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Book Review: Coalition Strategy and the End of the First World War: The Supreme War Council and War Planning, 1917-1918 by Meighen McCrae

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/07/2020 - 9:15pm in

In Coalition Strategy and the End of the First World War, Meighen McCrae explores the role of the Supreme War Council as a coalition organ for inter-Allied strategic cooperation between 1917 and 1918. As the book encourages readers to consider the 1914-18 conflict from a global perspective and widens understanding of the coalition strategic planning timeline, this is a welcome addition to the Entente scholarship that will be of interest to anyone studying the nature of coalition warfare in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, writes Sofya Anisimova.

Coalition Strategy and the End of the First World War: The Supreme War Council and War Planning, 1917-1918. Meighen McCrae. Cambridge University Press. 2019. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108566711.

The First World War today is widely recognised as the ‘war of coalitions’: those of the Entente and the Central Powers. However, studies that examine the coalitions’ strategic planning, especially of the Entente, are rare as they usually require knowledge of at least two languages and travel to archives located in various countries. Based on sources from various British, French and American archives, Meighen McCrae’s book, Coalition Strategy and the End of the First World War, is a welcome addition to the Entente scholarship that not only encourages us to consider the 1914-18 war from a global perspective, but also to widen our understanding of the coalition strategic planning timeline: namely, that in 1918, the Entente decision-makers were preparing for the war in 1919.

The study revolves around the Supreme War Council (SWC) – a coalition organ, created in late 1917, which consisted of two representatives of Britain, France and Italy: a government leader and another government member. As an associated power to the Entente, the United States refused to take part in a political committee and was represented by the American ambassador to France who had merely observational functions. However, Americans took an active part in the Military Council, made up of the permanent military representatives (PMRs) of the Allied Armies. As professional staff officers, the PMRs were supposed to advise political leaders of the coalition on matters of military strategy.

The SWC inherited many flaws of previous inter-Allied institutions, such as inter-Allied conferences, munitions committees and economic agencies. It suffered from excessive bureaucratisation, a lack of executive power that would ensure compliance of all the coalition members with its decisions and an inability to fully mitigate the conflict between national interests and those of the coalition. Nevertheless, McCrae argues that over 1918, the SWC evolved into an effective platform of inter-Allied strategic cooperation. Despite its limitations, the SWC facilitated the communication between military and political leaders of the Entente. It helped coalition members to reach an agreement that future victory could be reached only on the Franco-Belgian front, and to concentrate their efforts there.

Moreover, the existence of a coalition body that allowed discussion of strategic plans was beneficial for all members of the Entente regarding their military importance. Italy was considered to be a junior member of the coalition, but thanks to the SWC, it acquired a platform where it could voice its concerns and demand assistance. It eventually received enough support to resist Austria-Hungary and stay in the war, whilst other Allied powers concentrated on the Western Front.

The Four Military Representatives of the Supreme War Council, Versailles, their CO’s, Secretaries, and Interpreters in Session (Art.IWM ART 4214) image: The interior of a large room at Versailles in which a meeting of the Supreme War Council is taking place. Senior military officers sit at a large rectangular table littered with papers. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/20621

The PMRs were, in fact, the only inter-Allied body that was considering the strategy of the Entente from a global perspective as opposed to the headquarters of the various Allied Armies that were developing their own national strategies. In the Joint Note 37, examined in detail throughout the book, the PMRs outlined the Allied strategic policy for the coming year and stressed the importance of the secondary theatres, such as the Macedonian, Middle Eastern and Italian fronts, in relation to the Franco-Belgian front and the fight against Germany.

However, the notes submitted by the PMRs to the SWC had only an advisory nature. McCrae argues that outside the Franco-Belgian theatre, effective unified strategic policy was created by the SWC only when the national interests of the Allies coincided. In September 1918 the PMRs quickly agreed that offensive action in the Middle East must be postponed in order to concentrate resources in France. But at the same time, they failed to develop a unified plan of action in the Balkans and had to rely on France, which was the dominant power on this front.

The PMRs also easily reached an agreement about the primacy of the Franco-Belgian front in Allied strategy, which informed the actions of different Allied headquarters. But at the same time, they significantly underestimated the strength of the German Army and deferred the Allied offensive to the summer of 1919. Preparing for the decisive battle in 1919, the SWC and its military advisers were not ready to provide guidance for the future peace settlement. It is, McCrae argues, one of the reasons why the legacy of the SWC was soon forgotten after the war: it was not prepared for the peace negotiations in 1918 and it did not have enough time to demonstrate its advantages in times of war.

Coalition Strategy and the End of the First World War continues the study of the Entente strategy that began in the 1980s with the works of David French, later continued by Elisabeth Greenhalgh and William Philpott. It expands the study of coalition strategy to cover the Allies’ strategic planning for and into the year of 1919, and it answers the question not of ‘how the war was won’, but rather ‘how the Allies were planning to win it’. Moreover, McCrae solidifies the framework of coalition strategy analysis that includes both coalition institutions and the strategic policy created by them, paving the way for future Entente strategy research. Focusing on the four major Entente powers, it offers valuable insight on the balance of power in the coalition of 1918, the weight of the United States and the role of the Italian front in the coalition planning. A more detailed assessment of coalition from the perspective of the Italian high command would be a good addition to this study, but as French conceded in 2007, to delve into the archives of multiple coalition countries would be ‘a task not for one person, but for a small team of scholars’.

The First World War opened a new chapter in the history of modern warfare, not only in the field of military technologies, but also in coalition management. The short-lived Anglo-French Supreme War Council of the Second World War was drawn up on the blueprint of the SWC; even the experience of the coalition forces in Afghanistan in 2001-14, which at one point included troops of more than 30 countries, shares resemblance to that of the Entente in 1917-18. International coalitions are hard to manage, but they are also challenging to study. Meighen McCrae’s book brings us one step closer to a better understanding of how they operate and would be of interest to anyone studying the nature of coalition warfare in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: The Four Military Representatives of the Supreme War Council, Versailles, their CO’s, Secretaries, and Interpreters in Session (Art.IWM ART 4214) image: The interior of a large room at Versailles in which a meeting of the Supreme War Council is taking place. Senior military officers sit at a large rectangular table littered with papers. Copyright: © IWM. Used in accordance with IWM Non-Commercial License. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/20621.


Lib Dems Want More Black History Taught in Schools

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/07/2020 - 8:47pm in

Also from yesterday’s I for Monday, 6th July 2020 was a piece by Will Hazell reporting that the Lib Dems have called for schools to teach more Black history. The article on page 15 runs

The national curriculum should be reformed so schools teach children more about black history and uncomfortable aspects of Britain’s imperial past, the Liberal Democrats have said.

The party has also demanded improved teacher training so school staff can avoid “microaggressions”, under proposals worked up with the Diversity Reform Initiative – a new organisation which aims to tackle racial disadvantage in institutions.

In a letter to the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, Layla Moran, the Lib Dems’ education spokesperson, said: “Changes to the history curriculum, such as learning about non-white historical figures and addressing the darker sides of British history honestly, are a vital step in tackling racism in our educational system.”  

It’s a good point, and Labour should be demanding the same. Unfortunately they aren’t. Mike put up a piece the other day about how the Labour Party is hemorrhaging members thanks to Keir Starmer’s right-wing leadership. Starmer’s a New Labour centrist, who has done precious little to challenge the Tories, thanks to his decision to advance only constructive criticism during the pandemic. Many of those leaving the party are Black and Asian, who resent his almost total inaction on racism and his halfhearted dismissive attitude towards Black Lives Matter. If the Lib Dems prove to be more serious about tackling racism, they could well attract these disaffected former Labour voters.

That said, I am not impressed by some of the policies suggested by the Diversity Reform Initiative. I am not convinced of the existence of ‘microaggressions’ – I think it is something that has been thought up by oversensitive, resentful individuals to justify their bitter hatred of mainstream society. Of course respect goes both ways, but there is already a problem with discipline in some schools and I think a focus on suppressing ‘microaggressions’ on the part of teachers will only make things worse.

African Resistance to the Ending of the Slave Trade

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/07/2020 - 7:01pm in

One of the most shocking aspects of the history of the slave trade is that its abolition was opposed by many African states. These were kingdoms like Dahomey that profited from the trade. As a rule, it wasn’t Europeans who conducted the slave raids. They were largely confined to merchant ghettos within the African towns and ports serving the trade. The actual warfare and slaving that brought them their human cargo was done by warlike African states. And despite being frequently cheated by European slave merchants – John Newton describes the various ruses used to do this in his 1788 Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade – many African princes grew extremely rich on the profits of the trade. Duke Ephraim of Dahomey was raking in £300,000 per year, an income that exceeded that of many English dukes.

These states were extremely reluctant to give up such a lucrative trade, and resented British insistence that they now turn to more legitimate items, such as palm oil and the other products they believed would be far more useful for British industry after abolition. At the very least, they thought it was hypocritical for their former customers and co-partners in the slave trade to now demand they stop it and lecture them on their wickedness for not doing so. One west African kingdom was so incensed at British refusal to continue slaving that they attacked a British trading fort in order to force them to take it up again. And for a short period bloodshed actually increased. The slave states were faced with keeping large numbers of captives, whom they could no longer sale. As a result there was a series of massacres as they murdered the excess slaves. One of the most notorious was the murder of 300 such captives, which was debated in parliament in one of the many meetings of the Committee of Inquiry held to investigate the slave trade. Some believed that the mass murder was actually human sacrifice, but other witnesses testified that this was not the case. When one of those testifying before the Committee, Captain Denman, was asked if he was surprised or shocked by the massacre, he replied that he was because of the considerable advances this African people had made in the arts of civilization. This statement is itself remarkable as it shows that while Europeans viewed African civilization as inferior, many of those charged with actively ending the slave trade knew it existed and were impressed with Black Africans as cultured, civilized peoples.

Colin McEvedy discusses these negative consequences of the ending of the slave trade in his The Penguin Atlas of African History (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1980) which I reviewed a few days ago. He writes

No one in Africa was going to say thank you for this [the ending of the slave trade]. Most West African states suffered a severe loss of revenue and, though the British granted some of them subsidies in compensation and, in the case of the principalities of the Niger delta, went to considerable trouble to encourage the production of palm oil as an alternative source of income, this was a period of relative impoverishment all along Africa’s Atlantic seaboard. Even the various categories of people who had supplied the slave trade with its raw material can’t be said to have benefited: criminals were once again handed over to the civil executioner and prisoners-of-war to the witch-doctor for sacrifice. This is the reason why the accounts of West African kingdoms in the nineteenth century are so blood-curdling: states like Dahomey that had built up a big slave-exporting capacity now had to consume a lot of unwanted human beings. Their ways of doing so provide a last bizarre flourish to what always had been a sad and sorry business. (p. 97).

This aspect of the slave trade also needs to be taught. Not to try to justify the trade, but to show that Africans were also actively involved in it and not mere victims. We need to remember this so that when the history of the slave trade is taught in schools, it isn’t presented as simply as evil White Europeans preying on noble Black Africans.

Rishi Sunak Goes Social Credit

Zelo Street put up another piece yesterday showing the glaring hypocrisy of the Tory party and their lapdog press. According to the Absurder, the Resolution Foundation had been in talks with chancellor Rishi Sunak to give everyone in Britain vouchers to spend in shops and businesses. Adults would receive vouchers worth £500, while children would get half the amount, £250. Sunak was being urged to accept the scheme as it would stimulate the economy, which has been badly hit by the lockdown. The Tory papers the Heil and the Scum also reported this, and thought it was a great idea.

This contrasts very strongly with their attitude last May, when Jeremy Corbyn also floated the idea of giving the British people free money in UBI – Universal Basic Income. The Scum claimed that if everyone was given £70 a week, then this would raise the welfare bill from £188 billion to £288 billion a year. The Heil reported that when the scheme was tried out in Finland, it made people happier but didn’t improve employment levels and would prove ‘unsustainable’.

But it isn’t just Finland that is experimenting with UBI. It was introduced in Spain a few weeks ago as Mike reported on his blog. Spain is a poorer country than Britain, but their willingness to try it contradicts the government’s excuse for not doing so, which is that Britain can’t afford it.

But now Rishi Sunak is considering it, and the Tory papers are praising him for it, whereas they vilified Corbyn. Zelo Street commented

‘Clearly, since May last year, a “free money” handout has stopped being a ghastly socialist aberration, and is now an excellent wheeze. Cos Rishi will be doing it.

The press will do anything to flog more papers. Including a little socialism.’


Of course, the reason the right-wing press are supporting Sunak whereas they condemned Corbyn, is because the two men have very different reasons for recommending it. In Corbyn’s case it was a desire to help empower ordinary people and stop the poverty the Tories have inflicted on them through low wages, job insecurity and the murderous system of benefit cuts and sanctions. The Tories, by contrast, heartily despise the poor. In the interest of maintaining healthy profits, they have always pursued low wages and punishing the poor, the sick, the disabled and the unemployed with minimal state welfare provision. This is now for many people below the amount needed to keep body and soul together. Where it is available at all, that is. That’s if people are able to get it after waiting five weeks for their first payment, and not getting sanctioned for the flimsiest excuse. This is all done to reduce the tax bill for the 1 per cent. Those able to work must be kept poor and desperate so that they will accept any job and won’t be able to demand higher wages. As for the long-term unemployed and the disabled, they are biologically inferior ‘useless eaters’, exactly as the Nazis viewed them, who should be allowed to starve to death.

Sunak’s motive for embracing UBI is so that the proles can spend it, thus keeping businesses afloat and maintaining or boosting profits. It’s socialism for the rich, as modern corporatism has been described. Just as welfare benefits are cut or completely removed for working people and the poor, so corporatism rewards business, and particularly big business, through a system of subsidies and tax breaks. It’s why one book attacking this system was titled Take the Rich Off Welfare.

Sunak’s version of UBI also harks back to a similar scheme founded in the 1920s by the British officer, Major C.H. Douglas. Aware of the widespread poverty of his day, Douglas argued that it was ‘poverty in the midst of plenty’. The goods were available to satisfy people’s needs, but they were unable to afford them. He therefore recommended that the government should issue vouchers to solve this problem and enable people to buy the goods they desperately needed.

The idea has never really taken off. It was included among the policies Oswald Mosley adopted for his New Party after it split from Labour in the late ’20s and early ’30s. There was also a Social Credit party in British Columbia in Canada, though I believe that’s an extreme right-wing, anti-immigrant party for Anglophone Whites which doesn’t actually support the Social Credit economic policy.

I’ve also seen something extremely similar to Social Credit used as the basis for an SF story. In Frederick Pohl 1950’s novella, ‘The Midas Plague’, the poor are bombarded with expensive goods and services which they must use and consume. They are punished if they don’t. As a result, in terms of material conditions the position of rich and poor is reversed: the poor live opulent lives, while the rich, who have to own their own possessions, live much more austerely. The whole point of this is to keep the economy booming and industry expanding.

We haven’t yet got to that point, and I don’t we ever will, if only because the wealthy ruling class, on whose behalf the Tories govern, are so against letting the poor get anything for free. Even when they need and deserve it. But unemployment is set to increase due to automation in the workplace. It’s been forecast that over the next 20 years about a 1/3 of jobs will be lost. 21st century Britain, and indeed much of the rest of the Developed World, could look like Judge Dredd’s MegaCity 1, where over 95 per cent of the population is unemployed and lives on welfare.

If that ever happens, then the government will need to implement something like Social Credit in order to give people both enough to live on and support business and industry.

Not that Sunak need go that far just yet. One of the reasons F.D. Roosevelt introduced state unemployment insurance for Americans as part of his New Deal was also to support industry. He, and liberal and socialist economists in Britain realized that if you give people money to support themselves during a recession, they will spend their way out of it. Both the poor, the unemployed and industry benefits. We could do the same now, by giving people a genuine living wage, raising unemployment and other benefits up to a level so that people can actually live on them and abolish the five-week waiting period and the sanctions system so that people don’t have to rely on food banks to save them from starvation.

But this would contradict the Tories’ favoured policies of keeping working people and the poor hungry and desperate.

No, We Are (Probably) Not Going to See a Black Death Pandemic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/07/2020 - 10:46pm in

Mike this morning has put up a piece on his blog reporting that the Chinese city of Bayannur in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia, has sounded the alarm after a hospital reported a case of Bubonic Plague. This was the disease, spread by fleas on rodents, which was responsible for the Black Death in 14th century Europe. The disease is believed to have killed a half to two-thirds of the European population and China experienced an even higher number of deaths.

Coming after the Coronavirus pandemic, this all sounds really scary, right? Well, I don’t think there’s any need to panic. Bubonic Plague has still been around in parts of the Developing World, like India for years. There’s no question that it should be wiped out, but it’s now much, much less lethal than its medieval and early modern predecessor. So much so that some historians and microbiologists have wondered if it really is the same disease.

For example, way back in the 1990’s New Scientist carried a piece about an outbreak in India. It was extremely localized. While the people living in one house or set of houses fell ill with the disease, the folks a few doors down were left unscathed. The small scale of Bubonic plague outbreaks, which only mercifully affect a very few, have led some scientists to question whether the Black Death was actually another, far more contagious disease. Back when I was at secondary school, the Beeb’s history series, Timewatch, aired a programme which suggested that the Black Death may instead have been anthrax. I think the symptoms are similar, but anthrax can also be contracted from dead bodies, which Bubonic Plague cannot. This would explain why Medieval people believed even handling the bodies of the dead was dangerous.

There is another, related form of Bubonic Plague, Pneumonic Plague, which is rather more serious as its an airborne disease and so more contagious. But fortunately even the outbreaks of this disease have been far more restricted than the outbreaks of the plague in the Middle Ages and 16th/17th centuries.

Rather more worrying is the news, which was also reported by the Mirror as well as a number of other papers, that a new strain of Swine Flu has developed, which is resistant to current vaccines. I’d consider that a more serious risk, but I don’t think we’re quite in danger of seeing that become a world-wide pandemic just yet.

Obviously, these diseases need to be monitored and are of serious concern to organizations like the World Health Organization, but the chances of either of these becoming another global pandemic like the Coronavirus is probably remote. As for avoiding people who have visited the Far East, I can remember Dr Kevin Fong’s remarks at the Cheltenham Festival of Science during the Bird Flu epidemic. Fong was speaking about space medicine, of which he’s an expert. He was also suffering from a cold and had just come back from Beijing. As he appeared on stage blowing his nose into a handkerchief, he reassured the crowd by saying, ‘Don’t worry – it’s just a cold.’ He explained how he’d just come back from the Chinese capital, and said that it was amazing how much room you could get now on the London Underground as an Asian man. Which was his jokey way of allaying any suspicions.

It might still be best to avoid people, who have travelled to China and neighbouring countries, but that would only be because of the Coronavirus. I’m very sure we aren’t going to see a return of the Plague next.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/07/06/if-you-thought-2020-couldnt-get-worse-brace-yourself-for-the-black-death/

Book Review: The Cigarette: A Political History by Sarah Milov

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/07/2020 - 8:58pm in

In The Cigarette: A Political History, Sarah Milov intricately unpacks the historical workings of the US tobacco industry through its interactions with farmers, labourers and social movements to show that it has been more vulnerable and open to challenge than often thought. In revealing how the tobacco industry and tobacco control activists engaged in the institutions of everyday life and in local politics, this groundbreaking book underscores the ubiquity of tobacco in American society, writes Adhip Amin.

The Cigarette: A Political History. Sarah Milov. Harvard University Press. 2019.

The Cigarette: A Political History is a groundbreaking book as Sarah Milov intricately unpacks the workings of the tobacco industry in its interactions with farmers, labourers and social movements, a hitherto underexplored area in the history of tobacco in America. Unlike many conventional projects in the field of political history, Milov studies the industry from the ground up – a task that has required considerable methodological inventiveness. The Cigarette is therefore able to show that the tobacco industry is not a monolithic, undefeatable, indefatigable entity, as in depictions in other histories of (Big) tobacco, but rather is more porous, vulnerable and open to challenges.

Because of Milov’s grounded methodology, she is able to excavate where and how the tobacco industry was often, but not always and with a remarkable propensity for recovery, ‘knocked back on its heels by the decentralized tactics of its adversaries in its anti-smoking movement’ (270). The other stellar quality Milov is able to show in the book is the way in which the tobacco industry was able to exploit the perception of the social virtuosity of farmers and workers for its own commercial purposes. And in looking at the spaces between, and beyond, the ‘tobacco industry’ and the ‘population’, Milov is able to demonstrate the ways in which government, regulatory and public policy aims were achieved by private means.

This review will focus on three themes of the book: firstly, the cultivation of the category of the ‘nonsmoker’ by tobacco control activists. Secondly, the discursive similarity between the tobacco industry and the nonsmoker movement – namely their shared focus on ‘efficiency’. And thirdly, how the politics of federalism and questions about the scale of power are deeply entangled with concerns about public health.

As the statistical link between tobacco consumption and its harmful effects on health was clinched and accumulated throughout the mid-twentieth century, tobacco control advocates at the grassroots also came to the fore to play a crucial role in the perception of, and careers in, tobacco and smoking. These groups often exercised the law, specifically environmental laws and the ‘discourse of rights’, to nurture and cultivate the image of a nonsmoker.

The question of public space too began to grow in importance: the nonsmoker had a right to clean air. This aspect became especially important after it was shown that second-hand smoke could be disastrous for the nonsmoker who happened to occupy the same space as the smoker. By the 1980s, nonsmoker rights groups had racked up some serious victories against the tobacco industry – they had not only largely cleared public space of smoke, but also the image of the smoker provoked moral indignation. Again, Milov reminds us that this grassroots movement was shaped by strong class-based interests as the question of ‘efficiency’ and ‘cost’ would play a central role in the nonsmoker movement.

One of the crucial battlegrounds on which the nonsmoker movement won was in the workplace. This was achieved by centring the question of ‘efficiency’ and the ‘good’ worker. The nonsmoking worker was depicted as more productive as they not only took fewer breaks, but also less sick leave, and potentially saved the company many dollars in insurance payouts. The nonsmoking worker, in other words, was good for business. This rhetoric had considerable reach during the Ronald Reagan presidency.

However, the managerial logic used by the nonsmoking activists pitted them against the labour unions. For one, for the unions, the issue of smoking was less important than more serious workplace hazards. Unions were also sceptical about the intentions of a ban on workplace smoking as it would infringe on the autonomy and time of the worker. And further, the unions felt that this concern over smoking could pose as an alibi to sack workers not in robust health. This was a reminder that tobacco control movements must become conscious of class, and engage seriously with workers’ rights and economic inequality.

At around the same time, during this political moment when de-regulation was favoured, the efficiency argument was being utilised by the tobacco industry as well, specifically when it came to the question of the tobacco programme.  This programme began in the 1930s and went through various changes across the twentieth century, but its internal agenda remained largely intact wherein organised grower groups would determine prices of tobacco as a function of the control of supply (or distribution) determined by the amount of acreage that they would allow for tobacco cultivation.

The industry assessed that the programme was not working for them anymore as it was more costly to procure tobacco from American growers thanks to the control of supply (and price) on the part of the growers. The industry argued that the tobacco programme was a disincentive to better, and improved, production – while at the same time importing cheap tobacco leaves from other countries, much to the detriment of American growers.

As expected, labour unions and farmers suffered by the reigning logic of efficiency and cost effectiveness that was so attractive to American administrators during the Reagan era. The echoes of similarity in the argumentative structure of the tobacco industry and tobacco control advocates around efficiency and cost – though coming from divergent and opposing concerns – should still be heard.

When it comes to the question of federalism, in the 1990s, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which was known to come down hard on tobacco, tried to reinitiate regulation to classify the cigarette as a drug, giving the FDA a lot more regulatory power. The tobacco industry, however, though their credibility by now had been fairly compromised, trenchantly fought back at the moves of the FDA by using the courts and also Congress. Eventually the regulatory agency had to stand down. ‘And yet’, as Milov writes, ‘smoking restrictions continued to proliferate at the local level’ (285). The nonsmokers’ rights group, however, were optimistic that this activism at the local level kept their agenda afloat: indeed, they were perhaps grateful that the regulation of tobacco was not centralised as rules against smoking at the local level would, they assessed, be much stronger.

However, the industry was focused on the ‘enactment of state laws that preempt local ordinances, placing a ceiling on the stringency of tobacco regulations […] Not only do these laws serve the industry’s economic goals, they also degrade the character of local government’ (287). The Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) of 1998 confirmed the fears of public health advocates that the federal government had more or less acquitted the tobacco industry with respect to compensations, despite the public health crisis that they had engendered not only through the manufacture of their product, but also by the production of doubt to confound the public on the health effects of smoking – knowing full well that they were engaging in deception. Furthermore, it blocked any local initiative, which in many cases was more proactively set against smoking; the MSA also guaranteed that the tobacco industry would be protected from class-action lawsuits. State laws preempted the action of many local councils in instating regulation. Milov argues that this ‘prevented stronger smoke-free laws’ (275) between 1992 and 1998. This has been disastrous for public health.

Previous histories of the tobacco industry have shown its influence in the realms of science, policy and politics. By integrating social and political history and writing about how both the tobacco industry and tobacco control activists engaged in the institutions of everyday life and in local, residential politics, Milov shows us the ubiquity of tobacco in American society, and its central place in the arc of American political and social consciousness.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: (Olivia de Salve Villedieu CC BY SA 4.0). 


Frederick Douglass’s oration on the 4th of July (abridged)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/07/2020 - 8:50am in


history, Politics

Frederick Douglass’s oration on the 4th of July (abridged) The middle portion of Douglass’s famous speech, delivered in 1852 to white abolitionists in Rochester, NY, where Douglass lived at the time, and is buried — “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” — is best known. But in the first portion he […]

African History in Maps

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/07/2020 - 11:47pm in

Colin McEvedy, The Penguin Atlas of African History (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1980).

This is another book which I though might be useful for those with an interest in African history and archaeology. Colin McEvedy wrote a series of similar books, showing the progress of history through maps. They were on ancient, medieval and modern history, as well as an Atlas of World Population, with Richard Jones. This does the same for Africa, using maps of the continent from geological times through to 1978. The earliest is of the planet 175 million years ago, when Africa was part of a single supercontinent, Gondwanaland. Subsequent maps show how this had split into the modern continents by about 50 million years ago. This is followed by a map showing the development of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Victoria. The book then goes on with maps showing the early pre-human and human sites, the emergence of the different racial populations and language groups, and the various African peoples and the great states and civilizations, beginning with Nubia, Egypt, and Carthage. It shows the great migration and movements of peoples and their dispersion across the continent, and its population at various points in history. The maps also show Africa with southern Europe and the near east to illustrate how the empires from these areas expanded into Africa, such as Rome, Persia and the Arabs. Sometimes the movement of conquest was in the other direction, such as Carthage, whose territory included part of modern Spain, and the Almoravids, who rule Islamic Spain and part of northwest Africa. Some maps are of the continent as it was known to the ancient and medieval geographers in 1350, as well as the travels of Ibn Battuta, the Portuguese voyages of 1482-8, Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India of 1497-8, population and trade routes c. 1600, the foundation of European enclaves and trading forts, the population in 1800 and the European geographer’s view of the continent the same year and then in 1856, the European exploration of the east African lakes, and their invasion and conquest of the continent. The emergence of the newly independent African states is shown in a series of maps from 1960 onwards. The last map is of the African population as it was expected to be in 2000.

The blurb for the book runs

This is a succinct account of civilisation in the continent that gave birth to the human species.

It is a fragmented and turbulent history in which the movements of peoples contrast with the creation of permanent states – Egypt, the earliest organized kingdom in the world; Carthage, the trading city that built an empire to rival Rome; Nubia; Abyssinia; Mali, the land of gold; Benin and Zimbabwe. Seamen probe its coast, traders cross its deserts and gradually the exploiters move in; and then, in the twentieth century, Africa finds the leaders it needs to re-establish its independence and create the nation-states of today.

Using the formula successfully established in his previous historical atlases, Colin McEvedy outlines this progress with the aid of fifty-nine maps and a clear, concise trext. Though his synthesis will be especially useful to those involved in the teaching of African history, its broad perspectives will undoubtedly appeal also to the general reader.

This is obviously a dated book, and I’m not sure if some of the anthropological language used to describe some of the African races would be acceptable today. For example, the book distinguishes between Negroes, Pygmies and Bushmen. Obviously much of the book is very much as Africa was seen by outsiders, such as Arab travellers like Ibn Battuta, and the European explorers and conquerors. This is doubtless partly because many African cultures did not possess a written language before the appearance of Europeans. They did possess their own oral histories, and the Islamic empires of north Africa and Christian Abyssinia/Ethiopia were literate. In the case of the Islamic states, this was in Arabic, which served as the official language in the same way Latin did in medieval western Europe.

Despite its limitations, I still think this might be useful for people with an interest in African history. The texts accompanying each map are short, often no more than two pages, so the book should be accessible to ordinary people and not just university students.















































More on the Collapse of David Starkey’s Career after Racist Slavery Comments

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/07/2020 - 9:17pm in

Yesterday I put up two pieces on the outrage at David Starkey’s dismissive comments about Blacks and slavery in his interview on the Reasoned YouTube channel with Darren Grimes. Starkey was asked if slavery was a genocide. He replied that it wasn’t, as otherwise ‘there would be so many damn Blacks in Britain and Africa, would there?’ The outrage against this display of racism has been so strong, that many organisations are severing their connections with TV’s former favourite expert on the Tudors. Starkey resigned from the Mary Rose Museum, Dan Snow’s History Hit channel said that they hadn’t made any original films with him, and were removing one featuring him that they had acquired from a third party. And Fitzwilliam College at Cambridge University stated that they were reconsidering his honorary fellowship. This all came from Zelo Street.

But Mike also put up a piece about the controversy which added further details about the devastating effect Starkey’s comment is having on his career. His publishers, HarperCollins and Hodder & Stoughton, have condemned his comments and stated that they will not be publishing any more of his books. HarperCollins have also said that they are examining his backlist in the light of his remarks. He had signed a three-book deal with publisher. One had already been published, while two were forthcoming. One of these, the second part of a biography of Henry VIII was due to come out this September. These books have now gone.

Fitzwilliam College didn’t wait til next week before considering what to do about him. They contacted Starkey, and have announced that the Master has accepted Starkey’s resignation with immediate effect.

Canterbury Christchurch University also announced that they were terminating his position as visiting lecturer, declaring that his comments were unacceptable and went against the values of the university and its community.

Mike has put up a series of tweets attacking Starkey for his comments from some of the left-wing peeps on Twitter. This includes some of the descendants of the victims of slavery and the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the West Indies. One of those was from Kerry-Ann Mendoza, the might woman behind The Canary. She commented “I’m descended from the indigenous people of the Caribbean: the Kalinago. You’ve likely not heard of us. We were virtually annihilated during the first waves of slavery, which is when the Slavers moved on to importing Black Africans to the Caribbean. So f*** you, David.”

I think the Kalinago are the Caribs, one of the many Indian peoples of the West Indies before the Spanish conquest, along with the Arawaks and the Taino. The latter two peoples were completely wiped out, although I think some Arawaks still survive in South America. After they were conquered, the Amerindians were worked to death under the most brutal conditions mining gold for the Spanish conquerors. The Caribs put up very tough resistance, and it was a long time before they were forced off their ancestral lands. They fought both the Spanish and us, when we entered the Caribbean to conquer territory from the Spanish. We initially claimed that we were intervening on their behalf, but turned against them as soon as it proved useful.

Nevertheless the Caribs survived. Those in the West Indies are called ‘Black Caribs’ as they intermarried with escaped slaves. They have their own reservation. A few years ago there was a documentary following them as they made contact with the other Caribs in South America, rediscovering their language and ancestral skills and culture. Another documentary series on Channel 4, I believe, on the lost civilizations of the Caribbean revealed that genetic analysis of the present day population of one of the islands of the Spanish Caribbean showed that the people were also partly descended from the indigenous peoples. This was a surprise, as it was believed that the Amerindians there had been completely exterminated and had not intermarried with the European settlers. But they had, and now some of their descendants are trying to recreate the heritage, including the religion, of their indigenous ancestors.

The people’s of the ancient Caribbean had an advanced culture. Like the Maya and other peoples on the South American mainland, they played a ball game and built courts for it. One people also left behind stone balls carved with petroglyphs, designs and symbols which to my eyes look somewhat like the glyph writing of the Maya. These people and their culture, however, are now extinct, and so the meaning of these monuments is lost.

Apart from the outrage Starkey’s comments about genocide and slavery produced, others were also angry at what he had said about Black Lives Matter. He had compared them to a rich entitled lady shopping at Harrods, claiming that they ‘usually have lots of money and big cars’. Aaron Bastani, who produced a short video tearing apart Starkey’s claim that slavery wasn’t genocide because Blacks survived, and his stance that the British empire was benign, commented on this remark of Starkey’s ‘These morons have been allowed to set the political agenda in this country because they have been elevated by the media. Millionaires that help billionaires.’ Absolutely.

Others were also understandable furious that while other organisations were dropping Starkey, he still seemed to be acceptable to the Beeb. One of these was Jackie Walker, the Black Jewish activist smeared as an anti-Semite. Jackie’s mother was a Black American civil rights activist, and she is an expert on slavery and Caribbean history. She commented “Just let what he’s saying sink in, then ask how come the BBC/media allow this man to comment on history.” Tom London rhetorically asked if the Beeb had done any soul-searching after Jeremy Corbyn had complained about David Starkey’s comments about the ethnicity of the rioters in 2011. Starkey had appeared on Question Time and declared that they were all Black. When it was pointed out to him that they were also White, he refused to change his views, because ‘they had become Black’ by taking over Black culture. There are White youths who imitate Black gangster culture, but you obviously can’t blame it all for the riots. Starkey’s comments could have come from the racist right, which has been blaming Black music for corrupting Whites ever since the 1920s and the invention of Jazz. Craig Murray remarked that the Beeb has known Starkey was racist for at least nine years, but it has never stopped them inviting him on to spread his poison. Simon Maginn called on the Beeb to condemn his comments about ‘so many damn Blacks’ and will refuse to give him any further airtime and remove him from iplayer. Anything less would be racist.

Meanwhile, Grimes seems to have emerged unscathed, despite the fact that he was responsible for the video. He made a kind of apology yesterday, stating that he should have questioned Starkey’s comments, but claiming that the interviewer isn’t responsible for what the interviewee says. But Lewis Parker commented “You didn’t just interview a racist. You interviewed him, nodded your head in agreement, edited the video, posted the video, and then promoted it. Also, the video is still up on your YouTube channel. What a sad sad excuse.”

Starkey’s career is thus sinking fast, thanks to his bigoted comments. It remains to be seen whether he will still be a welcome guest at the Beeb. Unfortunately, given the Corporation’s overtly Tory stance, my guess is that he will.

But odiously Grimes has so far escaped any kind of real punishment for his part in this debacle. And I’ve no doubt that he, and other ignorant and malign extreme right-wing pundits like him will still somehow be feted as real journalists with valuable, insightful opinions in the future.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/07/03/racist-historian-dropped-by-publisher-and-university-after-shocking-interview-remarks/


Bill Moyers and Rebecca Gordon on the Meaning of the Fourth

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/07/2020 - 5:47am in

This week, I talked with Rebecca Gordon, a professor of ethics, about the 4th of July, the Movement for Black Lives and what she's hearing from her students who are ready for change. Continue reading

The post Bill Moyers and Rebecca Gordon on the Meaning of the Fourth appeared first on BillMoyers.com.