Posts Tagged ‘Imperialism’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Most Americans don’t give much thought to the First World War.  Much like the Korean War, WWI may be considered a ‘forgotten’ conflict.  Of course, both of these conflicts have one other thing in common; they have been overshadowed by the Second World War.  WWII is the struggle Americans are most usually obsessed with; from  movies and television shows, to our dubiously titled ‘History Channel’, to national best-seller monographs, WWII gets most of the coverage.  And why not?  The war radically altered the world, and America’s place in it.

But, to understand our wider world, with it’s complexities and it’s many tragedies, we need to look back even further than 1945. After all, to understand the world created by WWII, we must investigate the World War that preceded it.
Ukraine Plane What Happened

We live in a violent, confusing world. The last couple weeks have proven this to any Pollyannas who may have forgotten such a hard ap_israel_hamastruth. For many Americans, the events unfolding in Ukraine, Iraq and Israel/Palestine are difficult to comprehend. As outside observers, we often simply throw our hands up in dumbfounded frustration. I fear such frustration leads many people simply to label the people and politics of these regions as ‘crazy’.

Of course, such an ‘explanation’ explains nothing.

True explanations are difficult. True explanations are complex. True explanations are unsettling.
But, true explanations are desperately needed.  If we are to understand what is happening in Iraq, or grasp why the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is so persistent, or why such bad blood exists between the Ukraine and Russia, we must go to the history books. Specifically, we must investigate the First World War.


Let us begin with Iraq.

As we all know, the American intervention in Iraq beginning in the Spring of 2003 did not go as planned. Though the United States quickly won a technical victory on the field of battle, the ‘rebuilding’, or ‘occupation’ of the nation was marred by, for Americans, seemingly inexplicable violence, sectarian strife, and near civil war.  The reasons for such violence are many and complex. One unarguably important cause was American policymakers’ ignorance regarding the complexity of the Iraqi past. Such ignorance, willful or innocent, is even more shocking when it is understood that the Americans had a predecessor they could have learned from. In 1918, at the end of WWI, the British made many of the same mistakes Americans made in 2003.

The_camel_corps_at_Beersheba2

The Camel Corp, 1915

During the First World War, the British were not just fighting the Germans in the fields of France. They also were at war with the ‘Sick Man of Europe’, the Ottoman Turkish Empire. In this Middle Eastern war, the British looked to rile up the Arab peoples of the area, hoping the Arabs would be interested in throwing off the yoke of their Turkish overlords. The British promised the Arabs of the region national autonomy. According to Scott Anderson however, the British did this without understanding the complexities of the area.’For nearly 400 years prior to World War I, the lands of Iraq existed as three distinct semi-autonomous provinces, or vilayets, within the Ottoman Empire. In each of these vilayets, one of the three religious or ethnic groups that predominated in the region – Shiite, Sunni and Kurd – held sway, with the veneer of Ottoman rule resting atop a complex network of local clan and tribal alliances. ‘

iraq-ethnic-mapThe British did not concern themselves with this ethnoreligious system, seeing instead one, indivisible, homogeneous Arab people.

After defeating the Turks, the British, and the French made two troubling decisions. First, they reneged on their deal with the Arab populations of the Middle East, basically replacing Ottoman rule with European Imperialism. Second, much like in Europe in 1918, the victors of the war redrew maps, and went about ‘state building’. Out of this came the imperial holdings of Palestine, Syria, Trans-Jordan and Iraq.
This situation was not only tragic, it was absurd. Last year, The Daily Show wonderfully captured the absurdity of the situation:

http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/kovgs5/sir-archibald-mapsalot-iii

As John Oliver hilariously illustrates, the mapmakers took no account of the ethnic, tribal and ds_18146_02religious disparities of the region. Iraq was transformed into a simmering land of tension controlled by a crumbling British Empire.  Scott Anderson points out that this was a disaster waiting to happen, and the British did not have long to wait: Iraq’s history of the 1920’s-1950’s ‘would be marked by a series of violent coups and rebellions, with its political domination by the Sunni minority simply deepening its sectarian fault lines. After repeatedly intervening to defend their fragile creation, the British were finally cast out of Iraq in the late 1950s, their local allies murdered by vengeful mobs.’

British decisions from 1918 seem to have never-ending repercussions in Iraq. With this in mind, it seems ISIS is simply another chicken coming home to roost. 

(My next blog post will deal with Israel/Palestine and the First World War. After that, Ukraine and The First World War)

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By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

I am just going to put this right out there: It seems to me that football (I am talking about soccer, my fellow Americans) became the sport of the world as a result of English Imperialism.  Why this thought came into goal savemy head the other day, I have no idea.  But, when it did enter my brain, I thought about how this theory seems more than plausible; dare I say that it seems likely.  You see, evidently, games that were football-esque have existed from the earliest civilizations, but modern soccer (what I will use from now on, since most of the readers of this blog are American) is quite a recent invention. The modern rules of the game formed in mid-nineteenth century England.  During this era, soccer gained popularity in lock step with England’s superpower status. England’s naval strength and prowess, and it’s commercial, industrialized economy were central to its position at the top of the national pecking order.  But, what separated the isles from Germany, France, the United States, and other powers, was its massive empire.

English imperial power globalized English culture.  Even where the English empire did not reach, British cultural carriers in the form of English_imperialism_octopussailors, diplomats, explorers, and merchants did.  These nomadic sea-faring hordes in coats and top hats brought British goods, and British practices to much of the world.  Soccer was one such practice.  

Obviously, the European imperial relationship to the rest of the world during the nineteenth century was one of exploitation.  But we must remember that a great many proud imperialists of this era believed themselves to be paternal do-gooders.  These men and women rationalized imperialism by pointing to it’s purported benevolent core.  ‘Native’, ‘backward’, ‘primitive’ peoples benefited from the ‘superior’ cultures they were provided. Albert Beveridge, a US Senator from Indiana stated this quite clearly in 1898.  Running for reelection on a pro-Spanish-American War, pro-imperialist stance, Beveridge stated that,

Therefore, in this campaign, the question is larger than a party question. It is an American question. It is a world question. Shall the American people continue their march toward the commercial supremacy of the world? Shall free institutions broaden their blessed reign as the children of liberty wax in strength, until the empire of our principles is established over the hearts of all mankind?

Have we no mission to perform no duty to discharge to our fellow man? Has God endowed us with gifts beyond our deserts and marked us as the people of His peculiar favor, merely to rot in our own selfishness, as men and nations must, who take cowardice for their companion and self for their deity-as China has, as India has, as Egypt has?

Beveridge

Beveridge

Beveridge felt the American imperial experience would even outshine the British since, as he put it, America was ‘a greater England with a nobler destiny’.

In 1898, America was playing catch up to other European powers, and to England in particular.  England had brought its laws, its government, its religion, its commerce and its language to the world. England also provided the benevolent gift of soccer.

As the twentieth century commenced, many of England’s imperial holdings rebelled against English power, and often, English culture. But, soccer remained and flourished. Instead of rebelling against the imperial game, the peoples of the world embraced it.  They made the sport their own, creating specifically national styles of play.  This may be an example of cooptation and transformation of the European cultural hegemony that often marked the decolonization movements of the mid-twentieth century.  Rebels such as Ho Chi Mihn, Mao, and Che Guevera took European ideologies, transformed them, and used said ideologies against the imperial powers that be.  

Defeating the imperialists in the streets was necessary, but often deadly.  Defeating the imperialists on the pitch was safer, and undoubtedly almost as fulfilling. 

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I think soccer being understood as an imperial force may solve a major conundrum regarding the sport; why is soccer so popular everywhere in the world, except for the United States.  The general response most Americans give is pejorative.  Soccer is just too boring to watch, as this Simpsons clip humorously illustrates:

But, this explanation doesn’t hold water. Americans religiously watch boring sports all the time.  No matter what you think of baseball, it is hard to argue that the game is not one marred by hours of stasis.  Though for true purists of the game, pitchers’ duels that lead to 1-0 scores are the epitome of the sport, for those on the outside looking in, such a three-hour ‘spectacle’ can seem mind-numbing.

Boring soccer is not the answer as to why the sport never captured the American imagination. Instead, I venture that nineteenth century beliefs about American cultural exceptionalism may be behind Americans’ general tepidity towards the ‘beautiful game’.

During the time of soccer’s viral spread, as England ruled the waves, Americans were often quite distrustful, and even disdainful, of the ‘old-world’.  Cultural and political figures in America were a paradoxical melange of feeling historically inferior to Europe, and yet, socially/culturally superior to the old world. Americans viewed their nation, their people, and their land as different from the decaying world across the Atlantic. America was supposed to be exceptional. Our sports were no different.

Thus, baseball would become America’s game at roughly the same time that soccer was taking over the rest of the world. Baseball would become a symbol for America itself.

Even today, this prejudice against European and worldly culture retains its power for many Americans. As in the past, America feels Europe can keep its English invention of Imperial Football. We now have our own imperial sports to ‘provide’ the world.