Papua New Guinea (PNG), like much of the world came into the main fold of recorded history through European discovery and colonialism, and only in recent history has it gained national independence.Continue reading “Papua New Guinea”
For this week and the letter ‘N’, I will be giving a brief history on possibly one of the most infamous (if not the most infamous) modern-day political anomaly that is North Korea. North Korea is a byword for oppression, modern-day dictatorships, mass poverty, corruption, and any other negative connotation relating to politics and culture – to the extent that the term “this is like North Korea” is used to immediately express unfairness, personal depravity, and sometimes just commercial inconvenience. But how did North Korea come about? This blog will look at the years between the Second World War and the Korean War and how the political power and state of the land that still exists today originated and grew.Continue reading “The Birth of North Korea”
In this long and fascinating episode Lilly and Alex are joined by Nick to talk about his specialism of environmental history, particularly in the political and activist movements through 20th Century America.
You can listen through Spotify below, or head to Anchor for links to follow on Apple, Google and wherever else you get your podcasts.
Introducing the Nu History podcast! A key feature of our newly re-branded blog!
Our aim with these podcasts is to simply get together and talk about any given topic relating to history! And usually we will plan to have a special guest or two to learn from about their area of expertise.
For our first episode, hosts Lilly and Alex are joined by James to talk about our different perspectives on how the Covid-19 pandemic has and will effect history, particularly in museums, academia and reenactment!
You can listen through Spotify below, or head to Anchor for links to follow on Apple, Google and wherever else you get your podcasts.
LGBT history as a whole is difficult to study, with both its legal and societal condemnation historically and today. The first attempts to study the history of homosexuality were not started until the 19th century and these were largely hampered by source scarcity and societal opinion. It was not until the mid 20th century that as a study it became more popular, and until the 1970s that all identities under the LGBT umbrella were included. The last several decades have seen a massive increase in scholarship, especially in gay male history; however other identities have struggled much more. Trans historiography has been hampered by how to define trans historical figures, particularly so in the issue of whether people were trans or if they were passing as another gender for other reasons, such as avoiding being drafted into military service. Bisexual history has languished similarly due to the issue of how to consider historical figures who appeared to be bisexual – were they bisexual or were they gay and their opposite sex relationships a requirement of the society they lived in, or were such relationships genuine? This, of course, has implications for same-sex history: are historical figures being labelled as attracted only to the same sex or could they have been bisexual? While the lack of definitively knowing hampers any study of history, LGBT history particularly struggles.
Lesbian history has always struggled – even the term ‘lesbian’ to describe history has been considered by some to be a difficult descriptor. Some feel that lesbian refers to an identity that historically women would have not considered themselves to be. Sometimes the phrase ‘women who loved women’ has been used. Scholars such as Cook and Rich argued for the use of the term ‘lesbian’ to describe women who had relationships with other women. However other scholars prefer to avoid the term, arguing that lesbian as a concept did not exist, or that the term does not fit the historical reality of the women they are studying. Others have also argued that this term is too Western-centric. However, others have pointed out that terms such as queer are too broad and erase the specific experience of women. This issue on phrasing symbolises the difficulty that lesbian history has faced.
While there has been little debate about male homosexual history, lesbian history has been much more problematic. The existence of lesbian history has always been harder to find, just because as the history of women in general has been difficult to source because of the domination of men in the historical written word, lesbians have often been written out of history – even more so than heterosexual women who generally have been only featured when, relevant to men. Lesbian behaviour was less likely to be prosecuted than gay male behaviour (not that lesbians were not prosecuted but they were caught less often or in some cases the sheer idea of lesbianism was so alien that legislation did not exist) which also reduces the amount of source material available, although what does exist is important. Prior to the 19th century lesbian history is fragmented, although some lesbian historians, like Emma Donoghue, have criticised historians for failing to notice mentions of lesbians due their own heterocentrisim. Debates over whether female historical figures had romantic and/or sexual relationships with each other or whether they simply had close platonic friendships plague lesbian history. Many lesbian historians have pointed out that they themselves, and those that came before them who clearly were, and often identified, as lesbian have been described as ‘platonic’ yet that there are often signs of such romantic and/or sexual relationships. Anne Lister’s diaries are an example of this; when her diaries were originally deciphered some declared them a hoax because of their ‘explicitness’ and her frank understanding of her sexuality.
Most sources we do have on lesbian history focus predominantly on upper class women as they were the most able to record their own experiences. This can be frustrating for two reasons: women in the lower classes made up higher proportions of the general population and therefore are more likely to make up a significant proportion of lesbian women; and also that working class women traditionally had more opportunity to socialise with other women and without as much scrutiny. Upper class women were far more likely to have limited social circles and limited opportunity to be able to conduct affairs privately. Not only does this limit the amount of available knowledge it also means we miss out on knowing about working class lesbian subcultures and communities prior to the 19th and 20th centuries.
Oral history has been an important part of lesbian history and has provided a significant amount of source material, although this is mostly restricted to post 1920s, as lesbian oral history was not recorded until the 1970s and beyond. Along with sources such as zines and photography, archive groups in the 1970s and 1980s attempted to construct archives focused on the lesbian experience, such as the Lesbian Archive – now housed at the Glasgow Women’s Library–, and the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York. Other regional archives exist as does archives holding either LGBT history as whole or feminist/women’s history.
So why is lesbian history so important to discover? Other than the general desire to uncover the past as much as possible, many lesbians find it important to connect to their forebearers and to demonstrate that their identity is legitimate and has existed for millennia. Lesbian erasure, historically and currently, is a major issue not just in society in general but also in the LGBT and feminist communities that claim to include and represent them. Erasure and ignorance of lesbian history helps exacerbate lesbian erasure. Many lesbians have been outspoken about society’s attempts to erase ‘lesbian’ as an identity, from claiming that ‘lesbian’ is exclusive or to that it doesn’t even exist – the tendency for some historians to deny lesbian history prior to the 19th century does just this.
LGBT history often focuses on gay men while feminist history often focuses on heterosexual women. The fact that lesbians have often been both at the forefront of social movements is often ignored, even within these movements, and despite their presence they have been later ostracised or written out of these histories. Therefore their lesbian identity has been paramount to them. This importance also highlights the need for lesbian history to be inclusive of all lesbians. Recent scholarship has aimed to not only focus on white middle-class women in western societies but to expand our knowledge of lesbian history and how the diversity of these women are how we can broaden our overall knowledge.
For the latest instalment on our lost cities theme I will be writing about the history of Petra. Petra is a historical city located in modern day Jordan, which is renowned for its archaeological heritage and now popular for tourists. It was designated as a UNESCO world heritage cite in 1985.
It was originally known as Ramqu. The area was thought to have been inhabited appropriately in the year as early as 9000BC. Petra was likely established in the 4th or 5th century BCE and is largely attributed to a nomadic Arab tribe, the Nabataeans. The Nabataeans settled the area as a prime trading route, particularly the spice trade, to buy and sell goods between the Mediterranean continent and Asia. This is where caravans of people would cross.
Trade was relatively successful for the Nabataean inhabitants, until over time nautical trading routes proved more popular. Petra gained some attention from outsiders, notably the Greeks and Romans. One of the first written accounts of Petra was documented by Greek historians. King Antigonus I a Macedonian ruler planned an invasion in 312 BC.
The site’s population grew to approximately 10,000-30,000 inhabitants. The Nabataeans were prevailed in attempts to takeover their land. They knew the terrain very well and how best to defend it from outsiders, that was until the Romans invaded in 106CE. Petra, henceforth was incorporated into the Roman Empire as a province.Trade was still customary in those parts, particularly the spice trade. However, over time this particular route steadily declined in popularity. What’s more in 363AD Petra suffered a terrible earthquake which significantly damaged the area. This halted further developments to the area in terms of commerce and population increase. Another earthquake would follow in 551.AD
During the Byzantine era Petra contained a number of Christian churches In the 7th century AD Petra was seized by neighbouring Muslims in Arabia. This was a significant time for the spread of Islam and its influence as Arabia was was unified by the prophet Muhammed in 622AD. During the Byzantine era Petra contained a number of Christian churches as the old city was the capital of the Byzantine province, Palaestina III and as a result was a part of the Byzantine empire sandwiching the Mediterranean to the Levant. These churches were excavated at the site and attributed to the Byzantines. Later in the 12th century the was evidence to suggest the area was an outpost of the Crusades, military campaigns from Christian Europe to the Islamic territories in response to their rapid spread. From then there are no accounts from the West about the Petra. However, that is not to say the area was unknown territory completely. Outside of the western world there are accounts during the end of 13th century that Petra was often visited by Egyptian sultans who were interested in the sandstone formations. Nevertheless, there are little to no accounts after this, that is not to say non eurocentric accounts. Nomadic tribes continued to live in the area.
Moving forward to the 19th century, The ‘discovery’ of Petra was attributed to a Swiss traveller by the name of Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812. He was the first European to describe the sandstone structures. The remnants of tombs and structures at Petra were visualised by David Roberts, a Scotsman who painted them in 1839. Unfortunately over time the site of Petra was highly vulnerable, its structures were weak and this attracted the attention of thieves hoping to amass its treasures. Petra was surveyed and excavated properly in 1922 by archaeologists along with help from a Physician, expert in local folklore and a scholar.
A number of scrolls written in Greek were found in the remains of a church, dated in the Byzantine era. These items were found 25 years ago in 1993. This discovery confirms Petra was not an isolated domain despite its land locked location. It shows other ethnic groups were interested in the area and remained for a time.
In the early twentieth century Petra was a focal point in the Arab-Ottoman conflict. In October 1917 during the First World War to intercept the Ottoman forces resources from the British advancement in Gaza, regarding the Sinai and Palestine campaign between the British and the Ottomans. The Arabs led a revolt from Petra against the Ottomans along with British support they managed to halt the Ottomans. Local Bedouin women also took part in the revolt.
Nowadays Petra is waiting to be discovered by tourists and is considered to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the world up with the likes of Machu Picchu in Peru and The Taj Mahal in India.
The British Empire holds a strange place in the UK’s national memory; many young people have little knowledge of it while many older people remember it fondly, with 65% of over 65s in a YouGov poll saying the Empire was something to be proud of in 2014. Considering that the British Empire lasted for 500 years, it is rarely talked about, usually only brought up when talking about immigration or invoked as a nostalgic tool to invoke ‘Britannia’ in relation to issues such as Brexit. Actual detail is rarely mentioned, it’s rarely covered in film or TV despite the UK’s love of period drama and the teaching of it in schools is minor, if existent at all.
I was never taught about the British Empire in school. I was never even taught about the slave trade, except for brief mentions during Black History Month – and then only the USA’s role was mentioned. I know some people a little younger than me at least were taught about the slave trade and going back to my parents’ school days of the 1960s and 1970s, the slave trade was mentioned. The British Empire overall though was barely touched upon. While teaching of the British Empire has reportedly been improved upon in recent years, it is still patchy due to a focus on certain aspects or periods of the Empire.
The problem with teaching about the British Empire is that it isn’t easy and it doesn’t make Britain look good. Take the teaching of World War Two in Britain – the Nazis were clearly evil and we fought against them, so we’re the good guys! Great detail is gone into on the Nazi atrocities, quite rightly. However any evil done by the British is glossed over to preserve the dichotomy. No talk of handing over Czechoslovakia to Hitler prior to the war; or the bombing of German civilians; or the British government doing nothing to help victims of Nazi persecution (the famous Kindertransport children were only allowed to enter the country if a non-governmental organisation found them a place to stay and a £50 bond per child was paid); the internment of those who came from countries who were part of the Axis Powers; and the blind eye turned to the rape of women and children, committed by Allied troops, by the Allied leadership to name a few. Acknowledging the atrocities committed by the Allies does not make the Nazis look at any better, nor does it mean disrespecting those who died – they were not the government. Acknowledging these atrocities does however damage the myth of a heroic Britain, of a past we should be proud of. That is exactly why the British Empire is such a touchy subject.
Exact numbers of those who died at the hands of the British Empire will never be known, and no estimation will ever be agreed on but let’s take a look at a couple of generally accepted figures. 3.1 million Africans were transported by the British to its colonies and other countries. 1 million (at least) died in the Irish Potato Famine, while the British government exported food from Ireland and British landlords evicted families. 4.3 million died in the Southern India famine of 1876–78, while the British government exported food from India and refused to provide any charity, instead forcing the starving to work for rations that were not enough to sustain them. At least 28,000 Boer women and children and 20,000 Black people died in one of the earliest examples of concentration camps, created by the British Army during the Second Boer War. These uncomplicated figures are enough to cause horror for any person with something resembling a moral compass. These are indefensible. These were civilians; the excuse of ‘they were attacking us’ just simply doesn’t count for these examples.
Now there are people who claim that the British Empire was a force for good, a highly controversial claim among many historians, but the major problem with the lack of education or thorough discussion of the Empire outside academic circles means that these claims are fed uncritically to the public almost always via newspapers and politicians who are using this argument for their own political means. For example, if we refer back to the atrocities above, the Daily Mail in one article claimed that during the British Empire ‘the occasional massacre was undoubtedly carried out’ but we played a role in ending the slave trade and ‘successfully exported’ democracy to countries that were colonies. This of course shows a rather dismissive attitude to the deaths of millions and conveniently leaves out the British role in beginning the slave trade. This is not exactly unsurprising when you consider even Wikipedia refuses to use the Daily Mail as a source; that such an article makes no attempt to even vaguely consider history properly. It is also understandable in some respects why newspapers like the Daily Mail aggressively pursue such a position; they do not exist to teach history – or even tell the truth – they are there to push a particular opinion onto readers in the hope that readers will support their political aims at the ballot box to financially support their owners. This, of course, is not confined to just right-wing newspapers but to newspapers in general.
The problem is that when many peoples’ knowledge comes from journalists set on achieving political goals the actual debate and evidence of the Empire is not present. While historians cannot escape ideology completely, at least there is some kind of attempt at being critical of their perspectives and examining evidence. If an argument is to be made that the British Empire was ‘good’ then it should be put forward properly evidenced with historical rigour, with an actual chance of experts being able to debate the argument for its historical accuracy rather than political value. This is why it is so important that the British Empire is actually taught in schools so students have a chance to critically engage with the history rather than be fed carefully condensed politicised propaganda. An evidenced debate in schools has been favoured by school leaders and historians over a curriculum based on fostering patriotism. This approach has also been favoured by students themselves.
The lack of knowledge about the British Empire is particularly problematic because of how much of an impact it is having today. The British Empire created Apartheid in South Africa, and continued to resist imposing sanctions on the government till the end. Claims of violence between black and white South Africans has recently been the subject of interest amongst Trump supporters. The British Empire played a large part in the beginnings of the Israel-Palestine conflict, perhaps the most controversial conflict in modern history. After pitting Hindus and Muslims against each other for the British Empire’s own gain, the rushed partition of India helped cause the bloody legacy of the events of the partition that still plagues the relationship between India and Pakistan today. Intervention in Afghanistan began with the British Empire and the volatile state of the country can be linked back to British installed puppet governments. Proper understanding of these current events cannot be achieved without the knowledge of what past events caused them, and in so many cases the British Empire played some part.
It is even still having an impact on government policy as seen with the recent Windrush scandal with those who came to Britain and their descendants from former colonies in the Caribbean being threatened with deportation. The disregard for these people who spent their early lives under colonial control and then came to rebuild the UK due to lack of work available in their own countries because of colonial policy, all while having to cope with racism and poverty when they came to Britain. The recent scandal led to many of these people facing racism and poverty all over again; with many arguing that such behaviour would have never happened to white immigrants and that the decision to destroy records was racially charged. Whether such assertions are true or not, there is certainly an issue that being former colonial subjects that their history was not considered as important as white Britons.
Despite such claims that the British Empire was a good thing, even from politicians in government, there is a strong suggestion that perhaps the British government aren’t quite as proud about it as they claim. In 2011 a group of elderly Kenyans won the right to sue the British government for the torture they allege they suffered in the Mau Mau rebellion against the Empire. As a result of this an official review of colonial government papers, which unlike most government papers had not been passed onto the National Archives, was undertaken. The review found that they had been purposefully hidden, and that also thousands had been disposed of with the expressed intention by the secretary of state for the colonies so that any records that “might embarrass Her Majesty’s government” should be destroyed.
This post will feature the newly opened, Battle of Britain Bunker and Visitor Centre on the former site of RAF Uxbridge in the London Borough of Hillingdon. It is the only Second World War bunker to be preserved and open available to the public. The former RAF site was sold off for a new housing development in 2010. The Bunker was available for tours, booked in advance. Now however the site has been heavily invested by the financial backing of Hillingdon council and houses a new Visitor Centre adjacent to the Bunker, whereby prior booking is no longer necessary. The Visitor Centre explains about the line of work that happened in the Bunker and features interactive exhibits and visuals relating to plotting, radar and collecting calls from telephones. It is also a good feature for those visitors who are less mobile as they can still see information and learn about what happened in the Bunker.
Outside the complex visitors are welcomed to the statue of New Zealander Keith Park (1892-1975), the Second World War Royal Airforce commander. He oversaw the running’s of the operation room at RAF Uxbridge for two years from 1940-1942. He was known as the “Defender of London” in Germany and for organising fighter patrols during the Dunkirk evacuation the Battle of Britain campaign. What’s more, the grounds also include a mock Hurricane, Spitfire and memorial close to the entrance of the Bunker immortalising the words uttered by Winston Churchill when he entered the Bunker on a visit in 16th August 1940, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed, by so many, to so few”.
Upon arrival visitors must report to the entrance desk at the Visitor Centre to collect tickets to visit the Bunker. The Bunker operates tours in the mornings and afternoons. Please ensure to take a ticket and keep it on your person until the guide leads you to the entrance of the Bunker, it is here where you hand your ticket to a steward. When entering the bunker, you go down a long flight of stairs so be watchful.
The Bunker was the location for No. 11 Group RAF’s operation which served as part of the Dowding system. The Dowding system served as the world’s first conception network on land to control airspace in the United Kingdom. It used a telephone network to gain intelligence as opposed to radar that could have been intercepted. This Bunker is most famous for controlling airfield operations during the Battle of Britain in 1940 and additionally the Dieppe raid of 1942 and the D Day Landings of 1944.
Geographically there were several fighter command groups stationed in the United Kingdom they were divided into different geographical locations. No. 11 Group which encompassed the South-East, No. 10 Group covering the South West, No. 12 Group covering the Midlands, No. 9 Group covering the North West, No. 13 covering the North East and lastly No. 14 Group covering Scotland. Focusing on No. 11 Group its headquarters was located at Hillingdon House at RAF Uxbridge. The group’s operating room was within the Bunker underground, to avoid detection. A previous bunker was built over ground in 1939 but the idea of having an operations room over ground was too obvious in case of an enemy air attack.
The commands that occurred in the Operations room within the Bunker was passed onto airfields within the group. These airfields were divided into 8 different sectors. The Operations Controller was seated above a plot map and a display on the wall relating to the other RAF stations within the group covering; RAF Tangmere, Kenley, North Weald, Debden, Biggin Hill, Hornchurch and Northolt. These were the stations were fighter squadrons were based. It is important to note that everything displayed in the Operations room was always suited to the view of the Operation Controller. Additional staff included; Army and Navy Officials, Plotters, telephonists and RAF officers, one of which was the late Hollywood actor Rex Harrison.
The map of the United Kingdom and northern France was displayed on a large board whereby the Operations Controller could see very clearly where plotters would update them with necessary information. This was a job carried out by plotters who were mainly women from the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce (WAAFs). They were fed information from Chain Home Radar stations monitoring approaching aircraft, it was the Royal Observer corps that detected aircraft that was friendly or hostile. This information was fed to a Filter room whereby the plotters in this room would breakdown the information and relay it to the plotters in the Operation room. The plotters used long thin rods that would move markers on the map indicating numbers of aircraft and how many feet they were in the sky. It also displayed friendly and hostile aircraft. Depending on what information they receive the would move the markers across the map to provide the Operations Controller an up to date understanding of affairs happening in the skies.
Going back to the display on the wall depending on the different stations lights will flicker to state whereabouts aircraft is and to show the Operations Controller a physical embodiment/tracking of their decision making from standby to action. It is also important to note that the visibility and weather balloons was also marked on the display, again providing the best view to the Operations Controller so they can be best informed to make decisions. The plotters job was important as they had to ensure the information was kept up to date, otherwise that could mean drastic consequences for aircraft and cause confound decision making for the Operation Controller. When changing shifts, the plotters had to standby the other plotter they are shifting with to see what information they were being fed to again make sure the information on the map was current. This was also true when a plotter needed to take a break, the covering plotter had to stand with the plotter wanting a break for approximately 10-15 to ensure all information fed to them was being kept up to date.
The location of the Battle of Britain Bunker is easy to get to, it is close to the Town centre of Uxbridge, Greater London and has good connections to the A40 and M40. It is an easily accessible day trip from London as the tube serves Uxbridge on both the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines. Additionally, the U2 is the nearest bus to serve the Bunker which will then take an extra 10-15 minutes to walk to the venue.
Residents of Hillingdon Borough can visit for free (upon showing Hillingdon resident card) as with servicemen/women and ex-servicemen/women. Please check with the venue for exact proving to those visitors from outside the area.
All in all, the Bunker and Visitor centre is a great day out for history buffs, particularly those with an interest in the Battle of Britain.
As the country was enduring a catastrophic experience and (although they did not know it yet) in the last year of The Great War, Britain and the world were about to feel the strain of a particularly violent and virulent disease that would wipe out 50 to 100 million people. The Spanish Flu epidemic first began to flex it muscles in January 1918 in a world with limited life expectancies and war-torn countries that would proceed to blame each other for the dire circumstances some families would find themselves in. The Spanish Flu first showed strains across Europe, the United States of America and parts of Asia, and due to the increased movement of individuals globally, before steadily spreading across the world. Although vaccinations had been around for over one hundred years, with the invention of the Smallpox vaccine in 1796, there was no effective treatment for this influenza strain. Before the end of the epidemic in Britain citizens were forced to wear masks, entire institutions were bordered up and bodies piled inside the door of poorly constructed new morgues to cope with the demand. The strain did not discriminate, wealthy and poor, young and old all succumb quickly, sometimes spreading across an entire estate upstairs and downstairs to further add grief to families who’d lost someone in the war.
Influenza is a virus that dominates the lungs and whole respiratory system and is one of the most contagious diseases known to humans. Spread easily when someone coughs, sneezes and/or talks it is transmitted through the air into the breathing space of anyone nearby. The likelihood of it spreading to everyone in one household once one member has it is extremely high especially if an infected person touches items that is also handled by others. Many influenzas, or flu, appear yearly and vary on severity, think on the 2017 Aussie Flu outbreak, but none had been as virulent as the Spanish Flu. It is particularly dangerous in people with diabetes, young children, pregnant women and asthmatic people, but the flu also brings a myriad of issues including pneumonia and bronchitis. Many doctors in the war period would have been familiar with flu seasons that occupy late autumn to early spring every year however none would have been prepared for a strain that has little immunity globally.
The first wave of the Spanish flu arrived in spring 1918 but did not cause much concern as deaths did not exceed normal flu fatalities and most victims regained health within a week of their worst day. Doctors reported that the initial cases appeared in Spain hence why the sufferers based blame around the Spanish people who were hit the hardest during the most dangerous periods of the strain. There were reports of cases appearing elsewhere yet the censorship within the media prevented anything being reported that would lower morale of the people and those on the front lines. Spain was not under these regulations as heavily as the UK and Germany hence why Spanish cases were heard of first, especially since one of the first victims included the King of Spain Alfonso XIII. Spain had declared neutrality because of familial connections to both sides of the war therefore news leaked easily into the newspapers of the world. The world war had caused an extensive amount of deaths in people in the regions affected by bombing and trenches, yet the world was not ready to combat a micro-war, one that would creep into all corners without any particularly compelling reason as to where it came from or why.
The UK was hit in a series of waves throughout the year of 1918 with the end of World War One bringing the harshest low points. The disease spread from soldiers returning to train stations from abroad thus allowing the strain to be contracted from the inner cities and to slowly spread outwards in to the countryside. Prime Minister David Lloyd George contracted the disease alongside Walt Disney and Kaiser Willhelm II of Germany yet all survived. Onset of the more virulent periods were quick and violent with cartoonists displaying people healthy at breakfast and then dead by dinner. The flu initially caused the common flu symptoms of fatigue, fever and headaches before rapidly becoming serious in slowly suffocating the victims through increased shortage of oxygen. Hospitals were stretched to breaking point with medical students being drafted in early yet there was nothing to be done except give those dying comfort as there were no antibiotics to treat any part of the strain or resultative conditions.
In one year fifty million people died worldwide. Two hundred and twenty-eight thousand people died in the UK and the global mortality rate landed between ten and twenty percent. Historians have discovered that a larger amount of people died during this one year of epidemic flu than across the worst four years of the Bubonic Plague in the fourteenth century. Across the known world only one small region did not report any outbreaks down the Amazon river of Brazil.
This January is the 100th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points. Wilson addressed to congress a 14-point programme to aid with universal peace on January 8th, 1918. These peace negotiations were intended to take affect after World War I. On the face of it, the 14 points looked as if they were a “cure” to fully eradicate aggression, hostility and above all out war amongst nations. However, this was not meant to be. This post will look at what kick started the 14 points, what they were and the lasting impact of them.
What kick started the 14 points?
The United States of America entered World War I in April 1917, three years after the war was started. The entry into the war was heavily due to unrestricted warfare on submarines and that American ships were sunk. Unrestricted submarine warfare allowed vessels like freighters and tankers to sink from submarines without warning. Germany initiated this in early 1915 when they considered the waters surrounding Britain to be a war zone and as a result attacked ships, including merchant and neural ships. It was a type of naval warfare and considering that Britain and Germany were two prominent colonial powers, they relied heavily on colonial imports for produce, another reason why this warfare was lucrative. This warfare occurred in the surrounding waters of western Europe. For one thing the British ship, Lusitania, despite mainly being a passenger ship also carried munitions. This was enough for the German navy to justify the sinking. 1,201 lost their lives and drowned at sea, including some 128 Americans. When the United States and other neutral countries put pressure on Germany, they stopped.
However, this suspension was not to last. Germany, not wanting to appear passive wanted to adopt unrestricted submarine warfare again. On January 8th, 2017, a year before the 14 points were addressed, Kaiser Wilhelm was persuaded by navy leaders that this warfare should go ahead, despite some reservations from the German chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg who did not attend discussions. On February 1st, 1917, unrestricted submarine warfare was resumed by the German navy and the United States entered the war 2 months later.
With the help of some geographers, historians and political scientists, Wilson arranged these professionals under the watchful eye of Edward M House, Wilson’s advisor. They were put to work to study and analyse topics of discussion likely to appear in peace talks, concerning American and European (Allied) interests of international relations, economics and society. It was from these studies that Wilson’s speech came about, the 14 Points.
The 14 points
The 14 points advocated acts of diplomacy and addressed what the causes for war are in his opinion. He also alluded to how war could be avoided in the future. The list of the 14 points are listed before-
To abolish secret treaties between nations. An organisation should be set up, involving different countries and its members would constitute talks to solve international problems.
Freedom of navigation outside territorial waters, unless otherwise specified by an international agreed convention.
Equality of trade relations and eliminating trade barriers as much as possible between nations.
To reduce armaments, to ensure greater international safety.
Colonial claims to be adjusted, relating to all European nations who hold colonial territories.
The evacuation of all Russian territory in Eastern Europe and to the Ottoman Empire, this later became known as the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, when Soviet Russia exited the war.
To restore sovereignty in Belgium.
French territory taken should be restored to them, particularly Alsace Lorraine.
To realign Italian borders in the north, whereby the Italian speaking areas are within its own borders.
Self-determination for the peoples of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Occupied areas of Eastern Europe; Montenegro, Serbia and Romania should be restored and free from occupation. Serbia should not be land locked and allowed sea access.
Secure sovereignty for Turkey but other areas that make up the Ottoman Empire should have the right to Self-determination such as Bulgaria and territories in the Middle East. Free passage of the Dardanelles to be permitted.
An independent Poland, free from occupation and allowed sea access.
The speech was very nearly not made at all as Wilson knew that the British Prime minister, David Lloyd George made a similar speech on January 5th, 1918, outlining very similar aims to Wilson’s intended 14 points. These aims were then known and agreed to by the British dominions. After some persuasion from House, Wilson made the speech as planned and proved to be a very successful precursor to the eventual Armistice later in the year and the Paris Peace Conference, the following year
When news of the speech spread to Europe it garnished much support in general. Wilson knew that these 14 points were integral to American interests as they were fundamental for global commerce and safety to the American people. Events preceding the war had brought about a spat of aggression and domination. In addition, a new school of thought under the Bolsheviks was looming and proved successful in the October revolution of 1917, when Imperial Russia became but a memory. In this sense, the United States had to abandon its Isolationist principles for a time.
However, in Europe the two allied leaders of the time were rather sceptical of Wilson’s idealism. The British and French leaders, David Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau held reservations regarding the applicability of all 14 points. For it to be successful, the 14 points had to apply to all nations, the Allied and Central powers alike and Wilson was not entirely sure how these points would be administered. The 14 points were translated into German and distributed to their readership. No hostility came about because of it and it was said that these points inspired a call for surrender.
Looking back at this event which took place 100 years ago, the remnants do appear in the modern world today, as International cooperation is a commonplace to ensure universal peace, suffrage and trading relations. However, Wilson’s notion of the ill-fated League of Nations was not to last as another international conflict soon ensued in 1939, World War Two. Essentially, not knowing the damage of what the war repatriations on Germany could do in the not to distant future appears unfortunate. The harsh realities of the reparations appeared to be a catalyst for what was to come in 1930s Germany, nevertheless that on its own is not enough to justify a single cause for further conflict. Putting the counterfactual to the side for a moment, what resulted after World War 2 was another call for peaceful resolutions on an international scale, the United Nations. Although, there is certainly a long way to go to reach the end goal for international peace, conflict has taken many guises under the Cold War and the War on Terror, nevertheless it is hard to deny that the 14 points and the aim to provide peaceful diplomacy has done much to pave the way to fruition.