This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

aeneid
DEA / G. Dagli Orti / De Agostini / Getty

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

From Hitler’s many American friends to rethinking the End of History, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

More Americans Supported Hitler Than You May Think

Lily Rothman
Time

These days, and especially since the deadly rally in Charlottesville, Va., last August, it has become clear to many Americans that the specter of Nazism in their country is not resigned to 1930s history. But until very recently, even that part of the story was less well known than it is today.

In fact, when Bradley W. Hart first started researching the history of Nazi sympathy in the United States a few years ago, he was largely driven by the absence of attention to the topic. Hart’s new book Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States argues that the threat of Nazism in the United States before World War II was greater than we generally remember today, and that those forces offer valuable lessons decades later — and not just because part of that story is the history of the “America First” idea, born of pre-WWII isolationism and later reborn as a slogan for now-President Donald Trump. [continue reading]

Is the Aeneid a Celebration of Empire – or a Critique?

Daniel Mendelsohn
New Yorker

Since the end of the first century A.D., people have been playing a game with a certain book. In this game, you open the book to a random spot and place your finger on the text; the passage you select will, it is thought, predict your future. If this sounds silly, the results suggest otherwise. The first person known to have played the game was a highborn Roman who was fretting about whether he’d be chosen to follow his cousin, the emperor Trajan, on the throne; after opening the book to this passage—

I recognize that he is that king of Rome,
Gray headed, gray bearded, who will formulate
The laws for the early city . . .

—he was confident that he’d succeed. His name was Hadrian.

Through the centuries, others sought to discover their fates in this book, from the French novelist Rabelais, in the early sixteenth century (some of whose characters play the game, too), to the British king Charles I, who, during the Civil War—which culminated in the loss of his kingdom and his head—visited an Oxford library and was alarmed to find that he’d placed his finger on a passage that concluded, “But let him die before his time, and lie / Somewhere unburied on a lonely beach.” Two and a half centuries later, as the Germans marched toward Paris at the beginning of the First World War, a classicist named David Ansell Slater, who had once viewed the very volume that Charles had consulted, found himself scouring the same text, hoping for a portent of good news. [continue reading]

The Blob: Ben Rhodes and the crisis of liberal foreign policy

David Klion
Nation

The left, as a rule, has been sharply critical of US foreign policy. Ask anyone who supports free universal health care and abolishing ICE about America’s role in the world, and they’ll probably recite a long list of coups (Iran, Chile), wars (Vietnam, Iraq), and trade policies (NAFTA, TPP) that amount to a global imperial project with an appalling body count. Every US president since at least the Second World War has been complicit in this project, and the next one will be, too.

And yet, if that president is a Democrat, she or he will have pledged to enact a substantial part of the left’s policy demands. This will require the left to formulate not only a domestic agenda, around which there is an emerging progressive consensus, but a foreign policy as well. The next Democratic administration will also likely include a cohort of millennials who have never served in government before—and whatever their feelings about the American empire, they will suddenly be charged with managing and shaping it, with surprisingly few checks on their ability to do so. They may question their right as Americans to wield such power or seek to mitigate its effects. But, nonetheless, they will have to wield it. [continue reading]

David Wolpe
New York Times

“Even a hunter cannot kill a bird that flies to him for refuge.” This Samurai maxim inspired one gifted and courageous man to save thousands of people in defiance of his government and at the cost of his career. On Friday I came to Nagoya at the invitation of the Japanese government to speak in honor of his memory. The astonishing Chiune Sugihara raises again the questions: What shapes a moral hero? And how does someone choose to save people that others turn away?

Research on those who rescued Jews during the Holocaust shows that many exhibited a streak of independence from an early age. Sugihara was unconventional in a society known for prizing conformity. His father insisted that his son, a top student, become a doctor. But Sugihara wanted to study languages and travel and immerse himself in literature. Forced to sit for the medical exam, he left the entire answer sheet blank. The same willfulness was on display when he entered the diplomatic corps and, as vice minister of the Foreign Affairs Department for Japan in Manchuria in 1934, resigned in protest of the Japanese treatment of the Chinese. [continue reading]

Francis Fukuyama interview: “Socialism ought to come back”

George Eaton
New Statesman

The End of History was a rebuke to Marxists who regarded communism as humanity’s final ideological stage. How, I asked Fukuyama, did he view the resurgence of the socialist left in the UK and the US? “It all depends on what you mean by socialism. Ownership of the means of production – except in areas where it’s clearly called for, like public utilities – I don’t think that’s going to work.

“If you mean redistributive programmes that try to redress this big imbalance in both incomes and wealth that has emerged then, yes, I think not only can it come back, it ought to come back. This extended period, which started with Reagan and Thatcher, in which a certain set of ideas about the benefits of unregulated markets took hold, in many ways it’s had a disastrous effect. “In social equality, it’s led to a weakening of labour unions, of the bargaining power of ordinary workers, the rise of an oligarchic class almost everywhere that then exerts undue political power. In terms of the role of finance, if there’s anything we learned from the financial crisis it’s that you’ve got to regulate the sector like hell because they’ll make everyone else pay. That whole ideology became very deeply embedded within the Eurozone, the austerity that Germany imposed on southern Europe has been disastrous.” [continue reading]

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