Throwback Thursday: June 25

Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: The Mozambique Liberation Front  (1962)

A Portuguese prisoner-of-war talking to his captors in Mozambique. Image Source: Flickr/un_photo

A Portuguese prisoner-of-war talking to his captors in Mozambique. Image Source: Flickr/un_photo

The Mozambique Liberation Front, commonly known as FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique) was founded in 1962 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Initially a liberation movement fighting for freedom from the Portuguese, FRELIMO is now the dominant political party in independent Mozambique.

 Following the end of World War II, while much of Africa had seen a wave of self-determination, Portugal continued to maintain that its possessions —which included Mozambique, Angola, Guinea and East Timor— were Portuguese overseas territories.

While the colonizers ruled with a heavy hand, curbing any signs of dissent within Mozambique, Tanzania was sympathetic to the nationalist cause and allowed the group to form within its boundaries. The United Nations, too, recognized the liberation movements against Portugal as "the authentic representatives" of their peoples. Three exiled nationalist groups — Mozambican African National Union (MANU), National Democratic Union of Mozambique(UDENAMO), and the National African Union of Independent Mozambique (UNAMI)— combined to form an armed campaign under the leadership of their elected President, Eduardo Mondlane. 

Emblem of Mozambique Image Source:  Wikimedia Commons/ Jam123

Emblem of Mozambique Image Source:  Wikimedia Commons/ Jam123

The party was received by the Mozambican people with mixed reactions. With Portugal’s presence in Mozambique dating back to the 15th century, some Mozambicans did not desire independence at all. Other who wanted to be free from Portugal, were opposed to achieving it through violent means. However, after the gruesome massacre of peaceful protesters in Mueda two years prior, Eduardo Mondlane and his party were convinced that they would never attain independence unless they armed themselves.  

By the late 1960s, through its guerrilla operations, FRELIMO —which had garnered the support of China, the Soviet Union and some Scandinavian countries—  had already designated  ‘Liberated Zones’ within the northern provinces of Mozambique.  Within these zones, the FRELIMO worked at introducing reforms in areas such as agriculture, healthcare and education to improve the conditions of the peasant population. In an effort to increase its popularity as a national movement, FRELIMO trained a group of its soldiers as photographers, who traveled to the Liberated Zones to take photographs of the alleviated conditions to enable the masses to visualize an independent Mozambique.

Graffiti representing the Carnation Revolution in Lisbon, Portugal. Image Source: Flickr/jmenj

Graffiti representing the Carnation Revolution in Lisbon, Portugal. Image Source: Flickr/jmenj

The Portuguese now had close to 70,000 troops situated in Mozambique in a bid to subjugate the revolution. The Gordian Knot Operation of 1970, a seven-month long massive military campaign which sought to destroy permanent guerrilla bases and crush the insurgency, dealt the nationalists a heavy blow. However, simultaneous significant developments in Lisbon initiated the withdrawal of Portugal from its colonies.The Carnation Revolution, a military coup and civil resistance movement, had led to the fall of Estado Novo— the authoritarian regime that had been in power in Portugal since 1933. 

On 25th June 1975, exactly thirteen years after the formation of FRELIMO in Dar es Salaam, Mozambique became independent.

The years after independence were tumultuous as well. FRELIMO, which had embraced a communist ideology and announced that Mozambique would be a one-party state, was not well received by all Mozambicans. The country broke into a brutal civil war which lasted over a decade, killing and displacing millions and leaving Mozambique impoverished. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the new leader, Joaquim Chissano, who had begun to see shortcomings in communism, turned toward a multi-party system. 

A crowd at Filipe Nyusi's campaign rally in 2014.  Image Source: Wikimedia Commons/Adrien Barbier

A crowd at Filipe Nyusi's campaign rally in 2014.  Image Source: Wikimedia Commons/Adrien Barbier

Since the first democratic multi-party election in 1994, FRELIMO has remained the dominant ruling party. The incumbent President and FRELIMO candidate, Filipe Nyusi, took office in January this year. 

Mozambique, which has made great strides in leaving behind its painful past, earned a spot among the 50 most peaceful countries in 2012. However, internal tensions have begun to resurface in recent times. 

Throwback Thursday: June 18

Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: The Battle of Waterloo (1815)

Attack on Plancenoit during Battle of Waterloo (Wikimedia Commons/Adolf Northern)

Attack on Plancenoit during Battle of Waterloo (Wikimedia Commons/Adolf Northern)

When Napoleon returned from exile to Paris in March of 1815, European powers including Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia organized the Seventh Coalition against his attempt to reassert French military power. The momentous Battle of Waterloo soon followed, which marked the devastating and dramatic conclusion to the Napoleonic Wars.

In an effort to capture Brussels, Napoleon invaded Belgium and clashed with the Seventh Coalition near the village of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. The Duke of Wellington commanded the Anglo-allied forces, while Gebhard von Blücher led the Prussian armies. Wellington’s troops resisted Napoleon’s offensive, allowing the Prussian forces to mount a counteroffensive on Napoleon’s flank. The single-day battle resulted in over 50,000 casualties and a major loss for Napoleon’s military ambitions. When Napoleon retreated to Paris, he encountered massive resistance and abdicated in favor of his son, Napoleon II. The Seventh Coalition soon overran France and forced Napoleon into exile at St. Helena, where he lived until his death in 1821. The Battle of Waterloo, which facilitated Napoleon’s final imprisonment and the restoration of King Louis XVIII, contributed to the demise of the First French Empire.

Some historians suggest that the battle ranks among the most formative historical events of the nineteenth century. Although Waterloo clearly marked the end of Napoleon’s capacity to wage war, the decline of the First French Empire began long before the cannon fire erupted in Belgium. Before the battle, the Congress of Vienna (1815) and the First Treaty of Paris (1814) signaled a looming restoration of the Bourbon monarchy and controls over French military power. However, Waterloo clearly illustrated the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars and ushered an era of peace in Europe that endured until the outbreak of the World War I in 1914. Although attitudes toward the legacy of Waterloo remain mixed throughout Europe, few observers doubt that the event played an important role in charting the course of European and world history. Today, the term “Waterloo” endures in popular culture as an expression for total and final defeat.

June 18, 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

Throwback Thursday: February 19

The events of the past that shape the world of today. 

The Serfs are Emancipated in Russia (1861)



Serfdom - effectively a system of slavery that bound half of the peasantry to work the fields of a small number of landowners - had been a cornerstone of the imperial Russian state for centuries.

By the mid-19th century, however, it was crumbling, threatening to take Tsar Alexander II’s reign down with it. Russia’s economy - dependent on this forced manual labor - could not compete with the technological progress that fueled the Industrial Revolution in Western Europe. And Russia’s countryside was constantly erupting as serfs violently revolted, fed up with their subjugation.

But the kicker came as Russia’s army - the pride of the empire - suffered a humiliating defeat in the Crimean War. From this, the Tsar drew the conclusion that his ranks - made up largely of malnourished serfs with little sympathy for the banner under which they fought - needed modernization along the lines of the West, who looked upon the institution of serfdom as nothing but “backwards.”

But to pass a measure as drastic as the abolition of serfdom, the Tsar would have to go through the landowners who benefited from the institution and supported the imperial regime largely to keep it in place. Instead, the Tsar handed responsibility right off, declaring the imperative for change but asking the landowners to design the law themselves. And many did - a great many - resulting in 360-pages of fine print that comprised the Imperial Proclamation.

It announced the end of serfdom in name, but landowners (who were compensated handsomely for their loss) effectively turned around and rented their worst land to the same peasants at a high price. Most peasants found themselves just as constrained as before by the crippling debt that amounted from expensive loans on bad land. Productivity remained stagnant and their situation remained deplorable.

This disappointment marks an important point in the history of the relationship between the inhabitants of the Russian countryside and their state. While their rage was hardly directed towards the Tsar at this point, the intensified dissatisfaction frequently flared, as it did in the tumult of 1905. And when it was finally targeted against the state amid the carnage of World War I, it proved revolutionary. Stalin sought to eradicate the repeat threat of this in his devastating war against the “kulaks,” a term that essentially came to mean any peasant slightly resistant to his rule. Today, much of the Russian countryside remains unmodernized and its ties to the Russian nation cursory - a more nuanced political picture than that painted by reports of Putin’s super-high approval ratings. Russia’s economic prosperity under Putin is indeed a large factor in their support, and it will be vital to watch - with this troubled history in mind - how things develop as the prosperity ebbs.

The Battle of Iwo Jima Begins (1945)



At 8:59 A.M., US Marines began the invasion of Japanese-controlled Iwo Jima. The ensuing battle, which ended in an Allied victory on March 26, 1945, has become to be seen as an iconic moment in the Pacific theater of World War II.

U.S. victory was neither unexpected nor strategically essential. U.S. forces vastly outnumbered Japanese, and casualties were disproportionately Japanese—in fact, only about 3,000 of 22,000 Japanese soldiers are believed to have survived. In contrast, U.S. forces suffered roughly 6,000 deaths and 17,000 wounded.

Though the battle did not mark nearly the strategic importance of other Pacific theater battles like the Battle of Okinawa, the events that took place in Iwo Jima have retained symbolic importance to this day. A staged picture of soldiers raising the American flag at the summit of Mount Suribachi taken by Joe Rosenthal became a powerful image to galvanize support for the later stages of the war with Japan.

For some the photo serves as a lasting image of American patriotism; for other it’s an example of the hollow and overly simplistic nature of propagandistic imagery. Either way, Rosenthal’s image, along with the battle it depicts, remains essential within American historic and cultural memory of World War II.

The Feminine Mystique is published (1963)

Friedan second from left,  Wikicommons

Friedan second from left, Wikicommons

Betty Friedan took her college education seriously, and in so doing saw what happened to the many women at the time who didn’t. Conducting a survey for the 15-year college reunion of her class at the all-female Smith College (where she majored in psychology), Friedan found a common strand in the results that led her to diagnose “the problem that has no name,” afflicting housewives everywhere.

A woman then was far more likely to attend college - with a course-load heavy in home economics - as a means of finding a husband, rather than as a stepping stone towards a career. At a young age, women were resigned to a life of household chores and child rearing, leaving most, as Friedan described, with a “strange stirring” borne from a lack of fulfilment. Only meaningful engagement with the world beyond the white picket fences, Friedan argued, could fill the void.

This was a radical notion in a society that was, in almost every facet, geared towards keeping women at home. Literature praised the valiant mother, psychologists warned of the encroaching female careerist and advertisements hailed new household appliances as essentially prosthetics to a woman’s body. But the book struck a common chord with the many women who thought they were alone in their suffering, seeing themselves as aberrations from the feminine ideal for wanting more than a new vacuum cleaner. The book grew incredibly popular and, with Friedan’s continued involvement, shaped what was to become the second wave of feminism.

The impact of this movement is in many ways obvious - especially with the U.S. closer than ever to electing its first female president. But the legacy remains very much a living, open question as feminists continue to push for equality between the genders through diverse means. Women are now pursuing careers with far less social stigmatization, but there is still much progress - in pay equality, in political representation, in the technological sector, for instance - to be made.