Author: Anders Bretsen

The Sykes-Picot Agreement: What Is It? Why Should We Care?

When Vladimir Lenin derides a secret treaty as the machination of “colonial thieves”, there is an incentive to dig a bit further. However, to examine such a document, one must consider how it was situated contextually while extracting the minutiae, structure, tone, and shape it takes on. The Sykes-Picot agreement was first leaked by the ever-scheming ogeavda, and the tepid wording of its contents engendered a legacy of post-occupational strife, subversion, and unrest. It would be speculative of this work to attribute every instance of tension to the treaty, although some of its provisions were to have ingrained ramifications for the Middle East. Bearing this in mind, is the colonial legacy of Sykes-Picot still present in Iraq or Syria, and how does this inform, complement, or crystallize our understanding of the communiqué itself? The Sykes-Picot Agreement has its early formation in the British and French enticement of belligerents in the Arab Revolt (June 1916), promising independent Arab states in exchange for the extrication of Ottoman influence. Mark Sykes, the designer of the Revolt’s flag of …

The South China Sea: The Politics of ‘Worthless’ Islands and Why They Matter 

  By: Benjamin Jakabek   Introduction The last few years have been marked by a series of bizarre activities in the South China Sea. Large sea forts are being built on pillars in the middle of nowhere, islands are being created for no apparent reason, and hundreds of premeditated boat collisions have occurred between various nationals. These events have been gaining the attention of a growing audience since the late-1990s; some scholars even claim that the South China Sea will be the epicenter of future global conflicts. I first became acquainted with the conflict after spending several days locked inside a hostel in Hanoi, Vietnam in early June. There was no escape from the noise outside as heavy scooter traffic flowed through the narrow streets like giant schools of fish. The heat was stifling, and I was stuck in bed with a rather nasty flu. My only companion was a small television and the state broadcasting company known as VTV. At the time, China decided to move an oil rig into the middle of a …

Legacy of the Cambodian Genocide: A Walk through the Killing Fields

Benjamin Jakabek visits the Killing Fields of Cambodia to reflect on the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge nearly 40 years later. Reader discretion is advised.  After just a short drive outside of the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, I was standing in front of the killing tree at Choeung Ek killing field. Cynicism, depression, and humility hung in the air as tourists hobbled from site to site in florescent pink and yellow tank-tops at the request of an audio-guide handed out at the entrance. The cruelty that took place here accelerated in the late-1970s as the administration sought ever-more efficient ways to kill their innocent victims. Blunt objects, bamboo sticks, and confiscated farmers’ tools became the makeshift instruments of death. The killing tree was just an extension of this madness. Nature gave the tree its spikes to protect its fruit until they ripened and fell to the ground. Now, these spikes were being used to mercilessly and efficiently bludgeon children and babies to death. Today, the tree is covered in memorial bracelets placed there by …

Burmese Days

On a recent trip to Burma, Benjamin Jakabek checks out the country’s troubled history and shaky forays into modernization. The Physics Professor I was walking down the streets of Mandalay when I ran into the most interesting person I would meet in Burma. He was a former physics professor at the University of Mandalay. He was a slightly pudgy short man in his mid-forties, with a thick black mustache, and a patchy, salt and pepper beard. Everywhere he went he carried a small notebook in the left breast pocket of his worn-out dress shirt, and an unlit green Burmese cigar in his right hand; the type that smelled more like burning corn husks rather than tobacco when smoked. His anti-government views became apparent within moments. With the ell-tale trademark of a professional defect, he criticized the regime by using mangled physics equations as his examples. He pulled out his little notepad and wrote down, “Work = Force x Time.” He then went on to say that because of the government, physics do not apply in …