10 Best History Apps for Android

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Today in History: September 18

How Nazis twisted the swastika into a symbol of hate

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An orange flag with the traditional Indian swastika on top of ancient Hindu temples in the Himalayas.

James M. Skidmore, University of Waterloo

The images from Charlottesville, Va., of white supremacists marching with Nazi banners reminded us, as if we needed it, that the swastika remains a potent symbol of racist hate.

In Germany, where neo-Nazis also march, it’s illegal to display the swastika, and citizens there initiate private or neighbourhood efforts to remove it from graffiti and other street art.

But attempts to eradicate the swastika can sometimes misfire, as happened recently in Quebec. Corey Fleischer, known by the Instagram handle erasinghate, was stopped by police when he tried to blot out swastikas embossed on salvaged anchors on public display in the small St. Lawrence River community of Pointes-des-Cascades.

Plaques suggested that the anchors were from the Third Reich, but a Radio Canada correspondent reported that they were made by the English company W.L. Byers before the Nazis came to power. The company used the swastika as a symbol of good luck, a common practice in the early 20th century.

Fleischer remained unmoved by this historical explanation. As he told CityNews: “The swastika is no longer a sign of peace. It’s a sign attached to a party that literally almost wiped out an entire culture.”

I come across this obsession with swastikas time and time again. In my university courses on German cultural history, students are repelled yet fascinated by the horror it symbolizes. When I ask whether the swastika should be banned in North America the way it is in Germany, some say yes, whereas others point to its innocent use in other cultures.

The debate is similar to the dispute between Pointes-des-Cascades and Corey Fleischer. Should the 25 years it was a symbol of Nazi racism outweigh its millennia-long use as a talisman of good fortune?

An image from the erasinghate Instagram account showing Alexander Trowbridge, a multimedia journalist, participating in one of its early events.

A diverse and ancient history

The swastika wasn’t always an odious symbol of hate. Far from it. The word svastika is Sanskrit in origin and means “conducive to well-being.”

As a symbol, the swastika’s power resides in its simplicity and balance. Graphic designer Steven Heller notes that “the swastika’s geometric purity allows for legibility at any size or distance, and when on its axis, the whirling square gives the illusion of movement.”

Its form, according to Heller, is “sublime,” so it’s no wonder that it has found a place in so many cultures.

In Buddhism, the swastika is thought to represent the footprints of the Buddha. It takes on a liturgical function in Jainism, and in Hinduism the clockwise symbol (the swastika as we know it, with the arms pointing right) and the counterclockwise symbol, the sauvistika, pair up to portray opposites such as light and darkness.

In Mesopotamia it was used on coins, and the Navajo nation wove it into blankets. It has been found on ancient pottery in Africa and Asia. It was sometimes used as a single element, but often it was repeated as a series of interlocking swastikas to form a border on a garment or in architecture, as was common in Roman times.

It made an appearance in Germanic and Viking cultures, and you can find it in medieval churches and religious vestments across Europe.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the swastika became well-established in western culture as a good luck symbol, similar to a four-leaf clover or a horseshoe.

Companies used it as logo; it adorned birth announcements and greeting cards. American Boy Scouts could get a swastika badge, and the Girls’ Club published a magazine called The Swastika. Finland, Latvia and the United States have all used it as a military insignia.

In Canada, a mining community in northern Ontario was named Swastika, just as you might name a town New Hope or Bounty. Windsor, N.S., and Fernie, B.C., both had hockey teams called the Swastikas. In 1931, Newfoundland issued a $1 stamp commemorating important moments in transatlantic aviation; each corner had a swastika.

The late 19th century saw the newly formed German empire caught up in an era of unrestrained nationalism. Some nationalists sought to prove German racial superiority, subscribing to a now discredited idea that an ancient Aryan race — the original Indo-Europeans — were their ancestors. Evidence was needed to connect the Germans with the Aryans.

Nazis appropriated the symbol

The swastika provided the necessary link.

In the early 1870s, when German businessman and archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann thought he had discovered the ancient Greek city of Troy, more than 1,800 instances of the swastika were unearthed. Since the swastika was also present among the archaeological remains of the Germanic tribes, it didn’t take long for nationalists to jump to the conclusion that the Germans and the Greeks were both descendants of the Aryans.

And if you believe that Germans form a separate “race” superior to other ethnic groups around it, it becomes easier to claim that you need to keep that “race” pure. In that context, anti-Semitism followed.

The Thule Society, an anti-Semitic organization promoting the superiority of German Volk (folk in English), was founded at the end of the First World War. It used a stylized swastika as its logo. The society sponsored the fledgling Nazi party, and in a bid for greater public profile, the party created a banner that incorporated the swastika as we know it today.

Hitler was convinced that a potent symbol would rally the masses to his xenophobic cause. With a black swastika (called the Hakenkreuz in German, or hooked cross) rotated 45 degrees on a white circle set against a red background, the Nazi banner modernized the ancient symbol while evoking the colours of the recently defeated German empire.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler took sole credit for the design and attempted to give it meaning: “In red we see the social idea of the movement, in white the nationalistic idea, in the swastika the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man.” Tortured symbolism aside, the swastika banner did what it was supposed to do —it gave visual identity to the Nazi movement.

When the Nazis assumed power in 1933, they sought to unite the country behind their racist Aryan ideology, and the use of their symbol infiltrated all aspects of German life.

You can still see it sometimes, including in mosaic ceiling tiles at Hitler’s Haus der Kunst in Munich. The banner became the official flag of the country in 1935, and although it wasn’t everywhere as Hollywood might have you believe, it was very much present.

The way forward

Steven Heller subtitles his book, The Swastika, with a simple but pertinent question: Symbol Beyond Redemption? In those cultures where it’s been used for centuries in religious practices or in the decorative arts, this question is unnecessary. The symbol doesn’t carry any negative connotations there.

But objects like the swastika do not have any inherent meaning; the symbolism is constructed by the people who use them. In our western society, the swastika is tainted. The Nazi movement’s violent crimes against humanity gave the Hakenkreuz a meaning that can’t be concealed or erased.

In places like Pointes-des-Cascades, where pre-Nazi swastikas exist, extra care must be taken to contextualize their presence. But in all other instances the symbol really must be shunned.

The ConversationIts hate-filled racist intentions are clear. It wasn’t an innocent symbol for the Nazis, nor is it for latter-day neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

James M. Skidmore, Director, Waterloo Centre for German Studies, University of Waterloo

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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The link below is to an article that takes a look at the USA founding father Richard Henry Lee.

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Chester Alan Arthur

The link below is to an article that takes a look at the 21st president of the United States – Chester Alan Arthur.

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The Financial Crash of 1929

Today in History: September 15

Today in History: September 14

Today in History: September 13

A bloody decade of the iPhone

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Foxconn was nominated for the 2011 Public Eye Award, which produced this image as part of its campaign to end labour exploitation.
Greenpeace Switzerland/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Jack Linchuan Qiu, Chinese University of Hong Kong

This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.

Ten years ago the first iPhone went on sale. The iconic product not only profoundly altered the world of gadgets, but also of consumption and tall corporate profit; this world would be impossible without the toiling of millions along the assembly line.

I look back at the first ten years of the iPhone and see a bloody decade of labour abuse, especially in Chinese factories such as those run by Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer. At one point Foxconn had more employees in China than the US armed forces combined.

Foxconn makes most of its money from assembling iPhones, iPads, iMacs and iPods. Its notorious “military management” was blamed for causing a string of 17 worker suicides in 2010.

The company tried so hard to stop the suicides, not by digging out the roots of exploitation, but by erecting “anti-jumping nets” atop its buildings. Never before has a modern factory hidden behind such suicide-prevention netting, which last appeared on transatlantic slave ships centuries ago.

Foxconn is only one part of the Apple empire. The long and complicated supply chain has caused innumerable work injuries, occupational diseases and premature deaths over the past decade.

To date, Apple does not offer a full account for the total damage of victimised lives. The number must be many, many thousands if we include all Apple suppliers. And yet factories like Foxconn often enjoy immunity, sometimes taking no responsibility at all.

Readers unfamiliar with the dark reality behind the iPhone need only watch Complicit.

To make a living, workers must break the law

Apple continues to put out bogus claims:

Products made to have a positive impact. On the world and the people who make them.

The company claims to hold its suppliers accountable “to the highest standards”.

In reality, corporate practices in the making of the iPhone are substandard when held up against either Chinese labour regulations or ethical smartphone companies such as Fairphone. Apple’s standards for their workers are anything but “the highest”.

Wages remain low. Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour calculate that the living wage for an iPhone worker in Shenzhen, China, should be about $650 per month. But to earn this amount today, an average worker would need to pull off 80-90 hours of overtime every month – that’s more than double the legal cap of 36 hours.

In other words, to make a living, workers have no choice but to break Chinese law.

Back in 2012, Apple vowed to work with Foxconn to bring the amount of overtime down to no more than 49 hours a week. It later broke its promise and retreated to adopt the Electronic Industry Code of Conduct (EICC), which stipulates “no more than 60 hours a week”.

The EICC standard is 25% lower than the Chinese legal threshold. So why did Apple opt for a less-than-legal code of conduct in the Chinese context over a higher standard? Tim Cook owes us an explanation.

Even with the EICC, workers refusing to do excessive overtime at the current wage level simply won’t be able to make ends meet. The only way for workers to earn a livelihood without doing an illegal amount of overtime, and without compromising their physical, mental and social health, is for Apple and their suppliers to raise basic wages.

Is there real progress behind the progress reports?

Apple also brags about its training programs. According to its 2017 Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, the company partnered with its suppliers to train more than 2.4 million workers on their rights as employees. One basic right is for workers to unionise.

However, those at Foxconn are stuck with a management-run fake union that is ineffective and fooling no one.

If Apple is serious about its words, it should let workers know about their rights to genuine union representation and use its influence to let workers exercise this right. Unfortunately, no such thing has occurred in the past ten years. Will it happen in the next ten?

Apple’s standards for their workers are anything but ‘the highest’.
Annette Bernhardt/flickr

Considering that Apple has recently backed out from the Fair Labor Association, a third-party auditor of corporate social responsibility (CSR), I’m sceptical. The FLA is not exactly “the highest standard” in labour-related auditing to begin with. But Apple no longer even bothers to ask it to assess supplier working conditions.

Despite this regressive move, Apple declared in its annual CSR report that it “continue(s) to partner with independent third-party auditors”.

The glossy report offers no information on who the auditors actually are, and how their independence is guaranteed. This is fairly inconsistent with Apple’s claim to be the most transparent of IT companies.

What then, are “the highest standards”? The least Apple can do is to let international trade union federations audit Foxconn and other suppliers to ensure their workers are not mistreated. If Apple and Foxconn are so proud of what they have done for workers, why would they be afraid?

Apple should also stop pretending it doesn’t know about Fairphone, the Lovie Award-winning Dutch smartphone firm that was Europe’s “fastest-growing tech startup” in 2015.

Fairphone, with its modular design, information transparency and worker welfare fund, has brought revolutionary change to the ethical design, manufacture and recycling of smartphones, setting a truly new standard for the likes of Apple.

Last August, I visited Hi-P, a factory in Suzhou, eastern China, that assembles Fairphones. Hi-P also happens to be a supplier for Apple. According to a worker I spoke to, she and her colleagues preferred to make Fairphones because the job was less demanding and more generously remunerated.

“It’s much harder working for Apple. They are so stingy,” the assembly-line worker in her late 30s told me. “Our managers asked them [Apple] to give us similar bonuses [as we received from Fairphone]. They tried again and again, but ended up getting nothing even close.”

If an ordinary worker can plainly demonstrate that Apple does not, in fact, have the “highest standards”, surely it’s time the company stopped pleading ignorance or innocence of its labour abuse.

There’s no excuse for Apple’s first bloody decade of the iPhone. And even less so for its next ten years.

The ConversationJack Linchuan Qiu’s book, Goodbye iSlave: A Manifesto for Digital Abolition, is available from The University of Illinois Press.

Jack Linchuan Qiu, Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Chinese University of Hong Kong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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