From globalization’s wrong turn to watching the end of the world, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Globalization is in trouble. A populist backlash, personified by U.S. President Donald Trump, is in full swing. A simmering trade war between China and the United States could easily boil over. Countries across Europe are shutting their borders to immigrants. Even globalization’s biggest boosters now concede that it has produced lopsided benefits and that something will have to change.
Today’s woes have their roots in the 1990s, when policymakers set the world on its current, hyperglobalist path, requiring domestic economies to be put in the service of the world economy instead of the other way around. In trade, the transformation was signaled by the creation of the World Trade Organization, in 1995. The WTO not only made it harder for countries to shield themselves from international competition but also reached into policy areas that international trade rules had not previously touched: agriculture, services, intellectual property, industrial policy, and health and sanitary regulations. Even more ambitious regional trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, took off around the same time. [continue reading]
The meeting on 30 May 1919 marks the origin of Chatham House as the first British international relations think-tank – but the meeting matters in a wider sense because it cemented the idea that intellectuals and scholars should have a systematic and structured input into the making of foreign policy and the shaping of world politics. The most important context of this meeting is, of course, the First World War. The war was a traumatic event for Europeans and Americans and completely upended world politics.
But it also created, from an intellectual perspective, new opportunities. The Allied governments created expert committees, made up of historians, geographers and other scholars, to draw up guidelines based on objective facts to direct the creation of the peace after the war. This was a very difficult task. The First World War caused unprecedented global destruction, redrew the map of eastern Europe and dismantled the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. It also mobilized entire societies, which raised the issue of democratic participation in deciding questions of war and peace. [continue reading]
Pointe du Hoc, France — Seventy-five years ago Thursday, a battalion of elite U.S. Army Rangers scaled the 100-foot promontory here overlooking Omaha Beach, with nothing more than ropes and rickety ladders. As enemy gunfire and grenades rained down, picking them off as they climbed, the Rangers managed to secure the strategic high ground and silence a small battery of long-range German guns that had been moved inland.
The battle for Pointe du Hoc became one of the most heroic moments of the D-Day invasion. It was lionized by the legendary Hollywood film “The Longest Day” and by President Ronald Reagan, who stood on this hallowed ground to one of his most famous speeches, extolling the bravery of the “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” on the 40th anniversary of the largest amphibious assault in the world’s history. [continue reading]
When the Spanish conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo first entered the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán on 8 November 1519, he was amazed – not so much by the temples and palaces which dominated the city as by the food. He had never seen anything so rich, nor so unusual. The meals eaten by King Moctezuma II were especially dazzling. As Díaz recalled in his Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España (1576), 300 dishes were cooked for the monarch alone, while a further 1,000 were prepared for his guests. Served on platters of ‘red and black Cholula pottery’, these were of every imaginable variety. As well as ‘two thousand pots of chocolate’ and no end of fruit, there were ‘fowls, turkeys, pheasants, partridges, domestic and wild ducks, deer, peccary, reed birds, doves, hares, rabbits, and so many other birds and beasts that [Díaz] could never finish naming them’. There were even plates of human flesh – or so he had heard. But most striking of all was a little dish served between courses. Midway through the meal, Díaz wrote:
Two … young women of great beauty brought the monarch tortillas, as white as snow, cooked with eggs and other nourishing ingredients, on plates covered with clean napkins.
Though rather short on detail, this is thought to be the earliest description of enchiladas in European literature. It was a turning point in their history. For no sooner had Díaz clapped eyes on them than they were launched on a voyage of transformation, which would see them become not only the deliciously meaty confections we know today, but also a culinary monument to centuries of colonialism, poverty and prejudice. [continue reading]
A coward may die a thousand times before his death—and a morbid kid can be killed over and over by phantom Soviet warheads. That was me in the mid-1980s, between the ages of seven and twelve. I spent, or lost, that much of my youth priming for nuclear holocaust, projecting scenarios onto the Republic of Ireland. Multi-megaton payloads bursting above my bright green Roman Catholic parish in the foothills of the Dublin mountains. Neutron bombs leaving my house, school, and church intact while turning my body to a pillar of fire, then a pile of red dust. A single ballistic missile homing in on me with evil animus, its shrieking arc over continental Europe ending on contact with the top of my skull. Would I be crushed by the weight of the device itself, or was the firing mechanism so hair-trigger that I’d be atomized by the blast before it could bear down further?
“For a split second, you’d have to feel the very point, with the terrible mass above,” wrote Thomas Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), as the quasi-clairvoyant British secret agent Pirate Prentice contemplates taking a direct hit to the head from an incoming German V-2 rocket. When I read that novel many years later, I recognized my own terror in it, as if my boyhood nightmares had been intercepted by psychic, subterranean war planners. [continue reading]