WWI’s message for us about trade wars

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

Reflecting upon the centenary of Armistice Day last Sunday, an article in the Business Standard (India) explores the relationship between economic conflict and the “War to end all wars,” featuring Prof. Biswajit Dhar (Jawaharlal Nehru University) and myself. Such reflections become even more timely in light of the growing speculation just this past month from former US Treasury Secretary Henry PaulsonBloomberg’Shawn Donnan and Kevin Hamlin, and the Wall Street Journal’James Mackintosh that the US trade war with China could turn into a new cold war, what Paulson calls an “Economic Iron Curtain.” From the Business Standard:

A hundred years ago from today, the ‘War to end all wars’ came to a close, leaving in its wake 19 million dead and 23 million wounded. There were many culprits, including economic nationalism, but only one victim — humanity, which was exposed to the horror of industrial warfare in those grim, meat-grinding trenches, only to face the same calamity again, magnified manifold, between 1939 and 1945 (Over 60 million people were killed in World War II). Are we seeing the economic drivers of that first great war re-emerge in today’s world of growing protectionism and trade wars?

In a 2016 report, Deutsche Asset Management Chief Global Economist Josh Feinman writes that “we’ve seen this movie before”, while referring to the rise of economic nationalism, reflected in Donald Trump’s election to the White House, the political and popular backlash against globalisation, exemplified today by the US-China trade war, and the hardening of borders against immigrants, which is a driving force behind Brexit. “The first great globalisation wave, in the half-century or so before WWI, sparked a populist backlash too, and ultimately came crashing down in the cataclysms of 1914 to 1945,” writes Feinman. He goes on to describe “protectionism and economic nationalism” as “culprits” that played a part in causing the two World Wars.

Of course, they were not the only, or perhaps even the most important, causes of the First World War. “While there is a pretty clear causation between protectionism and the era’s trade wars, it is more difficult to prove that trade wars led to the First World War. There is certainly a correlation, but causation is much more difficult to measure,” says Marc-William Palen, senior lecturer of imperial history at the University of Exeter.

Continue reading “WWI’s message for us about trade wars”

“Going Native” with Dune’s Paul Atreides

This is the newest post kicking off the third week of our roundtable on science fiction and imperial history, co-edited by Marc-William Palen and Rachel Herrmann. You can read our call for posts here, and the other posts in the series here, here, here, and here. Posts will run twice a week until the second week in July. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Toby Harper
Arizona State University

During the day in the mid-2000s I took classes in imperial history. On Friday and Saturday nights I descended to the basement of the student center at the University of Auckland to take part in an intense, desperate, and sometimes violent feud with five friends over control of the planet of Arrakis through Avalon Hill’s legendary strategy board game, Dune.

The board game was released in 1979, the same year as Edward Said’s Orientalism. These sessions extended long into the night (the game can take ten hours to complete) and both tested and forged friendships as we schemed with, tricked, and betrayed each other. At the time, I didn’t consider any connection between my history classes (or even discussions about Said with the same friends) and these nocturnal contests. In hindsight, though, the source material for the game, Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, Dune, built on nineteenth- and twentieth-century imperial fantasies of knowledge, control, and power.[1]

On the surface, the novel Dune fulfills a popular imperialist fantasy by granting its main character mastery over native “others” whose superstition and history makes them comprehensible and exploitable. However, it is also a book of schemes, assassination, betrayal, hidden motives, and unexpected consequences. Like the novel’s main antagonists, this fantasy ends stabbed and poisoned on the floor of a broken palace. In certain ways, Herbert’s embrace and subversion of orientalist tropes around knowledge even anticipated modern critiques of empire. Continue reading ““Going Native” with Dune’s Paul Atreides”

1917: The Year of the Century

A painting of Lenin addressing the crowd upon his return to Russia during the Russian Revolution. Museum of Political History.

Jeremy Black
University of Exeter

Cross-posted from American Review of Books, Blogs, and Bull

1917 was a key year in a crucial decade. This was a decade of change, or, rather, transformation; of the destruction of what became old orders; and of the replacement of existing currents and practices.

From the perspective of 2017, possibly the most important changes of the decade came in 1910-11: alongside revolutionary crises in Mexico, Cuba, and Haiti was the crisis and overthrow of the Manchu dynasty in China. There had been a series of such crises in China before, of course notably with the Ming in the 1640s, and the Mongols in the 1360s. What made the crisis of the 1910s different, however, was the replacement of a dynasty by a republic and the difficulty, for the new system, of establishing its legitimacy. Indeed, China atomised, so that, by 1925, it was divided between a large number of independent polities, most of which were under the thumb of warlords and expressions of their power. China’s fragmentation made it vulnerable to Japanese invasion and, ultimately, to a destructive civil war and communist revolution in 1949. Continue reading “1917: The Year of the Century”

Revisiting the 1917 Stockholm Peace Conference: Indian Nationalism, International Socialism, and Anti-Imperialism

Group portrait of the Dutch-Scandinavian Committee: van Kol, Troelstra, Albarda (sitting, l-r), Stauning, Branting (standing, l-r)

Ole Birk Laursen
The Open University

As we mark the centenaries of the Russian revolutions (1917) and the end of the First World War (1918), we should remember how these events are connected through the abandoned Stockholm Peace Conference and, given their anti-imperialist narratives, how they impacted the colonial world. Despite the attendance of Indians, Egyptians, Persians and Turks in Stockholm, the scant historical inquiries into this might-have-been moment tend to neglect how such anti-imperial ambitions were tied to world peace.[1] Continue reading “Revisiting the 1917 Stockholm Peace Conference: Indian Nationalism, International Socialism, and Anti-Imperialism”

Remembering a Democratic Legacy of the Great War in Interwar India

Stephen Legg
University of Nottingham

In 2019, India will embark upon a uniquely postcolonial set of centenaries. During the Great War the Defence of India Act (1915) had given the Government of India exceptional powers to silence dissent and crush any nascent “terrorist” or “revolutionary” movement. So effective had the powers proven, against both radical and moderate nationalists, that there were many within the colonial state who sought their extension into peace time. The “Rowlatt” (Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes) Act of 1919 attempted this, and the resistance against the act was led by the ex-lawyer and future-Mahatma, Mr MK Gandhi. The centenary of the Rowlatt “Satyagraha” (the name for Gandhi’s non-violent, political “truth-force”, protest movement) will doubtless by commemorated by the Congress party and many others in India.

Yet both these commemorations may well be overshadowed in 2019 by the centenary of the “Jallianwala Bagh” massacre, in which the colonial state displayed the violence inherent in the Rowlatt regulations in Amritsar; the shooting of unarmed civilians that sparked a global outcry. While India was enduring violence at home it was plotting peace abroad. The year 1919 will also mark the centenary of India’s contribution to the Peace Treaty of Versailles. Few anticipated that India’s attendance at the conference would automatically make it a founder of the League of Nations, the only non-self-governing state to ever become a member. 1919 will be a busy year for centenaries; all of the above, in some way, are legacies of the First World War.

Who, then, will have time to commemorate the Government of India Act of 1919? Continue reading “Remembering a Democratic Legacy of the Great War in Interwar India”

Call For Papers – Colonialism, War & Photography

       Call for Papers for an Interdisciplinary Workshop as part of the research project

Cultural Exchange in Times of Global Conflict: Colonials, Neutrals and Belligerents during the First World War

Colonialism, War & Photography

London – 17 September 2015

If the First World War is usually defined as the military clash of empires, it can also be reconceptualised as a turning point in the history of cultural encounters. Between 1914 and 1918, more than four million non-white men were drafted mostly as soldiers or labourers into the Allied armies: they served in different parts of the world – from Europe and Africa to Mesopotamia, the Middle East and China – resulting in an unprecedented range of cultural encounters. The war was also a turning point in the history of photographic documentation as such moments and processes were recorded in hundreds of thousands of photographs by fellow soldiers, official photographers, amateurs, civilians and the press. In the absence of written records, these photographs are some of our most important – and hitherto largely neglected – sources of the lives of these men: in trenches, fields, billets, hospitals, towns, markets, POW camps. But how do we ‘read’ these photographs?

Second-Lieutenant Frank Bassill, British official cameraman, with a Moy & Bastie camera and members of the Chinese Labour Corps (IWM Q 10260).
Second-Lieutenant Frank Bassill, British official cameraman, with a Moy & Bastie camera and members of the Chinese Labour Corps (IWM Q 10260).

Using the First World War as a focal point, this interdisciplinary one-day workshop aims to examine the complex intersections between war, colonialism and photography. What is the use and influence of (colonial) photography on the practice of history? What is the relationship between its formal and historical aspects? How are the photographs themselves involved in the processes of cultural contact that they record and how do they negotiate structures of power? Continue reading “Call For Papers – Colonialism, War & Photography”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Photo of Askaris (local soldiers) during shooting practice in German East Africa (now Tanzania)
Photo of Askaris (local soldiers) during shooting practice in German East Africa (now Tanzania)

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From the Mã Lai Origins of the Viet to the global war on blackness, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”