History Department, University of Exeter
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From the purposeful violence of Cold War football to new perspecives during the Indonesian Independence War, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
‘Hit the Line Hard’
New York Review
Leo McCarey’s 1952 film, My Son John, perhaps the most well-known of the several extravagantly anti-Communist melodramas engineered by Hollywood studios at the height of McCarthyism, opens with two brothers tossing a football outside their house before Sunday Mass. It’s the eve of their departure for the front in the Korean War, but a third brother, John, is notably absent. He’s fled his hometown for a job in Washington, D.C., with the federal government. But when John, played by the skulky cool, queer-coded Robert Walker, returns for a surprise visit, he’s an object of curiosity and suspicion, embodying the kind of lefty limp-wristed intellectualism his family has been taught, in church and by the press, to exorcise.
John’s boorish father, a hard-drinking Legionnaire, has all but disowned him. “It’s a commie specialty, breaking up homes,” he growls, as if recounting a newsreel (he probably is). But John’s more forgiving mother, Lucille, tends to him hand and foot, desperate to keep him in the fold. Forcing his palm onto a bible, Lucille asks him to swear he isn’t a member of the Communist Party. “The silver cord,” he had earlier told her coldly, “must be severed.” As is always the case in these films, John is revealed to be a Soviet spy. And when his mother, at its climax, pleads for his loyalty, she brandishes a framed photo of her other sons crouched on one knee in shoulder pads and helmets—“a great pair of halfbacks,” says the FBI agent. Lucille points out that John never played football. “I think sometimes it hurt you,” she tells him. [continue reading]
The Long Shadow of the Nazi ‘Kristallnacht’ Fell on the 2002 Violence in Gujarat
The Gujarat riots (February 28–March 1, 2002) have been compared to anti-Jewish pogroms that took place in 1941 in Jedwabne and Radzilow, in Nazi-occupied Poland. I would argue that the Gujarat pogrom, in which the then chief minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist (BJP) government stand accused of being complicit, has more in common with the anti-Jewish pogrom that took place in Nazi Germany on November 9–10, 1938. This incident was popularly called “Kristallnacht” (“Night of Broken Glass”) at the time, referring to the shards of glass from the vandalised Jewish homes, shops and synagogues with which streets in German cities and towns were bestrewn. Later, it came to be called the November Pogrom.
It is well known that proponents of Hindu nationalism openly admire ideas of racial purity and homogeneity that characterised European fascism and Nazism. A central ideal of the latter was the national community or Volksgemeinschaft, based on a perceived racial kinship of the so-called Aryans. In order to maintain the “racial purity” of this “Aryan” community, the Semites, who supposedly represented an “impure” racial type, needed to be “cleansed” from its body politic. In Gujarat, the pogrom of 2002 represented a concerted effort by the Hindu nationalists to establish a shuddh (pure) Gujarat, for which “sacrificing” elements which were perceived to be “polluting” and “impure” was considered necessary. [continue reading]
Geneva museum returns Native American sacred objects
The museum said this first restitution of sacred objects was part of a wider policy to give back cultural artefacts stolen in colonial times. “This is a historic day for the museum, and also because the City of Geneva has formally recognised that the Haudenosaunee Nation is the owner of these objects,” said MEG director Carine Ayélé Durand. The mask and rattle, given to a Geneva museum in 1825 by Swiss historian and politician Amédéé-Pierre-Jules Pictet de Sergy, have been in the MEG’s collection for 200 years.
The museum, which has extensive collections from the four corners of the world, has in recent years embarked on a policy of inviting and cooperating with traditional communities and identifying the objects that could be returned to them. It says it will give priority to returning human remains, funeral artefacts and sacred objects. [continue reading]
The Jupiter Missiles and the Endgame of the Cuban Missile Crisis, 60 Years Ago
William Burr & Leopoldo Nuti
National Security Archive
Harvard professor and future Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger discussed the U.S. withdrawal of Jupiter intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) from Italy during January 1963 talks with top Italian officials and diplomats, including Prime Minister Amintore Fanfani and President Antonio Segni, according to a declassified telegram from the U.S. Embassy in Rome. Segni felt some “pique” that the decision had been made at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and that three months had passed before his government learned about it. According to Kissinger, “almost everyone” he talked to in Rome believed that there had been a U.S.-Soviet “agreement” on the Jupiter withdrawal, with some of them pointing to an April 1 “deadline” for beginning the removals as an important clue.
Kissinger and his Italian interlocutors had no inside knowledge of White House policymaking but they were touching on one of the biggest secrets of the Cuban Missile Crisis: the undisclosed deal between President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in which the U.S. would remove Jupiter missiles in Turkey (and, by extension, the Jupiters in Italy) as part of the agreement for the removal of Soviet missiles in Cuba. [continue reading]
Local Perspectives and Dynamics during the Indonesian Independence War, 1945-49
What was the Indonesian revolution (1945-1949) like as a lived experience? Anne van Mourik speaks with historians Abdul Wahid, Yulianti and Roel Frakking about their new book Revolutionary Worlds: Local Perspectives and Dynamics during the Indonesian Independence War, 1945-49 (Amsterdam University Press). With the book, Indonesian and Dutch researchers bring together two historiographical traditions to shed light on the complexities of the revolutionary war. What did this collaborative project yield? And what does it mean that the book’s primary focus lies with the period between 1945 and 1950? What stories emerge when the consequences of the revolution for different communities locally are centered? [listen here]
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