On John Mulvaney and Indigenous antiquity

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John Mulvaney (right) at Lake Mungo in the early 1970s. National Archives of Australia A6180,23/8/74/3

There were two bits of intertwining news yesterday, one exciting, one sad. The exciting news was that a study of Indigenous Australian DNA dated their origins to more than 50,000 years making them the most ancient continuous civilisation on Earth. The sad news was the death of a man who did more than most to place the Aboriginal context in deep time: John Mulvaney, aged 90.

 

Aboriginal Australia lacked a written language which made it inscrutable to historians, making it easier to write them out of the history. It took experts from other disciplines such as archeologists like Mulvaney, anthropologists like Bill Stanner and ethnographers like Deborah Rose Bird to make sense of the texts that were available and create a new history for Australia that was 50,000 years old not 230 years.

Over ten years ago another geneticist Spencer Wells found proof that humans travelled from Africa to Australia and not vice versa when he found Australian Aboriginal blood has DNA mutations, or markers, from Africa that are 50,000 years old, but no African tribes have Australian markers. He also found genetic data which shows humans travelled along the south Asian coastline (at a time when sea-levels were low) before reaching Australia. The new study by geneticists that also traced the DNA journey from Africa to Australia would have been no surprise to Mulvaney. He made the astonishing discovery that although Africa was the wellspring of humanity, the earliest signs of human evolution outside Africa are in western New South Wales.

At the time sea levels were lower than at present and mainland Australia was part of the mega continent of Sahul with New Guinea and Tasmania. There is evidence to suggest humans were here at least 50 kya (thousand years ago).  The earliest direct age for human occupation of Australia is between 50 and 60 kya for stone tools at Malakunanja and Nauwalabila rock shelters in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.

Humans quickly fanned across the continent.Given we have seen rabbits spread across Australia in a century, it is not unreasonable to believe the human invasion happened in a similar timeframe. The spread would have been aided by great herbivore trails that crossed the land linking watering and feeding sites. Stone artefacts have been found at Devil’s Lair, a single-chamber cave area, near the south-west tip of Western Australia which date to 48kya.

The oldest human remains are found in western New South Wales at Lake Mungo (Willandra Lakes). A near complete skeleton was found in 1974 sprinkled with powdered red ochre before the grave was filled in. In 1999 paleoanthropologist Alan Thorne said the Lake Mungo 3 skeleton is 62kya plus or minus 6000. However later research in the Nature journal said humans had been present at Lake Mungo no earlier than 50kya and no later than 46 kya while the skeleton itself dated to 45-42 kya. 

Mulvaney was one of the first archaeologists to realise the significance of the find. He had gone on a scholarship in the 1950s to Cambridge to study pre-history and had urged the need for preservation of cultural materials in museums and legislation to protect important sites. He used the new science of carbon dating to push back the known dates of human existence in Australia, first to 13 kya, then eclipsed by others to 20 kya, 30 kya and beyond. And it was he who had carefully packed the Lake Mungo skeleton into a suitcase to take to the National Museum of Australia. 

The Lake Mungo finds put Australia on the world map of pre-history. Use of ochre for paint and grindstones for pulverising plant food were skills humans learned in Africa and brought to Australia. From about 60-43kya Lake Mungo was full of freshwater and the land was green and lush but the newcomers had to adapt to climate stress. Australia was an ancient land with low fertility, poor soil quality and a low energy ecology. At Kow Swamp in Victoria a population of humans dating to 22-19 kya lived by Kow Lake shore in a period of glacial advance in the Southern Highlands until their shellfish population died out and they moved on.

Mulvaney was instrumental in getting Kakadu and Lake Mungo added to the World Heritage List (and had helped develop the criteria for that list in the 1970s.) The discovery at Lake Mungo showed the power of the site to represent archaeology’s resonance in society and the broader cultural meaning of antiquity. It also helped the political ambitions of Indigenous Australians when they could point to this astonishing connection with deep time.

The new genetic findings, based on a new population analysis of 83 Indigenous Australians and 25 Papuans, shows these groups can trace their origins back 50 kya and they remained almost entirely isolated until 4kya. I said these findings would not have been a surprise to Mulvaney. Nor are they a surprise to Indigenous Australians. Larissa Behrendt said they confirmed what was in the oral history (another form of history mostly ignored in the western written tradition). Behrendt said Aboriginal culture and traditions were often viewed through a Eurocentric gaze that failed to see the rich historical wisdom in its values and teachings.”Cultural stories were often illustrated for children without looking for deeper meanings and codes,” Behrendt said. “These stories didn’t just tell a tale of how the echidna got its spikes, they contained – like parables in the bible – a set of messages about the importance of sharing resources in a hunter-gatherer society and the consequences of selfishness.”

What Behrendt is talking about is the dismantling of the racial discourse of white Australia and its near-sighted notions of superiority. What Mulvaney found was that pre-history and its awesome timescale was uniquely qualified to make that discourse irrelevant. In an attention economy-dominated society where a week is a long time in politics, fame lasts 15 minutes and soundbytes eight seconds, the deep timescale of Indigenous Australia cannot be discussed enough.

 

 

 

 

John D Rockefeller and the birth of the modern oil industry

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John D. Rockefeller may have been unfairly maligned as a “robber baron”.

In his book The Age of Oil, oilman and historian Leonardo Maugeri said oil slipped abruptly into modern life via the back door. Prior to the industrial age, Mesopotamians used seeping surface oil for asphalt in roadbuilding and waterproofing and as a component in medicine. But it wasn’t until the 1850s that chemists conducted experiments to use oil as a cheap and flexible source of light. In 1854 Canadian Abraham Gesner patented Kerosene for “illumination or other purposes” and its use quickly spread around New York as a cheaper and safer alternative than existing illuminants.

Oil remained hard to get out of the ground until 1859 when Edwin Drake first used a drilling machine in Pennsylvania, adapted from earlier oil experiments at Baku, Azerbaijan. Drake built a wooden tower with a large steam-driven wheel around which he coiled a cable with an iron bit at the end. The rotation of the wheel raised the cable and when it fell back it excavated a hole. Drake drove a pipe down the hole which his men drilled inside so water and loose particles did not impede the iron bit from going deep into the ground.

Drake’s other innovation was to use the Pennsylvania 42-gallon (159 litres) whiskey barrel which would become the fundamental oil production measure still in use today. His early success attracted others to Western Pennsylvania, men (and they were mostly men) who were called wildcatters because they could hear the cries of wildcats in the isolated areas where they drilled for oil. Within two years the first oil refinery was in operation with exports shipped to London and after another four the first successful pipeline. The Black Gold Rush was on.

In the early days recurring gluts flooded the market pushing prices down and bankrupting many investors. Drake was not immune and ended his life in poverty. The dramatic roller-coaster rise of early oil prices was a source of annoyance to many and one man in particular was determined to fix the problem.

John D Rockefeller was a trained bookkeeper and trader who landed in the refinery business in Ohio in 1863. Rockefeller saw the “invisible hand” of the economy as the problem and was determined to put his own architecture on the industry by suppressing competition entirely. While he saw the wildcatting exploration business as too erratic to control, Rockefeller began to tackle the downstream processes of refining, transportation, pipelines and ships. In 1870 he founded Standard Oil in Cleveland where he decided to consolidate the entire refining business.

In February 1872 he launched the Cleveland Massacre, taking over 22 of 26 refining companies bringing almost the entire American refinery and oil service industries under his control. Those that came into Rockefeller’s tent were well rewarded for putting ceilings on their production whereas those who resisted were ruthlessly squeezed out. With the help of his partner Henry Flagler (who later developed Florida real estate in Miami and Palm Beach), Rockefeller negotiated secret deals with the railroad companies to obtain heavily discounted oil transport fees for guaranteed petroleum transport. Rockefeller even won a 25 percent fee for every non-Standard Oil barrel of oil the railroad carried.

The only hope for his rivals was to build up pipeline capacity, a technology that had to be developed from scratch. But even here, Standard Oil quickly leveraged off their industry strength to dominate by the 1880s. By then Rockefeller controlled 90 percent of US refineries and pipelines, owned most of the transport rolling stock and shipping tankers and the entire production of high-grade railway lubricant, all at a time when the US had 85 percent of the world crude production and refining.

His agents monitored the price of oil and new discoveries across America. If a competitor lowered the price of kerosene, Standard Oil would go even lower, while increasing the price elsewhere to compensate. Rockefeller’s empire was almost complete, held back only by the lack of US law for federal incorporation, making his operation fragmented. His response was the Standard Oil Trust established in 1882. Rockefeller established companies in each state Standard Oil operated. These companies transferred their shares to a Board of Trustees in New York which would allocate a proportional quantity of trustee certificates to each shareholder.

The Standard Oil Trust was kept hidden until 1889 and by then many other large companies had also established trusts. By then kerosene was the US’s largest manufactured export to the world and Rockefeller was the richest person on the planet. Yet competition was slowly emerging. The brothers of dynamite-inventor Alfred Nobel, Ludvig and Robert, were busy developing the Russian oil industry at Baku. With investment from the French Rothschilds, the Russians built a railroad to transfer kerosene from Baku to Batum (now Batumi) on the Black Sea, opening up a route to world markets.

Standard Oil tried the same tactics in Europe that were successful in America but Rothschilds launched a counter-offensive into Asia. They were helped by an English businessman Marcus Samuel who designed a new class of oil tanker capable of passing through the Suez Canal. This slashed costs compared to Standard’s Cape of Good Hope route and Samuel began building onshore terminals and storage tanks in key Asian ports.

Samuel’s emergence as a key player was cemented in 1897 as he reorganised his business into a new joint stock company which he named after his father’s shell box company, Shell Transport and Trading Company, simplified as Shell. Russian oil production surged above America’s by 1900 and the picture was complicated further by the discovery of oil in East Sumatra by the Royal Dutch Company. Marcus tried to organise a merger with the Dutch led by Henri Deterding. But Deterding out-manouevred Marcus insisting on a 60-40 split in his favour. Royal Dutch Shell came into being in 1907 but the two companies maintained separate status in The Hague and London, kept together only by Deterding’s force of will. They didn’t evolve into a single company until 2005.

A century earlier, the fulcrum of the oil world moved to Texas with enormous finds bringing the word “gusher” into the English language. New American companies rose to challenge Rockefeller’s dominance: the Texas Oil Company, Gulf Oil and Union Oil.  There was another threat in the political sphere. New president Theodore Roosevelt campaigned on an anti-trust platform. Though Rockefeller had retired in 1895 it was kept a secret and he was the most visible target of the “trustbusters”.  Rockefeller became the archetypal “robber baron” which was unfair as he kept the kerosene price low for the general public and had never turned swindling into a business practice.

But the pressure mounted on the railroads as “common carriers” to stop fee discrimination while the media used its growing power to shine a light into Rockefeller’s secretive life. The pressure finally told in 1911 when the US Supreme Court ordered the dismantling of Standard Oil into 30 independent companies. Several of what would later be called the “seven sisters” of world majors (along with Shell) emerged from the Ashes: Exxon (Standard Oil of New Jersey). Mobil (Standard Oil of New York), Chevron (Standard Oil of California) and Amoco (Standard Oil of Indiana).  The ruling ended Rockefeller’s reign of setting oil prices though did little to stop anti-competitive practices. While Rockefeller lived another four decades in quiet retirement as the symbol of 19th century capitalism, a new use beyond illumination would put oil at the heart of 20th century capitalism. The age of the internal combustion engine would change everything.

The Asylum: How a bunch of rogue traders at Nymex took over the world oil market

asylumThe little-known but important story of how a bunch of potato traders at the New York Mercantile Exchange (Nymex) came from nowhere to set the world oil price is told delightfully in the book The Asylum by talented American journalist Leah McGrath Goodman. That no one exactly understood how oil prices are set is demonstrated in Goodman’s book with the transcript of an extraordinary interview between right-wing Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly and Nymex executive John D’Agostino in 2008.

At the time, the oil price was skyrocketing towards $150 a barrel and O’Reilly was anxious to blame Venezuelan left-wing president Hugo Chavez and OPEC’s “greedy sheiks” for the high prices. D’Agostino was having none of it. He told O’Reilly high demand and a low US dollar were more to blame. O’Reilly was flabbergasted as the conversation continued. “[OPEC] gave Cheney the middle digit… they can change whatever they want, right?” he says. D’Agostino replied, “No, OPEC only set the oil supply, the price of oil is actually set in New York”.

The rest of the conversation is worth reporting in detail:

O’R: Is there a guy who says $125 a barrel?

D’A: No. There’s a huge market that sets the price.  It’s filled with hedgers. It’s filled with speculators.

O’R: Somebody has to put the $125 on the barrel. Who does it?

D’A: They’re getting it from this market.

O’R: Who is “they”?

D’A: The oil producers…

O’R: The CEO of Shell or ExxonMobil says ‘We’re going to pay $125 a barrel”. Is that what they say? I thought it was the sheiks and Hugo Chavez.

D’A: No, No. They are all looking to the exchanges, the free markets, to set the price. The markets right now are saying the price of crude is about $120 a barrel. It’s going up and gasoline prices are directly related to crude oil prices.

O’R: But somebody has to make a decision.

D’A: It would be great if there was just one person doing that, because then we could go talk to him.

The exchange ended with an exasperated O’Reilly believing he was being hoodwinked. It was a sentiment shared by his Fox viewers who showered the station with angry emails unable to believe it was American capitalists setting the price of oil not greedy Arabs and leftist dictators. But what D’Agostino was saying was true. The price of oil really was being set by a bunch of anonymous traders off Wall St who thought nothing of bringing the global economy to its knees.

This is upsetting because they are not nice people. As Goodman said, traders are yellers. One trader told her they yell because they don’t have time to be polite. “It’s a world of super-assholes,” he said. “They’re all dicks, crude, manly men.” They work on the futures market which is a scarier version of the stock exchange. Energy traders bet on the price of oil in any of the months to follow, to a period of ten years. It is precise. Even if you correctly bet prices will go up in a certain year, if you get the month wrong you could lose millions. Traders not only bet on the future price but also on the difference from month to month in a practice called “spread trading”, which they hedged against the outright future bets.

The market was Darwinian where the strongest and loudest ruled. The trading floor was often violent and nice guys didn’t last. Traders were assisted by runners who wore goggles to protect themselves from the constant shower of trading cards raining down on them. Traders were fined $100 for every card that didn’t reach the pit in one minute of trade and expertly flicked cards which would arch perfectly before landing across the two-storey high room. Position in the trading ring was crucial because if you stood close to a major trader you would have access to all the information they got.

Nymex was always a down-at-heel exchange compared to the New York Stock Exchange. The guys that bet on the blue chip companies looked down on the shabby traders of minerals and commodities. If the NYSE traders took an academic and mathematical approach to the market, Nymex operated more from the gut. Overthinking was bad, trading was “freestyle” and the traders were street smart. Porn was common on the floor, as were drugs. There was reputed to be firearms too. The cops left them alone as they contributed large amounts to the Police Foundation. The traders’ word was their bond and behind their bland trading jackets, there were many multi-millionaires. There were 816 seats in the exchange and they sold for $1.6 million a pop or could be leased out at $10,000 a month.

It was only in the 1980s that Nymex hijacked the oil market. Before that it was trading home of the humble Maine potato. For half a century, around 70 traders operated out of a redbrick mansion in downtown New York betting on spuds, unaware their world was crumbling around them. A rival market was emerging in Idaho potatoes while Maine’s annual potato crop was falling. The market was also corrupt with stories of bags filled with potato-shaped stones and spoiled Maine potatoes arriving at markets in the Bronx. Worse still, a national consensus was developing that potatoes tasted better from Idaho than Maine.

Initially this led to volatile prices which the traders loved. The wilder the swings, the more opportunity for profit. When the supply ran out at the end of spring each year, prices would go crazy, with half the market betting prices would rise and the other half hoping they would fall. The trading pit would be full of farmers, politicians, bankers and spectators who would come to watch the show each May. Traders were obsessed with Maine gossip, Maine weather, Maine soil. Because future contracts were tied to actual quantities, traders had to get in, make money and get out quickly to avoid a pile of potatoes arriving on their doorstep. Traders skilfully exploited the expiration date right up to the last few seconds to end up “flat” in the market without any bets left on the table.

The whole idea of a futures market sounds absurd but has practical value. It made it possible for farmers to lock in future profits in advance at an agreed price. It gave them financial stability to plan their business years ahead with price risks transferred to the speculator who pockets the resulting profit or loss. This underlying utility still drives the futures markets in commodities like oil.

Incredibly, Maine potatoes were the third most traded commodity in America in 1976. But an enemy at the gates was about to spoil Nymex’s party. JR Simplot was an eccentric Idaho farmer, nicknamed the Potato King. When he died in 2008 aged 99, he was the oldest person on the Forbes 400 rich list worth $3.6 billion. Starting out as an onion farmer, he branched into potatoes winning the contract to supply US armed forces in the Second World War and then McDonald’s in the 1960s. Simplot was annoyed Nymex would not trade his Idaho potatoes. In the May 1976 rush he played against the Nymex traders selling millions of dollars of potatoes driving the price down. But unlike the traders he did not go “flat” at the close of trade.

Simplot was left with a contract to deliver massive amounts of Maine potatoes which to the consternation of the market, he did not have. However what he did have in plenty was Idaho potatoes which he offered in compensation.  Nymex refused to accept his Idaho potatoes and the market defaulted. Simplot was fined $50,000 but succeeded in busting the Maine market.

Nymex lost all legitimacy and most of its traders resigned. In 1977 they appointed a 27-year-old trader named Michel Marks to be its unpaid chairman. Marks was the son of a former Nymex trader and a child prodigy. Reeling from the loss of potato futures, the exchange scraped by, betting on odd trades like Australian beef cattle (when it was supposedly tainted by kangaroo meat, the price oscillated wildly, an outcome traders loves). Its rival exchange the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (Comex) overtook it and tried to buy out the cut-price seats at Nymex. The deal only went south when Comex pulled out thinking they had paid too much money for it.

In the short term it left Nymex in a huge hole but in the longer term it was Comex who suffered. Marks worked around the clock in 1978 to understand the business inside out. Some traders wanted to bring back a potato market but the Simplot scars were too deep. In any case the market regulator permanently banned potato trading. There was money to be made selling platinum and other metals but these markets were not volatile enough to be super profitable. Looking at what was dormant on the books, Marks hit on heating oil.

It was an far-seeing energy economist named Arnold Safer who convinced Marks that the free market would eventually set the price of oil. In the earliest days of oil the price was set by John D. Rockefeller and his “barrels”, before it was taken over by a consortium of the Texas railroad and the oil majors. Since the 1973 Oil Crisis, it was OPEC that was flexing its muscle. But Safer told Marks non-OPEC countries would eventually flood the market with excess oil destroying the Middle Eastern cartel. He also advised Marks to only trade things whose prices weren’t fixed by the government. The opportunity came with the deregulation of the heating oil market in the late 1970s. Mark dusted off an old contract to sell heating oil to the Dutch. In an ingenious move, he scratched out Rotterdam and changed it to New York harbour so they could concentrate on local trade.

The future market for heating oil opened on November 14, 1978. Volume was low on the opening day which was not a good sign. “Low volumes beget no volumes” was the conventional wisdom in the trading pits. Marks hassled the big traders, energy companies and banks to trade with him but no-one believed OPEC could be challenged. However because Nymex had no history with oil, the industry made the fatal miscalculation of ignoring them.

Heating oil merchants paid vastly inflated for their product while even OPEC struggled to turn a buck when its price for oil did not keep up with the changes to supply and demand. Private oil companies exploited the difference by hoarding oil contracts, locking in higher prices. They charged $10 more a barrel than the OPEC price but Marks decided to do exactly the opposite. His heating oil was 20c a gallon cheaper than Exxon. His customers were initially worried whether Nymex could guarantee continuous supply and they also worried Exxon might find out about the deal and punish them. But cheap oil is cheap oil and enough merchants did bid to give Marks the start he needed. Nymex traders didn’t care about the product or the price, what they needed were sufficient bids and offers to work the gaps.

Word slowly got out about the bargains at Nymex. Serious corporate customers arrived in the form of drillers, refiners and shippers of heating oil. Within months the number of bids went from hundreds a day to many thousands. For the first time ever, buyers and sellers of heating oil could tell exactly what the price was by looking at the Nymex trading board. It gradually attracted all of the heating oil contracts of the United States, turning the exchange into an invaluable source of information. People began to trust the exchange because it was a public market and because, unlike the oil companies, it did not rely on ever-increasing prices to make a profit.

Things really took off in 1980 when the Iraq-Iran war broke out. When the news broke, over 50 traders immediately flooded the ring clamouring for heating oil. Within days the Nymex price doubled and would have risen further but for government-imposed price limits. The low and high price were the same as everyone was buying and there were no sellers. There was a vast underground trade into the higher-priced unregulated market controlled by the oil companies, an illegal practice but one which flourished without supervision.

New US president Ronald Reagan gradually eased price controls and Marks debuted futures on leaded petrol (gasoline) in 1981. That market was so successful it continued for two years even after leaded petrol was banned in the US. In 1983 Reagan removed the last of the oil price controls and Nymex launched its crowning glory: a futures contract on sweet crude light oil, the bedrock of the industry. Marks opened a specific market to sell West Texas Intermediate light to the largest oil storage facility in the world at Cushing, Oklahoma.

The dots were starting to join. US Oil production was on the decline and Americans were cutting usage. OPEC jacked up its prices as did the oil companies. But the supply scare had caused non-OPEC companies to increase production flooding the market with oil, plummeting the price. Panicked Wall St traders rushed to Nymex to hedge their expensive contracts. Nymex became a huge liquidation warehouse selling off oil at bargain-basement prices. The traders made a killing on each transaction. Suddenly power was no longer in Houston, Amsterdam or the OPEC HQ at Vienna but at a grimy rat-infested building in lower New York, inhabited as Leah Goodman said by “misfits and pranksters and gun-toting gangsters who had absolutely no knowledge of the oil business”.

Over the years that followed, other players muscled in on the market but Nymex’s position was secure. Even the oil companies came cap in hand to the exchange and openly traded on the market. When Nymex moved to the World Trade Centre the market was so intense, it did not notice the smoke pouring into the room after the 1993 bombing and traders refused to evacuate. Nymex moved out of the WTC before 2001 which was prescient. But it was slower to see the oncoming of electronic trading and almost lost the market entirely to the more innovative Intercontinental Exchange (ICE). With Nymex’s power waning they agreed to a merger with its former enemy Comex in 2008 and finally the electronic boards replaced the whirring of paper in the pits.  A handful of traders still ply their wares in a small venue using the old open outcry system of the potato trading days. There are calls for it to be preserved. But Nymex is no museum. Although people like Bill O’Reilly never knew it, its traders still set the price of oil to this day.

Iran and the West: a tale of oil and Mohammad Mossadegh

Mohmmad,Mosaddegh2Iran’s nuclear deal has big ramifications for the county’s other major source of energy: oil. Iran has the fourth largest proven reserves of oil in the world but production has halved since 2011 when US and European sanctions took hold. Iran faces many challenges to double its output back to two million barrels a day, not least due to its ageing infrastructure, but the country has long history in the oil game and was the first country in the middle east to drill for oil in 1901. But Iran also has a long history of interference from the west and if suspicious Americans look back in anger to the hostage drama of 1979, Iranians look back further to the way the Americans and British sabotaged their young democracy in 1953.

Iran had been of massive interest to the Allied Powers in the Second World War and the site of one of that war’s most famous meetings. In December 1943 Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill met on a sunny Tehran morning to discuss how to divvy up the post-Nazi world. They pledged to work together “in war and the peace that will follow”. After the photographers searched their faces for smiles on the veranda, the three great men retired to a hall for a more private conversation. Before they discussed weighty matters of empire, Roosevelt asked Churchill what became of Iran’s former Shah Reza, adding, “if I’m pronouncing it correctly”. Churchill told Roosevelt he became a Nazi and denied Britain and Russia the use of oil and a supplies railway. They invaded Iran in 1941 and Shah Reza was forced to abdicate in favour of his son Mohamed Reza Pahlavi. The father moved to a comfortable life in Johannesburg where he died not long after the Tehran conference. Roosevelt’s question showed up US ignorance of Iranian affairs.

Yet the choice of Tehran to hold the meeting was no accident. Iran had been zone of influence for Britain and Russia since a 1907 treaty shared the country’s spoils between them. The terms of the 1907 and 1941 conquests allowed Iranians to rule as long as they did not act against their powerful guests. An officially neutral Iran was of vital strategic importance to both. Roosevelt was happy to let the two fight it out over Iranian oil while the US maintained control of the bigger fields in Saudi Arabia.

The turmoil of the 1917 Russian revolution left Iran almost entirely a British colony. AIOC, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (then nationalised by Churchill, now corporatised as BP) was Britain’s main supplier of oil. Another Churchill decision, to convert the British Navy from coal to oil in 1913, saw AIOC become one of the world’s leading producers supplying Britain in two world wars. In 1947 it reported an after tax profit of £40 million and gave the young Shah’s country just seven million. It reneged on a 1933 deal with his hard-nosed father to provide the workers with better pay, more schools, roads, telephones and job advancement. The young Shah was a playboy and had little interests for his people’s problems but as long as he kept control of the military, Britain didn’t care how badly his country fared.

Mohammad Mossadegh was less sanguine. He knew Iranians chafed bitterly about their abject poverty. Born in 1882, he was a parliamentarian for over three decades, implacably opposed to foreign influence. In a wave of fervour, he was elected Prime Minister in 1951 with a mandate to throw AIOC out of Iran, reclaim the oil reserves and end the British influence. Mossadegh was in his seventies and in the manner of Proust, did much of his business in bed. But when he nationalised Anglo-Iranian, he became a national hero. Shortly after, Iran took control of the refinery.

The British were outraged. British Labour prime minister Clement Attlee was conducting mass nationalisation of British assets but would not grant Iran the same licence. His government declared Mossadegh a thief and demanded he be punished by the UN and the World Court. When neither would support Britain, they imposed an embargo that devastated the Iranian economy. Mossadegh was unmoved and said he “would rather be fried in Persian oil than make the slightest concession”. Mossadegh became a third world hero and delighted his admirers further when he ridiculed Britain at the World Court saying it was trying “to persuade world opinion that the lamb had devoured the wolf”.

Time Magazine made him their man of the year in 1951 saying he “put Scheherazade in the petroleum business and oiled the wheels of chaos”. They called him a “strange old wizard” in a region where, importantly, the US had no policy. Attlee warned President Truman not to interfere with the dealings of “an ally.” The US complied but would not support a British military invasion of Iran.

Events changed dramatically when Britain and the US turned to the right. In autumn 1951 the old warhorse Churchill denounced Attlee in several speeches on the election trail for failing to confront Mossadegh firmly. Churchill said the Prime Minister had betrayed “solemn undertakings” not to abandon Abadan. He saw the loss of Iranian oil as the loss of empire and considered Mossadegh “an elderly lunatic bent on wrecking his country and handing it over to the Communists.” Britain’s position toughened when Churchill won the election.

Truman was also up for re-election in 1952 but decided not to contest. As in Britain, a Second World War hero won and Dwight Eisenhower became the new Republican president. The Cold War was Eisenhower’s biggest focus and Iran was one of his first challenges. Britain cleverly played up to the new regime in Washington claiming Iran was in crisis under Mossadegh and could easily fall to the Communist Party backed by Moscow.

Eisenhower’s new team prepared to organise a coup in Iran. Eisenhower’s former wartime chief-of-staff and now undersecretary of state General Walter Bedell Smith linked the campaign with the State Department and the CIA. At the head of these organisations were a pair of remarkable brothers. John Foster Dulles was a world-class international lawyer now turned Secretary of State while Allen Dulles now ran the intelligence organisation. The brothers had a special interest in Iran and Allen went to Tehran in 1949 where he met the Shah and Mossadegh. The Dulles brothers were ideological warriors determined to prevent Communism in Iran.

Eisenhower gave implicit approval for Operation Ajax but presented a front of plausible deniability. Behind the scenes the two Dulles and Smith had full authority to proceed. They appointed secret agent Kermit Roosevelt to bring the coup together. Kermit, who preferred to be called Kim, was a grandson of the first Roosevelt president Theodore. Independently wealthy, he was a history professor at Harvard until he joined the newly established Office of Strategic Services in the war. His work in the OSS remains shrouded in mystery but he stayed on in peacetime when it was rebadged as the CIA.

Working from the US embassy in Tehran (a fact angry Iranians remembered in 1979) Roosevelt quickly liaised with his British counterparts in the Secret Intelligence Service – MI6. Iranian tribal leaders on the British payroll launched a short-lived uprising. Roosevelt met with anti-Mossadegh politicians and persuaded the Shah to sign a “firman” (a document of doubtful legality sacking the Prime Minister). By mid-August 1953 Roosevelt and his local agents were ready. He paid newspapers and religious leaders to scream for Mossadegh’s head and organised protests and riots turning the streets into battlegrounds.

But at the last minute Operation Ajax failed. On August 15 an officer arrived at Mossadegh’s house to present the firman only to find the Prime Minister was tipped off in advance. The Shah fled the country while units loyal to Mossadegh surged through Tehran. Roosevelt did not quit and three days later he organised a second attempt. Once again he launched a massive mob in the capital. Crucially Mossadegh did not call out the police to stop them. Armed units loyal to the Shah launched a gun-battle against Mossadegh’s supporters. The following morning Tehran Radio announced “the Government of Mossadegh has been defeated!”

Mossadegh was under arrest and the Shah flew home from Italy in stunned triumph. The New York Times wrote “the sudden reversal was nothing more than a mutiny by the lower ranks against pro-Mossadegh officers”. Roosevelt was understandably delighted. Barely a day earlier he had been ordered home, now he would be returning in triumph. Mossadegh was given a three year prison sentence. He served it until 1956 and was confined to home in Ahmad Abad until his death, aged 85 in 1967.

The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company tried to return to their old monopoly position after his overthrow. But the US had invested too much in the coup to let that happen. They organised an international consortium to assume control of the oil. AOIC held 40 percent, five American companies held 40 percent and the remainder was split between Royal Dutch Shell and Compagnie Francaise de Petroles. The consortium agreed to split the profits fifty-fifty with the Shah but never allowed Iranians to examine the books.

Though Mossadegh was a forbidden topic in Iran, new enemies emerged within. By the late 1970s the Shah had crushed all legitimate political parties and a new religious force filled the void. When he was forced to flee the country in 1979 as a reviled tyrant, the first government to replace him was determined to invoke Mossadegh’s legacy. New Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan had been dispatched by Mossadegh to Abadan after the British fled in 1951. Another Mossadegh admirer Abolhassan Bani-Sadr was elected president. But behind the scenes Ayatollah Khomeini was consolidating power. Before long he was arresting all his enemies. Mossadegh had been defeated again, this time in death.

The Mossadegh coup had profound impact on America. Overnight the CIA became a central part of foreign policy apparatus. While Roosevelt went home in quiet retirement, the Dulles brothers used the new template to overthrow other rulers such as Arbenz in Guatemala (1954) and Allende in Chile (1973). The incident also changed how Iranians viewed the US. Before 1953, Britain was the rapacious and greedy enemy. Now the US was the sinister party, manipulating quietly in the background. The 1979 embassy hostage was a direct result of Carter’s decision to allow the Shah into America. But the reason the crisis last 14 months was a distrust going back to 1953.

This week’s nuclear deal between the countries won’t immediately heal half a century of hurt. But it is crucial it is ratified despite hardliners in both countries. The bleatings of Israel should be ignored as a country with its own nuclear arsenal can look after itself no matter what happens in Iran. Mohammad Mossadegh offered a template of what Iran might have been, had the west not been blinkered by its own suspicions. Now is the time to make good on his legacy and bring Iran in from the cold.

The Black and Tans: British police and Auxiliaries in the Irish War of Independence

This photo of Black and Tans interrogating a Sinn Fein suspect was on the cover of DM Leeson's book.  Photograph: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis
This photo of Black and Tans interrogating a Sinn Fein suspect was on the cover of DM Leeson’s book. Photograph: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Anyone familiar with 20th century Irish history will know of the notorious reputation of the Black and Tans, the British paramilitary organisation who fought against the IRA in Ireland’s War of Independence. The British Government equipped them as soldiers but pretended they were police so they could continue the charade there was no war in Ireland. Their distinctive uniform (dark police green mixed with army khaki) blurred the line between police and military and gave them their nickname. Irish historians paint the Tans as a violent, thuggish and murderous organisations whose members emptied British prisons before running riot in Ireland. However a book called The Black and Tans by Canadian historian David Leeson questions this narrative.

Between 1920 and 1921, 10,000 British men, most of them First World War veterans, enlisted in the Royal Irish Constabulary. A second group of former war officers joined a temporary force called the Auxiliary Division (ADRIC). The Black and Tans were garrison troops defending strongpoints while the Auxiliary Division were mobile and offensive. Both the Tans and Auxiliaries quickly became known for undisciplined violence and their tactic of widespread reprisals which earned them comparisons with other notorious paramilitary organisations such as Turkish bashi-bazouks and German Freikorps.

Leeson’s villains however are not the soldiers pretending to be policemen but their bumbling paymasters in London, the British Government – the “two-headed ass” of David Low’s cartoons. Prime Minister David Lloyd George insisted Ireland’s problem was a policing one. Despite being a Liberal, his Coalition was dominated by Conservatives and Unionists with little sympathy for Irish nationalism and could only offer, in Leeson’s words, “limited repression with limited concessions”.

Irish policy had been the bane of British governments since Gladstone lost power twice over the Home Rule bill in 1886 and again in 1893. Successive Tory and post-Gladstone Liberal governments showed no appetite to reintroduce Home Rule, but the Irish Party kept the pressure up till it re-gained the balance of power after the second election of 1910.

A Home Rule bill finally passed the House of Commons in 1912 and the House of Lords could only delay it to 1914. The Northern Irish Protestants demanded Ulster’s exclusion from the bill and civil war seemed inevitable until the First World War pushed the issue to one side. The republican Easter rising of 1916 was put down but the Irish public was dismayed by the heavy-handed British response. Opinions hardened on the Catholic and Protestant sides with Sinn Fein and the Unionists dominating the 1918 election in Ireland. Herbert Asquith’s Liberals were also crushed; Lloyd George’s Coalition Unionists having a majority of 478 seats in a 707-seat parliament. Lloyd George wouldn’t consider Ireland while the Paris peace negotiations went on in 1919 but Irish MPs refused to sit in Westminster. Rebels began a campaign against Irish police, killing 15 by year end.

The undeclared war escalated in 1920 as the army arrested Irish leaders. Lloyd George introduced a new Irish bill splitting the country into two parliaments (a model of partition later used in India). The rebels intensified their campaign and Dublin Castle released republican hunger-striking prisoners in a gesture of appeasement. It didn’t work and police casualties increased; 28 died between April and June, 55 between July and September. Ireland became ungovernable with boycotts and strikes. Republicans began building an alternative state holding their own courts, as the British system of assizes failed.

Police were demoralised and Dublin Castle asked for military intervention, saying only martial law or an agreement with Sinn Fein could end the crisis. Conservative and Unionist members of cabinet could not bring themselves to negotiate with the “murder gang”. “The disgrace would deepen to infamy,” Arthur Balfour wrote. Despite misgivings of British officials in Dublin the hawks prevailed and Sinn Fein were declared a criminal organisation as parliament passed the Restoration of Order in Ireland bill. Lloyd George said Ireland had to “sacrifice extravagant demands and too extravagant ideas.”

Responsibility for keeping the Irish in check lay with the Irish Constabulary who policed all of Ireland except Dublin (which had its own Dublin Metropolitan Police). It earned the name Royal for its part suppressing the Fenian uprising of 1867. It had a force of 10,000 men, all Irish and mostly Catholic. It was armed and with ordinary crime rare in Ireland, political surveillance was its most important role. They were hated by Republicans who called them England’s Janissaries, “a force of traitors and spies”. When the War of Independence started, many quit the RIC, angered at being forced to act as soldiers. Facing a manpower crisis, government minister Walter Long suggested some of the 167,000 British ex-servicemen receiving unemployment benefits might fit the gap. Their reputation as criminals was undeserved. Most were discharged with honour from the army and few had criminal records. The first Black and Tans arrived in Ireland in January 1920. A shortage of police clothing led to their mixed costumes which attracted great attention as they marched to their barracks.

Recruiting was slow but picked up as the RIC received a substantial pay rise in June 1920. Numbers took off after September 1920 when police sacked the county Dublin town of Balbriggan. The sack was discussed in parliament and made national headlines and cinema reels. Despite the notoriety, the publicity alerted many ex-servicemen about employment with the RIC. The pay was good but conditions were hard and dangerous and they were shunned and resented by fellow Irish police.

They had no love for the ADRIC either. Auxiliaries were officially temporary cadets but paid as sergeants, a rank it might take decades for Irish police to reach. The division was Churchill’s idea to raise a “special emergency gendarmerie” of war veterans enlisted for one year. ADRIC’s leader Major General Henry Tudor said their role was to “crush the present campaign of outrage” using military tribunals, deporting prisoners, collective punishment and “a special penalty of flogging imposed for the cutting of girls’ hair and outrages against women”. ADRIC became known as Tudor’s Toughs and remained a separate force spending much of their time conducting raids, earning a more fearsome reputation than the Tans. When faced with resistance they lost restraint and committed atrocities which seemed to crush the IRA but in the longer term hardened republican resolve and turned the Irish against them.

As the struggle intensified, Ireland descended into a reign of terror. The guerrillas resorted to ambush and assassination which the Tans and Auxiliaries met with group reprisals and murder. Suspects and prisoners were summarily executed, homes and shops of IRA volunteer families and supporters were burned. In the summer of 1921 an election was held according to the Government of Ireland Act for the House of Commons of southern Ireland (a separate election was held in the north). Republicans triumphed with Sinn Fein treating it as an election for a new revolutionary parliament. When elected members refused to take their seats in a House of Commons, London threatened to govern Ireland as a crown colony. On June 21, Lord Chancellor Birkenhead finally admitted Britain was at war in Ireland – a war it was determined to win.

The war was not popular in England and King George V opening Belfast’s new parliament made a more conciliatory speech which was welcomed in Britain and Ireland. When republican leader de Valera indicated he might compromise, and with many of the hard-line Unionists finally out of cabinet, Lloyd George was persuaded to negotiate. A truce was arranged on July 8 and came into force three days later. The Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 6 kept Ulster separate and Ireland within the realm but Britain conceded the dominion status it fought resolutely against 12 months earlier.

While Ireland descended into its own self-inflicted horror of the Civil War, the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries went home to England (there were very few Scottish or Welsh in either force). Both forces entered the infamy of Irish history but they consisted of mostly ordinary men. The Auxiliaries behaved worse, but this Leeson says, was merely a privilege of rank. Their cruelties were overlooked by the British government anxious to pretend the insurgency was “a policeman’s job”.

Leeson compares how the British in Ireland behaved with Brazilian death squads of the 1964-1985 period. “Violence workers” were ordinary people who were trained to confine their violence against known or suspected enemies. However the margin of tolerated illegality was wide and helped insulate them from the impact of their crimes. Leeson says during the war Ireland was transformed into “a looking-glass world of crimes without criminals, police without laws, trials without judges or juries and sentences without appeal.” Lloyd George’s government must take most of the blame for turning Ireland, at least temporarily, into Devil’s Island.

First World War visions: Remembering Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points

Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson

Centenary commemorations are forming a constant First World War reminder between now and 2018. Those who see the war as four years of senseless capitalistic carnage will be depressed by the litany of ceremonies but that won’t make them disappear any quicker. For better or worse, the First World War is an important marker of human history and one that cannot be ignored. A better question than “why are we marking this anniversary?” is “what is the legacy of the First World War and why is it relevant 100 years later?”

I was confronted by that question last month in Laidley, near Brisbane, where the local historical society had re-enacted a recruitment march through the town. There in 1914 like many other towns across the world, young men enthusiastically signed up for “the cause”. As they marched up the main street to the music of the Salvation Army band, they were cheered on by townspeople while the recruits held signs which asked “Will you Join Us?”.

The 2014 march had the band and a cheering audience and even the sign. But what were the 21st century crowd being asked to join if not a fetish of history? The most important legacy of the First World War is the mess of the Middle East, where Australian forces are still sent on a regular basis. That fact is not noticeable in commemorations in Australia where spending on First World War centennial celebrations outstrips every other country.

It will reach a crescendo when Gallipoli approaches its centenary in April 2015. The motifs will be about mateship, honour and sacrifice and there will be similar breast-beating when it comes to remembering the Somme, Villers-Bretonneux and other places where Aussies died in large numbers. I asked the Laidley organiser why he was arranging their commemoration. “Because,” he said, “they died to preserve our way of life.” I disagreed but didn’t think it polite to argue the point. How, I wondered, did Australians dying in European trenches preserve “our” way of life?

I thought his words were simplistic, but I couldn’t get them out of my head. What was worth preserving in 1914? The First World War has never had the emotional capacity to engage like the Second World War. It wasn’t a fight against totalitarian evil and all parties were culpable of warmongering. There were no figures of evil as stark as Hitler and Stalin and there were no scapegoats like the Jews. Yet millions died between 1914 and 1918 for a war that seemed to have no reason for beginning and no excuse to end. No nation bothered to tell the world what its aims were in fighting the war.

Well, none but one. That was America and it was done in president Woodrow Wilson’s extraordinary Fourteen Points. America was a latecomer to the war but by 1918 had proven it was the world’s superpower in economic capability. The words of its president were listened to as the prognostications of an all-conquering Caesar. In January 1918 Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress to publicly declare America’s war aims. Wilson was reacting to political pressure not moral obligation. The US had entered the war nine months earlier and there was resistance by many Americans wanting neutrality. Wilson formed a group of experts he called The Inquiry to produce a report of the aims of all countries in the war and determine what America’s goals should be. Their report formed the basis of the Fourteen Points.

The points are almost completely forgotten today but they were hugely influential as a wide-ranging and optimistic blueprint of how a 20th century democratic world might look. The first five points were about general conduct. The first point called for open diplomacy and no secret treaties, the second for freedom of the seas, the third for removal of economic barriers, the fourth was about reducing arms and the fifth about balance in resolving colonial disputes. The next seven points addressed the world’s trouble spots. Six called for an independent Russia, seven a free Belgium, eight a restored France, nine a genuine Italian nation, 10 the dismantling of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, 11 independence for the Slav countries and Serbian access to the sea, 12 the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire (the point that reverberates today) and 13 the re-establishment of Poland. The last point called for a new general association of nations to guarantee “political independence and territorial integrity”.

Wilson’s international order captured the imagination of people across the world desperate for new ideas after the cynicism and destruction of the war. Wilson, said his biographer John Thompson, had the authority of a pope and the might of an emperor. A former president of Princeton, the professorial Wilson was an unlikely president of America. Elected in 1912, he played a major part in keeping the US out of the war that followed. He was re-elected in 1916 on the promise to keep America neutral. German U-boats dragged him into the war in 1917. In December 1918 he became the first serving US president to travel abroad and was treated in London and Paris like the Second Coming.

The Fourteen Points were delivered when the impact of the American war involvement was beginning to be felt. The Germans fought the allies on two fronts for three years into a gigantic stalemate. American manpower finally breached the trenches. It was a Russian victory though that turned the war into defeat. Though the Russians lost much when they surrendered at Brest-Litovsk, they spread revolutionary ideas into Germany. To protect its own political flank, Germany agreed to end the war and the country itself was never invaded.

The idealism of Wilson’s points struck an immediate chord, even Lenin applauded its vision as he returned to a disintegrating Russia. Wilson was offering not just peace but a new beginning. The plan was popular in Allied countries and among the people of the Central Powers: everyone was war-weary after four years. But the plan had many enemies, particularly among Wilson’s supposed allies who thought he was entrenching American hegemony. French president Clemenceau supposedly said “The Good Lord only gave us Ten Commandments; the American president has given us fourteen.” Clemenceau had reason for his snark. The Points contradicted French and British secret plans for management of the world in the post-war period and they offered no clue how to deal with Germany.

In October 1918, Germany offered peace on the terms of the Fourteen Points and the Points formed the basis for discussion in the Paris Peace Conference. Though Britain and France outfoxed Wilson in Paris and a hostile Senate defeated him in Washington, the Fourteen Points stand alone as a justification for the war. The points were Eurocentric, flawed and opaque – the former Ottoman countries are still working through an achievable form of government and democracy – but Wilson articulated some vision from four years of carnage. I’m still not sure what “our” way of life is, but Wilson’s Points aren’t a bad start for discussion. They deserve better than to be forgotten in the rush of military commemoration.

Franz Ferdinand and the end of the 19th century: a time for thought

Archduke FerdinandYesterday 100th anniversary of the death in Sarajevo of the heir to Austria-Hungary’s throne Franz Ferdinand provides an apt moment to consider history’s turning points. His death ended the 19th century, and led to the great carnage and chaos of the First World War. There is a good primer on the ABC on Archduke Franz Ferdinand, why he was killed and why his death was so important. Britain’s Duke of Portland invited Ferdinand to shoot pheasant at his estate in November 1913. One of Portland’s men loading the shotguns tripped over and accidentally discharged the guns narrowly missing the two dukes. Portland later said, “I have often wondered whether the Great War might not have been averted, or at least postponed, had the archduke met his death there and not at Sarajevo the following year.”

As the word ‘postponed’ hints, the First World War was always coming. Franz Ferdinand’s death was the excuse, not the cause. German militarism had been on the rise for 20 years, the delicate European balance of power was tottering and individual leaders were reckless and stupid. European nationalism was a demon the great empires could no longer control. Franz Ferdinand, the imposed Hapsburg leader of a patchwork of Slav nations, was especially vulnerable. There were six assassins waiting for him in Bosnia on the day of his death. Gavrilo Princip shot the archduke and his wife after several failed attempts that day.

It was only time before a Slav nationalist would take out their grievances on a Hapsburg bringing down the delicate house of alliances that European monarchs built.

It was fitting an Austrian’s death brought the greater 19th century to an end, as it was another Austrian, Prince Metternich, who started it one hundred years earlier in 1815. Europe was emerging from the chaos of Napoleon’s hegemony. Metternich hosted the Congress of Vienna where diplomats could decide borders in salons not on battlefields. As Europe industrialised and a growing middle class became prosperous, the patchwork peace enabled the major powers to concentrate on building colonial empires in other parts of the world. Those powers got together again in genteel surrounds of Berlin in 1878 to re-adjust world borders on European terms.

The fate of Bosnia was a key plank of the Berlin Treaty. A de jure part of the tottering Ottoman Empire, the powers agreed it would be de facto part of the Austria-Hungary Empire which occupied and administered Sarajevo. Bosnian Slavs were unhappy to have their masters changed without their say, especially as the Treaty recognised the independence of next door Serbia. Serbia had its own designs on Bosnia, conscious of its strong Serb minority. When Bulgaria declared independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1906, Austria-Hungary formally annexed Bosnia. The powderkeg erupted again in 1912, as Montenegro, Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria formed the Balkan League to end Ottoman’s interests in continental Europe. An alarmed Austria-Hungary pushed for a continental war to resolve the matter but German generals were not ready to mobilise until the summer of 1914.

It was inevitable the Balkans was the matchstick for war. But the desire was Europe-wide. Fukuyama said an “intangible but crucial factor” was the dullness and lack of community in European life in 1914. The Archduke’s assassination was greeted with frenzied pro-Austrian demonstrations in Berlin. Modris Eckstein’s Rites of Spring quoted a worker in the Berlin crowds who said they were all seized by one earnest emotion, “War, war and a sense of togetherness”. Eckstein quotes an anti-war German law student, drafted when hostilities broke out in September. The war was “dreadful, unworthy of human beings, stupid, outmoded and in every sense destructive,” the student said. Yet he willingly enlisted. Duty was a moral imperative regardless of reasons to abstain. “The decisive issue,” the student said, ” is surely always one’s readiness to sacrifice and not the object of sacrifice.”This notion of Pficht was echoed across Europe and across British dominions around the world as a sense of duty and excitement for action proved a potent brew.

If the Archduke’s death was the end of the 19th century, then the First World War was a bloody interregnum, where as Churchill wrote, the life-energy of the greatest nations were poured in wrath and slaughter. Hobsbawn said the shorter 20th century spanned from the 1917 Russian Revolution to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. But it effectively began with the Peace of Versailles, a treaty as cynical (despite Wilson’s 14 points) as the Congress of Vienna 100 years earlier. France’s Marshal Foch summed up Versailles: “This is not Peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years.” Similar hopes for the end of all wars were held in 1946 and institutions like Bretton-Woods seemed to keep an entente cordiale at least in the western world. Then when the Wall fell, hopes again rose of ending all wars.

Writing in 1991 Fukuyama following Hegel and Marx, hailed what he called “the end of history”, a period where the dignity of democracy would rule triumphant. But the ‘new world order’ didn’t last long at all. China and Russia adopted capitalism without the democratic trimmings while Versailles’ creations like Iraq began to fracture. Bosnia and the Balkan map looks familiar again to Franz Ferdinand while 1930s style ultra-nationalism has returned to a frightened and lost Europe. Religious zealotry has made many parts of Asia and Africa no-go zones for moderates. It is crucial to seek answers from the past, to understand our present. Arnold Toynbee may be right in saying history was ‘one damn thing after another’ but that is no reason not to understand its consequences. Anniversaries like Franz Ferdinand’s death provide a time for thought we should not miss.