Category Archives: NATO

Observations and Impressions from Russia

Introduction

For over two weeks this May, a delegation of 30 Americans visited seven regions and ten cities across Russia.  Organized by Sharon Tennison of Center for Citizen Initiatives, the entire group began in Moscow with several days of meetings and visits, then broke into smaller groups going to cities including Volgograd, Kazan (Tatarstan), Krasnodar (near Black Sea), Novosibirsk (Siberia), Yekaterinburg and the Crimean cities Simferopol, Yalta and Sevastopol.  After these regional visits, delegates regrouped in St Petersburg to share their experiences. Following is an informal review with conclusions based on my observations in Kazan and what I heard from others.

Observations and Facts

* Western sanctions have hurt sectors of Russia’s economy but encouraged agricultural production. 

Exports and imports have been impacted by Western sanctions imposed in 2014. The tourist sector has been hard hit and education exchanges between Russia and the USA have been interrupted or ended. However, the sanctions have spurred investments and expansion in agricultural production. We were told that farmers are saying ‘Don’t lift the sanctions!”

* Some Russian oligarchs are making major infrastructure investments.

For example, billionaire Sergei Galitsky has developed Russia’s largest retail outlet, the Magnit supermarket chain. Galitsky has invested heavily in state-of-the-art drip irrigation green houses producing massive quantities of high quality cucumbers, tomatoes and other vegetables which are distributed via the supermarkets throughout Russia.

* There has been a resurgence of religion in Russia.

Russian Orthodox Churches have been revitalized and gold leaf glistens on the church domes. Muslim mosques have also been refurbished and rebuilt. A brilliant new mosque is a prominent part of the Kremlin in Kazan, Tatarstan. There are many Muslim in Russia. This research puts the number at ten million though we heard estimates much higher. We saw numerous examples of interfaith unity and cooperation, with Muslim Imams working side by side with young Russian Orthodox priests. We also heard stories of how churches had been used as prisons or food warehouses during the Stalin era.

* Russia increasingly looks east.

The Russian emblem of a double-headed eagle looks both east and west; it is a Eur-Asian country. While Europe is still important politically and economically, Russia is increasingly looking to the east. Russia’s “strategic partner” is China – economically, politically and militarily. There are increasing numbers of Chinese tourists and education exchanges with Russia. In the United Nations Security Council the two countries tend to vote together. Huge investments are planned for the transportation network dubbed the “Belt and Road Initiative” connecting Asia with Europe.

* Russia is a capitalist country with a strong state sector.

Government is influential or controls sectors of the economy such as public transportation, military/defense industry, resource extraction, education and health care.  State owned enterprises account for nearly 40% of overall employment. They have universal health care in parallel with private education and health care facilities. Banking is a problem area with high interest rates and the failure/bankruptcy of numerous banks in the past decade. We heard complaints that foreign multinational companies can enter and control sectors of the economy, drive out Russian competitors and take the profits home.

* There is some nostalgia for the former Soviet Union with its communist ideals.

We met numerous people who speak fondly of the days when nobody was super-rich or horribly poor and when they believed there was a higher goal for society. We heard this from people ranging from a successful entrepreneur to an aging Soviet era rock musician.  That does not mean that these people want to return to Soviet days, but that they recognize the changes in Russia have both pluses and negatives. There is widespread disapproval of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the economic chaos of the 1990’s.

* There is a range of media supporting both government and opposition parties.

There are three major TV stations controlled by and supporting the government. Along with these, there are numerous private stations criticizing the government and supporting various opposition parties. In print media, the majority of newspapers and magazines are critical of the government.

* Public transportation is impressive.

The streets of Moscow are jam packed with new cars. Meanwhile, underground there is a fast, economical and efficient subway system which is the most heavily used in Europe. The Moscow metro carries 40% more passengers than the New York subway system. On major routes the trains arrive every 60 seconds. Some of the stations are over 240 feet underground with the longest escalator in Europe. Inter-city trains such as the Sapsan (Falcon) take passengers between St. Petersburg and Moscow at 200 kms per hour. Despite the speed, the train is smooth and quiet. It’s an interesting way to view rural Russia as one passes ramshackle dachas, cute villages and abandoned Soviet era factories. A major new transportation project is the bridge between Krasnodar and the Crimean peninsula. This short video portrays the design.

* Putin is popular.

Depending on who you ask, Putin’s popularity seems to range between 60 and 80%. There are two reasons: First, since he became leader the economy has stabilized, corrupt oligarchs were brought into check, and the standard of living dramatically improved. Second, Putin is credited with restoring international respect for Russia and national pride for Russian citizens. Some say “During the 1990’s we were a beggar nation.” Russians have a strong sense of national pride and Putin’s administration has restored that. Some people think Putin deserves a break from the intense pressure and workload. That does not mean everyone likes him or is afraid to say that. Our official Moscow guide took delight in showing us the exact spot on the bridge outside the Kremlin where she believes Putin had one of his enemies assassinated. Other Russians we spoke with mock these accusations which are widely believed in the West. As to the accusations that Putin is a “dictator”, about 75 students in Crimea openly laughed when they were asked about this Western belief.

Current Political Tension

* Russians are highly skeptical of accusations about Russian “meddling” in the U.S. election.

One foreign policy expert, Vladimir Kozin, said “It’s a fairy tale that Russia influenced the U.S. election.” They contrast the unverified accusations with clear evidence of U.S. interference in past Russian elections, especially in the 1990’s when the economy was privatized and crime, unemployment and chaos overwhelmed the country. The role of the U.S. in “managing” the election of Boris Yeltsin in 1995 is widely known in Russia, as is the U.S. funding of hundreds of Non Governmental Organizations in Ukraine prior to the 2013-2014 violence and coup.

* There is a strong desire to improve relations with the U.S.

We met numerous Russians who had participated in citizen exchanges with the U.S. in the 1990’s. Almost universally these Russians had fond memories of their visits and hosts in the U.S. In other places we met people who had never met an American or English speaking person before. Typically they were cautious but very pleased to hear from American citizens who also wish to improve relations and reduce tensions.

* Western media reports about Crimea are hugely distorted. 

CCI delegates who visited Crimea met with a broad range of citizens and elected leaders. The geography is “stunningly beautiful” with mountains dropping to beaches on the Black Sea. Not reported in the West, Crimea was part of Russia since 1783. When Crimea was administratively transferred to Ukraine in 1954, it was all part of the Soviet Union. Crimeans told the CCI delegates they were repelled by the violence and fascist elements involved in the Kiev coup. Bus convoys from Crimea were attacked with injuries and deaths following the Kiev coup. The new coup government said Russian was no longer an official language. Crimeans quickly organized and held a referendum to secede from Ukraine and “re-unify” with Russia. With 80% of registered voters participating, 96% voted to join Russia. One Crimean stated to the CCI delegates, “We would have gone to war to separate from Ukraine.” Others noted the hypocrisy of the West which allows secession votes in Scotland and Catalonia, and which encouraged the secession of Croatia, but then rejects the overwhelming vote and choice of the Crimean people. Sanctions against tourism are hurting the economy of Crimea yet the public is confident in its decision. The Americans who visited Crimea were overwhelmed with the warm welcome and friendliness they received.  Because of the sanctions, few Americans visit Crimea and they also received substantial media coverage. In reaction, political officials in Ukraine accused the delegates of being “enemies of the Ukrainian state” and put their names on a blacklist.

* Russians know and fear war.

Twenty-seven million Russians died in WW2 and that experience is seared into the Russian memory. The Nazi siege of Leningrad (now called St Petersburg) reduced the population from 3 million to 500 thousand. Walking through the cemetery of mass graves brings home the depth of suffering and resilience of Russians who somehow survived a 872 day siege on the city. Memory of the war is kept alive through commemorations with huge public participation. Citizens carry poster size photographs of their relatives who fought or died in World War 2, known as the “Immortal Regiment“. In Kazan, the march involved 120 thousand persons – 10% of the entire city population – beginning at 10 am and concluding at 9 pm. Across Russia, millions of citizens actively participate. The marches and parades marking “Victory Day” are more solemn than celebratory.

* Russians see themselves being threatened.

While Western media portrays Russia as “aggressive”, most Russians perceive the reverse. They see the U.S. and NATO increasing military budgets, steadily expanding, moving up to the Russian border, withdrawing from or violating past treaties and conducting provocative military exercises. This map shows the situation.

* Russians want to de-escalate international tensions.

Former President Gorbachev said to our group “Does America want Russia to just submit? This is a country that can never submit.” These words carry extra significance because it was Gorbachev who initiated the foreign policy of Perestroika which led to his own side-lining and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev has written about Perestroika as follows: “Its main outcome was the end of the Cold War. A long and potentially deadly period in world history, when the whole humankind lived under the constant threat of a nuclear disaster, came to an end.” Yet we are clearly in a new Cold War and the threat has re-emerged.

Conclusion

Despite three years of economic sanctions, low oil prices and an intense information war in the West, Russian society appears to be doing reasonably well. Russians across the spectrum express a strong desire to build friendship and partnership with the U.S. At the same time, it seems Russians will not be intimidated. They don’t want war and won’t initiate it, but if attacked they will defend themselves as they have in the past.

Barging Through NATO: Donald Trump in Europe

From his big white bird did the President descend upon his dreading European hosts, looking much like natives waiting to be slaughtered or ravished.  As Donald Trump pushed his way through NATO members (the Montenegrin prime minister, for one, felt his forceful shove), representatives shot glances of discomfort and bemusement. In a refreshing blast of brutishness, the Ugly American, made flesh in the incarnation of Trump, was explaining, even hectoring Washington’s allies.

The central irritation was one about, as it always tends to be, money.  In the rueful words of Karen Attiah’s penned piece for the Washington Post, “Trump was the party guest whom no one really wants to deal with but has to – because he has more money than anyone else.”

Muscular, military buffoonery comes at a high price, usually to the filched tax payer.  But the issue of where the money goes is almost as important as whether you have it.  The largest military power on earth was tired about having to provide a shield of defence without some local compensation, and here, its President was claiming some form of fictional proprietorship.

Why, wondered Trump, were NATO members not pulling their military weight not so much over their defence as the obligations owed to the US?  Back payments were due, and The Donald was under the erroneous impression that they had to be paid directly to the US.

“Over the last eight years, the United States spent more on defence than all other NATO countries combined.”  The ever dreaded, misrepresented figures were produced.  23 members of the 28, claimed Trump, “are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defence.”

It takes much for the otherwise unadventurous USA Today to stake any claim of accurate reportage, let alone tough critique, but in a piece on the president’s NATO adventure, the paper concluded that NATO members were “not in arrears in military spending”, nor were they “in debt to the United States”.  There was, in fact, no debt to have.

A more interesting point for the eye sored arms watcher is that the US, for all its fears about the rising tide of Chinese power, continues to dwarf the combined defence expenditures of the next four powers.  Freedom land remains its own burgeoning arsenal, modernising, acquiring and misspending like a drunken lord.

Given such a curtness, the more security-minded among the NATO partnership wondered about whether the celebrated Article 5, one guaranteeing US support in the event of attack from a foreign power on a member state, might be abided by.  They were left disappointed, even as they looked on at the dedication of a memorial to NATO’s invocation of the Article after the 9/11 attacks on US.

In this sense, the Trump show reveals itself in all its unpatriotic worth, a case of business before country, of Brand USA before multiple alliances.  That point is missed by those entrusted with the task of reading the tea leaves and deciphering the smoke signals coming from the greatest reality show on earth: the White House.  “That he couldn’t even say some very benign words that would’ve meant a lot to our allies was really striking,” claimed Loren Schulman, former member of the National Security Council.

The response to storm Trump from European leaders varied.  The Montenegrin prime minister Duško Marković, victim of The Donald’s aggressive shove, responded with a certain amount of conciliatory brown nosing: Trump was merely following the order of standing.  “This was an inoffensive situation,” claimed a recomposed Marković.  “I do not see it in any other way.”

Then came the chance for France’s newly elected President Emmanuel Macron to make his own show of it.  Aware about Trump’s tendency to draw in his unsuspecting opposite number with his meaty paw, Macron stood his ground.  Le Journal du Dimanche subsequently reported how Macron’s “handshake with him, it wasn’t innocent.”

From the muck level dross of Twitter, Trump expressed in the aftermath of his visit a degree of satisfaction at what could only be discussed as another illusion.  “Many NATO countries have agreed to step up payments considerably, as they should.  Money is beginning to pour in – NATO will be much stronger.” (Trump remains his own deterrent against reality, whether it be on the liquid existence of money or its pouring.)

The promise on increased payments were already being engineered after 2014, when NATO members gave a commitment to push military contributions to 2 percent of GDP.  The commitment was hardly achieved by blood ritual, but this was a pre-Trump world of diplomatic caution.  That time scale was longer than any Trump programme could ever be: an entire decade.  What matters now is instant gratification, and swift dangerous performance.  Shorter and louder, in other words, is better.

If They Could Change Something, They Would Be Prohibited…

Well, that is only a slight exaggeration since change — if by that is meant a real change in the relations of power — has never been effected by elections.

As satirist Tom Lehrer once sang about the SCUM1: “All their rights respected, until someone WE like can be elected”. Elections have always been a ritual to stabilize a regime not to change it. Some regimes prefer other means or better said dispense with the cosmetics.

But just as the USA harbours the biggest advertising and PR firms — for whose economic benefit that country’s peculiar election style has emerged (and proliferated) — it also has the world’s largest military, police and prison system to maintain the regime for which elections are the plastic surgery.

For those who can still remember the Soviet Union it is fair to say that elections there were no less intended to stabilize the regime. Strangely enough after 1989 elections in the Russian Federation or elsewhere were viewed as illegitimate when people freely voted communist.

Of course, nearly all of Western Europe would have voted Communist after 1945 had it not been for the massive bribery, criminal terror, military force and corporate propaganda funded, planned and perpetrated by the US regime through what L Fletcher Prouty called “the Secret Team” and Philip Agee called “capitalism’s invisible army” (aka CIA).

It was the CIA in the form of Preston Goodfellow2 and Syngman Rhee that gave us the unending war in Korea — then for tungsten and cheap rice. Of course, the invisible army, which includes those who fund it and from whom it profits, has not ceased to manipulate what ordinary people have been taught is the peaceful way to get their interests respected.

We know that German and French and Italian elections have been manipulated by the Secret Team/ invisible army since 1945.

We even know now that the British subsidiary gave Mussolini to Italy.

The prima facie evidence is that Hitler would not have been “elected” without the weapons and money he and his NSDAP received to terrorize the opposition– and still he only got a plurality because the Roman Catholic Church, ruled then by fascist Pius XII, ordered the dissolution of the Center Party.

In short a serious examination of election history will show that the majority has never freely elected fascists. This does not mean that fascism was devoid of popular support. Most of this support came from the supposedly educated (indoctrinated is a better word) whom George Orwell called “the outer party” — the civil servants, middle managers, university trained, whom even Professor Chomsky without the least sense of irony called the most heavily propagandized segment of the population.

One has to bear all this in mind when one attempts to explain the seemingly disparate events in Ukraine, Britain, Netherlands, Brazil, Venezuela and, yes, in France.

In an interview given in 2016 one of Sarkozy’s former ministers affirmed what can be read but is rarely said:

The US regime bought the Partie Socialiste Francaise decades ago. That was in the days when people like Irving Brown, Jay Lovestone (for the invisible army) and Corsican friends paid people in the PSF to break with the Communists.3

I remember writing here some time past how I witnessed the spectacle of the former Vichy civil servant Mitterrand being elected to France’s high office as a “socialist” in 1981. I say no more.

So what happened in this year’s presidential election in France? Let me conclude with a brief analysis:

Ordinary French people, like Greeks, Italians, Spanish and Portuguese have watched their economies plundered by the vermin of Goldman Sachs and their cohorts, facilitated by every elected politician — by omission or commission — and coordinated by the European Commission (and I should add the European Council which gives them their marching orders more or less). Most have not gathered that this plunder is enforced by NATO — which can demand more tax money than hospitals or schools (and is wholly unelected by the way). But the dissatisfaction of the South of Europe is audible. So this dissatisfaction has to be neutralized.

The educated/indoctrinated are manipulated through their hypocrisy: they love the slaughter of Muslims as long as it is abroad or deniable at home. The seasonal “terror” displays are designed to channel emotions to the Right while preserving the hypocritical pretense that the “real Right” like Le Pen is not a legitimate part of our Christian cultural heritage.  (To avoid nausea I refrain from elaborating as to what that heritage actually comprises.)

After Hollande performed his function of destroying what remained of the PSF as a channel for socialist sentiments, Le Pen had to draw all the anti-EU sentiment from the electorate — something like applying leeches. Then Macron was applied like the burning end of a Gitane cigarette to the legs of France’s working and unemployed class to remove the leech. Thus the electorate could be led by their prefects out of the swamp of anti-EU sentiment, yet still exhausted by the march, into the desert of Goldman Sachs and their ilk to be bit by the scorpions of the invisible army while they slowly dehydrate for the 1%. Of course, the further south one goes — the hotter and drier it gets.

  1. I heard once from someone in the US Navy that this was the only word you can make from the letters u-s-m-c
  2. CIA officer John Hart was only one of the fabulous who went on to help establish the means for massacring electorally deficient Vietnamese after Korea was divided between a wasteland and a fascist-managed atomic bridgehead to China (which it remains today despite electoral oscillations). The extent of CIA involvement in Korea—especially in the counter-insurgency waged against the Southern peasantry by USMGK and its local help—can only be estimated since, as Prouty also explained, it is extremely difficult to tell who, in fact, is CIA, or the Secret Team.
  3. One of the most difficult concepts to understand is that of bribery and covert party or political financing.  Bribery and covert financing are not like normal business transactions among knowing parties. If I say I will buy a car from someone I may know the price and I may or may not be able to judge whether the price I am asked to pay will deliver what I want or believe I am getting. I may make a mistake or I may be willing to pay more or less than someone else. If only the buyer and seller are involved this is a question of relative risk.

    Bribery however relies not only on a lie but the pretense that there has been no lie or possibility to lie. If I pay an expert for his work then he may or may not be good but the result is independent of the price. If however I pay for the result– that is I want a certain value, then the fee I pay becomes a bribe as soon as the result becomes the product– if this product is then used to deceive the potential buyer.

    Because we are supposed to in fact must believe that a candidate for a certain party is at least obliged to support that party’s platform or programme, the knowledge that this person is paid or otherwise rewarded for contrary or ambivalent if not treacherous conduct is a special but not exceptional form of corruption. This corruption relies on class distinctions. If this were a mere trade in votes then theoretically the whole working population of a constituency could buy their representatives. But that is not allowed since the law prohibits buying votes– openly by anyone who wants an interest represented.

    The reason for this prohibition is not to prevent bribery but to exclude the vast majority from any attempt to buy their own deputies.

    When the secret team buys influence– meaning it bribes party members across the board– it does so because it has the class monopoly on such trade. The open buying of votes or other forms of influence cannot be permitted because the obligation incurred by the “bought” can only be redeemed at the bank of the ruling class and its agents. It relies on the moral order that bribes cannot be given or taken. However like all other moral orders, this applies only to the rest of us.

    It is not necessary to eliminate an enemy’s entire army– just their will to fight. It takes only a fraction of an army or a party hierarchy to destroy an entire force. The petty moral obligation or the fear of the invisible buyer are enough to keep most bribed people in line. Have a doubt? What kept you from quitting your job the last time?

Cotton Mather’s Rolex

Only the liberation of the natural capacity for love in human beings can master their sadistic destructiveness.

— Wilhelm Reich, The Function of the Orgasm (1927) (Ch. V: The Development of the Character-Analytic Technique)

It is fascinating to watch mainstream media, the corporate owned news outlets like CNN, or MSNBC, or even FOX — because whatever their disagreements, the one thing that is never open for discussion is the questioning of Capitalism itself. Trump predictably came in with a budget torn from the frontal lobes of the Koch Brothers, but one that is also essentially in line with the sensibility of a good many Americans. Even Americans who themselves are only one foot from penury, who are one month from losing their homes, who are desperately in debt and who can barely keep food on the table; these same people basically hate the poor, hate those on food stamps, and hate anyone not white, and sort of think Trump and the other Republican ghouls make sense. They hate difference.

Now there is an outcry about the obvious propaganda that claims Assad used chemical weapons (a tried and true PR false flag gambit, that) but almost zero outcry about the U.S. blowing up children (mistakenly…of course) in Yemen and Iraq. Civilian death by military is always OK. The price of being the best. Children died? Oh, well. War is nasty. Real men can tolerate such stuff. But if a *terrorist* blows up a nightclub, say, then the mass outrage goes on for weeks. Plus these were Arab children and, well, you know, they are prone to early death anyway, right? So, to follow the logic, it is OK to occupy Iraq and destroy Libya and (mistakenly) bomb wedding parties and kill children (not to mention manufacture starvation, in the case of Yemen) but its not okay for a leader to kill people with a gas attack? Now, of course, Assad didn’t use gas. Why would he? It’s idiotic and such an obvious bit of propaganda that I continue to be stunned so many believe it. But then, of course, they WANT to believe it, really. This is the barbaric Muslim world. It fits the racist xenophobic narrative that mainstream media and Hollywood have supplied for decades. The world remains the world seen through the lens of Orientalism.

So, yes, Trump is the ultimate incarnation of Capitalism itself. Cut the EPA, cut Agriculture and Science. How many Americans care about people on food stamps? And look, why is it nobody questions a system that creates such a huge need FOR food stamps? Are people in general aware of the poverty levels in the U.S.? Why is there such desperation in the U.S. populace? Why do so many people need so much help from the government? Might this be the result of a Capitalist system that demands inequality to function?

I read people demanding I write my congressmen or congresswoman. Demand this or that service be saved. But Trump was elected because, really, his sensibility is that of a majority of Americans. They hate woman, foreigners, minorities, and what they see as the lazy (which is, well, women, foreigners and minorities….so…yeah) — they have also been trained to love their own servitude. None of what is desperately being demanded being saved is really more than a pathetic set of band aids to the problems of inequality, environmental destruction, and loss of civil liberties. If you are a family that needs food stamps (I grew up in such a family), then it IS desperate. But it is desperate either way and the truth is that NOBODY should be forced into the humiliation of food stamps. If you have ever used food stamps, you know the experience of using them. The looks from others in line, the looks from minimum wage clerks. And the restrictions! God forbid the poor use them on something besides instant potatoes and macaroni and cheese. Velveeta at that. This is not to say those on food stamps don’t need them. They do. It’s often the difference between eating and not eating at all. Trump has gotten very little outcry from Democrats about his spike in Defense spending, though. Everyone wins with that move. And how many new threats are being manufactured? China, North Korea, Syria, and the old favorites like Afghanistan and Iraq. And the biggest threat of all, Russia. None of these places, none of the leaders of these countries has done anything to the U.S. Nothing. Zero. And that is remarkable when you think about it.

Andre Vltchek writes:

…there is no culture, anywhere on Earth, so banal and so obedient as that which is now regulating the West. Lately, nothing of revolutionary intellectual significance is flowing from Europe and North America, as there are hardly any detectable unorthodox ways of thinking or perceptions of the world there.

The dialogues and debates are flowing only through fully anticipated and well-regulated channels, and needless to say they fluctuate only marginally and through the fully ‘pre-approved’ frequencies.

The average white American, that educated thirty percent who cling, ever more tenuously, to what passes for middle class life, is seemingly motivated most by hatred. Propaganda works because it grants permission to hate. Now, Trump provides the perfect figure to hate right here at home. His appointments are horrible, no question. But as I’ve written before, Obama’s were horrible, too. Only just a bit less horrible. Tim Geithner? Rahm Emanuel? Hillary Clinton? Joe Biden? Scott O’Malia or William Lynn? I mean Hillary Clinton’s under secretary Victoria Nuland is married to arch neo con Robert Kagen. How can one hate Bush and the neo cons but heap praise on Hillary Clinton? But as much as Trump is hated, the figure of the Muslim terrorist is even more hated. And even more than Muslims, Vladimir Putin is hated. But where does this sense of entitlement to meddle in the affairs of other countries come from? It is remarkable how little questioned is the practice of involving the U.S. state in the matters of other countries. Russia elected Putin. Syria elected Assad. And even if, EVEN IF, the elections were fraudulent (they weren’t, but this is a thought experiment) what concern is that of the United States? (Not to mention U.S. elections were not exactly models of probity of late).

The U.S. has 800 plus military bases around the world. There is no corner of the globe where you will not find the U.S. military. Do Americans think other countries WANT the U.S. military on their soil? I suppose some do, the fascistic current regime in Poland probably does. And even here in Norway, a nation of inestimable achievements and daily sanity, the general feeling is that having U.S. and NATO around serves as protection. But protection from what? This is really the question, or rather two questions. Who can possibly be thinking of invading Poland or Norway or Japan? The U.S. has bases in Italy, South Korea, Djibouti, Spain, Bahrain, Kuwait, Greece, it has 38 bases in Germany, and bases in the Bahamas, and in Brazil and Honduras and Singapore and Belgium. The list just goes on and on and on. Why does the U.S. have a base in Bulgaria? The answer is, global hegemony. Total and absolute control of the world. That is the goal. And yet this topic is never ever raised in electoral debates or in mainstream media. Never ever.

Why did the U.S. go into Haiti to remove Aristide? Why was there a coup in Honduras? Why was Qadaffi murdered again? Does anyone care?

The recent press conference Trump called, hastily, with King Abdullah (of Jordan) resembled Shakespearian parody. It was America’s own Mad King Ludwig. But the take away from this train wreck appearance was that Trump is not likely to last. Bannon being yanked off the NSC probably means less than some think but it also reads as loss of face. One thing seems clear in this palace shake up and that is that HR McMaster and the anti-Iranian hardliners are exerting influence. And in general that the old entrenched intelligence and military guys are getting tough. Nature abhors a vacuum and all that. And this was inevitable. Trump, as with any even vaguely out of step National level politician, will be made to heel. The Pentagon was done screwing around with this rube. The shadow of the military state is never too far away. And they don’t play around (think Michael Hastings).

One might think there would be less terrorism if the U.S. built schools or clean water plants or hospitals in places like Djibouti or Greece. But then there would be less terrorism if the U.S. stopped helping armed terrorists. And stopped helping countries like Saudi Arabia arm and supply terrorists. The entire marketing of Saudi Arabia as an ally is something to wonder at, really. I mean here is a country that beheads apostates and homosexuals. Where woman can’t drive. And yet, we sell them billions upon billions in armaments and help train their military in how to use them. U.S. presidents visit Riyadh, and have Saudi leaders visit Washington. It is breathtaking, really, to think how demonized Chavez was and how NOT demonized was King Abdullah (Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud..the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, which I believe was his full name and title). They behead people in public in the Kingdom, a lot of them.

But see, the U.S. is a punishment state, too. To deny that is to deny reality. The U.S. prison system is a national disgrace, but more, it is a sign, a kind of living metaphor for the madness of American society. Is *Old Sparky* any less morally bankrupt than chopping off heads in the town square? (As Lenny Bruce said…”If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses”.) Two million people are in prison in the U.S.. All of them poor. And most black or brown. The U.S. penal system is the most draconian and sadistic in the world, quite possibly. There are occasional news programs, news magazines, that examine prison conditions, but they are token examples that justify the idea of free speech and reform. The nation wide prison strike recently was utterly invisible in corporate media.

By the way, the evil Russian empire has all of 9 foreign military bases, all of them in former Soviet countries. How do such facts jive with the propaganda? Oh, and China has ONE foreign military base. One. North Korea, of course, has none. For an overview on North and South Korea read Keith Harmon Snow here:

Or take the other essential U.S. ally and recipient of aid, Israel. A nation that is operating as an apartheid state, openly and even proudly. And whose political leaders are the most openly racist in the world. But again, this is not a topic in electoral political debate. Is the subject of Israel ever raised in Presidential debate? Is Israeli policy in Gaza ever questioned? No, of course not. And to add a last note on this idea of *terrorism*, a word that has undergone quite a semiotic adjustment over the last decade, the U.S. state does not want an end to terrorism. This is their job description, really, those in intelligence and the military; foment conflict, bomb and rebuild, foment again, bomb and rebuild again. And during this process Defense and contractors like Halliburton and Bechtel reap obscene profits. Terrorism is useful. It makes money. It sustains jobs.

These are the enduring tropes of the U.S. political system. Militarism is good, necessary, and almost always heroic. That belief translates domestically to the sadistic occupation of poor black neighborhoods throughout the U.S. The militarization of the U.S. police establishment is stunning, and yet rarely discussed, really. The shooting of unarmed black men hasn’t decreased by the way (The death of Sabin Marcus Jones, a 45 year old schizophrenic is a typical case. His mother called 911 for help because Marcus was off his meds and highly agitated. The police came and Tased him to death. Marcus weighed about 140 lbs. Six police answered that call.) The destruction of much of the Middle East is mirrored exactly in the police destruction of poor black communities in the U.S.

Ajamu Baraka wrote recently…

After almost three decades of pro-war conditioning by both corporate parties and the corporate media coupled with cultural desensitization from almost two decades of unrelenting war, opposition to militarism and war is negligible among the general population.

This is the real story today. Not that a white nationalist is President, or that his new budget is cutting already shrunken social services. No, it is the callous indifference of Americans to their own country’s military violence globally. And it is the nearly psychotic addiction to the consumption of entertainment that is itself a form of egregious propaganda. An addiction to narratives that glorify American society and demonize the rest of the world, or the rest of the world not cravenly subservient to U.S. policy.

The real issue is why are so many in such need in the supposedly most powerful and rich country in the world?

Baraka ends his essay with this…:

There must be an alternative to the neoliberalism of the Democrats and the nationalist-populism of Trump. We need an independent movement to address both the economic needs of poor and working people and the escalating attacks on the Black community, immigrants, women, unions, the LGBTQ community, refugees, Muslims, the physically and mentally challenged, youth, students, the elderly, Mother Earth – all of us.

The issue is not that Trump is a racist gangster misogynist bent on further brutalizing the working class and enriching his family and friends. The issue is that America is a nation that has stopped questioning authority. The adoration of wealth is itself a sign of collective derangement. So deep is the demonizing of socialism and communism that even many barely hanging on economically will express affection and admiration for the very rich. Why was Trump such a popular TV host? It certainly wasn’t his riveting personality or scintillating wit. He was RICH. And the rich are the anointed in America. Why does Hollywood (and the UK) keep producing stories about Kings and Queens? Why are settings always the playgrounds of the rich? The answer is complicated but a good part of it is the introjection of some kind of reverse Puritan/Calvinist guilt. A kind of resentment, too, simply. Did Cotton Mather secretly want a Beemer and Rolex? In American mythology, he most certainly did.

The pathology of white patriarchy is so nakedly revealed in Hollywood entertainments that it is rather amazing it is so rarely discussed. One hears much about adding more women or people of color to TV shows, both as actors and directors, but rarely does one hear a discussion about the Orientalism and xenophobia of Hollywood. One rarely asks why almost all crime shows demonize the poor, especially black and brown poor, and why soldiers are so fawned over. Why Arabs are always terrorists. Find me a single show that suggests the U.S. occupation of the middle east is wrong. Just one. One show that addresses the idea of American Imperialism. And, just one show where the very idea of volunteering for the military is seen as either an act of desperation born of poverty, or just a sign of nascent mental illness or a propensity for violence. That maybe, MAYBE, the desire to shoot people and play with weapons signaled a psychological problem. Not heroism but insanity. Not sacrifice but sadism. There may be one somewhere, but it will only prove the point of the overriding uniformity of opinions expressed. And, of course, why is it the working class are not participating in the creation of mass culture? Mostly the creativity of the underclass is simply appropriated and stolen.

The reality of Trump and his backers is that they could only have won this election because of three or four decades of the destruction of public education and the monopoly of media and the constant saturation of information highway with the most naked Imperialist propaganda. No sane and emotionally stable person would vote for Trump or for Hillary Clinton. To endorse either, unless you yourself are a millionaire, is a sign of pathology. A sign of self loathing. Whatever the justifications, whatever version of less evilism, or whatever other cliche that has been fed to you — the inability to see the horrors of both these candidates is suggestive of mass regression. This is where I am reminded yet again of Wilhelm Reich. A man driven from the establishment and eventually into madness. But one who most clearly understood the direction of Western society.

The Little Man does not know that he is little, and he is afraid of knowing it. He covers up his smallness and narrowness with illusions of strength and greatness.

— Wilhelm Reich, Listen, Little Man, 1948

America cannot examine its own littleness. Its own failures and crimes. It cannot. I do not expect that to change. In fact, I expect an increasing prosecution of those who suggest this, an increasing prosecution of dissent. It was Obama, remember, who launched the fake news meme. Who introduced that idea into discourse. America continues to express a historical revisionism that excludes the genocide of Native Americans, that erases the wilful destruction of unions and socialist movements, and that glorifies the Westward expansion of Manifest Destiny. Mainstream media today is so narrow that any opinion not clearly in line with the prevailing mythology is either castigated or simply made invisible.

We forget that, although freedom of speech constitutes an important victory in the battle against old restraints, modern man is in a position where much of what “he” thinks and says are the things that everybody else thinks and says; that he has not acquired the ability to think originally – that is, for himself – which alone gives meaning to his claim that nobody can interfere with the expression of his thoughts.

— Eric Fromm, Escape from Freedom, 1941

This is a society of great unhappiness. But more, it is a society of conformity.They go together. America is far more conformist than it was in the 1950s. The little men and women of corporate life, in politics, in media and the arts, everywhere; these are the gatekeepers to an establishment narrative that allows no questioning of its legitimacy. Capitalism is good, socialism is bad. This last month in Arkansas, the state decided to fast track executions because they didn’t want to waste the chemicals used in lethal injection, many of which were soon to be past their sell by date. Human life is that unimportant. Punishment is the highest virtue. Americans enjoy punishment. American football is so popular because it is gladiatorial and damaging to the players. Life threatening, in fact. So much the better. Or take factory farming. Again, most Americans are aware of the brutality of factory farming. The cruelty of the mass industrial abattoir. It’s not a secret. And yet, mostly people continue consuming these products. Meats so adulterated with hormones and chemicals that 100 years ago nobody would feed this stuff to their dogs. The cruelty to our fellow creatures is astounding. There is a sort of symbolic compensation in the form of over pampering household pets. But such contradictions are to be expected. Again, if people cared, if compassion had not been eroded to this degree, we would not have Trump or Hillary. I mean look at the national political figures today from both parties. Mike Pence and Betsy DeVos, Chuck Schurmer and Mitch McConnell. If we lived in anything resembling a rational society, John McCain would be in a mental hospital getting the help he obviously needs. Look at the leading figures for the 2020 elections on the Democratic side. Andrew Cuomo and Elizabeth Warren. Both have consistently voted for war. Warren is a particularly unsavoury figure, opportunistic and smug, a woman who enthusiastically supported Obama’s drone assassinations and voted FOR sanctions against Iran. You really think a President Warren would do anything different from Obama? Less drone assassination or less muscular foreign policy? Of course not. She and Cuomo and Cory Booker and all the rest of the establishment creeps in the Democratic Party are part of the problem. NOT the solution. They are the solution to nothing.

The lesson today is that it is now on the U.S. populace to wake up. It’s time. Stop accepting the official narrative and stop watching mainstream propaganda and stop turning away from the crimes of your own country. Stop the unquestioning acceptance of U.S. hagiography. Thanksgiving was not friendly Pilgrims inviting happy tribes to turkey dinner. Columbus was a psychopathic mass murderer. The founding fathers were slave owners. The U.S. revolution was economic.

Here is Howard Zinn on the American Revolution

The Continental Congress, which governed the colonies through the war, was dominated by rich men, linked together in factions and compacts by business and family connections. These links connected North and South, East and West.

It seemed that the majority of white colonists, who had a bit of land, or no property at all, were still better off than slaves or indentured servants or Indians, and could be wooed into the coalition of the Revolution. But when the sacrifices of war became more bitter, the privileges and safety of the rich became harder to accept. About 10 percent of the white population (an estimate of Jackson Main in The Social Structure of Revolutionary America), large landholders and merchants, held 1,000 pounds or more in personal property and 1,000 pounds in land, at the least, and these men owned nearly half the wealth of the country and held as slaves one-seventh of the country’s people. The American Revolution is sometimes said to have brought about the separation of church and state. The northern states made such declarations, but after 1776 they adopted taxes that forced everyone to support Christian teachings. William G. McLoughlin, quoting Supreme Court Justice David Brewer in 1892 that “this is a Christian nation,” says of the separation of church and state in the Revolution that it “was neither conceived of nor carried out. … Far from being left to itself, religion was imbedded into every aspect and institution of American life.

A loss of curiosity, of reading, and a near complete submission to authority marks the American people today.

This is not a recommendation to anything other than a genuine intellectual resistance. Of some kind, any kind. Resistance to the prevailing narratives of the system, of the ruling class. That is all. I feel the suffocating narrowness of American society today, and it is awful. It is numbing and its habitual repetitiveness in all aspects of the culture is a sign of dementia. A resistance is needed, too, to the aesthetics of domination. Neurotic white people are not the only suitable topic for drama. Nor are the caricatured portraits of the working class manufactured by white liberals (American Crime, anyone?). Aesthetic and intellectual resistance. Empty activism is counter productive. Working for Elizabeth Warren is really worse than pointless. Check your own privilege, too, white man.

Lenny Bruce said something else:

The liberals can understand everything but people who don’t understand them.

He wrote that a half century ago. Think about that.

NDP Leadership Debates Continue to Ignore Foreign Policy

There has yet to be a single question about foreign policy in the NDP’s first two leadership debates, but some contenders say they want the party to devote a forum to international affairs.

During a gathering organized by Courage after the recent youth issues debate in Montréal I asked Niki Ashton whether she voted in favour of bombing Libya. The NDP leadership candidate said she and a few other MPs sought to dissuade then leader Jack Layton from supporting the NATO war. Failing to convince him, Ashton said she couldn’t remember if she voted yes on Libya.

Here’s the background:

The NDP supported a vote in March 2011 and another in June initiated by the minority Stephen Harper government endorsing the bombing of Libya. Green Party leader Elizabeth May was the only member of parliament to vote against a war in which Canada played a significant role. A Canadian general led the NATO bombing campaign, seven CF-18 fighter jets participated, two Canadian naval vessels patrolled the Libyan coast and an unknown number of Canadian special forces invaded.

Since the war Libya has descended into chaos. ISIS has taken control of parts of the country while various warring factions and hundreds of militias operate in the country of 6 million. Not only did the war destabilize that country, in 2012 the Libyan conflict spilled south into Mali and has even strengthened Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The African Union predicted as much. In opposing the invasion of Libya, AU Commission Chief Jean Ping said, “Africa’s concern is that weapons that are delivered to one side or another … are already in the desert and will arm terrorists and fuel trafficking.”

Days into the February 2011 uprising in Eastern Libya the AU Peace and Security Council sought a negotiated solution to the conflict, but was rebuffed by the US/Britain/France/Canada backed National Transitional Council, which controlled Benghazi. A week before NATO began bombing Libya, the AU Peace and Security Council put forward a five-point plan demanding: “A cease-fire; the protection of civilians; the provision of humanitarian aid for Libyans and foreign workers in the country; dialogue between the two sides, i.e. the Gaddafi regime and the National Transitional Council (NTC); leading to an ‘inclusive transitional period’ and political reforms which ‘meet the aspirations of the Libyan people.’”

Three weeks into the bombing the AU High Level Ad Hoc Committee on Libya, including four heads of state, visited Libya to pursue a ceasefire. Gaddafi agreed to the first phase of the proposal but it was rejected by the NATO-backed NTC. At a meeting with the UN Security Council three months into NATO’s war the AU High Level Ad Hoc Committee on Libya criticized the war. Delivering the AU position, Ruhakana Rugunda, Uganda’s permanent representative to the UN, said: “there has been no need for these war activities, ever since Gaddafi accepted dialogue when the AU Mediation Committee visited Tripoli on April 10. Any war activities after that have been provocation for Africa.”

In Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa, Concordia University professor Maximilian Forte argues the invasion of Libya was designed to eliminate an important supporter of African unity and critic of Western militarism on the continent. Gaddafi spearheaded opposition to the United States’ Africa Command (AFRICOM), which Washington wanted to set up on the continent. A 2009 cable from the US Embassy in Tripoli called “the presence of non- African military elements in Libya or elsewhere on the continent” almost a “neuralgic issue” for Gaddafi. Eliminating Gaddafi delivered a blow to the AU and those who rejected AFRICOM.

Ashton’s inability to remember whether she voted to support the war on Libya leaves much to be desired. But, I don’t want to single her out unfairly. The only reason I thought to ask Ashton about Libya is she attended the Courage event, which is part of her plan to draw the party closer to social movements. Moreover, at the youth issues debate Ashton criticized the party leadership for “turfing” pro-Palestinian candidates during the 2015 federal election campaign.

Ashton seems to have brought up Palestine partly because the Young New Democrats of Québec asked the party leadership to include a question in the debate about Palestine. They refused.

During my conversation with Ashton she said the party should devote more energy to discussing foreign policy issues. In response, I asked if she would publicly call for one of the planned eight leadership debates to be devoted to the subject. She agreed, writing in a follow-up message: “Grassroots members are calling for a specific debate on foreign policy or foreign policy questions at each debate and the party should listen and follow suit.”

Afterwards I emailed the three other registered contenders and potential candidate Sid Ryan to ask whether they would “support a leadership debate devoted to military and foreign policy issues” and whether they voted to support the NATO bombing of Libya. (Guy Caron and Sid Ryan were not in the House of Commons at the time of the votes so I didn’t ask them about Libya.)

Despite emailing and Facebook messaging them, Angus and Julian failed to reply to my question about whether they voted to bomb Libya. Angus and Julian also ignored the question about a foreign policy focused debate.

Guy Caron’s spokesperson wrote that he’s “looking forward to getting a chance to debate foreign policy issues. While the party has not indicated specific themes for the remaining debates, I would certainly be open to having a substantive discussion on questions of foreign policy.”

For his part, Ryan expressed “concern as to why the NDP debates have completely ignored the question of foreign policy” and said he “absolutely supports the idea of holding a debate that focuses exclusively on foreign policy.”

A video Ryan recently released bemoans “billions of dollars for the NATO war machine” and shows a protest sign that says, “Stop the US-Israel war”. Elsewhere, Ryan has said Canada should withdraw from NATO, which sharply contrasts with outgoing leader Tom Mulcair’s description of the NDP as “proud members of NATO.” While Mulcair pushed to strengthen sanctions against Russia, Ryan has called for an end to Canada’s military deployments in Eastern Europe. In maybe the starkest difference, Ryan has spoken at pro-Palestinian demonstrations and when he was president of CUPE-Ontario he accepted the members’ vote to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign targeting Israel’s violation of international law. For his part, Mulcair purged a number of NDP candidates – some elected by local riding associations – that supported Palestinian rights.

There are important differences of opinion within the NDP regarding foreign policy questions. These issues deserve to be aired.

A party unable to openly debate its foreign policy is likely to support another war that devastates a small African country.

War and Propaganda

The U.S. has been at war throughout much of its history. Some wars were blatantly wars of conquest; e.g., the Indian Wars (the near genocide of Native Americans) and the Mexican-American War. Whatever the real reasons for our military actions, they were usually sold to the public as being defensive in nature and this practice still goes on.

Some insiders have spoken more openly about reasons for wars. For example, in 1933 Major General Smedley Butler USMC, who served for 33 years and was one of the most highly decorated marines, stated:

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses….

And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

Another leading U.S. military figure, General Douglas MacArthur, spoke in 1957 at a Sperry Rand Corporation annual meeting:

Our swollen budgets constantly have been misrepresented to the public. Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear — kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor — with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.

Shamefully, the U.S. mainstream media plays a key role in advancing the establishment’s stories in creating enemies and in pushing the use of the military instead of diplomacy. For example, most of the influential media unquestionably spread the false claims about weapons of mass destruction before the illegal and unwarranted U.S.-led attack on Iraq in 2003. This monstrous U.S. war crime killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and caused incredible suffering and devastation that continue even today. In addition, that attack played a major role in creating the chaos in the Middle East and in spawning ISIS and other terrorists groups.

For a decade now, the influential media has been building fear of and animosity against Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. For example, the media spread the establishment’s story that NATO’s buildup of weapons and forces near the Russian border is a reaction to Russian aggression. In its coverage, the media downplayed the U.S. violation of its pledge not to expand NATO ‘one inch’ to the east if the Soviet Union would allow Germany to be reunited. Unfortunately, the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations all violated that pledge. Perhaps the media didn’t think NATO’s expansion to Russian borders might have been viewed as a provocation to Russia.

However, a key insider saw things very differently. In 1996 George Kennan, architect of the containment policy towards the Soviet Union, warned that NATO’s expansion into former Soviet territories would be a “strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions.” In 1998, Thomas Friedman solicited Kennan’s reaction to the Senate’s ratification of NATO’s eastward expansion. Kennan said: ”I think it is the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else.”

The mainstream U.S. media also downplayed the importance of the U.S. supported 2014 Ukrainian coup, a major provocation that caused Russia to react as Kennan had predicted. Even George Friedman, CEO of Stratfor, a U.S. firm involved in analyzing intelligence, spoke about this coup that the media hailed as a revolution: “It really was the most blatant coup in history.”

The media continues the campaign against Russia by hyping the unsubstantiated claim that the Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee’s emails and somehow provided the emails to Wikileaks. This problematic charge further bolsters the perception of Russia as our enemy, making the idea of war more palatable.

Disappointingly, the influential U.S. media ignores a strong challenge to this claim from former intelligence officials (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity) who have a very good track record in evaluating evidence. Adding to the concern about these claims, it is important to remember that the CIA’s political leadership has a major credibility problem. Moreover, Julian Assange of Wikileaks, denied receiving the emails from the Russian government. Given these concerns and the lack of any solid evidence being shown to the public, a responsible media would certainly have carefully investigated the charge before unnecessarily heightening tensions between two powers with nuclear weapons.

Accuracy in reporting is especially important now since Russian and U.S./NATO forces are operating in close proximity along the Russian border and in Syria. Any small miscalculation could set off a nuclear conflict with unbelievably dire consequences for life on the planet. For example, studies by well-informed scientists have clearly demonstrated that there are no winners in a nuclear conflict. Therefore, it is past time for the mainstream U.S. media to live up to its responsibilities to the public and to carefully investigate claims instead of simply being a shameless propaganda tool of the U.S. political and military establishment.

The Korea Problem

South Korea — As an occupied country, the successive governments of South Korea — occupied since 1950 with between 326,000 US soldiers (during the Korean War) and 28,500 US soldiers (today) and the war that divided the peninsula and the people of Korea — has seen massive human rights violations, repression and state terrorism, and has also perpetrated atrocities in other countries.  This is a so-called “member of the international community.”  Will the real war criminals please stand up?

South Korea — Seoul, 10 May 1990: Student pro-democracy and anti-US imperialism demonstrations rocked Seoul for two days on 9 May and 10 May 1990. (Keith Harmon Snow)

The Central Intelligence Agency under Allen Dulles launched covert operations in South Korea by 1950 — utilizing South Korean police and other secret agents to serve the imperial “pro-democracy” agenda. The ever touted claim that North Korea launched a very clear war of aggression by crossing the 38th parallel — an arbitrary line of demarcation between Soviet Russian and US/allied forces after WW-2 — and invading South Korea is not born out by the facts that existed on the ground in the Korean peninsula in June of 1950.  Not only are there credible reports of death squads crossing into the northern territory and committing atrocities, but the diplomatic record shows a pattern of belligerence and war-mongering that has become de rigeur for the United States all over the world since then.

Massive post-WW-2 repression and murder (extrajudicial summary executions) by South Korean troops, with US military oversight, occurred against their own people in the south, including such horrible massacres as occurred on Je Ju island 1948-1949 and were white-washed by the western propaganda and intelligence apparatus (see the documentary film “The Ghosts of Je Ju“).  The somewhat more well-known “Koch’ang incident” in February 1951 involved some 600 men and women, young and old, that were reportedly herded into a narrow valley in south Korea and mowed down with machine guns by a South Korean army unit on the loosely applied claim that they were “suspected of aiding guerrillas” — these being Korean people who resisted the overt terrorism that the Korean people (north and south) were subjected to by the southern forces and US troops.

South Korea – May 1990:  A map posted in the northern zone just south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) showing the DMZ and major dams contstructed on both sides of the illegal border.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

“The Governor of Je Ju at the time admitted that the repression of the Island’s 300,000 residents led to the murder of as many as 60,000 Islanders,” wrote S. Brian Wilson, “with another 40,000 desperately fleeing in boats to Japan. Thus, one-third of its residents were either murdered or fled during the “extermination” campaign. Nearly 40,000 homes were destroyed and 270 of 400 villages were leveled.”

US troops fired on crowds, conducted mass arrests, combed the hills for suspects, and organized posses of Korean rightists, constabulary and police for mass raids (reported at the time by correspondent Mark Gwyn for the Chicago Sun: see in William Blum Killing Hope).

South Korea – May 1990: A partially camouflaged military encampment in the northern region of South Korea a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel (Keith Harmon Snow)

Said one British scholar Jon Halliday at the time: “After all, if civilians could be mowed down in the South on “suspicion” (italics on the original) of aiding (not even “being” {italics on original}) guerrillas — what about the North, where millions could reasonably be assumed to be Communists, or political militants?” (See: Killing Hope p. 51).

The US military carpet bombing and use of napalm against the northern Koreans during the Korean War was murderous and unprecedented (though rivaled by the bombing of Dresden) and set the stage for similar repeat operations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Entire villages were wiped off the map and the Korean peninsula.  Some 3 million Koreans north of the 38th parallel were killed, with 1 million Korean people killed in the south and over 1 million Chinese deaths.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Student pro-democracy and anti-US imperialism demonstrations rocked Seoul for two days on 9 May and 10 May 1990.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

Note that the *United Nations* were involved in the war: UN troops were commanded by general Douglas McArthur and committed egregious atrocities all over the place — and these atrocities were always blamed on the “North” Korean forces — a particularly poignant tactic (blaming the victims) ever exercised by the pro democracy forces of the New World Order in the process of exercising our military freedoms and exorcising anyone deemed to be undemocratic (meaning: opposed to predatory capitalism, the IMF and the World Bank, multinational corporate destruction, and the feeding, housing, clothing, educating and taking care of the people).

Under then US-installed puppet dictator Syngman Rhee the allied (US/UN/south Korean) troops confiscated massive tracts of land and other “spoils of war” (confiscated property of the former brutal Japanese occupiers) and doled them out, for example, to ultra-right wing former sympathizers and collaborators with the former Japanese occupation, the most wealthy, and other conservative elements. This further set the stage for widespread resentment amongst the Korean population — whose ancestors saw and who did not forget the first massacres in Korea at the hands of invading US forces in 1871.

South Korea – May 1990: A military jeep carries soldiers along a remote road in the northern region of South Korea a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

The arbitrary and illegal line of demarcation drawn at the 38th parallel became the de facto border separating the Korean people due to US/UN/NATO/South Korean military aggression and refusal to compromise with the northern power structure (the northerners  made many overtures and granted many concessions toward reunification).

Subsequent to the war, the Republic of Korea military under its US tutelage did not limit the atrocities against innocent civilians to the domestic arena.  Some 300,000 South Korean troops joined the NATO war in Indochina, and committed serious atrocities there: at least several major massacres are well documented. Examples include:

Bình Hòa massacre
Binh Tai massacre
Hà My massacre
Phong Nhị and Phong Nhất massacre

— all being located in South Vietnam and all being massacres of hundreds of unarmed non-combatant children, pregnant women, and the elderly.  The South Korean troops committed brutal atrocities — such as cutting the breasts off women and bayonetting pregnant women in the bellies and bulldozing shallow graves for summary burials to cover up the evidence.  Some of the villages and people so targeted were known to be very sympathetic and supportive of the US military, but after these atrocities many survivors joined the Viet Kong.

South Korea – May 1990:  The northern region of South Korea a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the Korean people at the 28th parallel (Keith Harmon Snow)

There is no doubt the South Korean forces were trained in brutal “counter-insurgency” techniques now well-documented to include the most horrible crimes that people have ever committed against people — all under the watchful eyes and logistical coordination of the United States and our intelligence apparatus (e.g. the Phoenix Program  — a campaign of absolute terror and egregious crimes against humanity and war crimes conducted in Indochina during the US wars there).

For example: at Binh Hoa village (December 1966) in South Vietnam the South Korean “Blue Dragon Brigade” slaughtered over 400 mostly children, women and elderly; ROK troops then burned the village to the ground and slaughtered the people’s buffaloes.

South Korea – May 1990: Camouflaged cement structures ready to be deployed as barricades on the roads in northern South Korea, a few miles south of the DMZ that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

Over the past 60 years the people of South Korea have been subject to egregious curtailment of freedoms under certain “National Security” directives (laws) including: the (repeated) jailing of thousands of “dissidents” who have, in one form or another, protested imperialist US involvement and occupation in South Korea; people who have organized against US imperialism; students and other civilians that have maintained contacts with people in North Korea; civil society groups and individuals that have contacted foreign organizations seeking help against repression; the censoring and destruction of truth in education and educational materials.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Some 40,000 riot police were deployed on 9 May and 10 May to crush demonstrations involving over 100,000 people.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

There have been suspicious deaths of student activists, and attempts to get outside help to demand proper investigations of such deaths have led to further repression of the petitioners (seeking help).

On 9 May 1990, some 100,000 Koreans marched and demonstrated against the then latest US/UK/EU-backed dictatorship of president Roh Tae-Woo (1988-1993); over 40,000 South Korean storm troopers (riot police) were mobilized and over 1900 people detained.  Some of the perceived organizers were jailed for several years.  Torture has been selectively used on political prisoners, but was routinely deployed against certain segments of the population during particular periods since the 1950’s, such as the run-up to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where thousands of “vagrants” were rounded up off the streets, most of them small children, and were sent to a “welfare facility” called “Brothers Home,” where they were subject to several years of brutality and/or including fatal beatings and routine rape — all this under orders of the then-president Park Chung-hee (father of President Park Geun-hye who was recently impeached in December 2016) and whose successor, President Chun Doo-hwan, suppressed any investigation into the atrocities.

South Korean labor unions and struggles have in the past been infiltrated and co-opted by gangs of thugs hired by / for multinational corporations like Daewoo, Samsung and Hyundai.  The bribery, influence peddling, hired thuggery, and other forms of corruption by the “chaelbol” — giant family run multinational conglomerates — rival those of the Japanese Sogo Shosha (trading houses) and the Japanese mafia (Yakuza) and their western corporate criminal counterparts (CIA/FBI/NSA/DIA/USAID and the 1 percent) — where anything and everything can be bought and sold with reckless abandon and near zero accountability and the corruption and criminals are shielded by the judiciary.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Some 40,000 riot police were deployed on 9 May and 10 May to crush demonstrations involving over 100,000 people (Keith Harmon Snow)

The corporate Goon Squads have often used various forms of torture, including beatings and kidnappings, and the thuggery by corporate gangs has in many cases been supported by state security and police — who have furthered the extrajudicial punishments and torture against labor organizers and employees of the large corporations targeted, for example, for exercising their freedom of expression.  Public and private school teachers have also suffered retaliation and repression for their involvement in activities that the “state” deemed a threat to “national security” — such as labor and pro-democracy organizing.

South Korean people lived under more than 30 years of military dictatorship from 1960s-1993 but given the corruption and absence of freedoms the situation under “democratically elected” presidents has not been particularly encouraging, to say to least, for the average South Korean — repressive laws instituted under military dictatorship continued to serve a repressive state security apparatus, including arbitrary arrests and detentions — and so “democracy” has been an absolute farce.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Riot police searched shop to shop door to door hunting down demonstrators and arresting some 1900 people.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

As S. Brian Wilson discusses, the current inhabitants of Je Ju Island have been opposed to the construction of a deep water port that would serve US/ROK military objectives enabling guided missile equipped AEGIS class destroyers access to port facilities at the village of Gangjeong. The ROK’s CIA-like Korean National Intelligence Service has spied on and raided citizens and organizations that are opposed to the deep water port that would be built by the criminal Samsung Corporation.  Samsung has a history of more than 50 years of environmental pollution, trade union repression, corruption, tax flight and tax evasion.

South Korea – One photo of just one of the many Je Ju Island massacres that occurred in South Korea and were committed by US-backed South Korean forces in 1948 and 1949. (Photo credit unknown)

South Korean civilians have also been persecuted from the 1950s to the present day, including arrests, kidnappings, beatings and torture, for advocating reunification with North Korea.  Millions of Koreans were separated from family members by the illegal US-enforced bifurcation of the Koreas before and after the Korean War (1950-1953) and, as we can imagine, reunification is blocked by powerful political interests whose motivations (power, control, private profit) do not serve the greater common interest of the Korean people (north and south) or the rest of us.  Further, South Korean militarization has benefited US, UK, Canadian, EU and Israeli corporations — further wagging the dog of war and serving the powerful interests that will never move toward a peaceful equitable reunification serving the interests the people (north and south).

South Korea is effectively run by an organized crime syndicate with deep ties to the United States power structure (see, for example, the notes on The Cohen Group below).  Beyond a repressive security apparatus and pro-imperialist international foreign policy, South Korea suffers very high and increasing rates of suicides, alcoholism, sexual and domestic violence.

South Korean corporations have also run roughshod over the environment domestically and abroad and slavery conditions have historically prevailed for their labor forces while sweatshop conditions still do.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Riot police occupied all major subway stations and train stations in the search for demonstrators. (Keith Harmon Snow)

While the South Korean government has offered an “aggressive” public face to the issue of “calling for reunification”, this is mere lip service as they have simultaneously increased military spending, maintained a compulsory draft (with severe penalties for any conscientious objector), and moved to the front of the line as a leading arms exporter.  In recent years South Korea has purchased scores of billions of dollars worth of warplanes, anti-missile systems and other weapons (of mass destruction), and the ROK has annual defense budgets of over $30 Billion.

Meanwhile, South Korea and its western allies (including Japan) have escalated aggressive military posturing and rhetoric targeting North Korea, including deployments of troops and weaponry (e.g. battleships) in “joint military exercises” within striking distance of North Korea. The escalation of tensions and probability of war — on the Korean peninsula — are due to the duplicitous and sociopathic criminal hegemony and aggression by the United States *government* and its closest allies and their *leaders*.

South Korea – Seoul 10 May 1990: Riot police search shops and restaurants for demonstartors. (Keith Harmon Snow)

South Korea sealed its biggest-ever — until then — arms purchase in September 2015 with a U.S. $7.04 billion deal for 40 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets.  South Korea has also been stocking up on spy satellites and drones — courtesy of US weapons manufacturers like Northrup Grumman.  South Korea also sports a large number of Apache Attack helicopters, and it has more than “capable” air force and navy.

Who benefits from all this war making? Who are the directors of Lockheed Martin? Northrup Grumman? Don’t miss that retired US Air Force General and former director of the profoundly secretive National Reconnaissance Office on Lockheed’s board.  The NRO plans, builds and operates North America’s spy satellites, and they specialize in intelligence-gathering and information warfare — and the NRO coordinates the analysis of aerial surveillance and satellite imagery from several intelligence and military agencies, including the Defense Investigative Agency (DIA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Oh, and don’t miss that retired US Admiral and Commander of the US Strategic Command, also on Lockheed’s board, who is also a director of the highly dishonest and destructive Institute for Nuclear Power (INPO).

Oh, and don’t miss the Lockheed directors that are also directors of The Cohen Group — founded and run by former U.S. Secretary of War (1997-2001) and bona fide war criminal William S. Cohen.  According to his own The Cohen Group web site: “Under his leadership, the US military conducted the largest air warfare campaign since World War II, in Serbia and Kosovo, and conducted other military operations on every continent” — including the U.S. proxy wars in Congo and Sudan — and “The Cohen Group principals have decades of experience working with The Republic of Korea (ROK) government and military and with ROK industry.”

I bet they do!

Now, let’s talk about North Korea.

Imagine, a country like North Korea, which, in fact, there is no other country like, that does not have the stellar record of committing massive war crimes that the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, Japan or Israel do, and that had the audacity to develop a missile (capability) of their own…to defend themselves against the world’s leading military aggressor(s), one(s) with long and unpretty records of massacres, tortures, double-dealing and back-stabbing, amounting to a lot more than just massive and gross war crimes, crimes against humanity and mass murder in one country after the next.

Will the real war criminals please stand up?  If you are reading the New York Times, you are contributing to your own mental illness.

South Korea – May 1990: Scores of military vehicles (background) at a military base in the north of South Korea a few miles south of the DMZ that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

P.S. I have also provided some (amateur) photos of the South Korea’s northern zone — where I was able to use my mountain bicycle to gain access to the area just south of the DMZ.  At the time (May 1990) it was highly militarized and I used my camera judiciously, though I always suspected that the ROK patrols that saw me assumed I was US military and gave me a certain carte blanche to bike freely.  The landscape there, it seems to me, was highly “manicured” devoid of almost all wildness. Other than the soldiers and police, the only people I saw were universally lower class farmers — warm, kind and friendly. I imagine that this northern region has been substantially more militarized since 1990, but really I have no idea.

South Korea – May 1990: Camouflaged cement structures ready to deployed as barricades on the roads in northern South Korea, a few miles south of the DMZ that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

The Korea Problem

South Korea — As an occupied country, the successive governments of South Korea — occupied since 1950 with between 326,000 US soldiers (during the Korean War) and 28,500 US soldiers (today) and the war that divided the peninsula and the people of Korea — has seen massive human rights violations, repression and state terrorism, and has also perpetrated atrocities in other countries.  This is a so-called “member of the international community.”  Will the real war criminals please stand up?

South Korea — Seoul, 10 May 1990: Student pro-democracy and anti-US imperialism demonstrations rocked Seoul for two days on 9 May and 10 May 1990. (Keith Harmon Snow)

The Central Intelligence Agency under Allen Dulles launched covert operations in South Korea by 1950 — utilizing South Korean police and other secret agents to serve the imperial “pro-democracy” agenda. The ever touted claim that North Korea launched a very clear war of aggression by crossing the 38th parallel — an arbitrary line of demarcation between Soviet Russian and US/allied forces after WW-2 — and invading South Korea is not born out by the facts that existed on the ground in the Korean peninsula in June of 1950.  Not only are there credible reports of death squads crossing into the northern territory and committing atrocities, but the diplomatic record shows a pattern of belligerence and war-mongering that has become de rigeur for the United States all over the world since then.

Massive post-WW-2 repression and murder (extrajudicial summary executions) by South Korean troops, with US military oversight, occurred against their own people in the south, including such horrible massacres as occurred on Je Ju island 1948-1949 and were white-washed by the western propaganda and intelligence apparatus (see the documentary film “The Ghosts of Je Ju“).  The somewhat more well-known “Koch’ang incident” in February 1951 involved some 600 men and women, young and old, that were reportedly herded into a narrow valley in south Korea and mowed down with machine guns by a South Korean army unit on the loosely applied claim that they were “suspected of aiding guerrillas” — these being Korean people who resisted the overt terrorism that the Korean people (north and south) were subjected to by the southern forces and US troops.

South Korea – May 1990:  A map posted in the northern zone just south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) showing the DMZ and major dams contstructed on both sides of the illegal border.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

“The Governor of Je Ju at the time admitted that the repression of the Island’s 300,000 residents led to the murder of as many as 60,000 Islanders,” wrote S. Brian Wilson, “with another 40,000 desperately fleeing in boats to Japan. Thus, one-third of its residents were either murdered or fled during the “extermination” campaign. Nearly 40,000 homes were destroyed and 270 of 400 villages were leveled.”

US troops fired on crowds, conducted mass arrests, combed the hills for suspects, and organized posses of Korean rightists, constabulary and police for mass raids (reported at the time by correspondent Mark Gwyn for the Chicago Sun: see in William Blum Killing Hope).

South Korea – May 1990: A partially camouflaged military encampment in the northern region of South Korea a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel (Keith Harmon Snow)

Said one British scholar Jon Halliday at the time: “After all, if civilians could be mowed down in the South on “suspicion” (italics on the original) of aiding (not even “being” {italics on original}) guerrillas — what about the North, where millions could reasonably be assumed to be Communists, or political militants?” (See: Killing Hope p. 51).

The US military carpet bombing and use of napalm against the northern Koreans during the Korean War was murderous and unprecedented (though rivaled by the bombing of Dresden) and set the stage for similar repeat operations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Entire villages were wiped off the map and the Korean peninsula.  Some 3 million Koreans north of the 38th parallel were killed, with 1 million Korean people killed in the south and over 1 million Chinese deaths.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Student pro-democracy and anti-US imperialism demonstrations rocked Seoul for two days on 9 May and 10 May 1990.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

Note that the *United Nations* were involved in the war: UN troops were commanded by general Douglas McArthur and committed egregious atrocities all over the place — and these atrocities were always blamed on the “North” Korean forces — a particularly poignant tactic (blaming the victims) ever exercised by the pro democracy forces of the New World Order in the process of exercising our military freedoms and exorcising anyone deemed to be undemocratic (meaning: opposed to predatory capitalism, the IMF and the World Bank, multinational corporate destruction, and the feeding, housing, clothing, educating and taking care of the people).

Under then US-installed puppet dictator Syngman Rhee the allied (US/UN/south Korean) troops confiscated massive tracts of land and other “spoils of war” (confiscated property of the former brutal Japanese occupiers) and doled them out, for example, to ultra-right wing former sympathizers and collaborators with the former Japanese occupation, the most wealthy, and other conservative elements. This further set the stage for widespread resentment amongst the Korean population — whose ancestors saw and who did not forget the first massacres in Korea at the hands of invading US forces in 1871.

South Korea – May 1990: A military jeep carries soldiers along a remote road in the northern region of South Korea a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

The arbitrary and illegal line of demarcation drawn at the 38th parallel became the de facto border separating the Korean people due to US/UN/NATO/South Korean military aggression and refusal to compromise with the northern power structure (the northerners  made many overtures and granted many concessions toward reunification).

Subsequent to the war, the Republic of Korea military under its US tutelage did not limit the atrocities against innocent civilians to the domestic arena.  Some 300,000 South Korean troops joined the NATO war in Indochina, and committed serious atrocities there: at least several major massacres are well documented. Examples include:

Bình Hòa massacre
Binh Tai massacre
Hà My massacre
Phong Nhị and Phong Nhất massacre

— all being located in South Vietnam and all being massacres of hundreds of unarmed non-combatant children, pregnant women, and the elderly.  The South Korean troops committed brutal atrocities — such as cutting the breasts off women and bayonetting pregnant women in the bellies and bulldozing shallow graves for summary burials to cover up the evidence.  Some of the villages and people so targeted were known to be very sympathetic and supportive of the US military, but after these atrocities many survivors joined the Viet Kong.

South Korea – May 1990:  The northern region of South Korea a few miles south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the Korean people at the 28th parallel (Keith Harmon Snow)

There is no doubt the South Korean forces were trained in brutal “counter-insurgency” techniques now well-documented to include the most horrible crimes that people have ever committed against people — all under the watchful eyes and logistical coordination of the United States and our intelligence apparatus (e.g. the Phoenix Program  — a campaign of absolute terror and egregious crimes against humanity and war crimes conducted in Indochina during the US wars there).

For example: at Binh Hoa village (December 1966) in South Vietnam the South Korean “Blue Dragon Brigade” slaughtered over 400 mostly children, women and elderly; ROK troops then burned the village to the ground and slaughtered the people’s buffaloes.

South Korea – May 1990: Camouflaged cement structures ready to be deployed as barricades on the roads in northern South Korea, a few miles south of the DMZ that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

Over the past 60 years the people of South Korea have been subject to egregious curtailment of freedoms under certain “National Security” directives (laws) including: the (repeated) jailing of thousands of “dissidents” who have, in one form or another, protested imperialist US involvement and occupation in South Korea; people who have organized against US imperialism; students and other civilians that have maintained contacts with people in North Korea; civil society groups and individuals that have contacted foreign organizations seeking help against repression; the censoring and destruction of truth in education and educational materials.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Some 40,000 riot police were deployed on 9 May and 10 May to crush demonstrations involving over 100,000 people.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

There have been suspicious deaths of student activists, and attempts to get outside help to demand proper investigations of such deaths have led to further repression of the petitioners (seeking help).

On 9 May 1990, some 100,000 Koreans marched and demonstrated against the then latest US/UK/EU-backed dictatorship of president Roh Tae-Woo (1988-1993); over 40,000 South Korean storm troopers (riot police) were mobilized and over 1900 people detained.  Some of the perceived organizers were jailed for several years.  Torture has been selectively used on political prisoners, but was routinely deployed against certain segments of the population during particular periods since the 1950’s, such as the run-up to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where thousands of “vagrants” were rounded up off the streets, most of them small children, and were sent to a “welfare facility” called “Brothers Home,” where they were subject to several years of brutality and/or including fatal beatings and routine rape — all this under orders of the then-president Park Chung-hee (father of President Park Geun-hye who was recently impeached in December 2016) and whose successor, President Chun Doo-hwan, suppressed any investigation into the atrocities.

South Korean labor unions and struggles have in the past been infiltrated and co-opted by gangs of thugs hired by / for multinational corporations like Daewoo, Samsung and Hyundai.  The bribery, influence peddling, hired thuggery, and other forms of corruption by the “chaelbol” — giant family run multinational conglomerates — rival those of the Japanese Sogo Shosha (trading houses) and the Japanese mafia (Yakuza) and their western corporate criminal counterparts (CIA/FBI/NSA/DIA/USAID and the 1 percent) — where anything and everything can be bought and sold with reckless abandon and near zero accountability and the corruption and criminals are shielded by the judiciary.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Some 40,000 riot police were deployed on 9 May and 10 May to crush demonstrations involving over 100,000 people (Keith Harmon Snow)

The corporate Goon Squads have often used various forms of torture, including beatings and kidnappings, and the thuggery by corporate gangs has in many cases been supported by state security and police — who have furthered the extrajudicial punishments and torture against labor organizers and employees of the large corporations targeted, for example, for exercising their freedom of expression.  Public and private school teachers have also suffered retaliation and repression for their involvement in activities that the “state” deemed a threat to “national security” — such as labor and pro-democracy organizing.

South Korean people lived under more than 30 years of military dictatorship from 1960s-1993 but given the corruption and absence of freedoms the situation under “democratically elected” presidents has not been particularly encouraging, to say to least, for the average South Korean — repressive laws instituted under military dictatorship continued to serve a repressive state security apparatus, including arbitrary arrests and detentions — and so “democracy” has been an absolute farce.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Riot police searched shop to shop door to door hunting down demonstrators and arresting some 1900 people.  (Keith Harmon Snow)

As S. Brian Wilson discusses, the current inhabitants of Je Ju Island have been opposed to the construction of a deep water port that would serve US/ROK military objectives enabling guided missile equipped AEGIS class destroyers access to port facilities at the village of Gangjeong. The ROK’s CIA-like Korean National Intelligence Service has spied on and raided citizens and organizations that are opposed to the deep water port that would be built by the criminal Samsung Corporation.  Samsung has a history of more than 50 years of environmental pollution, trade union repression, corruption, tax flight and tax evasion.

South Korea – One photo of just one of the many Je Ju Island massacres that occurred in South Korea and were committed by US-backed South Korean forces in 1948 and 1949. (Photo credit unknown)

South Korean civilians have also been persecuted from the 1950s to the present day, including arrests, kidnappings, beatings and torture, for advocating reunification with North Korea.  Millions of Koreans were separated from family members by the illegal US-enforced bifurcation of the Koreas before and after the Korean War (1950-1953) and, as we can imagine, reunification is blocked by powerful political interests whose motivations (power, control, private profit) do not serve the greater common interest of the Korean people (north and south) or the rest of us.  Further, South Korean militarization has benefited US, UK, Canadian, EU and Israeli corporations — further wagging the dog of war and serving the powerful interests that will never move toward a peaceful equitable reunification serving the interests the people (north and south).

South Korea is effectively run by an organized crime syndicate with deep ties to the United States power structure (see, for example, the notes on The Cohen Group below).  Beyond a repressive security apparatus and pro-imperialist international foreign policy, South Korea suffers very high and increasing rates of suicides, alcoholism, sexual and domestic violence.

South Korean corporations have also run roughshod over the environment domestically and abroad and slavery conditions have historically prevailed for their labor forces while sweatshop conditions still do.

South Korea – Seoul, 10 May 1990: Riot police occupied all major subway stations and train stations in the search for demonstrators. (Keith Harmon Snow)

While the South Korean government has offered an “aggressive” public face to the issue of “calling for reunification”, this is mere lip service as they have simultaneously increased military spending, maintained a compulsory draft (with severe penalties for any conscientious objector), and moved to the front of the line as a leading arms exporter.  In recent years South Korea has purchased scores of billions of dollars worth of warplanes, anti-missile systems and other weapons (of mass destruction), and the ROK has annual defense budgets of over $30 Billion.

Meanwhile, South Korea and its western allies (including Japan) have escalated aggressive military posturing and rhetoric targeting North Korea, including deployments of troops and weaponry (e.g. battleships) in “joint military exercises” within striking distance of North Korea. The escalation of tensions and probability of war — on the Korean peninsula — are due to the duplicitous and sociopathic criminal hegemony and aggression by the United States *government* and its closest allies and their *leaders*.

South Korea – Seoul 10 May 1990: Riot police search shops and restaurants for demonstartors. (Keith Harmon Snow)

South Korea sealed its biggest-ever — until then — arms purchase in September 2015 with a U.S. $7.04 billion deal for 40 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets.  South Korea has also been stocking up on spy satellites and drones — courtesy of US weapons manufacturers like Northrup Grumman.  South Korea also sports a large number of Apache Attack helicopters, and it has more than “capable” air force and navy.

Who benefits from all this war making? Who are the directors of Lockheed Martin? Northrup Grumman? Don’t miss that retired US Air Force General and former director of the profoundly secretive National Reconnaissance Office on Lockheed’s board.  The NRO plans, builds and operates North America’s spy satellites, and they specialize in intelligence-gathering and information warfare — and the NRO coordinates the analysis of aerial surveillance and satellite imagery from several intelligence and military agencies, including the Defense Investigative Agency (DIA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Oh, and don’t miss that retired US Admiral and Commander of the US Strategic Command, also on Lockheed’s board, who is also a director of the highly dishonest and destructive Institute for Nuclear Power (INPO).

Oh, and don’t miss the Lockheed directors that are also directors of The Cohen Group — founded and run by former U.S. Secretary of War (1997-2001) and bona fide war criminal William S. Cohen.  According to his own The Cohen Group web site: “Under his leadership, the US military conducted the largest air warfare campaign since World War II, in Serbia and Kosovo, and conducted other military operations on every continent” — including the U.S. proxy wars in Congo and Sudan — and “The Cohen Group principals have decades of experience working with The Republic of Korea (ROK) government and military and with ROK industry.”

I bet they do!

Now, let’s talk about North Korea.

Imagine, a country like North Korea, which, in fact, there is no other country like, that does not have the stellar record of committing massive war crimes that the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, Japan or Israel do, and that had the audacity to develop a missile (capability) of their own…to defend themselves against the world’s leading military aggressor(s), one(s) with long and unpretty records of massacres, tortures, double-dealing and back-stabbing, amounting to a lot more than just massive and gross war crimes, crimes against humanity and mass murder in one country after the next.

Will the real war criminals please stand up?  If you are reading the New York Times, you are contributing to your own mental illness.

South Korea – May 1990: Scores of military vehicles (background) at a military base in the north of South Korea a few miles south of the DMZ that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

P.S. I have also provided some (amateur) photos of the South Korea’s northern zone — where I was able to use my mountain bicycle to gain access to the area just south of the DMZ.  At the time (May 1990) it was highly militarized and I used my camera judiciously, though I always suspected that the ROK patrols that saw me assumed I was US military and gave me a certain carte blanche to bike freely.  The landscape there, it seems to me, was highly “manicured” devoid of almost all wildness. Other than the soldiers and police, the only people I saw were universally lower class farmers — warm, kind and friendly. I imagine that this northern region has been substantially more militarized since 1990, but really I have no idea.

South Korea – May 1990: Camouflaged cement structures ready to deployed as barricades on the roads in northern South Korea, a few miles south of the DMZ that separates the Korean people at the 38th parallel. (Keith Harmon Snow)

NDP Leadership Debate Fails to Mention Canadian Foreign Policy

Is the NDP establishment scared to have party members discuss Canada’s international posture?

At the party’s first leadership debate last weekend there wasn’t a single foreign policy question despite a host of contentious recent party positions on international affairs.

Certainly at a time when the mainstream media is giving prominence to militarist voices, many members would be keen to hear the four candidates’ positions on military spending. The party’s 2015 platform said an NDP government would “meet our military commitments by maintaining Department of National Defence budget allocations.” In addition to backing Stephen Harper’s budget allocations, the NDP aggressively promoted the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, a $40 billion effort to expand the combat fleet over three decades (over its lifespan the cost is expected to top $100 billion). Defence critic Jack Harris bemoaned “Conservative delays” undermining “our navy from getting wanted equipment” and the platform said the NDP would “carry forward the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy to ensure Canada has the ships we need” even if this naval build-up strengthens Canadian officials’ capacity to bully weaker countries.

It would also be good to know the candidates’ views on the Trudeau government repeatedly isolating Canada from world opinion regarding Palestinian rights. In November, for instance, Canada joined the US, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau in opposing UN motions titled “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan” and “persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities.” One hundred and fifty-six countries voted in favour of the motions, but the NDP stayed silent on the UN votes.

During the 2015 federal election the NDP responded to Conservative party pressure by ousting as many as eight individuals from running or contesting nominations because they defended Palestinian rights on social media. In the most high profile incident, Morgan Wheeldon was dismissed as the party’s candidate in a Nova Scotia riding because he accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza, when it killed 2,200 mostly civilians in the summer of 2014. Do leadership candidates plan to continue purging critics of Israel?

The grassroots would also be interested to know the candidates’ views on Ottawa ramping up its military presence on Russia’s doorstep. The NDP backed the 2014 coup in Kiev, war in eastern Ukraine and NATO military buildup in Eastern Europe. During a 2015 election debate party leader Tom Mulcair called for stronger sanctions against Russian officials and last summer NDP defence critic Randall Garrison expressed support for Canada leading a NATO battle group to Latvia as part of ratcheting up tensions with Russia. Alongside ongoing deployments in Poland and Ukraine, 450 Canadian troops will soon be deployed to Latvia while the US, Britain and Germany head missions in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia.

Are the candidates troubled by the protracted civil war in Libya that grew out of NATO’s bombing? In 2011 the NDP supported two House of Commons votes endorsing the bombing of Libya, which was justified based on exaggerations and outright lies about the Gaddafi regime’s human rights violations (see my The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy for details). Additionally, the NATO forces explicitly contravened the UN resolutions sanctioning a no-fly zone by dispatching troops and expanding the bombing far beyond protecting civilians, while Ottawa directly defied the two Libya-related UN resolutions by selling drones to the rebels.

It would also be good to hear the candidates speak out against diplomatic efforts to promote mining interests abroad or Ottawa signing Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (FIPAs) to protect mineral corporations in Africa.

But party insiders likely don’t want to discuss foreign policy because there is a substantial gap between members’ views on the issues and what the dominant media considers acceptable. The party’s grassroots would be open to reducing the $20 billion (plus) military budget and withdrawing from NATO. A good number would also be concerned about stoking tension with Russia and a new poll confirms that NDP members — and most Canadians — are critical of Israel and open to the Palestinian civil society’s call to boycott that country.

Fundamentally, party insiders do not want to rock the foreign policy status quo boat. The media backlash that would result from adopting progressive foreign policy positions terrifies the NDP establishment. Even debating the subjects mentioned above would drop the party’s stock in the eyes of the dominant media.

But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe being perceived as outside the mainstream political consensus — fresh ideas and promoters of open debate — is exactly what the NDP needs.

If a leadership campaign is not a time for a rigorous foreign policy debate, when is?

“Afghanistan: As Only Love Could Hurt”

Winter

It is now winter in Kabul, end of February 2017. At night the temperature gets near zero. The mountains surrounding the city are covered by snow.

It feels much chillier than it really is.

Soon it will be 16 years since the US/UK invasion of the country, and 16 years since the Bonn Conference, during which Hamid Karzai was “selected” to head the Afghan Interim Administration.

Almost everyone I spoke to in Afghanistan agrees that things are rapidly moving from bad to rock bottom.

Afghans, at home and abroad, are deeply pessimistic. With hefty allowances and privileges, at least some foreigners based in Kabul are much more upbeat, but ‘positive thinking’ is what they are paid to demonstrate.

Historically one of the greatest cultures on Earth, Afghanistan is now nearing breaking point, with the lowest Human Development Index (2015, HDI, compiled by the UNDP) of all Asian nations, and the 18th lowest in the entire world (all 17 countries below it are located in Sub-Saharan Africa). Afghanistan has also the lowest life expectancy in Asia (WHO, 2015).

While officially, the literacy rate stands at around 60%, I was told by two prominent educationalists in Kabul that in reality it is well below 50%, while it is stubbornly stuck under 20% for women and girls.

Statistics are awful, but what is behind the numbers? What has been done to this ancient and distinct civilization, once standing proudly at the crossroad of major trade routes, influencing culturally a great chunk of Asia, connecting East and West, North and South?

How deep, how permanent is the damage?

During my visit, I was offered but I refused to travel in an armored, bulletproof vehicle. My ageing “horse” became a beat-up Corolla, my driver and translator a brave, decent family man in possession of a wonderful sense of humor. Although we became good friends, I never asked him to what ethnic group he belonged. He never told me. I simply didn’t want to know, and he didn’t find it important to address the topic. Everyone knows that Afghanistan is deeply divided ‘along its ethnic lines’. As an internationalist, I refuse to pay attention to anything related to ‘blood’, finding all such divisions, anywhere in the world, unnatural and thoroughly unfortunate. Call it my little stubbornness; both my driver and me were stubbornly refusing to acknowledge ethnic divisions in Afghanistan, at least inside the car, while driving through this marvelous but scarred, stunning but endlessly sad land.

Kabul

One day you and your driver, who is by then your dear friend, are driving slowly over the bridge. Your car stops. You get out in the middle of the bridge, and begin photographing the clogged river below, with garbage floating and covering its banks. Children are begging, and you soon notice that they are operating in a compact pack, almost resembling some small military unit. In Kabul, as in so many places on earth, there is a rigid structure to begging.

After a while, you continue driving on, towards the Softa Bridge, which is located in District 6.

Explosion in District 6

Where you are appears to be all messed up, endlessly fucked up.

You were told to come to this neighborhood, to witness a war zone inside the city, to see ‘what the West has done to the country’. There are no bullets flying here, and no loud explosions. In fact, you hear almost nothing. You actually don’t see any war near the Softa Bridge; you only see Death, her horrid gangrenous face, her scythe cutting all that is still standing around her, cutting and cutting, working in extremely slow motion.

Again, as so many times before, you are scared. You were scared like this several times before: in Haiti, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste, Iraq, and Peru, to name just a few countries. In those places, as well as here in Kabul, you are not frightened because you could easily lose your life any moment, or because your safety might be in danger. What dismays you, what you really cannot stomach, are the images of despair, those of ‘no way out’, of absolute hopelessness. Lack of hope is killing you, it horrifies you; everything else can always be dealt with.

Drug users living in the holes

People you see all around can hardly stand on their feet. Many cannot stand at all. Most of them are stoned, laying around in rags, sitting in embryonic positions, or moving aimlessly back and forth, staring emptily into the distance. Some are urinating publicly. Syringes are everywhere.

There are holes, deep and wide, filled with motionless human bodies.

First you drive around, photographing through the cracked glass, then you roll down the window, and at the end, you get out and begin working, totally exposed. You have no idea what may happen in the next few seconds. Someone begins shouting at you, others are throwing stones, but they are too weak and the stones just hit your shoulder and legs, softly, without causing any harm.

Then a bomb goes off, not far from where you are. There is an explosion in the 6th District, right in front of a police station. You cannot see it, but you can clearly hear the blast. It is a muffled yet powerful bang. You look at your phone.

It is March 1st, 2017, Kabul. Later you learn that several people died just a few hundred meters from where you were working, while several others perished in the 12th District, another few kilometers away.

The smoke begins rising towards the sky. Sirens are howling and several ambulances are rushing towards the site. Then countless military Humvees begin shooting one after another in the same direction, followed by heavier and much clumsier armored vehicles. You are taking all this in, slowly; photographing the scene, and then snapping from some distance a monumental but still semi-destroyed Darul Aman Palace.

And so it goes.

*****

Tall concrete walls are scarring, fragmenting the city. In Kabul, almost anything worth protecting is now fenced. Some partitions and barriers are simply enormous, almost unreal. There are walls sheltering all foreign embassies and government buildings, palaces, military bases, police stations and banks, as well as the United Nations compounds, even most of the private schools and hotels. The Hamid Karzai international airport is encompassed by perimeters that could put to shame most of the Cold War lines: from the parking area one has to walk almost one kilometer to the entrance of the international terminal, with luggage and through the countless security checks.

Of course, Western institutions and organizations have the most impressive fences, as well as the Afghan military and military bases and government offices.

Enormous surveillance drone-zeppelins are levitating above the city.

It could all be seen as thoroughly grotesque, even laughable, but no one is amused. It is all very serious, damn serious here.

Afghanistan has been gradually overtaken by something absolutely foreign: by the Western-style security apparatus. Tens of thousands of highly paid North American and European ‘experts’ have been getting extremely busy, fulfilling their secret wet dream: fencing everything in sight, monitoring each and every movement in the capital city, building taller and taller barriers, while installing the latest hi-tech cameras at almost every intersection, and above each gate.

*****

Not far from the Embassy of the United States of America (or more precisely, not far from the Great Chinese Wall-size fence encompassing it), I noticed a familiar complex of buildings, reminding me of those that used to be constructed in all corners of Eastern Europe and Cuba. I asked my friend to drive into one of the compounds.

This is how I entered “Makroyan”.  We killed the engine, and everything around us was suddenly quiet, almost dormant. Time stopped here. There was a certain mild decay detectable all around the area, but upon a closer look, those old apartment buildings were still looking decent and strong, with very impressive public spaces in between them. Here I felt that I was allowed a rare glimpse of an old, socialist Afghanistan.

I stopped in between two entrances of Block 21: No.2 and No.3. I looked up to the 4th floor. Who is living there now? Who used to live here before, some 25, even 30 years ago?

A destroyed office chair was standing aimlessly in the middle of a parking lot, and an old, disabled man was crawling desolately on all fours, moving away from the block. There was a Soviet-built school right next to Block 21. It used to be known as Dosti primary school, and I was told that during the war, it was bombed a couple of times and lots of kids died inside it. Now the school is private and it has a new name – it is ‘Alfath’, a high school.

Apart from a few loose, rusty wires and fences, everything looks decent and semi-neat. This is where many members of the diminishing Kabul middle class still prefer to live. Blocks of Makroyan are reassuring; they radiate safety and permanency, while being surrounded by a volatile and frightening universe.

All of a sudden, I imagined a boy and a girl, who perhaps used to live here, so many years ago. As children in all other parts of the world do at that age, they were just slowly beginning to discover life, starting to formulate their dreams and expectations. In those days, the new leafy neighborhood would have been like a promise of a brighter future, of a much better country.

Then suddenly, full stop.

A war. A sudden end to all that the future was promising. Collapse of optimism, or enthusiasm, of confidence. Only death and destruction, and shattered dreams, remained. For those who were at least somehow lucky: a bitterness and then a hasty flight, instead of ultimate misery and death. Full stop. Total reset. Everything collapsed. But life never stops, it goes on, it always does. Things re-composed, somehow, not idyllically, but they did.

For a long time, I kept staring at Block 21. Memories kept coming, as if I used to live there myself, many years ago, when I was a child. I hardly noticed that it was getting very cold. I began to shiver. I didn’t want to leave, but I had to. Fresh pomegranate juice at a local street stall brought me back to reality, it woke me, but it didn’t managed to warm me up.

Great History, Changing Culture, An On-going Occupation and Fear

A renowned Afghan intellectual, Dr. Omara Khan Masoudi, who used to be, among many other things, the former head of the National Museum, is now bitter about the changes invading the culture of his country:

In the past, we had also many ethnic groups living in this country, but they used to coexist in harmony. Then, our culture got influenced by conflicts and violence.

Before the war, it was the culture that used to represent us in the world. However, during and after the war, our cultures were used to justify the conflict.

Dr. Masoudi told me that he thinks it is wrong when culture falls into the hands of divisive politicians. “If culture is politicized, it loses its essence”, he declared.

I asked him whether he thinks it also applies to Latin America, to the former Soviet Union and China, where (at least to a great extent) ‘politicized culture’ has been playing an extremely important role, determining the course of development. He smiled, replying:

To be precise, politicizing cultures is not always such a bad thing… When it’s done, for instance, in order to achieve social progress or equality, I have nothing against it. But I am outraged when people like some religious leaders; Shia, Sunni or even some extremists, do it… Culture is very broad, and religions are only a part of it. But in Afghanistan, religious leaders have been using the culture for their narrow-minded interests.

In a coffee shop, which is lost somewhere inside the wilderness of an international and United Nations compound called ‘The Green Village’, my Japanese friend and Head of the Culture Unit of UNESCO, Mr. Masanori Nagaoka, explained:

Afghanistan or Ancient Ariana, as many ancient Greek and Roman authors referred to the region in antiquity, can be acknowledged as the multi-cultural cradle of Central Asia, linking East and West via historically significant trade conduits that also conveyed ideas, concepts and languages as a cultural by-product of fledgling international commerce. As a result, contemporary Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual society with a complex history stretching back many millennia. The numerous civilizations are attested to in the archaeological record, both indigenous and foreign….

However, he is well aware of the complexities faced by the country and the culture torn apart by lethal conflicts of the last decades and centuries.

Afghanistan is unfortunately also a nation fragmented by a history of protracted conflict, exacerbated by geographic isolation for many communities and limited or unequal access to infrastructure and resources, both regionally and demographically. As a nominal starting point, the ongoing rehabilitation process in Afghanistan needs to address these issues if the nation is to unify under a common objective, fostering a veracious society free from conflict and where ethnic diversity is recognized for its social, cultural and economic benefits rather than, as is often the case, seen as a hindrance to particular developmental objectives. Part of the solution to this problem lies in the campaign of a positive public discussion to promote inter-cultural understanding and to raise awareness of the potential that such discourse has to contribute to the broader goals of rapprochement, peace-building and economic development in Afghanistan.

I flew to the city of Herat, where I witnessed tremendous masterpieces of architecture, from the marvelous and recently restored Citadel (as valuable as the citadels of Aleppo and Erbil), to the Friday Mosque and amazing, unique minarets rising proudly towards the sky.

How familiar all those architectural treasures appeared! On several occasions I approached Nasir, my local friend who was always eager to share the impressive history of his region: “Look, this could be in Delhi… and this in Samarkand!”

Sure enough, the most visited world heritage site in India, Qutub Minar, situated right outside New Delhi, is perhaps the greatest symbol of the Indo-Islamic Afghan architecture, while both Herat and Samarkand were connected by the Silk Road and historically kept influencing each other.

In Afghanistan, the history, the occupation and the on-going conflict: everything seems to be thoroughly intertwined.

During my work there, the Citadel of Herat was literally taken over by Italian troops. I was told that some high-ranking NATO officer was visiting the site, and with no shame, a fully armed Italian commando was roaming around, “securing” every corner of the vast courtyard. As if Afghans had lost control of their own country!

De-mining work in Herat

On closer examination, the madrassa of Hussein Baiqara is, in reality, still a minefield. In between four stunning minarets, a de-mining team from local “Halo Trust” was manually searching for unexploded ordinances. I was allowed to enter, but only as a war correspondent and at my own risk, definitely not as a ‘tourist’.

“On this site, we already found two mines and 10 unexploded ordinances”, I was told by one of the Halo Trust experts. “Now this entire area is off-limits to the public. Not long ago, one child was badly injured here; he lost his leg.”

Nothing is peaceful in Afghanistan, not even ancient historic sites.

*****

Not much is questioned here.

Positive talk about the ancient history and culture is generally encouraged, but to discuss dramatic changes in modern Afghan culture, those that occurred as a result of the US/UK invasion and the present on-going NATO occupation of the country, is almost entirely off-limits. In fact, even the word itself – ‘occupation’ – could hardly be heard. Instead, such jargons as ‘protection’, ‘defense’ and ‘international help’ have been implanted deeply and systematically into the psyche of most Afghan people.

The culture that was known for long centuries for its passion for freedom and independence seems broken. While Afghans resisted heroically against all past British invasions, while some of them fought the Soviet incursion, there is presently no organized and united (national, not religious) opposition against the Western occupation of the country.

I met academic Jawid Amin, from the Academy of Social Sciences of Afghanistan, in a small guardroom in front of the Museum of Modern Arts in Kabul.

I asked him whether there is any art or any group of intellectuals openly critical of the United States, and of the occupation. He replied, sincerely:

We don’t have anyone openly critical of the US or the West here, because it is simply not allowed by the government. I personally don’t like the Americans, but I can’t say more… Even I work for the government. My brother and sister are living in the United States. And about critical arts: nothing could be exhibited here without permission from the government and since Karzai, the government is controlled by the West…

A prominent Afghan intellectual, Omaid Sharifi, explained over the phone: “In the provinces, you can still see paintings depicting killing of civilians by the US drones… but not in Kabul.”

I’m trying to work as fast as possible, meeting people who are helping to shed light on the situation. Eventually, a dire picture begins to form.

I met a Japanese reporter who has been living in Afghanistan for almost a quarter of a century. Her assessment of the situation was to a large extent pessimistic:

Afghans had very little choice… It is 100% true that behind Karzai’s government was the US… Afghans didn’t want to accept foreign intervention, but soon they learned how money plays an important role.  The entire Afghan culture is now changing, even some essential elements of it like hospitality: people don’t want to spend money on it, or they don’t have any that they can spare…

I asked Dr. Masoudi why Afghan culture did not accept Soviets and their egalitarian, socially oriented ideals, while it seems to be tolerating the Western invasion, which is spreading inequality, desperation and subservience. He replied, passionately:

The biggest mistake the Soviet Union made here was to attack religion out rightly. If they’d first stick to equal rights, and slowly work it up towards the contradictions of religion, it could perhaps work… But they began blaming religion for our backwardness, in fact for everything. Or at least this is how it was interpreted by the coalition of their enemies, and of course by the West.

Now, why is the Western invasion ‘successful’? Look at the Karzai regime… During his rule, the US convinced people that Western intervention was ‘positive’, ‘respectful of their religion and cultures’. They kept repeating ‘under this and that UN convention’, and again ‘as decided by the UN’… They used NATO, a huge group of countries, as an umbrella. There was a ‘brilliantly effective’ protocol that they developed… According to them, they never did anything unilaterally, always by ‘international consensus’ and in order to ‘help Afghan people’. On the other hand, the Soviet Union had never slightest chance to explain itself. It was attacked immediately, and on all fronts.

“Opposition to Western occupation? Anti-Western art?” A Russian cultural expert in Kabul was clearly surprised by my question.

First of all, the Taliban destroyed most artistic traditions of this country. But also, the economic and social situation in this country is so desperate, that hardly anyone has time to think about some larger picture. More than 60% of Afghans are jobless. One thing you also should remember: Afghan people are very proud and very freedom loving, as the history illustrated, but they are also extremely patient. Go and see The British Cemetery. It was built in 1879 to hold the dead of the second Anglo-Afghan War, but despite all that the UK did to this country, and despite all recent wars and conflicts, it was never attacked, never damaged.

It is true. I never heard anyone discussing this topic. All horrid British crimes committed on the territory of Afghanistan seem to be forgotten, at least for now.

But that’s not all: nobody here seems to have any appetite for recalling those horrors of the last decades, triggered by Western imperialism. Not once I observed any discussion addressing the main topic of modern Afghan history: how the West managed to trick the Soviets into invading Afghanistan in 1979, and how it created and then armed the vilest bunch of religious fanatics – the Mujahedeen. And how, subsequently, both countries – Afghanistan and the Soviet Union – were thoroughly destroyed in the process.

All was done, of course, with “great respect” for the Afghan nation, for its culture and traditions, as well as (how else) religion.

I’d love to be an invisible witness in a modern history class at the American University of Afghanistan, a ‘famed’ institution that is literally regurgitating thousands of collaborators, manufacturing a new breed of obedient pro-Western ‘elites’.

10 story Chinese hospital wing in Kabul

As we drive past Jamhuriat Hospital (Republic Hospital), which had a new 10-story building, with capacity for 350 patients, constructed by China in 2004, my driver, Mr. Tahir, sighs: “This was really a great gift from China to us… the Chinese really work hard, don’t they?”

“They have plenty of zeal and enthusiasm”, I uttered carefully. “Socialist fervor, you know. They sincerely believe in building, improving their country and the world. It is quite contrary to Western nihilism and extreme individualism…”

“They must love their country…”

“They do.”

“Afghanistan is poor”, Mr. Tahir’s face became suddenly sad. “Our people don’t love their country, anymore. They don’t work to improve it. They only work for themselves now, for their families…”

“Was it different before? You know…” I made an abstract gesture with my hand. “Before all this…”

“Of course it used to be very different”, he replied, grinning again.

Nothing Social Left, Nothing Socialist Wanted

I stopped several people who were just walking down the street, in various parts of Kabul. I wanted to understand some basics: was there anything social left in Afghanistan? Did Western ‘liberation’ bring at least some progress, social development and improved standards of living?

Most answers were thoroughly gloomy. Only those people who were working or moonlighting for the Western military, for the embassies, the NGOs or other ‘international contractors’, were to some extent optimistic.

I was explained that almost everyone in the countryside and provincial cities were out off work. Unemployment among university graduates stood at over 80%.

In Herat, a city of almost half a million inhabitants, a long and depressing line was winding in front of the Iranian embassy. I was told that tens of thousands have already migrated to the other side of the border. Now Afghans who were attempting to visit their relatives living in Iran were told to leave a 300-euro deposit, in case they decide not to return.

I asked what Herat is producing, and was told, without any irony: “mainly just some washing powder and biscuits”. Tourism from Iran stood at only about 150 people a year! The area between the city and the border has been dangerous, and there are frequent kidnappings.

In most provincial cities, a regular family has to get by on 2.300 – 2.500 Afghanis per month, which is not much more than US$30.

Government supplies run water mainly to the government housing projects. People living elsewhere have to dig their own wells.

Electricity is expensive, and an average family in Kabul is now expected to pay around US$35 per month. Even in the capital, many people have to get by without electricity. Indian ‘investors’ are in partnership with the government. Electricity supplies, and even water, are perceived as ‘business ventures’, not as basic social services.

Counting on a decent public transportation in the past, Kabul is now forced to rely on private vehicles, and on those few ‘city buses’ that are ‘pro-profit’ and mainly privately owned and operated.

There are government schools in Afghanistan, and in theory they are free, but books, pencils, uniforms and other basics are not.

In fact, perhaps the most impressive modern structure in Kabul, is actually the 10-story building to Jamhuriat Hospital, a gift from the People’s Republic of China, not from the West.

One wonders where is that fabled great ‘assistance’ from the United States and Europe really going? Perhaps to the millions of tons of concrete, used for construction of the massive fences? Perhaps money sponsors’ purchases of high-tech cameras and surveillance systems, as well as the high-life of thousands of Western ‘contractors’ and ‘security experts’?

I spoke to more than hundreds of Afghan people. Almost no one was ready to mention socialism. As if this wonderful word disappeared, was erased from the local lexicon.

“They actually remember socialism very fondly”, my Japanese acquaintance based in Kabul once told me. “However, talking about it is not encouraged. It may cause all sorts of problems.”

Western (Temporary) Victory

While in Kabul, I was told by one of the local experts working for an international organization:

The National Education Strategic Plan (NESP) for Afghanistan was just drafted… The funding came from the West. Many meetings were held directly at the US embassy and at the offices of the World Bank. The Afghan Ministry of Education had very little say about the curriculum, which was basically dictated by the Western countries…

I cannot quote the source of this information, as she would most probably lose her position for expressing such views.

She later clarified further:

The policy decisions on education are proposed by donor parties, which are mostly Western countries. The Ministry of Education, with limited capacity, has a lesser role in drafting the NESP III policy. Instead of building the capacity of the government, donor countries are taking the leading role in changing the education system and this does not ensure a sustainable education for Afghanistan whatsoever.

As in all client states of the West, education in Afghanistan is manipulated and geared to serve the interests of the West. It is expected to produce obedient and unquestioning masses. Instead of determined and productive patriots, it is regurgitating butlers of the regime, which is in turn serving predominately foreign interests.

Almost all information flows through the channels that are at least to some extent influenced from abroad: social media, television networks as well as the printed media.

The fabled Afghan spirit of resistance and courage has been (hopefully only temporarily) brutally broken, under the supervision of highly professional foreign indoctrinators and propagandists.

Those who are willing to collaborate with the occupation forces are suddenly not even hiding it, carrying their condition proudly as if a coat of arms, not as a shame. Many are now delighted to be associated with the West and its institutions.

In fact, the occupation is not even called occupation anymore, at least not by the elites who are well rewarded by the system for their linguistic and intellectual somersaults and pirouettes.

And Afghan people keep leaving.

Afghanistan is shedding its most talented sons and daughters, every day, every month, irreversibly.

Ms. Yukiko Matsuyoshi, a former Japanese diplomat, presently a UN education expert, is worried about the current trends in Afghanistan, a country where she spent several years:

Now the social classes have been re-created after the fall of Taliban, but the country seems to have no ideology. People just follow trends that are thrown their way. There is corruption, there is that huge poppy business, and there are palaces. And there is misery in the countryside, hardly any access to information. Afghans are leaving their country. Whoever can, goes: good people, government people…it seems like everyone tries to escape.

All of a sudden, the West is perceived like some Promised Land. Those who make it there are bragging about their new ‘home’, sending colorful images through social media: Disneyland, Hollywood, German castles…

I have seen the other side of the coin, in terrible refugee camps in Greece, in the French Calais camps; people drowning while attempting to cross the sea from Turkey to the European Union.

There is no discussion whether Afghanistan should be capitalist or socialist, anymore. Debate has stopped. the decision has been made, somewhere else, obviously.

The faces of Northern Alliance leaders are ‘decorating’ (or some would say, ‘scarring’) all major roads on which I drove. Ahmad Shah Massoud became a national hero, during the Karzai regime.

I travelled more than 100 kilometers north, to see Massoud’s grave, or a thumb, or whatever that monstrosity they erected above the splendid Panjshir Valley really is. Hordes of people drive there on weekends, some all the way from Kabul, and there are even those who pray to the ‘leader’.

The former “anti-Soviet” and anti-Communist fighter, he is certainly a perfect ‘hero’, whose memory is groomed by the pro-Western regime.

Driving through the Panjshir Valley, I saw several Soviet tanks and armored vehicles, rotting by the side of the road. I also saw a destroyed village, an eerie reminder of the war. It is called Dashtak. Clay houses look like a cemetery, like a horrid monument.

Village in the North destroyed by war

I took photos and sent them to Kabul, to my friends, for identification. I want to know, I felt that I had to know, who razed this town by the river, surrounded by such stunning mountains.

The answer came in a just few minutes: “I think it was in 1984, by the Soviet Union”. What followed was a link leading to a book published in the West, quoting some former Ukrainian, Soviet adviser to an Afghan battalion commander. The name of the book was “The Bear Went Over the Mountain”.

The quote did not sound too convincing. “Let’s go back”, I asked my driver and translator. “Let’s talk to people on the other side of the river’.

We found three inhabitants, in three different parts of the village; three people old enough to remember what took place here, some 30 years ago. All three testimonies coincided: Massoud’s forces brought refugees from several other parts of the valley. Before the battle began, all of them left. During the combat, clay houses were destroyed, but no civilians died inside.

There are always many different interpretations of the historic events. However, the analyses of modern Afghan history disseminated by the West and the Afghan regime among the Afghan people, are suspiciously unanimous and frighteningly one-sided. I am definitely planning to revisit this point during my next trip to the country. I see it as essential. The future of Afghanistan certainly depends on understanding the past.

*****

There are huge zeppelin-drones, vile-looking airborne surveillance stuff, hovering over the US air force base near Bagram. The same drones could be seen levitating over Kabul, but in the Bagram area, with the dramatic backdrop of the mountains, they look particularly dreadful.

Bagram US Airforce Base at Sunset

The air force base is huge. It appears even bigger than Incerlik near Adana in Turkey. It is an absolute masterpiece of military vulgarity, with watch towers everywhere, with barbed wire, several layers of concrete walls, surveillance cameras and powerful lights. If this is not an occupation, then what really is?

Again, my driver is totally cool. I want to photograph this monstrosity, and he drives me around, so we can identify a truly good spot. I’m ‘calculating light’, looking for the correct angle, so during the sunset, those who would be observing us from inside the ‘castle’, would be blinded, and we could get at least a few decent images.

I’m aware of the fact that in Afghanistan, the Empire often kills anything that moves, at the slightest suspicion or without any suspicion at all, as for them human lives of the local people count for almost nothing.

Once the sun goes down, I begin working fast.

Somehow I feel that my visit to Afghanistan would be incomplete, without getting at least some images of the base – one of the most expressive symbols of the occupation.

So this is what Afghanistan became under the Western ‘liberating’ boots! Barbed wires, foreign jet fighters, concrete walls everywhere, battles with the religious fundamentalist elements (invented and manufactured by the West), grotesque savage capitalism, ignorant or shameless collaboration, and guns, guns and guns, as well as misery in almost every corner, and one of the lowest life expectancies and standards of living on Earth! And, of course, people escaping, leaving this beautiful country behind – a country, which is suddenly unloved, humiliated, abandoned by so many!

This is all happening only roughly four decades after the heroic attempts to build some great social housing projects, after the implementation of a well-functioning public transportation network, public education and medical care, as well as an attempt to introduce secularism, while building a decent, egalitarian society.

The glorious victory of Western imperialism over one of the oldest and greatest cultures seems to be complete. The Brits tried, on several occasions; they murdered and tortured, but were defeated. They never forgave. They waited for decades, and then returned with their muscular and aggressive offspring. And here they are, all of them, now!

Afghanistan appears to be exhausted and defeated. It is badly injured, and it has been dragged through unimaginable dirt.

But I don’t think it is crushed by the West or by the religious fundamentalists, or by these two historical allies.

Deep inside, Afghanistan knows better. It already experienced many years of hope; it knows the taste of it. During long centuries and millennia of its existence, it survived several dreadful moments, but it always stood up again, undefeated and proud. I’m certain that it will rise again.

Flying, driving or walking through its magnificent mountains, I often felt that Afghanistan is like a living organism, it was winking at me, letting me know that it is alive, that it sees everything that goes on, that it is not futile at all to struggle for its future.

*****

I watched the stubs of the electric contacts that used to hold, some decades ago, those long wires used by the legendary Kabul trolley bus network.

“Those beautiful vehicles came from former Czechoslovakia”, a man, an office worker, whom I stopped in the center of the city, told me. “They were beautiful, and do you know who used to drive them? Some young girls; optimistic women who were for some reason always in a good mood.”

Apparently Kabul had three trolleybus lines, one of them originating (or ending) at the ‘Cinema Pamir’. What color were Kabul trolleybuses? I saw some photos, but those I could find were black and white. When I was a child, growing up in Czechoslovakia, ours were red. The ones in Leningrad, the city where I was born, were blue and green, some red as well. When they were accelerating, it was as if they’d be singing a simple song, or whining, complaining mockingly about their hard life.

I imagined a strong-minded, professional woman, boarding these trolleybuses. Perhaps eager to catch one of those old great Soviet movies at the Cinema Pamir, perhaps “the Dawns are Quiet Here”, or going to work or to visit different parts of the city.  She would snuggle into a comfortable seat in the electric vehicle. It was getting dark, but the city was safe. A woman behind the wheel was really smiling. There were flags flying all around the city. There was hope. There was a future. There was a country to build and to love.

I had suspected that the Kabul trolley buses were actually light blue. I have no idea why. It was just my intuition.

*****

Suddenly I heard a loud bang, and then the squeaking of brakes.

“Roll up the window!” my driver was shouting. We were getting into a slum inhabited by IDPs. We left the road. Dust everywhere, absolute misery. Bagrani town, now Bagrani slums, just a few kilometers east from Kabul, on the Jalalabad Highway.

Tough kid from slums

I grasped the heavy metal body of my professional Nikon.

My dream about Afghanistan of the 70’s, a gentle and enthusiastic country, abruptly ended. Now all around me were children suffering from malnutrition. I heard excited, accusatory voices of men and women who were forced to come from all corners of Afghanistan. We drove on a bumpy road, towards numerous half-collapsed clay structures and dirty tents.

“We escaped fighting in Shinwar, Helmand Province, from around Jalalabad and Kandahar”, several internally displaced persons living in Bagrani were shouting at me:

We have 1.000 families from Helmand and more than 1.000 families from Kandahar, living here. We lost our houses back in our villages and towns… People around Jalalabad lost their homes, too. Daesh (ISIS) is operating in several parts of the country… Taliban fighters are frequently changing sides, joining Daesh. There is fighting going on everywhere: Daesh, Taliban and the government forces confronting each other.

How involved is NATO in general and the US in particular, I ask, through my interpreter.

“Americans are there, of course. Mostly they are fighting from the air, but sometimes they are on the ground, too.”

“Do they kill civilians?”

“Yes, they do… Our sons, our husbands are regularly murdered by them”, shouts a woman clothed in a blue burqa, holding a small child in her arms.

Misery is everywhere, destroying the country, I’m told. And there is almost no help coming from the corrupt and the near bankrupt state.

Ms. Sidiqah, an elderly lady, is shouting in desperation and anger: “We have nothing left, but no one helps us! We don’t know what to do.”

As I photograph, a small cluster of people begin to rock the car. Things are getting tense, but I don’t feel that we are facing any immediate danger. I continue working. This is all becoming very personal. I don’t understand why, but it is…

Girl without arm

Her face is striking. She stares directly into my camera, and when I lower the lens, I feel her eyes begin to pierce mine. Without one single word uttered, I sense clearly what she is trying to convey:

“What have you done to me?”

I try to hold her glance for at least a few seconds, but then I lower my eyes. Now I‘m in panic. I want to embrace her, hold her, take her away from here, somewhere, somehow; to adopt her, airlift her from here, give her a home, but I know that there is no way I would be allowed to do it. My glasses get very foggy. I mumble something incoherent. I am tough, I witnessed dozens of wars, I faced death on various occasions. I try to keep calm whenever I’m in places like this; whenever working. What is happening to me here and now happens very rarely, but it does happen.

It is March 4th 2017, Afghanistan. My flight is scheduled to depart the next day, late in the afternoon. I know that I will take it. But I also realize, and I silently make my pledge to this tiny girl with the cute mice and an empty sleeve, that I will never fully leave her country.

*****

What will happen later is predicable: yet another sleepless night. Everything will be back, play itself like a film inside my brain. Bagrani provisional camp, another camp that is housing evacuees from Kunduz, some active mine fields in the middle of Herat, those hundreds of living corpses vegetating in the middle of District 6 in Kabul, then several explosions, innumerable rotting carcasses of Soviet tanks, the eerie and enormous US air force base near Bagram, Massoud’s bizarre grave, white zeppelin-drones, concrete walls, watch towers, security checks, and hollow muzzles of various types of guns pointing in all directions.

I’ll be tired, exhausted, but I’ll be well aware that I have no right to rest, not now, not anytime soon.

I’ll keep thinking about Cinema Pamir, about Kabul trolley buses, and Block 21 in the socialist-style neighborhood of Makroyan … 4th floor, entrance 2 or perhaps 3… I’ll keep imagining what could have taken place there, if life had not been so abruptly and so brutally interrupted.

Afghanistan, a stunning but terribly scarred and injured land, has been suffering from a concussion. It has been dizzy and disoriented. It can hardly walk. Still it being Afghanistan, it has been walking anyway, against all odds!

Later that night, I’ll recall what one great Cuban poet and singer Silvio Rodriquez once wrote about Nicaragua. And at one point, only a few moments before the dawn would begin returning bright colors to the world, I’ll replace Nicaragua with Afghanistan, and suddenly realize that it is exactly what I feel towards this beautiful and shattered nation: “Afghanistan hurts, as only love does.”

It hurts like love…

It hurts… terribly. Therefore, it is love.

All that would happen later, hours later. At the end I’ll stop fighting it, and simply accept.

But now, the old Toyota climbs back on the paved road. I can hardly keep my eyes open. The last several days I slept very little.

Mr. Tahir, my driver and now my comrade, looks surprisingly composed and unworried. After all this time working with me, he is clearly ready for any adventure, or any nightmare.

He hands me a bunch of tissues. My left wrist is bleeding, although not too badly. Most likely I hit or scratched something in the slums, without realizing it. My cameras feel increasingly heavy and my notebook looks filthy; I keep dropping it on the floor. My clothes look dirty, too. But we are going, we are moving forward, and that is good!

“It is all fucked up, Mr. Tahir”, I inform him, politely.

“Yes, Sir”, he replies, with an equal doze of respect. We are a good team.

“But we are going”, I remind him and myself.

“We are going, sir.”

Again my head drops on my chest. I open my eyes just a few minutes later. It is already very dark. Kabul all around me; Afghanistan. It feels good to be here. I’m glad I came.

“Where to now, sir?”

“Jalalabad, Mr. Tahir.”

“Sir? Jalalabad is behind… And at this hour…”

He is not saying no. He never says ‘no’ to any of my requests, during all those days. He is just informing me. If I was really crazy enough and insisted, he’d just take me. He knows we’d get fucked, perhaps even killed, but he would not refuse. He’s my comrade and I feel safe with him.

“Sorry, I fell asleep… What I mean: we’ll go to Jalalabad soon, when I return to Afghanistan.”

I am thinking for a few seconds. This drive, just being here, all of it feels right, exactly as it is supposed to be. I’m not certain where exactly I want to go right now, but one thing I know for sure: I have to keep going.

“Please, just drive, Mr. Tahir.”

“Forward?” He asks intuitively. I know that he knows. We both know, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

“Yes, please. Drive forward. Always forward!”

• All photos by Andre Vltchek