Episode 115 Decolonization, or “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”

Today we’re going back to the 20th century and Decolonization, or as I like to call it, “Don’t Let the Door Hit You On The Way Out”.So remember about how WWII discredited the idea of empire? The Allies spent the war fighting against the Nazi empire in the name of freedom and self-determination. Which backfired when European colonies or mandates were like, “Um… Can we get some of that, please?” Plus, Europe was broke and couldn’t really afford to maintain land overseas anymore. For all of those reasons and more, Asian and African nations got full independence, sometimes for the first time in thousands of years. But it wasn’t easy and the stink of imperialism hasn’t fully worn off yet.

Act 1: Thanks Gandhi! | India & Pakistan

Act 2: Thanks Mandela! | South Africa

Act 3: Decolonization in Africa

In our mind today, we look at the news about Africa and see mostly negative things. We’re like, “Come on, Africa. Get it together!” But remember: they haven’t been able to completely rule themselves since the postclassical era. The slave trade decimated their population, imperialism structured their economies to benefit the leadership and foreign companies, and often the independence movement exacerbated tribal tensions. Not to mention the fact that their borders, based on the Berlin Conference, make absolutely no sense.


Africa is a great case study for the entire future of the so-called “Third World.” All of the places that have been the subjects of imperialism – Latin America, Africa, and Asia – are still trying to find their place in the new globalized world. They haven’t had a lot of time to figure it out yet and the so-called developed world isn’t doing much to make it easier. Think about it: they come into independence right at the moment when the west is trying to break down barriers to trade. That’s fine for the U.S. and Europe, but there’s a reason those barriers are called “protectionist.” They’re meant to protect domestic economies from being overrun by outsiders who are more developed.


So they finally push their way out of colonialism, only to have the industrialized world telling them that the only way they can get loans or have businesses set up shop in their country is if they open up their economy to the new globalized trade. And then their economy gets flooded with cheaper products from the U.S. and China so that their own producers can’t compete.


Add on to this the fact that they became independent right when the environmental movement was gaining steam. International groups are pushing for all countries to lower their pollution rates. Meanwhile, Africa is like “Oh come on! The U.S. and Europe have had 300 years to pollute all they want during their Industrial Revolutions! We just want to build one coal plant to try to catch up!” Now, for the record, I’m totally anti-pollution, but this is just a really good example of how exasperating it must be to be a country in the southern hemisphere right now.


All of this is to say: give them time. Think about how long it took Europe to recover after the fall of Rome! And things are already looking up in Africa. They have a young population with a growing labor pool; and jobs are growing 1% faster than the workforce so there’s going to be a lot of opportunity. Urbanization and increasing consumption is making Africans a new, highly-sought-after consumer for global companies. Finally, since Africa doesn’t have a ton of established infrastructure to work around, they’re weirdly well-positioned for the new technological advancements that are coming. East Africa is the global leader in mobile banking and Smart Phone ownership is expected to rise from 2% in 2010 to 50% in just 10 years. Finally, spending on infrastructure in Africa has doubled over the last decade.


Anyway, it’s important to look at current events and see them as a continuation of history. Humans want to look at the world and think of it as the way it is, the way it has been, and the way it always will be. But history shows us that it’s the exact opposite. Things are always changing. Just 75 years ago, the idea of self-determination was laughed at by many. The thought that the world map would look so complicated, with so many different nations, all trying to assert their own sovereignty, would have seemed crazy. Remember, most of world history has been ruled by massive empires. Individual rights, individual voices, and the right to live under a government that looks like you and represents you – these are all experiments that we’re trying out. So, everyone keep your fingers crossed! Or, if you prefer to be ruled by an emperor, let me know and I’ll start my global campaign a few years earlier than planned…


To be continued.

Episode 114: The Cold War in Latin America, or “This is why they hate us there!”

Today, let’s look back through that same time period in Latin America. This is a region where the Cold War heavily influenced their politics and attempts at true independence. Latin America was a collection of Spanish colonies that gained independence in the 1800s only to be Monroe Doctrined into the sphere of influence of the U.S.

But, unfortunately, Latin America is trying to assert true self-control in the shadow of the Cold War. And they will learn very quickly that while it’s very easy to gain outside help from one of the two superpowers, it’s also just as easy – and inevitable – that you will make yourself a quick and powerful enemy, as well. Important note: today’s episode is not going to be quite as patriotic as the last one. Rocky can do a lot but he can’t fight the fact that we did a lot of bad things in the name of the war on communism. (See what I did there? “Fight the fact”…)

Also, beware my bias. I focused on Latin American Studies in college and you can’t go through those classes without a hefty degree of sympathy for the Latin American peoples’ perspective. Great job, UNC. You had one job to do: convert me into a basketball fan. But instead, you radicalized me with your empathy and global perspective. What a giant waste of money.

Act 1: 20th century Latin America

Act 2: The Cold War in Latin America

Act 3: Viva la Revolucion! in Cuba

Anyway, I’m sure this entire episode, has gotten me on a government list somewhere and probably lost me a few listeners who don’t like to hear that the U.S. isn’t always the good guy in history. Sorry not sorry. But it’s important to learn as many different perspectives as possible and to understand that our policies have an enormous impact on the entire world. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that as we get wrapped up in domestic issues and arguing within Congress. For example, I traveled to Cuba in the summer before the 2016 election and I can tell you, they were following the campaign more closely than most Americans. Their entire lives hinged upon November 2016. They know that if Clinton was elected she would continue the relaxation of the embargo that was starting to allow them to grow their businesses and live their lives. And when Trump was elected instead, the Cubans I met were some of the first people that I thought of.

And, in case you ever travel to Latin America. it’s also important to understand that we aren’t very popular in a lot of those countries and for fairly good reason. Once when I was in Peru, our rafting guide asked where I was from and I said “Soy americana.” Ooh boy, he did not like that. “You are estadounidense. We are all Americans.” They’re pretty tired of the Bully from the North and I don’t blame them. Unfortunately, we’re going to continue this trend next episode as we travel to the Middle East for Part 2 of our “This is why they hate us there!” series.


To be continued.

Episode 113: The Cold War or, “I Must Break You, WOLVERINES!”

Today, we’ll look at the new global system that gets set up in the wake up European empires. The U.S. gets obsessed with containing things, we go to space (allegedly), China gets Mao-ed, and *spoiler alert* the U.S. wins the Cold War! This is Anti-Social Studies, I’m Emily Glankler, settle in, and let’s go back in time…

Act 1: The Cold War

Act 2: Chairman Mao

Act 3: The Fall of the Soviet Union

We could spend a ton of time on the Cold War in the U.S. and the Soviet Union. I could do a scene-for-scene reenactment of the original Red Dawn if that would be helpful. WOLVERINES! But since I’m a world history teacher I really want to spend more time on, you know, the world. So let’s spend the next few episodes traveling around the world to see what was going on everywhere else after World War II.

The Cold War will reach Latin America thanks to Castro and a ship named the Granma. The Middle East will erupt into chaos after the fall of the Mandate System. And all across Africa and Asia decolonization will create new nations that will have to figure out how they fit into this new postwar world. It’s all happening in the shadow of the Cold War and it all matters for your life today.


The Fall of the Soviet Union

We’re going to go back and look at what was going on outside of the US and the USSR soon. But if I can skip ahead for a second – and I can, because it’s my podcast – let’s talk briefly about how the Cold War ends. Basically, by the 1980s the Soviet Union was experiencing all of the same issues that every massive empire has at some point going all the way back to Rome. Just like we can copy and paste the way empires are administered from the Persians, we can copy and paste the reasons for their decline from the Romans.

(Listen to the entire episode here!)

Continue reading The Fall of the Soviet Union

Episode 112: World War Two, or “Who was supposed to be watching Germany?!”

Today, we’ll talk about the war that was directly caused by the War to End All Wars. Talk about irony. The world gets depressed, Hitler rises, and everything falls apart.

Act 1: The Depression

Act 2: The Rise of Hitler

Act 3: The War

Act 4: The Holocaust

Act 5: The Post-War World

Out of the ashes of Europe’s destruction, two new superpowers rise. The Soviet Union is amazingly still standing. Again, they lost 23 million people in the war. But their sheer size and the amount of power that Stalin commanded over the government and the economy kept them afloat, much to the chagrin of subjugated nations across eastern Europe.

And in the west, the United States emerged as a major powerhouse for the first time in history. Separated from the war by an ocean on either side, the American homeland was relatively unscathed. So American factories, crops, and other industries, all of which had been reinvigorated by the war effort, were primed and ready to help rebuild Europe. And they will rebuild Europe. Partly out of the goodness of our hearts, but also out of the fear that an impoverished Europe might turn to communism.

And after the heat of years of world war, things begin to get very very cold.

To be continued.

Check out the next episode!

The Depression

After World War I, all of the major powers turned inward and focused on rebuilding their own economies.  Nowhere was this more difficult than in Germany. If you remember, they were saddled with billions of dollars in reparations payments. And as they struggled to pay the Allies, France invaded and occupied the Rhineland – a region in Germany that was very important to industrial production. This made it even harder for their economy to rebuild.

(Listen to the entire episode here!)

By 1923, hyperinflation was rampant in Germany. In 1918 one paper Mark was worth one gold Mark. But just 5 years later, to buy one gold Mark, you would need one trillion paper Marks. To put it another way, if you were an American tourist visiting Germany in 1923, you would head to a bank to exchange currency. You would hand them 1 US dollar and they would give you over 4 trillion German Marks. What? That’s insane.

Continue reading The Depression

The Rise of Hitler

The worldwide depression had a lot of impacts but none more important than the rise of extreme dictatorships around the world. We see this in Russia with the rise of Stalin, Italy with Mussolini, and Japan with its intense military government. But for today, let’s focus on Germany.

(Listen to the entire episode here!)

Adolf Hitler fought in World War I after getting rejected from art school. Man, if I had a time machine… Just let the guy do his stupid paintings! He experienced the devastation and shame of their World War I loss in the trenches and it was then that he also realized the had a gift for public speaking and persuasion.

Continue reading The Rise of Hitler

The Holocaust

I’ll be honest. I really didn’t want to write this part of the episode. Partly because it makes me sad and uncomfortable but more so because I know I can’t do it justice. There are so many better resources than me to explore in depth the various aspects of the Holocaust, one of the best being the U.S. Holocaust Museum and Memorial website. So I’m not going to attempt to do a less good version of what they’ve already created. Instead, I want to talk about something a lot of classes don’t cover but should: Why was there so much anti-Semitism in the world by the 1930s?

(Listen to the entire episode here!)

Continue reading The Holocaust