This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Orangemen marching in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1922. Photograph: Print Collector/Getty Images

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

From opening secret Northern Ireland files to undoing the myth of Australia’s peaceful settlement, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Historians call for opening of secret Northern Ireland files to mark centenary

Ben Quinn

Secret archives concerning some of the most controversial episodes from the inception of Northern Ireland could be opened amid pressure from historians advising on its centenary commemorations. They include an archive dedicated to the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) – a quasi-military and overwhelmingly Protestant reserve police force known as the “B Specials” – and files potentially shedding light on their involvement in atrocities against the Catholic population.

Pressure for the release of these files and others held back due to security and other concerns has come from the Centenary Historical Advisory Panel, a group of eminent academics advising the UK government on marking the 100-year anniversary of the creation of Northern Ireland on 3 May. [continue reading]

Cambodians Demand Apology for Khmer Rouge Images With Smiling Faces

Seth Mydans
New York Times

Hundreds of stark black-and-white portraits of terrified people are displayed on large panels in Tuol Sleng, the former Cambodian prison that is now a museum. The portraits stand as a visual symbol of a genocide: The subjects were photographed before they were tortured and put to death under the Khmer Rouge, the fanatical communist regime that, from 1975 to 1979, caused the deaths of at least 1.7 million Cambodians.

Matt Loughrey, an Irish artist who runs a business colorizing old photographs, recently colorized versions of the same portraits found in the prison. In some cases, he altered the images to put smiles on the victims’ faces. In an interview with Mr. Loughrey published last Friday, Vice Media said the colorization was intended to “humanize the tragedy.” Vice’s publication of the doctored photos caused an outcry from Cambodians worldwide who saw them as a trivialization and desecration of their national tragedy. Vice has since removed the article, but many Cambodians remain shocked by Mr. Loughrey’s treatment of the portraits and have called for an apology. [continue reading]

CIA Assassination Plot Targeted Cuba’s Raul Castro

Peter Kornbluh
National Security Archive

In the earliest known CIA assassination plot against leaders of the Cuban revolution, high agency officials offered the pilot of a plane carrying Raul Castro from Prague to Havana “payment after successful completion of ten thousand dollars” to “incur risks in arranging accident” during the flight, according to formally TOP SECRET documents posted today by the National Security Archive. The pilot, who the CIA had earlier recruited as an intelligence asset in Cuba, “asked for assurance that in event of his [own] death the U.S. would see that his two sons were given a college education.” “This assurance was given,” his CIA handler in Havana, William J. Murray, reported.

According to TOP SECRET cables between the CIA headquarters and the CIA Havana station, and debriefings Murray later provided on “questionable activities,” the plot quickly evolved after the Cuban pilot, Jose Raul Martinez, advised Murray that he had been selected to fly a chartered Cubana Airlines plane to Prague to pick up Raul Castro and other high-ranking Cuban leaders on July 21, 1960. When Murray informed his superiors at Langley headquarters, as he later told the Rockefeller Commission on the CIA, “headquarters cabled back that it was considering the possibility of a fatal accident and asked whether the pilot would be interested.” [continue reading]

Does Berlin need a sex slave statue?

Timothy Ryback
Financial Times

In February 2020, when Nataly Jung-Hwa Han, chair of Berlin’s Korea Society, was granted a one-year permit to install a bronze statue of a “comfort woman” — a euphemism for second world war-era sex slaves to the Japanese army — it seemed like a good fit for the city.

The German capital blends its multi-kulti present seamlessly with its nightmare past. A remnant of the Berlin Wall, where Germans once shot Germans trying to escape from Germany to Germany, is now the East Side Gallery, a mile-long stretch of brightly painted murals. City sidewalks glint with an estimated 9,000 Stolpersteine, or “stumbling stones”, small brass plaques placed in front of former residences of Holocaust victims. A statue of a “comfort woman”, so Han assumed, provided an opportunity to enhance diversity, condemn atrocity and bring a bit of gender balance to a male-dominated commemorative landscape. [continue reading]

The ‘frontier wars’: Undoing the myth of the peaceful settlement of Australia

Lynette Russell

In February, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese told Parliament that an Australian government had yet to acknowledge the nation’s true history. The section about the nationwide killing of Indigenous people by European invaders was usually missing. “We have all failed,” Albanese said. “Truth must fill the holes of our national memory.”

The Aboriginal people who died at the hands of the settlers should be recognised, he said. “They, too, died for their loved ones. They, too, died for their Country. We must remember them, just as we remember those who fought more recent conflicts.” Albanese also confirmed his support for the Makarrata Commission, part of the Uluru Statement of the Heart, released in May 2017 by the First Nations National Constitutional Convention. A Makarrata Commission would tell the truth about how Australia was colonised, including the massacres of Indigenous people that took place all over the continent. [continue reading]