This Week’s Top 5 Picks in International History and Diplomacy

(Image: Rahman Hasani/Sopa Images/Lightrocke)

The history wars

Richard J. Evans

New Statesman

When I was a child, in the early 1950s, much of the world map displayed on the classroom wall was still painted pink, depicting the “British empire, on which the sun never sets”. I learned to read from a primer called Little Black Sambo about a Tamil boy and his parents, Black Mumbo and Black Jumbo. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth, which I remember watching with our neighbours on a tiny television set in 1953, was the occasion for a magnificent display of the empire’s power and extent, with special attention paid to colonial figures such as the revered Sir Robert Menzies, prime minister of Australia, or the much-loved (and much-patronised) Queen Salote of Tonga. The Eagle boys’ magazine, edited by the Reverend Marcus Morris in a vain attempt to provide a respectable alternative to the Beano and Tiger, serialised comic strips about great imperial lives, including those of Cecil Rhodes and David Livingstone, who, I learned, were hugely appreciated by the Africans for trying to civilise them.

When my mother’s home-made marmalade ran out, usually in August, we bought Robinson’s Golden Shred, which came with a free miniature “golliwog” figure. In the late 1950s, after we got a TV set, we watched The Black and White Minstrel Show every week, in which George Mitchell’s white singers blacked up and accompanied their performances with stereotypical “black” gestures, body movements and Al Jolson accents – or at least, some kind of approximation to them (the show was enormously popular, winning audiences of more than 20 million at its height). Over dinner, I listened to my parents arguing with one of their schoolteacher friends over whether black people were further down the scale of evolution than whites, located somewhere in the vicinity of the apes, as their friend maintained, or perhaps a bit higher up. (Read more)

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Civil Rights Has Always Been a Global Movement

Brenda Gayle Plummer

Foreign Affairs

A global audience witnessed the lynching of George Floyd, on May 25, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Floyd’s agonizing death by suffocation, his pleas for help, and his final words, “I can’t breathe”—recorded in a cell phone video and promptly shared on Facebook by a quick-witted young bystander—have been viewed billions of times and have unleashed a shock wave of outrage and revulsion that continues to reverberate around the world.

Murders of black people in the United States by law enforcement officers are not uncommon, and thanks to near-universal access to video-enabled smartphones and social media, they are increasingly well documented. In recent years, videos recording these killings and other forms of police violence against African Americans have emerged with horrifying regularity; their release and the outpouring of fury, grief, and calls for change that they inspire have become a macabre national ritual. Global condemnation of racist violence by U.S. law enforcement is not new, either. But the extraordinary scale and reach of the reaction to Floyd’s death—which has ignited weeks of mass protests in at least 60 countries and prompted the UN human rights chief to convene a special session this week focused on systemic racism in the United States—represents an order-of-magnitude shift. (Read more)

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The Confederacy Was an Antidemocratic, Centralized State

Stephanie McCurry

Atlantic

Americans are now debating the fate of memorials to the Confederacy—statues, flags, and names on Army bases, streets, schools, and college dormitories. A century and a half of propaganda has successfully obscured the nature of the Confederate cause and its bloody history, wrapping it in myth. But the Confederacy is not part of “our American heritage,” as President Donald Trump recently claimed, nor should it stand as a libertarian symbol of small government and resistance to federal tyranny. For the four years of its existence, until it was forced to surrender, the Confederate States of America was a pro-slavery nation at war against the United States. The C.S.A. was a big, centralized state, devoted to securing a society in which enslavement to white people was the permanent and inherited condition of all people of African descent.

The Confederates built an explicitly white-supremacist, pro-slavery, and antidemocratic nation-state, dedicated to the principle that all men are not created equal. Emboldened by what they saw as the failure of emancipation in other parts of the world, buoyed by the new science of race, and convinced that the American vision of the people had been terribly betrayed, they sought the kind of future for human slavery and conservative republican government that was no longer possible within the United States. This is the cause that the statues honor. (Read more)

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What Kind of Society Values Property Over Black Lives?

Robin D. G. Kelley

New York Times

“Why are they looting?”

It’s asked every time protests against police violence erupt into civil unrest.

We know the answers by now: Poverty, anger, age, rage and a sense of helplessness. For some, it is a form of political violence; for others, destructive opportunism. There appears to be no single motive. That white youth figured prominently among looters during the recent wave of unrest confounds easy explanations.

Often the catalyst is economic — grabbing necessities, stealing goods to sell, snatching luxury items few can afford or retaliating against merchants thought to be exploitative. Looting is theft; it violates the law. But stealing commodities isn’t senseless. Given that we are in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, looting should not surprise anyone. (Read more)

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Why the Confederate Flag Flew During World War II

Mattthew Delmont

Atlantic

In July 1944, one month after the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy, the 79th Infantry Division drove Nazi troops out of the French town La Haye-du-Puits. A young officer from Chattanooga, Tennessee, reached into his rucksack and pulled out a flag that his grandfather had carried during the Civil War. He fashioned a makeshift flagpole and hoisted it up, so that the battle-worn Confederate flag could fly over the liberated village.

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps recently decided to ban the Confederate flag from military installations, and the Army is considering renaming 10 bases named after Confederate generals. But if you want to understand how the U.S. military came to embrace the Confederate flag in the first place, the answers lie in World War II. (Read more)

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