Between Communal Survival and National Aspiration: Armenian Genocide Refugees, the League of Nations, and the Practices of Interwar Humanitarianism

While the cause of the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire had played an important role in shaping Western attitudes and ideas about humanitarian intervention and national self-determination, the collapse of efforts to create an Armenian state in the wake of genocide and World War I led the nascent League of Nations to elaborate efforts within the repertoire of humanitarianism to preserve the Armenians as a distinct community. Those efforts bring into relief evolving interwar thought and policies about refugees, human trafficking, and the place of international institutions in the protection of civilians. The practical failures of the League’s projects provided a field in which “rights talk” could take place and the modern refugee régime emerge. Continue reading →

Can a Citizen Be Sovereign?

Since the Rights of Man were proclaimed to be “inalienable,” irreducible to and undeducible from other right or laws, . . . man appeared as the only sovereign in matters of law as the people was proclaimed the only sovereign in matters of government. —Hannah Arendt1 Targeted killings by drone strikes ordered by the Obama administration have provoked vigorous debate in the United States about the power the executive holds to order the killing of enemy combatants without due process. However, questions regarding the U.S. Continue reading → Continue reading →

UNESCO and the United Nations Rights of Man Declaration: History, Historiography, Ideology

From the first months of 1947 up to October 1948, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) made a remarkable, and largely misunderstood, effort to directly shape the content of what became the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. Although this effort failed in its objectives, the work of UNESCO during this short time (about a year and a half) has been invested with a range of meanings and interpretations Continue reading → Continue reading →

African Bureaucrats and the Exhaustion of the Developmental State: Lessons from the Pages of the Sudanese Economist

In the popular and scholarly imagination, Sudanese history is framed as a story of successive failed states, war, and destruction. This impression is aided by the fact that with the division of the country into the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan in 2011, Sudan became one of only two states in postcolonial Africa formally partitioned. Additionally, Sudan was embroiled in civil wars for more than two-thirds of its history.1 Given this legacy, is it possible to write of a functional Sudanese Continue reading → Continue reading →

Debating History and Memory: Examining the Controversy Surrounding Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking

Among English-language audiences, Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking (1997) is one of the better-known books about the Nanking Massacre.1 The Nanking Massacre took place between December 1937 and January 1938 when advancing Japanese troops captured and occupied the Chinese capital. In the roughly six weeks that followed, over a hundred thousand Chinese civilians and disarmed soldiers were killed, and widespread instances of rape, looting, arson, and violence occurred.2 For nonspecialist readers in the United States who had little knowledge of the Massacre, Chang’s work Continue reading → Continue reading →

Working with the Frames of War

The mood is wrong, the atmosphere stained, and something is odd about the light. These things are not easy to say, and harder to explain, but you can feel them. And now they can be seen. —Robert Hariman1 In the aftermath of 9/11, the American government launched the war on terror in order to impose the prosecution of its foreign policy. From the onset, the war on terror’s powerful visual and verbal narratives made it almost impossible to oppose its rationale and to suggest alternative Continue reading → Continue reading →

A Lens on Mohamedou Slahi at Guantánamo: A Conversation with Debi Cornwall and Larry Siems

Beginnings Jean-Philippe Dedieu: How did you first become interested in Guantánamo? Larry Siems: I came to this through my human rights work, and I came to human rights work through literature. I have a master’s degree in fine arts in poetry from Columbia. I’ve always been challenged by the idea of how writing and activism intersect and by poetry that makes action urgent and its nature clear. When I moved to California not long after graduate school, I was deeply interested in the American political Continue reading → Continue reading →

Gitmo at Home, Gitmo at Play

This photo essay is excerpted from Gitmo at Home, Gitmo at Play, an investigation of daily life for both prisoners and guards at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where nobody has chosen to live, and where photographs of faces are forbidden by military regulation. Since the first “War on Terror” prisons opened on January 11, 2002, 780 men have been held at “Gitmo,” the vast majority without charge or trial of any kind. As of autumn 2016, most have been cleared and Continue reading → Continue reading →

Introduction

To find the practical formulas for this never-ending reconstruction of society is the supreme task of social science. The world catastrophe places tremendous difficulties in our way and may shake our confidence to the depths. Yet we have today in social science a greater trust in the improvability of man and society than we have ever had since the Enlightenment. —Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma (1944) Gunnar Myrdal (1898–1987) was the twentieth century’s most influential social democratic internationalist.1 Throughout his long career—first as economist, then Continue reading → Continue reading →

The Myrdals’ Eugenicist Roots

Kris i Befolkningsfraågen Alva Myrdal and Gunnar Myrdal Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Förlag, 1934 It was the summer of 1934 when Gunnar Myrdal and his wife Alva published Kris i Befolkningsfraågen (The crisis in the population question, hereafter KiB), just as Gunnar, then thirty-five years old, was assuming a seat as a Social Democratic member of the Swedish Parliament.1 As a salvo from the enfant terrible of the Swedish economic establishment, the book was not merely analytical in intent but intended as a political strategy and Continue reading → Continue reading →

Will Myrdal’s America Show Up?

Varning för fredsoptimism Gunnar Myrdal Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Förlag, 1944 In the summer of 1945, Gunnar Myrdal’s “war work” seemed finally complete. Following the Allied victory in Europe, Europa Verlag Zürich printed Warnung vor Friedensoptimismus, a translation from the May 1944 Swedish original Varning för fredsoptimism (Warning against peace optimism).1 Myrdal himself would later use the phrase “my war work” to refer to his much more famous publication of the same year, An American Dilemma, his mammoth examination of America’s race relations framed “in terms Continue reading → Continue reading →