All posts filed under: History

Orwell and the Anti-Totalitarian Left in the Age of Trump

I In his review of Pascal Bruckner’s new book, An Imaginary Racism: Islamophobia and Guilt, Nick Cohen begins with a denunciation of the contemporary Left’s obsession with identity politics and “willingness to excuse antisemitism, misogyny, tyranny, and obscurantism, as long as the antisemitic, misogynistic, tyrannical obscurantists are anti-Western.” Cohen acknowledges that Bruckner has been among the most penetrating analysts of the Left’s moral and intellectual decline in the twenty-first century, recalling that he described Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism as a “brilliant defence of liberalism and a deservedly contemptuous assault on all those intellectuals who have betrayed its best values.” However, Cohen now thinks Bruckner’s animus toward the Left has propelled him to the Right, arguing that he fails to “extend his opposition to Islamism to cover the purveyors of anti-Muslim bigotry,” uses the “language of demagogues and civil war,” and displays the “ethnic favouritism and intellectual double-standards of the counter-Enlightenment.” Cohen also laments Bruckner’s sparse commentary on right-wing populist and nationalist movements in Europe and the United States: At …

The Flawed History and Real Torment of Canada’s Residential Schools

Brian Tuesday was a little Ojibway boy when he was taken from his home at the Big Grassy River Indian reserve and moved to St. Margaret’s Indian Residential School at Fort Frances, Ontario, on the Canadian side of the Rainy River. Like many of Canada’s notorious residential schools, St. Margaret’s was situated in a large, imposing building. It was built at the edge of a river, adjacent to Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church. The boys and girls were separated in the yard by a wire fence. Brian, whose Ojibway spirit name was Tibishkopiness, wasn’t allowed to approach the fence to talk to his little sister. On more than one occasion, he stood helplessly on his side and watched as one of the nuns beat her for some real or imagined indiscretion. During the time he was at St. Margaret’s, Brian was sexually abused by a priest and beaten by a nun. Things got a bit better when they transferred him to St. Joseph’s Indian Residential School in Thunder Bay, Ontario—about 350 kilometres to …

Jews Revolutionized the Universities. Will Asians Do the Same?

In 1905, Harvard College adopted the College Entrance Examination Board tests as the principal basis for student admission, a blind test that favored intelligent applicants even if they lacked poise or polish. By 1908, Jews—most the children of immigrants—constituted 7% of the school’s student population—double the percentage of Jews in the U.S. general population. By 1916, Jewish enrolment was 15%, and by 1922 it was more than 21%. Harvard’s president, Abbot Lawrence Lowell, became alarmed by what he perceived as a serious problem. This was not because (or not only because ) Lowell harbored anti-Semitic views. As he wrote to a colleague in 1922, “The summer hotel that is ruined by admitting Jews meets its fate, not because the Jews it admits are of bad character, but because they drive away the Gentiles.” (His observation was not incorrect—although he was wrong to assume that Jews in universities would have the same off-putting effect as in hotels.) Today, we are watching what may well be a reprise of this scenario, with Asian-Americans as the targeted group: …

My Misspent Years of Conspiracism

I My tumble down the JFK assassination rabbit-hole began in the Tunbridge Wells Odeon on 25 January 1992. I was 16. A few years previously, I had watched a television documentary that purported to identify a second assassin in police uniform (known to conspiracy researchers as ‘badgeman’) firing at the president from the grassy knoll. But I’d never heard of Jim Garrison and knew precisely nothing about the case he had prosecuted against Clay Shaw. Oliver Stone’s new film had a 189-minute running time (later expanded to 206 minutes in the Director’s Cut) which struck me as excessive, and there was something vaguely irritating about the piety of the sentences emblazoned across the promotional material (“He is a District Attorney. He will risk his life, the lives of his family, everything he holds dear, for the one thing he holds sacred… the truth”). Nevertheless, on JFK’s opening weekend, I took my seat in a packed auditorium along with a couple of school friends and for over three hours I was mesmerised. By the time it …

Nazis: A Modern Field Guide

In the Fall of 1943, as American troops were working their way northward through Italy, U.S. commanders were doing their best to address a basic problem of military intelligence: troops in the field couldn’t tell different kinds of German troops and weapons apart. This could have life or death consequences: An American squad armed with a bazooka could stand fast against a thinly armoured halftrack, but had little chance of harming the heaviest German tanks. Likewise, GIs had to be far more careful when fighting elite German infantry units than with the conscripts and armed prisoners from the eastern front that the Wehrmacht threw into the field as the conflict wore on. And so the U.S. War Department produced a 400-page book called Handbook on German Military Forces, with the purpose of giving officers and enlisted men “a better understanding of their principal enemy.” A set of colour plates within the book show German soldiers in a variety of uniform styles and poses, from the Continental uniform style seen in most war movies, to tropical …

Righteous Among the Nations: The Rescued Tribe of Colonel Jose Arturo Castellanos Contreras

“When you grow up in a country where war is the order of the day, the bullets are flying all around you, it is only normal that once you get to a safe place like Canada, it may actually be a good thing to leave your country’s history behind, at least for a while,” Alvaro Castellanos tells me over coffee in midtown Toronto. “And so that is what my brothers did when we got here.” But in time, the past caught up with the Castellanos family. With the release of their extraordinary documentary film The Rescue, Alvaro and his younger brother Boris haven’t just faced up to their clan’s history. They have turned it into high art. Alvaro and Boris came to Canada as immigrants during the height of the civil war in native El Salvador. Their first home was in Pickering, a predominantly white, middle-class Toronto suburb. This was a household run by their mother and aunt. The boys’ estranged father remained in El Salvador, an almost entirely unknown figure in their lives. “You …

Purity or Universalism?

A few days after his recent passing, the Manhattan Institute reposted a speech by V. S. Naipaul from October 1990. The title, “Our Universal Civilization,” captured the triumphal and optimistic spirit of that moment, nearly one year after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In order to render this universal civilization in greater relief, Naipaul related the following about his travels in Asia [emphasis added]: Traveling among non-Arab Muslims, I found myself among a colonized people who had been stripped by their faith of all that expanding intellectual life, all the varied life of the mind and senses, the expanding cultural and historical knowledge of the world, that I had been growing into on the other side of the world. I was among people whose identity was more or less contained in the faith. I was among people who wished to be pure. If we had read this paragraph without knowing its date or the subjects’ actual geography, religion, and history (in this case colonized non-Arab Muslims), we might have surmised that Naipaul was talking about …

The Soviets and the JFK Conspiracy Theorists

Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from Fred Litwin’s new book, I Was a Teenage JFK Conspiracy Freak. For further information, please visit www.conspiracyfreak.com. It’s an open question whether the Russians successfully tilted the 2016 American election to Donald Trump. We know they did their best, but we’ll probably never know if their attempts really shifted the vote. What is certain is that Russian attempts to influence American politics and public opinion are not new. Back in the 1960s and the 1970s, the Soviets tried to convince people that the CIA was behind the JFK assassination. 45 years later, we are still learning about the full extent of these efforts. In the following extract from my new book, I look at just three of these Soviet disinformation campaigns. They have had a demonstrable effect on the thinking and arguments of conspiracy theorists, and these, in turn, have gradually seeped into the wider popular culture and helped shape public misperceptions about the assassination. The Mark Lane Connection Some of the evidence of Soviet interference comes from …

Suffragists Fought for the Female Sex

It is not so much the cause of feminism to provide a shining walkway for a female leader, as… to arrive at a governance that takes issues that affect women seriously. ~Rae Story In the quote above, writer and activist Rae Story offers a stark warning of the dangers of tokenism and co-optation in an era where ‘feminism’ has become part of many a politician’s personal brand. Story’s statement also functions as a timely reminder of the suffragists’ objective: governance that takes women’s issues seriously. This is why I included the quote in a recent poster campaign I started in Wellington, New Zealand as a way to be heard in the current climate that has become increasingly hostile and repressive towards women’s views. I created three posters: one featured Story, another featured Iranian activist Masih Alinejad stating, “In all religions and in all societies, first they come for the women.” A third featured local feminist Chelsea Geddes asking, “If you think women are wrong, how do you know the only way to win the argument is to silence …

Did British Merchants Cause the Opium War?

A review of Song-Chuan Chen’s Merchants of War and Peace: British Knowledge of China in the Making of the Opium War, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press (January 12, 2017) 240 pages. The war had a name even before its first shot. The first recorded use of the moniker, the ‘Opium War,’ was in an 1839 piece in the London Morning Herald; within months it would be echoed across the benches of Parliament and across the carronades of the fleet sent to punish the Chinese crackdown on British trade. The war’s nomenclature revealed from the beginning the multivalent views the British public held towards the war: it was at once the “unjust and iniquitous” Opium War — to use Gladstone’s well-known phrase — as well as the patriotic ‘China War,’ as its proponents wanted it to be called. The historiography of the war is similarly divided among varied lines. Some see the war as reflective of China’s failure to catch up to Western technologies; others emphasize the British desire to avenge their slighted national honour as the …