A Forgotten Link in a Long Chain

History majors, faculty, and students in History 382 heard from Becca Solnit ’12 last week on the beginning stages of her honors thesis research, on the Indian independence lobby’s influence on American foreign policy during World War Two. Ms. Solnit contends that the “India Lobby” represents a “lost” example in our history of foreign lobbies exerting tremendous influence over American foreign policy, similar to AIPAC today.

Despite the stage of her work, she has already begun to form a strong framework for discussing and analyzing the influence this lobby had on foreign policy. In her presentation and in her written work, she displayed a mastery of a variety of primary and secondary sources, ranging from newspapers and magazines to biographies and scholarly articles.

Ms. Solnit also readily acknowledged one of the main pitfalls of historical research that focuses on “impact” and “influence”: measuring such things is very difficult. While I was pleased to see that she acknowledged this issue, I am not yet satisfied with her response. I think it would be wise for her to spend some time thinking carefully about how she might quantify the lobby’s role in foreign policy decision making. She might consider reviewing the correspondence and public remarks of members of Congress, particularly in states with substantial Indian populations. Is the lobby or its aims a topic of discussion among members? This might be a key indicator of influence.

Finally, I was particularly intrigued by an aspect of the lobby’s history that Ms. Solnit did not connect to broader thematic elements of foreign policy: the role of leaking in advocacy. Ms. Solnit opens her paper and dedicates several pages to the story of Robert Crane’s disclosure of a confidential report on Indian independence to a nationally-syndicated columnist. This was the not the first time such action was taken in support of particular policy initiative, and it was certainly not the last. As evidenced in the recent Wikileaks affair, the domestic and foreign response to the release of such classified documents is often riveting and insightful. Ms. Solnit would do well to dig deeper into the leak scandal and offer some comparison with other such events throughout history. This contrast might even provide an interesting comparative measure of influence and impact.

Overall, Ms. Solnit’s presentation indicated that there are great things to come from this project. I’m looking forward to reading and hearing more.

Posted in Solnit | Leave a comment

The India Lobby: US Interests Overturned?


British India in 1947

I enjoyed Becca Solnit’s presentation of her progress for her honors thesis on the “India Lobby” during World War II (the blog for her project can be found here).  While she opened and closed her talk with the question of public opinion’s effect on foreign policy, her focus so far seemed to be on the actions and goals of the lobby itself, and less on its influence on policymakers.  I was still surprised, however, by how successful the lobby was in gaining support from prominent individuals in US society.  Its apparent involvement in leaking a US government document criticizing Britain to the media was also surprising.  In fact, all of this is probably most striking in light of the fact that I had never heard that an India lobby even existed during the WWII years, despite having taken three classes during high school and college on US history and foreign policy.  Part of this is likely due to the fact that this group was so small – Becca mentioned that the census found fewer than 3,000 Indians living in the US during the early 1940s, and mentioned that of these, even those involved in lobbying efforts by no means formed a unified organization.  Given this, the fact that this group might have influenced public opinion – and that this opinion might then have had a sway in policymaking – is unsettling . . . especially in light of the fact that a multitude of other, more prominent (and, arguably, influential) lobbies have existed through US history.  If these all hold power to influence policymaking, whose interests, in the end, is theUS representing?

Lobbies of virtually any kind have long been warned against in the US.  An article on foreignaffairs.com listing resources on lobbying aptly links to perhaps the oldest indictment of this pattern: James Madison’s Federalist #10.  But while Madison was most concerned with this issue in terms of domestic governance, what does it mean for foreign policy?  There are in fact many cases in which it can be argued that a foreign lobby caused the US to act against its own national interests.  A particularly good example this might be the Israel Lobby, described in the article The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.  If foreign lobbies can have as great an impact as Mearsheimer and Walt argue, and if even so tiny a lobby as the India Lobby during the WWII era was able, potentially, to impact US policymaking (and I’m interested to eventually hear Becca’s verdict on this point), it seems to beg the question: to what extent is US foreign policy deliberately conducted in the interests of the American public as a whole?

Posted in Solnit | Leave a comment

India Lobby Presentation

Rebecca Solnit’s honors project on the India Lobby in America described a very interesting time in history. The premise that Indians in America took part in the independence of India from the British Empire places an fascinating emphasis on the power of lobbying, a form of soft power not always given much credit by scholars. History, as Rebecca shows, sometimes requires taking an incredibly narrow subject in order to understand the bigger picture, in this case being India’s independence. Her cast of characters was well-chosen, in my opinion, and her exploration of the movement’s events was well-organized.

When a fellow classmate of mine noted that the India lobby in Great Britain may offer another vein of interest to her project, I very much agreed. The practice of lobbying in America today would also offer relevance to the historical assessment of lobbying before India’s independence. Being that I am personally interested in how soft power such as this affects international relations, I would like to explore the opinions and theories of scholars regarding the importance, or insignificance, of lobbying regarding policy. Public opinion and its reflection in government strategy has implications for everyone, as it shows that someone on an individual level can have some sort of effect on a much broader event or policy. Rebecca does a good job of placing importance on this, as even her opening line to her proposal notes that foreign policy should have a basis in public opinion. Her historical project on the India Lobby has a wonderful start, I believe, and will offer a unique perspective on the broader subject of Indian independence from Great Britain.

Posted in Solnit | Leave a comment

Solnit’s Honors Project: Remembering the ‘Forgotten’ India Lobby

Julianne Greco ’12

British imperial map of India

Last Thursday, senior history major Becca Solnit presented a chapter from her honors thesis project. In her project, Solnit explores what she calls the “forgotten lobby,” the network of individuals pushing for Indian independence during World War II. Solnit tracks the lobby from its earlier days with “just a handful of concerned Indian Americans” to “a network capable of harnessing mass media, attracting high-profile supporters, and utilizing trends of internationalism to advance their cause.” Solnit argues that this India Lobby is near absent but deserves attention in the historiographies of U.S.-India WWII relations and American ethnic lobbies.

The influential "JJ" Singh


I got this more from the presentation than her paper, but Solnit’s study seems to cinch on the question of “how to measure the impact of public opinion on wartime foreign policy.” I think this is certainly a challenge she’s facing, but several of the professors during the Q&A drew attention to this and questioned whether she conflates influence with public opinion, since she what she was describing had more to do with the lobby’s impact on policies. I’m wondering if since she focuses so much on the activism of members of the India League, she should frame things differently. Perhaps factor in public opinion, but don’t make it her big question and focus more on the lobby’s interactions with the policymakers.

She does mention in her paper that “while the lobby’s relationship with the different branches of the U.S. government was key to their mission to affect U.S. policy, it may be legitimate to question whether policy results are to the only measure of an ethnic lobby’s success.” Yes. I think it would be legitimate to find another measure, but isn’t her invocation of public opinion the other measure she is focusing on? I think it’s okay to use both, but maybe prioritize one over the other. If the end goal of the lobby is Indian Independence, then success means a change in U.S. policy towards the Brits in order to apply pressure to declare Indian independence. Maybe this could be more of a dialectic situation: the lobby could be affecting public opinion, then this public opinion could influence policy and at the same time, the lobby could be directly influencing policy. This goes back to my question of how she should frame her paper.

Moreover, I understand that this is the first chapter of the project, but I walked away from her presentation and paper unclear about to what extent this India Lobby impacted the British to grant Indian independence. Other then F.D.R. sending a telegraph to Eden, how precisely did the U.S. affect the eventual outcome of Indian independence? Raffy hit the nail on the head when he asked about the lobby’s interaction with London, since as a colony of the British, London would theoretically be the place where the big decision of Indian independence would have been made.

As for sources, Solnit has obviously done some pretty thorough research based on her webpage. When I first went to Solnit’s webpage for her honors project, I was confused about why the header of the site reads “Why India –Now?” since her topic is for the history department and the chapter she presented has more to do with India struggling for its independence around World War II than now. However, when browsing through her sources, I found the header she used was a part of a display ad for Indian independence. It was interesting to see the kind of work she talks about in her paper like the ads and I’m impressed with the comprehensiveness of both her primary and secondary sources.

Overall, I think Solnit has an interesting topic that I personally have never even thought of. It seems like she has a few variables to isolate and work through to understand all the cause and effect relationships, but if her project can help fill some of the gaps in the scholarship that she mentions—which it sounds like it will—then her project will be sound.




Posted in Solnit | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

K Street: Then and Now

"An over 12 year old cartoon that featured in the national media to mark 50 years of India’s independence: the situation is as grim"

I really enjoyed Becca’s presentation on the India Lobby. At first, I found it a little hard to follow because I’m not very familiar with this specific area of history. I appreciated the risk she took in using the term “lobby,” and her ability to relate it with more modern lobbies which still exist today.

In reference to the Becca’s use of the term “lobby,” her presentation raised the following question: how can it be proven that a shift in public opinion effects policy makers or catalyzes a change in policies? When she was asked this question in reference to her own project, she didn’t seem to answer the question fully. In class, the following question was raised: how can you measure the impact of a lobbying group? It would be very difficult to answer this question with quantitative data. While one could propose case studies to answer this question, I’m not sure that this question is even the most important aspect of lobbies. More important to the effects lobbyists have on policy makers is the link between corruption and lobbying. Do lobbyists inherently stimulate and perpetuate political corruption?

The Indian Lobby worked for a good cause – freedom for India was certainly not an evil endeavor. But in more modern times the title of “lobbyist” has been dirtied by corruption. When does lobbying for a specific interest, whether it’s the interest of the public or a firm, become a means for political corruption?

There are lobbyist groups that fight for good causes, just like J.J. Singh did while president of the Indian League of America in the 1940’s and 1950’s. We have lobbyist groups who besiege the American government in support of environmental sustainability and humanitarian rights worldwide. We also have lobbyists, like Jack Abramoff who is currently scrambling for redemption, as one New York Times article phrased it (full article accessible online here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/us/jack-abramoff-making-a-multimedia-effort-at-redemption.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&sq=public%20opinion%20and%20lobbying&st=cse&scp=10)

As stated in the article, Abramoff has been convicted of arguably one of the most disgusting swindling endeavors in recent times: cheating Indian Tribes out of $40 million while supposedly lobbying on their account. Abramoff, fresh out of jail, has now claimed to have been transformed. He claims that while in prison, he was able to reflect on the enterprises of K Street and how to fix its dangerously slimy deeds by eliminating lobbying altogether.

While I’ve never been to jail for embezzling $40 million from Native American tribes (as if they haven’t been maltreated enough), I can’t say that I would support an end to lobbying completely. I do not believe that all lobbyist groups are bad. As a member of a lobbyist (and somewhat activist, at least at the college level) group myself, I cannot fully support the demise of all lobbyists everywhere. It’s a shame though that people like Abramoff take advantage of such systems.

While not completely relevant to Becca’s project, I think comparisons of types of lobbying and the effects of lobbying on our political system are very interesting, especially because of its modern political ramifications. I wish Becca luck with the rest of her project!

I think it goes unsaid that I personally cannot wait to read Abramoff’s book. There’s nothing quite like the theories of a Satanist turned Saint for a bit of light reading over winter break.

(Photo and Caption credit: Aastha Kukreti. Delhi Greens Blog. “On Gandhi Jayanthi, Remembering the Mahatma to Resurrect His Principles.” Posted Friday Oct 2, 2009. http://delhigreens.com/2009/10/02/on-gandhi-jayanthi-remembering-the-mahatma-to-resurrect-his-principles/)

Posted in Solnit | Leave a comment

Becca Solnit: The India Lobby

By Anne Crowell, ‘12

The first chapter of Becca Solnit’s honors thesis on the India Lobby, “The Forgotten Lobby,” was an enlightening read.  I’m sure that hearing her read it in person would have produced a different overall effect and perhaps highlighted different passages more clearly than others, but as I was not able to attend, I enjoyed the written version.  I found her writing style clear and easy to understand, which was a great help to me because I was unfamiliar with the India Lobby.  India isn’t really one of my areas of specialty, so I was glad that Becca gave me enough information so that I wasn’t lost.

As I started reading, I tried to recall my background knowledge about the process of Indian independence (much of which, to be perfectly honest, came from this work of fiction—or at least that’s where my immediate reaction on the subject is from).  I couldn’t remember the US playing much of a significant role at all, which, once I thought about it, seemed somewhat puzzling.  After all, Indian independence occurred in 1947, during an exceptionally high point for the US as a superpower in the early Cold War.  It would almost seem strange for the US not to be involved in India’s independence.

It turns out that I wasn’t alone in these thoughts.  As she explains in her project proposal, Becca also noticed this lack of historiographical coverage of US involvement in Indian independence while she studied in India, which gave her the inspiration for her project.  She decided to focus on how public opinion shaped policy in the case of Indian independence, comparing the efforts of the India Lobby to those of other ethnic lobbies such as the China Lobby, which continues to be an important lobby today.  She narrated the development of the India Lobby, including how J.J. Singh changed the India League of America from a small “pet project of intellectuals…into a coordinated organization” that was respected at the national policy-making level.

One concern that I feel may not have been addressed adequately was one of Becca’s original questions:  “Was the India Lobby successful?”  This may well be the subject of a later chapter in her thesis, but if not, perhaps it merits further consideration, as most of the examples she provided were efforts that met with questionable success or occurred at the same time as policy changes by the British.

Overall, I really appreciated all the hard work Becca has obviously put into her thesis so far.  I can see that she has considered her sources very carefully and consolidated the information in a way that, to me, seems very successful.  Excellent job!

Posted in Solnit | Leave a comment

Honors Presentation on the India Lobby

 Last Thursday, December 1, Becca Solnit gave a presentation of the first part of her year-long Honors project to faculty from the history department, members of our American diplomatic history class, and others who attended the roughly hour-long event. The topic Becca has chosen to investigate in order to earn her honors status is what she cautiously terms the “India Lobby.” Much like the better known China Lobby or Israel Lobby, the India Lobby refers to a varied group of people people, tied together only because of their common desire to influence either directly or indirectly through public opinion U.S. policy during and after World War II with regards to two issues: naturalization for Indians in the United States and support for the Indian independence movement against imperial Great Britain. Her presentation focus though is apparently mostly preoccupied with the latter. The India Lobby, she is careful to point out, is not a single organization and really has no overall centralization at all but is in fact comprised of individuals, typically Indians or Indian-Americans, and smaller organizations who worked for one or both of these causes.

 India, a British colony since the nineteenth century, was considered by the Americans for most of its history as precisely that: the business of Britain. “World War II changes [that],” Becca argues, as developing ideological views and strategic consideration in East Asia begins to transform the ways in which the United States views India. Efforts in America on India’s behalf begin to take root and spread during this time and key organizations such as the India League of America are formed. Certain individuals have a profound influence of their own such J.J. Singh, head of the aforementioned league, and Indian ambassador to the United States, Madame Pandit. Becca emphasizes the targeting of public opinion by members of the India Lobby throughout her presentation, citing evidence of it in the public consciousness such as political cartoons and other appearences in newspapers, most notably the leaked “Phillips report,” which exposed the sympathies of a U.S. representative to India. She closes her presentation with the acknowledgement that this “lobby” is essentially a forgotten one and by reiterating her intention to re-discover its history and influence.

 In general, I think that the presentation was well-delivered and that the subject was ambitious and intriguing. But while Becca’s work is undeniably laudable, there were some key weaknesses that I feel were for the most part brought out during the question and answer session. The most important, I believe, was the first question which asked how Becca was able to “detect” the influence the lobby had on policy-makers and/or public opinion. She responded by admitting that the link between lobby actions and influence was hard to measure and by falling back on the Phillip’s report as one tangible example of the lobby’s connection with the public. This question was discussed at some length in class afterwards and is in my opinion, crucial to the success of her project. Another department member stressed the potential for the title to mistakenly lead people into perceiving a sort of homogeneity within the lobby, although I thought the point was moot considering Becca went out of her way to explain her reasoning behind choosing it in the the beginning. Nearer to the end, I thought the questions were more of matter of interest than of structural importance, such as that concerning whether there was coordination between India lobbyists in America and those Britain, which was posed by a member of our class and whose thoughtfullness ended up earning him left-over pizza rights.

Posted in Solnit | Leave a comment

India Lobby Honors Thesis Presentation

by Anna Hansen ’12

Last week senior history major Becca Solnit presented on her honors thesis project. She is researching efforts in the U.S. to lobby in support of Indian independence during WWII. A number of groups pushed first for naturalization rights within the United States, later turning their attention to the question of independence from Britain. Solnit collectively refers to them as the India Lobby. The most prominent figure in this movement was J.J. Singh. Solnit discussed how she wanted to look at relationship between the lobby effort, public opinion, and policy. She discussed several examples of the movement’s impact, such as the Cripps Mission and the Pearson Leak.

Solnit puts this in the context of other, more well-known, lobbying groups operating at the time, such as the Israel lobby. She noted that, although of course many members of the movement were Indian Americans, others were part of the group as well.

Solnit also discussed how Indian independence, as part of a larger anti-imperial/ decolonization movement corresponded with the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. I think that is an interesting parallel to draw because a lot of the sentiments behind the two movements arguably overlap. Solnit also pointed out that Walter White, head of the NAACP, was also involved with the India lobby.

One interesting thing about the issue is that the U.S. could only influence the outcome indirectly. The U.S. could apply pressure, but ultimately only Britain had the authority to grant India independence. I think it would be interesting to explore what it means that a lobby existed in the United States, as opposed to only in the U.K., in support of this issue. It would also be interesting to look at what this meant for relations between the U.S. and U.K.

A question that occurred to me in listening to Solnit’s presentation was the issue of the partition of India and Pakistan. Since this was messy and has been a problematic issue, particularly over Kashmir, I wondered whether the Indian independence movement had anything in mind regarding this. Was there supposed to be a single Indian state, was partition assumed all along, or was there some disagreement even then?

Posted in Solnit | Leave a comment

Review : Heir to an Execution

    Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were accused of committing espionage during World War II and in the end, they were executed in 1953. The Rosenberg’s case is still controversial nowadays, however, it is commonly believed among historians that Julius had been a Soviet spy but Ethel was not. Also, in 1995, US government released several classified documents and one of them was VENONA, which supported that Julius was a spy but hesitated to make such charge against Ethel. This consensus gained a moral certainty when Morton Sobell, who was a fellow defendant in the Rosenberg’s case, confessed in 2008 that he was a Soviet spy with Julius. He added that Ethel was aware of what her husband was up to, however, she did not actually participate in the espionage. He said the guilty of Ethel was “being Julius’s wife.”

     Ive Meeropol, who is a granddaughter of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, tracked down what was really happening to her grandparents and the Rosenberg family through her movie <Heir to an Execution>. She interviewed various people who were close to her grandparents and tried to figure out what was going on at that time. She did not provide a clear answer to whether Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were actually spies or not, but it seemed to me that she and her family think Julius and Ethel as scapegoats of the chaos. During 1950s, so-called red scare period, the U.S was worried about spread of communism throughout the country and especially, Soviet infiltration into the federal government. That might be the reason why the state took a firm attitude toward the Rosenbergs. President Eisenhower even refused to have mercy on them. The country probably wanted to advertise what would be the consequences of treason. However, a question still remains; was it necessary to execute the Rosenbergs? Other fellow defendants were not sentenced to the death. They just spent several years in the prison. Also, evidences presented in the trial were not enough to prove their espionage. The console alleged as a tool of spying was turned out to be a normal product bought from Macy’s. Moreover, Ethel was convicted by fake testimony from her brother, David Greenglass. He said that Ethel was helping Julius’s work by typing some documents. However, he confessed later that he was not sure who was typing the documents from interview in 2001. Though the trial was lacking in justice, it does not mean Rosenbergs were completely innocent. Throughout the documents and testimony, it seems highly likely that Julius was a spy. Some people argue that Ethel should not have been convicted because she was not involved in the spy ring. However, I think she was deserved to be punished since she had connived her husband’s crime. She did not call the police. She did not make any effort to stop him. It might show her willingness to help her husband or at least, be in agreement with him. In addition, Ethel followed her husband to the death. It is controversial whether they were actually spies, however, they might be socialists, who were deeply obsessed with the communism. Taking that into consideration, it makes sense why they chose to die rather than name other fellows’ names and survive. They sacrificed themselves for the sake of entire “socialist’s groups”. The U.S. government had staged the power game. In contrast, Julius and Ethel’s choice had to do with ideology. The Rosenbergs case might be dealt with as a question of one’s values. What was the most important thing? To the U.S., the security and power over Soviet was probably the most important thing. To the Rosenbergs, the ideology was presumably the most important.

     As for the movie, it did not solve all the mysteries but succeeded in showing the case from the inner circle’s view. Also, it showed the agony of people who survived from that era. You might not get a new clue about the Rosenbergs case but you could think of what would be the appropriate approach to deal with this case.

Posted in Rosenberg | Leave a comment

Film: An Heir to An Execution


The Rosenberg children


Last week, our class gathered together to watch a film about the notorious U.S. spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Far from being a typical documentary listing facts and explaining theories, this film was unorthodox in that it was a series of home videos featuring the granddaughter of the Rosenbergs, Ivy Meeropol, on a mission to uncover the truth about who these people really were and what motivated them to do what they did.

Aside from being communists, up until capture the Rosenbergs lead pretty unremarkable lives. Julius was an electrical engineer and Ethel was a secretary and a singer. Then in 1950 a string of arrests on the charges of espionage brought U.S. authorities to David Greenglass, Ethel’s brother, who then implicated Julius, and later Ethel in the transfer of information to the Soviet Union regarding the atomic bomb. At the time, there was little evidence to suggest that Ethel was actually involved in any way besides Greenglass’s testimony (which he later admitted he made up), so it has been speculated that she was indicted with Julius in order to pressure him into giving names. However, both of them remained completely silent for the remainder of their lives when it came to relinquishing any kind of information, even though it may have saved one or both of them.

The trial, conviction, and execution of the Rosenbergs was surrounded by a media craze that gripped the whole country.  Jean-Paul Sartre famously called it a “legal lynching,” although a minority of people in the states protested and even called for President Eisenhower to grant clemency. He refused to act, and in 1953 they were executed in the electric chair, orphaning two small boys, Robert and Michael.

This is the part Ivy finds hard to reconcile. “What did they die for?” she asks. It becomes evident throughout the movie that to some extent she blames them for abandoning two children unnecessarily.  To draw my own conclusions of the movie, from the people she interviewed and the information she did obtain, I can only guess they did it because they were fiercely commited to their cause and to each other. From that standpoint, I can sympathize, but I can also understand why Ivy held some bitterness toward them.

More generally, my impression of the Rosenberg case after watching the film was nothing short of revulsion. Not in resonse to their treason, as a few of my classmates expressed themselves to be, but to the barbaric way the whole thing was handled by authorities, the courts, and the American people. What happened to the Rosenbergs wasn’t justice, it was in fact a witch hunt, and in my opinion, a stain upon American history. Whether or not either of them were guilty of treason (the Venona papers, which surfaced later, suggest only Julius was), the misconduct by the prosecution during the trial and the overall bloodthirsty, circus-style approach to the case was grotesquely disproportionate to the crime. And even if it wasn’t, it was not as though these people were the only spies or the most dangerous spies in America at this time. They were made examples of, but what I take away from their story is not a healthy fear of what can happen to someone if they commit treason against the United States, but what can happen to our country, indeed the principles of any civilized society, if we allow ourselves to be ruled into such backwardness by widespread paranoia and mob-mentality.


Posted in Rosenberg | Leave a comment