Another year has passed, 2017 has come to a close, and we wait to see what 2018 holds. 2017, however, has seen the anniversaries of several important historical events, and many other events which can be explained through history. For 2017's final blog post I thought it would be a good opportunity to look at historical anniversaries and some of 2017's headlines to see how they fit in world history. Due to the amount of things which have happened over the last year I cannot talk about everything and I'll only talk of events which I feel that I can (somewhat) accurately explain. As my specialty are the nineteenth and twentieth centuries most of what I'll discuss will be from these two centuries.
The Reformation 500 Years On
|Luther and the Reformation|
The first event which we're going to look at is the Reformation. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther supposedly nailed his criticisms of the practices of the Catholic Church - his 95 theses - on the door of the Wittenberg Church - although it is far likelier that he sent them to prominent bishops and theologians. This started the split between the Western Christian church between Catholics and Protestants. A detailed look at the Reformation can be found in one of my recent blog posts here. Luther was not the only critic of the Church to emerge. In Switzerland Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin emerged, in England Henry VIII formed his own movement when the pope refused to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and across Europe people sided with either the pope or the reformers. Despite how long ago the Reformation was it still greatly shapes the world we live in. For example, several historians have argued that the Wars of Religion helped lay the groundwork for secularization. The many wars, (such as the Thirty Years War, 1618-48, and the French Wars of Religion, 1562-98), forced a compromise between the warring factions. Limited religious tolerance was offered in the peace treaties which ended the wars; although of course it was only tolerance for the religious sects which fought one another, some of the worst persecution of Jews until the Second World War in Western and Central Europe occurred during the Wars of Religion. In Britain the wars resulted in the strengthening of the parliament, first with Cromwell's rule and later with the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688/9. In many areas of Europe, and the world, the Catholic/Protestant divide is still very prevalent and shapes thought. For example, Northern Irish politics is extremely divided on sectarian lines with the DUP - who are currently in coalition with the Conservative party - running on a very strict Protestant platform.
India's Two Anniversaries
India witnessed two traumatic anniversaries this year which greatly influenced the forming of today's India. The first was the 1857 Indian Rebellion - although you may also see it referred to as the First War of Indian Independence, Indian Mutiny, the Indian Uprising, or Great Rebellion. For years resentment towards British, and the East India Company which was ruling India. 1857 the resentment spilled over. The East India Company (and Britain) had been using Indians in the army and had introduced a new rifle, the Enfield, which required the user to bite a greased cartridge. A rumor abounded that beef and pork fat were being used which led to many Indian soldiers to refuse to use the rifle. As a result on May 9 the commanding officer of the Third Bengal Light Cavalry in Meerut sentenced 85 troopers to ten years' hard labor and publicly humiliated them. This caused a widespread rebellion from Indian soldiers in Northern India which spread to the Indian masses. Some soldiers around Delhi declared the aged Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah, emperor of all of India. Indian soldiers massacred British citizens when they took towns, cities, and barricades which enraged British troops who committed bloody atrocities against Indians in revenge. By November 1, 1858 the rebellion had been put down costing the lives of up to 806,000 through massacres, battles, disease and famine. Despite early victories the rebellion was defeated for several reasons. The East India Company had three armies - the Bombay, Madras and Bengal - and only the Bengal army mutinied. In fact, some parts of the Bombay and Madras armies were used to fight the rebels. As the Bengal army had helped conquer a Sikh princely state Sikhs were widely used to put down the rebellion in the Punjab. The 1857 Rebellion was only confined to northern India, but if it had happened across India there was a strong possibility that British rule could have ended in India. The rebels were also very divided. When soldiers declared that Bahadur Shah's power had been restored this deterred Hindus, Christians and Sikhs from supporting the rebellion, (the Mughals were a Muslim power). With a divided rebellion it prevented it from being a success. Following the Uprising Indian-British relations were changed. The brutal crushing of the rebellion greatly soured relations and it remained prevalent in imperial (and indigenous) records for the following century. The East India Company was dissolved, Victoria made Empress, the three armies were merged into one, and Indians were declared subjects. Declaring Indians subjects also raised questions for many Indians. Many asked, if we are subjects why do we lack the same rights as the British? Indian nationalism would grow exponentially after 1857.
|Refugees after Partition|
This brings us to the second anniversary: the Partition of India. Britain continued with the East India Company's policy of divide-and-rule which set different ethnicities, religions and castes against one another instead of creating a united force against the British. More can be found about on my post on Partition here so I shall try and give a brief summary. Thanks to divide-and-rule policies different religions formed their own nationalist, or reform, movements. Two which emerged were the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League. Mohandas Gandhi became involved with Congress and turned it into a mass movement attracting millions of supporters. Slowly the movements managed to obtain limited constitutional reforms from the British. However, due to Hindu domination of Congress (something accidentally caused by Gandhi) many Muslims feared Hindu domination in a post-independence India, including Muhammad Ali Jinnah of the Muslim League. In 1933 nationalist Choudhry Rahmat Ali coined the name Pakistan and Muslim activists championed this idea. Until recently it had been believed that Jinnah drove a wedge between Muslims and Hindus leading to Partition, but recent historiography, such as by Ayesha Jalal, has argued that it was a desperate attempt to get compensation out of Congress. Following the Second World War British rule in India collapsed so Britain opted to haphazardly divide India using out of date maps and censuses in August 1947. This left millions of people trapped on the wrong side of the border. A refugee crises emerged as massacres and rapes took place in an attempt to ensure areas were part of India or Pakistan. Around 2% of India's population remained refugees in 1951. This division has drastically shaped the Indian subcontinent since 1947.
On December 6 Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, something which has been vetoed by the UN, causing another wave of protests across Palestine and the world. This came a month after the centenary of the Balfour Declaration which was signed by British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour. This can largely be seen as the event which set the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into motion. During the late-nineteenth century nationalism was widespread across Europe and the Middle East. Discrimination of Jews was prevalent across Europe so Jewish intellectuals, primarily in Central and Eastern Europe, thought of an idea called Zionism. If Jews were to stop being persecution they needed their own homeland, and that they had a homeland before but had been expelled by the Romans. They wanted to reform Israel (as a republic not a kingdom) in Palestine. They also assumed that the Arabs would accept them being a fellow Semitic people, and that they would want 'civilizing' by Europeans (Social Darwinism was very prevalent in the 1800s). Especially thanks to the intense antisemitism of the Dreyfus Affair - where a blatantly innocent French Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted of being a German spy - support for Zionism grew. At this early stage the proposed Israel was meant to be a state for Jews - the Balfour Declaration even uses the phrase 'national homeland for the Jews' - not a Jewish state. In 1917 Arthur Balfour declared that Britain would help form a Zionist state despite opposition from Palestinians, non-Zionist Jews, and the fact that Britain had already promised Palestine to Hussein bin Ali to be part of the pan-Arab state. Palestine was declared a British mandate and Britain implemented divide-and-rule policies in the region. Eventually, in 1948 two states were meant to be formed: Israel and Palestine. In the first Arab-Israeli War - sometimes called the Israeli War of Independence or the Nakba - saw Palestine divided between its neighbors. Following the 1967 Six Day War Israel annexed the West Bank and Jerusalem. For political reasons it was largely agreed to recognize Tel Aviv as Israel's capital and Ramallah as Palestine's, or West Jerusalem as Israel's and East Jerusalem as Palestine's, to respect both Israel and Palestine. By recognizing Jerusalem as being Israel's capital this ignores Palestine's claims.
You may be hearing on the news about talks of a Third Intifada. There were two intifadas - the first 1987 to 1991 and the second 2000-5 - which were periods of intense Palestinian uprisings against Israel. Some have argued that Trump's relocation of the embassy to Jerusalem and the IDF's brutal crackdown on Palestinian protesters may cause a Third Intifada.
This summer saw some of the most intense climate events in recent years which included Hurricane Harvey; Irma; floods in Niger, India, and Nepal; intense wildfires in California; and cold winters across the northern hemisphere. These intense bouts of intense weather have been attributed to climate change caused by global warming. Not too long ago I wrote about the Little Ice Age which brought intense climate change caused by a drop in global temperatures. Among these were hailstorms which wiped out crops, frozen lakes in June, and even the Thames freezing over. Understanding the Little Ice Age helps us understand how we can face climate change. Geoffrey Parker in particular has written about how adverse weather and climate affected societies worldwide in the 'Crisis of the Seventeenth Century.' In China the Ming were bloodily overthrown; religious wars ravaged Europe; succession wars hit the Mughals, Ottomans and the Kongo; and famines, floods, and droughts plagued all the world. Although bad weather did not cause these conflicts it made these conflicts worse. As humans continue contributing to climate change by looking at the Little Ice Age we can understand how to cope with global warming.
Centenary of Russian Revolutions
|Lenin and the Masses|
In 1917 Russia saw two revolutions: the February and the October. These two revolutions shook both Russia and the world. For over a century Russia had been trying to slowly reform itself. In 1905 a revolution caused by frustration over defeat in the Russo-Japanese War caused the creation of a parliament, the Duma, although it was extremely weak and gave the tsar large amounts of power. The First World War brought issues to a head. On International Women's Day Social Revolutionaries handed pamphlets to women in Petrograd (St Petersburg) waiting in line for bread. This escalated into a protest and strike, and eventually into a revolution which caused the overthrowing of the tsar. The new Russian republic began many widespread reforms - including emancipating Jews and women - but it soon became unpopular. Many in Russia, especially the peasantry, wanted a clean break with tsarist Russia, different nationalities wanted increased autonomy, and many wanted an end to the war. Then the Bolsheviks rose to prominence. Under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin the Bolsheviks were originally a faction of the Social Revolutionaries deeply inspired by Marxist theory. The Bolsheviks and Lenin promising peace, bread, land and autonomy struck a chord with soldiers, urban workers, peasants and some minorities. Following the crushing of the Bolsheviks during the July Offensive and the arrest of certain leaders, including Leon Trotsky, sympathy for the Bolsheviks rose. Eventually by November (October in Russia which was still using the Julian calendar), the Bolsheviks under Lenin rose up and seized the Winter Palace in Petrograd. Lenin, walking into the Duma, declared 'We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order.' Thus the most influential revolution of the twentieth century took place inspiring millions around the world to do the same from Mexico to China. Many people today are influenced by Marxist theory - including myself, although I am more influenced by Rosa Luxemburg and Antonio Gramsci than Lenin and Trotsky - and the October Revolution helped contribute to this. Although clearly bias I would highly recommend Trotsky's own account, called The History of the Russian Revolution, which is a gripping read detailing the events of both revolutions.
In November long-term president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, was forced to resign after being in power since 1980. Earlier I wrote about Mugabe if you are interested so I'll do a brief summary here. The prime reason why Mugabe was forced to resign by the military was his replacement of Emmerson Mnangwa with his wife, Grace Mugabe. However, Mugabe remains popular in Zimbabwe, and the opposition leaders and military have stated that because of his legacy they chose to go through legal procedures to oust him. Mugabe was one of the key figures in the War of Independence against the minority, white-rule government with his party, ZANU-PF, being incredibly popular with many Zimbabweans. The first few years of Mugabe's premiership were very well received and if he had resigned in the mid-1980s he may even have been popular in the West; after all he was even knighted by the Queen. It is quite telling with the North Atlantic viewpoint that Mugabe was only criticized for his treatment of white farmers in Europe and the USA, and not his period of ethnic violence called the Gukurahundi. One thing to note about the recent resignation is something which has been prevalent in Zimbabwean politics since 1980: the treatment of veterans. Many critics of Mugabe have noted his abandonment of veterans of the independence war leaving many with no job prospects. Mnangwa is also a veteran so his replacement by Grace Mugabe was seen as an even greater affront.
Japan and Korea
Throughout 2017 North Korea has been in the news for testing nuclear missiles. Although this has partially been thanks to Trump's bellicose rhetoric, including this tweet which I thought was satire by The Onion when he was in Vietnam. You may have noticed that Pyongyang has been firing missiles over Hokkaido. We all know by now why Korea is divided so I thought it would be more interesting to look at why there is hostility between North Korea and Japan. When Japan started to get involved in international politics after 1868 they felt threatened by European and American imperialism so began a course of imperialism themselves. They soon turned on the small Kingdom of Korea to the north; first they muscled China out of the way and began influencing Korean politics to prevent Russian interference. Japanese thinkers believed that Asia had to unite, but only the Japanese were capable of uniting Asians. In 1910 they annexed Korea and began a process of 'Japanizing' Koreans. From 1910 to 1945 Japanese politicians started implementing policies to 'Japanify' Korea including banning Korean in Japan; banning Korean dress; attempting to replace Korean names with Japanese ones; and having Japanese landowners buy land in Korea. I would highly recommend watching the Korean romantic thriller The Handmaiden to see this in effect. During the Second World War Koreans were forcibly conscripted into the Japanese army, forced to work in factories producing arms, and Korean women were forced to be 'comfort women' for Japanese soldiers. Korea was split after 1945 between the communist DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) under Kim Il Sung, and the capitalist ROK (Republic of Korea) under Syngman Rhee. The legacies of Japanese rule, and a lack of apology for said rule, has meant that animosity continues to pervade not only DPRK-Japanese relations but also ROK-Japanese ones.
This year Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a snap election, and unlike the UK's snap election which caused Theresa May to lose her majority, Abe's Liberal Democratic party swept the board. The DPRK helped with this victory. After Japan's defeat in the Second World War the Allied powers wanted to make sure that Japan could not threaten them again. On May 3, 1947 (another anniversary) Japan had a new constitution implemented where Article 9 dissolved the Japanese military and forbade Japan from declaring war. Instead Japan would have a Self-Defense Force in case a country declared war on it. This was largely accepted by everyone in Japan: the left as it made pacifism in the constitution itself while the right liked it as it let them focus on getting foreign investment to fuel capitalist growth. Abe ran on a platform of reversing Article 9 where in the light of North Korean missile tests made Japanese voters sympathetic to. Whether it will be passed we'll find out in 2018.
Something in the USA
Much has happened in the USA this year. We could compare Trump's travel bans to the Chinese Exclusion Act and anti-immigration acts; how the Confederate statues link to the South's dark past where millions were enslaved; or how Trump's banning of transgendered soldiers and talks at prominent homophobic events links to the LGBTQ+ community's struggle for rights. We could also compare the Democrats emphasis on Russian interference in the election and anti-Russian hysteria to that of Cold War hysteria (I've seen a few people suggest that Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein being Russian stooges), or how the USA has also interfered in elections (including the 1996 Russian election). However, I want to focus on this one giant mess which Trump caused.
|Again, I thought this initially was a joke|
In November at an event honoring the Navajo Code Breakers Trump made a Pocahontas joke about Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren in front of a painting of Andrew Jackson. I must admit part of me died hearing that, and there's lots to unpack here. First off Pocahontas. Pocahontas has been deeply involved with America's cultural heritage, but she has become a figure of myth. Pocahontas was the daughter of Wahunsenacawh (called Powhatan by Europeans), the paramount chief of Tsenacommacah. English settlers had arrived in Virginia and by 1607 conflicts over land had caused tension between the settlers and Powhatan. In American lore Pocahontas stopped her father from executing explorer John Smith by jumping over his body before the killing blow. Historians believe this to be fabricated, especially as in his diaries this happens several times. Pocahontas was captured by the settlers in 1613 where she converted to Christianity, we are not entirely sure though if she was forced to or not. In order to create peace Pocahontas, at the age of 17, was married off to tobacco planter John Rolfe in 1614. Rolfe seemed to genuinely love Pocahontas (who went by the name Rebecca) and her accounts seem to suggest that she respected but did not love him. Pocahontas was eventually taken to Britain where she was paraded around as a 'civilized savage' (a precursor to what would happen during later European empires in the nineteenth century). She would never again see Virginia; aged either 20 or 21 she would pass away to be buried at Gravesend.
We have to go to the nineteenth century to understand why it is vastly inappropriate to have a painting of Andrew Jackson when honoring the Navajo Code Breakers. Jackson was president from 1829 to 1837 and was very much like Trump: brash and racist. Other than supporting slavery Jackson loathed Native Americans; while fighting the British during the War of 1812 forced the Creek to give up 23 million acres of land to the United States. In 1816 he would also lead a campaign against the Seminole. Years later he brought his racial hatred with him to the White House. Throughout his presidency he had around 70 treaties made which forced Native Americans off of their land. Perhaps the most famous was the 1830 Indian Removal Land which allowed the president the ability to create treaties with the Five Civilized Tribes in the Southern US. This began the Trial of Tears where thousands of Native Americans were forced from their land to go to Oklahoma, mostly on foot. It is difficult to estimate but almost 20,000 died through famine, disease or exhaustion during the Trial of Tears. Just over 16,500 Cherokee were evicted from their land where between 2,000 and 6,000 died along the way.
|Star Wars fans in 1977|
To finish this post I thought it would be best to talk about something on a lighter note. Recently The Last Jedi was released, the same year as the fortieth anniversary of Star Wars. This franchise perhaps the most influential film franchise of all time. Using groundbreaking effects mixing Westerns with samurai movies George Lucas brought us an epic which revolutionized sci-fi and the movie industry. Other than movies Star Wars has spawned toys, comics, TV shows, video games, and even a Christmas special. Star Wars is just as popular in 2017 as it was in 1977.