Category Archives: Korea

Hashima: Brutal History and the Most Haunted Island on Earth

Do you want to see perhaps the spookiest island on earth – Hashima (also known as Gunkanjima – the Battleship Island) – which is located just 30 minutes by speedboat from the historic Japanese port city of Nagasaki? Now you can. Just book online, pay the equivalent of US$40, and then hop on one of those shiny sleek vessels belonging to Gunkanjima Concierge or to some other company.

Gunkunjima – Battleship Island

Do it, and you will see the island which looks like an abandoned monstrous wreck; like a sunken and haunted ship.

You will sail around it. You will even be able to disembark and walk a few hundred meters on a fenced path. Guides/minders will let you take a few snapshots.

But that is all. No stepping left or right off the path. No going ahead of the group. No lagging behind. And please, no ‘provocative’ questions!

The guides are well trained to ‘entertain you’, to tell you just how ‘haunted’ the island is and how ‘vibrant’ it used to be in the past.

Sugary smiles never leave their faces.

But were you to defy their written and unwritten rules, they’d immediately jump and appear next to you. They would even loudly scold you. Suddenly they’d become very rude.

What are they afraid of? What are they hiding? What really took place on this island?

The true horrors of the past will never be conveyed to you. It is all about WWII, and Japan is still in denial.

A Japanese tour guide (designated for the Japanese-speaking visitors) as well as a carefully prepared electronic recording for the English speakers, will recount countless details about the island’s geography and uncontroversial chapters of history, but close to nothing about the terror of the slave labor which the Korean and Chinese people were forced into during World War II.

*****

On 6 July 2015, The Guardian reported:

Unesco has decided to grant world heritage status to more than 20 old industrial sites in Japan after officials from the country agreed to acknowledge that some of them used Korean forced labourers before and during the second world war.

The 23 Meiji period (1868-1912) sites include coalmines and shipyards that Japan says contributed to its transformation from feudalism into a successful modern economy.

South Korea, however, had opposed the application for world heritage status unless clear reference was made to the use of an estimated 60,000 labourers forced to work at seven of the sites, including the island coalmine Gunkanjima, during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

Opposition was also expressed by China (PRC).

The issue of forced labor and Tokyo’s stubborn rejection to acknowledge it, delayed the inscription of the sites by UNESCO. However, in 2015, Japan yielded, and its delegation to UNESCO declared:

Japan is prepared to take measures that allow an understanding that there were a large number of Koreans and others who were brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions in the 1940s at some of the sites.

The sites, including the notorious Hashima/Gunkanjima, eventually gained world heritage status. In exchange, both South Korea and China expected Japan to highlight the suffering of their people during the occupation and WWII. The sites where forced laborers used to be held, were supposed to carry clearly marked and detailed explanations. But as in so many other cases related to its dark history, Japan did close to nothing to keep its side of the bargain. With the world heritage status, it got what it wanted, but gave almost nothing in return.

Gunkunjima

*****

In May, I spent three days in Nagasaki, visiting my friend, a leading left-wing Australian historian, Geoffrey Gunn.

For many years, I have been coming to this city, searching for answers to a myriad of questions related to Japan’s and Asia’s complex past.

The past of Nagasaki has it all: great old Japanese culture, Christians and their prosecution, the Dutch traders and their settlement, a vibrant Chinese minority. Nagasaki was always one of the most ‘open’ cities in Japan, by choice or by force. But also, this is where the military ships were built, where many slave laborers were brought to from the occupied territories, and this is also where the second A-bomb was exploded by the U.S. at the end of WWII.

Seen from the roof of the imposing Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum, the bay of the city is still dotted with WWII ‘relics’. Near the water, there is a huge crane, another fragment of an industrial UNESCO world heritage site. The crane belongs to the Mitsubishi shipyards, which have been, for long decades, producing and repairing Japan’s military vessels.

“Officially, Japan does not have a military,” I said, sarcastically. “But look, it is in possession of these huge battleships, docked at the other side of the bay.”

“You are lucky. They just arrived here,” said Geoff. “These docks played an extremely important role in the past. Gunkanjima mines also belonged to Mitsubishi. They were excavating coal there, and then building some of the largest battleships here, in Nagasaki.”

For the rest of the evening we discussed the bizarre refusal of the Japanese governments and public to acknowledge the past. Even now, more than 70 years after the end of the war, these issues are taboo: the genocide committed against the Chinese people, and the terrible crimes against the Koreans.

Often, when the past is mentioned, the famously polite Japanese people suddenly become defensive, even aggressive.

*****

In 2015, Japan began literally blackmailing UNESCO, temporarily withdrawing its payment dues, after the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Agency listed the 1937 Nanjing Massacre documents in its “Memory of the World” program. The funds were eventually released, but the message was sent, clearly and patently.

This stubborn refusal to deal with the horrors of the past is bringing Japan closer and closer to the deadly embrace of the West, particularly the United States, and further and further away from potentially friendly relations with the rest of north Asia, particularly China.

After WWII, the so-called Tokyo Trial supervised by the US (also known as The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE)) was clearly designed to punish just a few (28) individuals, while preserving the Japanese industrial, business and political system in its original form, so it could serve the interests of the West. After the trial, Japan was allowed to rebuild and to join the West in its aggressive policy towards the Asia Pacific. It played a significant role in the brutal Korean War, during which the West massacred millions of Korean citizens.

“Modern Japan has no foreign policy,” I was once told by the Irish academic and political analyst David McNeal, who is based in Tokyo. “It is strictly following the U.S. dictate. The same goes for the media coverage of the international events.”

David has no illusions about the Japanese take on its history:

They are rewriting text books; they skip through WWII, dedicating to it only eight pages… Nationalism is rising… There is so much self-censorship in Japanese media, now. And the government is issuing ‘guidelines’, the so-called ‘Orange Book’, for instance: how to treat anything that is ‘contagious’… or anything related to history. There are instructions to writers and translators. For instance: ‘never use words like Nanking Massacre, except when you quote foreign experts’. Or ‘Yasukuni Shrine – never use word “controversial” in connection to it.’ We cannot write about ‘sexual slaves’ from WWII.

The more ignorant about its past Japan gets, the more it seems to strongly dislike its former victims – China and Korea. According to a Pew Research Center poll (2017), 83% of the Japanese people have an unfavorable view of China. Korea does not fare much better. Both countries (PRC and ROK) are now clearly leaving Japan behind, when it comes to the economy and in the case of South Korea, the standard of living. The reaction of Tokyo: moving closer and closer towards the West, while adopting an increasingly aggressive policy towards two communist nations: China and North Korea.

*****

But back to the Battleship Island… You pay, and you get onboard. Right from the beginning, even before the vessel departs from Nagasaki, you get bombarded by outrageous propaganda: about that “samurai spirit” of Japan and the entire Nagasaki area.

There is continuous control, right from the start. You get up from your seat, and immediately someone approaches you: “Where are you going? Do you want to change seat? No, you cannot sit here…” Guides (or call them minders) sound extremely rude: their English is primitive, while their obsession with all sorts of rules and regulations is fundamentalist.

An old dude who is here clearly in order to play the role of the main propagandist, is continuously clarifying things into the microphone. His voice is amplified, and his performance soon turns into an annoying and uninterrupted flow of verbal diarrhea. There is no space for reflection – no time to feel and to pause or let alone to ask some serious questions.

Whenever he stops, some cheaply-made video begins playing on the screen. Then advertisements of Kirin Beer are beamed.

The yacht is sailing towards the place that held thousands of people as slave laborers, where many died, where women were turned into sexual slaves. But the circus goes on. No reflection and no repentance.

On the island, I refuse to follow the group. I lag behind, trying to avoid loud noise and the herd of people. Of course, I soon get confronted by two “guides”, trying to push me back towards the flock.

I ignore them, keep filming.

They become aggressive. One shouts: “This is Japan. Follow our rules!”

I keep filming.

I did not come here to be loved. The reason for my journey was simple: to determine whether the Japanese government sticks to the deal it made with UNESCO, Korea and China – whether it marks and commemorates the sites where forced laborers were pushed into an inhuman existence and work, and where some of them, died.

I found nothing of that kind: no information, no commemoration!

Back in Nagasaki, I asked for brochures explaining the past. There were no such brochures. The organizers of the island visits had no idea what I was asking about.

In a small exhibition in Nagasaki — crimes against Korean and Chinese people

Later, the next day, professor Gunn took me to a small private museum managed by local Koreans, commemorating the terror which Japan committed against the Korean and Chinese people.

Japanese crimes against Korean and Chinese people

At least this is where the truth about ‘the most haunted island’ on Earth can be found. If one could find that tiny museum…

Gunkanjima – a ghost island which resembles, at least from a distance, a mighty destroyer; an island dotted with tall buildings now lacking windows and doors. An island where thousands of miners used to go down into deep shafts, some voluntarily, some by force. An island – Gunkanjima – where many people used to live, and many died. A place so mysterious and so unique, beautiful in its own way, but also both symbolic and horrifying.

*****

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

Sharat G. Lin Offers U.S. Apology for Hiroshima Atomic Bomb

Sharat G. Lin, in addressing the International Anti-war Anti-nuke Rally in Hiroshima held on August 5, 2018, offered a resolute apology for the U.S. government’s dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. He called it a “monstrous war crime” that must never be allowed to happen again. He called for universal nuclear disarmament that must focus first on the U.S.A. and Russia.

Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome 5, Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima

On the 73rd anniversary of the infamous U.S. dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, there are many memorials, rallies, and marches taking place in Hiroshima, both official and those organized by grassroots peace and justice activists. Sharat G. Lin, representing the San José Peace and Justice Center, addressed the International Anti-war Anti-nuke Rally at the East Ward Cultural Center in Hiroshima held on August 5, 2018.

In calling the U.S. dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki “monstrous war crimes,” he offered an apology from the people of the United States to the people of Japan for “the most concentrated instantaneous mass killing in human history.” He called for universal nuclear disarmament starting with the U.S.A. and Russia, which have by far the largest nuclear weapons arsenals, rather than focusing exclusively on North Korea and Iran, of which neither have started any wars in the last century.

The full text of his speech follows:

It is truly an honour to be able to speak to you today at this International Anti-War Anti-Nuclear Rally here in Hiroshima! I come from the San José Peace and Justice Center in California which was founded 61 years ago precisely to challenge the growing threat of nuclear weapons and nuclear war.

Tomorrow is the 73rd Anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by the U.S.A. Sadly, today we still face the threat of nuclear annihilation from irresponsible powers.

It is absolutely not true that the atomic bomb was necessary to hasten Japan’s surrender and “save American and Japanese lives,” as we are so often told. Not only was this the first use of the atomic bomb on a living city, but it was the most concentrated instantaneous mass killing in human history. This was a monstrous war crime, only to be followed by a second monstrous war crime on Nagasaki only 3 days later. We now know that Emperor Hirohito, despite his militarism and war crimes, was reluctantly prepared to surrender well before the atomic bombings on the condition of preserving the institution of the Emperor. His offer was communicated to Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin to be conveyed to U.S. President Harry Truman in June 1945. The infamous decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in spite of Emperor Hirohito’s offer served only to assert U.S. military pre-eminence, to test the bomb on a civilian population, and to nip in the bud Soviet entry into the war against Japan in an attempt to deny the Soviet Union any role in negotiating the post-war order in East Asia.

So today, I am going to declare what no U.S. president has been willing to declare. I am going to say something that the present government of Japan also does not want to hear for fear that this will give a boost to peace and anti-war activism in Japan. On behalf of the vast majority of the American people who want to see a world without nuclear weapons, I hereby apologize for the United States dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and I again apologize for the United States dropping the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. The U.S.A. remains the only country to ever use nuclear weapons in a first strike on human populations. This is an apology from the people of the United States to the people of Japan. I may not have the legal authority to make this apology, but I have the moral authority to make this apology, for moral authority stands above legal authority. We bypass our callous governments to say that all nuclear weapons must be dismantled, not just those in North Korea, and not just those that we are trying to prevent in Iran, but all nuclear weapons starting with the strategic nuclear arsenals of the U.S.A. and Russia, and then those of China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea.

Speaking of North Korea – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – I recently visited North Korea to find out what the country is really like. To my surprise, it is much more different from what our governments and media tell us than I had ever expected. Despite what we are relentlessly told about “starvation and deprivation” in North Korea, there has not been a famine since the Arduous March famine of 1994-1998. There is no homelessness since state-owned housing is provided to all free of rent! While the state is undeniably authoritarian, the incarceration rate is half that of the U.S.A. and half of the police in North Korea do not even carry guns. So why is North Korea being so demonized and targeted with relentless sanctions, non-recognition, attempts at regime change, and provocative military exercises? In contrast, nuclear powers and proliferators like Pakistan and Israel receive unparalleled support and military aid. Both have refused to rule out first use of tactical nuclear weapons. Now the Korean people, starting with South Korean President Moon Jae-In and the Winter Olympics, have made a new beginning where they have stood united as one people against militarism and for cooperation and peace. We stand here today in full support for the Korean people’s right to self-determination, reunification, and peace through negotiation between the two Koreas!

No to war! No to all nuclear weapons (not just some nuclear weapons)! No more Hiroshima! No more Nagasaki! No more Fukushima! No to depacifying the Constitution! No to U.S. bases in Japan! No war on North Korea! No war on Iran! Yes for peace, equality, inclusion, the environment, and social justice!

• Sharat G. Lin is a research fellow and past president of the San José Peace and Justice Center. He teaches and writes on global political economy, migrant labor, war and peace, public health, environment, and arts in social activism.

On 65th Anniversary Of Korean Truce, Activists Criticize US For Delaying Real Peace

South Korean ‘Youth Resistance’ protests at the US embassy in Seoul demanding a permanent peace treaty and normalizing relations with North Korea.

South Korean peace and justice activists have been writing to us at Popular Resistance complaining that the United States is not responding to the positive steps being taken by North Korea before and after the meeting between President Trump and Chairman Kim. They have sent us information about protests they are organizing in South Korea against the United States as well as in Washington, DC.

Their views show a great divide between the United States and the calls for a permanent peace which includes removal of US troops as just last week the Congress passed a National Defense Authorization Act which forbids removal of US troops from Korea. The John S. McCain Act states the “significant removal” of US troops is “a non-negotiable item as it relates to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” of North Korea..

The activists argue that the temporary halt in war games which practice nuclear and other military attacks on North Korea are insufficient. They want to see movement toward a real peace treaty and removal of economic sanctions, especially allowing South Korea and North Korea to normalize relations. And, they want US military forces out of Korea, permanently.

On July 27, in a protest in front of the White House, South Korean activists claimed the June 12 agreement between North Korea and the United States called for normalizing relations between North Korea and the US and establishing a permanent and solid peace regime in Korea. They believe that to conclude North Korea-US peace treaty includes withdrawal of the US military from Korea as the core. They call on the Trump administration to fully implement the June 12 declaration and immediately withdraw US troops from South Korea. They pledge all-out national resistance against the United States, to advance the realization of the world where US troops are withdrawn, the Korean people are masters of their country, and the nation is reunified.

They report on a protest held at the US embassy in South Korea on July 29th. Two members of Youth Resistance, “a democratic peace group of patriotic youths formed in October last year for anti-war, peace and national independence,” strongly condemned the United States for its continued military presence in South Korea. This was the ninth protest they have held at the US Embassy in Gwanghwamun next to the Seoul Museum of History.

In the protest, Seo Hyeong-hoon and Min Ji-won rushed toward the US embassy shouting slogans demanding the United States to get out of South Korea. They unfurled a banner that said “Permanently Withdraw United States Forces in Korea” and threw leaflets into the air. Police violently responded, Seo Hyung-hoon head was pushed onto the ground, his arm held backward, and his face slammed to the ground by the police. Allies at the protest witnessed the violence and took photos and video. They report that these events were witnessed by many foreign tourists in the area.

The two peace advocates were taken into custody and brought to the Jongno Police Station. They and their allies are protesting against violent suppression of legitimate demonstrations.  The two protesters condemned the US for failing to fulfill the June 12th Singapore Declaration signed by President Trump and Chairman Kim. Protests were held throughout the night to get them released from custody.

Seo Hyung-hoon wrote:

North Korea has not carried out nuclear tests and missile launches in the past nine months. They have abandoned thePunggye-rie nuclear test center and released three American criminals. In contrast, the US has done very little beyond the temporary and conditional interruption of war exercises. No action has taken place on the threat of US nuclear missile attacks. The US is preventing progress on substantive dialogue with their excuse that a denuclearization timetable is needed. Trump’s actions show he did not genuinely engage in this dialogue, as the sanctions for North Korea have been extended for another year.

The United States has made a military colony in South Korea and established a puppet regime. We seek peace for our nation and the people of Korea.  We want a peace treaty that will last and defeat US imperialism. We understand these high-level talks will not develop on their own and the people must take action. We seek peace because we will be the first to be hit by a US military attack. Our destiny should not be controlled by the presidents of the other countries. We are our own masters and must struggle with our voices and actions to achieve a lasting peace.  There is no peace without a peace agreement that includes US military forces leaving the country!

They argue that the US must convert the unstable armistice agreement to a stable peace treaty. Under Clause 60 of Article 4 of the Armistice Agreement that was signed on July 27th, 1953, it says that within three months a conference of both sides will “settle through negotiation the questions of the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Korea, the peaceful settlement” of issues between the countries. Instead, on October 1st, the US signed a mutual defense treaty with the South Korean government which neutralized the armistice agreement and institutionalized the long-term presence of the US military.

After the embassy protest, Youth Resistance member of the Min Ji-won said:

It has been a month since the meeting between President Trump and Chairman Kim in Sentosa Island, Singapore, but there is still tension with the United States. We strive for the promise of a new relationship, a permanent and solid peace regime. North Korea has canceled the Punggye-rie nuclear test site and returned US military soldiers remains. What is the US doing in return?

In 1945, when the Korean people enjoyed the joy of liberation from Japan, the United States entered our land as an occupying military force. Since then, their unilateral occupation has continued. The United States joined the armistice agreement, which was signed on July 27, 65 years ago. As long as US forces remain on this land, the pain of the war will not disappear and our people cannot achieve justice. The Koreans are no longer deceived by the United States, which is pouring cold water into the atmosphere of peace and unity.

It is US soldiers who undermine our independence and democracy which are the long-time desires of the Korean people. US military abuses are not being overlooked by Koreans, no matter how much they try to hide their aggression and violations of human rights. Our people are no longer deceived by the United States. Now that the people’s aspirations for unification are swelling up, US forces must leave the country. It is time to write a new history that will mark the end of the 73-year-long history of the United States trampling on Korea. Youth Resistance is on the path of glorious struggle to demolish US forces and open the horizons of self-reliance, democracy, and unification. Youth activism reveals the light of the nation and our passion shows the pulse of the nation to rise against US militarism.

On July 27, at dawn, Lee-Jeok who is the permanent representative of Peace Treaty Movement Headquarters and others held a candlelight ceremony of the General MacArthur statue. The Korean people rage against MacArthur as he came to South Korea as the occupier in 1945, divided Korea, and threatened a nuclear attack in the Korean War. Following the ceremony, a coalition of groups held a rally in front of the US Embassy to demand the immediate signing of a Peace Treaty and permanent withdrawal of US military forces.

At protests occurring in South Korea, the Democratic People’s Party (Welfare Party for Democracy) has been conducting demonstrations for 122 days in front of the White House and at the US Embassy. The Democratic Party’s chairman Lee Sang-hoon said, “The Max Thunder war games must permanently be suspended. The peace agreement with the United States must be concluded!. The US Army must leave Korea”

God Only Knows

If they would just confirm to us that my brother is alive, if they would just let us see him, that’s all we want. But we can’t get anyone to give us any confirmation. My mother dies a hundred times every day. They don’t know what that is like.

In July of 2018, an Amnesty International report entitled “God Knows If He’s Alive,” documented the plight of dozens of families in southern Yemen whose loved ones have been tortured, killed, or forcibly disappeared by Yemeni security forces reporting to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that, with vital US support, has been bombarding and blockading famine and disease-ravaged Yemen for three brutal years. The disappearances, and torture, can sadly be laid at the doorstep of the United States.

One testimonial after another echoes the sentiments of a woman whose husband has been held incommunicado for more than two years. “Shouldn’t they be given a trial?” she asked. “Why else are there courts? They shouldn’t be disappeared this way – not only are we unable to visit them, we don’t even know if they are dead or alive.”

The report describes bureaucratic farces in which families beg for information about their loved ones’ whereabouts from Yemeni prosecutors and prison officials, but the families’ pleas for information are routinely met with silence or intimidation.

The families are appealing to an unelected Yemeni exile government whose president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, (when “elected” president in 2012, he was the only candidate) generally resides in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The UAE has, so far, supported Hadi’s claim to govern Yemen. However, the Prosecutor General of Hadi’s government, as well as other officials, told Amnesty International the government of Yemen has no control over operations “spearheaded by the UAE and implemented by the Yemeni forces it backs.”
When months and years pass and families of people who are missing still have no news about their loved ones, some try to communicate unofficially with prison guards or with former detainees who have been released from various detention sites. They repeatedly hear stories about torture of detainees and rumors about prisoners who died in custody.

The Amnesty report implicates UAE-backed local forces in Yemen, as well as the UAE military, in the crimes of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. Of seven former or current detainees interviewed by Amnesty, five said they were subjected to these abuses. “All seven witnessed other detainees being tortured,” the report adds, “including one who said he saw a detainee held in a cell next to him being carried away in a body bag after he had been repeatedly tortured.”

In June 2017, Human Rights Watch and the Associated Press exposed a network of clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen. Their reports described ghastly torture inflicted on prisoners and noted that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Yet, a year later, there has been no investigation of these allegations by the Yemeni government, by the UAE, or by the UAE’s most powerful ally in the Yemen war, the United States.

“It is shocking, to say the least,” the Amnesty report states, “that one year after a network of secret prisons operated by the UAE and the Yemeni forces it backs was exposed, these facilities continue to operate and that there has not been a serious investigation undertaken into credibly documented violations, including systemic torture in custody.” The Amnesty report calls on the US to “facilitate independent oversight, including by the US Congress, over US military or intelligence cooperation with Yemeni and UAE forces involved in detention activities in Yemen.” It further calls for investigating any involvement of US military or intelligence personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen.

To date, the US continues selling weapons to the UAE and to its coalition partner, Saudi Arabia, despite several Congressional debates and a few increasingly close votes demanding a full or partial end to US weapons sales considering the terrible practices being carried out as part of the Yemen war.

Since March of 2015, a coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and relying on crucial U.S. logistical aid, has bombarded Yemen while blockading its major port, despite Yemen’s status as one of the poorest countries in the world. Targeting transportation, electrical plants, sewage and sanitation facilities, schools, mosques, weddings and funerals, the vicious bombing has led to starvation, displacement, and the spread of disease including cholera.

On the same day that the Amnesty report was released, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pardoned “all military men, who have taken part in the Operation Restoring Hope of their respective military and disciplinary penalties, in regard of some rules and disciplines.” It seems likely that the Amnesty report precipitated this royal decree.

Along with three countries in North Africa’s “Sahel” desert region, Yemen has been cited as part of the worst famine crisis in the 70-year history of the UN. In the past three years of aerial and naval attacks, Yemen’s key port of Hodeidah has remained partially or fully closed despite the country’s vital need for relief supplies. And, while Yemenis suffer the chaos and despair characteristic of war, the Saudis and UAE refer to the war as “Operation Restoring Hope.”

Many thousands of Yemenis, subjected to consistent bombing and threats of starvation and famine, have fled their homes. Many seek refuge out of Yemen. For instance, close to 500 Yemenis have traveled nearly 500 miles to reach a visa-free port on South Korea’s Jeju Island. On July 21, during an international phone call hosted by young friends in Afghanistan, listeners heard Kaia, a resident of Jeju Island, describe the “Hope School.” She explained how she and several other young people are trying to help welcome Yemenis now living in their village of Gangjeong. The young people are already committed to peacefully resisting U.S. and South Korean military destruction of their shoreline and ecosystem. Now, they have started an informal school so Yemeni and South Korean residents can learn from one another. Small groups gather for conversational exchanges translated from Arabic to English to Korean. Many South Koreans can recall, in their own familial history, that seven million Koreans fled Japanese occupation of their land. Their Korean forebears relied on hospitality from people in other lands. The Catholic Bishop of the Jeju diocese, Monsignor Kang Woo-il, called on Koreans to embrace Yemeni refugees, labeling it a crime against human morality to shut the door on refugees and migrants.

Kaia’s account of the newly launched school describes an effort that truthfully involves restoring hope. The cynical designation of Saudi and UAE-led war in Yemen as “Operation Restoring Hope” creates an ugly smokescreen that distracts from the crucial need to investigate war crimes committed in Yemen today.

US citizens bear responsibility for the US government’s support of these crimes.

The Yemenis mean us no harm and have committed no crime against us. Congressional votes have come quite close, with bipartisan support, to ending US participation in, and support for, the Saudi and Emirati led Coalition war against Yemen. Ending arms sales to the UAE and Saudi monarchies, supported by both sides of the aisle, will signal to the UAE and Saudi Arabia the US will no longer assist their efforts to prolong war and siege in Yemen. On cue from the initiative and energy shown by young South Koreans, people in the US can and should organize campaigns to educate their communities, educational institutions, and media outlets about the plight of people in Yemen. Conscious of the nightmare faced by Yemenis whose husbands, brothers, fathers and sons have been disappeared or detained by shadowy military enforcers, US people can work toward implementing each recommendation in Amnesty’s devastating report.

Witness Against Torture activists protest at the Embassy of the United Arab (Photo by Witness Against Torture)

God Only Knows

If they would just confirm to us that my brother is alive, if they would just let us see him, that’s all we want. But we can’t get anyone to give us any confirmation. My mother dies a hundred times every day. They don’t know what that is like.

In July of 2018, an Amnesty International report entitled “God Knows If He’s Alive,” documented the plight of dozens of families in southern Yemen whose loved ones have been tortured, killed, or forcibly disappeared by Yemeni security forces reporting to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that, with vital US support, has been bombarding and blockading famine and disease-ravaged Yemen for three brutal years. The disappearances, and torture, can sadly be laid at the doorstep of the United States.

One testimonial after another echoes the sentiments of a woman whose husband has been held incommunicado for more than two years. “Shouldn’t they be given a trial?” she asked. “Why else are there courts? They shouldn’t be disappeared this way – not only are we unable to visit them, we don’t even know if they are dead or alive.”

The report describes bureaucratic farces in which families beg for information about their loved ones’ whereabouts from Yemeni prosecutors and prison officials, but the families’ pleas for information are routinely met with silence or intimidation.

The families are appealing to an unelected Yemeni exile government whose president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, (when “elected” president in 2012, he was the only candidate) generally resides in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The UAE has, so far, supported Hadi’s claim to govern Yemen. However, the Prosecutor General of Hadi’s government, as well as other officials, told Amnesty International the government of Yemen has no control over operations “spearheaded by the UAE and implemented by the Yemeni forces it backs.”
When months and years pass and families of people who are missing still have no news about their loved ones, some try to communicate unofficially with prison guards or with former detainees who have been released from various detention sites. They repeatedly hear stories about torture of detainees and rumors about prisoners who died in custody.

The Amnesty report implicates UAE-backed local forces in Yemen, as well as the UAE military, in the crimes of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees. Of seven former or current detainees interviewed by Amnesty, five said they were subjected to these abuses. “All seven witnessed other detainees being tortured,” the report adds, “including one who said he saw a detainee held in a cell next to him being carried away in a body bag after he had been repeatedly tortured.”

In June 2017, Human Rights Watch and the Associated Press exposed a network of clandestine prisons operated by the UAE in Yemen. Their reports described ghastly torture inflicted on prisoners and noted that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Yet, a year later, there has been no investigation of these allegations by the Yemeni government, by the UAE, or by the UAE’s most powerful ally in the Yemen war, the United States.

“It is shocking, to say the least,” the Amnesty report states, “that one year after a network of secret prisons operated by the UAE and the Yemeni forces it backs was exposed, these facilities continue to operate and that there has not been a serious investigation undertaken into credibly documented violations, including systemic torture in custody.” The Amnesty report calls on the US to “facilitate independent oversight, including by the US Congress, over US military or intelligence cooperation with Yemeni and UAE forces involved in detention activities in Yemen.” It further calls for investigating any involvement of US military or intelligence personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen.

To date, the US continues selling weapons to the UAE and to its coalition partner, Saudi Arabia, despite several Congressional debates and a few increasingly close votes demanding a full or partial end to US weapons sales considering the terrible practices being carried out as part of the Yemen war.

Since March of 2015, a coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE and relying on crucial U.S. logistical aid, has bombarded Yemen while blockading its major port, despite Yemen’s status as one of the poorest countries in the world. Targeting transportation, electrical plants, sewage and sanitation facilities, schools, mosques, weddings and funerals, the vicious bombing has led to starvation, displacement, and the spread of disease including cholera.

On the same day that the Amnesty report was released, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman pardoned “all military men, who have taken part in the Operation Restoring Hope of their respective military and disciplinary penalties, in regard of some rules and disciplines.” It seems likely that the Amnesty report precipitated this royal decree.

Along with three countries in North Africa’s “Sahel” desert region, Yemen has been cited as part of the worst famine crisis in the 70-year history of the UN. In the past three years of aerial and naval attacks, Yemen’s key port of Hodeidah has remained partially or fully closed despite the country’s vital need for relief supplies. And, while Yemenis suffer the chaos and despair characteristic of war, the Saudis and UAE refer to the war as “Operation Restoring Hope.”

Many thousands of Yemenis, subjected to consistent bombing and threats of starvation and famine, have fled their homes. Many seek refuge out of Yemen. For instance, close to 500 Yemenis have traveled nearly 500 miles to reach a visa-free port on South Korea’s Jeju Island. On July 21, during an international phone call hosted by young friends in Afghanistan, listeners heard Kaia, a resident of Jeju Island, describe the “Hope School.” She explained how she and several other young people are trying to help welcome Yemenis now living in their village of Gangjeong. The young people are already committed to peacefully resisting U.S. and South Korean military destruction of their shoreline and ecosystem. Now, they have started an informal school so Yemeni and South Korean residents can learn from one another. Small groups gather for conversational exchanges translated from Arabic to English to Korean. Many South Koreans can recall, in their own familial history, that seven million Koreans fled Japanese occupation of their land. Their Korean forebears relied on hospitality from people in other lands. The Catholic Bishop of the Jeju diocese, Monsignor Kang Woo-il, called on Koreans to embrace Yemeni refugees, labeling it a crime against human morality to shut the door on refugees and migrants.

Kaia’s account of the newly launched school describes an effort that truthfully involves restoring hope. The cynical designation of Saudi and UAE-led war in Yemen as “Operation Restoring Hope” creates an ugly smokescreen that distracts from the crucial need to investigate war crimes committed in Yemen today.

US citizens bear responsibility for the US government’s support of these crimes.

The Yemenis mean us no harm and have committed no crime against us. Congressional votes have come quite close, with bipartisan support, to ending US participation in, and support for, the Saudi and Emirati led Coalition war against Yemen. Ending arms sales to the UAE and Saudi monarchies, supported by both sides of the aisle, will signal to the UAE and Saudi Arabia the US will no longer assist their efforts to prolong war and siege in Yemen. On cue from the initiative and energy shown by young South Koreans, people in the US can and should organize campaigns to educate their communities, educational institutions, and media outlets about the plight of people in Yemen. Conscious of the nightmare faced by Yemenis whose husbands, brothers, fathers and sons have been disappeared or detained by shadowy military enforcers, US people can work toward implementing each recommendation in Amnesty’s devastating report.

Witness Against Torture activists protest at the Embassy of the United Arab (Photo by Witness Against Torture)

Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle

All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and [humans are] at last compelled to face with sober senses [our] real conditions of life, and [our] relations with [our] kind.

— Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto

An unfolding trade war pitting the United States simultaneously against China, the European Union, Canada, and Mexico has begun. The economic and political consequences – intended and unintended – are now unfolding.  How this trade war develops and “ends” is a political question that cannot be predicted concretely. But the framework to foresee what is coming down the road is coming into focus.

There is no letup in the continued erosion and breakdown of the post-World War II, post-“Cold War” eras characterized at their core by the predominance of US capital in the institutions of world capitalism and in world politics.

China

On June 15, 2018 the Donald Trump Administration announced it will be adding a 25% tariff-tax on some $50 billion worth of Chinese goods imported into the United States. On June 18 Trump then threatened another 10% tariff-tax on $200 billion worth of additional Chinese commodities, raised to $500 billion on July 5, affecting virtually every Chinese product throughout the US-China production-to-exchange chain.

The first-round of tariffs, $34 billion worth, took effect on July 6, applying to 818 commodities and products. The second round, $16 billion on an additional 284 items, await “reviews,” that is vetting by the major industrial and financial oligopolies whose profits may be more or less directly affected. They are lobbying Trump and his enforcers for exemptions, waivers, and dilutions individually and collectively.

Trump’s threats to escalate were presented as being contingent on any Chinese government and state counter-tariffs on US goods and services. These, of course, were bound to happen; there could be no other political choice for the Xi Jinping government. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce immediately announced counter-measures “of the same scale and the same strength.” The statement further announced as “invalid” the recently reported “progress” on a deal that would have led to an additional $70 billion in US imports to China, based on a negotiated reduction of Chinese tariffs and other legal barriers to selected US commodities and services, including energy, agricultural, and high-tech products. Agricultural commodities were an initial focus of Chinese counter-tariffs, since China is a major market for US agricultural products, especially soy beans.

Trump’s announcement was rolled out with provocative and jingoistic rationalizations. Uncle Sam as bumbling sucker, the victim of nefarious Chinese practices. They are stealing our technology. They carry out “state subsidies” of industries and dump surplus production stealing the jobs of American workers. And so on…as if the entire system of world capitalist production, finance, and exchange were not lubricated and dependent as a whole on such practices. Practices by which the most advanced capitalist states and industrialized economies – the United States, the former colonial powers of western Europe, and Japan – are the historic masters and mentors.

At a July 5 campaign rally in Montana which drew thousands, Trump thundered:

We are bringing back our wealth from foreign countries that have been ripping us off for years…For too long we watched and we waited and we saw as other countries stole our jobs, cheated our workers, and gutted our industry.

With his trademark national chauvinism and demagogy, Trump continued:

The United States of America was the piggy bank that everybody else was robbing. Our allies in many cases were worse than our enemies. We opened our country to their goods, but they put up massive barriers to keep our products and our goods the hell out of their country because they didn’t want that competition.

Trump is upending the decades-long, highly profitable arrangements between the US capitalist class, its various governments in Washington, and the Chinese state. US capital would invest in commodity production inside China for sales to the US and other developed capitalist markets. It has been an arrangement that has been crucial in the formation and accumulation of state and private capital in China by Chinese business owners and government officials.

While it is very difficult to calculate precisely balance-of-trade surpluses and deficits of nation-states within globalized production chains, as well as calculating so-called “services” onto the balance sheets, China’s trade “surplus” in finished goods with the United States has been in the low-to-mid 100s of billions of dollars range for many years. A good slice of which is recycled and parked in US Treasuries. This greatly cushions the impact for US debt markets, making it easier for US federal and private banking institutions to obscure, dilute, and hide dollar-denominated debt. It also helps the US Federal Reserve suppress higher interest rates, and keeps low or non-existent tax rates and outlays for billionaires, millionaires, and US-style oligarchs.

China today owns nearly $2 trillion in US Treasury securities, which makes it the largest US “foreign creditor” and the second largest owner of US bonds, after the Federal Reserve itself. No one can know for sure what the impact of the unfolding trade war will be on Chinese purchases of US Treasuries, insofar as the US-China balance of trade numbers and those of China’s purchases of US government debt have become the intertwined sine qua non of the entire economic and financial relationship. China’s vast holdings register both leverage and vulnerable dependency. China’s decades-long massive economic expansion and growth (high single-digit to low double-digit GDP rises every year since 1991!) has been strongly predicated on maintaining China’s access to US markets for the wholesale and retail sales of these commodities.

Over the decades US-China economic ties and exchange led to the massive expansion of Chinese factory manufacturing and industrial development, as well as huge profits for US capitalists and their Chinese state and private partners.

This process also contributed mightily to the large expansion of the Chinese industrial proletariat, including a super-exploited sector of migrant workers, and urban petty bourgeoisie, with the concurrent reduction in the size of China’s peasant population. All of this has led to the massive production and reproduction of surplus value in the country based on the application of labor power to produce commodities to be exchanged, that is, sold in the US and world markets.

This massive production and reproduction of real value, real social wealth, and real capital was certainly siphoned off disproportionately and corruptly by Chinese bureaucrats and capitalists. But it has also been massively invested in infrastructure and urban development projects, led by high-speed rail production and construction.

Two giant Chinese initiatives in the past period highlight these historical developments. First, the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative which promotes regional “connectivity” through infrastructure and other economic projects, and second, the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) which finances infrastructure and other economic projects in the Asian-Pacific region. AIIB is headquartered in Shanghai and has 86 members, including a number of US NATO “allies.”  Washington, from Barack Obama to Trump, has so far declined to be any part of it. Moreover, China has publicly issued its Made in China 2025 plan to be world leaders in future industrial applications in artificial intelligence, robotics, and chip manufacturing, which is viewed with hostility in Washington.

Looming Recession?

Washington – and this is a largely bipartisan cry – gets particularly worked up over so-called state aid and subsidies to Chinese industries and companies that are themselves state or quasi-state-owned or nominally private. China also attempts to get around efforts led by Washington to pressure companies to restrict Chinese access to some technologies by making such access a condition for sales and commercial exchanges in the vast Chinese markets themselves.

A June 29 column in the Financial Times (“Bond markets send signals of a looming recession”) by University of Chicago “Professor of Finance” Raghuram Rajan states:

[E]conomic metric estimates of the effects of one or two rounds of tariff rises are small. But the models do not capture the intertwined nature of global supply chains. Moreover, the effect on business sentiment, as well as the pall of uncertainty cast over investment will be considerable, A trade war will be costly.

Rajan points to the political difficulties for any governments and national leaderships today “to be seen [as] giving in to threats, making trade conflicts more likely.” He then continues with:

… a final reason for concern. China is cleaning up its financial system, an immensely complicated task given the debt that has built up. Growth has slowed, the cost of riskier loans has been rising, as have defaults. The Chinese authorities are working to spread losses across the system, but this needs to be managed carefully to avoid panic. If China is caught in a trade war while it is still restructuring its financial system, its difficulties could spread abroad.

If the dynamic of a large-scale US-China trade war is unleashed, then it will have critical economic and commercial – and therefore political — consequences for the trade and diplomatic regime that has been built up and stabilized over many decades between Beijing and Washington – and Wall Street and China.1

The EU, Canada, and Mexico

The tariffs on China set in motion by Trump and his Executive Branch team of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin came on top of tariffs on steel and aluminum exports carried out against Canada, the European Union, and Mexico, announced with great hoopla, earlier in the June month. These ostensibly aim at boosting US domestic steel and aluminum production, but also led to immediate retaliatory measures of equal reach and value by all. So far, every dollar-value of US tariff-taxes have been met with an equal value in counter-tariffs. Can that be sustained?

On June 29, 2018 Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freedland defiantly announced Canada’s response to the Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum. “We will not escalate — and we will not back down,” said Freeland. (Before her current gig as Foreign Minister for the Justin Trudeau government, Freedland was a leading editor of the Financial Times, the quintessential organ of British and world capital.)

She unveiled counter-tariffs on US goods entering Canada, including whiskey, toilet paper, washing machines, and motorboats. Altogether, Canada will tax $12.6 billion worth of American goods, which matched the value of the US tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.

“I cannot emphasize enough the regret with which we take these countermeasures,” Freedland added. She emphasized that the only way Canada might reverse them would be if the Trump White House rescinded first. There are always political dangers when many faces need saving at once.

Trump’s Executive Orders were invoked under the cover of “national security.” This provoked umbrage from Canadian, EU, and other US post-World War II era NATO “allies.” They pointed to the various imperialist wars they fought over the years hand-in-glove with Washington.

The current framework and regime for the regulation of tariffs and the resolution of trade disputes is the World Trade Organization (WTO). The US tariffs are already being contested in WTO bodies in a likely bruising battle. The WTO as an “objective” arbiter and judge, is clearly in danger of losing authority and fraying under great pressure. Trump’s back-to-back measures are bound to accelerate a breaking down of world capitalist trading norms and stability.

Allies and Competitors

The EU bloc, most of its individual nation-state components, and Canada are military allies of Washington — still by far the predominant military power with the most firepower and global reach on Earth – through the NATO alliance. But, at the same time, all are home bases for some of the fiercest competitors of US based multinationals and other capitalist firms in world markets. In a time of intensifying, cutthroat global competition, with financial volatility and turbulent waters ahead, the “competitors” side is being more sharply expressed and rising to the fore. The political fallout from policy choices and decisions on trade, tariffs, currency manipulations, debt and capital flows are, at the very least, posed more sharply in today’s world. Old trading blocs and ties come under pressure and weaken, rebooting political policies and alliances.

Consequences, Intended and Unintended

While Trump’s public utterances – “Trade wars are good and easy to win” – exude typical flippant political confidence on his part, these policies are highly contentious within the broader US capitalist class. Within these circles there is growing anxiety and dread that Washington will not be able to drive things through without serious political consequences in the world arena.

The shift that Trump looks to realize registers the political erosion internationally of the “neoliberal globalization” regime which greatly benefited many US-based giant corporations, banks, and businesses – and the mounds of capital behind their brands – as they set up shop in China, Mexico, and elsewhere with greatly increased profit rates. The major benefit of this inside the United States for US capitalists was the lowering of the value of labor and the evisceration of industrial jobs and industrial unions. The decisive factor involved is relatively cheaper (usually very much so) labor costs, which outweigh other disadvantages and extra costs for US-based capital in production outside the US, such as in transport costs, management training, and so on.

Of course, US capitalists couldn’t care less about the social devastation in working-class communities in the US.2

US Capital is Divided

Opposition to Trump’s measures is strongest among business groups and elected officials from both the Republican and Democratic parties who have been identified with the general “free trade” neoliberal policies worldwide that have dominated trade pacts and mainstream bourgeois economics for decades. These anti-working-class policies have increased in unpopularity since the so-called Great Recession and financial crisis of 2007-08 and are now widely discredited and hated in the US and around the world, especially among working people. But the opposition to them takes varied “populist” forms – left and right — that have done and can do little to effectively counter them or provide any program and perspective of mobilization and independent working-class political action and power. In the face of popular hostility and battered credibility, almost by inertia, the “neoliberal model” limps on.

What will be the impact on world economic developments of Trump’s tariffs? Does it give a push to the next – inevitable – financial jolts and economic downturn-recession? Will the EU, Canada, and Mexico have the political will and strength to counter them? Is there space for increasing domestic US assembly and manufacture of commodities, finished products, and capital goods (machinery, etc.) that have been “farmed out” for decades now that US labor value and costs has been driven down in recent decades? Can increased US domestic manufacturing (up 36,000 in June 2018 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics) sustain sales volume and profit rates?

Diminished US Political Power

There are wide layers in top US business, financial, and social circles who do worry that Trump is accelerating and deepening the deterioration in US political influence worldwide. They are anxious that Trump’s course, rather that restoring the post-World War II full-spectrum dominance of US capital – capsulized in his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” – will do the opposite and actually accelerate US decline.

There is considerable substance to this anxiety. Under Trump there has been a striking US political isolation in world political forums on one major international political question after another: Washington’s withdrawal from the (fairly toothless, in any case) Paris climate change accords; Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear production and activity, an agreement which was ratified by China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the EU as a body; Washington’s humiliating isolation every year in the UN over its criminal and hated blockade of revolutionary Cuba; and issues around Israel and Palestine that might ameliorate Palestinian conditions and advance a two-state solution.

Korea is Hardly a Trump Triumph

Trump’s escalating moves on US trade and exchange with China were announced when the ink was hardly dry on the document issued, amid great world attention and hoopla, after the June 12 Summit between Donald Trump and the Kim Jong-un government in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

While the Trump White House has been eager to spin the Summit results as a feather in its cap, his ability to do so was necessarily predicated on the US suspension of “war games” and other joint US-South Korean military maneuvers off the North Korean coasts. Maintaining Washington’s “right” and political will to do so became politically untenable following the Kim government’s ending of missile launches, atmospheric and underground tests, and even the verified destruction of one nuclear site while at the same time the two Korean governments deepened relations through friendly encounters amid popular enthusiasm. No one can seriously doubt that the Moon Jae-in government in South Korea favored and pushed for the US suspension of the “joint” war games.

It seems apparent that China and South Korea forcefully intervened behind the scenes to keep the US-DPRK talks on track. In reality, Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (with National Security Advisor John Bolton kept in the shadows) found themselves in an isolated diplomatic and political corner and risked a politically unwinnable confrontation with both China, South Korea and the United Nations large majority. This became even more dangerous politically for Washington on the heels of the US withdrawal from JCPOA treaty with Iran.

As this article was being finished, the US-DPRK negotiations had a negative public eruption after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with top North Korean authorities in Pyongyang. The DPRK Foreign Ministry issued a detailed statement on July 7, calling the meetings “regretful” and Pompeo’s apparent sole focus on unilateral DPRK denuclearization “gangster-like.” The DPRK statement promoted, “in the spirit of” the Singapore Summit and its written statement signed by Trump and Kim, an interconnected focus on issues like a formal peace treaty replacing the “Armistice” ending military combat in 1953; improved US-DPRK bilateral relations; and building a “peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” that is, building on the momentum of improving relations between the two Korean governments and states. Pompeo and Trump have both downplayed the DPRK statement, with Trump on July 9 spinning that China “may be exerting pressure on a deal because of our posture on Chinese Trade – Hope Not!”

Of course, as the DPRK statement said, “suspension of one action called exercises is a highly reversible step which can be resumed at any time or any moment as all of its military force remains intact in its previously held positions without scraping even a rifle.” Nevertheless, for the Trump Administration to revert to a “maximum pressure” policy while demanding North Korean capitulation and permanently subordinating all other political issues, starting with formal and actual bilateral and multilateral peace, is not politically tenable, starting with South Korea and China and, overwhelmingly, world public opinion.

Mexico

The July 1 landslide election in Mexico of left-wing “populist”Andres Manuel Lopez Abrador (AMLO) is also setting Washington’s nerves on edge. It is not Lopez Obrador’s political orientation and program, per se, that is setting off (mostly muted) alarms. While he is solidly progressive with anti-imperialist instincts flowing from Mexican and Latin American historical experience, AMLO has sent out clear signals that he is loath to directly promote anti-capitalist measures and policies. His campaign focused on the corruption of private capital and the Mexican capitalist state and the intertwined, massive violence and death associated with the illegal capitalist drug cartels.3

What is worrying for the US (and Mexican) ruling classes is the tremendous enthusiasm and mobilizations around AMLO’s campaign, which points to the rising expectations among Mexican working people and youth who want action and who are saying Enough is Enough! Rather than channel mass political combativity into harmless electoralism and parliamentary wrangling, it is more likely that any significant progressive measures promoted by the Lopez Obrador government and its clear majority in both houses of Mexico’s legislature, will spur on the class struggle. This is particularly worrisome for the guardians of US imperialism, given the remarkable history of gratuitous, patronizing insults and anti-Mexican demagogy employed by Donald Trump since the beginning of his campaign for US president. And his reactionary and brutal anti-migrant policies once in office.

In any case, a window into the arrogance of the US ruling rich came with a short editorial in the July 3 Wall Street Journal, titled “The Peso Federales.” Acknowledging Lopez Obrador’s “landslide” and “mandate,” the Journal’s editors warn of the pressure coming from a “different sort of election – the one that takes place daily in financial markets.” Pointing to a 1% drop in the Mexican peso (that “recovered” the next day) following the election, the editorial continued “the president-elect now has to worry what the markets think if he wants to improve the lives of Mexicans.”

One of the biggest concerns for the academic, journalist, and big-business monitors of world economic developments today, prior to the next sharp economic crisis and recession-depression, is that there has been a significant and growing outflow of capital from so-called “emerging” countries into the capital markets of the most advanced capitalist economies, especially the US. This is reversing a mild trend otherwise in recent years.

Sharp turns down for the Argentine peso is the starkest expression of this tendency. In June 2018 the IMF came up with a $50 billion “loan,” a bail out for austerity package, that has already provoked the biggest labor mobilizations in that country for over a decade.

The Class Struggle Will Ratchet Up

When you enter a period like the current one, within the transition from one era-epoch to another, old truisms become stale, alliances and allies can and do change, traditional state-to-state relations become strained and even boil over. No one can doubt that class struggle, social polarization, and political volatility is likely to be ratcheted up considerably in the context of the coming global economic downturn. This will happen everywhere and anywhere. In the United States itself we can expect more massive working class and popular eruptions – seemingly coming out of nowhere – like the wave of solid, disciplined, and victorious teacher’s strikes in the US states of West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona in early 2018.

The unfolding trade wars unleashed by Donald Trump are now facts on the ground. To cite the great socialist pioneer Frederick Engels:

Those who unleash controlled forces, also unleash uncontrolled forces.

  1. The origins of the contemporary US-China relationship and the deeply intertwined  economic ties between both came during the final period of the Vietnam War. US President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger carried out a secret diplomacy with the Mao Zedong-Zhou Enlai Chinese government in the early 1970s to establish mutually beneficial ties. The context was the sharp crisis and looming defeat of the US war effort in Vietnam and Indochina. Nixon and Kissinger were under tremendous pressure to end all US military operations and withdraw US troops from Vietnam and Southeast Asia. They were keen to preserve the “South” Vietnamese neo-colonial state and hoped to manipulate China (and China’s fierce political antagonist, the Soviet Union) to pressure the Vietnamese revolutionaries – who they both gave crucial military aid to — to make concessions to Nixon. This failed and Washington went down to final military defeat in 1975. Nevertheless a de facto political alliance and the foundations for the massive expansion of economic exchange between the United States and China was consolidated over four decades under both Republican and Democratic White Houses and Congresses.
  2. Before retiring in 2016, I was a Locomotive Engineer for Amtrak and member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the teamsters Union. I operated the high-speed Acela and other passenger trains between New York city and Washington, DC. For some 25 years, I would see, along the main line tracks from the locomotive cab, on the Northeast Corridor tracks, especially along the stretches between Wilmington, Delaware and Philadelphia towards Trenton, New Jersey, mile after mile of rotted out and abandoned industrial facilities, factories, plants, mills, metal shop, giant behemoths and myriad smaller ones in what were once, in the world War 2 era and subsequent decades, I imagined thriving working-class communities employing many tens and hundreds of thousands of workers. Today they really look like documentary films from the Battle of Stalingrad on the World War 2 Eastern Front. The authorities, decade after decade, never even bothered to tear them down. I would joke to younger workers in my cab qualifying on the physical characteristics of the territory – track speeds, interlocking rules, industrial sidings, and so on – when we would pass these areas, that the state should put a giant bubble over it all and open up “The Museum of American Industrial Glory.”
  3. The stunning failure of Mexico’s “war on drugs” has left hundreds of thousands dead and mutilated without making a dent in the production, consumption, or the profits of the cartels, and the corrupt wealth of officials up and down the supply chain. The production, marketing, and commercial exchange of cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, cocaine, opium, and heroin is a major component of the Mexican capitalist economy as a whole, counting for perhaps up to 10% of GDP, as well as propping up Mexican banking.

NY Times Pours Linguistic Gasoline on North Korea-US Negotiations

On the heels of the historic June 12 Trump-Kim Singapore Summit that de-escalated tensions between North Korea and the US, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his third visit to NK to move the negotiations for denuclearization and security on the peninsula forward. He met with his North Korean counterpart, Vice Chair of the Party Central Committee, Kim Young Chol, on July 6 and 7, for intensive negotiations. At the end of the meeting, on leaving Pyongyang, Secretary Pompeo declared that the summit had been conducted in good faith and that he had “made progress on almost all central matters”. Without divulging details, he stated there was more work to be done, which would be continued by working groups on both sides and that a follow up meeting had been scheduled.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry released a more sobering assessment, stating that despite high expectations after the summit they found “regrettable” the US failure to approach the negotiations in a balanced and constructive manner, and critiquing the “opposing winds” that recapitulate the “tired old process” (CVID, disclosure, verification first) that could lead to failure, and that have ignored or misinterpreted their unilateral gestures of good will, forbearance, and their desire for phased, mutual, step-wise measures based on the creation of “objective conditions for trust”.

Clearly, after the euphoria of the Singapore summit, this is a drilling down onto the details on process, timing, specifics, and reciprocity necessary for the successful implementation of the Singapore Summit’s four enumerated commitments: normalization, peace, denuclearization, and repatriation of remains. Clearly there is much to bridge in terms of procedure, protocol, sequencing, as well as a need to overcome mutual distrust and historical antagonism.

The North Korean statement is a quiet but firm dressing down of the Bolton Approach that seems to have been upfront in the recent negotiation, that seeks to rapidly frontload the process with North Korean concessions on disarmament, after which US concessions and security guarantees could be provided. The North points to this “tired old approach” as lacking simultaneity, mutuality, and trust-building measures, and points out it has clearly failed in the past. They peg it—in polite diplomatic language—as the definitionally insane practice of doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different outcomes. They take great pains to point out that Trump’s approach was the promise of a bold, new approach to denuclearization, mutually agreed-upon at the summit, and they hint that “working level groups”, and “oppositional winds” might be working in a way that contravenes what they understand to have been proposed and agreed to by Trump. There is, in the statement, a question to Washington as to whether its charges are faithfully implementing its own stated desires and will, as well as an inquiry as to whether there is congruence and internal alignment (or change of tactics) within the administration. It is also a not-so-subtle hint that if the Bolton faction is ascendant, then the bets are likely to be called off.

It’s important to note here that the North Korean Foreign Ministry statement, while clearly critical and inquiring, is very measured, relative to past statements from the leadership, and there is little overblown rhetoric there. If anything, the language is careful and circuitous, and the recrimination is largely self-directed: they may have been “naïve to the point of foolishness in their hopes and expectations”, and they express their worries of “great disappointment and tragedy”. They critique the “erroneous thinking” that assumes that “our forbearance” will accommodate the “demands based on such a strong-arming mindset” and consider “unhelpful” the “hurriedness that has seized” the US that elides the need for confidence-building measures to overcome “deep-rooted mistrust”. Nevertheless, they mention that they still “faithfully maintain their trust” in Trump and make clear their intentions to continue to denuclearize. They finish with an almost wistful tone: they warn of deep disappointment to the international society and global peace and security, and that there is no guarantee that a tragic outcome will not follow from this one-sided approach.

Trust the New York Times to misrepresent the above statement, the better to pour linguistic gasoline over the still unextinguished of pyres of recent North Korea-US brinksmanship. There’s nothing like headlining a linguistic firebomb to torch any fragile, combustible agreements or relations that might be in the process of negotiation or exploration: “North Korea Criticizes ‘Gangster-Like’ U.S. Attitude After Talks With Mike Pompeo.”

By attributing “Gangster-like” invective to North Korea, the Times refreshes the “irrational, out-of-control, over- the- top, can’t-be-negotiated-with” framing that has prevented, sabotaged and derailed negotiation in the past. It also puts the Trump administration further on the back foot, reprising the illogical trope that the US had demeaned its global standing just by meeting with North Korea, and is now further demeaned by tolerating being insulted by it. Although early media outlets were circumspect in their characterization of the disagreement, focusing appropriately on the disappointment and regret by North Korea in the divergence in the talks from agreed upon approaches in Singapore, after the NY Times published this incendiary headline, the “gangster” trope was then picked up by the BBC, CNN, Bloomberg, even DemocracyNow! and is now the standard media sound bite about the meeting. The administration is now in the awkward position of defending against the NY Times epithet rather than discussing its work for peace and denuclearization.

The phrase the NY Times is referring to in the statement is “강도적인 비핵화요구” . In literal translation, this would be “robber-like”, but in this context would be more accurately translated as “strong arming, or high pressure demands for denuclearization.”1 The North has no problem using strong language in its statements, but this statement hardly conforms to that type. As noted above, it’s a pointed critique of the “cancerous” Bolton approach—tempered with self-criticism and an appeal to faithfully implement the new approaches and attitudes of the Singapore summit. It’s hardly the incendiary firebomb the NY Times would like it to be.

Further reading of the statement clarifies this:

But, if the US, sized by a sense of impatience, tries to enforce on us, the old ways asserted by previous administrations, this will not give us any help in solving the problem.

If the objective conditions conducive to denuclearization in accordance with our wills are not established, then it’s possible that the currents of positive development in developing bilateral relations in the beginning could become confused [turbulent].

Should opposing winds start to blow, this could bring great disappointment to international society that desires peace and security, as well as to the US and NK; and if that happens, then both sides would start to explore other options; there is no guarantee that this would not lead to tragic consequences.

[However] We still faithfully maintain our trust in President Trump.

The US should reflect seriously whether, in opposition to the will of its [own] leaders, permitting these opposing forces (“winds”) meets the aspirations and expectations of the people of the world, and whether it meets the interests of its own county.

This not a minor exegetical divergence. The upfront voicing of a legitimate disagreement with an approach—at the beginning of a long, complex, negotiation fraught with mistrust—and an appeal to return to the agreed-upon spirit and intent of the summit are a far cry from reductively headlining and encapsulating the disagreement to a deal-breaking, incendiary cri-de-coeur of violent criminality and thuggishness. On the contrary, the North Korean position is clear and reasoned:

Dispelling deep-rooted mistrust, and building trust between the DPRK and the U.S.; seeking to resolve the problem in completely new way—by boldly breaking away from past methods and being unconstrained by conventional methods that have only resulted in failure; prioritizing trust-building while solving one-by-one problems that can be solved through a step-by-step process, [based on the] principle of simultaneous [reciprocal] actions: this is the fastest shortcut to denuclearization.

Perhaps the storied NY Times has no one on their large staff capable of rendering a nuanced, contextual interpretation of North Korean statements—even for the most delicate of delicate negotiations. Perhaps this is part of their baked-in, irredeemable, click-baiting journalistic incompetence. But taken in context with a past record of journalistic gangsterism—namely criminally irresponsible lies and misrepresentation agitating for violent war of aggression—it’s understandable it might jump to see gangsters and gangsterism everywhere.

*****
Full Translation of NK Statement (Author’s Translation)
7/7/2018 Ministry of Foreign Affairs

조선민주주의인민공화국 외무성 대변인담화

Pyongyang, July 7 (KCNA) – Statement of the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

력사적인 첫 조미수뇌상봉과 회담이 진행된 이후 국제사회의 기대와 관심은 조미수뇌회담 공동성명의 리행을 위한 조미고위급회담에 쏠리였다.

After the first historic summit meeting was held between the DPRK and the U.S., international society has focused its expectation and attention on the high-level DPRK-U.S. talks for the implementation of the Joint Statement of the DPRK-U.S. summit.

우리는 미국측이 조미수뇌상봉과 회담의 정신에 맞게 신뢰조성에 도움이 되는 건설적인 방안을 가지고 오리라고 기대하면서 그에 상응한 그 무엇인가를 해줄 생각도 하고있었다.

We expected that the U.S. side would bring [to the talks] constructive proposals that would help trust-building in accordance with the spirit of the DPRK-U.S. summit meeting.

We, on our part, were also thinking of offering things to match this.

그러나 6일과 7일에 진행된 첫 조미고위급회담에서 나타난 미국측의 태도와 립장은 실로 유감스럽기 그지없는것이였다.

However, the the attitude and position that appeared in the US Side during the first high level talks held on July 6th and 7th was truly regretful.

우리측은 조미수뇌상봉과 회담의 정신과 합의사항을 성실하게 리행할 변함없는 의지로부터 이번 회담에서 공동성명의 모든 조항들의 균형적인 리행을 위한 건설적인 방도들을 제기하였다

Our side, during the talks, put forward constructive proposals in order to seek a balanced implementation of the Joint Statement, out of our firm willingness faithfully implement of the spirit and the agreed-upon provisions of the DPRK-U.S. summit meeting and talks.

조미관계개선을 위한 다방면적인 교류를 실현할데 대한 문제와 조선반도에서의 평화체제구축을 위하여 우선 조선정전협정체결 65돐을 계기로 종전선언을 발표할데 대한 문제,비핵화조치의 일환으로 ICBM의 생산중단을 물리적으로 확증하기 위하여 대출력발동기시험장을 페기하는 문제,미군유골발굴을 위한 실무협상을 조속히 시작할데 대한 문제 등 광범위한 행동조치들을 각기 동시적으로 취하는 문제를 토의할것을 제기하였다.

These included proposing wide-ranging, simultaneous, mutual, proactive steps, such as realizing multilateral exchanges for improved relations between the DPRK and the U.S; making a public declaration to the end of war on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, in order to build a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula; as a single element of the denuclearization process, dismantling [our] high thrust jet engine test grounds as concrete proof of the suspension of ICBM production; and making the earliest start on working-level talks for repatriating POW/MIA remains.

회담에 앞서 조선민주주의인민공화국 국무위원회 위원장 김정은동지께서 트럼프대통령에게 보내시는 친서를 위임에 따라 우리측 수석대표인 김영철 당중앙위원회 부위원장이 미국측 수석대표인 폼페오국무장관에게 정중히 전달하였다.

Prior to the talks, Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, our chief delegate from our side to the talks, was tasked to convey, with due respect, to U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo, a personal letter from the Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK, Kim Jong Un to President Trump.

국무위원회 위원장동지께서는 싱가포르수뇌상봉과 회담을 통하여 트럼프대통령과 맺은 훌륭한 친분관계와 대통령에 대한 신뢰의 감정이 이번 고위급회담을 비롯한 앞으로의 대화과정을 통하여 더욱 공고화되리라는 기대와 확신을 표명하시였다.

Chairman Kim Jong Un expressed his hope and conviction that the excellent personal relations and his feelings of trust forged with President Trump at the Singapore summit would be further consolidated through the process of this and other future dialogues.

그러나 미국측은 싱가포르수뇌상봉과 회담의 정신에 배치되게 CVID요,신고요,검증이요 하면서 일방적이고 강도적인 비핵화요구만을 들고나왔다.

But, contrary to the spirit of the [agreed upon provisions of] the Singapore summit, the U.S. side came out only with unilateral and strong-arm demands for denuclearization, that is, calling only for CVID, declaration and verification.

정세악화와 전쟁을 방지하기 위한 기본문제인 조선반도평화체제구축문제에 대하여서는 일절 언급하지 않고 이미 합의된 종전선언문제까지 이러저러한 조건과 구실을 대면서 멀리 뒤로 미루어놓으려는 립장을 취하였다.

The U.S. side never mentioned the issue of establishing a peace regime on the Korean peninsula which is essential for preventing the deterioration of the situation and preventing war. It took the position that it could delay the agreed-upon statement to end the war with sundry conditions and excuses.

종전선언을 하루빨리 발표할데 대한 문제로 말하면 조선반도에서 긴장을 완화하고 공고한 평화보장체제를 구축하기 위한 첫 공정인 동시에 조미사이의 신뢰조성을 위한 선차적인 요소이며 근 70년간 지속되여온 조선반도의 전쟁상태를 종결짓는 력사적과제로서 북남사이의 판문점선언에도 명시된 문제이고 조미수뇌회담에서도 트럼프대통령이 더 열의를 보이였던 문제이다.

The issue of announcing the declaration of the end of war at the earliest possible date, is the [key] priority process [necessary] to defuse tension and establish a lasting peace regime on the Korean peninsula. It is the priority factor in building trust between the DPRK and the U.S. This issue was also stipulated in Panmunjom Declaration as the historical task to terminate the nearly 70-year-old condition of war on the Korean peninsula. President Trump, too, was more enthusiastic about this issue at the DPRK-U.S. summit talks.

미국측이 회담에서 끝까지 고집한 문제들은 과거 이전 행정부들이 고집하다가 대화과정을 다 말아먹고 불신과 전쟁위험만을 증폭시킨 암적존재이다.

The issues the U.S. side insisted on till the very end at the talks are a cancerous [i.e. destructive] entity [position], which previous administrations also had stubbornly insisted on, that sabotaged the dialogue process, and increased distrust and the danger of war.

미국측은 이번 회담에서 합동군사연습을 한두개 일시적으로 취소한것을 큰 양보처럼 광고했지만 총 한자루 페기하지 않고 모든 병력을 종전의 자기 위치에 그대로 두고있는 상태에서 연습이라는 한개 동작만을 일시적으로 중지한것은 언제이건 임의의 순간에 다시 재개될수 있는 극히 가역적인 조치로서 우리가 취한 핵시험장의 불가역적인 폭파페기조치에 비하면 대비조차 할수 없는 문제이다.

The U.S. side, during the talks, made a great publicity about suspension of one or two joint military exercises as a tremendous concession. But the temporary suspension of single exercise-type action is a highly reversible step which can be resumed immediately at any moment as all of its military force remains in its previously positioning, with not a single rifle removed. This is incomparable with the irreversible steps taken by us to explode and dismantle our nuclear testing site.

회담결과는 극히 우려스러운것이라고 하지 않을수 없다.

We cannot but be extremely worried about the outcomes of the talks.

미국측이 조미수뇌상봉과 회담의 정신에 부합되게 건설적인 방안을 가지고 오리라고 생각했던 우리의 기대와 희망은 어리석다고 말할 정도로 순진한것이였다.

One could say we were naïve to the point of foolishness in our expectation and hope that the US would come forth with a constructive proposals in accordance with the spirit of the US-NK summit meeting.

낡은 방식으로는 절대로 새것을 창조할수 없으며 백전백패한 케케묵은 낡은 방식을 답습하면 또 실패밖에 차례질것이 없다.

Tired, old methods can never create new outcomes. Only failure comes from following proven-to-fail, worn out methods.

조미관계력사상 처음으로 되는 싱가포르수뇌회담에서 짧은 시간에 귀중한 합의가 이룩된것도 바로 트럼프대통령자신이 조미관계와 조선반도비핵화문제를 새로운 방식으로 풀어나가자고 하였기때문이다.

Because President Trump himself proposed that US-NK relations and denuclearization of the peninsula be resolved in a new fashion, for the first time in US-NK relations, a valuable agreement was reached in a very short time.

쌍방이 수뇌급에서 합의한 새로운 방식을 실무적인 전문가급에서 줴버리고 낡은 방식에로 되돌아간다면 두 나라 인민의 리익과 세계의 평화와 안전을 위한 새로운 미래를 열어나가려는 수뇌분들의 결단과 의지에 의하여 마련되였던 세기적인 싱가포르수뇌상봉은 무의미해지게 될것이다.

The historic Singapore summit—achieved by the determination and the will of its top leaders to open a new future for the peace and benefit of the whole world—will become pointless, if working-level groups renege on the mutually agreed new approach agreed at the summit, and return to the old methods.

이번 첫 조미고위급회담을 통하여 조미사이의 신뢰는 더 공고화되기는커녕 오히려 확고부동했던 우리의 비핵화의지가 흔들릴수 있는 위험한 국면에 직면하게 되였다.

These first DPRK-U.S. high-level talks, rather than consolidating trust, have brought us face-to-face with a dangerous situation where our unshakable will for denuclearization might waiver.

우리는 지난 몇달동안 할수 있는 선의의 조치들을 먼저 취하면서 최대의 인내심을 가지고 미국을 주시하여왔다.

In the past few months, we exercised maximum forbearance and observed the U.S. while initiating as many goodwill measures as we could.

그러나 미국은 우리의 선의와 인내심을 잘못 리해한것 같다.

But, it seems that the U.S. misunderstood our goodwill and forbearance.

미국은 저들의 강도적심리가 반영된 요구조건들까지도 우리가 인내심으로부터 받아들이리라고 여길 정도로 근본적으로 잘못된 생각을 하고있다.

The U.S. is fundamentally mistaken in its reasoning if it goes so far as to conclude that its demands—reflecting its strong-arm mindset—would be accepted by us out of our forbearance.

조미사이의 뿌리깊은 불신을 해소하고 신뢰를 조성하며 이를 위해 실패만을 기록한 과거의 방식에서 대담하게 벗어나 기성에 구애되지 않는 전혀 새로운 방식으로 풀어나가는것,신뢰조성을 앞세우면서 단계적으로 동시행동원칙에서 풀수 있는 문제부터 하나씩 풀어나가는것이 조선반도비핵화실현의 가장 빠른 지름길이다.

Dispelling deep-rooted mistrust, and building trust between the DPRK and the U.S. seeking to resolve the problem in completely new way—by boldly breaking away from past methods and being unconstrained by conventional methods that have only resulted in failure; prioritizing trust-building while solving one-by-one problems that can be solved through a step-by-step process, [based on the] principle of simultaneous [reciprocal] actions: this is the fastest fastest shortcut to denuclearization.

그러나 미국측이 조바심에 사로잡혀 이전 행정부들이 들고나왔던 낡은 방식을 우리에게 강요하려 한다면 문제해결에 아무런 도움도 주지 못할것이다.

But, if the US, sized by a sense of urgency [impatience], tries to enforce on us, the old ways asserted by previous administrations, this will not give us any help in solving the problem.

우리의 의지와는 별개로 비핵화실현에 부합되는 객관적환경이 조성되지 못한다면 오히려 좋게 시작된 쌍무관계발전의 기류가 혼탕될수 있다.

If the objective conditions conducive to denuclearization in accordance with our wills are not established, then it’s possible that the currents of positive development in developing bilateral relations in the beginning could become confused [turbulent].

역풍이 불기 시작하면 조미량국에는 물론 세계평화와 안전을 바라는 국제사회에도 커다란 실망을 안겨줄수 있으며 그렇게 되면 서로가 필경 다른 선택을 모색하게 되고 그것이 비극적인 결과에로 이어지지 않으리라는 담보는 어디에도 없다.

Should opposing winds start to blow, this could bring great disappointment to an international society that desires peace and security, as well as to the US and NK; and if that happens, then both sides would start to explore other options; there is no guarantee that this would not lead to tragic consequences.

우리는 트럼프대통령에 대한 신뢰심을 아직 그대로 간직하고있다.

We still faithfully maintain our trust in President Trump.

미국은 수뇌분들의 의지와는 달리 역풍을 허용하는것이 과연 세계인민들의 지향과 기대에 부합되고 자국의 리익에도 부합되는것인가를 심중히 따져보아야 할것이다.

The U.S. should reflect seriously whether, in opposition to the will of its [own] leaders, permitting these opposing forces (“winds”) meets the aspirations and expectations of the people of the world, and whether it meets the interests of its own country.

주체107(2018)년 7월 7일
평 양(끝)

Juche Year 107 (2018), July 7th
PyongYang (end)

  1. KCNA seems to have used this word, but its translations often contain context-free and connotation-blind malapropisms, that should be taken with a grain of salt; for example, it states, “captivated in a fidget” when it means “seized by impatience.”

Three Cheers for Trump’s Peace Trifecta

In the short space of five days, June 8-12, President Trump took three steps that upended the old post WWII global order and moved us a few steps toward a more peaceful world.  Two of those steps are undeniable; the third is perhaps not so obvious.

The Singapore Summit

The Singapore Summit comes first, because it rocked the world.

In this bold and unprecedented meeting President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un, of the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK), started down a path to Détente, aiming toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, an intractable problem or so the pundits informed us.  But as Melania warned us with a bemused smile sometime back, “Donald always shakes things up.”

The historic meeting produced more than words; concrete steps were taken:  The DPRK went first, terminating the testing of nuclear warheads, IRBMs and ICBMs and even closing its nuclear test site – all done before the summit. Leading up to the summit, Trump cut back on the extent of annual joint South Korea-US military exercises.  These have been roiling the East Pacific since the 1970s, frightening the North Koreans since these “war games” could abruptly turn into a real invasion as in the Korean War.  At summit’s conclusion Trump went further and terminated those exercises planned for late summer, labeling them “provocative,” as the North Koreans have long described them, and “expensive,” cost always being a big item in the Trumpian mind.  These exercises are also costly for the DPRK since they come at a time of year when agricultural labor is needed and hundreds of thousands of men must be diverted from the fields to join the armed forces in case the war games turn into a real invasion.  This hurts the agricultural output of the DPRK, and one suspects it is designed to do so.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Singapore Summit is the biggest step toward peace on the Korean Peninsula since President Dwight Eisenhower lived up to his 1952 campaign promise to “go to Korea” and end Truman’s deeply unpopular war, which had claimed millions of Korean lives, 1 million Chinese lives and tens of thousands of American ones. Ike ended that genocidal war, which had slaughtered 20% of the population of North Korea primarily by bombing and the use of chemical weapons.  An armistice was negotiated quickly and so the killing stopped, but a formal treaty of peace proved politically impossible.  (Ike, the peacemaker, was criticized by the media for being inarticulate and stupid and for spending too much time on the golf course.  And he had a mistress.  Sound familiar?  But he brought peace.)

Quite rightly the world greeted the Kim-Trump breakthrough with jubilation – save for the US elite and its press, including the interventionist Democratic Party leadership all of which were quite glum or downright enragedThe admirable and effective President Moon of the Republic of Korea (ROK) who himself was a key figure in making the summit possible, gave Trump much credit, and the South Korean people gave Moon’s Party overwhelming victories in the municipal elections on the day after the summit, putting the very political existence of the hawkish leadership of the rival party in question.  There was great celebration in North Korea and even the Japanese PM Shinzo Abe hailed the agreement since it removed a perceived threat.  Needless to say, China and Russia who have long pushed for denuclearization of the peninsula were very pleased; the cessation of US war games in exchange for ending DPRK testing of nukes and rockets was just the sort of first step they had advocated for some time.  And the majority (71%) of the American people approved of the summit. The Monmouth poll taken just after the summit and before the media had time to spin its demented take on events reported:

Most Americans (71%) say that the recent meeting between Trump and Kim was a good idea, including 93% of Republicans, 74% of independents, and 49% of Democrats. Only 20% say it was a bad idea. This positive feeling is somewhat higher than in late April, when 63% said the prospect of having such a meeting was a good idea.

Would it not be correct to say that the Singapore Summit is a move toward a world of peace by Trump and Kim? If so, should not all peace-loving forces support and praise it as a way to protect it from attacks of domestic hawks and to encourage similar steps in foreign policy? Have we?

This is not an academic question. The opposition to this and the policies listed below is large and building as can be seen from the reaction of the press. When Jimmy Carter tried to reach an accommodation with the DPRK and remove US troops and 700 nuclear weapons from the ROK, he was ultimately stopped by the forces we would now call Deep State, as chronicled here.  And similar forces are already organizing to stop Trump. If the peace movement does not do all in its power to back these and the initiatives outlined below, then we will bear part of the blame if those initiatives fail. What side is the peace movement on here?  To this writer the answer is unclear and the clock is ticking.

Let Russia Join the G7, says Trump

Let’s turn to achievement number two over those five days in June.  It came leading up to the G7 meeting in Charlevoix, Quebec.  Trump announced beforehand that Russia should be invited back into the G7, a move opposed by all the other members but for Italy’s new government.  The U.S. press went berserk, of course, with many declaring as they do many times daily that Trump’s strings were being pulled by – who else? – Putin.

Putin himself responded to the disagreement at the G7, thus:

As for Russia’s return to ‘the seven,’ ‘the eight’ [G7, G8] – we have not left it. Our colleagues once refused to come to Russia due to well-known reasons. Please, we will be happy to see everyone in Moscow.

Putin made that statement at a press conference in Qingdao, China, at the conclusion of the meeting of the SCO, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization with its present 8 member states: China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyryzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – with Iran, currently an observer, backed by China to become a full member.  Putin went further in this press conference; and it was reported by RT.com as follows:

The SCO gathering concluded just shortly after the G7 summit, and Russia enjoys the format of the now-eight-member organization after India and Pakistan joined. Putin believes the SCO trumps the G7 in certain aspects. For example, the member states have already overtaken the G7 in purchasing-power parity, the Russian leader said, citing IMF data.

If we calculate… per capita, the seven countries are wealthier, but the size of the SCO economies [combined] GFP is larger. And the population is, of course, much bigger – half of the planet.

That is, the combined gross GDPs of the SCO 8 are larger than the combined economies of the G7 by the PPP-GDP metric used by the IMF and World Bank (and CIA) as can be seen here.  It is noteworthy that Russia’s GDP is about equal to Germany’s, and not the basket case that it is made out to be in the Western press.  In fact, the G7 has only 3 of the world’s 7 largest economies the same number as the SCO-8.  The G7 are really nothing more than the ex-colonial and now neo-colonial countries whose time may be running out with the rise of the economies of the once colonized nations of East and South Asia.

In calling for Russia’s readmission to the G7, Trump was turning his back on the old Cold War alliances and looking to the economic realities of the 21st Century exemplified by the SCO.  He was opting to create an atmosphere of dialogue which would include Russia.  As he later said, the G7 spends 25% of its time discussing Russia- so why not have Russia present and try to work out problems together.

Trump’s appeal to readmit Russia to the G7 is simply a repeat of his call to “get along with Russia” a promise made in the campaign of 2016.  Is this not a good idea?  Is the recognition of new realities not part of creating a peaceful world?

Would it not be correct to say that this move of Trump’s is a move toward a world of peace? If so, should not all peace loving forces support and praise it as a way to protect it from attacks of domestic hawks and to encourage similar steps in foreign policy?  Have we? Again this is not an academic question because the outcome depends in part on our support or lack thereof.

Mercantilism over imperialism and hegemony

The third move in Trump’s weekend trifecta is not so much an action of his in and of itself but the revelation of a mindset behind that action.  Trump has set in motion the imposition of tariffs on countries that he views as unfair in trade with the US.  My point is not to argue whether such tariffs are good or bad or even whether the US has been treated unfairly.  (One might think, however, that the need to impose them is the sign of a trading power in its infancy which needs to protect its key enterprises – or of one in decline which can no longer prevail by virtue of the quality of what it produces.  But that is not of significance for this discussion.)

What is unusual is that Trump did not limit his economic attacks to an official adversary like China.  No, he is also directing them at our “allies,” from NATO all the way to Japan on the other side of the world.  In so doing he shows that commerce is more important to him than alliances that facilitate military actions aimed at domination and hegemony.  It might fairly be said that Trump is putting mercantilism over imperialism – if by mercantilism we mean economic nationalism.  Most of those at the G7 meeting who were aghast at the tariffs are NATO allies.  This action taken without regard to “the alliance” reminds us of Trump’s assertion during the campaign of 2016 that “NATO is obsolete.”

Trump’s stance was criticized by Canada’s PM Trudeau on this very basis, saying:

Canadians did not take it lightly that the United States has moved forward with significant tariffs on our steel and aluminum industry…. For Canadians who…stood shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in far-off lands and conflicts from the First World War onward…it’s kind of insulting. (Emphasis, jw).

Is fighting in the useless and criminal WWI something to be proud of?  Let’s pass over the many other murderess conflicts that have engaged the US and the G7 in the last 25 years, let alone the past 70 plus years.  Trudeau encompasses all this criminal behavior in the single word “onward.”  The alliances that have made this possible are indeed “obsolete,” in fact, retrograde and dangerous.  Trudeau is simply saying that the G7 have been willing allies in the imperial crimes of the US.  So they expect due economic consideration in return.  Trump is saying no more; now the business of America is business first and foremost.

This does not mean that economic nationalism is the answer to the world’s problems.  But Trump’s action does represent a move away from the “entangling alliances” that have been employed to further the hegemonistic policies of the US.

Would it not be correct to say that favoring competition in trade over cultivating alliances for military hegemony is a positive development? Should not all peace loving forces praise the move away from our “alliances,” away from NATO which has been the agent of so many criminal wars of the last quarter century?

The flies in the Trumpian Ointment

At this point in the conventional treatment of matters Trumpian, it is compulsory to launch into psychobabble about the man, with cries of indignation about his narcissism or vulgarity or some other imagined personality disorder.  This writer is not a mind reader, nor do I have much have faith in the “science” of psychology.  Such anti-Trump disclaimers are more often than not simply inoculation to protect the writer from the wrath of the legions of Trump-haters and Respectables.  Such disclaimers also represent a cheesy substitution of pop psych for political analysis.

In reality none of Trump’s actions outlined above should have been a surprise.  They are fully consistent with what he promised in 2016.  Likewise the war of words between Trump and Kim earlier in the year was simply a way to protect them both from charges of being weak on their adversary by their own hardliners.  Trump himself has admitted they were a charade, and there may have been more to the charade than he admitted.  Kim too had his hardliners although not so numerous or powerful as Trump’s.

That said, the beginnings of Trump foreign policy has not taken us from a quarter century drive toward US unipolar hegemony, which began with the Clintons, to a nirvana of peace in the space of 18 months.  Since the US Empire is the last of the 500 years of European Empires, successor to them all, it would be absurd to even expect such an outcome.  Likewise, it would be easy to google all the things that are wrong with US foreign policy and even growing worse – and there is a cottage industry devoted to just that.

But one of the current problems, US policy toward Iran, looms large and deserves special mention.  Because Iran has support from Russia and because it lies so close to Russia, conflict with Iran is likely to destroy Trump’s desire for Détente with Russia and could therefore drag the US into military conflict with a great nuclear power, even a World War.  Such a thing would be catastrophic for humanity – so it is a very big deal.  Fundamentally Trump’s position on Iran is dictated by Israel which maintains its stranglehold on US foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).  By necessity, given Israel’s power in US politics, and by his conviction as well, one suspects, Trump’s brain is Israeli occupied territory.  And the same malign influence contributes to the criminal US support of the Saudi atrocities in Yemen.  Perhaps discussions with Putin can help Trump on this matter.  But right now Israel poses one of the greatest obstacles to a new and enlightened foreign policy in a key area for all of humanity.

Finally let’s return again to the Singapore Summit.  Please, dear reader, immerse yourself in the jubilation it generated worldwide.  It jumps out of the screen right here Gangnam Style. Be sure the sound is on at the lower right of the screen– and join the dance for joy.

• This article first appeared on Antiwar.com

Trump Isn’t The Problem, He’s the Manifestation of America’s Id

Paul Krugman, professor of international trade and economics at Princeton University

The speed of America’s moral descent under Donald Trump is breathtaking. In a matter of months we’ve gone from a nation that stood for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to a nation that tears children from their parents and puts them in cages.
— Paul Krugman, New York Times column, June 21, 2018

conomist Paul Krugman is a smart Princeton professor who won a Nobel Prize, and most of what he says in this column is heartfelt, decent, and humane. His argument is relatively simple: since there is no present immigration crisis, there is no basis – practical, moral – no decent basis whatsoever for the current government’s inhumane, illegal, brutal treatment of immigrants and their children. In an apparently deliberate exercise of hatred and bigotry, the Trump administration is committing crimes against humanity.

That’s all quite true, quite obvious, and millions of people already recognize the government’s mindless cruelty for what it is – mindless cruelty that stimulates the mindlessly cruel base of Trump supporters from the cabinet on down.

But the way Krugman opens his column is mind-bogglingly delusional at best, dishonestly partisan at worst. Yes, “America’s moral descent under Donald Trump is breathtaking,” but not because of its speed. America’s moral descent has been with us from the beginning. America’s beginning was a struggle to ascend from the accepted moral order rooted in slave-holding authoritarianism, where inequality was God-given and women and children were property. The big difference between now and then is that then the angry white men making a revolution had enlightened ideals that were in conflict with the darker angels of their nature. The core dynamic of American history has always been the struggle between those who want to realize American ideals and those who don’t. The record is decidedly mixed, but the big victories mostly belong to the exploiters and killers. Trump is clearly in that line of descent.

Krugman asks us to believe that, in January 2017, America was “a nation that stood for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This is just a fantasy. These are words from the Declaration of Independence and have no weight in law that defines the nation. The preamble to the Constitution sets our national goals as a more perfect Union, Justice, domestic Tranquility, the common defence, general Welfare, and the Blessings of Liberty. In January 2017, our common defence was secure, except in the paranoid rantings of demagogues. Every other aspiration of the Constitution was in a shambles of long duration.

As he rose to the Presidency, Donald Trump was not so much a unique persona in triumph as he was the cobbled-together excrescence of more than 40 years of collective struggle by right-wing operatives trying to build their own fantasy of America, which Trump now embodies, perhaps imperfectly in the eyes of the idealist right. But he’s their Frankenstein creation and the rabble loves him, contradictory sewn-together bits and all.

Trumpenstein was a long time in the making, but one could see the first bits taking shape at least as early as Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign. The racist veins were pulsing clearly at the kick-off in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in quiet celebration of the lynching of the three civil rights workers, Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, who went unmentioned. The racism of the right has only grown with race-based drug laws, race-populated prisons, race-based poverty, police executions, and on and on. The Clintons were shameful accomplices. No president since Reagan has dialed back American racism. Obama spoke eloquently about race, but that didn’t keep Republicans from racializing politics, much to the glee of the Tea Party, and Obama never pushed back effectively, instead becoming the deporter-in-chief after blessing the military coup in Honduras that later fed the immigration wave fleeing oppression and murder.

Yes, we are now officially “a nation that tears children from their parents and puts them in cages.” We are also a nation that took years to notice our official brutality to immigrants, especially asylum seekers, and most especially those seeking asylum from brutal dictatorships we nurture and support. American brutality on the border is hardly a serious departure from American brutality in Iraq or Vietnam or Korea or in nations of Native Americans where we took children and put them in cages we called Christian schools.

Krugman surely knows all this and more, so why won’t he see it or say it? It’s as if he’s drunk the kool-aid of American Exceptionalism and must deny anything not pre-blessed by our cultural cult. Republicans were rabid to impeach Clinton for lying about a blow-job, Democrats couldn’t even impeach Bush for lying us into war (a war we’ve yet to escape). Obama couldn’t even close Guantanamo, but he refused to prosecute the torturers, and now one of them runs the CIA. It’s taken America years of bipartisan betrayal to get where we are now, but how can we change if we can’t even say clearly and directly who we are and how we got this way?

Krugman is wholly justified in any moral outrage he may feel about the Trump administration, but he is not justified, morally or intellectually, in making Trump a scapegoat embodying longstanding American evils long promoted by the right with little opposition. Trump is a mirror for the country, and if the country doesn’t like what it sees, the country needs to change.

Destiny and Daring: South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s Impossible Journey Towards Peace

South Korean President Moon Jae-In

The South Korean president, Moon Jae-In, has been a discreet if powerful mover in the recent détente and peace-building process between North and South Korea and the US.  If the momentum of the Panmunjom Declaration and the successful summit between the DPRK and the US are continued, then promising outcomes are possible: peace and denuclearization of the peninsula, economic reintegration, diplomatic normalization, possible future confederation, and fundamental geopolitical shift.  What bodes well is that the people of South Korea have extraordinary confidence in President Moon Jae and his policies.  This much loved and respected individual is someone who has spent a lifetime achieving extraordinary outcomes while struggling against impossible, unbelievable odds.

The following passages in block quotes are some vignettes (in his own words, lightly annotated or edited for clarity) extracted from his modest, understated autobiography, Destiny, written in 2011, that give us some insights into this extraordinary leader and human being.

Rich Tigers and Starving Dogs:

In 1972, the South Korean military dictator Park Chung Hee—a former Japanese colonial collaborator—directed his secret police to rewrite South Korea’s authoritarian constitution.  The result, known as the Yushin [“revitalizing reform”] constitution, was a totalitarian document cribbed in title, content, and spirit from the Imperial Meiji Constitution of the Japanese Empire.  This constitution granted Park the South Korean presidency for life, along with powers comparable to the Japanese Showa Emperor.

Sodaemun Prison was an infamous prison constructed by the Japanese 1907 to imprison and torture Korean independence activists during their long colonization of Korea.  After the Japanese left, the South Korean military dictatorship—created from whole cloth from former Japanese collaborators by a cold war US caretaker government—used it to imprison many South Korean activists fighting for democratic reform–in continuity with the habits of their former colonial masters.  When popular protests broke out against this 1972 constitutional coup, Park Chung Hee imprisoned and tortured its key leaders.  Moon Jae-In was one of the student activist leaders imprisoned in Sodaemun Prison for protesting the Yushin “reforms”.  Here he describes his experiences in Prison.

In the Prison, there were two types of prisoners. “Tiger fur” prisoners, and “dog fur” prisoners.

Dogs and Tigers had a different prison lives.  In no other place in the world does the power of wealth manifest itself so nakedly.  In our cell, half of the prisoners were “tiger furs”, and the others were “dog furs”, and so I inadvertently got some of the benefits of the tigers, for example, tiger cells and dog cells got different amounts of time to use the washing facilities in the morning.

Everyone in my cell called me student, and treated me well. I had been a 4th year law student, when I was arrested, and I had passed the first level of the bar exam, so I helped cell mates write appeals or legal briefs. Word got out, and prisoners in other cells also asked me to help.

There is something I can’t forget from my life in prison. At the time, near the prison, there were many pigeons, and often they would settle in the yard. When I was bored, I would watch them from above. There were also inmates who would throw leftover food to the doves.  In our cell, there were many tigers, and they would purchase “private meals”. They would also buy snacks between meals–dry wheat crackers, which when mixed with margarine and egg yolk, making a sort of cream–was worth eating.

So naturally, the [unappetizing] “government food” [i.e. prison food] would be left over. So I would collect it and toss it to the pigeons.

As that continued, the pigeons would start to gather near our cell at regular times. But whenever I threw out the food, the young boys being held in the children’s block, would scurry towards the windows of their cells and watch the pigeons fight it out amongst themselves for food scraps. First, I thought they were watching for the sheer spectacle of it. But I was wrong. They weren’t watching it for fun.  I was told that they were pained and regretful at the food scraps that were being wasted on the pigeons, food that they would have liked to eat themselves. I was shocked, ashamed, and remorseful.

All the young boys were “dogs”, so all the food they got was “government food” and that was all, and so they were all starving.  After that, I got the cooperation of my cellmates to always leave untouched a few of the “government meals”, and to send them whole over to the boy’s block.

Theater of Cruelty

After serving time in Prison for his anti-government activism, Moon was forcibly conscripted into the South Korean Military.  After basic training, he was sent into the Special Forces Warfare Brigade (1st Paratroop Brigade) led by a General Chun Doo Hwan.  A close retainer of Park Chung Hee, Chun would later take power as the military dictator in a coup in December of 1979 after the assassination of Park, and rule the county with an iron fist until 1987.  Along the way, Chun would declare martial law, imprison tens of thousands off the street into “Triple Purification Re-education Camps”, and would unleash tanks and helicopter gunships on the citizen protestors in the City of Gwangju. Activists leading up to, and after this period, even after they had finished their prison sentences, were often conscripted into the military for further long term re-education though brutal military training, a form of prolonged conversion torture—Special Forces divisions had casualty rates of 25%. Moon talks here about the last days of basic training.

To uncover beatings, a supervising division inspector would come unannounced, and inspect recruits’ behinds for bruises inflicted with (baseball) bats. Mindful of this, our trainers wouldn’t beat our behinds, but beat us on the soles of our feet instead. Being beaten on the soles of the feet is many times more painful than being beaten on the behind. Because I had been designated a senior squad leader, every time any member of our platoon made a mistake, I was beaten. So I received the bastinado* a lot.

[*Bastinado, Falanga, Falaka, Beating or flogging of the feet, is a humiliating and excruciating form of punishment and is widely recognized as a form of torture. Often associated with the Third Reich, and Middle Eastern dictatorships, it uses the exquisitely pressure-sensitive nerves of the foot that balance the body to inflict unremitting, excruciating, crippling pain].

As basic training evaluation time approached, our boot camp drill instructors threatened us. “If you write something [negative] on your “wish list” [evaluations], we will do an analysis of the handwriting, and we will find you and make your life unbearable.” With a couple of days before the end of our basic training, the upper division inspector came over to conduct a training evaluation. The inspector chased out all the drill assistants, handed out sheets of paper, and asked us write down everything that had been troubling, difficult, everything that could be improved, and to list all the incidents of beatings and other violations that we had suffered or observed. When everyone hesitated, the inspector said with convincing sincerity, “Your basic training has ended, but if there are things that should be fixed, please list them, so those who come behind you will not suffer the same difficulties and indignities, and our military will be able to develop into a better military”.

When the active service soldiers started to rubberneck around us, the inspector chased them out with loud, scolding words.  “It will be all anonymous, so there will be no repercussions”, he said.  “Your trainers will have intimidated you, but they will never see any of the content, so no need to worry”.  Reassured by the reassuring atmosphere, most of the trainees started to write.  Actually, to tell the truth, we could have written pages upon pages, and still not exhausted all the abuses.

But as soon as the inspectors left, the drill assistants rushed into the space, carrying the very papers we had just written.  It was a complete set up.  The remainder of the time we underwent “energetic reunification”*.  They stated that they would flush out those who had alleged serious abuses, creating an atmosphere of terror.  The next day, the “evaluators” came out again for the “wish list”.  They repeated the same things, created the same reassuring atmosphere. These were the actual inspectors.   But no one was going for it this time.  No one wrote a word.

[*”Kihap” or ”Energetic reunification” is an Orwellian South Korean euphemism for corporal punishment, derived from Japanese military training that uses physical mortification as a way of “rectifying disunified [martial] energy”. South Korea’s government, with its Japanese colonial collaborators and officers, its military culture was likewise derived from Japanese military training and ideologies].

Frozen

5 years later, in 1979, after prison and military service, Moon finally returned to college.  The dictator, Park Chung Hee, whose government had put him in prison, had been assassinated by his own chief of secret police (KCIA) in the prelude to a drunken orgy, as they argued over how violently to suppress civilian protests.  Chun, the general who had led the special warfare brigade where Moon had been a conscript, had taken power in a military coup, and the county was awash with protest and demonstrations against yet another military dictatorship.  When protests escalated, Martial Law was declared, and Moon was arrested again.

I knew it in my bones. Even during martial law, some street protests had been allowed [as an escape valve], and the military had not entered university campuses, but this time, the military was going to go into the campuses and really laying down the law. I told my wife on the bus, “As soon as we get back home, I am going to have to go temporarily into hiding. If that happens, don’t be ashamed.”  It was a naïve wish.

The moment we got off the bus to the entrance to the [family] farm, 5 or 6 burly toughs surrounded us, pointing guns.  They shouted, “Freeze.  Hands up.  You’re Moon Jae-In, right?”.   They were detectives from the Chungnyangni police station who had been waiting to arrest me.

“Can I see your warrant?” I said.

“F*** your warrant”, they said.  This is Martial Law, they shouted, and waved a paper stamped in red ink with the words “Martial Law Certificate”.

They were intimating that under Martial Law, the warrant system is suspended, and thus I should shut up and put up.  In front of the members of my family-in-law, hand cuffs were put on me, and I was put on a bus, and taken into detention at Chungnyangni police station in Seoul.

At that time, I had been living in a boarding house inside Kyunghee University.  The night before my apprehension, Martial Law troops had broken into the boarding house looking for me, and torn the place apart, including the women’s quarters. When they didn’t find me, detectives had gone to my in-law’s home in the morning, breaking in and kicking the place apart with their boots, and still not finding me, they had terrorized the only person there, my wife’s younger sister, a high school student into revealing that we had gone to the [in-law’s] farm on Gangwha Island. So there they were, at the entrance to the farm, having staked out the bus station the whole day, all the while snacking only on bread. In front of my mother and father-in-law, with guns pointed, they forced my hands up and cuffed me.  It was a truly humiliating moment. As I was being taken away, looking out the back of the bus, I could see that they were stunned, frozen in place, wordless.

Catalyst:

In January 1987, seven years into the Chun dictatorship, a student activist by the name of Park Jong Chul was waterboarded to death.  Ghosted away by the police in the middle of the night to one of south Korea’s many “Anti-Communist Interrogation Centers (i.e. torture chambers)” he had been tortured and waterboarded to death.  Although not an uncommon event at the time—thousands had been tortured, some of them to death–Police claimed he had died spontaneously from a heart attack but a coroner with unusual integrity had certified that he had died under torture.

Moon, in the meantime, had been re-released from prison, passed the bar exam, and finished training at the national law institute.  Despite graduating second in his class, because of his activist background, he was denied any opportunities within the judiciary or government.  Although receiving several offers from white shoe corporate law firms in Seoul, he turned them down to partner with one of the rare human rights and labor lawyers in the country, Roh Moo Hyun, who had made a name for himself fighting for the lost causes of tortured political prisoners. 

Roh Moo Hyun, Moon’s partner in crime–a self-taught lawyer with only high school diploma–would later become President of South Korea in 2003, and would invite Moon to be his chief of staff.  Moon would continue the Sunshine policy—the policy of rapprochement with North Korea, including the building of a collaborative business zone.  Roh would later be hounded to suicide by conservative forces, and in the wake of his death, Moon would re-enter politics, later riding the candle light revolution all the way to the presidency in 2017, a revolution in which 16 million people took to the streets to oust the last corrupt, reactionary, dictatorial vestiges of Park Chung Hee and his daughter.

In January 1987, the torture-homicide scandal of Seoul National University student, Park Jong Chul erupted. The police spokesman stated that when the interrogator slammed the table while asking questions, Park had made a sudden sound, and then had fallen down and died. The entire country erupted in fury. The southern city of Pusan was even more enraged. The victim was from Pusan.  The parents lived in Pusan. His 49th Day Departure Rites [Traditional Korean mourning customs believe that the spirit of the deceased remains on the earth for 49 days before departing for the spirit world; at this time, a final departure ceremony is held] The rage against the dictatorial oppression burned most fiercely in Pusan.

February 7th, “The National Committee for the Commemoration of Park Jong Chol” spearheaded a series of national events to remember Park Jong Chol. Counselor Roh and I were part of this preparation committee. The Pusan Region People’s Commemoration Event” was put together by this committee.

The commemoration venue was the Buddhist temple in the middle of the city, The Temple of Great Awakening–Dae Kak Sa.  But the police had hermetically sealed off the temple, and made it impossible to even approach the venue. Riot police had surrounded the temple in layered phalanxes, and citizens who were attempting entry were fired on with tear gas. A scrum of University students faced off against police, and shouted “Bring Back Jong Chul”, but were unable to make any headway into the temple.

We couldn’t just give up and retreat. The Pusan People’s Collective held an emergency assembly, and at the end of it, decided to meet in the street in front of the Pusan Nampodong Theater and conduct a simplified ceremony. Discreetly, people left and regrouped in front of the theater.

At the agreed upon time, 2pm, 300 citizens and students gathered, and held an abbreviated commemoration and rally. They sang the national anthem, protest songs, and gave speeches denouncing the dictatorship, and Counsellor Roh conducted the commemoration rituals. This was the first mass street rallies held since the massive 1979 Busan-Masan Democracy Protests [that triggered the assassination of Park Chung Hee]. In a short time, a multitude of citizens had joined the fray, and the streets were packed full.

Belatedly realizing what had happened, the police encircled the area, and then sent in the “white skull brigade” [Martial arts trained riot police specializing in violent protest suppression—snatching leaders and cracking skulls]. In order to protect the frightened citizens, the leaders of the Pusan Peoples’ Collective placed themselves as a barrier between the students and citizens and the police, sitting down in a long non-violent chain on the ground. Counselor Roh and I joined them.

The police started firing tear gas randomly at the seated protestors. There was no way to avoid it, so we quietly just took the shots.

Then the riot police hurtled towards us, breaking up our lines, snatching us up, and dragging us into the “chicken wire” buses [buses used to detain and transport protestors, with chicken wire over the windows].  Because of the tear gas, even after we were in the buses, we couldn’t open our eyes for a long time.  We were taken over to the Pusan region Anti-Communist Interrogation Center.  That day, after we successfully held our abbreviated ceremony, even after we were apprehended, 10,000 people came out to protest, long into the evening.  This was the beginning of the end, the catalyst for the June protests.

In June of 1987, millions of South Koreans took to the streets—the largest street protests in modern history—and brought down the military dictatorship of Chun Doo Hwan.