Paul Doolan Zurich International School and the University of Konstanz
Last month the academic year commenced at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) with speakers celebrating diversity and internationalism. Ironically, the audience in the auditorium was almost entirely white. In Amsterdam the majority of school age children come from migrant backgrounds, yet the university has an overwhelmingly white faculty that lectures to an overwhelmingly white student body. Most remarkable is the widely held attitude that this is not a problem.
As a historian interested in the roots of Eurocentrism and the legacies of imperialism, I would suggest that such an attitude is linked to the failure in teaching imperial history in the Netherlands. Through eight decades since the eviction of the Dutch from Indonesia, Dutch historians have consistently abdicated their responsibility by refusing to properly teach the public about the nature of Dutch rule in the former Dutch East Indies and, in particular, the nature of Dutch warmaking during the final years of the Asian colony, 1945-1949.Continue reading “Decolonizing Dutch History”→
Dr. Jamie Miller’s new book, An African Volk: The Apartheid Regime and Its Search for Survival (Oxford University Press, 2016), is an ambitious new international history of 1970s apartheid South Africa. In it, he makes sense of the many domestic and foreign political, economic, and ideological forces at work in South Africa at the time: decolonization and European imperialism; economic development and cultural globalization; nationalism and anti-communism; Afrikanerdom and African nationalism; white supremacy and postcolonial rights agendas; local politics and the Cold War in the global south. Based on newly declassified documents and oral histories in multiple languages on three continents, Miller gets inside the “official mind” of South Africa’s apartheid regime in Pretoria and uncovers the ways in which these myriad forces found their complements and contradictions.
Miller, having earned his doctorate from the University of Cambridge in November 2013, has been a Fox Predoctoral International Fellow at Yale University, a Visiting Assistant Professor at Quinnipiac University, and a Postdoctoral Fellow at both Cornell and Pittsburgh Universities. He has published articles in the Journal of African History, the Journal of Cold War Studies, and Cold War History. His work has also appeared in the London Review of Books and the Imperial & Global Forum, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @JamieMiller85.
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”→
The year 2015 represents a major anniversary for the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement: 50 years ago, its “Fundamental Principles” have been proclaimed at its XXth International Conference in Vienna. The aim of this conference is to reflect on how these principles have influenced – and been influenced by − the broader humanitarian sector. What can be learnt about the Principles from the rich history of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the wider humanitarian sector, that may in turn provide insights into current realities and act as a guide for the future?
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.
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’”→