There is hope for Rohingya refugees fleeing genocide – so long as history doesn’t repeat itself

Rohingya Muslim Refugees fleeing Myanmar (via Getty Images)

Issy Sawkins
University of Exeter

The United Nations has finally called for the investigation and prosecution of Myanmar’s top military command for crimes of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim population of the Rakhine State.[1] The brutality of the military reached its peak during the ‘clearance operations’ of August 2017, since which 750,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.

A 400-page report was published by the United Nations on September 17 2018, the result of a year-long investigation into the well-planned killing and rape of Rohingya women and girls, and the burning and looting of their homes.[2] It is the first time that such specific atrocities have been documented for which blame is directly apportioned to the highest level of Myanmar’s military.[3]

Whilst the report indicates a step in the right direction regarding the prosecution of the perpetrators, it fails to address the issue of the displaced Rohingya community. In particular, what is the international community doing to help these victims of genocide?

The 750,000 Rohingya refugees have sought shelter at the camps and makeshift settlements set up in Bangladesh specifically to cater for the refugees. The main refugee camp is located at Kutupalong, located in North-East Bangladesh, but the constant stream of refugees has resulted in several additional camps being built in the surrounding countryside.[4]

Whilst the international community is providing aid to these refugees, predominantly in the form of food supplies and vaccinations against deadly diseases, Bangladesh, by offering them refuge in these camps, is providing the most substantial help. And unfortunately, a lack of global response to refugees of genocide does indeed have a historical precedent, one that leaves little room for optimism. Continue reading “There is hope for Rohingya refugees fleeing genocide – so long as history doesn’t repeat itself”

What Christopher Nolan left out: Dunkirk’s Indian soldiers

Len Puttnam, Men of K6 shortly after disembarking at Marseille, January 1940. Imperial War Museum F2016.

Ghee Bowman
University of Exeter

It’s been a year now since Christopher Nolan’s film Dunkirk was released to critical acclaim, public approval and criticism. Much of the criticism arose because the film omitted any mention of the Commonwealth troops who were in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and at Dunkirk.[1] It felt like a missed opportunity to correct an anomaly in the collective memory of Britain and the world: to remember the mule drivers of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps (RIASC) who were also on those beaches.

So here’s the missing piece of the story, derived from my research into Dunkirk’s Indian soldiers.

On May 29, 1940, in the middle of the evacuation of Dunkirk, with thousands of British soldiers lined up on the beaches east of the French town, with a giant pall of smoke from the burning oil refinery, with regular sorties by Luftwaffe planes scattering the queues, and with ships large and small taking men off the beaches, Major Mohammed Akbar Khan of the RIASC marched four miles along the beach at the head of 312 Muslim Indians, en route from Punjab to Pirbright.

These were the men of Force K6. Continue reading “What Christopher Nolan left out: Dunkirk’s Indian soldiers”

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”