Tag Archives: History

What the Russian Revolution can teach us about the Middle East today

These days, uprisings should be studied with a cold eye and there’s a fine little exhibition on in Paris about the 1917 Russian revolution which casts a dark reflection on the Arab “awakening” we’ve all been observing in the Middle East. It’s an extraordinary display from the “revolution which changed the world”, including posters, photographs and – amazingly – some documents which show just how much the Mencheviks (and the Russian Provisional Government) and then the Bolsheviks tried to enlist the Muslim world – and the Armenians – in their destruction of the Romanov dynasty.

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Posted by on December 6, 2017 in Europe, Middle East


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How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America

Haskell County, Kansas, lies in the southwest corner of the state, near Oklahoma and Colorado. In 1918 sod houses were still common, barely distinguishable from the treeless, dry prairie they were dug out of. It had been cattle country—a now bankrupt ranch once handled 30,000 head—but Haskell farmers also raised hogs, which is one possible clue to the origin of the crisis that would terrorize the world that year. Another clue is that the county sits on a major migratory flyway for 17 bird species, including sand hill cranes and mallards. Scientists today understand that bird influenza viruses, like human influenza viruses, can also infect hogs, and when a bird virus and a human virus infect the same pig cell, their different genes can be shuffled and exchanged like playing cards, resulting in a new, perhaps especially lethal, virus.

We cannot say for certain that that happened in 1918 in Haskell County, but we do know that an influenza outbreak struck in January, an outbreak so severe that, although influenza was not then a “reportable” disease, a local physician named Loring Miner—a large and imposing man, gruff, a player in local politics, who became a doctor before the acceptance of the germ theory of disease but whose intellectual curiosity had kept him abreast of scientific developments—went to the trouble of alerting the U.S. Public Health Service. The report itself no longer exists, but it stands as the first recorded notice anywhere in the world of unusual influenza activity that year. The local newspaper, the Santa Fe Monitor, confirms that something odd was happening around that time: “Mrs. Eva Van Alstine is sick with pneumonia…Ralph Lindeman is still quite sick…Homer Moody has been reported quite sick…Pete Hesser’s three children have pneumonia …Mrs J.S. Cox is very weak yet…Ralph Mc-Connell has been quite sick this week…Mertin, the young son of Ernest Elliot, is sick with pneumonia,…Most everybody over the country is having lagrippe or pneumonia.”

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Posted by on November 30, 2017 in North America, Reportages


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How to Interview a Nazi

Tony and Maria Hovater registered for their wedding at Target. During an interview at Applebee’s, she wore a sleeveless jean jacket and ordered the boneless wings. He likes Seinfeld and King of the Hill, and described his time playing with a metal band over a turkey sandwich at Panera Bread. Oh, and they’re both Nazis. He thinks Hitler was “chill” about Slavs and gays, and considers the claim that 6 million Jews were slaughtered during World War II “overblown.” She’s “pretty lined up” politically with him. The political party he helped establish sells swastikas online.

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Posted by on November 30, 2017 in North America


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Flawed Justice for the Butcher of Bosnia

I met Ratko Mladic only once. He was the general commanding the war machine destroying Bosnia and overseeing the medieval siege of Sarajevo, the capital, where I was living and reporting. I spent my days going to the morgue to count the dead and to sit in hospitals with children who had been blinded by shrapnel.

On a freezing cold day in 1993, as Sarajevo was getting pummeled with shells, I had driven to Mount Igman, a strategic mountain to the southeast, through Bosnian Serb front lines. In a pine forest, on a mud road, I found General Mladic sitting placidly in his jeep. Tentatively, I approached his window to ask him a question about the humanitarian operation in Sarajevo. Food had not been delivered in some time, I said, and people were starving to death. Would he let the trucks carrying food pass?

The Butcher of Bosnia, a nickname I thought let him off lightly, stared at me coldly and muttered something to his aide-de-camp. The aide told me, “The general says, ‘Tell the girl journalist if she comes any closer, I’ll run her down.’ ” Then he added, in English, “And he will do it.”

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Posted by on November 28, 2017 in Europe


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I carabinieri rileggono il colonialismo fascista

Questa storia mostra come il passato coloniale dell’Italia e le violenze che hanno accompagnato le campagne militari fasciste continuino a essere oggetto di ricostruzioni inquietanti, anche su siti istituzionali.

Cercando informazioni sul web a proposito dell’invasione dell’Etiopia del 1935-1936, per esempio, ci si imbatte nella sezione Non tutti sanno che del sito dei carabinieri, rivolta “sia ai cultori della storia, ai quali principalmente sono diretti i documenti storici in formato integrale, sia a chi si avvicina per la prima volta all’arma ed ai valori che essa interpreta”.

Uno di questi documenti si intitola “24-25 aprile 1936. La battaglia di Gunu Gadu (Etiopia)” e riguarda una delle battaglie nella regione dell’Ogaden che precedettero la presa di Addis Abeba e la definitiva sconfitta dell’esercito etiope nel 1936, quando il paese fu posto sotto il controllo coloniale italiano.

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Posted by on November 27, 2017 in European Union


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How colonial violence came home: the ugly truth of the first world war

Today on the Western Front,” the German sociologist Max Weber wrote in September 1917, there “stands a dross of African and Asiatic savages and all the world’s rabble of thieves and lumpens.” Weber was referring to the millions of Indian, African, Arab, Chinese and Vietnamese soldiers and labourers, who were then fighting with British and French forces in Europe, as well as in several ancillary theatres of the first world war.

Faced with manpower shortages, British imperialists had recruited up to 1.4 million Indian soldiers. France enlisted nearly 500,000 troops from its colonies in Africa and Indochina. Nearly 400,000 African Americans were also inducted into US forces. The first world war’s truly unknown soldiers are these non-white combatants.

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Posted by on November 25, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Il fantasma di Ratko Mladić nell’Europa di oggi

Aprile 1992. Colline intorno a Sarajevo, Bosnia Erzegovina. Registrazione radio-telefono:

“Qui generale Mladić”.
“Non avere paura. Come ti chiami?”.
“Vukasinović, ascoltami. Bombarda la presidenza e il parlamento. Spara a intervalli lenti fino a che non ti dirò di smettere”.
“Colpisci i quartieri musulmani, lì non vivono molti serbi”.
“Va bene”.
“Non devono dormire. Bombardali fino a farli impazzire”.

Sono i primi giorni della guerra in Bosnia e Ratko Mladić, comandante militare dei serbo-bosniaci, ordina al colonnello Vukasinović di sparare a tappeto su una capitale europea, Sarajevo. È l’inizio dell’assedio più lungo nella storia contemporanea: finirà solo nel febbraio del 1996, dopo 44 mesi. Almeno undicimila persone moriranno, più della metà civili. I feriti saranno più di cinquantamila.

Il 22 novembre 2017 il Tribunale penale internazionale per la ex Jugoslavia ha condannato il generale Ratko Mladić, all’ergastolo. Dopo un processo durato cinque anni, lo ha riconosciuto colpevole di dieci capi di imputazione su undici, tra cui di crimini di guerra, crimini contro l’umanità e genocidio. Per capire l’importanza di questa sentenza bisogna ricostruire il progetto nazionalista ideato dal presidente serbo Slobodan Milošević e trasformato in una guerra di sterminio nel cuore dell’Europa dal serbo-bosniaco Mladić.

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Posted by on November 24, 2017 in Europe


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Ratko Mladić will die in jail. But go to Bosnia: you’ll see that he won

General Ratko Mladić, the most bloodthirsty warlord to strut European soil since the Third Reich, will die in jail. Any other outcome after today’s verdict in The Hague would have been preposterous.

The mothers of the more than 8,000 men and boys mass-murdered in Srebrenica, over five days in the summer of 1995, have every reason to welcome the sentence of life imprisonment, and Mladić’s conviction for genocide: the only judicial standard by which that crime can be rightly measured.

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Posted by on November 24, 2017 in Europe, European Union


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What Ever Happened to the Russian Revolution?

Russia is both a great, glorious country and an ongoing disaster. Just when you decide it is the one, it turns around and discloses the other. For a hundred years before 1917, it experienced wild disorders and political violence interspersed with periods of unquiet calm, meanwhile producing some of the world’s greatest literature and booming in population and helping to feed Europe. Then it leapt into a revolution unlike any the world had ever seen. Today, a hundred years afterward, we still don’t know quite what to make of that huge event. The Russians themselves aren’t too sure about its significance.

I used to tell people that I loved Russia, because I do. I think everybody has a country not their own that they’re powerfully drawn to; Russia is mine. I can’t explain the attraction, only observe its symptoms going back to childhood, such as listening over and over to Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” narrated by Peter Ustinov, when I was 6, or standing in the front yard at night as my father pointed out Sputnik crossing the sky. Now I’ve traveled enough in Russia that my affections are more complicated. I know that almost no conclusion I ever draw about it is likely to be right. The way to think about Russia is without thinking about it. I just try to love it and yield to it and go with it, while also paying vigilant attention—if that makes sense.

I first began traveling to Russia more than 24 years ago, and in 2010 I published Travels in Siberia, a book about trips I’d made to that far-flung region. With the fall of the Soviet Union, areas previously closed to travelers had opened up. During the 1990s and after, the pace of change in Russia cascaded. A harsh kind of capitalism grew; democracy came and mostly went. Then, two years ago, my son moved to the city of Yekaterinburg, in the Ural Mountains, on the edge of Siberia, and he lives there now. I see I will never stop thinking about this country.

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Posted by on November 14, 2017 in Europe


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America’s Wars Are Spreading Chaos in Africa

The Indonesian military killed as many as 1 million suspected communists in the mid-1960s, paving the path for a dictator, Suharto, who ruled the country for more than three decades. Newly declassified documents from the U.S. embassy in Jakarta reveal an extraordinary degree of American complicity in what remains one of the Cold War’s biggest crimes. The U.S. not only ignored information that could have prevented the atrocity; it facilitated the killings by providing the Indonesian military with money, equipment and lists of communist officials.

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Posted by on November 9, 2017 in Africa, Asia


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