This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

A visitor looks at photographs of the Hiroshima bombing survivors. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial museum. Photograph: Dai Kurokawa/EPA

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

From fighting for the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to how we remember in the twenty-first century, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

‘To my last breath’: survivors fight for memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Justin McCurry

As they mark 75 years since their cities were destroyed in an instant, the ageing men and women who bore witness to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are struggling to remind the world of the horror of nuclear weapons. Keiko Ogura was eight years old when the Enola Gay, a US B-29 bomber, dropped a 16-kilotonne nuclear bomb on Hiroshima at 8.15 am on 6 August 1945. An estimated 80,000 of the city’s 350,000 people were killed instantly; by the end of the year, the death toll would rise to 140,000 as survivors succumbed to injuries or illnesses connected to their exposure to radiation.

Ogura, who was playing outside her home when the force of the blast swept her off her feet and knocked her unconscious, is one of a dwindling number of survivors who have made it their life’s work to tell their story. They hope, with increasing desperation, for a world without nuclear weapons. “My father had said that something didn’t feel right that morning and told me not to go to school,” she said. The blast ripped the roof off the house she shared with her parents and two brothers, and destroyed much of the interior. But they had survived. “It was dark and there was absolute silence. I didn’t know what to do except crouch on the ground. All I could hear was the sound of my little brother crying.” [continue reading]

States of Shock

Pankaj Mishra and Adam Shatz
LRB Conversations

Pankaj Mishra talks to Adam Shatz about his latest piece for the LRB, which looks at the ways the US and UK have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, and what those botched responses reveal about the broader failures of Anglo-America.

Their discussion also touches on the recent ‘open debate’ letter to Harper’s, the lingering prevalence of Cold War thinking among Western intellectuals, and the extent to which a Biden administration may or may not bring change. [listen here]

When Fascist Agression in Ethiopia Sparked a Movement of Black Solidarity

Ruth Ben-Ghiat
Washington Post

On August 3, 1935, a day so humid you could taste the air, 25,000 black and white New Yorkers marched down Lenox Avenue in Harlem to protest the plans of fascist Italy to invade Ethiopia. Ethiopia was ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie and was a member of the League of Nations and one of two African nations that had never been colonized. The urgency brought together black workers, religious and pan-African groups, Italian-American leftists and the event.

The Italy-Ethiopia War (October 1935 – May 1936), which was often relegated to the margins of history, brought the world home to America’s black communities. It aroused many people’s feelings of belonging and loyalties that crossed national borders and triggered mass protests. Outside the United States, the war has also prompted many in the black diaspora to engage in anti-racist and anti-fascist struggles. The mass reaction to the invasion of Ethiopia deserves attention at a time when a new generation is protested against racial injustices and authoritarian aggression is increasing. [continue reading]

The Cold War Bunker That Became Home to a Dark-Web Empire

Ed Caesar
New Yorker

n the mid-nineteen-seventies, the West German Army, the Bundeswehr, built a vast underground bunker near the town of Traben-Trarbach. It was five stories deep, had nearly sixty thousand square feet of floor space, and was designed to withstand a nuclear attack. Eighty days’ worth of survival provisions were stored inside, including an emergency power supply and more than a million litres of drinking water. You entered the facility through an air lock; the interior temperature was set to seventy degrees. The walls were concrete, thirty-one inches thick, and some were lined with copper. The rooms were soundproof and transmission-proof. Between 1978 and 2012, the bunker was the headquarters of the Bundeswehr’s meteorological division, and at any one time about three hundred and fifty civilian contractors worked there; most of them focussed on predicting and plotting weather patterns wherever the German military was deployed. New employees often got lost. On each level, the walls were painted a different color, to help people orient themselves—but the bunker was symmetrical, so one side looked much like another. There was no natural light. In winter, workers on day shifts arrived in the dark and left in the dark.

In 2012, the Bundeswehr moved its meteorological division to another site. Germany’s federal real-estate agency, known as BImA, listed the bunker for three hundred and fifty thousand euros. The low price reflected the unusual nature of the property and the expense of maintaining it. The bunker sat beneath a plot of some thirty acres, in a forested area on a hill outside Traben-Trarbach, which is an hour east of the Belgian border. The perimeter of the property was marked by ramparts and a fence, and aboveground the site contained several large structures, including a gatehouse, an office building, a tall aerial with satellite dishes, a helipad, and barracks constructed by the Nazis in 1933. The Bundeswehr had employed twelve men, who worked in shifts around the clock, solely to insure that the bunker was properly ventilated and did not flood. The German government hoped that a technology business, or perhaps a hotel, might want the premises, but there were few prospective buyers. [continue reading]

The global crisis in memory: populism, decolonisation and how we remember in the twenty-first century

Eva Spišiaková, Charles Forsdick, James Mark
Modern Languages Open

Since the 1980s, the idea of ‘coming to terms with the past’, shaped by the values of neoliberal economics and liberal politics, became part of a globally-powerful consensus over how societies should overcome violent and traumatic experiences. In the 2010s, in the context of the global rise of populist nationalisms, political hostility linked to global migration, and increasingly vocal criticisms of a neoliberal order, this consensus was powerfully challenged.

Rather than rejecting memory politics, new political formations have in fact embraced them. The white resentment embodied in the ‘History Wars’ controversy in Australia; legislation such as the Polish ‘Holocaust Bill’; the growing scepticism of African states towards the International Criminal Court; or the rewriting of the histories of Indian independence by Hindu nationalists all reveal the ways in which diverse movements critiqued and reworked previous memory tropes. At the same time, attempts to decolonise western memory have engaged actively with previous manifestations of memory around which apparent consensus had been constructed. Moreover, these various new memory practices increasingly have their own alternative internationalisms too, reaching across or beyond regions in new transnational formations. This collection historicises the growth of the liberal paradigm, and explores the recent populist and decolonial challenges to it across Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia. [continue reading]