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.
A mix of patriotic balladeers and apolitical acts will take the stage on Thursday and Friday.
It is not true, as a lot of commentary would have it, that Donald Trump’s inauguration will feature “no stars.” Some of the entertainers who have signed on to play have, in fact, built their success on entertaining millions of people. But it is true that what’s considered “the A-list” will be conspicuously absent, as will be acts from other lists: The B-Street Band, a Bruce Springsteen tribute group, backed out from an unofficial inaugural party after outcry; Broadway singer Jennifer Holliday reneged from the main concert event.
The mix of entertainers lined up for Thursday’s “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration” on the National Mall and Friday’s swearing-in ceremony represents a hodgepodge of ideology and expediency. In a savvy MTV essay about Trump’s national-anthem singer Jackie Evancho, Doreen St. Félix argued that booking the 16-year-old America’s Got Talent runner up was “a matter of scavenging, and then gilding over the spoils”—a description that could apply across the lineup given the many headlines about Trump’s team getting turned down by celebrities then saying that not having famous people is a good thing. But in its relative lack of glitz, and in its coalition of performers well familiar to state-fair stages, this week’s bill may inadvertently achieve the stated inaugural goal of projecting an image not of Trump but of the people who elected him.
Some Democrats, most notably Representative John Lewis, have labeled Donald Trump with the same epithet applied to his two immediate predecessors.
When was the last time America had a “legitimate” president?
You’d have to go back a ways to find a unanimous choice. Certainly not Donald Trump. Representative John Lewis, the civil-rights icon, has sparked a fury by saying, “I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president.” Had Hillary Clinton won, she would not have fit the bill, either: Trump said repeatedly during the campaign that she should not have been allowed to run. Certainly not Barack Obama. Many opponents—none of them more prominent than Trump, yet again—argued, falsely and preposterously, that he was not even eligible to stand for the presidency because he had not been born in the United States. And certainly not George W. Bush, whom many Democrats viewed as illegitimate for several reasons: his popular-vote loss; questions over the final count in Florida; the fact that the Supreme Court effectively decided the election on a party-line vote.
The Russian leader tries to claim the role of senior partner in relationship with the U.S.
You have to feel bad for the Moldovan president. The newly elected Igor Dodon had traveled to Moscow to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin for the first Russian-Moldovan bilateral meeting in nine years. Yet here he was, standing side by side with Putin, his hero and model for emulation, at a regal-looking press conference and some reporter has to go and ask about the prostitutes.
“You haven’t yet commented on the report that, allegedly, we or in Russia have been collecting kompromat on Donald Trump, including during his visit to Moscow, as if he were having fun with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel,” said the reporter with the pro-Kremlin LifeNews. “Is that true? Have you seen these files, these videos, these tapes?”
Why Nixon's former lawyer John Dean worries Trump could be one of the most corrupt presidents ever—and get away with it
Sometime early last fall, John Dean says he began having nightmares about a Trump presidency. He would wake in the middle of the night, agitated and alarmed, struggling to calm his nerves. “I’m not somebody who remembers the details of dreams,” he told me in a recent phone call from his home in Los Angeles. “I just know that they were so bad that I’d force myself awake and out of bed just to get away from them.”
Few people are more intimately acquainted than Dean with the consequences of an American presidency gone awry. As White House counsel under President Richard Nixon from 1970 to 1973, he was a key figure in the Watergate saga—participating in, and then helping to expose, the most iconic political scandal in modern U.S. history. In the decades since then, Dean has parlayed that resume line into something of a franchise, penning several books and countless columns on the theme of presidential abuses of power.
How the FSB's loyalty to Russia's president made it the country's most powerful intelligence agency
It’s tempting to look to the playbooks and historical traditions of the late Soviet Union to explain the audacity of today’s Russian intelligence activity, from its meddling in U.S. elections, to apparently killing Kremlin opponents abroad. But these activities are not just products of old ways or new geopolitics. They also stem from a shift in the activities of Russia’s political police force, the infamous Federal Security Service (FSB). Originally established to protect the Kremlin’s rule at home, it has increasingly moved into Russia’s foreign operations.A new cohort of secret policemen, ignorant of the traditions of spycraft and secure in Putin’s protection, has fundamentally altered the nature of Russian intelligence.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
Surprise remarks by the president-elect, which depart from decades of U.S. policy, sent American currency into a tumble.
On Wednesday morning, currencies in emerging markets across Asia started to rise: The Chinese yuan and the Thai bhat hit two-month highs, while Taiwan’s dollar reached a three-month peak, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, the value of the U.S. dollar had dropped 1.3 percent on Tuesday, to its lowest point in a month.
Those searching for an explanation didn’t have to look very hard. Over the weekend, President-elect Donald Trump delivered some remarks to The Wall Street Journal that took many by surprise. In response to a question about trade with China, Trump declared that the U.S. dollar is “too strong.” He added, “Our companies can’t compete with [China] now because our currency is too strong. And it’s killing us.”
Is there room in the movement for people who morally object to abortion?
Updated on Monday, January 16 at 4:05 p.m.
Pro-life women are headed to D.C. Yes, they’ll turn out for the annual March for Life, which is coming up on January 27. But one week earlier, as many as a few hundred pro-lifers are planning to attend the Women’s March on Washington, which has been billed as feminist counterprogramming to the inauguration.
With organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America co-sponsoring the event, pro-life marchers have found themselves in a somewhat awkward position. What’s their place at an event that claims to speak for all women, but has aligned itself with pro-choice groups? With roughly a week to go before the march, organizers also released a set of “unity principles,” and one of them is “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people.”
How America’s best and brightest once again steered the country to failure
They were the best and the brightest. But, most of all, they believed they were right. Although the scale of disaster was considerably different, the same that was said of those who oversaw foreign policy under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson could be said of the Obama administration.
These were academics, intellectuals, and technocrats who were not only very smart; they took pride in being practical, grounded in reality, and wedded to facts. After the supposed anti-intellectualism and ideological rigidity of the George W. Bush administration, many of us welcomed the prospect of a president who was cerebral and professorial. Even those sympathetic to President Barack Obama’s foreign-policy instincts, however, will agree that it didn’t quite go as planned.
“Trump’s wall is already under construction,” Wole Soyinka says. “Walls are built in the mind.”
Wole Soyinka, the first African writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, once fled to the United States from Nigeria. Now the fickle winds of politics are pushing him in the opposite direction.
Back in the 1960s, jailed for alleged associations with rebels amid the outbreak of the Nigerian Civil War, Soyinka composed protest poems on toilet paper in solitary confinement. “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny,” Soyinka wrote in the collection of prison notes he later published. In the 1990s, the Nigerian strongman Sani Abacha confiscated Soyinka’s passport after the playwright urged Nigerians to stop paying taxes in defiance of military rule in the country. Soyinka managed to sneak out of his homeland and take refuge in the United States—a period he described to me as his “political sabbatical, because I never accepted, really, that I was in exile.”Abacha sentenced Soyinka to death in absentia. Soyinka’s crime was said to be treason.