Brother's Keeper: The United States, Race, and Empire in the British Caribbean, 1937-1962.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Gaffield, Julia
Pub Date: 06/22/2010
Publication: Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529
Issue: Date: Summer, 2010 Source Volume: 43 Source Issue: 4
Topic: NamedWork: Brother's Keeper: The United States, Race, and Empire in the British Caribbean, 1937-1962 (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Parker, Jason C.
Accession Number: 230778723
Full Text: Brother's Keeper: The United States, Race, and Empire in the British Caribbean, 1937-1962. By Jason C. Parker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. xi plus 248 pp. $24.95).

Recent study of the Atlantic World has emphasized the interconnectedness of social and political movements across the ocean. Jason C. Parker skillfully utilizes this international and transnational perspective in order to examine decolonization in the Caribbean during the Cold War. Scholarly emphasis on "crisis flashpoints" undermines the importance of British West Indian decolonization. Parker insists that the peaceful transition in the British Caribbean deeply shaped the international cold war context by providing a test case for later processes of decolonization. Using geographically diverse archives, Parker argues that British decolonization was not a British or even American enterprise but rather an Atlantic World phenomenon in which Caribbean residents actively promoted their own interests despite consistent official exclusion from political and diplomatic negotiations. His study of the multi-directional "mutual manipulation" in the British-American-West Indian triangle explores how the metropolitan government, the United States, and the colonies all pursued their own interests in negotiation and confrontation with one another.

Parker's study explores how the relationships between the leaders in each of these regions changed between the 1930s and the height of the Cold War. During the 1930s and especially World War II, U.S. national security interests initiated official American involvement in what became a geostrategic region. War materials, military bases, and political support all connected the U.S. to the British Caribbean. Anglo-American collaboration and conflict in the region during and after the war affected the balance of power in the triangular British-American-West Indian relationship. In the 1950s, both the U.S. and British governments came to see the idea of creating a Caribbean federation out of the West Indian colonies as an effective way of promoting stability and protecting against communism. External support for the West Indies Federation (WIF), however, was not enough and the project fell apart because of conflicts within the West Indies, revealing the limits of international influence on Caribbean relationships.

Parker begins his study by highlighting pre-Cold War American involvement in the Caribbean as well as anti-colonial agitation in the region. The Great Depression sparked labor riots across the British Caribbean that challenged British authority and instigated American involvement. U.S. concern for stability in the Caribbean during World War II led to the Havana Declaration and the Bases-for-Destroyers Deal: the first gave the United States authority to intervene in foreign territory to defend against Axis encroachment and the second gave the United States military bases in the British Caribbean in exchange for American destroyers. This set of official treaties enabled American influence in the region, laying the foundation for U.S. involvement in the decolonization process. But Parker examines other forms of interaction, emphasizing the ways in which migration from the British West Indies to the United States encouraged American policy in the Caribbean. Parker calls these interactions "diasporic diplomacy" and describes how they shaped the U.S. government's perceptions of and integration into the West Indies, especially in the context of the New Deal Era. Caribbean migrants helped to put cultural considerations on the agenda alongside diplomatic and political policies.

Under the Truman administration, the U.S. government deferred responsibility for colonial improvement and communist containment to London. In return, Washington was able to retain its Caribbean military bases and access to strategic materials. The heightening of the Cold War made stability and anti-communism in the Caribbean a primary focus for the U.S. government. But the success of Cheddi Jagan's People's Progressive Party in British Guiana prompted American leaders to question Britain's ability to prevent communist incursions into the Caribbean region.

Both the American and British governments saw the answer to political and social instability in federation. However, the logistics of rectifying competing colonial and international interests proved difficult, and the process did not achieve the desired pro-American results. While the creation of the WIF was part of a global phenomenon of decolonization, Parker argues that it took on unique characteristics because of U.S. hegemony in the Americas. The Cold War raised the stakes of influence in rise geostrategic region and forced the British and the WIF to negotiate with the United States. American control of military bases as well as anticommunist activism made the United States a key, but not uncontested, player in British West Indian decolonization. Trinidad's Chief Minister Eric Williams, for instance, successfully challenged American determinism and advocated for the sovereignty of the WIF.

Parker situates the internal conflicts involved in the WIF- mainly the divisions between "big" and "small" islands--within the larger context of international politics and negotiations. The tensions between local and international interests, he shows, ultimately challenged foreign control in the region. Indeed, Parker highlights that Jamaica's rejection of the Federation by referendum was key to the demise of the entity; the island's self-interest proved stronger than both pan-Caribbean nationalism and pressure by the British and American governments.

Parker's research portrays a "protean partnership" between the U.S. and the West Indies based on diplomatic, economic, and cultural factors that were influenced by migration and international Cold War politics. His keen insight into the impact and global significance of this particular relationship suggests the need for similar and comparative research on the other corner of the triangular relationship of "mutual manipulation": the United Kingdom. How did migration to the colonial metropole influence decolonization and the conceptualization of the federation in Britain? Furthermore, did similar triangular relationships emerge in other Atlantic World connections - for example, between the United States, France, and the French Caribbean? Finally, the specifics of the British Caribbean and decolonization during the Cold War would be enhanced by comparative study of U.S. relationships with independent Caribbean and Latin American nations. What was unique in this decolonization process and what was simply a result of geostrategic positioning? Parker's research rightfully broadens the study of Cold War decolonization to include peaceful political transitions. His transnational and international perspective highlights the global implications of these trends and events and emphasizes the importance of comparative study of the Third World during the Cold War.

Julia Gaffield

Duke University
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