From connecting Trump in Greenland with Germany’s Second and Third Reich to the radical right’s obsession with southern Africa, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Much has been made of President Donald Trump’s recent announcement about purchasing Greenland from Denmark. Although at first the statement was ridiculed and treated with amazement, it was soon pointed out that the United States had historically expanded much of its land area by way of purchase. Alaska, Louisiana, Florida and the Gadsden Purchase are some of the more well-known and larger instances of this practice. What is more, the United States had previously, and successfully, negotiated with Denmark for the purchase of the Danish West Indies in 1917 as a result of concerns that foreign powers might use the islands as a base to attack the Panama Canal. So Trump’s attempted purchase of Greenland for strategic reasons made perfect sense from a historical perspective. What is more, when the United States cannot buy land outright it can still flex its military muscles by a similar work-around, namely by renting land instead. This practice of buying and renting is known as “monopoly imperialism”, after the board game, and the rentals are exemplified by a network of military bases in places as far afield as Diego Garcia and the Marshall Islands.
What has been omitted in the noise about Trump and Greenland, however, is that the United States is not the only imperial power to attempt to expand its global hegemony by way of purchase or lease. At the start of the twenty first century Chinese interests had also been attempting, albeit unsuccessfully, to purchase or rent a large chunk of territory in Iceland with a view to having a foothold in the Arctic. For those of us interested in the history and origins of Nazi Germany, however, it turns out late nineteenth century imperial Germany, the prototype of Hitler’s Third Reich, also utilized monopoly imperialism to achieve its geo-political ambitions, albeit on the other side of the world. [continue reading]
Rosie Wild and Eveline Lubbers
Special Branch Files Project
The British state took the threat of Black Power very seriously, both at home and across the Commonwealth. When an international conference on Black Power took place in British Protectorate Bermuda on July 10-13 July 1969, the British government sent a warship full of marines to anchor off the coast in case civil disorder broke out and Special Branch officers attended, submitting a 133pp report afterwards.
Beforehand, the option to ban the entire conference had been discussed up to the level of the PM in the UK. The fact that there was no law to do such thing, and that it would be impossible to enforce a ban, was seen as a minor issue set against the risks of UK military involvement should disturbances occur. [continue reading]
Historians and academics have labelled a new government campaign “tone deaf” and “historically illiterate” for using images of ships used for slavery and colonisation to promote Britain’s maritime sector. The advertisement by the Department for Transport features ships such as fluyts, the East Indiaman and the steamship, which were used between the 16th and 19th centuries to establish the British Empire, transport slaves and indentured labourers across the Atlantic and bring hauls of valuable goods to Britain.
“This is what happens when the historical memory is limited to a narrative in which we simply abolished slavery – it is remarkably tone-deaf, never mind historically illiterate,” said Kim Wagner, historian and author. Britain’s commercial shipping enterprise in this period dismantled a thriving Indian ocean exchange of goods and services between the east and west and replaced it with a system in which trade was primarily beneficial to the western world, historian Vinita Damodaran said. “The trade significantly changed. The British ships were no longer carrying fine muslins and calico to Europe. The primary produce brought over was jute, cotton, the sorts of materials used in the emerging British industrial project.” [continue reading]
On May 7, 1952—in a twist of events that journalist Murray Schumach of the New York Times would later describe as “the strangest episode of the Korean War”—a group of Korean Communist prisoners of war “kidnapped” US camp commander Brigadier General Francis Dodd of the Koje-do POW camp. Located just off the southern coast of South Korea, the island contained the largest US-controlled camp during the Korean War.
POW Joo Tek Woon, who was the spokesman elected by the members of Compound 76, had placed multiple, repeated requests to meet with Dodd, and that afternoon, Dodd finally agreed to meet with Joo. They met at the main gate of the compound, the barbed-wire fence between them. A small group of prisoners of war accompanied Joo, and one of them served as a translator. The list of topics to be discussed was lengthy, ranging from mundane complaints about camp logistics to the larger issue of POW repatriation, which was the last remaining subject of debate at the ceasefire negotiations taking place in the village of Panmunjom. [continue reading]
In 2018, the President of the United States Donald Trump posted a rather enigmatic tweet about“farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers” by the South African government. What initially seemed puzzling was soon everywhere. A few days later, during the former UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s three-day trip to Africa, right-wing MEP and leader of the Brexit Party Nigel Farage also tweeted about the South African situation and the necessity of “Standing up for white people.” Months earlier, far-right media personality Katie Hopkins was briefly detained as she tried to leave South Africa, having spent a short time there producing a film about the treatment of white farmers.
The radical right’s obsession with southern Africa goes back even further. In 2015, the Charleston Post and Courierpublished a photograph of American white supremacist and mass murderer Dylann Roof. In the photo, Roof has two patches on his jacket, one of the flag of apartheid-era South Africa and the other of the flag of Rhodesia. Just last year, during demonstrations in support of far-right activist Tommy Robinson, observers from Hope Note Hate noted the presence of someone wearing a shirt bearing the Rhodesian flag among the crowd supporters. [continue reading]