2018 Walter A. Strauss Lecture Series – The Defense of Inhumanity: Interwar Air Control and the British Idea of Arabia

Priya Satia
September 19th, 2018

Location: Tinkham Veale University Center Ballroom A, 10038 Bellflower Road, Cleveland, OH 44106

In this series of lectures, Priya Satia, Professor of Modern English History at Stanford University, will examine how people with conscience have committed unconscionable acts in the modern period. In some ways, the “modernity” of the modern period lies precisely in the growing awareness of conscience as an ethical rather than religious quality–a new self-consciousness about conscience. This understanding of conscience was tied to the modern historical sensibility; it depended on a sense of how much agency, and thus responsibility, humans have in shaping their world and their lives. Professor Satia will examine this phenomenon in three lectures covering key moments in the history of the British empire: the question of a Quaker gun-maker’s conscience in the period of the industrial revolution; the way British officials professing deep understanding and love for the Middle East invented a violent regime of aerial policing there during World War One; and how the violence among neighbors during decolonization in postwar South Asia weighed on the conscience of all those involved. Together these case studies enable exploration of the well-meaning yet destructive nature of modern imperialism itself. This lecture series, in memory of Walter A. Strauss (1923-2008), who was the Elizabeth and William T. Treuhaft Professor of Humanities, is generously supported by funds provided by the Paul Wurzburger Endowment.

In this lecture, Professor Satia takes up the question of aerial control, a military surveillance system the British invented in Iraq between the world wars. This brutal regime was, ironically, the brainchild of a group of British officials professing deep understanding and even love for the region. Prof. Satia will show how particular cultural perceptions of the region and its inhabitants enabled those officials to reconcile their genuine ethical scruples with the actual violence of aerial control—and their enduring influence on military thinking about the region today.

Free and open to the public. Registration requested.

Professor Satia’s faculty page