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.
The First Lady took to the stage at the Democratic National Convention, and united a divided hall.
Most convention speeches are forgotten almost before they’re finished. But tonight in Philadelphia, Michelle Obama delivered a speech that will be replayed, quoted, and anthologized for years. It was as pure a piece of political oratory as this campaign has offered, and instantly entered the pantheon of great convention speeches.
Obama stepped out onto a stage in front of a divided party, including delegates who had booed almost every mention of the presumptive nominee. And she delivered a speech that united the hall, bringing it to its feet.
She did it, moreover, her own way—forming a striking contrast with the night’s other speakers. She did it without shouting at the crowd. Without overtly slamming Republicans. Without turning explicitly negative. Her speech was laden with sharp barbs, but she delivered them calmly, sometimes wryly, biting her lower lip, hitting her cadence. It was a masterful performance.
When something goes wrong, I start with blunder, confusion, and miscalculation as the likely explanations. Planned-out wrongdoing is harder to pull off, more likely to backfire, and thus less probable.
But it is getting more difficult to dismiss the apparent Russian role in the DNC hack as blunder and confusion rather than plan.
“Real-world” authorities, from the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia to FBI sources to international security experts, say that the forensic evidence indicates the Russians. No independent authority strongly suggests otherwise. (Update the veteran reporters Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef cite evidence that the original hacker was “an agent of the Russian government.”)
The timing and precision of the leaks, on the day before the Democratic convention and on a topic intended to maximize divisions at that convention, is unlikely to be pure coincidence. If it were coincidence, why exactly now, with evidence drawn from hacks over previous months? Why mail only from the DNC, among all the organizations that have doubtless been hacked?
The foreign country most enthusiastic about Trump’s rise appears to be Russia, which would also be the foreign country most benefited by his policy changes, from his sowing doubts about NATO and the EU to his weakening of the RNC platform language about Ukraine.
For the party elders, day one of the convention was about scolding the left back together.
Against a restive backdrop, the party’s top lieutenants were forced into the role of prime time peacemakers, tasked with encouraging Democratic unity in a party that has only lately acquiesced to tenuous detente. They did so through a combination of alarmist truth telling—borne from the reality of a Trump-Clinton matchup that has lately gotten tighter—and cold-water scolding about party division—driven equally by frustration and exhaustion.
The Democratic chairwoman had few supporters—but clung to her post for years, abetted by the indifference of the White House.
PHILADELPHIA—As Debbie Wasserman Schultz made her unceremonious exit as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, what was most remarkable was what you didn’t hear: practically anybody coming to her defense.
The Florida congresswoman did not go quietly. She reportedly resisted stepping down, and blamed subordinates for the content of the leaked emails that were released Friday, which clearly showed the committee’s posture of neutrality in the Democratic primary to have been a hollow pretense, just as Bernie Sanders and his supporters long contended. She finally relinquished the convention gavel only after receiving three days of strong-arming, a ceremonial position in the Clinton campaign, and a raucous round of boos at a convention breakfast.
The pressures of national academic standards have pushed character education out of the classroom.
A few months ago, I presented the following scenario to my junior English students: Your boyfriend or girlfriend has committed a felony, during which other people were badly harmed. Should you or should you not turn him or her into the police?
The class immediately erupted with commentary. It was obvious, they said, that loyalty was paramount—not a single student said they’d “snitch.” They were unequivocally unconcerned about who was harmed in this hypothetical scenario. This troubled me.
This discussion was part of an introduction to an essay assignment about whether Americans should pay more for ethically produced food. We continued discussing other dilemmas, and the kids were more engaged that they’d been in weeks, grappling with big questions about values, character, and right versus wrong as I attempted to expand their thinking about who and what is affected—and why it matters—by their caloric choices.
Why Donald Trump’s recent comments on the alliance caused such an uproar
Donald Trump shocked foreign-policy professionals and observers when he remarked to The New York Times that if he were president, the United States might not come to the defense of an attacked NATO ally that hadn’t fulfilled its “obligation to make payments.” The remark broke with decades of bipartisan commitment to the alliance and, as Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in The Atlantic, aligned well with the interests of Russia, whose ambitions NATO was founded largely to contain. One Republican in Congress openly wondered whether his party’s nominee could be “seemingly so pro-Russia” because of “connections and contracts and things from the past or whatever.”
It’s not unlike Trump to make shocking statements. But these ones stokedparticularalarm, not least among America’s allies, about the candidate’s suitability for the United States presidency. So what’s the big deal? What does NATO actually do?
Identity politics loomed large on the first night of the Democratic National Convention.
PHILADELPHIA––As successive speakers took the stage at the Democratic National Convention Monday, Farhad Manjoo of the New York Timesobserved that the participants were much more liberal than the ones that helped nominate Bill Clinton. One child spoke of having parents who were undocumented immigrants. Another was a college graduate who is here in this country unlawfully.
Those speakers alone would’ve marked a departure from the past. And alongside them were a lesbian veteran who spoke of serving in the days of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” A disability-rights activist with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia spoke up against the prejudices faced by the community on whose behalf she works. And the whole roster highlighted the Democratic Party’s racial and gender diversity.
Stock-market crashes, terrorist attacks, and the dark side of “newsworthy” stories
Man bites dog. It is one of the oldest cliches in journalism, an acknowledgement of the idea that ordinary events are not newsworthy, whereas oddities, like a puppy-nibbling adult, deserve disproportionate coverage.
The rule is straightforward, but its implications are subtle. If journalists are encouraged to report extreme events, they guide both elite and public attitudes, leading many people, including experts, to feel like extreme events are more common than they actually are. By reporting on only the radically novel, the press can feed a popular illusion that the world is more terrible than it actually is.
Take finance, for example. Professional investors are fretting about the possibility of a massive stock-market crash, on par with 1987’s Black Monday. The statistical odds that such an event will occur within the next six months are about 1-in-60, according to historical data from 1929 to 1988. But when surveys between 1989 and 2015 asked investors to estimate the odds of such a crash in the coming months, the typical response was 1-in-10.
Physicists can’t agree on whether the flow of future to past is real or a mental construct.
Einstein once described his friend Michele Besso as “the best sounding board in Europe” for scientific ideas. They attended university together in Zurich; later they were colleagues at the patent office in Bern. When Besso died in the spring of 1955, Einstein—knowing that his own time was also running out—wrote a now-famous letter to Besso’s family. “Now he has departed this strange world a little ahead of me,” Einstein wrote of his friend’s passing. “That signifies nothing. For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Einstein’s statement was not merely an attempt at consolation. Many physicists argue that Einstein’s position is implied by the two pillars of modern physics: Einstein’s masterpiece, the general theory of relativity, and the Standard Model of particle physics. The laws that underlie these theories are time-symmetric—that is, the physics they describe is the same, regardless of whether the variable called “time” increases or decreases. Moreover, they say nothing at all about the point we call “now”—a special moment (or so it appears) for us, but seemingly undefined when we talk about the universe at large. The resulting timeless cosmos is sometimes called a “block universe”—a static block of space-time in which any flow of time, or passage through it, must presumably be a mental construct or other illusion.