A year and a half ago I approached my high school history teacher with the idea of launching a podcast with a massively expanded version of the content of the “Modern Western Civilization” course he taught me in high school in the 1990s, to include the whole world and the people’s histories.
We’re just about to reach the 20th century so we thought we would debrief and go over some of what we’ve learned. We read things like EH Carr’s What is History?; Dave discusses the limitations of podcasting and of high school teaching; we talk about where the history we do fits into current debates about Critical Race Theory; and we set up for the next two series to come – the Scramble for Africa, and the Three World Wars (WWI, WWII, and the Cold War).
General Jacob Smith was reprimanded for his order to commit atrocities in the war against the Philippine Republic, but he was not alone in giving such orders. The US war in the Philippines set the stage for more than a century of counterinsurgency, atrocities, and pretexts like the civilizing mission and the responsibility to protect. Using Renato Constantino’s work, also talk about some of the amazing characters on the Filipino side, like Bonifacio and Aguinaldo.
A complex multinational megaproject with layers of government corruption and massive government funds. A separatist movement created and sponsored by the US. A chunk of territory carved out of an existing country for imperialist use. Workers exploited to death. And a shining imperialist possession at the end. We talk about the creation of Panama and the Panama Canal, another prototypical imperialist operation that offers many warnings for the next 120 years.
Through their own efforts, Puerto Rican revolutionaries won a charter of autonomy from Spain and were on their way to winning independence. Then Spain handed its colony over to the US, and the US has colonized it ever since. We talk about how the US invented the concept of “odious debt” to avoid paying Spain’s colonial debt, then promptly saddled Puerto Rico with an odious debt of its own.
We tell the story of Cuba’s movement for independence from Spain following the remarkable career of Jose Marti from his teenage years to his unlucky demise. We pick up the story of the Spanish American War in Cuba from the USS Maine incident (“To Hell With Spain! Remember the Maine!”) and the possibility that it was faked. Part 3 of our series on Yankee Imperialism.
Starting in earnest in the early 1880s the US embarked on a prototypical regime change operation: propaganda demonizing the targeted regime, financial control of the targeted state, suborning of key government officials, deactivation and destruction of the sovereign military force from within, a coup, followed by an invasion disavowing any US ambition or interest, and finally the swallowing of the country in to the US Empire. After the subjugation of the Indigenous Nations after the Mexican-American War covered in a previous episode, this was one of the first regime changes, and it set the tone for the century-plus of regime changes to follow. We also tell the story of how from King Kalakaua to Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaiian leaders (and people) tried to protect their sovereignty.
At the end of the 19th century the US acquired a substantial overseas empire – Hawaii, Samoa, Guam, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba, as well as imperialist relations all around the world. In this miniseries we look at this Yankee Imperialism, focusing on the Spanish-American War. But first, the post-Reconstruction domestic situation in the US – the robber barons, the violent strikes, and the racial apartheid that fueled the American system. We use two books that are two sides of the same people’s history coin: Dave reads from Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States; Justin from J Sakai’s Settlers.
A strategically bankrupt expedition by a vindictive, racist, imperialist power to conduct a series of genocidal atrocities on a Muslim population solely because they dared to fight back. And no, we aren’t talking about last week – we conclude the Islam & Imperialism segment of Civilizations with the Anglo-Afghan wars starting with the Army of Revenge in 1842 and going down to the fixing of the Durand Line. What could go wrong?
The British imperialists made much of the bad experiences they had invading and pillaging Afghanistan beginning in 1839, coining terms like the “Graveyard of Empires” and inspiring racist poets like Kipling. We tell the story straight – a bloody imperialist aggression designed to set back Afghan society. Still, the story has some unforgettable characters – from Shah Shuja to Dost Mohamed, from McNaghten and Burnes to Mohan Lal Kashmiri. The crimes, the atrocities, the massacres, the racism and the foolishness of the imperialists and the calculations on the Afghan side, in this long instalment in the Islam & Imperialism series of Civilizations. This is a long one, and we didn’t quite get to the end of the first war!
Part 2 of our series on Islam and Imperialism in the 19th century: the Persian Empire’s struggles with the imperialists. In this period Persia was dominated by the Qajjars. We talk about their rise, the multiple wars with Russia, the attempts to modernize, the unequal treaties. We tell the story of Griboyedev’s demise from both sides, and talk about one of the biggest Victorian famines you never heard about – the Persian famine of 1869-1872.