From Imperial Japan and the Russian Revolution to reading some effing Orwell in the empire, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
As the largest force among the foreign armies that invaded Russia after the 1917 October Revolution, as well as a principal member of the Axis powers during World War II, Imperial Japan’s opposition to Soviet Russia may seem like a foregone conclusion. But it was hardly so. Initially, many in the Japanese government viewed the Russian Revolution favorably, seeing in it similarities to Japan’s 1868 Meiji Restoration, which had put the country on the path to modernization. Only when radical winds began to drift into Korea and China, threatening their colonial rule, did Imperial Japan really embrace anti-communism. Similarly, many Japanese leftists, like the Japanese Communist Party, came to break with the Russians over the latter’s focus on Korea and China.
Jacobin contributor Arvind Dilawar spoke with Tatiana Linkhoeva, author of Revolution Goes East: Imperial Japan and Soviet Communism, about the seemingly contradictory views of Japanese political leaders, military commanders, and even leftists towards the Russian Revolution and Soviet Russia. Their conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. [continue reading]
The US Supreme Court has ruled about half of Oklahoma belongs to Native Americans, in a landmark case that also quashed a child rape conviction. The justices decided 5-4 that an eastern chunk of the state, including its second-biggest city, Tulsa, should be recognised as part of a reservation.
Jimcy McGirt, who was convicted in 1997 of raping a girl, brought the case. He cited the historical claim of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to the land where the assault occurred. Thursday’s decision in McGirt v Oklahoma is seen as one of the most far-reaching cases for Native Americans before the highest US court in decades. The ruling means some tribe members found guilty in state courts for offences committed on the land at issue can now challenge their convictions. [continue reading]
Ms Violet Stoneham rides home from school in a hand-drawn rickshaw, after teaching Twelfth Night to a class of disinterested students. Home is in a narrow lane of decrepit houses that have seen better times, like the grey-haired Ms Stoneham. Born in British India — to an Anglo-Indian father who worked, typically, in the railways — Stoneham’s childhood was spent frolicking, with her siblings, in spacious government bungalows. After Independence, most of her family and friends migrated to Australia, Canada, England. But Ms Stoneham decided to stay behind, hoping to integrate with the Indians and continue life as before. Unfortunately, life was no longer the same. Younger teachers, new cultural values gradually replaced the old order. Writer-director Aparna Sen’s film, 36 Chowringhee Lane, made 40 years ago, captures the tragedy of those who did not “go back home”.
Photographed evocatively by Ashok Mehta, Sen’s directorial debut is a poignant tale of an ageing Anglo-Indian teacher whose life revolved around Shakespeare (even her cat is named Sir Toby after a spirited character from Twelfth Night), tuitions, Christmas carols and tea cakes. Played out by Jennifer Kendal to nuanced perfection, Stoneham’s story is set in Calcutta, 30 years after the British left. A new principal in the school, where she has been earnestly teaching the intricacies of iambic pentameter, demotes her to the lower classes to teach English grammar. It hurts, but Ms Stoneham takes it in her stride and continues with her humdrum, routine life, without revealing the pain within. [continue reading]
Since September 11, 2001, American policy in matters of war has abandoned the restraints in the U.S. Constitution and international law, with grievous results not merely for wrongful victims of war (such as the abused captives in Guantánamo Bay or civilians killed in drone strikes) but also for those whom the laws governing how war is conducted were never devised to protect. In focusing exclusively on harms to abused captives and civilians killed as “collateral damage,” American debate has ignored a wider set of wrongs. These include the death and injury of fighters themselves on both sides, including long-term post-traumatic stress; the fate of populations under increasing surveillance and constant threat of force; and the enormous costs of an “endless war” footing that whole societies must bear. In the American case, these costs come to trillions of dollars.
With rare exceptions, debate has focused in the honorable but wrong place: on making the conduct of war less brutal and more plausibly legal. In the later years of George W. Bush’s administration, the United States sought to make his war on terror more humane while lending it greater legitimacy; the harshest treatments of detainees, notably those fairly considered torture, were eliminated. The ironic result was that the war on terror endured. Endless war was elaborated during the presidency of Barack Obama, with its pivot away from heavy-footprint interventions to light– and no-footprint operations involving armed drones, standoff missiles, and special forces. Surprisingly, the same pattern has continued under President Donald Trump. His rhetoric of brutality and his contradictory promises to bring troops home notwithstanding, Trump has adopted no dramatically new methods while intensifying many of the conflicts he inherited. [continue reading]
Charlotte Lydia Riley
George Orwell has become a meme. The exhortation to ‘read some bloody Orwell’, both ironic and not, can be found all over Twitter. It has become impossible to state that something reminds you of Animal Farm or Nineteen Eighty-Four without it sounding silly, not least because the political right has seized upon them as simple condemnations of socialism. Yet in spite of this memeification, Orwell was a complex writer. In particular, the ways that he writes about empire and imperialism are complicated. When Orwell was writing, empire was on his readers’ minds: in the interwar period, when Britain’s empire was at its largest territorial extent; the Second World War, a moment of unprecedented imperial mobilisation, with massive sacrifices demanded from people across the colonies; and the late 1940s, with Indian decolonisation and partition, as well as British withdrawal from the Palestinian mandate,the beginning of the Mau Mau ‘uprising’ and the Malayan ‘emergency’.
All of Orwell’s works are shaped by his British identity, not only his class (which has been pored over) but his gender and his race, too (which are less commonly acknowledged as interesting). The Road to Wigan Pier, for example, should be read not only as an exploration of poverty in the north, but also as an exploration of poverty within an imperial metropole, suffered by white British people at the top of an imperial hierarchy. And, indeed, his introduction to the book begins with a mediation on imperialism, including his assertions that ‘no modern man, in his heart of hearts, believes that it is right to invade a foreign country and hold the population down by force’ and that the British ‘would fight to the last man sooner than be ruled by Chinamen’: empire, in other words, is unjust, but the racial hierarchies that underpin imperialism are understandable. [continue reading]