All posts filed under: History

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 …

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 …

Norms of Good Governance: Where Do They Come From?

Some countries exhibit good governance while others do not. Even wealthy countries, with strong cultural norms of industriousness and excellence in education, can flounder when it comes to maintaining liberal democracy. For personality psychologists, such as myself, this presents an intriguing question: what is it about humans that makes democratic norms stick? What are the traits that facilitate honesty and transparency in administration at the highest levels? Whatever the answer turns out to be, new insights from personality psychology can help shed some light on how good governance can be both developed and maintained. Those of us who live in the Anglosphere (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK) might be forgiven for thinking that our societal norms such as individualism, freedom of expression and public service are standard issue for humanity. They aren’t, they are WEIRD. That acronym stands for Western Educated Industrialised Rich and Democratic. And the name fits – WEIRD countries are rare, comprising only about 12% of the global population. This observation is usually viewed in the scientific literature as …

The Furore Over a Quebec Theatre Production Has Missed the Point

Quebec is a bastion of North American progressivism. Canada’s only majority-Francophone province is a place where postsecondary education is heavily subsidized, unions remain powerful, the social safety net is thick, and the power grid is fuelled by green hydroelectric energy. Given all this, it might have surprised some outside observers to learn that Quebec briefly played host this summer to a theatrical production described by one prominent artist as “reminiscent of blackface minstrel shows.” The controversy sprang to popular attention when Montreal’s Jazz Festival canceled the remaining performances of SLAV, in which a white star (surrounding by a largely white cast) performed songs composed by black slaves. Director Robert Lepage, a giant of the Quebec stage, denounced the decision as “a direct blow” to his artistic freedom. But activists within Quebec’s black community described the cancelation as necessary. “I am not the type to scream about cultural appropriation, but this project left me with an acrid aftertaste,” Québécois rapper Webster wrote in Le Devoir. “How many will benefit from black cultural heritage set to stage …

Moral Panic, Then and Now

When my very Christian parents tried to throw away my 14-year-old sister’s heavy metal records, she ran away to her friend’s house. I cried for days. It felt like the end of everything. My sister would be gone forever. I would now live in what was referred to at the time as a “broken home.” I imagined that I’d be reunited with my sister in a few years—on the mean city streets after I’d been forced into a life of crime. Both my parents and sister seemed to make good arguments. My mother and father tried to trash the records because they loved my sister, while my sister ran away because of her love for Dee Snyder. My parents wanted my sister to be safe. My sister wanted to express her individuality through music. My parents claimed that heavy metal was the cause of my sister’s rebellious behavior. My sister said that Judas Priest rocked, and elevated Ozzy Osbourne to secular sainthood. My parents thought my sister had fallen victim to satanic messages encoded in …

Britain’s Populist Revolt

More than two years have passed since Britain voted for Brexit. Ever since that moment, the vote to leave the European Union has routinely been framed as an aberration; a radical departure from ‘normal’ life. Countless journalists, scholars, and celebrities have lined up to offer their diagnosis of what caused this apparent moment of madness among the electorate. Russia-backed social media accounts. Shady big tech firms like Cambridge Analytica. Austerity. The malign influence of populist ‘Brexiteers’ like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. The Brexit campaign exceeding its legal spending limit. Or a much-debated claim, written on the side of a bus, that Brexit would allow Britain to redirect its millions of pounds worth of contributions to the EU into its own creaking health service. Typical is a recent piece by a (British) columnist in the New York Times who argues: “Britain is in this mess principally because the Brexiteers—led largely by Mr. Johnson—sold the country a series of lies in the lead up to the June 2016 referendum.” Britain has produced a Brexit debate that is …

Who Is to Blame for Haiti’s Problems?

On July 9, the Root published an article by Michael Harriot entitled “As Haiti Burns, Never Forget: White People Did That.” Obviously, Harriot is not claiming that a mob of white arsonists and rioters descended on Haiti. Although he is never entirely explicit about what he means by “did that,” a fair-minded summary of his hypothesis would read: “The historical actions of France (and the US) are the cause of modern Haitian poverty and thus riots in 2018.” As riots erupt in Haiti, never forget that the country's extreme poverty and problems were caused by white people: https://t.co/M8PUTNHjPj pic.twitter.com/wHI5c8qRtE — The Root (@TheRoot) July 9, 2018 Specifically, Harriot attributes this poverty to an odious agreement foisted upon Haiti in 1825 by the French, which required Haiti to pay ‘reparations’ to France for lost property after Haitian slaves heroically won their independence in 1804—the lost ‘property’ in question was the Haitian slaves themselves. His complaints about the United States are less clear, but they essentially involve the US turning a blind eye to French abuse. Harriot is not …

Reclaiming Work as a Virtue

My father taught me a simple lesson: when the alarm clock goes off, you get out of bed, have a shave, wash yourself, put your clothes on and go to work. You’ve got to be resilient and you’ve got to be focused on what you want to achieve. Dad believed the measure of a person was whether or not they were a worker. He believed that working was a virtue. So do I. My father was Bundjalung and my mother Gumbaynggirr, two of the hundreds of first nations that existed across Australia before British colonisation. My Bundjalung ancestors had their first contact with white settlers in the early 1800s who came looking for grazing land. Like so many indigenous peoples across the world, this early contact included killings. But the initial hostilities gave way to a compromise with both sides showing a marked level of pragmatism. The settlers set up their sheep, later cattle, station and my ancestors lived and worked there, maintaining a good relationship with the station owners to this day. My grandfather …