This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

From “Ken Burn’s Vietnam War” – Marines marching in Danang, Vietnam, March 15, 1965. AP / PBS.

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

From the ongoing war over the Vietnam War to declassifying apartheid profits, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

The Vietnam War Is Not Over

Salar Mohandesi

“The Vietnam War” Ken Burns says in a recent interview, “was the most important event in American history since World War II.” But, he explains, it’s also an event that tore the United States apart, a war whose wounds have not yet healed, a war we often try to forget. In the very first interview of this ten-part, eighteen-hour documentary, “The Vietnam War,” author Karl Marlantes describes how “coming home from the war was close to as traumatic as the war itself.” For years, he continues, no one really wanted to talk about what had happened. “It’s like living in a family with an alcoholic father — shh, we don’t talk about that.”

With their new documentary, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick suggest that we not only do need to talk about the war, especially the terrible divisions it left behind, but that together we can begin to overcome them. In addition to recounting the bloody history of the Vietnam War, their documentary seeks to facilitate a kind of collective therapy, where all sides, Americans and Vietnamese, the North and the South, GIs and antiwar activists, can finally begin to work towards closure. [continue reading]

Error and Trial: One Scholar Takes Another to Court over a Book Review

Kritika Agarwal
Perspectives on History

Historian Sören Flachowsky wasn’t present when a court in Hamburg, Germany, issued a preliminary freeze injunction against a sentence in a book review he’d written—he learned of it only after the fact.

On June 14, 2016, H-Soz-Kult (a German nonprofit founded as an offshoot of H-Net in the late 1990s) had published his review of Julien Reitzenstein’s Himmlers Forscher: Wehrwissenschaft und Medizinverbrechen im „Ahnenerbe“ der SS (Himmler’s Scientists: Military Science and Medical Crimes in the “Ahnenerbe” of the SS). After an initial, brief attempt to initiate dialogue about the review with H-Soz-Kult, Reitzenstein took legal action, asserting that Flachowsky’s review contained misstatements of fact that implied Reitzenstein was a Nazi sympathizer, damaging his personal and professional reputation. The court agreed. [continue reading]

Most countries have given up their colonies. Why hasn’t America? 

David Vine
Washington Post

With President Trump visiting Puerto Rico next week, another long-ignored part of the United States will draw national attention. In the past three weeks, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have been hit by two powerful hurricanes, causing widespread devastation. Last month, Guam made headlines when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened to fire potentially nuclear-tipped missiles at the island.

The people of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam, as well as those in the little-mentioned Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa, are all too accustomed to being forgotten except in times of crisis. But being forgotten is not the worst of their problems. They are trapped in a state of third-class citizenship, unable to access full democratic rights because politicians have long favored the military’s freedom of operation over protecting the freedoms of certain U.S. citizens. [continue reading]

Congress Must End US Military Support for the Horrific Saudi Bombing of Yemen

John Nichols

Yemen, one the poorest and most neglected countries in the world, is experiencing what UNICEF identifies as “one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises.” It is estimated that a million malnourished children are at risk from cholera. The country is on the verge of widespread famine, and 20.7 million people (73 percent of Yemen’s population) are in need of humanitarian assistance.

What can be done to ease the disaster that Yemen is experiencing? “Stop the war,” says UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. Lake is blunt. He says that “this, our generation, is scarred by the irresponsibility of governments and others to allow these things to be happening.” [continue reading]

Declassified: Apartheid Profits – Behind the Iron Curtain

Daily Maverick

In 1985, while PW Botha waved his finger about the Communist onslaught, the apartheid state was looking to purchase 160 Soviet-built missiles and 20 missile launchers via East Germany. This was not just sanctions busting, it was potentially political dynamite for all parties concerned, if the full details were exposed. The bastion of anti-communism committed to fighting the rooigevaar (red threat) needed some cover. To pull off this secret and delicate trade, an experienced arms middle man was required.

Our first hint of this story was found while on the trail of the alliance between French and apartheid military intelligence. A top-secret military memo reveals that in 1986, the South African Defence Force (SADF) plotted with French intelligence in one of their regular meetings to lure an arms dealer by the name of Georges Starckmann to Morocco. [continue reading]

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