From how American racism influenced Hitler to the Commonwealth’s secret nuclear bomb, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
“History teaches, but has no pupils,” the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote. That line comes to mind when I browse in the history section of a bookstore. An adage in publishing is that you can never go wrong with books about Lincoln, Hitler, and dogs; an alternative version names golfing, Nazis, and cats. In Germany, it’s said that the only surefire magazine covers are ones that feature Hitler or sex.
Whatever the formula, Hitler and Nazism prop up the publishing business: hundreds of titles appear each year, and the total number runs well into the tens of thousands. On store shelves, they stare out at you by the dozens, their spines steeped in the black-white-and-red of the Nazi flag, their titles barking in Gothic type, their covers studded with swastikas. The back catalogue includes “I Was Hitler’s Pilot,” “I Was Hitler’s Chauffeur,” “I Was Hitler’s Doctor,” “Hitler, My Neighbor,” “Hitler Was My Friend,” “He Was My Chief,” and “Hitler Is No Fool.” Books have been written about Hitler’s youth, his years in Vienna and Munich, his service in the First World War, his assumption of power, his library, his taste in art, his love of film, his relations with women, and his predilections in interior design (“Hitler at Home”). [continue reading]
Ahmed F. Khaleel
The British “Mesopotamian Campaign” of World War I took almost three years to get to Baghdad – and the occupying force faced many challenges once it arrived. In fact, Britain’s overwhelming predominance over Iraq from 1917 to 1947 was a time of rough and violent political and economic “communication”.
But the interesting number of English “loanwords” in the Iraqi dialect of Arabic tell us that the communication was not always defensive. More important, the quality of borrowed words and the way they are twisted to fit Iraqi usage reflect the fact that Iraqis were fascinated by the language and culture of their occupiers whom they ironically nicknamed “Abu Naji” after the commonly held belief that Iraqi monarch Ghazi bin Faisal had been murdered at the behest of the British by his driver, Abu Naji, in a faked car accident. [continue reading]
During the uncertain years of the Cold War, when nations prepared for the prospect of a devastating nuclear war, Britain created a defensive radar programme called Rotor, involving 70 radar stations dotted around the coast. One of these was an underground bunker in the tiny village of Holmpton, built in 1953 and nicknamed “the hole”. It faced east and was able to see hundreds of miles to the Soviet Union, as the superpower stockpiled nuclear weapons.
In the event of a catastrophic nuclear war, RAF personnel as well as ROC personnel at Holmpton would be tasked with restoring order in the region. Workers at the bunker were also responsible for warning of an approaching attack, recording the direction, velocity and ultimate radioactive fallout of a bomb. Nine women who worked at Holmpton and two other nearby bunkers shared their memories with photographer Lee Karen Stow. [continue reading]
“Past events exist, after all, only in memory, which is a form of imagination,” wrote Ursula K Le Guin. “The event is real now, but once it’s then, its continuing reality is entirely up to us, dependent on our energy and honesty.”
In the past few days I’ve been written about in the Times and splashed across the pages of the Daily Mail. An MP has called my work “sensationalist”. Apparently, applying modern understanding to the past is unscholarly, childish and disrespectful. When I started leading my Uncomfortable Art Tours around London museums last summer, the goal was to give an alternative view of imperialism, and look at the ways the British empire is represented by Tate Britain, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Gallery and others. I am not affiliated to the institutions I guide in, so I’m free to interrogate their histories in a way that staff often can’t. We look at art commissioned by those on both sides of the abolitionist movement, unpack the subtle agendas in portraits, and examine the role of museums in creating hierarchies of “civilised” and “savage”. [continue reading]
rince Charles’s visit to Vanuatu earlier this month was designed to shore up the Commonwealth’s reputation among Pacific countries in the face of growing Chinese influence in the region. Rather than giving the locals a glimpse of the future monarch, though, a better way to win hearts and minds might be to deal with the lingering health and environmental effects of British nuclear testing in the Pacific.
Sixty years ago, on 28 April 1958, the British government exploded a 2.8 megaton thermonuclear weapon at Kiritimati Island in the central Pacific. (Kiritimati, known at the time as Christmas Island, was part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, which are now known as Kiribati and Tuvalu.) Codenamed Grapple Y, this was one of nine detonations on Malden and Kiritimati islands that made up Operation Grapple, the program to develop the British hydrogen bomb. [continue reading]