“In memory of the Swiss who died for the Spanish Republicans 1936 - 1939”
I love plaques.
The Spanish Civil War was rather special for the huge amounts of international volunteers from other countries who saw the war as one of ideology.
That in 1968, the NRA supported gun control; that in 1972 the GOP platform supported gun control, but in ‘76, opposed it based on a Ronald Reagan taking a different position that President Gerald Ford. From Jeffrey Toobin’s “The Oath:”
Reagan worked opposition to gun control into a broader libertarian message. To him, gun control was just another big-government program that did more harm than good. Gun control punished law-abiding citizens while leaving firearms in the hands of criminals. What was more, Reagan hinted, gun control was prohibited by the Second Amendment. “The Second Amendment gives the individual citizen a means of protection against the despotism of the state. The rights of the individual are preeminent,” Reagan wrote in Guns & Ammo magazine in 1975. “The Seconed Amendment is clear, or ought to be. It appears to leave little if any leeway for the gun control advocate.” (page 102)
The political and legal branches of the conservative movement joined forces in support of a new reading of the Second Amendment. On May 21, 1977, a hard-line faction of the National Rifle Association staged a coup d’etat at the annual meeting of the group, in Cincinnati. Out went the traditional emphasis on gun safety and in came a new focus on political action, especially in fighting gun control. (Page 103).
Nevertheless, gun rights joined “family values” and the anti-abortion fight as key planks of the conservative agenda that in 1980 propelled Reagan into the presidency and the Republicans into the Senate majority. (page 103)
When I read something like this, I think “A politician and his followers changed the purpose of an organization. Could we change it back?”
|—||Henry V (via shakespearean-insults)|
Today is the day my little village commemorates its place in history.
On this day in 1315 the first Swiss cantons won their independence for the first time.
If it turns out I don’t have to help my dad move today I’ll stop by the festivities and post more about it.
[W]ith the advent of the railroad and telegraph, Congress decided it was time to standardize a date. Monday was out, because it would require people to travel to the polls by buggy on the Sunday Sabbath. Wednesday was also not an option, because it was market day, and farmers wouldn’t be able to make it to the polls. So it was decided that Tuesday would be the day that Americans would vote in elections, and in 1845, Congress passed a law that presidential elections would be held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November
Non-Americans might probably wonder as well why American holidays also aren’t held consistently on dates, but instead on days.
Thanksgiving, for example, is the third Thursday of November.
Sometimes it’s hard to conceive of the older United States before the Civil War, which was much less federal than it is now. Each state had its own different rules and laws, and in this case they didn’t always agree upon the same calendar. So to find days which worked for everyone for federal occasions, this system was born.
This day in history:
Amid protests across Soviet-dominated Hungary, violence erupts, sparking the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
Soon after the revolution began the Soviet Union planned to give in to demands and withdraw forces from the country. However they quickly changed plans and sent in a large military force to quash the rebellion and regain control.
Revolutionaries made quick and large gains up to the end of October, but stood no chance against the superior Soviet military. The rebellion eventually ended on November 10, two and a half weeks after it began.
Despite calls for help to western countries (especially the USA), the revolutionaries received no support during the conflict, and Hungary was dominated by Soviet oppression until 1989.
October 23, 1956 - 56 years ago today
This is interesting:
The United States is not exactly famed for its pacifism or political neutrality.
Because that’s exactly what Hitler thought. Which is why he declared war on them, which was entirely optional and pretty much sealed his fate. He figured that they were too lost in their ’20s debauchery, turned off by their brief experience in World War 1, that they wouldn’t make “real soldiers.”
Well, you know how Hitler was. Very much the kind of person to assume racial characteristics to nations.
It’s true that the US was hardly neutral, but that was mostly due to the effort from FDR. Americans were really only jolted awake into war by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The wars that the US was getting into before that were mostly imperial ones: the boxer rebellion, the Spanish-American war, the guerrilla fighting in the Philippines. Can we excuse Hitler for thinking he could get away with it?
Nah, probably not. There were enough reasons to think that war with America would be a terrible idea, but both he and the majority of the Japanese military seemed to both share the idea that America was a country of layabouts who liked movies and fast cars too much to get down to serious war.
And it’s kind of amazing that they went against the empirical evidence and just went for the “Well, you know how Americans are” stereotype to make this decision.
I was talking with the Chinese guy who’s in all my electives. I was telling him about Hong Kong, and how sometimes HK people liked being part of China and sometimes actively reasserted their distance. This is typical opportunistic thinking.
He asked me an interesting question: What does Vietnam think about Tibet?
I didn’t know the official answer, but I told him what was practically certain: only the West cares about “free Tibet.” Not least because a lot of Asian countries are still developing countries and have their own problems. And also, in any case, more authoritarian countries have their own skeletons in their own closets.
In the US and in Western Europe, you probably can’t go to a Chinese Embassy without seeing a Free Tibet picket or protest at some point. This is not the case anywhere else I’ve been.
After this, he told me that he’d read up on the Tibet situation somewhat, and that there was some information people didn’t seem to know. This was that there were apparently old sources, from the Republic of China/Chiang Kai Shek days, that they intentionally chose the Tibetan Dalai Lama, and that the Tibetans had let them.
This is sort of in reference to the current dispute in Tibet. The idea is that the DL is reincarnated every generation. The PRC chose and claimed they found the last one, the monks chose someone different, who is the one in exile. It’s a crisis of legitimacy. And my friend was saying that the Dalai Lama is not an actually holy figure, since he was originally chosen by the previous Chinese government (that the Communists overthrew).
And this is the kind of minefield I kind of like to try and avoid, when it comes to talking politics with people from countries whose governments have an interest in not being truthful.
Now, I’m not going to assume that this source is wrong. It might be right. The PRC might well have excellent access to Tibetan records, who knows?
But it is incredibly suspicious when the official source both delegitimizes the Dalai Lama, AND places the blame on their historical enemy, Chiang Kai Shek. It is just very convenient, which probably means it needs more objective study.
Like I said, it might even be true. But you need to make sure.
Hi, John Green here from the distant future, I know these maybe look weird but they help me to see better.
The plague? Is spread by rats you should try to kill them. Also the plague itself is like a little miniature animal that gets inside your body and it pwns you. I know this sounds crazy but if you eat the right amount of the fungus pennicilium you can kill the plague inside of you.
Generally to prevent the spread of these invisible monsters, you wanna wash your hands and body a lot with water and soap. And also, leeches? Don’t work.
Subject: Science! The Earth is round, the Sun is at the center of the solar system, and the speed of light is invariant. The moon is not made of cheese, it’s made of rock. It turns out the question of how many angels you can fit on the head of a pin isn’t very interesting, and if you put a cat inside of a box with poison and you close the box, the cat is both alive and dead until such a time as you open the box.
Next: the future course of history! If you don’t live in Europe, or indeed if you don’t know what the word “Europe” means, you’re about to be in big trouble. Listen carefully, peoples of non-Europe. If you see a dude who looks like me, KILL HIM.
DFTBA, people of the 14th century.
|—||John Green, in a message to the Fourteenth Century, in 60 seconds.|
There’s a Star Trek concept, particularly with the TNG series, called the “Prime Directive.” This is an important aspect to Starfleet, the exploring organizational arm of humanity. The concept is that while exploring the galaxy they will come across less advanced civilizations, and that it is very important that in studying them they do not affect their development. If possible, don’t get noticed, and most of all don’t give them technology.
This idea is simple in principle: giving advanced technology to a less advanced society could change them drastically and not usually for the better. I didn’t see a lot of TNG episodes, but I understand that quite a few of them have to do with demonstrating why interfering with people is generally a bad idea.
On that note, pretend the TNG movies don’t exist. In those, the crew breaks all kinds of moral principles, but that’s the sacrifice necessary for 1 good movie out of 4.
This has relevance in today’s world, because the greatest evidence of technologically advanced peoples meddling with less advanced peoples has been during the period of imperialism which was incredibly destructive.
Perhaps the most interesting example of this, though, is of the Maori. When the British arrived to map the coast of New Zealand, they traded with the local Maori, who received steel weapons and muskets, and later as well, ships that sailed further than the Maori previously could.
The first thing they did was sail to the Chatham islands, and slaughter and conquer all the Maorori there. The Maorori were completely defenseless, because the Chathams weren’t suited to agriculture and they reverted to hunter-gatherer societies with an emphasis on peaceful resolution of problems between different bands. The Maori landed and just killed most of them.
What’s interesting about this example is that the Maori would have probably done this a lot sooner if they’d had the appropriate technology to do so.
So this begs the question: is it the fault or responsibility of the British, what the Maori did? And how is that different from the trading of gunpowder from China to Europe?
The truth is, the way I see it, is that cultures and civilizations are constantly trading, and among the most important things they trade are ideas. They learn from each other, and their capacity to learn and adapt plays a big role on how well they do and what they accomplish. And a lot of that learning and adapting comes from conflict, sadly. There’s a saying that history is a litany of blood, and that’s pretty much true, but out of all of that mess came what we have today.
In a word, conflict and the disruption of societies and civilizations is inevitable with technological progress. Powerful people will impose their will on less powerful peoples. Europe took so long to imperialize Africa and Asia because those regions had strong civilizations, which only fell when Europe jumped ahead in weapons. America had strong empires too, and they fell largely due to the catastrophic introduction of Eurasian diseases.
In the latter in particular, it wouldn’t have really mattered when any Eurasians came to America or whether they came with peace signs or guns. The diseases would have landed with them and still had their effect.
One of the important factors as well, particularly regarding pre-colonial America, is that the various peoples of the Americas drastically lacked so many of the geographic and agricultural advantages of Eurasia. It’s well argued that that lack of domesticated animals (beyond the Llama) held them back tremendously. In a similar sense, good crops for agriculture didn’t travel well in the Americas, and so it took a long time for corn, for example, to spread in use across the continents.
These disadvantages held the complex civilizations of the Americas back, and it’s possible that they just couldn’t have done more without the introduction of Eurasian horses, pigs, cows, wheat and so on. They lost a lot due to disease and conquest, but the introduction of Eurasian animals and crops fundamentally increased the capacity for complex infrastructure.
So in Star Trek: TNG, when Picard says that no matter what they shouldn’t interfere in the affairs of local planets, it’s kind of an unrealistic picture of humanity. I know that Star Trek humanity is supposed to be socially and culturally evolved to think beyond such weaknesses as greed and warmongering, but I don’t think that reflects an accurate understanding of human history.
To me this reflects some of the post-colonial and post-imperial academic trend. Studies in how terrible imperialism and colonialism were are quite abundant. But while they’re not inaccurate, they tend to place blame on European attitudes and Western arrogance. These things were the case, but suggesting that the urge to conquer and take advantage of people is a uniquely European trait would be extremely biased. Brutal and bloody empires appeared all over the world.
I’m not excusing that behaviour, but I am saying that it’s kind of an intrinsic aspect of human nature. We try to study it to learn our lessons better, and with luck we might well be able to minimize those kinds of conflicts, but our attitude towards our past is somewhat self-apologetic. “Sorry we did this, sucked to be you. But at least we’re bringing it all to light.”
The historian Niall Ferguson has some pretty disputable ideas regarding imperialism, but there was one point that I did find intriguing.
Before and during the Vietnam War, the USA propped up and supported the South Vietnamese government. It was not a particularly saintly or stable government, with barely the pretense of the democratic principles the US said it was defending. Nevertheless, the war turned against them when Americans back home started protesting against the war, having been exposed to war footage and horror stories. Their view was that American soldiers weren’t really defending freedom if they were napalm bombing children, and that’s why they should pull out.
America did pull out, almost completely by 1972, basically leaving the South Vietnamese government to fend for itself, which it couldn’t. And this is what makes older generations of Vietnamese immigrants extremely bitter: they lost their country because protesters in America felt guilty. This is how they see it.
Is the Prime Directive, and by relation modern perceptions of imperialism, a manifestation of post-colonial guilt? The going contemporary thought, and I’ve been yelled at about this here on Tumblr, is that imperialism is always bad.
I rather think that imperialism is an intrinsic part of humanity and its history of how it got from there to here. And what we have here is really not too bad, because the extent of communication, trade, and the general inter-connectedness of the world has made it more and more difficult to justify conquest and exploitation. That is what moves people beyond imperialism, not academic apologies.
I have a friend who feels very shaky about the idea of Nationalism. She feels uncomfortable during football tournaments, for example, because of all the flag waving.
And I really understand that, particularly within the European context. A lot of nationalism is very much defined by comparing your national idea against another. A lot of national identities were created through conflict with another. Humanity in general has a tendency to define itself by what it is not, and what it is not is typically a nearby neighbour they don’t like.
Modern Nationalism in Europe also tends to manifest in extremely horrible ways these days, as typified by nuts like Anders Breivik and so on. Nationalism has become a right wing philosophy in Europe, and particularly bastardized into neo-Nazism by skinheads all over the continent.
Nationalism is called Patriotism in America, and it suffers much the same problem.
I think differently though, and I think this because of my experience growing up in Indonesia, but also in South East Asia in general.
As a recap, quite a few countries in Asia have only relatively modern national identities, and some are very recent indeed. Indonesia only exists as a nationstate because it was a former Dutch colony. Otherwise the country is full of vastly different peoples populating a huge archipelago which has kept them different for a long time.
Despite that the Dutch ruled over this vast area, the people within it didn’t really develop a national consciousness until the Second World War. And this was entirely because Sukarno, who would be its first president, pushed that identity upon them. He (along with his colleague Hatta) developed the Indonesian language, developed its flag, its songs, and so on.
And that’s really what makes Indonesia today. It’s still a fantastically diverse country, but it sticks together because there is, somehow, a sense of being Indonesian over being Javanese or Papuan or Balinese.
This was a real challenge after the last dictator, Suharto, resigned. With a somewhat more liberal political system many provinces saw their chance to push for at least autonomy if not greater independence. They did this because the central government tended to be more exploitative of such resource rich provinces and not all that generous when it came to investing in the people of said provinces.
But altogether the Indonesian polity is a stronger one together than separate. Aceh, which fought some 25 years for independence, was the most badly hit province in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. After that their resistance movement signed a peace treaty because they both couldn’t fight anymore and also needed all the aid that only a large national government from Jakarta could provide. They are now an autonomous province, which is a fair compromise.
The point is that former colonies, which often inherited some form of political structure from their former colonizers, need nationalism as a tool to keep people invested in that infrastructure. They need something for the people living there to identify by and have faith in their new national governments.
And they do this by flag waving, by national anthems, and sometimes by the kind of repression only dictators can implement.
So would Indonesia be better off as an assortment of states? Java, Sumatra, Flores, Sunda? Personally, I don’t think so.
East Timor, or Timor L’Este, is independent today because it too fought a 25 year war against Indonesia. It had more legitimacy than Aceh because it was still a Portuguese colony until 1975, and within days after it was granted independence it was annexed by Indonesia. So in a sense they were only trying to win back their independence, while Aceh was fighting for an idea which predated Dutch colonization.
But Timor l’Este is a wildly poor state now. It has some trade resources and it’s not doing as badly as it could be… but it suffers from the trade barriers and tariffs of being a small country trading with larger richer countries. Whereas the various Indonesian provinces trade without tariffs within the large nationstate, which then provides a preferential export rate to other countries. I would argue that all of these provinces are richer being part of Indonesia than they would be if they were independent. Unfortunately I don’t have supporting figures for that.
Indonesia itself got up to some conflict shenanigans during its history. Aside from the wars in Aceh and East Timor, they also had a Confrontation (with the capital C) with Malaysia and occasionally suppressed independence movements in Papua (then Irian Jaya) and other regions.
Would there have been more or less conflict without the overarching Indonesian government? I would argue more. While the various provinces didn’t always like being ruled from Java, and some conflicts came from migration of say, Madurese people to traditionally Dayak areas, different regions had sometimes very local conflicts. The best example is Maluku.
Maluku is a much more mixed religious region, in that it has comparable numbers of Christians to Muslims. Most of the time they get along, but things got violent particularly after 9-11. I personally figure that it’s possible these two peoples would have fought anyway. Or possibly different local nationalisms would have further defined themselves in conflict with their neighbours.
But the way things happened is that there was the umbrella identity of Indonesia. When people struggled against the government it wasn’t so much against the national identity and the desire to assert themselves as different (except Aceh and East Timor) but much more often because they saw their economic resources taken from them with little payment. And so their reasons are more economic, less political or cultural.
My point is that all over Asia, nationalism became a binding and stabilizing force, and much less of a destructive one, often the lesser of two evils. That’s why I think nationalism still can have a positive role to play in providing legitimacy and stability to post-colonial nationstates.