This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Graves for Yemeni children killed by a Saudi-led coalition air strike (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

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

From curing America’s war addiction to when Jamaica led the postcolonial fight against exploitation, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

It Will Take More Than Congress to Cure America’s War Addiction

Gunar Olsen
New Republic

Is Congress finally asserting itself in foreign policy? In January, legislators reintroduced a resolution that directs President Trump to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition’s catastrophic war in Yemen. Supporters of the resolution hope the newly Democrat-majority House will muster enough votes, just as the Senate did by a 56-41 margin in the previous Congress last December.

Congressional action on Yemen could end a particularly awful conflict that has produced mass famine and cholera. Yet many liberal pundits and legislators seem to welcome the resolution for its own proceduralist sake: Any legislative action in foreign policy is somehow good in and of itself, no matter the content of its actions. Once the resolution passes, the coalition that supported it needs to decide which argument—the overtly anti-war or the proceduralist—to prioritize as a growing number of Americans across the political spectrum grow weary of Washington’s other military campaigns in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. Although anti-war organizers rarely realize it, “reclaiming” Congress’s war powers is not necessarily a step toward peace. [continue reading]

Offline: Rosa Luxemburg and the struggle for health

Richard Horton
The Lancet

On Jan 15, 1919, amid the beginnings of a revolution in post-World-War I Germany, Rosa Luxemburg, a Polish economist and leader of Germany’s radical left, was executed in Berlin by militia acting on behalf of the governing Social Democratic Party. She was 47 years old. Her body, loaded with weights, was flung into a nearby canal. Luxemburg has become a legendary figure, although more admired as a martyr than studied as an intellectual. She was an anti-war activist, campaigned for women’s emancipation, and opposed Russia’s brutal suppression of freedom and democracy. Luxemburg never wrote directly about health or science. But she was urgently concerned about human suffering and she understood the importance of knowledge as a lever for social change. The centenary of Luxemburg’s death is an opportunity to reconsider her legacy for health.

Rosa Luxemburg’s most important work is The Accumulation of Capital (1913). Her objective was to investigate how nations developed. She argued that the sustainability of (capitalist) societies depended on economic growth beyond the borders of the nation-state. Economies needed continuous supplies of natural resources and inexpensive labour. The preferred means by which those commodities were acquired was through imperial expansion. She raged against it: “Capital needs other races to exploit territories where the white man cannot work. It must be able to mobilise world labour power without restriction in order to utilise all productive forces of the globe”; “imperialism is the historical method for prolonging the career of capitalism.” Elsewhere she wrote that, “Today the nation is but a cloak that covers imperialistic desires.” And, “The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilisation.” Why are these arguments relevant for health today? [continue reading]

Trump Is Launching a New, Terrifying Arms Race

Michael T. Clare

Ostensibly, President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, announced on February 1, is intended to coerce Russia into admitting that it has violated the accord and then to destroy any weapons so identified. But the closer one looks, the more obvious it becomes that administration hawks, led by National Security Adviser John Bolton, have no interest in preserving the arms-control agreement but rather seek to embark on an arms race with Russia and China—a dynamic that will take us into dangerous territory not visited since the Cold War.

According to the INF Treaty, “intermediate-range nuclear forces” are nuclear-capable ballistic or cruise missiles with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, or approximately 310 to 3,400 miles. These can be fired from ships, submarines, planes, or ground-based launchers; the treaty, however, covers the land-based variants only. When it was signed in 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union had deployed some 1,293 of these weapons, mostly in Europe. [continue reading]

Haitian and French Petrol Protests in the Age of Climate Change

Crystal Eddins
Black Perspectives

For the past several months, major unrest has occurred almost simultaneously in both Haiti and France over rising gas prices, accusations of government corruption, and inflated costs of living. However, national and international media attention has focused more on recent events in France while ignoring the protests in Haiti, which has resulted in the death of several protestors at the hands of police and other state officials.

The two nation’s histories are inextricably linked: the Caribbean country Haiti, known in the nineteenth century as Saint Domingue, was once the wealthiest colony of the French empire. After the formerly enslaved Africans of Saint Domingue wrested freedom from their owners and declared themselves independent from colonialism in 1804, the French army later imposed an indemnity for 150 million francs on Haiti to compensate for their lost “jewel” of sugar and coffee production. To avoid future French incursions, this money was paid with interest – to the tune of 22 billion in today’s dollars and is often cited as a critical cause of Haiti’s underdevelopment, along with the West’s economic and political isolation of Haiti throughout the nineteenth century. Despite ongoing calls for France to repay the indemnity, since it had stolen enough in human life and labor value, no such conversation has been breached by France’s current President Emmanuel Macron. Now it seems that both are facing crises and a growing protest movement around a different resource: petrol. [continue reading]

When Jamaica Led the Postcolonial Fight Against Exploitation

Adom Getachew
Boston Review

In 1972 the socialist left swept to power in Jamaica. Calling for the strengthening of workers’ rights, the nationalization of industries, and the expansion of the island’s welfare state, the People’s National Party (PNP), led by the charismatic Michael Manley, sought nothing less than to overturn the old order under which Jamaicans had long labored—first as enslaved, then indentured, then colonized, and only recently as politically free of Great Britain. Jamaica is a small island, but the ambition of the project was global in scale.

Two years before his election as prime minister, Manley took to the pages of Foreign Affairs to situate his democratic socialism within a novel account of international relations. While the largely North Atlantic readers of the magazine might have identified the fissures of the Cold War as the dominant conflict of their time, Manley argued otherwise. The “real battleground,” he declared, was located “in that largely tropical territory which was first the object of colonial exploitation, second, the focus of non-Caucasian nationalism and more latterly known as the underdeveloped and the developing world as it sought euphemisms for its condition.” Manley displaced the Cold War’s East–West divide, instead drawing on a longstanding anti-colonial critique to look at the world along its North–South axis. When viewed from the “tropics,” the world was not bifurcated by ideology, but by a global economy whose origins lay in the project of European imperial expansion. [continue reading]

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