Review: International Development, by Corinna R. Unger

1Final publication: Diplomatica 2 no. 1 (May 2020):  180-82.

International Development: A Postwar History, written by Corinna R. Unger (Bloomsbury, 2018). 232 xi pp.

Review by David Webster

“In historiographical terms, development is a particularly rich field,” Corinna Unger writes in the conclusion to her book on International Development, published in Bloomsbury’s New Approaches to International History series (p. 156). Reading the book, it’s hard to imagine there’s much in that historiography that Unger has failed to read, digest and include in her extensive footnotes. The book is a model for the type. Grounded in a deep familiarity with the secondary literature and offering clear linking insights, Unger has produced an excellent overview of the history of development, with a strong focus on the bulky midsection of the twentieth century, from the 1930s to the 1970s.

Continue reading

The African-Asian Conference Bulletin as historical source

AACB 9.1 coverOriginal publication by Canadian Network for Humanitarian History.

The Asian-African Conference Bulletin, published daily during the African-Asian conference at Bandung in April 1955, 65 years ago, is a significant and unused source in international history. In its pages, as much as in the conference hall around it, was born the idea of Asian-African solidarity and non-alignment. The Bulletin and other sources from the conference are now digitized as an e-dossier.

The creation of an idea of a “Third World” was one of the major themes of the 20th century. That “world” was born in Bandung, Indonesia, 65 years ago. Yet too few 20th century historians spend much time talking about the Asian-African conference and the world it gave birth to. The study is left to important networks outside the Western (and West-centric) historical mainstream, such as the Afro-Asian Networks project and the Bandung Spirit group, though there’s been an admirable revival in recent years with multiple perspectives on Bandung’s legacy – a literature too extensive to list here.

The conference was enormously important. It came at a time when the superpowers and their followers – Canada at the fore – were trying to divide the world into two sides. The Soviet Union’s chief ideologue, Andrew Zhdanov, spoke of “two camps.” So did the enormously influential US evangelist Billy Graham, using the same words. You were either with us, or against us. Or so thought the leaders of both camps.

AACB 9.7 AliSo when Indonesia, for instance, was seeking its independence from Dutch attempts to recolonize the former Netherlands East Indies, the issue turned on alignment. The United States supported Indonesian independence after President Sukarno crushed a communist uprising. Canada aimed to avoid US conflict with the Netherlands as NATO was being formed. The independent Indonesia that emerged and joined the United Nations in 1950 was supposed to be pro-Western despite the socialist leanings of its leadership. (The first prime minister, Sutan Sjahrir, spoke of living in “the sphere of Anglo-Saxon capitalism and imperialism, as I discuss in my book Fire and the Full Moon.) Canada’s Security Council representative even managed to do an end-run over a Soviet veto against the new Republic.

Continue reading

How Canada helped China wreck human rights

China’s government wanted to weaken the UN’s human rights system. Canada’s Jean Chretien helped that happen. International human rights still haven’t recovered.

screen

First publication on medium.com. Condensed from an article originally published in Canadian Foreign Policy Journal. Free full-text of original article via Bishop’s e-repository.

In the 1990s, Canada helped China to gut the international human rights system. We’re now living with consequences of an eroded, weakened rights system after prime minister Jean Chretien’s government agreed with China to abandon multilateralism for toothless “dialogue.”

In the 1990s, amidst a debate about integrating human rights into a trade promotion agenda, the Canadian government undertook a new tactic: the ”bilateral human rights dialogue.” Ottawa opened dialogues with three countries targeted for Canadian trade initiatives which had problematic rights records: China, Cuba and Indonesia. This weakened the overall Canadian stance on human rights without much evidence of improved human rights as a result.

Canada and human rights

Contrary to the Heritage Minute portrayal, Canadian diplomacy before the 1980s was characterized by reticence to undertake international human rights advocacy. True, McGill professor John Humphrey penned the first draft of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but Canada initially stood with the Soviet Union and South Africa in refusing to support it. It signed only under pressure from its allies.

Continue reading

The maple syrup lesson

acer-saccharinum-erable-a-sucre-sugar-maple-or-rock-maple-6a63fa-640

For elementary school kids who can’t go to elementary school. My first lesson plan for my son. 🙂

Requires

  • internet
  • stove and pot
  • snow
  • wooden or plastic open-top box
  • maple syrup

Where did maple syrup come from? How is it used socially? The lesson uses story, video, talk, heating and chilling to explore change over time, cultural meaning of a product, and change in natural substances – a little history, a little chemistry, a little fun and something to eat.

(1) Where does maple syrup come from?

Talk about trees and leaves. Can you recognize a maple tree? How?

Have you seen pictures of maple leaves? A symbol of Canada, right? Maple must be pretty important if we use it to represent the whole country.

Those trees grow right here in Quebec. Did you know Quebec produces about 75% of the maple syrup in the country? What’s that as a fraction? (3/4)

Do you know people who make maple syrup? There’s a lot around, here in the Eastern Townships. Some of them might be your family or friends. This is a product that touches our lives pretty closely eh?

(2) The origin of maple syrup: an Abenaki story

The first people to live around here were the Abenaki. They still do. If you follow the Masswippi River down to the Saint-Francois River past the Little Forks (what we call Lennoxville now), and keep following the Saint-Francois River almost all the way to the big Saint Lawrence, you get to the biggest Abenaki community, called Odanak. Once we can all go out again, we can visit the museum there, if you like.

Here’s a quick map I made of the watershed:

Picture1

The Abenaki also were the ones to learn that the sap in maple trees can be made into something that is ab-so-lute-ly DELICIOUS.

Let’s read the story.  Glooscap changes maple syrup

Continue reading

Landscapes of Development in Timor

(Revised final publication on NiCHE Canada)

In the late 1970s, Remexio sub-district in Timor-Leste lay at the heart of a devastating famine. Today, Seed Change Canada works with the Timorese NGO Raebia in a village in Remexio to promote agricultural self-reliance, biodiversity and ecological sustainability.

The landscape of Timor-Leste varies from breathtaking mountaintop and rain-blasted hillside to flat cropland and sandy beach. It is in turns green and dry, shifting colours with the season. Its people move in the sunbaked tropical space of Dili, the main city, in villages, through forest.

Remexio 2

Yet the diverse landscape is overshadowed, when people talk about the development of what is perhaps Asia’s poorest country, by outsiders’ images, not by the land itself. What Timorese call “Rai Doben,” the beloved land, becomes a blank canvass on which foreigners dream their fantasies of what Timor is.

Never was this truer than during the devastating Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste (East Timor) that lasted from 1975-99, when foreigners piled on to explain how it was bleak, unable to support much life – still less any real prosperity. Timor became, in these fevered imaginings. a semi-wasteland.

crosses

Roadside cemetry, Remexio sub-district, Timor-Leste, July 2019 (David Webster)

“What branches grow out of this stony rubbish?” asked the poet T.S. Eliot. If Timor was barren, it could never be viable, never be independent. Its “dead trees” could give no shelter, its “dry stone[s] no sound of water.” Counter-images were offered, green shoots on a bleak canvass, but could not break through. As Timorese poet Abe Barreto Soares writes, even after everything is crushed, broken, made dusty, still “new buds [may] appear, flourishing the flat land.”

Shortliffe

Images of the landscape rendered any thought of Timorese independence, in the minds of policymakers, hopeless. Thus many policymakers sided with the Indonesian army during two and a half decades of occupation – in spite of massive and systematic human rights violations and a near-genocide.

In 1978, Canadian ambassador Glen Shortliffe visited the country (I tell this story in more detail in my new book Challenge the Strong Wind: Canada and East Timor 1975-99.) Shortliffe saw famine and a huge need for development, perhaps through such Canadian NGOs as “Unitarian Services of Canada.” He blamed the landscape for the “major humanitarian problem” of famine and displacement:

East Timor is one of the most desolate areas I have seen in Southeast Asia…. The soil is dry, sandy and infertile. The mountains are rugged, some of them are over 2,000 meters high and, from what we saw, seem incapable of retaining moisture without artificial assistance…. From the air, East Timor appeared scored during the present dry season with great scars up to a mile or more wide which constitute the rivers during the rains…. In the mountains, rather than jungle or even green foliage, there is a kind of uniform brown bush. Whilst maize and rice can be grown in some areas, productivity is low and absence of moisture is a constant problem. In all, it is a foreboding, dry, desolate area. Allowing for the major difference in overall climate, it reminded me of some of the more remote parts of the Canadian Shield during the fall or spring, in terms of the ruggedness of the terrain.

Informed by this sort of account, Canada remained a fairly reliable Indonesian supporter until 1998, when General Suharto’s regime collapsed after more than three decades in power and pressure grew for a solution to the “East Timor problem.” In a subsequent referendum, the vote was massively for independence. Pro-Indonesia militia groups, acting as proxies for the Indonesian army, stepped up their violence. It took major international pressure to ensure that violence ended and the referendum results were respected.

Continue reading

Vérité et Réconciliation en Asie du Sud-Est: quelles leçons pour le Canada ?

 

File 20181112 83582 58jhvz.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Un monument à la mémoire des victimes de la guerre du Timor-Leste. Le Canada a beaucoup à apprendre de deux Commissions de vérité et réconciliation (CVR) qui se sont tenues en Asie, et non seulement des leçons à enseigner aux autres.
Auteur David Webster, Author provided

David Webster, Bishop’s University

Est-ce que les historiens peuvent être des artisans de la paix ?

De récentes expériences avec les processus de vérité et de réconciliation en Asie du Sud-Est et dans le Pacifique du Sud-Ouest suggèrent qu’ils le peuvent. Il y a un rôle pour la recherche historique et la mémoire afin d’aider à bâtir une paix durable et d’apporter la stabilité dans des pays secoués par des guerres civiles.

Le fait d’ignorer des violences passées mine les efforts visant la consolidation de la paix.

À la suite de conflits et de crimes contre l’humanité, de plus en plus de pays forment une Commission de vérité et réconciliation (CVR). Il s’agit d’un outil développé pour être utilisé dans des pays moins développés qui émergent de conflits. Mais on l’a également appliqué au Canada : la CVR s’est penchée sur le douloureux héritage des pensionnats indiens. Elle a publié son rapport en décembre 2015.

La vérité n’a aucune frontière. Et c’est également de plus en plus le cas pour les commissions de vérité.

Il y a des leçons qu’on peut tirer de ce qui se passe ailleurs. Par exemple, un projet de recherche basé à l’Université Bishop’s vise à comparer les commissions de vérité et réconciliation en Indonésie, au Timor-Leste et aux Iles Salomon– trois pays ayant des expériences très différentes de CVR – et d’évaluer ce que le Canada pourrait faire pour aider.

Un conflit très sanglant

Le Timor-Leste (Timor oriental) a été occupé par l’armée indonésienne pendant 24 ans (1975-1999). Celle-ci a commis des massacres et des crimes contre l’humanité. Aujourd’hui, le Timor-Leste est un état démocratique qui demeure le plus pauvre d’Asie.

Continue reading