Japan’s Strategic Failings 1940-41

The position that Japan entered the war in was based on assumptions and desperation. Watch the video below for more:


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“Cabbages and Kings” Information Society and Uzbekistan by Michael O’Sullivan



A 2015 article on UK libraries described efforts by Parliament to amateurise public library services following widespread closures (Dickens, 2015). Given the desire of nearly every country in the world to create an “Information Society” such actions appear counterproductive. This sentiment is also stressed in Library and Information Studies (LIS) literature, especially if the author is writing about information literacy. It could be argued that these writings express a belief in Utopianism, i.e that the work and practices of Information Professionals can overhaul and improve both the individual and society as a whole.
More specifically the dream of many Information professionals is the establishment of a society in which every citizen has acquired the skills necessary to evaluate and utilise the wide range of information sources available to them. Furthermore, the method to achieving this ultimate goal is very simple;  information training allows people to improve their overall lives by basing their knowledge on the best sources available.
However, as illustrated by the UK example most governments appear content with the most immediate benefits of the Information and Communication Technology revolution rather than exploiting the full potential of these innovations by providing the necessary infrastructure. Conversely, any unwanted effects of the Information age such as social media whistle blowing, data leaks and the free exchange of opinions and materials are subjected to rigid controls and scrutiny in order to maintain the political, economic and social status quos of various sectors. Despite the global nature of the Information revolution, the corpus of LIS literature is predominately focused on Western Anglophone countries. Therefore, it may be interesting to discuss a state which does not received a great deal of attention e.g. the Republic of Uzbekistan.
After the collapse of the Soviet Bloc many member states of the Commonwealth of Independent Nations received support from UNESCO and the EU to develop their information, educational and cultural heritage sectors. As noted by a 2013 report prepared for the European Commissions TEMPUS-TACIS program (Technical Assistance for the Commonwealth of Independent States):

“the collapse of the Soviet Union was disastrous for the highly centralised and collaborative library system shared by the members states” (Johnson, 2013, p.43).

One of the former Soviet states Uzbekistan sought to reform the library service following economic chaos of the 1990s with “a Presidential Decree (No.381, 20 June 2006):

‘About the organisation of information and library provision for the population of Republic’: which placed ‘librarianship and the implementation of new information technologies among the top priorities in the country’ (Johnson, p.5)
The importance importance of LIS to the Uzbek government is further illustrated by a flurry of similar decrees:
1. No.VII-3029, (2002) “On the Improvement of the Organization of Scientific Research Activity”: adapt library services to post independence circumstances.
2. Presidential Decree (No.381, 20 June 2006): renamed 14 regional public libraries as Information and Library centres (ILC) governed by Communications and Information Agency of Uzbekistan (CIAU)and co-ordinated by the Republican Information-Library Centre
3. 2006 Decree: Renamed school and university libraries Information Resource Centres (IRC) with some falling under the auspices of CIAU
4. 2006 Decree: All ILC’S and RLC’S to possess computers and internet services and help develop “national information resources, electronic libraries and databases”. (Johnson, pp.52, 53, 55, 63)
Moreover, the main role assigned to IRCs and ILCs is “the creation of electronic libraries and databases that combine all their information resources in a union catalogue” (Johnson, p.63). The efforts made by the Uzbek government are detailed in depth by the report with special attention paid to the creation of a Master’s program with EU funding and collaboration to meet local requirements. The program is hosted by Tashkent University of Information Technologies and was a success domestically (Johnson, pp.68-69). Indeed, the author of the report quotes Rakhmatullaev’s, (2000) belief that the development of library and information services is part of a broader program of transforming the region economically, politically and socially (p.70). The only obstacle to the process noted by the author is the country’s reliance on central planning (Johnson, p.70).
As mentioned above, the belief in the transformative powers of LIS is deeply ingrained in academic writing on the subject. Unfortunately the hopeful arguments of LIS researchers rarely match up with the realities of how individuals outside the profession perceive Information services, as evidenced by recent developments in Uzbekistan. Even after the major overhaul of LIS and the information sector the politics, economy and society of the region has not changed for the better. Presidential elections in 2015 have been described “as a show” with no competition against the incumbent leader. Moreover, the state controlled media depicted the election as fair with opposition candidates putting forward programs for reform at managed public meetings, while at the same time stressing the importance of stability and continuity of the current regime (Schenkkan, 2015, Elections). Contrary to the desire to create an information society, freedom of speech is tightly controlled by the Karimov government as evidenced by the following practices: the refusal to acknowledge economic instability, falsified economic forecasts and predetermining the opposition campaign policies etc (Schenkkan, 2015, Elections).
More seriously these trends of information control obfuscate very serious issues. An excellent example is the conflict in Iraq and Syria, which is depicted by Central Asian governments and media outlets as the fate which will befall the country if the current governments were removed from power (Schenkkan, 2015, Central Asians). Moreover, this authoritarianism has created an information situation in which disgruntled Uzbeks (especially migrant workers in Russia) accept misinformation, propaganda and apocryphal information in the traditional and social media as fact (Schenkkan, 2015, Central Asians). However this topic will be discussed in another blog post.
In short, contrary to the idealism of European Information Professionals, Uzbekistan has not become an information society. Despite repeated political and social commitments to the ideal, the stance of the Uzbek government prevents libraries and information institutions from fulfilling their primary goal of providing information to their patrons. The consequences of this policy is a severely misinformed society, who cannot locate or act upon relevant information and are reliant upon a predetermined view of the world, politics, society, economics and certainly every conceivable sphere of life. Such circumstances are debilitating, deceitful and more dangerously deluding. Moreover it is not an information literacy society or a paradise. But it is Utopian is the sense that most of its claims does not exist.
Dickens, J. (2015, August 19) Nicky Morgan Library campaign branded a ‘hollow gesture’ after closures. Schools Weeks. Retrieved from http://schoolsweek.co.uk/nicky-morgan-library-campaign-branded-a-hollow-gesture-after-closures/
Johnson, I.M, (2013). Library development in Uzbekistan: progress and problems since the dissolution of the USSR. The International Information & Library Review, 45(s 1–2). 50–62.
Schenkkan, N, (Producer). (2015, March 28th) Central Asianist #1: Central Asians in ISIS & ISIS in Central Asia. [Audio Podcast]. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-central-asianist-podcast/id980890993?mt=2
Schenkkan, N, (Producer). (2015, March 28th) Central Asianist #3: Elections in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-central-asianist-podcast/id980890993?mt=2

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The Information Environment of the Italian- Abyssinian War by Michael O’Sullivan

Italian_soldiers_in_Abyssinia_1935Today’s post will be a quick discussion of points raised by Christopher Duggan’s excellent book Fascist Voices: An Intimate History of Mussolini’s Italy. Regarding the information environment of the regime and its impact on public perception. While it is indulgent, I feel it is important to stress how crucial a role information plays in any society.
Firstly, it is important to realise that Fascist policies regarding information, did not spring out of the ground.  As a result of the chaotic nature of the unification of Italy (Risorgimento) and the fractured nature of both, society and the polity, the Kingdom of Italy had a historical interest a special interest in promulgating an educational system (information landscape) in which ensured the population were both “content to remain in the condition that nature assigned to them, and not encourage them to abandon it”… while also being “honest, industrious, useful to the family and devoted to the king and the fatherland” (p.180). As noted by Duggan, the perceived failure of this experience, coupled with the “degree factory-esque” nature of the system created an army of unemployed graduates who vented their frustrations at the sluggish state economy, as well as failing to mould students morally and emotionally (p.181). The Fascist state successfully tapped into these concerns and set forth a new educational program in which: “(schools) at all level and in all their instruction should educate the Italian youth to understand fascism, to renew itself in fascism and to live in the historical climate created by the fascist revolution” (p.182).
Certainly, it could be argued that the success of the program may be seen in the lead up to, duration and conclusion of the Abyssinia war. As part of its policy to “renew fascism” the state celebrated the successes of ancient Rome, espousing the ideology of mare nostrum and imperial expansion (p.250). Clearly, popular images of fertile, wealthy African colonies which would provide resources and a home for thousands of settlers of the metropole was not unique to Fascist Italy. However, the proliferation of Fascist ideas in Italian society was such, that the war received universal public support (pp.251-52). Clearly, as articulated in Duggan’s argument, this attitude was born out of popular belief, that the war was Italy’s first step in replacing the decadent imperial powers of Europe. As the “theory” when, the new men and women of Italy would achieve spiritual renewal through conflict and emerge as disciplined, energetic individuals unbound by decadent materialism, bourgeois humanitarianism, “craven comforts” and sedentary ways of life” (p.126).
Obviously, such sentiments illustrate the success of the state in controlling the information landscape of the country, in turn shaping the behaviour of its citizens. Duggan describes how throughout the Abyssinia war and aftermath, the government utilised films, postcards, songs and advertisements to drum up popular support for the conflict, by illustrating orientalist exoticism and lurid press details of uncivilized practices such as slavery child sacrifice which Italian civilisation would sweep away (p.260). Moreover, the state created an environment in which it could mobilise its population to make sacrifices for the war effort, such as asking couples to donate the metal in their wedding rings, and encouraged, both the conviction that Italy was asserting itself on the world stage and myriad of rumours detailing Ethiopia was a fertile land rich in untapped oilfields (p.255, 258-9). As such, this resulted in a festive atmosphere within Italy complete, with a marked popularity in songs such as “Africannia” (Little African girl) and “Ti Saluto e vado in Abissina” (Farewell, I am off to Abyssinia”). Compounding these attitudes, was a blanket censorship of the use of chemical weapons against the African armies. (p.262).
Perhaps, the worst consequences of the information environment of the Italian regime were the atrocities committed against Ethiopians by Italian solider. Many soldiers were young men raised entirely, in a society in which devotion to the Duce, patriotism, hatred of humanitarianism, exaltation of military virtues, and the inherent “rightness” of Fascist values, Italy’s civilizing mission and the benefits that the conquest would bring Ethiopia. (p.261-2). Unquestioning adherence to these values, created both passive accomplices and active perpetrators of mass murder against the Ethiopian population. These policies persisted throughout, the colonial occupation, in one notorious instance, in the wake of a terrorist attack in Addis Abba ordinary Italian colonists responded “around armed with manganelli (wooden batons) and iron bars bludgeoning any natives they came across in the streets”, none of these instances of violence were allowed to be reported on in Italy (pp. 263, 289).
Ultimately, I agree with Christopher Duggans assertion, that the policies of Fascist Italy created the following situation as noted by Florentine law Professor Piero Calamandrei: “Alas… we are, without being, aware of it a bookish people, who see the world through fantasies… For decades we have been confusing our desires with reality, our poetry with history”.  Or put another way by Jewish writer Franco Fortini: “If Fascism was to fall tomorrow and it was up to us young people to rebuilt Italy, we would not know what we wanted”. (pp.336-7). In other words, the fostering of an information society, in which critical thinking takes a backseat to fantasy, rationality with pure emotion,  and blind certainty is the dominant force, only serves to create a society that is both intolerant, and normalises/perpetuates atrocity. Moreover, it is argument that must be had in every country, at every point in its history.







Duggan, Christopher. (2012) Fascist Voices: An Intimate History of Mussolini’s Italy. London: UK,  The Bodley Head.

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New Frontiers: Soviet Support for the early Chinese Communist Party

By Michael O’Sullivan, Explaining History Asia Correspondent.



The 21st century has been dubbed by some experts and observers as the “Asian Century” most especially with the dramatic rise of China in the global political and economic power structures since the 1980s. While initially founded as a Communist state following the Civil war in 1949, there has since been a debate as to whether modern China since the reign of Deng Xiaoping still fits that model. Indeed, it is the position of Rana Mitter and other scholars that the current political and economic model of China more closely resembles the semi capitalist and party dominated vision of the progressive wing of the Guomindang: “One can imagine Chiang Kai Shek’s ghost wandering around China today nodding in approval, while Mao’s Ghost follows behind him moaning at the destruction of his vision”. It must be said, that this debate has less to do with the Chinese state fitting strict Marxist-Leninism models then what popular culture imagines Communism to stand for as an ideology and a society.

This meditation was prompted by an excellent analysis of the history of Communism in Silvio Pons: The Global Revolution. As excellently argued by Pons, Marxism or Communism is primarily a Euro-centric ideology, whose models of a proletariat revolution based in industrial countries against a bourgeoisie does not accurately reflect the social, ethic, economic and political diversities outside of the European continent. It must be said, that the best Stalin could manage in understanding the revolutionary potential of Asia was the application of labels such as “not having an industrial proletariat, having a slightly developed proletariat and “national proletariats”
Indeed, following the turmoil of the immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution the Bolshevik party began to shift their focus away from the project of European revolution towards launching a Asian “anti-imperialist” uprising. This image was so powerful that Nikolai Bukharin conceived the revolutionary potential of Asia as “the capitalist metropolis besieged by the unending countryside of the global periphery”.
For all the countries that attended the 2,000 strong “Congress of the Peoples of the East”, the country that the USSR placed all its hopes on for a further revolution was China. The “Congress of the Peoples of the East” was hosted by the Bolsheviks in Baku in September 1920 as a platform for the Soviet leaders to extoll anti-British imperialist ideologies and national self-determination for nationalists and communist operating from Turkey to the Far East. The conditions in China during the early Twentieth Century had produced the correct combination of nationalism and revolution to achieve the ideological goals of the USSR. This can clearly be seen in the USSR’s insistence of an alliance between the Chinese Communist Party and the Nationalist Kuomintang to oppose British Imperialism and reactionary warlords.
While it is a fact of history that a harmonious coexistence between the Chinese Nationalists and the Communists did not survive the Shanghai Massacre of 1926, it could be argued that this alliance proposed by the USSR has helped shape China into its current political model. As argued by Peter Zarrow, the alliance with the USSR helped shape the Guomindang into an ideological vanguard party (in a similar vein to Lenin’s Bolshevik party) guiding but not admitting the masses. Despite, its height hopes for the Chinese revolution, Stalin and the Politburo still insisted on the Nationalism alliance, ultimately with the intention of having largely urban based communist activists seize control of Nationalist organs of government rather than develop their own revolutionary committees la a the Soviets.
From this stance taken in the 1920’s it is perhaps possible to see the emergence of the principal characteristics of the modern Chinese state. While, it is possible to take states such as the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and analyse their characteristics according to strict Marxist axioms and how they deviate from them (in the case of the latter example identifying it as Neo Confucian) to do so misses the point. While commentators often point to the capitalist market reforms and emphasis on nationalism implemented by the CCP as having diluted the communist ethos of the state, in reality this conforms to notions of “National Bolshevism” an invented ideology that uses nationalism as a means of ensuring social unity and mobilizing it towards a class struggle based on national conflicts.
While the North Korean regime is certainly Neo-Confucian, and the PRC is deeply nationalist, to claim that these ideologies have supplanted Communism rather than existing in a symbiotic relationship with it is perhaps a mistake. In the case of the DPRK, Kim Il Sung at the time of the founding of the Korean’s Workers Party admitted the classically trained scholar (Yangban) class as members. This class served to help Kim craft a Confucian style ideology based on: the notion of sage kings, the veneration of the father ruler, the focus on social harmony and viewing society as an organic whole etc, onto which Soviet style ideas could be grafted.
Marxism is at its heart a Euro-centric ideology and to take the stance that the developments in states such as China has destroyed its legacy is a repeat of the same mistakes made by Soviet leadership in the 1920s and betrays a simplified understanding of the social, historical, religious and political realities of Asian countries.
While the ideology of Marxism then and now did not play out strictly according to the paradigms laid out by Marx and Engels, examining how the ideology adapted to realities in countries outside Europe offer accurate insights into how these societies developed, and more importantly illustrate their goals and worldviews.
While the People’s Republic of China does not conform to the strict tenants of Marxism as an ideology. Its marriage of Communism and Marxism has created a state and society mobilised towards ensuring its greatness and breaking the stranglehold of Western ideology and norms over global power relations. Which at its simplest was the goal of Marxism and the USSR the replacement of Western ideologies of capitalism and Imperialism with an alternative modernity corresponding to the state ideology of the USSR. To ignore the continued power of Marxism in the PRC simply produces an incomplete analysis of the countries and its goal, which is the anti-thesis of research, analysis and understanding.




Meyer, Isaac (Producer), (2016, August, 20th) The History of Japan Podcast: The Best of Frenemies Part 7 [Audio Podcast], http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/7/4/a/74af0db69293b4e2/History_of_Japan_161.mp3?c_id=12521079&expiration=1506838018&hwt=699a67f39f44412de8dbed9272756122
Mitter, Rana, Modern China: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2016

Pons, Silvio, The Global Revolution, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014
Zarrow, Peter, China in War and Revolution 1895-1949, Routledge, 2005


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Mao and the Red Guards

In 1966, a politically sidelined Mao Zedong returned to power in Beijing, appealing to  millions of students and young people across China to wage war against the established party bureaucracy.

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The Partitions of Palestine and India

Two partitions at the end of the British Empire that have created the longest running conflicts of the 20th and 21st Centuries are discussed here:

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Stalin and the Gulags

Here I address the question as the the economic rationale behind the Gulag system and its dismantling after the Stalin era.

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