History

1 August 2018Feature

Milan Rai reviews the evidence

At the

In July 1945, US president Harry S Truman had two powerful options his advisors believed could end the Pacific war – apart from a bloody US land invasion of Japan, or the use of nuclear weapons.

One was a Russian declaration of war. The other was to allow the Japanese emperor to keep his throne, despite his war crimes.

Truman refused to try either of these options before using the atom bomb.

Russia

On 8 July, the top-level US-UK…

1 August 2018Review

Profile Books, 2017; 512pp; £25

Sir Rodric Braithwaite was foreign policy adviser to prime minister John Major and chair of his joint intelligence committee. A history of the nuclear arms race from such an insider is bound to be a polished piece of mainstream propaganda.

For example, while he concedes that US president Richard Nixon did issue nuclear threats (over Vietnam in 1969, and during the 1973 Egypt-Israel war, both mentioned on p333 of the book), Braithwaite sees these as the two exceptions…

1 June 2018Review

Zed Books, 2017; 384pp; £10.99

This book analyses contemporary struggles for social justice against the spinning backdrop of New Labour’s Cool Britannia. Using pop culture subjects such as the all-women pop group, the Spice Girls, the rebranding of the British royal family, the class war of Britpop, and the public reaction to the Young British Artists (YBAs), the author shows how, while New Labour celebrated the image of a visibly diverse, post-colonial Britain, in reality the roots of our present struggles for justice…

1 June 2017Letter

What a contrast! Just when I’d resolved to write and congratulate PN for publishing Daniel Hunter’s excellent ‘Finding Steady Ground’, I came across Pascal Ansell’s review of William Pelz’s book, A People’s History of Modern Europe in the same issue (April/May 2017). While the former was bursting with original, reflective insights, the latter just echoed Pelz’s political prejudices.

Over a century ago, the German anarchist Gustav Landauer realised that ‘the personal…

1 April 2017Review

Pluto, 2016; 288pp; £16

‘Most humans are neither rich nor famous, but working people. Their story needs to be told.’ This book is a loudspeaker for those forgotten voices, the majority whose lives are determined by those with blue blood or laden pockets.

Even from the commoner’s perspective, dealing with history always involves interpretation. Depending on which political wing you stand on, the French Revolution was either an appalling display of mob fury or a victory giving birth to modern democracy.…

1 April 2017Review

Verso, 2014; 240pp; £9.99

'Bohemians have occupied a semi-subversive status in modern society without being, in any consistent way, political-minded or even organised', notes Paul Buhle in his insightful introduction to this wonderful collection of comics.

Featuring almost 30 separate stories, artwork by over a dozen different artists, and with a a timeframe spanning over 100 years (one of the first stories tells the story of the New York-based Unitary Household, who practiced free love and critiqued gender…

1 June 2015Review

Oberon Books, 2015; 96pp; £9.99; Vaudeville Theatre, London, 27 March – 23 May 2015

Tom Morton-Smith’s newly-commissioned play for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) – the story of a great figure brought low by a fatal flaw – has something of the classical tragedy about it.

Watching a previous dramatisation of the ‘father of the atomic bomb’ (the BBC’s seven-part series Oppenheimer, first broadcast in 1980), some reviewers could believe that the defect lay in physicist J Robert Oppenheimer’s early communist sympathies, his adultery and his post-war…

28 September 2014Review

Pluto Press, 2012; 280pp; £16

In the mid-18th century, the East India Company (EIC) accounted for half of the world’s trade, had its own army and enjoyed tax-raising powers over 10 million Indians. Yet, strangely, not a single London memorial exists to remember it.

The Battle of Plassey (1757) kicked off the EIC's takeover of a large swathe of Bengal. Company execs bought up and hoarded rice, contributing to huge famines throughout the 18th century. Robins cites an 1878 article from the Journal of the…

18 March 2014Comment

In November 1914, a new war resisters’ organisation came into being in Britain – through a letter to the press (as the Peace Pledge Union did 20 years later).

Lilla Brockway prompted her husband Fenner Brockway to place a letter in the Labour Leader (which he edited) inviting responses from men of enlistment age who would refuse to be combatants. 300 replies arrived by return. According to Brockway, the response was ‘so immediate and the earnestness of the writers so moving that it at once became clear that there was a need for a fellowship in which the prospective resisters might unite.’

The No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF) was launched,…

18 March 2014Feature

A missed opportunity for disarmament

Who would have guessed that there was a peaceful connection between Russian czar Nicholas II, who was later assassinated, and the London borough of Islington?

Well, there was. In 1898, Czar Nicholas sent a message to all the major heads of state urging them to come together to discuss ending an arms race ‘which will lead to the very disaster which it is desired to avoid… we must put some limits on these increasing armaments and find means of averting the calamity that threatens the…

1 September 2013News in Brief

Hornsey Historical Society seeks information about First World War resisters who lived in Hornsey, Crouch End, Harringay, Stroud Green, Muswell Hill and parts of Highgate. They’d like to know about conscientious objectors, and women who took part in peace initiatives. Info before December to: FAO Jennifer Bell, HHS, Old Schoolhouse, 136 Tottenham Lane, London N8 7EL; or jennifer_bell@btinternet.com

1 September 2013Feature

Peter Nias explores some forgotten peace initiatives from a century ago

While the world was aggressively preparing for the First World War between 1900 and 1914, many people and organisations in Britain and Europe were boldly campaigning for peace. This is not generally remembered because that war destroyed so much, even the memory that many people had tried to stop it happening.

So amongst the military and political pressures of preparing for war, with its Boer War inadequacies, Dreadnought battleship-building, Baden Powell boy-scouting and much more,…

1 July 2013Feature

Behind the scenes of a historic victory for Kenyan torture victims


Wambunga Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara outside the High Court, London. Photo: Leigh Day

More than 60 years after Britain declared the Kenyan ‘Emergency’, the British government has been forced to provide compensation to over 5,000 Kenyans for atrocities committed during its counter-insurgency campaign.

During the Emergency, an anti-colonial coalition, Mau Mau, responded to British imperialist control in Kenya. As a result, thousands of Kenyans in Kikuyu, Embu and Meru areas…

1 July 2013Feature

Milan Rai surveys the history of Western nuclear threats against the Global South

The most serious threat of nuclear terrorism comes not from some fragmented, vengeful jihadist network, but from the western states who form the nuclear core of the NATO alliance, who have issued repeated threats against non-nuclear weapon states in the Global South.

It is in fact official policy that Britain will use or threaten to use its nuclear weapons to preserve its economic and financial advantages throughout the world. You just have to join the dots.

This is one of the…

1 July 2013Comment

'Western civilisation' is a mixed-race child

It is a famous, but apocryphal exchange: ‘Mr Gandhi, what do you think of western civilisation?’ ‘I think it would be a very good idea.’ Europeans like to see their culture as springing directly from the fountains of Greek creativity, being refined within the formality of the Roman empire, then surviving ‘the dark ages’ to flower in the Renaissance and all that has followed.

The Irish journalist and UN civil servant Erskine Barton Childers wrote a passionate corrective in 1966: ‘I…