Above: The most dangerous man in America?
In a move that – while shocking – should not have been entirely unexpected, Donald Trump recently made a veiled call for the assassination of Hilary Clinton, should she be elected. In a campaign characterised by wild statements and manifestly un-presidential public behaviour, this is quite something.
Reactions have varied from the (rightly) appalled to the supportive (warning, that last link is to tinfoil hat central, Breibart). Most observers would conclude that even cryptically calling for the elected leader of the nation to be assassinated over the issue of Supreme Court selections is a step way, way too far. I make no bones about it: I believe Trump is a dangerous, ill-informed individual who – if elected – could do untold harm at home and abroad (although on the last point, I would direct you to this informative piece by the University of Reading’s Mara Oliva).
I was, however, curious if this was something that had happened before. Thanks to the wonders of our networked age, I was able to call upon the fantastic expertise of a bunch of great historians.
This piece originally appeared on the LSE’s European Politics and Policy blog on April 21, 2016. The only alterations are to place Barack Obama’s letter in the past tense.
In an open letter in the Daily Telegraph on April 21, President Barack Obama reflected on history and our contemporary world to definitively support continued British membership of the EU. Obama commented that with all the complex challenges faced by Britain, America, and many other nations, this was a time for “friends and allies to stick together”. The president had previously suggested that his administration favours continued British EU membership, commenting that the European single market is good for both the UK and the US economies.
To what extent was Obama’s expected intervention on the ‘remain’ side driven by economic interests? Matters of finance have certainly been big stories. In a recent open letter to The Times, a collective of former US Treasury Secretaries opined that “A vote to leave Europe represents a risky bet on the country’s economic future.” US trade representative Michael Froman stated that should Britain withdraw from the single market, the US would be manifestly disinterested in a separate UK-UK trade agreement. The preference it seems is for bloc agreements such as the controversial Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
Historically, however, the US stance on Britain’s position in an integrated Europe has been influenced by a much wider array of factors than just trade and economics. Indeed, as Obama alluded to, the same is true today, even though it is the economic aspects that dominate the headlines.
Above: Joe Louis and Jesse Owens
The two most recent episodes of the American History Too! podcast that I co-host with Mark McLay have covered critical issues in inter-war America. In May we examined the thorny issue of prohibition. Why did it happen? What were the results? Who did it affect? Do bans on alcohol and drugs ever really have any effect?
Most recently, we’ve looked at the intertwined issue of race and sport in the 1930s, with a particular focus on boxer Joe Louis and track superstar Jesse Owens. We were joined by a good friend of the podcast, Fraser McCallum of the Imperial War Museum. Fraser has made fantastic contributions to two previous podcasts, on the JFK assassination and the 1925 Scopes Trial. It was a sad coincidence that the day after we recorded this episode, the great Muhammad Ali – another sporting figure who challenged and transcended the boundaries of racism – passed away.
You can keep up to date with American History Too! on our website, Facebook page, and Twitter account. You can also download all of the podcast episodes from i
…which would be one of the strangest situation comedies ever made. Even weirder than Comrade Dad or Heil Honey, I’m Home.
Which is really a long-winded way of highlighting a couple of things I’ve done elsewhere over the past week. I was delighted to be asked by the LSE’s European Politics & Policy blog to comment on the historical aspects of the US-UK-Europe relationship.
Meanwhile, American History Too! pushes on with an episode where Mark and I discuss the life and legacy of inventor Nikola Tesla.
To help kick off the third annual Edinburgh Spy Week, I thought I’d offer some thoughts on great works of espionage, intelligence, and surveillance scholarship. Below are a half dozen books that I think are essential for the reader interested in the world of intelligence. This is a personal list, and as such focuses on the twentieth century UK, USA, and USSR. So, no Elizabethan skullduggery, Great Game goings on, on anything like that, I’m afraid.
Classified: Secrecy and the State in Modern Britain, Christopher Moran, 2012
For anyone interested in the history of intersections between the British state, the media, the public, Chris Moran‘s Classified is a must read. The book takes a thematic approach, covering topics like the political memoirs, official histories of intelligence, and the groundbreaking work of Chapman Pincher. All of the themes covered are cleverly combined to offer a dynamic, comprehensive study of the multifaceted nature of secrecy in twentieth-century Britain.
Christopher Moran will be appearing at Spy Week 2016 talking about James Bond in fact and fiction.
Above: Donald Trump, noted non-proliferation theorist and proponent of sane foreign policy positions.
With debate about the Iranian nuclear deal still raging and everyone and their dog expressing an opinion (no matter how ill-informed, reactionary, or just plain stupid it might be), my new undergraduate course is alarmingly well-timed.
This year, I’m offering a new 4MA (fourth year honours, full year) course entitled The United States and the Problem of Nuclear Proliferation, 1945-2015 (hereafter USPNP). An outgrowth of my research interests and doctoral work, USPNP is my first attempt at a year-long course for the undergraduates in their final year. The class is relatively small (12-15 students) and there will have an intense focus on discussing and debating primary, secondary, and theoretical materials.
As part of our ongoing podcast series, Mark and I recently recorded an episode on the origins, importance, and public awareness (and lack thereof) of nuclear fallout in the 1940s and 50s.
In the podcast, we managed to cover a fair bit of ground. We talked about the origins of ‘the bomb’ (wherein I waffle about Einstein, Frisch, Peirels, etc), the differences between the A-bomb and the H-bomb, the 1954 Castle Bravo test, the Strath report, and then Mark cuts me off as I hit my stride about The War Game! To be fair, he’s much better at keeping the podcast running to time than I am!
It was fun to talk about something that is within my specialism, having previously discussed colonial-era slavery, Andrew Jackson, and the Gilded Age, amongst other things! As always, if there’s any feedback you have, please do let me know. You can find all of our podcasts on our Podbean website, or you can get them through iTunes.