From Monsters vs. Empire to how fish and chips migrated to Great Britain, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
On June 18, 2018, President Donald Trump took everyone by surprise. In the midst of remarks about U.S. and German approaches to immigration, he was suddenly directing “the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces” and banging on about achieving “American dominance in space” and “expand[ing] our economy.”
Despite Trump’s seemingly abrupt change of topic, there is no actual disjuncture—indeed, there is a rather obvious continuity—between the fear of otherness and the fantasy of control, between discussing ways to restrict the movement of “undesirable” people and fantasizing about Space Invaders—space being, after all, the final frontera. There is, moreover, no contradiction between fixing borders ever more firmly in place/space and finding ways to transform the limits to capital into barriers for it to overcome. And there is no conflict between the interimperial rivalry of nation-states—both China and Russia recently demonstrated their ability to shoot down satellites—and the global Empire of transnational capital. In fact, since Ronald Reagan’s neoliberal refashioning of the U.S.—and thus the global—economy in the 1980s, which transformed the world’s principal source of liquidity to the world’s biggest debtor, the United States has become utterly dependent on the rest of the world, including Russia and especially China, to finance its deficits. The U.S. empire needs, but does not fully control, neoliberal Empire—and the same is true of its rivals. [continue reading]
The artificial spiders’ webs hanging in the windows of the Royal British Legion in East Kilbride, on the edge of Glasgow, are just part of the Halloween decorations. But they feel oddly appropriate on this bright, frosty morning in the company of men whose distant triumphs have recently had the cobwebs dusted off them. Sitting off to one side is the 41-year-old Chilean film-maker Felipe Bustos Sierra. Huddled around a table next to him are the former Rolls Royce plant workers whose bold statement of solidarity with the Chilean people in the mid-1970s is the subject of Nae Pasaran!, an inspirational documentary that proves principled acts can have positive consequences – even if they take decades to come to light.
Six months after the bloody coup of 11 September 1973, which began the brutal 17-year dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, these four Scotsmen – Bob Fulton, Robert Somerville, John Keenan, Stuart Barrie – downed tools and refused to service and repair engines for the Chilean air force’s Hawker Hunter planes. “Down tools?” says Bob, a former engine inspector and the instigator of the boycott. “We hadnae time to pick ’em up!” [continue reading]
Mr Macron said Marshal Pétain was a “great soldier”, even though he had made “disastrous choices” during WW2. Pétain was praised for the defence of Verdun in 1916, but he was sentenced to death for high treason after WW2. Some French politicians and Jewish leaders condemned Mr Macron’s comments.
Speaking during a tour of northern France in Charleville-Mezieres, the president said: “It’s right that we honour the marshals who led France to victory (in WW1).” And referring to Pétain, Mr Macron said: “He was a great soldier”, although he had made “disastrous choices” during the Nazi occupation of France. Petain co-operated with the Nazi invaders and headed a puppet government centred on the spa town of Vichy. Mr Macron’s office later defended his comments. [continue reading]
Spectres of dead kings are haunting the world today. In a 2015 interview, Emmanuel Macron declared that since the death of Louis XVI, there has been a vacuum at the heart of French politics: an absent king. According to him, the Napoleonic and Gaullist moments were efforts to fill this vacuum. Since becoming President, Macron has been steadily emphasizing regal symbolism to represent his authority. Across the Atlantic, scholars have long observed the monarchic lineages, or even messianic roots, of the American Presidency via British-European constitutional thought. But the monarchic turn has intensified of late, as Donald Trump’s Christian supporters compare him to the Biblical monarchs David, Nebuchadnezzar, and Cyrus. Romans 13, the New Testament passage used for centuries to justify submission to rulers as supposedly ordained by God, now finds increasing traction in American discourse about Trump, especially surrounding immigration and foreign policy. In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has invited comparison with Pharaohs, while academic discussions note continuities between interwar Arab monarchies and post-royal dictatorships in the region.
In India, when Narendra Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, became Prime Minister in 2014, Hindu nationalists celebrated him as the first proper Hindu ruler in Delhi in 800 years since the defeat of King Prithviraj Chauhan at the hands of Turko-Afghan invaders. Bollywood has also been making blockbuster movies, celebrating – supposedly Hindu nationalist – kings, while the soon-to-be-tallest statue in the world is being built off Mumbai, depicting Shivaji, a seventeenth-century monarch dear to Hindu-Indian nationalism. We are clearly witnessing a global phenomenon: the return of monarchic figures in political thought, comparison, ritual, and iconography, hand in glove with the rise of strongman leaderships and nationalisms. [continue reading]
HE POWERFUL PAIRING OF FISH and chips has long been considered a British staple. Dubbed “the undisputed national dish of Great Britain” by the National Federation of Fish Friers, it’s been enjoyed on the island for over a century, with an estimated 35,000 chip shops in business by 1935. During World War II, Winston Churchill exempted the beloved dish from rationing. Today, “Fish & Chip Friday” is a weekly ritual for Brits ringing in the weekend. Fish and chips’s origin story, however, is a bit more complex than this nationalist sentiment might imply.
As told by Simon Majumdar in his podcast, Eat My Globe, it all began outside of the U.K., hundreds of years ago. From the 8th to the 12th century, Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived in relative peace in Portugal, known as Al-Andalus under Moorish rule. Sephardic Jews, who likely comprised around 20 percent of the population, were relatively well-respected and held positions in the high court. For this reason, the area became somewhat of a haven for those fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. However, in 1496, after the end of Moorish rule, King Manuel I married Isabel of Spain, who was not so aligned with the idea of religious freedom. Her ultimatum: Their betrothal would mean the expulsion of Jews from Portugal. Manuel I mandated that all Jews be baptized, or otherwise expelled. [continue reading]