this post also features in Offguardian
Was Pyongyang’s destruction this month of a border town ‘liaison office’ – touted as symbol of reconciliation but in reality lacking the truth component – a further manifestation of Kim Jong Un irrationality? What game is Washington playing, yet again by proxy, in India’s mountainous and disputed border with China? And do black lives matter or doesn’t they?
Here to help us with such questions are my three reads for the month.
If any current leader is more vilified by Western media than Bashar al-Assad or Vladimir Putin, it is North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. But those given to scepticism (an outlook often confused with cynicism in intellectual circles) have learned the hard way to ask these two questions when a non Western leader is reviled, or held up as with the angels:
How objectively sourced is the evidence for such a portrayal?
Take Saddam. With hindsight, partial answers to the first question are understood even at The Guardian, which has form on whipping up moral outrage to facilitate – often as not without expressly advocating – wars it will later distance itself from. And as if to prove the truth of my aside just now, a belated answer to the cui bono question is also given by the Guardian.
In fact I find that second answer too reductive. We can add to its thesis, that it was all about oil, Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine understanding that it was all about privatisation. (Evidence not then available shows her wrong, in an otherwise exemplary assessment, to rule out oil.) Add too the wider reality, as documented in their very different ways by such as Pepe Escobar and Michael Hudson, that Iraq marks an early round of a war to maintain Western hegemony in the face of Eurasia Rising.
Which brings us back to Kim. It is understood by most consumers of Western media that North Korea is a hell on earth (no: seventy years of blockade have nothing to do with this!) run by an insane dynasty. As I’ve noted before, we don’t like complexity in third world leaders. Devils or saints, we want easily assimilated morality tales with all the nuance of Enid Blyton creations.
And since it precedes – just! – the lived experience of baby boomers, Washington’s genocidal bombing of NK in the early fifties gets no mention. Ditto the truth, clear to any twelve year old versed in schoolyard realpolitik – yet somehow beyond the ken of Western intelligentsia – that Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons are all that prevent it going the way of Baghdad and Tripoli. The drivers may not be identical – no oil – but the logic certainly is.
Which is ample introduction to this piece by Stephen Gowans, author of Patriots, Traitors & Empires: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom. Fittingly, this much shorter piece opens with a quote from Fidel Castro …
But peace cannot be hoped for on the basis of some making concessions and the others making none. Peace based on the demands of the other side is not peace, it is ignominious surrender, and no revolutionary country sells itself or surrenders.
… and goes on to set the early June context in which:
North Korea recently blew up the “inter-Korean liaison office in the border town of Kaesong,” an act Western media saw as “provocative”. Located in North Korea, it opened “following a 2018 inter-Korean pledge to tone down military hostilities and bring peace to the Korean Peninsula.” Now banner and building are gone. Hopes for peace between the two Koreas have, according to Western accounts, dissolved in a puff of North Korean smoke …
… on account, we all know, of Kim being ‘odious’ (GuardianSpeak) or ‘bonkers’ (MailSpeak) …
Perhaps because I’m a Libran – not that we Librans believe in astrology, mind! – I find myself at odds with broadly mirror opposite positions on so many big issues. Take the 2016 US election. I couldn’t stand Trump but saw HRC as equally criminal, equally sociopathic. Moreover, her plan for Syria – the no fly zones which had reduced Africa’s most prosperous state to chaos, terror and slave auctions on the quaysides of Tripoli – promised head on confrontation between the world’s two leading military powers.
Or take Brexit. Remainers who took the EU bankers’ club to be internationalist dismayed me. But that did not lead me to conclude that a Brexit led by a rival wing of UK rulers, and informed both by atavistic chauvinism and an equally delusional vision, will be just hunky dory. It won’t, and the non dialectical view of many Lexiteers – EU is bad, ergo leaving it must, regardless of timing, context and rationale, be good – seems boneheaded. Like saying that since capitalism is exploitative, closing for-profit enterprises today so workers can build cooperatives tomorrow, in otherwise unaltered conditions, would be an excellent idea.
Speaking of non dialectical assessments, I have the same problems with both sides of the BLM debate. To deny that protests taking place in the USA are accompanied by criminality (as are all insurrections) is naive. On a different note, it is a duty of international socialists to point out that tipping statues of slavers into rivers while (a) enjoying the fruits of Britain’s plundering past and (b) remaining oblivious to continuing exploitation of the global south is equally naïve.
But to engage in one-sided denunciations of Black Lives Matter – even to the point of saying the US protests are “color revolutions” of the kind which, for reactionary purposes and venal goals, were hijacked and artificially exacerbated in Ukraine and Syria – seems to me equally wide of the mark.
You may or may not agree with me that a better approach to broadly progressive but limited and naïve protest movements – from CND to Occupy – is to stand in solidarity with them, while simultaneously advancing more penetrating analyses. In any case one man better placed than most to draw empirically grounded distinctions, on what is and what is not a Soros instigated “color revolution”, is Andre Vltchek, author of this piece.
While the West has been preoccupied with Covid-19 and BLM, the manufacturing of Sinophobia by its media has continued apace. One current hotspot being disputed Himalayan territory.
This goes back a long way. In 1962 Chinese troops entered Ladakh (known to Kipling fans as the area in which the denouement of his spy yarn Kim plays out). Flushed with success the previous year in ousting Portugal from Goa, and heedless of how well China’s Red Army had squared up to US might in Korea, India sent elite units to see off ‘the invader’. The result was a humiliation for ‘the world’s largest democracy’. As generals fell on their swords, Prime Minister Nehru was widely blamed – on the one hand for military unpreparedness, on the other for failing to pursue a peaceful solution prior to China’s move.
And still the situation simmers. But now the context is another cold war, waged on one side by proxy. And Washington is as determined as ever to weaken a rising power destined to become its twenty-first century nemesis. We should all be paying close attention.
One of last month’s reads quoted, in the context of Syria, a Pepe Escobar piece on this rivalry. This month Andrew Korybko told of the Himalayan stand-off in terms of PM Modi playing with fire. Here though the WSWS, like Escobar, offers a more overarching view. Call me repetitive, but I say we should all be paying close attention.
* * *