What newly released documents from the UK colony in Kenya say about the rise of the great powers that have followed.
Four Kenyans protest British colonial-era abuses outside the High Court in London.
This week, the UK Foreign Office released the first in a series of embarrassing government files from the country's colonial era. The release follows a lawsuit by five Kenyans -- four, once one of the original five died -- claiming they were tortured during the anti-colonial Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the 1950s. The files remind of the relatively recent time when European powers were still relatively free to pursue openly imperial policies, and crimes committed against longstanding colonies barely counted. Some of the papers show, The Guardianreports, that "thousands of documents detailing some of the most shameful acts and crimes committed during the final years of the British empire were systematically destroyed to prevent them falling into the hands of post-independence governments."
The documents release from the British Foreign Office shouldn't just
be an opportunity to point fingers. Though the Kenyans who filed the
suit need to be heard, and there ought to be some sort of accountability
for colonial crimes,
it's a little too easy for those of us in countries with similarly dark pasts to hyperfocus on this one period of British wrongdoing. Colonialism is over, but there are still world powers, and they're still abusing their power. In fact, the exploitations are often similar precisely because the crimes of one superpower often provide the template, or even the impetus, for the abuses of the next powerful state.
A Guardian editor pointed out, "Americans should always resist the easy temptation to take too much moral high ground over the Brits," as "they have their Kenyas" as well, such as slavery or the treatment of Native Americans. It can sometimes seem inevitable that a dominant world power, whether the U.S. or Great Britain or one of the many before and maybe someday after, have some exploitative and even shameful moments in their history. So do most countries, powerful or not.
But it's the exploitative actions of the dominant powers that tend to come back to haunt the wider world. Germany's territorial ambitions, both in the German Empire from 1871 to 1918 and during World War II and its lead-up, were modeled in part on the naked British imperialism of earlier generations. Soviet aggression following World War II had as much to do with watching and experiencing Western European exploitation as it did with Communism and ideology. History sometimes seems to be offered as a justification almost as often as it is offered as an appropriate model.
Part of this phenomenon is that the powerful get to do what they want, and powerful countries tend to want the same things: political, military, or economic control of strategic regions, economic prosperity, etc. But the deeds of onetime powers really do seem to have some effect on the deeds of up-and-coming powers.
Beyond the complex motivations driving, for example, German territorial expansion, there is an overarching pattern. We see it today when developing nations such as India or China protest European and American demands that they make carbon cuts. The "West" industrialized using fossil fuels -- why shouldn't everyone else be able to do the same? To take another example, because the United States developed a nuclear bomb and dropped it on Japan, other countries have used this to reject American demands that they not develop their own nuclear programs.
Right now, we are two years away from the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I -- a great power turning point of sorts, when the German Empire mounted its first serious military challenge to British hegemony, and, though the challenge was unsuccessful and the war ultimately increased the size of the British Empire, the British colonies started to break free. Over the course of the next few decades, maps had to be redrawn quite a few times. By the end of World War II, it was clear neither Britain nor Germany were going to dominate the twentieth century. The Soviet Union and the United States had already been sizing each other up for several years.
This week, there have been two prominent news stories concerning the U.S.-China relationship. The two states, it seems, have been engaging in cyber "war games" through think tanks, the U.S. aware of China's growing power in this area. On Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta publicly accused China of assisting North Korea with its missile program.
You don't need to be worried about China's rise (or the West's maybe-decline) to see a familiar, though probably far less dangerous, re-shifting of power dynamics at work. Maybe China arming North Korea would be, from a world peace standpoint, better or worse than the U.S. arming the mujahideen in Afghanistan or the Contras in Nicaragua. Maybe China's expansion into Tibet has some similarities to the U.S. westward expansion into Native Americans' territory. It's tricky to balance out competing perspectives. But the parallels are tough to miss.
Over the next few decades, however, we may get to watch this pattern play out some more. And colonial Britain, after all, also held Hong Kong. The United States isn't the only world power China has fresh in its memory -- and the U.K. Foreign Office release this week probably won't be the last time imperial pasts suddenly become relevant again.
Ben Stiller’s follow-up to his own comedy classic is a downright bummer, no matter how many celebrity cameos it tries to cram in.
You don’t need to go to the theater to get the full experience of Zoolander 2. Simply get your hands on a copy of the original, watch it, and then yell a bunch of unfunny topical lines every time somebody tells a joke. That’s how it feels to watch Ben Stiller’s sequel to his 2001 spoof of the fashion industry: Zoolander 2 takes pains to reference every successful gag you remember from the original, and then embellish them in painful—often offensive, almost always outdated—fashion. It’s a film that has no real reason to exist, and it spends its entire running time reaffirming that fact.
The original Zoolander, to be fair, had no business being as funny as it was—it made fun of an industry that already seems to exist in a constant state of self-parody, and much of its humor relied on simple malapropisms and sight gags. But it was hilarious anyway as a candid snapshot of the fizzling-out of ’90s culture. Like almost any zeitgeist comedy, it belonged to a particular moment—and boy, should it have stayed there. With Zoolander 2, Stiller (who directed, co-wrote, and stars) tries to recapture the magic of 2001 by referencing its past glories with increasing desperation, perhaps to avoid the fact that he has nothing new to say about the fashion industry or celebrity culture 15 years laters.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
The bureau successfully played the long game in both cases.
The story of law enforcement in the Oregon standoff is one of patience.
On the most obvious level, that was reflected in the 41 days that armed militia members occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns. It took 25 days before the FBI and state police moved to arrest several leaders of the occupation and to barricade the refuge. It took another 15 days before the last of the final occupiers walked out, Thursday morning Oregon time.
Each of those cases involved patience as well: Officers massed on Highway 395 didn’t shoot LaVoy Finicum when he tried to ram past a barricade, nearly striking an FBI agent, though when he reached for a gun in his pocket they finally fired. Meanwhile, despite increasingly hysterical behavior from David Fry, the final occupier, officers waited him out until he emerged peacefully.
The revolution that ended the reign of beards occurred on September 30, 331 b.c., as Alexander the Great prepared for a decisive showdown with the Persian emperor for control of Asia. On that day, he ordered his men to shave. Yet from time immemorial in Greek culture, a smooth chin on a grown man had been taken as a sign of effeminacy or degeneracy. What can explain this unprecedented command? When the commander Parmenio asked the reason, according to the ancient historian Plutarch, Alexander replied, “Don’t you know that in battles there is nothing handier to grasp than a beard?” But there is ample cause to doubt Plutarch’s explanation. Stories of beard-pulling in battles were myth rather than history. Plutarch and later historians misunderstood the order because they neglected the most relevant fact, namely that Alexander had dared to do what no self-respecting Greek leader had ever done before: shave his face, likening himself to the demigod Heracles, rendered in painting and sculpture in the immortal splendor of youthful, beardless nudity. Alexander wished above all, as he told his generals before the battle, that each man would see himself as a crucial part of the mission. They would certainly see this more clearly if each of them looked more like their heroic commander.
By mining electronic medical records, scientists show the lasting legacy of prehistoric sex on modern humans’ health.
Modern humans originated in Africa, and started spreading around the world about 60,000 years ago. As they entered Asia and Europe, they encountered other groups of ancient humans that had already settled in these regions, such as Neanderthals. And sometimes, when these groups met, they had sex.
We know about these prehistoric liaisons because they left permanent marks on our genome. Even though Neanderthals are now extinct, every living person outside of Africa can trace between 1 and 5 percent of our DNA back to them. (I am 2.6 percent Neanderthal, if you were wondering, which pales in comparison to my colleague James Fallows at 5 percent.)
This lasting legacy was revealed in 2010 when the complete Neanderthal genome was published. Since then, researchers have been trying to figure out what, if anything, the Neanderthal sequences are doing in our own genome. Are they just passive hitchhikers, or did they bestow important adaptations on early humans? And are they affecting the health of modern ones?
When four American women were murdered during El Salvador’s dirty war, a young U.S. official and his unlikely partner risked their lives to solve the case.
On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
Jim Gilmore joins Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, and leaves the race after a poor showing in New Hampshire.
Jim Gilmore’s candidacy this year was improbable—but even more improbable was the minor cult of personality that developed around it.
The former Virginia governor never had a chance. Not, like, in the sense of Lindsey Graham, a candidate with national standing but no path to the presidency. More in the George Pataki sense: a guy who had no real business in race, but was running anyway. Except that Gilmore made Pataki look like a juggernaut. Also, Pataki saw the writing on the wall and had the sense to drop out in late December. Gilmore soldiered on, and ended up as the last of the truly longshots to leave.
The result was that Gilmore turned into a sort of folk hero. Not for voters, mind you—he managed only 12 votes in Iowa and 125 in New Hampshire, and his campaign was funded largely by loans from himself. Because of his low support in the polls, Gilmore only made the cut for the very first kid’s-table debate in August, and then again for the undercard in late January. Other than that, he was shut out completely.
A robotic road safety worker in India, a sacrificial llama in Bolivia, a sea otter receives a valentine, a deadly earthquake in Taiwan, a leopard attack in India, and much more.
A murmuration of starlings over Israel, a robotic road safety worker in India, a sacrificial llama in Bolivia, border barriers between Tunisia and Libya, a sea otter receives a valentine, a deadly earthquake in Taiwan, the annual Shrovetide football match in England, a leopard attack in India, and much more.