuel, the supply clerk gives them free tickets to a show — “You know,” he says, “the bunnies.” Soon they’re sitting in an improvised amphitheater around a landing pad, watching as three Playboy models hop out of a helicopter and dance to “Suzie Q.”

The scene is entirely fictional; Playboy models almost never toured Vietnam, and certainly not in groups. But if the women were never there themselves in force, the magazine itself certainly was. In fact, it’s hard to overstate how profound a role Playboy played among the millions of American soldiers and civilians stationed in Vietnam throughout the war: as entertainment, yes, but more important as news and, through its extensive letters section, as a sounding board and confessional. [continue reading]

The Irish Potato Famine Was Caused by Capitalism, Not a Fungus

Michael Putzel
Paste

Put on the U2 and The Cranberries and let’s down some green brew folks, it’s that time of year again. But while St. Patrick’s Day is cause to celebrate everything Irish-American, it’s also a good time to ponder just why more than a million Irish were forced to leave Ireland while another million were dying of starvation in such a short period of time in the first place. The answer, which also explains why millions of children are currently going without enough food in the U.S., has much more to do with market systems than Mother Nature.

Most of us were taught in school that the Irish Potato Famine, which took place from 1845 to 1852, was simply caused by a previously unknown fungal blight (Phytophthora infestans) that wiped out the potato crop of the Emerald Isle just at a time when too much of the population was dependent on a single type of potato for daily sustenance. While the blight did strike and take down most of Ireland’s potatoes, the truth is that Ireland was exporting more than enough food to feed everyone at the same time as the famine was happening. Run as a colony of the vast British Empire, Ireland was a colonial food-producing operation, much like India and the sugar islands of the Caribbean, but locals were not allowed to eat the very food they were producing. In other words, a million Irish starved for no reason other than greed. [continue reading]

Nixon’s Vietnam Treachery

John A. Farrell
New York Times

Richard M. Nixon always denied it: to David Frost, to historians and to Lyndon B. Johnson, who had the strongest suspicions and the most cause for outrage at his successor’s rumored treachery. To them all, Nixon insisted that he had not sabotaged Johnson’s 1968 peace initiative to bring the war in Vietnam to an early conclusion. “My God. I would never do anything to encourage” South Vietnam “not to come to the table,” Nixon told Johnson, in a conversation captured on the White House taping system.

Now we know Nixon lied. A newfound cache of notes left by H. R. Haldeman, his closest aide, shows that Nixon directed his campaign’s efforts to scuttle the peace talks, which he feared could give his opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, an edge in the 1968 election. On Oct. 22, 1968, he ordered Haldeman to “monkey wrench” the initiative. [continue reading]

‘But what about the railways …?’ The myth of Britain’s gifts to India

Shashi Tharoor
Guardian

any modern apologists for British colonial rule in India no longer contest the basic facts of imperial exploitation and plunder, rapacity and loot, which are too deeply documented to be challengeable. Instead they offer a counter-argument: granted, the British took what they could for 200 years, but didn’t they also leave behind a great deal of lasting benefit? In particular, political unity and democracy, the rule of law, railways, English education, even tea and cricket?

Indeed, the British like to point out that the very idea of “India” as one entity (now three, but one during the British Raj), instead of multiple warring principalities and statelets, is the incontestable contribution of British imperial rule. Unfortunately for this argument, throughout the history of the subcontinent, there has existed an impulsion for unity. [continue reading]

A More Dangerous Globalism

Jeremy Adelman and Anne-Laure Delatte
Project Syndicate

“America first,” thumps Donald Trump. “Britain first,” say the advocates of Brexit. “France first,” crows Marine Le Pen and her National Front. “Russia first,” proclaims Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. With so much emphasis on national sovereignty nowadays, globalization appears doomed.

It’s not. The struggle playing out today is not one of globalism versus anti-globalism. Rather, the world is poised between two models of integration: one is multilateral and internationalist; the other is bilateral and imperialist. Throughout the modern age, the world has seesawed between them. [continue reading]

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