The Guardians : The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire
Overview - At the end of the First World War, the Paris Peace Conference saw a battle over the future of empire. The victorious allied powers wanted to annex the Ottoman territories and German colonies they had occupied; Woodrow Wilson and a groundswell of anti-imperialist activism stood in their way. Read more...
More About The Guardians by Susan Pedersen
At the end of the First World War, the Paris Peace Conference saw a battle over the future of empire. The victorious allied powers wanted to annex the Ottoman territories and German colonies they had occupied; Woodrow Wilson and a groundswell of anti-imperialist activism stood in their way. France, Belgium, Japan and the British dominions reluctantly agreed to an Anglo-American proposal to hold and administer those allied conquests under "mandate" from the new League of Nations. In the end, fourteen mandated territories were set up across the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific. Against all odds, these disparate and far-flung territories became the site and the vehicle of global transformation.
In this masterful history of the mandates system, Susan Pedersen illuminates the role the League of Nations played in creating the modern world. Tracing the system from its creation in 1920 until its demise in 1939, Pedersen examines its workings from the realm of international diplomacy; the viewpoints of the League's experts and officials; and the arena of local struggles within the territories themselves. Featuring a cast of larger-than-life figures, including Lord Lugard, King Faisal, Chaim Weizmann and Ralph Bunche, the narrative sweeps across the globe-from windswept scrublands along the Orange River to famine-blighted hilltops in Rwanda to Damascus under French bombardment-but always returns to Switzerland and the sometimes vicious battles over ideas of civilization, independence, economic relations, and sovereignty in the Geneva headquarters. As Pedersen shows, although the architects and officials of the mandates system always sought to uphold imperial authority, colonial nationalists, German revisionists, African-American intellectuals and others were able to use the platform Geneva offered to challenge their claims. Amid this cacophony, imperial statesmen began exploring new means - client states, economic concessions - of securing Western hegemony. In the end, the mandate system helped to create the world in which we now live.
A riveting work of global history, The Guardians
enables us to look back at the League with new eyes, and in doing so, appreciate how complex, multivalent, and consequential this first great experiment in internationalism really was.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
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Columbia University historian Pedersen (Eleanor Rathbone and the Politics of Conscience) confirms her position as a leading scholar of 20th-century diplomacy in this exhaustively researched, clearly written analysis of a defining event of the 20th century. The mandate system established for the Middle East after WWI was “quixotic,” an “effort to subject imperial rule to international control.” Its “profound effects,” Pedersen argues, “were not quite those that its architects and advocates expected.” She shows how the League developed into a major instrument of geopolitical change, a “ ‘global’ structure for mobilization, protest, and claim-making.” South African settler colonialism in Namibia, French terror bombing of Damascus, and Samoan protest of New Zealand governance all contributed to increase pressure on the mandatory powers to “make international control real.” However, between 1927 and 1933 an increasingly bitter struggle arose between the League’s Mandates Commission and the mandating states over major issues such as control of harbors and railroads and the choice between market and command economies. A new definition of independence was emerging: one providing for self-determination but “safe for empire.” Pedersen demonstrates how on the eve of another world war “imperial imperatives, and not League doctrine,” drove state policies, yet despite this, “the League helped make the end of empire imaginable.” Illus. (June)