The Global Rush to Claim and Exploit Our Oceans

Oceans Monopoly

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This documentary explains the legal process by which coastal countries claim access to valuable seabed resources outside the three-mile statutory limit set by international law.

In 1945 President Truman issued the Proclamation on the Continental Shelf, claiming all seabed resources on the US continental shelf* for the purpose deep sea oil drilling.

In 1982, the United Nations formalized the granting of seabed claims by creating the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). By definition, the EEZ extends 200 miles beyond a nations coastline. This UN mandate was subsequently modified to allow coastal countries with continental shelves extending more than 200 miles to claim the entire area as national territory.

In 1997, the UN General Assembly created the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The latter is a body of 21 geologists who assess geologic data countries submit to document their continental shelf boundaries.

Often the continental shelf of neighboring countries overlaps. For example Canada, Norway and Russia all claim the Arctic Ocean – believed to hold 10% of the world’s remaining oil reserves.

In the South China Sea, eight countries are fighting over $100 billion worth of resources.


*The continental shelf is an underwater landmass which extends from a continent, resulting in an area of relatively shallow water known as a shelf sea.

 

*

Cultural Genocide: Canada’s Indigenous “Boarding Schools”

Canada’s Darkest Secret

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This documentary concerns Canada’s infamous “boarding schools,” a program for indigenous Canadian children started in 1876 by Canada’s first prime minister John McDonald. Under this system, native children were forcibly removed (and in some cases kidnapped) from their families to attend religious boarding schools. The goal was to forcibly totally separate the children’s from their families’ native language and culture.

The government wanted access to mineral deposits on treaty lands. Rather than going to war with their indigenous population, they stole their children to extinguish them as communities and nations.

The last boarding school closed in 1996.

Most of the film consists of interviews with boarding school survivors. They talk of being forbidden to speak their native language, harsh beatings for minor infractions, a continuous diet of mushy oatmeal, lack of heating in winter and frequent sexual abuse. The death rate for children who attended these boarding schools was 24-40%.

In 1980, a group of boarding school survivors began a long court action that in 2008 resulted in the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The goal of the TRC hearings, which went on for seven years, was for boarding school survivors to document their years of abuse and trauma for posterity.

Hidden History: The War of 1812

This PBS documentary offers the highly sanitized mainstream version of the War of 1812, a historical event Canadians study in school but not Americans. This was the only war in history in which the US invaded Canada and lost. The main weakness of the documentary is its failure to point out that the US money supply was 80% controlled by London banks – both before and after a pointless war that ended in stalemate (see How the US Uses War to Protect the Dollar).

The “official” justification for the US declaration of war in June 1812 was the British policy of seizing US merchant ships headed for France. Owing to their war against Napoleon (1803-1815), the British seized hundreds of US merchant ships and impressed 6,000 US merchant sailors to serve in the British Navy. The final straw occurred when the British fired on a US naval vessel, the USS Chesapeake, which was harboring four British deserters.

According to the documentary, the true motivation was the desire of President James Madison and young Congressional Republicans to seize Indian and Canadian lands for sentiment and development.

For me the most significant aspect of this war was the strong antiwar movement that arose opposing it. Northern banks refused to finance the war (it was eventually financed by London’s German-owned Baring’s Bank) and New England states, which threatened to secede, refused to volunteer their militias.

For the fist year of the war, the US government relied mainly on state militias, as service in the US army was voluntary and pay and conditions were abysmal. The poorly led US militias made three disastrous attempts to invade Canada at Detroit, across the Niagara River and north through Vermont’s Champlain Valley. The US militias were defeated, despite outnumbering Canadian forces five to one. Most of Britain’s military forces were tied up fighting Napoleon in Europe. The Canadian side relied on a few British regulars, Native American warriors led by Tecumseh and French, Scottish and British farmers defending their land.

In 1814, the British captured Napoleon, releasing 60,000 troops for service elsewhere. In August 1814, they sacked and burned Washington (including the Capitol, the White House, the Library of Congress and the Navy Yard) and the city was only spared by a freak hurricane that forced British troops to retreat.

The Battle of Baltimore and the Battle of New Orleans would spell a reversal of fortune for the US. By this point the US had more professionally trained troops, though they depended heavily on Baltimore residents to build ramparts and state militias to help defend the city. The successful defense of Fort McHenry (Baltimore) in September 1814 would inspire Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. Congress would make it the US national anthem in 1931.

My favorite part of the documentary depicts the Battle of New Orleans in which Revolutionary War hero Andrew Jackson successfully led 4,000 irregulars – consisting of poor white farmers, slaves, creoles, and Native Americans – against 10,000 highly trained and experienced British troops.

The battle is celebrated in Johnny Horton’s 1959 ballad The Battle of New Orleans (the second video). The audio is blocked in the documentary for copyright reasons. Too bad Congress didn’t make Battle of New Orleans the national anthem. They should have.

 

 

 

The Origins of American Empire – What They Didn’t Teach You in School

Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States – Prequel A

Directed by Oliver Stone (2014)

Film Review

Owing to the series’ great success, Oliver Stone has produced two prequels to his  Untold History of the United States. The first traces the origins of America’s present empire-building spree at the end of the 19th Century.

Stone credits Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward (1861-69) for the launch of America’s imperialist ambitions. Following the US conquest of half of Mexico in 1848, Seward sought to expand US empire even further by conquering Alaska, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Midway.The US would eventually succeed in annexing all of these territories, except for Canada, Haiti and the Dominican Republic – although they only formally possessed the northern section of Columbia, which they renamed Panama.

Then, as now, the US undertook these military adventures at the behest of Rockefeller, JP Morgan, William Randolph Hearst and other Wall Street robber barons. After the severe depression of 1893 (which caused 20% unemployment), they were convinced the only way to prevent further economic instability was to conquer foreign countries for their resources, cheap labor and markets for surplus US products.

During this period, US troops also invaded Cuba, the Philippines, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and China for the benefit of Standard Oil, United Fruit and other US corporations. Stone quotes extensively from General Smedley Butler’s War is a Racket. Butler participated in nearly all of these invasions.

Stone goes on to trace the British, French, US and czarist designs on Middle Eastern oil that were the true basis for World War I and the invasion of Russia by British, French, US and Japanese troops following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. I was unaware the US refused to recognize the Soviet Union until 1933, when Roosevelt took office.

My favorite parts of this film concern the brave rebels who opposed this US imperialist aggression despite a brutal federal crackdown on all protest activity: Mark Twain and other in the Anti-Imperialist League, Eugene Debs, Bill Haywood and International Workers of the World, Emma Goldman and Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones).

Northwest Passage: Nations Already Squabbling over Ice-Free Arctic

Inside Story – How Will the Northwest Passage Influence Global Trade and Economy

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This Al Jazeera documentary is about the melting of the Arctic ice cap and its effect on international trade. Shipping through the Northwest Passage, which is still limited to summer months, first began in 2008. By 2025, the Arctic is predicted to be ice free every summer. China, the world’s largest exporter, has a particular interest in the Northwest Passage, as it reduces shipping times to Europe and North America by 30%.

Canada, claiming the Northwest Passage as territorial waters, is challenging China’s right to access this trade route. Thus far, the US is siding with China, asserting the Arctic Ocean is an international waterway. At present Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Iceland and Canada have claims over the Arctic Circle under the UN Law of the Sea treaty. Owing to the US refusal to ratify the treaty, Alaska (eg the US) has no claim to this waterway.

In addition to the Northwest Passage, there is a second passage north of Russia and Norway called the Northern Sea Route. The Polar Code goes into effect next year, with mandatory structural requirements for ships traversing the Arctic Circle.