From the next shockwave to hit Puerto Rico to why trade couldn’t buy peace, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Kelli María Korducki
Five years after Hurricane María devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017, the Caribbean island archipelago (and United States commonwealth) is reckoning once again with the wrath of a violent storm. On Sunday, Hurricane Fiona left 1.5 million people in Puerto Rico without electricity; now, three days later, less than one-third of those people have had their power restored.
For many Puerto Ricans, both on the islands and abroad, Fiona signifies more than a bleak coincidence of timing. It will almost certainly be a major setback for the nation in its already sluggish recovery from María—a disaster whose death and destruction were exacerbated, many argue, by American political neglect. As Díaz writes, “María was not just a natural disaster; it was a political event that, I believe, is provoking a historic shift.” [continue reading]
William Burr and Peter Kornbluh
National Security Archive
On December 9, 1975, as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger prepared to travel to Moscow for arms control talks, he placed an urgent phone call to Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin in Washington. “I want to talk to you about the signal,” Kissinger told Dobrynin. “That beam you are beaming into our Embassy in Moscow… Maybe you could turn it off until I get there.” Amid diplomatic banter about how the Soviets “could give me a radiation treatment,” Kissinger issued a clear warning: the microwave radiation that the Soviets had been aiming daily at the U.S. Embassy building for over a decade threatened to become a major scandal in U.S.-Soviet relations. “We really are sitting on it here but too many people know about it,” Kissinger said. “We will catch hell unless we can say something is happening” to stop it.
Transcripts of Kissinger’s calls to Dobrynin, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the National Security Archive, are among a special collection of documents posted today on the “Moscow Signal” scandal—recording years of secret diplomacy to press the Soviets to terminate the daily microwave transmissions directed at the U.S. Embassy building. [continue reading]
Since the 19th century, Champaran, the Bhojpuri-speaking region of north Bihar, in the foothills (terai) of the Himalayas, bordering Nepal, was seething with peasant discontent. The collusion of the Bettiah Raj (at the time one of the biggest zamindars of Bihar) with the European indigo planters (Nilaha Sahibs) was the main source of miseryfor the wretched peasants. In the 1860s and in 1907, there were two noticeable waves of resistance by the peasants under the leadership of the local intelligentsia, who mostly spoke in the vernacular.
It was only in April 1917, with the intervention of M.K. Gandhi, that the peasants’ voices were heard by the Raj. The Champaran Satyagraha that Gandhi led has immense significance in the history of India’s anti-colonial struggle. The ‘regional patriotism’ or ‘sub-national nationalism’ of Bihar acquired a pan-Indian nationalist identity in the ongoing anti-colonial struggle. Till then, Bihar’s articulate intelligentsia and elites (mostly English-educated Kayasthas and upper-caste Muslims) had been preoccupied with obtaining statehood for the region, which was then a part of Bengal. This had become a reality in 1912. It was with the Champaran Satyagraha that peasant question became integrated with the national movement. [continue reading]
Newsha Niazmandi was born and raised in Iran and moved to the U.S. when she was 17 years old. In recent days, her thoughts have focused on another young woman who lived in Iran — and whose death has touched a global nerve. Mahsa Amini, 22, died last week after she was detained by Tehran’s morality police, accused of not wearing her hijab properly. Days of street protests in numerous Iranian cities have turned deadly as protesters have burned their headscarves and cut off their hair in defiance of strict dress codes.
“It’s a matter of feminism. Everyone should understand that women are fighting for their freedom,” said Niazmandi, one of hundreds of protesters who gathered outside the Wilshire Federal Building in Westwood on Wednesday night. [continue reading]
“The story of the human race is war,” said Winston Churchill. “Except for brief and precarious interludes, there has never been peace in the world; and before history began, murderous strife was universal and unending.” In recent decades, policymakers and business leaders who attended gatherings at Davos and had the ears of western leaders were inclined to think otherwise. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a near-consensus prevailed among them that peace was the natural condition of the developed world and that globalisation was immune from geopolitical risk.
This confidence extended to a belief that generating prosperity through trade was conducive to democracy in developing countries — a notion that played an important part in the west’s decision to welcome China into the global economy and grant it membership of the World Trade Organization in 2001. There is, of course, a superficial plausibility in a logic that echoes Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, who declared “Let me have men about me that are fat” because he feared the “lean and hungry look” of the murderous Cassius. [continue reading]