Special Topics 1B, Autumn 2019 NOTES

Cold Wars Old and New: Resistance to the 20th Century World Order

Notes will be posted here after each class

November 15, 2019

You can review the information about the Hawaiian Kingdom with the links listed below.

1. A short slideshow to introduce the topic (pdf file).

2. The Acting Government of the Hawaiian Kingdom Issues Legal Challenges to End Occupation

3. The Acting Government of the Hawaiian Kingdom Issues Legal Challenges... (日本語版)

4. Official website of the Hawaiian Kingdom acting government. Or see the HK blog here. Or see this video.

November 8, 2019

Indigenous Mexico  & the Zapatista Uprising of 1994

Important dates in Mexican history:

1519: Aztec Empire fell to the Spanish.

16th century: Spanish settlements moved as far north as California and present day New Mexico, USA.

1821: Independence from Spain.

1910-1927: Mexican Revolution, led by, among others, Emiliano Zapata.

The achievements of the revolution were worn down by the long one-party rule that lasted for the rest of the century.

January 1, 1994: As the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect, the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas shocked the world.

The Zapatista Uprising (20 Years Later) (video, 13 minutes)

This video report tells the story of the New Year’s Day uprising in southern Mexico in 1994. It was a popular rebellion against NAFTA and against the long centuries of indigenous people being forced to fit in with the global system of trade. It is significant that the Zapatistas credit their limited success to the fact that they insisted on keeping their weapons. They did not believe that their victory would come through non-violence. They negotiated with the Mexican government from a position of strength, and because of this they have won a limited sovereignty on their land within Mexico. Their success also came from their effort to not rely on personality cults and leaders, to keep their ambitions limited to their region, and to “waging peace” rather than waging war. This means they constantly made efforts to improve such things as agriculture, health care and education.

To put the Zapatista uprising in a larger context, students can view a short interview with economist Mark Blyth. He explained how the global economy has gone through two distinct phases since 1945. The open market, free trade neoliberalism that started to dominate in the 1980s resulted in the Zapatista uprising and in the economic crisis of 2008.

In 2018, the Zapatista rebellion should be seen in the larger context of everything that has happened in Mexico in the last 23 years. NAFTA was a disaster for rural communities in Mexico. It led to economic failure of traditional agriculture, and so there was a sharp rise in drug crime, with drug cartel leaders claiming to be the only source of support for the poor. Under the logic of free trade, they said they were simply selling the Mexican products that Americans wanted to buy. NAFTA also forced increasing numbers of Mexicans to seek work in the United States, and this change led to the American government adopting more drastic punishments of illegal aliens, long before President Trump was criticized for US immigration policies, such as detaining people crossing the border and building a wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. You can learn more about this situation (as it existed during the Obama presidency) from the excellent two part series about the US-Mexican border in these episodes of The Empire Files.

We finished the lesson by viewing a speech by Mark Charles that explains the Doctrine of Discovery and its role in making the United States a systemically racist and sexist nation. Read the transcript here.

October 11, 2019

The class was not held because of student illnesses, but students were asked to read this article on the Hawaiian Kingdom for upcoming lessons about this subject.

October 4, 2019

To learn something about indigenous people in Canada we viewed the film Treading Water. The notes about the film are in this blog post.

September 27, 2019

Recent history of the Native Indian Movement in the USA, since 1960

Sources for topics discussed on October 5

Occupation of Alcatraz, 1969

South Park Washington Redskins (video)

John Oliver covers Columbus Day

Chris Hedges interview two Native American representatives on the struggles of the present day: environmental contamination, the damage caused by coal and uranium mining and the supply of American nuclear facilities. Video here: American Sacrifice Zones.

Follow up Columbus Day: Read the article by Howard Zinn on what happened in the Caribbean in the years after Columbus' arrival:

Howard Zinn, "The Real Christopher Columbus," Jacobin, October 2010.

Extra sources on this topic

Columbus Day is the next Confederate Flag: The holiday’s political context is too unsavory to keep ignoring

Second Battle of Wounded Knee, 1973

The Empire Files: Fighting at Standing Rock with American Indian Movement Founder Dennis Banks

9 reasons Christopher Columbus was a murderer, tyrant, and scoundrel

In Detroit, Columbus Monument Gets Axed

Native Americans Decry Sainthood For California's Iconic Missionary

Uranium Mining: Book Explores the ‘Wastelanding’ of the Navajo Nation

UN to investigate plight of US Native Americans for first time

Native Communities Across North America Lack Access To Clean Water

Upcoming: October 5, 2019

Aboriginal Sovereignty and Independence: A Case study from Manitoba, Canada
In the Canadian and US federal systems of government, Native Indians or First Nations are considered to be semi-self-governing states within states. Just as Ontario is a province within Canada, or Nevada is a state within the US, aboriginal groups have their own state-like status within the provinces and states. These territories are often called reserves or reservations. In many cases, the settler (European ancestry groups) forced the natives onto the least productive land, so these reservations were not ideal places for a people to lead an independent life.
Canada is a very large country that was settled by Europeans from east to west between the 16th and 19th centuries. Thus the contact with a great diversity of indigenous people happened within a great diversity of historical periods.
The historical context and legal framework of treaties were different in each time and place. Treaties also had to deal with the Metis--those people of mixed European and indigenous blood who had become quite numerous by the time the British and Canadian governments came to enforce their laws on the land.
Terminology for referring to indigenous people is problematic. In Canada it has become common to speak of First Nations, but terms such as Indian, aboriginal, and native are still used, with some confusion about which are acceptable and not offensive.
Members of First Nations have rights within their groups, but it is difficult to establish fair rules of membership when people marry with outsiders. Should status be inherited through fathers or mothers, or both? What happens when “the blood gets thin” over generations and people have adopted the culture of mainstream society? Many legal frameworks define aboriginal status through a "blood quantum." Over several generations, such a system is likely to lead to a decrease in the number of people who qualify. 
The treaties were usually broken, and they were problematic in terms of the implicit understandings the two sides had about their meaning. The aboriginal groups had no tradition of written language, so the written documents didn’t have the same significance for them as they had for the settlers. The settlers would point out what was specifically stated in the written text (if they honored the treaty at all) as if it were a contract, but the aboriginal groups would emphasize the ongoing trust, friendship and concern for mutual benefit represented by the commitments made in the past. Just as a married couple would not mistake their marriage certificate for their relationship, the natives emphasized the importance of co-existing in good faith as circumstances changed in ways no one could have predicted when the treaties were first signed.
Today, First Nations are not very interested in full political independence because they know their primary battle is economic independence, and many sovereign, independent nations are still effectively colonized by stronger economic forces. Control of resources, maintaining traditions and a clean environment are the key issues. Sometimes they don’t even want to use the resources they have because the risk of environmental destruction is too great. 
This concern creates conflict with resources companies and governments that wish to influence First Nation governments. These days, the biggest struggle is not with the outsiders but with the First Nation leaders who have made development deals with resource companies. These companies promise jobs and integration with the modern world, but many natives see this as a road to ruin.

In fact, many natives have held on to a firm belief, ever since contact with Europeans, that the outsiders are a temporary nightmare that will be gone after a few hundred years. They must plan for a day when their civilization will collapse and humans will have to live on the land in the ancient low-tech way they used to live.
Some people like to promote the virtues of Western Civilization such as democracy, human rights, accountable government and so on. They argue that all is for the best. Though they may acknowledge the mistakes of the past, they promote the continued assimilation of aboriginal culture into the mainstream of society. They claim it is pessimistic and useless to believe that civilization will collapse, the world population will decline by billions, and we will go back to hunting and agrarian lifestyles.
Another important chapter in Canadian history (which is similar in the US and Australia) is the period in the late 19th and early 20th century when native communities were shattered by a policy of breaking bonds between parents and children. Children were forcibly taken from their parents and put into residential schools run by the Catholic and Protestant churches. This was an attempt to destroy their cultures and languages, but it failed to integrate them into Canadian society. They were often abused by their teachers, but even when they were treated well, the original crime of abducting them from their families could not be erased. The graduates of these schools went back to their communities but had no traditional survival skills. They didn’t even have the skills to be husbands, wives, mothers and fathers because they had experienced no family life as children. Drug, alcohol and crime are now prevalent in First Nation communities, and the damage goes down to the next generation. This history was not taught to Canada until very recently.
As a result of past policies, many native communities are sociological disasters which no one knows how to fix. There have been some success stories of cultural and linguistic revival. Things started to improve in the 1990s when a generation of well-educated aboriginals went back to their communities or into politics, but still this "success" is controversial because it is the white man's version of success, and it often depends on money that flows from resource extraction: lumber, oil and minerals. Some aboriginals disagree with making any accommodations with resource companies.
It is impossible to cover this large topic in just one week and one ninety-minute class. Whatever resource I chose would be limited in its scope. I chose the documentary film Treading Water because as a case study of one small community it highlights many of the problems we can see generalized throughout the world wherever aboriginal communities are facing crises and struggling to co-exist with the capitalist economy that surrounds them.
I chose this film partly because it generalizes to another topic that is on everyone’s mind these days: the destruction and trauma caused by natural and human-caused disasters. The film illustrates something that is too common in all these disasters. The people most affected by them are the people who have a history of being at the margins of society and being mistreated in the past. When a disaster strikes they are in double trouble. The disaster by itself is bad enough, but they must also fight to be seen and treated as equals.
The film Treading Water tells the story of a native community that was destroyed by a flood in 2011. Coincidentally, it happened at the same time as thousands of people in Japan were also dealing with an enormous flood, the tsunami of March 2011. (I wrote about this connection on my blog). The film shows the general effects of such a natural disaster, but it also reveals the historical and continuing racism and strained relations between natives and the settler community. At some times we see government officials and activists trying especially hard to treat First Nations people well because they sincerely care, and sometimes because no one wants to be accused of racism. But this leads to money being spent too quickly when no one has a plan for a systemic solution to the problem. Simply giving people cash to live in hotels increases their alienation. The wasted money then causes “ordinary taxpayers” to complain that minorities get help but “regular people” get nothing, even though some of the victims of the flood were not from First Nations groups.
This story actually happens in many places. You can replace some of the variables (flood, earthquake, nuclear meltdown, forest fires, oil spill, other minority groups, urban populations vs. rural populations) but still see the same phenomenon. It happened on a much larger scale in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of a hurricane in September 2017.
Puerto Rico is a former Spanish colony that got its independence from Spain thanks to military assistance given by the United States in the late 1890s. However, it was never given a chance to be an independent country. The United States turned it into a colony during its first period of expansion outside of North America when it also colonized Cuba, Guam and the Philippines and annexed the sovereign nation of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Puerto Rico was never given equal status as a state, and its Spanish-speaking population was regarded as foreign and apart, even though they were American citizens. Now hurricane Maria has destroyed Puerto Rico, so the island’s inhabitants can expect a struggle like that experienced by the people of Lake St. Martin in Manitoba (in the film Treading Water). However, the scale of the problem is so much larger. In the Manitoba floods, 2,000 people were affected. The population of Puerto Rico is 3,000,000.
Concluding comments made in the film Treading Water (from 45:20~):
I think there are equal parts responsibility on all those three levels of government: the provincial, the federal, and First Nations, but fundamentally it's a result of the artificial management of the water in this province. And yet the perception of them is that they are essentially moochers living off the largess of the government flood programs.
They actually should be considered heroes for protecting other lands.
It's about time as Canadians, I think, we recognize that for too long we've had a system that has allowed third world conditions to develop in First Nations communities, from no fault of First Nations themselves. It's actually a direct result of government policies decade over decade. They, by taking the hit, have saved a lot of us. Now it is our turn to help them.

September 20, 2019

The content and pace of the course will be unstable until registration is complete, and this is the reason I had to improvise a new plan after the class began on September 20. We went through a quiz that covered very broadly the history of the world, from the formation of the planet earth orbiting the sun to the appearance of life, to the technological, social and biological evolution of homo sapiens. This served as a way of putting this course on contemporary history in a good perspective.

We will begin by studying the history of contact between Europeans and indigenous people of the Americas. We watched a ten-minute video interview from 1973 in which Marlon Brando succeeded in making a mass media audience confront the atrocious aspects of American history. You can review the video here.

Extra Resources on Independence, Self-Determination

An outline of self-determination
its history and issues in international law

Information from the United Nations on decolonization and self-determination: 

Why is there so much aspiration for self-determination and fine words spoken it, but so little is achieved? In this post from the teacher's blog, Noam Chomsky discusses Article 6 of the US Constitution, which obliges federal and state governments to recognize foreign treaties as the highest law in the land. This implies that US military aggression should have always been curtailed by the US Constitution which forces US presidents to obey the United Nations Charter. The UN was created after WWII with the US as the lead creator, so it is ironic that the US has not obeyed the prohibition against threatening war or waging war on other countries. 

If you were not registered in the first semester section of this course, you can catch up on some of the topics we covered by looking at some of the videos on politics and Cold War history on the teacher's YouTube channel (Not every video is related to the course. Try this one as an example.)

I also recommended that students borrow from me the DVDs and books entitled The Untold History of the United States. Both the Japanese and English versions are available. This series covers the topics that were covered in the first semester, and they are of course relevant to what will be covered in the second semester.

The teacher's other blog on nuclear weapons and nuclear energy is related to many of the topics in this course on modern history.