Family Migration in the 20th Century

My family’s migration story partially fits well into the narrative of the 20th century and partially does not. For my father’s side, as pf 1492 the Totten family was living as farmers in the village of Wedmore in Southwestern England. As of the late 1600s, the Tottens emigrated to British colonies in North Carolina, at some point settling in the region of the Salkahatchee swamp in South Carolina. During this time (probably because they were illiterate and spelled it wrong at some point) their name was somehow de-Anglicized to “Tuten.” They proceeded to remain in general vicinity of the swamps of the South Carolina Low Country until my father left for college in the 1970s – they had remained in the same area for about 300 years (and some of the family remain there still). This is not a very 20th century story – they got into place long before the 20th century and stayed there while it went on.

My mother’s family are a different story. One branch arrived in New England from London in the latest part of the 1700s, but became nearly destitute near the turn of the 20th century as a result of crop failures in the region and sought jobs (as terrible as conditions may have been) in New York City. There, if DNA testing can be believed, at some point a young member of that family met an Ashkenazi Jew, who presumably would have fled from Eastern Europe during the many Progroms of the early 19th century. After my great-grandfather was killed by a Kamikaze attack in the battle of Iwo Jima in the Second World War, this part of the family relocated to Birmingham, Alabama, where they worked in support of the civil rights movement. They were affected quite a bit by the wars and violence of the 20th century, though not as much by the formation of nation states.

Israeli / Palestinian declarations of independence

  • The two declarations are similar in some respects in regards to their structure: both open with a historical argument that their “people” have a historical claim to the land of Israel; that it is both historically and culturally “theirs” based on history. In both cases, the documents then move on to diplomatic treaties that would seem to support their claims, and finally end by welcoming all other members of their ethnic group into the new state – for Israel, the Jewish diaspora, and for the Palestinians, all Arabs.
  • Both invoke and mention religion – the Israelis note that it is the sabbath and use to Torhic events to justify their claims, in addition to treating their ethnicity and religion as being the same. The Palestinians invoke God at the beginning, but cast their land as having been a place of many religions, as though to imply their quest for independence is not merely religious in origin.
  • In both documents the authors define themselves  in both religious and ethic terms, though for the Jews these aspects are treated as one and the same (they invite members of the “Jewish Diaspora” to come immigrate to their state) and for the Palestinians they are treated as separate, with an emphasis on ethnicity, as the authors refer to themselves as “Palestinian Arabs” and say that all Arabs are welcome in their state.
  • The Israelis do not mention the Palestinians in their document – they more or less seem to ignore their “foes” existence, perhaps so as not to legitimize them. The Palestinians refer to the Israelis as such, thus identifying their enemy as the forces of a specific state and not Jews or Judaism in general, though they are clearly embittered by the presence of Israeli forces in what they see as their land.
  • The Israelis say that they want to have friendly relations with other states while not mentioning the Palestinians – this could mean that they would like to cooperate with a completely separate Palestinians state. It could also mean that they are deliberately ignoring the existence of an Arab people with legitimate claim to the land in Israel – it is perhaps deliberately unclear. Meanwhile, the Palestinians want the Israelis specifically removed – this may simply mean they want political autonomy, or it may mean they want to remove all Jews. For both documents, their intent towards each other is not abundantly clear.

Revisiting the US – Philippine War

According to the reading, The US-Philippine War was deeply influenced by racial science ideas of the time, which viewed the world as a competition between various races or “subspecies” of humans and by the general racist attitudes of American troops who entered the islands without much resistance from Spanish arms. The war was really about a reaction from the Filipinos about American racism and a desire by the Filipinos for self determination. To the Filipinos, the US was no different in many ways from the previous occupying power of Spain. However, beyond just being a product of racial attitudes, the war also influenced them; it popularized the notion that “lesser races” could weaken democracy, and therefore promoted racism and isolationism.

The takeaways from this reading are twofold:

  1. Racial attitudes are not set in stone. They were developed as a social construct and are not inherent to humanity, and because they are a social construct they are constantly changing.
  2. The United States did function as a typical imperial power in the example of the Philippine war; it cannot be considered completely different from Europe in regards to imperial attitudes in the late 19th century.

Latin America Blog Post

Of the various regions we have selectively studied in class, I have found Latin America the most depressing. It could be that I knew the least about it as a region when we began the class, but nevertheless Latin America at times seems to be a case study in the worst deeds of the United States and the greatest failures of Neoliberalism.

This is partially because it seems the region has repeatedly reached for emancipation in some way and had its hopes squashed. In African examples, such as the US sponsored overthrow of the first president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and his replacement with the brutal dictator Mugabe, the example is depressing, but there is deep doubt that the original president could have surmounted the incredible odds stacked against him and his country.

In the example of Chile , which we discussed Wednesday, however, Salvador Allende entered a country with great wealth inequality but an established rule of law, which he followed, and repeatedly tried to implement policies to help the most oppressed in society. It is easy to see how he could have been successful in this aim; and yet, his policies threatened American corporate  interests and those of the Chilean military, which lead to his death and his replacement by an extremely brutal dictator, Augusto Pinochet. This example is more heartbreaking as it shows American power being used as a factor to crush the dreams of a people when they could have possibly been realized.

This pattern of failures of Neoliberalism can be seen repeatedly in Latin America. Part of the rise of Hugo Chavez from Wednesday’s lecture was the removal of price controls for food in Venezuela in return for loans from the world bank. This is a reform for economic ‘development’ that produces more upper class and middle class wealth while worsening the situation for those who had the least in society. It is as though there is no sense of collective interest, as the interests of the destitute are not counted at all in the sum total of economic development. As Galeano states in Friday’s reading on page 310, “Solidarity is considered a useless waste of energy… but the powers that be have decided to alternate the carrot and the stick .” It is discouraging to see the prevailing socio-economic philosophy to be apparently failing so many this way.

Post for 10/4

  1. Judt states on page seven, “as a substitute for the defunct ambitions of Europe’s ideological past, there emerged… the European model.” This describes the modern European state, in which Liberal dDemocracy has been combined with Social Democratic ideas about the welfare state. This thematic shape is seen by Judt as a sort of compromise which came out of the failure of Fascism, which was discredited by its defeat and the destruction it wrought in the Second World War, and the failure of Soviet Communism, which was apparent as the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. These ideologies were deeply attached to the overarching narrative proposed by the European right and left wing, only a sort of compromise seemed to remain as an option for political organization.
  2. Judt describes the political topography of the New Europe as much more settled than in previous centuries. He mentions that Neo-Gaulists in France and Swedish Social Democrats had/have more in common in their practical goals and beliefs with each other than with their ideological forefathers. He also points out that public intellectuals, once a central aspect of European political organization, had fallen to the wayside in relevance. He reiterates that with Fascism and Communism discredited and the idea of War itself unthinkable, it was difficult for intellectual moralists to find any cause to rail against or for. This produced a fairly stable political environment.
  3. Judt thinks that in an age in which terrorism is one of the main concern for European citizens, the presence of the state as a peacekeeping force cannot be forgotten, and therefore Europe is unlikely to become truly post national unless some alternative can be found for the purpose of peacekeeping. In the political posters documented in The World Transformed, one can see how the fear of terrorism – specifically Islamic terrorism, despite that fact that white supremacist terror is more widespread and deadly, though that is a subject for another time – is something that truly does terrify the European public. The antidote to this fear for those who are the most affected by it so far has been nationalism, and the feeling that the in-group and the state will protect them. With this in mind, the nation-state is unlikely to completely disappear from Europe anytime soon.

Post for 9/27

One of the central pieces of reading for this week was the Economist article “A Hopeful Continent,” which attempted to offer a different view of Africa than is typically depicted in Western Media – which is to say, something other than an entire continent in constant crisis. The article opens by describing the general situation in Africa as undergoing improvement, stating that “many goods and services that used to be scarce… are now widely available.” It also says that the situation has improved because “a booming economy has made a big difference.”

It is difficult to say how accurate a picture this paints of the actual situation on the continent. The Economist clearly attempts to paint a picture that an neoliberal economy can eventually be built in Africa that will produce prosperity the way it has in Europe and North America, and to a somewhat lesser extent China and East Asia.

Weather or not this is possible, however, is certainly questionable. The Western World is capable of extreme material prosperity is large part because it is able to benefit from exploitation of African resources. Indeed, this exploitation is ongoing, and now with Chinese interests becoming prevalent in much of Africa (something unmentioned in the article) it seems unlikely that African economies will free themselves from this type of exploitation, especially under a profits-focused neoliberal model (after all, for a few members of the population, the exploitation of their countrymen is quite profitable.)

The apparent alternative to this would be some type of advocacy for a leftist economic model where private ownership of resources is either eliminated or sharply curtailed. It may be worth asking, however, how this system could be established now when in the past commercial interests always thwarted it in some way. And furthermore, it is worth asking if such a system would solve the problem of widespread poverty – after all, the original problems facing African states (arbitrary borders, lack of basic infrastructure) would remain. Would these problems by themselves be enough to destabilize a state that attempted to divy up resource profits to the general population? It certainly is not impossible.

All this consideration comes down to a simple and unsatisfying statement about African economies: there is no sure way to fix problems with them. What is certain is that while the Economist’s attempt to dispel with Western fictions about Africa is admirable, but seems to be somewhat lazy in contemplating the actual economic challenges facing Africa.