This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Thomas Sankara, president of Burkina Faso, with French president François Mitterrand. Ouagadougou. November 1986. Daniel Janin/AFP/Getty Images.

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

From 9/11’s lost news coverage to France’s brutal post-colonial legacy in West Africa, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Some of the most iconic 9/11 news coverage is lost. Blame Adobe Flash

Clare Duffy and Kerry Flynn

Journalism is often considered the first draft of history, but what happens when that draft is written on a software program that becomes obsolete?Adobe ending support for Flash — its once ubiquitous multimedia content player — last year meant that some of the news coverage of the September 11th attacks and other major events from the early days of online journalism are no longer accessible. For example, The Washington Post and ABC News both have broken experiences within their September 11th coverage, viewable in the Internet Archive. CNN’s online coverage of September 11th also has been impacted by the end of Flash.

That means what was once an interactive explainer of how the planes hit the World Trade Center or a visually-rich story on where some survivors of the attacks are now, at best, a non-functioning still image, or at worst, a gray box informing readers that “Adobe Flash player is no longer supported.” [continue reading]

The Asia-Pacific War in Japan’s New Moral Education Textbooks

Felix Spremberg
Asia-Pacific Journal

By upgrading moral education to a formal school subject in elementary schools (2018) and junior high schools (2019) the Abe administration and its allies in the Japanese establishment1 reached an important milestone in realizing their vision of Japan as a “beautiful country” (utsukushii kuni). In their view, this “beautification” will be achieved by replacing the postwar legal order with a semiauthoritarian constitution (Repeta 2013) and by overcoming what they deem a “masochistic view of history” (jigyaku shikan). They blame the latter for a lack of self-confidence among Japanese youth which leads to social pathologies such as bullying and child suicide (Abe 2007). This is the rationale behind the conservatives’ relentless pursuit of educational reform and support for a revisionist understanding of the Asia-Pacific War.

While rewriting history to accommodate new findings and research interests is a normal process, historical revisionism re-interprets history from a decidedly political logic and denies any knowledge that does not fit pre-defined aims (Richter 2008; 47; Saaler 2005, 23–25). In the Japanese case these aims are the strengthening of national pride and allegiance to the state. To attain this, revisionists construct a “‘bright’ narrative” (Saaler 2005, 24) of Japanese history, including the Asia-Pacific War. They claim that the war was a glorious struggle for Asian liberation and omit the dark sides of Japanese colonial rule as well as the war crimes committed by the Japanese military in Nanjing, Okinawa and elsewhere. Obviously, revisionist ideas overlap considerably with nationalist and conservative thought, as well as with nihonjinron – a bundle of theories revolving around the idea of Japanese uniqueness and superiority (Saaler 2005, 24). An important strategy of revisionists is to utilize a deep-rooted ‘victim consciousness’ with respect to the war – as symbolized by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the air-raids on Tokyo and other major cities – to push aside ‘dark memories’ thereby enabling the ‘bright narrative’ of a just war (cf. Takahashi 2004). Following this logic, there is a striking absence of the ‘Asian others’ in revisionist narratives (Richter 2011, 197). [continue reading]

Displaced residents

Robbie Aitken

In July 1945 Edward Toles, war correspondent for the Afro-American newspaper “Chicago Defender”, was astonished when he met black residents on the streets of war-torn Berlin. Among those he interviewed was the artist Josie Allen, who spoke about her experiences with life in Nazi Germany: “It was good in Berlin until Hitler came … after Hitler came, the blacks gradually disappeared from view … many came to concentration camps and never returned. «Josie’s eldest brother Ferdinand Allen was one of those who did not return. He was murdered by the Nazis in May 1941. Another black German, Martha Ndumbe, died in 1945 in the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp. To remember the lives of these two Black Holocaust victims,

In the meantime, over 75,000 stumbling blocks have been laid across Europe to commemorate the victims of the Nazi regime.After those for the Tanzanian Bayume Mohamed Husen in Berlin and the South African Hagar Martin Brown in Frankfurt, a total of four black victims will be honored with the stumbling blocks for Ferdinand and Martha. The small number indicates the fact that the experiences of Black people have been almost completely forgotten in the public and historical memory of the Third Reich. This is the result of several complex causes: the extent of the Nazi atrocities, the small size of the black population in Germany before 1945, a lack of archival documentation and the persistent inability to deal constructively with Germany’s colonial past – one consequence of this is that the fact that there was ever a black population in Germany. [continue reading]

Humanity Forum on New Histories of the Cold War

Timothy Nunan

Humanity co-editor Timothy Nunan invited Susan Colbourn, Reem Abou-El-Fadl, and Stella Krepp to take part in a two-part discussion of Paul Thomas Chamberlin’s The Cold War’s Killing Fields, Lorenz M. Lüthi’s Cold Wars, and Kristina Spohr’s Post Wall, Post Square. In order to open the discussion, Nunan invited the forum participants to submit a short reflection with their initial reactions to the books. These reactions will then serve as the foundation for the second part of the discussion, namely an audio discussion that will be recorded and shared on our blog later this winter. Reproduced below are the initial short reflections from Colbourn, El-Fadl, Krepp, and Nunan. [continue reading]

Enemies of Progress

Howard W. French
New York Review of Books

Sometime in late 1983 or very early 1984, I traveled to Ouagadougou, the capital of a West African country then called Upper Volta, to get a sense of a man whose recent rise to power was already a sensation throughout the continent. I was an inexperienced reporter—to be truthful, not even a full-fledged journalist yet. At the age of thirty-three, almost a decade older than me, Thomas Sankara had just become president of a landlocked, drought-afflicted country that had gained independence from France in 1960 and remained one of the world’s poorest places and the near-perfect definition of a political backwater.

I met Sankara by happy accident shortly after arriving in Ouagadougou by train from Abidjan, in Ivory Coast, where I lived. Somehow I had gotten word of a public meeting he was holding in a quiet neighborhood in the city, and made it there in time to find him sitting in a tree-shaded spot and engaging in relaxed conversation with a group of ordinary citizens. As the lone foreigner present, and a quite tall one at that, I soon caught Sankara’s eye. He asked me to introduce myself, and I said that I was a reporter from the United States. Sankara inquired what America made of his country’s new revolution, causing me to stumble awkwardly through an unprepared answer. Then, smiling, he urged me to sit down and, speaking as much to the murmuring crowd as to me, said that as a foreign “friend,” I was welcome. [continue reading]