To the consternation of the peace-loving Dutch public, the country was confronted in the 1970s with a home-grown terrorist movement that was directly rooted in the decolonization of Indonesia. Additionally, although the perpetrators of the violence had political goals, they were also at war with the Dutch collective refusal to remember decolonization. As such they were battling against widespread unremembering. Continue reading “A Moluccan Victory in a Dutch Court”→
Andrew Thompson Director, Centre for Imperial & Global History University of Exeter
Humanitarianism developed at the intersection of Decolonization, the Cold War, and new & accelerating forms of Globalization. Decolonisation was about much more than the ending of colonial relationships: what was at stake was the dismantling of an entire global order: an old world of imperial states was replaced by a new world of nation states and this ushered in new patterns of cultural, political and economic relations. In the existential struggle that was the Cold War, the control of overseas territory mattered intensely to each side’s sense of security and power.
Capitalist West and socialist East competed to convince nearly and newly independent African and Asian states to adopt their models of humanitarian and development aid. As a result it became more difficult to distinguish aid given to further state interests from that given according to recipient needs. Globalisation meanwhile expanded the range of voices to which humanitarians had to listen while radically differentiating them. Aid agencies intensified their use of the international media, yet were exposed to greater pressures from their donor states and publics.
Together these 3 geopolitical forces − Decolonization, the Cold War, & Globalization − raised far-reaching questions about the relationship of international organizations and NGOs to state power; the basis upon which humanitarian needs were identified and prioritized; and the interaction of humanitarians with non-state armed groups. Continue reading “Debating the History of Humanitarianism”→
Martin Thomas’s path-breaking book Fight or Flight: Britain, France, and their Roads from Empire tells how the world’s two largest colonial empires disintegrated dramatically after the Second World War. Although shattered by war, in 1945 Britain and France still controlled the world’s two largest colonial empires, with imperial territories stretched over four continents. And they appeared determined to keep them: the roll-call of British and French politicians, soldiers, settlers and writers who promised in word and print at this time to defend their colonial possessions at all costs is a long one. Yet, within twenty years both empires had almost completely disappeared.
The collapse was cataclysmic. Peaceable ‘transfers of power’ were eclipsed by episodes of territorial partition and mass violence whose bitter aftermath still lingers. Hundreds of millions across four continents were caught up in the biggest reconfiguration of the international system ever seen.
In this new Talking Empire podcast Professor Thomas talks about the book with Professor Richard Toye.
Stuart Mole Mr. Mole is a PhD Student at the University of Exeter. He was Special Assistant to the Secretary-General (1984-1990), Director of the Secretary-General’s Office (1990-2000), and Director General of the Royal Commonwealth Society (2000-2009).
Nowadays, Sir Shridath ‘Sonny’ Ramphal – lawyer and international diplomat – is well settled into retirement, though still a giant figure in his native Caribbean and still able to stir the memories of older generations who remember his boundless activism on the world stage.
From 1975 to 1990 he was the longest-serving Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, and for six of those years I was lucky enough to be his Special Assistant. It was an exhilarating time, now given new immediacy by the recent publication of his memoir Glimpses of a Global Life(2014).
This weighty and enthralling record demonstrates a contribution to international affairs which was multi-faceted and never less than exceptional. He served on a string of international commissions, including Brandt, on development and the North-South divide; Bruntland, pioneering the notion of sustainable development; and Palme, on peace and international security. There were other issues where his intellectual leadership and courage stood out. He was among the first to warn Africa and the world of HIV/AIDS – and among the first to speak of sea-level rise and climate change, many decades before such talk became common currency.
But perhaps he is best remembered for his titanic struggle against racism in Southern Africa – in the eventual vanquishing of white minority rule in Rhodesia and, more than a decade later, in helping bring to an end apartheid in South Africa. Continue reading “Sonny Ramphal’s Global Life”→
Introduction by Christopher Goscha, Université du Québec à Montréal
One thought alone preoccupies the submerged mind of Empire: how not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era. By day it pursues its enemies. It is cunning and ruthless, it sends its bloodhounds everywhere. By night it feeds on images of disaster: the sack of cites, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation.
In his Nobel prize-winning novel, Waiting for the Barbarians, J.M. Coetzee masterfully describes how the agents and members of empire struggle incessantly against the imperial state’s demise by creating a constant state of fear against barbarian attack. It is not enough to rule. The imperial state needs an enemy. It then marches the army into the borderlands to attack the nomads before they can descend upon the empire. The deployment of the army, the use of torture, and the suspension of rule of law are necessary evils. The preservation of civilization and of the white race depends on it. Empire simply cannot fathom its own end. And yet, throughout his novel, Coetzee has his borderland administrator remind us that all empires must one day perish. Imperial time, the Magistrate whispers ever so seditiously in our unsuspecting ears, is not universal: “We have been here more than a hundred years, we have reclaimed land from the desert and built irrigation works and planted fields and built solid homes and put a wall around our town, but they still think of us as visitors, transients.” Driven almost mad by the failed military campaign against the barbarians he has come to admire, the Magistrate finally admits that he “wanted to live outside the history that Empire imposes on its subjects, even its lost subjects. I never wished it for the barbarians that they should have the history of Empire laid upon them.” Our tortured colonial administrator had dared to imagine decolonization from the inside.
In the comparative study under review here, Fight or Flight, the talented and prolific British historian Martin Thomas provides an in-depth account of how and why the French and the British tried to hold on to their empires against all odds but in the end had to let go. Sometimes, Thomas tells us, the colonizers chose to cut their losses and get out in order to focus on other parts of the empire. It was a question of preservation. On other occasions, Thomas counters, they went to war to hold on to their prize possessions. In both cases, it –what we now call decolonization – was a messy, complicated, unpredictable, and terribly bloody business. There was no roadmap for ending empires because, at least in the immediate wake of World War II, neither the French nor the British decision-makers could fathom that imperial time was perhaps not universal.
Nor could they imagine that the ‘barbarians’ were thinking of historical time in different terms and were willing to fight to force that change upon their colonizers. While Thomas’s comparison turns on the French and British imperial endgames, he successfully weaves in the stories of the Africans and Asians. For many colonial nationalists, Thomas reminds us, decolonization did not magically begin in the wake of World War II; but emerged in many colonial minds as the only response to failed reformist promises. Nicholas White is right to suggest that Thomas is on to something big by suggesting that the colonial crisis that coalesced in the 1930s was as important as anything that came after ‘1945.’ Some chose communism, like Ho Chi Minh, the future father of Vietnam, and Thomas shows how that pre-WWII communist connection would differentiate the French war of decolonization in Indochina from other ‘fight experiences’ in French Algeria and British Malaya. Continue reading “Roundtable Review of Martin Thomas’s ‘Fight or Flight’”→
Last month I had the pleasure of participating in a joint workshop staged by the AHRC Care for the Future and Labex: Passes Dans le Present research clusters at the Royaumont Foundation near Paris. The two days showcased a range of projects assessing how study of the past can inform contemporary and future policy-making and cultural debates- from the use of colonial heroes in modern Africa, to how digitisation is reshaping understanding of museums, and the links between modern and historical anti-slavery movements.
Daniel Foliard Assistant Professor, Paris Ouest-Nanterre la Défense University
In a recent interview, George Wolinski (1934-2015), one of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists killed in the Paris terrorist attacks on January 7, 2015, had claimed his magazine’s work was the legacy of L’Assiette au Beurre, an innovative satirical weekly published in France between 1901 and 1912.
Both stylistically and politically, the two periodicals, separated by more than a century, could also claim an affiliation with a long French tradition of dissent. Accordingly, although Charlie Hebdo is now known around the globe for its unmediated satire on religions, we should not overlook its position in the longer history of French anti-imperialism. Continue reading “Charlie Hebdo’s Anti-Imperialist Roots”→
Fredrik Petersson Åbo Akademi University Russian State University for the Humanities (RGGU), Moscow
In 1927, the “First International Congress against Imperialism and Colonialism” convened in Brussels at Palais d’Egmont. The event celebrated the establishment of the League against Imperialism, and as the congress reached its crescendo, Willi Münzenberg, the German communist and General Secretary of International Arbeiterhilfe (IAH), declared that this was “neither the end, nor the beginning of a new powerful movement”. Nearly 28 years later, amid the aftermath of the brutality of the Second World War, Münzenberg’s anti-colonial vision was revitalized at the Afro-Asian conference in Bandung, Indonesia.
In the 1955 Bandung Conference’s opening address, Achmed Sukarno, the Indonesian president, declared to the leaders of the twenty-nine countries in attendance: “I recognise that we are gathered here today as a result of sacrifices. . . . I recall in this connection the Conference of the ‘League against Imperialism and Colonialism’ which was held in Brussels almost thirty years ago.” Separated by many decades and vast distance, these two events illustrate why a global history of transnational anti-colonial movements in the 20th century cannot be fixed around a particular moment in time and space – rather, it is a history enacted in radical spaces in a changing world. Continue reading “Prelude to Bandung: The Interwar Origins of Anti-Colonialism”→
In April 1955, Archbishop Makarios III—head of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus—arrived at the airport in Bandung, Indonesia to little fanfare. The real excitement, in the form of the first Asian-African Conference, was already underway. Representatives from twenty-nine newly independent African and Asian states attended the Bandung Conference. Many of the major personalities of what would later become known as the “Third World” and the Non-Aligned Movement—such as India’s Jawaharlal Nehru and Egyptian President Gamal Adbel Nasser—dominated the proceedings. Attendees straddled both sides of the Cold War divide, and tensions between the political Left and Right emerged as a key topic of discussion at the conference. The other major point of discussion was colonialism. It was this topic that most concerned Archbishop Makarios.
But Makarios was not from the “Third World,” nor did he represent a newly independent state. He was the only European leader to attend the conference and Cyprus was the only colony represented. Besides, Makarios and his fellow Greek-Cypriot anticolonial nationalists did not seek independence at all, but rather the union of Cyprus with Greece—an idea called enosis. This desire for enosis drew significant support from the conservative yet politically-active Greek Orthodox clergy, which colonial officials viewed as an unlikely group of revolutionaries. As one scholar has noted, “that such a political movement was led by an Archbishop, and backed by priests, was viewed in many British circles . . . as little short of weird.”
Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) was a psychiatrist, intellectual and revolutionary. Born in the French Caribbean colony of Martinique, Fanon spent significant periods of his life in France and, crucially, Algeria. There he became an active member of the Front de Libération Nationale that fought, with ultimate success, against French rule. His most famous work The Wretched of the Earth, published shortly before his death from leukaemia, is a classic of decolonization literature. As Jean-Paul Sartre put it in his preface: Continue reading “What’s So Shocking about the Wretched of the Earth?”→
Mathilde von Bülow Lecturer in International and Imperial history, University of Nottingham
Today, Germany’s Mannschaft will face Algeria’s Fennecs at Porto Alegre, after both teams made it through the group stage of the FIFA World Cup. Though it has yet to be played, the match is already being hailed as an historic, even epic, event. Why? Because it represents the first time the Algerian squad has progressed to the final sixteen at a World Cup. Its larger symbolism, however, is rooted in a longstanding Algerian resistance to French colonialism, which underpinned the secret history of Algerian-German football relations. Continue reading “The Secret History Behind Today’s Algeria-Germany #WorldCup Match”→
There has long been agreement among historians of Algeria’s violent decolonization that particular massacres and, more particularly, the retributions they provoked, decisively altered the nature of the conflict. Massacre, it is averred, changed the cultural codes, the military rules, and the permissible limits to mass violence within Algeria’s population and between French security forces and local insurgents.
Why this should be the case remains harder to explain. The demonstrative horror of mass killing intentionally shrinks the middle ground. It destroys the prospects for compromise, denying political and personal space to the otherwise non-committal. Meant to polarize, its violence signifies the ultimate rhetoric of shock. Little wonder that historians of Algeria’s war concur that massacres served as decisive conflict escalators, whether strategically, symbolically, or both. Continue reading “Rhetoric of Massacre and Reprisal in Algeria’s War of Independence”→
A new book by the Centre’s Professor Martin Thomas shows how Britain’s impending withdrawal from Afghanistan and France’s recent dispatch of troops to the troubled Central African Republic are but the latest indicators of a long-standing pattern of decolonisation.
From the surprising American support for globalization and remembering the life of an influential U.S. imperial historian, to the fascinating legacies of Dien Bien Phu and the American war in Vietnam. Here are this week’s top picks in imperial & global history.
New WSJ/NBC news polls provide what for some might seem to be contradictory opinions regarding how Americans see their country engaging with the globe.
The studies show Americans have consistently opposed military interventionism since 2003. Also, whereas in September 2001 only 14% of respondents felt the United States should become less active in world affairs, the number has skyrocketed to 47% in April 2014.
Dr. Holt explores the crucial role of the short-lived Douglas-Home Government (1963-64) upon Cold War relations and British decolonization. With the 2015 general elections fast approaching, the story of Douglas-Home also proffers an illustrative historical example of how an impending poll can affect foreign policy.
Last month marked the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). Established under Security Council Resolution 186 of 4 March 1964, the force was tasked with preventing further violence between Cyprus’s Greek and Turkish communities in the aftermath of 1963’s ‘Bloody Christmas’. Still in place today, UNFICYP has become one of the longest running UN peacekeeping missions, and it owed much to the diplomacy of the British government of Sir Alec Douglas-Home. It is also just one of many episodes highlighting the significance of Douglas-Home’s short-lived and oft-overlooked administration within the larger histories of Cold War relations and British decolonization. Continue reading “British Foreign Policy in the Shadow of a General Election: The Douglas-Home Government”→
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