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A New Cold War?

27 Mar

I was recently asked to offer some commentary for this BBC piece on whether or not we’re in a new Cold War. Obviously, such articles can only use a tiny fraction of the submitted information, so I thought I’d place my full responses here. The questions are those posed by the BBC and, of course, all of my thoughts can and should be contested.

1) When would you say Cold War tensions peaked and why?

The period that we call the Cold War had deep roots in the nineteenth century, and more immediate roots in the period from the 1917 Russian Revolution onwards. It emerged after World War Two as the result of misperception, misunderstanding, ideological fixation, economic tension, and – crucially – the decisions of key individuals such as US president Harry Truman and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. It’s a handy term that covers the period from the mid-1940s to the late 1990s, encompassing the confrontation between the two major (at the time) ideological systems of liberal capitalism and collectivist communism. It was not the only major feature of the period, but it came to be entangled with other facets of the post-World War Two world such as decolonisation and the emergence of newly independent, formerly colonised, states.

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Trump, Assassinations and American Politics

10 Aug
Donald J Trump

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.

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McCarthyism and the Anti-vaccination Movement. What?

10 Feb

real enemiesA conspiracy of circumstances (how appropriate) lead me to the topic for this post. This week, I’ll be teaching undergraduates about the Second Red Scare in the United States. I’ve also been reading about the recent Disneyland Measles Outbreak in the United States. How are the two connected? Please, bear with me on this.

As part of my prep for classes, I’ve been re-reading Kathy Olmsted’s marvellous 2009 book Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War 1 to 9/11. Olmsted persuasively traces the rise of conspiracy theory and mistrust in the US government. The twentieth century, Olmsted argues, saw a turn from a belief that alien enemies were out to destroy the Republic to a belief that the government itself was the main conspirator.[1]

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HOTCUS 2013

20 Jan

Has it really been that long since the last post? It appears it has. Regardless, new year, new regime. Things are no less busy, but hopefully I’ll find time to post more over the coming year.

Once again I’ll be giving a paper at the Historians of the Twentieth Century United States Conference. This time it takes place at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle. Last year, my paper was focussed on a very tight time period. This year, I’ve chosen to go a little bit broader and also address some of the wider themes of my doctoral thesis. Full paper outline after the jump.

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Jimmy Carter And The Psychics

2 Jul

Admittedly, a somewhat over-dramatised title for a post that is about a couple of paragraphs in a single government document, but there you go.

While ploughing through the many thousands of documents that I collected during my recent research trip to the U.S., I came across a rather odd report to the President. Each day, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski would send a ‘Daily Report’ to President Jimmy Carter. This report would outline in brief salient matters of national security interest. In this case, the report for March 31, 1979, gave comment on the visit of Soviet statesman Alexei Kosygin to India, the situation in the Yemen and Iran, developments if Soviet Afghanistan policy, and…remote viewing and psychokinesis.

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Confronting the Conspiratorial II: Return of the Conspirator!

22 May

These research trips do not half reduce the time available for pithy, insightful commentary of a blogular nature. Hopefully once I get back to the UK next week, things should get back to the usual weekly schedule.

By way of saying something, rather than nothing, I was forwarded a rather bizarre link by my friend John Anderson (paramedic and international relations bod – now there’s a combination for you.) The link in question is to a forum/website that puts forward one of the nuttiest conspiracy theories I’ve yet come across (something that I’ve discussed before.) Given that most of said theories are pretty nutty, you have to be really reaching to raise more than a quizzical eyebrow. This one, however, really raises the bar: nuclear weapons are a con. A fake. A big lie. Huh?

I’m in two minds whether or not this is actually a genuine belief held by at least some of the people posting on the forum or it is all part of a knowing jab at conspiracy theory in general. Like all such things, you have to wonder. I think invoking a variation of Poe’s law would be appropriate here: “Without a winking smiley or some other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of a conspiracy theory that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.” Out there on the internet, it’s often hard to tell who’s kidding and who isn’t.

Edit: the person who runs the above linked site may also be a holocaust denier. I’m surmising this based on some of the other pages he/she runs. I must admit to, at the moment, being unwilling to delve too deeply into those sites for fear I may find myself in a filthy sewer. They may also be completely batshit, if you’ll pardon the langauge. I suspect that Poe’s Law may not, in fact, need deployment in this instance.

Confronting the Conspiratorial

1 Mar

I never imagined when I started this Ph.D that would have to confront conspiracy theory as part of the project. Just goes to show how much I know. Not that my topic area involves any of the big conspiracy theories: the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Kennedy assassination, or allegedly faked moon landings to name but three of the most widespread and popular.

The condensed version of the theory that impinges on my research goes like this: Western governments (mainly the U.S. and to a lesser extent the UK) willfully looked the other way when it came to the Pakistani nuclear programme and in some cases actively encouraged nuclear proliferation amongst states that would become (or were) enemies of those self same Western nations.

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