As I mentioned on Monday, support from attwiw subscribers helped us add a couple of new features this year. I’m particularly excited that we’ve been able to start featuring posts by other writers here at attwiw, people who can bring you more in-depth features on interesting topics. With your support I want to continue and greatly expand this aspect of the site moving forward, both because I think it brings a welcome diversity to the site and because I think it would be awesome if this place became a stepping stone for people who have interesting things to share and are trying break into the writing world.
As a way of showing you what your subscriptions have made possible, or could make possible if you click on that link up there or on the Patreon button at the bottom of this post, and in case you missed them the first time around, here are 2018’s attwiw guest posts:
In September, Georgetown University’s Josh Mugler (@j_mugs) became our inaugural guest author with this piece about the history of European powers (plus the US) using Middle Eastern Christians as justifications for their interventions in the region:
None of this is new: Christian-ruled Western states have long used Christian and other minorities to the East to justify their imperial interventions and wars. Eusebius of Caesarea tells us that the Roman Emperor Constantine (d. 337) sent a letter to Shah Shapur II (d. 379) insisting that he treat his Christian subjects well or face imperial wrath. Pope Urban II (d. 1099) launched the First Crusade with a speech that appealed to European Christians to defend their Middle Eastern fellow believers, who Urban insisted were suffering grotesquely at the hands of their Muslim rulers. However, the power of modern Western empires to shape the region’s politics, even in territories that they do not officially control, is far beyond anything the Romans or Crusaders could conceive.
Arms proliferation researcher Travis Haycraft (@haycraft_travis) began his two-part series on Iraq’s military build-up under Saddam Hussein in September with a look at how Saddam used that build-up to help consolidate his own power within the Iraqi government:
What do you do when you want to turn your poor, underdeveloped post-colonial state, embroiled in ethnic and political strife, into a respected world power? Do you engage in careful democratic reform, infrastructure development, and popular welfare programs? Or do you ride a tank through the gates of the presidential palace and spend the next twenty years treating the world’s arms companies like an all-you-can-eat buffet?
When Saddam Hussein rode a tank through the gates of the Iraqi Presidential Palace in 1968 and began his rise to the top, Iraq was just such a state. The former British possession had only a small military that was incapable of dealing with unruly Kurdish separatists, let alone reaching the heights Saddam envisioned for it.
What Saddam didn’t lack was ambition. He wanted to humiliate Israel, make Iraq the leader of the Arab world, and weaken Iraq’s then-chief rival, Iran. His ambitions came to fruition in the form of a shopping spree of epic proportions around the world, in order to build the military that would, in 1980, lead the charge across the Iranian border.
As you might have guessed from that last excerpt, Travis’s two-parter was building up to the Iran-Iraq War, which kicked Iraq’s military build-up into overdrive:
While Iraq’s military expansion prior to 1980 was certainly incredible, it paled in comparison to the extraordinary growth and development that occurred during the eight years of the Iran-Iraq War and the immediate post-war period.
The war years saw Iraq’s indigenous design and production capacity grow to include complex and highly advanced conventional and unconventional weapons programs, which helped bring the war to an end with a return to the pre-war status quo. In 1990, Iraq stood poised on the brink of joining the United States and other superpowers as a state capable of meeting all of its own arms requirements domestically, from the most basic ammunition to complicated ballistic missile systems.
Writer Carson Rogers brought us a two-part series on the art and culture of Tokugawa Japan, which began in October with a look at the political structure of that period and how it impacted Japanese society:
Tokugawa Japan emerged out of the Sengoku period, or the Age of Warring States (1467-1568). It was a time in which Japan was fractured, split up between multiple warlord factions that were constantly in conflict with each other. This period of perpetual warfare was brought to an end by the three great unifiers, Japan’s most important historical figures. The first is Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), a strong military tactician who succeeded in gaining control over almost half of the country. In 1582, one of Nobunaga’s retainers enacted a coup that resulted in his death, and started a conflict among his retainers for claim to the lands he had conquered. The one who emerged victorious was Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598), who had remained loyal to Nobunaga during the coup. He was a former peasant who quickly rose in the ranks to become an important retainer. He avenged his former master in 1582, at the Battle of Yamazaki. In 1583, Hideyoshi cemented himself as the successor to his former lord and would go on to complete Nobunaga’s goal of conquering all of Japan.
Carson’s second part then explored the unique art that was the product of Tokugawa Japan’s political and economic mix:
Ukiyo is Japanese for “the floating world.” It is a term that has multiple meanings and is used throughout most of Japan’s history. But it is most closely identified with the Tokugawa period, used to describe both its overall culture and its art. Before the Tokugawa period ukiyo was used by monks to describe a world of sorrow and misery that was ever changing. Tokugawa Japan, however, was characterized not by pain, but by its thirst for pleasure. Ukiyo during this period came to describe a world of abundance, a world where every desire could be bought, a world that was modernizing in its own way and always seemed to be changing. Out of this floating world came some of Japan’s most famous and influential art, which is still displayed and prized today for its quality and beauty. It was the distinct worldview of the floating world that produced these extraordinary works and aesthetics.
Harvard Divinity School’s Hannah Gais (@hannahgais) was kind enough to stop by in November and offer some desperately needed (for me, at least) background on the controversial (in Moscow, at least) decision by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople to allow Ukraine to form its own autocephalous Orthodox Church:
On October 15, 2018, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), Patriarch Kirill, announced that his flock were severing ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, known as the “first among equals” in the Orthodox world. The pronouncement came days after Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew announced that he would grant the Ukrainian church a tomos, or official declaration, of autocephaly—a term used within Orthodoxy to denote a church that is “self-headed” (from the Greek autos, meaning “self,” and kephale meaning “head”) and thus can appoint its own hierarchs without approval from a higher-ranking bishop. Citing a pair of documents from 1686 permitting the temporary subjugation of the Metropolitanate of Kiev to the Moscow Patriarchate, the Ecumenical Patriarchate accused the ROC of taking advantage of Constantinople’s tenuous status in the Ottoman Empire at that time. It also opted to restore the canonical status of two previously-excommunicated Ukrainian hierarchs, Metropolitan Filaret and Archbishop Makariy. A few weeks later, with no real solution to the schism in sight, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko commanded the ROC to “go home,” saying that the Russian church has “nothing to do” with Ukraine.
Finally, just a couple of days ago Zack Kramer began what should ultimately be a five-part series on the political economies of the post-Soviet Central Asian republics with a look at the largest of them, Kazakhstan:
Kazakhstan is the largest and the second-most populous of the central Asian states, sharing long borders with the Ural and Siberian regions of Russia and with the Xinjiang region of China. It is the source of the absolute majority of economic activity in central Asia (~60% of regional GDP), and after Russia and Poland is the third-largest economy (at PPP) in the whole of the vast post-socialist region stretching from Slovenia to Kyrgyzstan. It is by far the most industrialized and developed country in Central Asia, though disparities in income levels and regional development within Kazakhstan are large and growing.
I’d like to extend my thanks to all our guest writers along with my hopes that they come back for more soon. I’d also like to extend my thanks to the attwiw subscribers who have made our growth possible. If you enjoyed these pieces and think you might enjoy more like them, and you haven’t already subscribed to the site, please do so. Your subscriptions make it possible for me to support these writers and will unlock a lot of additional content for you. Thanks again and Happy Holidays!