Currently viewing the tag: "memorialization"

The strategy of the coalition campaign against Yemen could have been lifted from a colonial blueprint: the aircraft strike military and civilian targets in equal measure, including among the latter: agricultural extension offices, irrigated farms, fishing ports and fishing boats, clinics and hospitals, markets and roads. The artisanal fishing on the Red Sea coast, formerly a major source of livelihood—fish exports used to be Yemen’s second biggest earner after oil—is now almost totally at a standstill. The bombing raids are augmented by a blockade, which includes commercial food imports in a country that was, immediately prior to the war, dependent on such imports for 80 percent of its grains. It is also amplified by an economic war, which involved moving the Central Bank from Houthi-controlled Sana’a to Aden, and halting all payments of salaries to civil servants.

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Starvation had utility for the Nazis. As indeed it had for colonizers before and since. Acts of colonial conquest, subjugation and extraction had created famine, from the East India Company in Bengal in the 1770s through the American settlers’ use of hunger to expropriate Native American lands, through the British concentration camps in South Africa. The 1863 Lieber Code that regulated the conduct of the Union armies during the Civil War infamously provided that ‘it is lawful to starve the hostile belligerent, armed or unarmed, so that it leads to the speedier subjection of the enemy.’ In his 1906 Handbook for Small Wars, Colonel Sir Charles Callwell advised his fellow officers that pacification operations would likely involve confiscating cattle and burning villages, ‘an aspect that may shock the humanitarian.’

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Is the tide of history turning against the humanitarians? The news is ominous, but today’s five famines and near-famines do not yet rank alongside the horrors of earlier eras. Our progress has stalled. It can yet be resumed, if we care enough to make our political leaders do the right thing. As we commemorate the victims of the great English famine inflicted on the Irish 170 years ago, we should also evoke that memory to cry, “never again”. When the citizens of nations vilify the perpetrators of starvation, and insist that the humanitarian imperative overrides realpolitik and profit, then we can at last effectively prohibit famine.

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One of the more complex meditations on memory and forgetting after war, comes not from social science, international law or erudite essay, but from this year’s winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize for literature, Kazuo Ishiguro, in his 2015 novel, The Buried Giant (2015). Set in an era following King Arthur’s demise, the characters inhabit a land beset by the fog of forgetting. The novel posits several ways to imagine the purpose of memory from the perspective of how its absence afflicts the story’s core characters.

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The below short video [3.5 minutes] is based on Bridget Conley’s two part essay, “How a statue unveiled the President.”

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Monuments to Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis or other Confederate icons tell a different story from that of the American dream of unending expansion of equality and justice. As documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the vast majority was erected by those committed to the history of prejudice and racism despite losing the war, by transforming it into the narrative of the Lost Cause. Defeat in battle transformed into a fight to control the peace. While commemoration began in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, monuments to the Lost Cause—many taking the same form of the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville that was the provocation for the latest events in 2017—sprouted like poisonous mushrooms in the days after a storm. Construction of these symbols of the south surged at the turn of the last century, spiking in 1910 but continuing into the early 1940s, contemporaneous to the imposition of Jim Crow laws across the South.

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