History Department, University of Exeter
From fascism’s liberal admirers to how a defender of American Empire became a dissenter, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Fascism’s liberal admirers
The extraordinary events that befell British politics over the course of September and October 2022 will be subject to considerable historical interest. Liz Truss’s record as Britain’s shortest-ever serving prime minister gives the crisis a whiff of tragedy in retrospect, though the unforced error of Kwasi Kwarteng’s infamous “mini-Budget” perhaps marks it out more for its comedy.
But in other ways, Britain witnessed a succession of more familiar political steps. In sacking Tom Scholar, permanent secretary to the Treasury, and sidelining the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), Kwarteng hoped to override economic expertise (which he believed was to blame for Britain’s sluggish economic performance) with nothing but his own political authority. In doing so, he united economic technocrats across the planet against him: the International Monetary Fund, the US secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, George Osborne and the Bank of England were among the more prominent voices warning of grave consequences. Within a month, Kwarteng and Truss were gone, the “mini-Budget” was scrapped, and a “sensible” team of Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt was in charge, allied to the now re-credited OBR and Bank of England. Talk turned immediately to austerity. [continue reading]
Monuments to the Unthinkable
The first memorials to the Holocaust were the bodies in concentration camps. In January 1945, Soviet forces liberated Auschwitz, in southern Poland. As the German forces retreated, officers at Buchenwald, a camp in central Germany, crammed 4,480 prisoners into some 40 railcars in an effort to hide them from the Allies. They sent the train south to yet another camp: Dachau. Only a fifth of the prisoners survived the three-week journey.
When Dachau was liberated in April and American forces came upon the railcars near the camp, they found corpses packed on top of one another. Soldiers turned their heads and covered their noses as the sight and smell of the bodies washed over them. They vomited; they cried. Dachau was about 10 miles northwest of Munich, and was the first concentration camp built by the Nazi regime. It had operated as a training center for SS guards and served as the prototype for other camps. Its prisoners were subjected to hard labor, corporal punishment, and torturous medical experiments. They were given barely any food; they died from disease and malnutrition, or they were executed. In Dachau’s 12 years of existence, approximately 41,500 people had been killed there and in its subcamps. Many were burned in the crematorium or buried, but thousands of corpses remained aboveground. [continue reading]
Is the IMF fit for purpose?
ast summer, after months of unusually heavy monsoon rains, and temperatures that approached the limits of human survivability, Pakistan – home to thousands of melting Himalayan glaciers – experienced some of the worst floods in its history. The most extensive destruction was in the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan, but some estimated that up to a third of the country was submerged. The floods killed more than 1,700 people and displaced a further 32 million – more than the entire population of Australia. Some of the country’s most fertile agricultural areas became giant lakes, drowning livestock and destroying crops and infrastructure. The cost of the disaster now runs to tens of billions of dollars.
In late August, as the scale of this catastrophe was becoming clear, the Pakistani government was trying to avert a second disaster. It was finally reaching a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to avoid missing payment on its foreign debt. Without this agreement, Pakistan would likely have been declared in default – an event that can spark a recession, weaken a country’s long-term growth, and make it more difficult to borrow at affordable rates in the future. The terms of the deal were painful: the government was offered a $1.17bn IMF bailout only after it demonstrated a real commitment to undertaking unpopular austerity policies, such as slashing energy subsidies. But the recent fate of another south Asian country appeared to show what happens if you put off the IMF for too long. Only weeks before, the Sri Lankan government, shortly after its own default – and after months of refusing to implement IMF-demanded reforms – was overthrown in a popular uprising. [continue reading]
There Is No “Migrant Crisis”
I grew up on the short story “Toba Tek Singh,” an Urdu satire on the Partition. While the story’s protagonist is a Sikh man, for whom the story is named, the character that stuck with me most was an unnamed man in a mental health facility in Lahore. Refusing to take part in the partitioning of patients between India and Pakistan, he climbed onto a tree and proclaimed, “I do not want to live in either India or Pakistan. I am going to make my home here in this tree.”
The Partition—the scars of which reverberate today in brahiminical Hindutva fascism, the genocidal Indian occupation of Kashmir, mass protests of debt-ridden farmers, and counterinsurgency in Panjab—displaced at least 15 million people and killed at least one million across the newly drawn borders. My grandfather’s own family was displaced from their village, after which he started working the passenger and cargo trains that transported up to 5,000 refugees a day. He later recounted stories of torture, kidnappings, burnings, rapes, and massacres. In the afterlife of this carnage, I found the seemingly mad man on the tree marvelously rebellious and utterly lucid. [continue reading]
How a Defender of American Empire Became a Dissenter
When Lyle Jeremy Rubin enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in the mid-2000s, he possessed an unwavering commitment to America’s democratizing mission. As a young man, he was attracted to the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party and believed in the War on Terror as a moral project. In his own words, he embraced “the inevitability of capitalism, the primacy of the United States and the naturalness of a special relationship between the U.S. and the Jewish state.” And his decision to join the Marines was inseparable from a strict code of manhood that military service would bolster.
Yet by the time he left the Marines in 2011, after having served in Afghanistan, Rubin’s thought underwent a radical ideological reversal. His experience in the Marines forced him to reckon with the violent realities of American military imperialism, his own masculine excesses, and the racial and class hierarchies of the US military machine. Rubin’s new memoir, Pain Is Weakness Leaving the Body: A Marine’s Unbecoming, explains how he became a defender turned dissenter of the American empire. [continue reading]
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