Pedersen has written a meticulously researched and well argued account of the working and impact of the League of Nations Mandate system. This is not a straightforward narrative however. Analytical and perceptive Pedersen shows how the oversight function given to the League Permanent Mandates Commission ultimately altered the perception of imperial rule and territory, preparing the way for statehood even in areas not held as Mandates.
The mandated territories were largely the Empires of the defeated German Reich and Ottoman Empire. Given out to victorious Allies to look after and develop, the process involved annual reporting and a petition process for reporting grievances back to Geneva. It sought to introduce "internationalism" – economic open doors and freer access – to compete with closed bloc imperialism. During the interwar period and especially during German membership of the League this introduced an element of third party scrutiny into how those countries looking after Mandates operated in their mandated territories. France was heavily criticised for its behaviour in Syria and its bombing of Damascus during the Syrian Revolt in 1925. South Africa was taken to task for labour and resettlement policies in South West Africa. In an intriguing section on Papua Pedersen charts the emergence of the anthropologist in questioning existing attitudes to what constitutes a "primitive people".
The imperial countries reacted in various ways – all of which would change the post 1945 world. In Iraq Britain produced the client state, nominally independent but tied by treaty and military agreements to the imperial power. France was to follow suit in Syria. This would become the model for the neo colonialism in the post independence world.
It was Palestine that offered the coup de grace the Mandate system. Britain initially believing it could develop the mandate for both growing Jewish settlers and the indigenous Arab population. When this proved impossible Britain sought to push for Partition which the PMC resisted on the grounds of their interpretation that the Palestine Mandate be there to lead to statehood for the Jewish population and Arabs be coerced into acceptance. Finally with European war becoming the main focus, London acted unilaterally, signalling the demise of the mandated territories project.
There are other nuggets tucked away in this work. Britain's failed attempts to buy peace in Europe by offering Hitler overseas colonies is covered in some depth concluding with the remark that the colonial offer may have failed to appease Hitler, but the European powers did eventually find their land to give over to German empire building: the Sudetenland. Another is the depth and influence of Polish anti-Semitism in the late 1930's as it put pressure on the PMC to force Britain to enlarge the land envisaged in partition for the Jewish settlers so that Poland could push out its Jews into this land.
The Guardians is probably not for the general reader, but for those with some knowledge of the League and the interwar period it makes a rewarding read.
A total of 237 Argentine soldiers killed during the war are buried in Darwin, with 123 of them buried in unmarked graves. Whether this scandal is attributable to Argentine or British actions, this reports on new attempts by Buenos Aires to identify the dead.
This review of the new Kershaw book is worth reading for its contextual critique by Susan Pedersen (The Guardians):
For today, when they look at Europe between the wars, many of my students don't only ask: "Why Nazis?" They also ask: "Why empire?" They are puzzled as much by the paradox of Europe's democracies struggling to preserve imperial rule as they are by the paradox of cultivated Europe sinking (as Kershaw puts it) "into the pit of barbarism". Why were Britain and France determined to keep hold of the Middle East after 1919? How central was racism to what historians sometimes call "the imperial project"? How can one explain the coexistence of imperial and liberal-democratic values?
Want to find out about a suffragette? Perhaps one seen in the new movie? Arrest details of key individuals are now online – unfortunately not for free but as part of Ancestry.com. Free trial available...