World War II internment camps still have much to teach us


US newspaper headlines of the forced relocation of over 110,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry.

Rachel Pistol
University of Exeter

Read any newspaper in the United States or United Kingdom at the moment and it is likely to be full of news items related to refugees and immigration. Were you to open a newspaper in the 1930s, you would find very similar news stories. Despite the fact Second World War internment took place over 70 years ago, it could not be more relevant in today’s society.

Internment is a recognised function of war, and so the detention of enemy aliens during the Second World War was not unexpected. In times of peril, it can be hard to discern who is friend and who is foe, and there are inevitably casualties of war.

However, national security as a reason for action can sometimes be abused.

Such was the case with the mass internment of those of Japanese ancestry in the United States, a large proportion of whom were American citizens, supposedly protected by the constitution. There were multiple deaths in camp due to the poor medical facilities, notwithstanding the trigger happy guards – the most famous of these deaths perhaps being that of James Hatsuki Wakasa in 1943.

In the case of internment in Britain, the most readily identifiable victims were those who drowned when the Arandora Star, a ship transporting internees from the Isle of Man to Canada, was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, in 1940.

It should be a sign of a society’s humanity as to how marginalised peoples are treated, particularly when the only ‘crime’ of an individual is his or her race, religion, or nationality. Continue reading “World War II internment camps still have much to teach us”

Himmler’s Newly Discovered Diaries in Historical Context

Himmler diaries

Nicholas Terry
History Department, University of Exeter

Cross-posted from Holocaust Controversies

British tabloids like The Sun, Daily Star, Daily Express and Daily Mail are currently agog at the news that Himmler’s diaries have been discovered in Russia, having learned that their German equivalent Bild is serialising excerpts (behind a paywall) of a remarkable discovery by German and Russian historians in the Russian archives.

So far, only Sven Felix Kellerhoff, the history editor at Die Welt, has offered properly grown-up commentary and avoided falling into the trap of over-sensationalising the find. Most of the British tabloids, by contrast, have evidently misread the text of the story in Bild and are now passing on a number of confusions. Continue reading “Himmler’s Newly Discovered Diaries in Historical Context”

Selective Memory: The Brexit Campaign and Historical Nostalgia

Printed the day after France requested armistice terms from Germany, a celebration of Britain's 'lonely' wartime defiance.  Evening Standard (18 June 1940).
Printed the day after France requested armistice terms from Germany, a celebration of Britain’s ‘lonely’ wartime defiance. Evening Standard (18 June 1940).

Rachel Chin
University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @chinra4

Billionaire stockbroker Peter Hargreaves recently claimed that leaving the EU could be likened to the British evacuation from Dunkirk in late May 1940. This withdrawal signalled the British retreat from the continent and immediately preceded the French capitulation to German forces two weeks later. Hargreaves declared, “We will get out there and we will become incredibly successful because we will be insecure again.”[1]

As a scholar of rhetoric and the Second World War, I have become particularly attuned to how conflict is used and abused by politicians as a means to convince the British public of the value of a particular issue. Most recently, Tory politicians and campaigners like Hargreaves have mobilised Britain’s role in the Second World War as a justification to vote either for or against staying in the European Union (EU). This type of rhetoric is, at its core, emotive and nostalgic. It’s also deeply troubling because such oversimplified ideas of national identity and wartime patriotism are circumventing any chance of having a meaningful discussion about how Brexit would or would not change life on this island nation. It also ignores the fact that the Second World War was a global conflict, however much that might challenge ingrained nationalistic nostalgia. Continue reading “Selective Memory: The Brexit Campaign and Historical Nostalgia”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Galata Bridge
A bustling Galata Bridge in late-nineteenth-century Istanbul. Image courtesy of the Global Urban History Blog.

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

From rush hour in Ottoman Istanbul to the opening of new Vichy French archives, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Women in fire masks, Downshire Hill, Hampstead, London, 1941. Photo by Lee Miller.
Women in fire masks, Downshire Hill, Hampstead, London, 1941. Photo by Lee Miller. Featured in the Guardian.

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

From the ambiguous legacy of Free Trade England to the long fight for Swiss suffrage, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”

What was the Role of Scientific and Technical Intelligence During World War II?

Allied drawing of a Focke-Achgelis Fa 223, a helicopter developed by Germany during the Second World War. Courtesy of Duke Library.
Allied drawing of a Focke-Achgelis Fa 223, a helicopter developed by Germany during the Second World War. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries Magazine.

Richard Toye
History Department, University of Exeter

Follow on Twitter @RichardToye

Intelligence is an aspect of World War II that has long held a fascination for historians and the public alike. Very naturally, much interest has focussed on the role of the Security Services and the role of Bletchley Park in cracking the Enigma Code – witness, for example, the success of the recent film about Alan Turing, The Imitation Game. Continue reading “What was the Role of Scientific and Technical Intelligence During World War II?”

This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

silk-road1-1024x528

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

From a new history of the world to the forgotten soldiers of the Second World War, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history. Continue reading “This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History”