Who wants a war with China over Taiwan?

11 Oct

From Caitlin Johnstone’s blog yesterday.

The correct response to someone who supports going to war if China attacks Taiwan is “Are you enlisted?” The correct response when they say “no” is “Then shut the fuck up.”

The decision to go to war with China would be the most consequential in history. You’d have to weigh it against millions to billions of deaths. Defending Taiwan’s preference of government clearly wouldn’t weigh enough to justify that cost.

The empire’s greatest weapon is its propaganda machine. There’s never been anything like the global narrative control of western news media, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood. The military fights wars, the propaganda machine wins them long before they start.

A lucid and well-informed examination of the world’s problems will keep bringing you back to this one fundamental issue: that Earth’s inhabitants are being psychologically manipulated at mass scale into organizing themselves in ways that serve the powerful instead of the people.

Taiwan’s colonial name, Formosa, means “the beautiful island”. That’s an accurate description and besides having the great pleasure of hosting several young Taiwanese here in the UK, I’ve twice visited their beautiful island and hope to do so again. But personal stuff aside, here’s what I wrote in my recent takedown of a Guardian editorial:

Taiwan is part of China, recognised as such by the UN. … As the tide of WW2 shifted to the Allies, so did the tide of China’s war against its rulers and their failure to repel the Japanese invader shift to the communists … Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek was driven from the mainland. Imposing himself on [Taiwan] he ruled there without mercy.

(Chiang saw his routing as a tactical retreat. To his dying day he insisted that all of China would be retaken and reunited. So much for Taiwan as a separate nation!)

… the US changed its tune on Chiang Kai-shek. Initially it loathed him … but cold war imposed new priorities … And as with US genocide on Korea, and Palestine’s Nakba, mid-twentieth century history has been air-brushed so effectively that events still within living memory might as well have occurred in Homer’s day.

So the Guardian may speak, with little fear of reader pushback, of China ‘threatening’ Taiwan. Millions of Westerners, including an intelligentsia kept historically and geographically illiterate while believing itself well informed by ‘quality’ media, will buy it.

That last is the point Caitlin was making yesterday. Let’s hear her again:

The empire’s greatest weapon is its propaganda machine … A lucid and well-informed examination of the world’s problems will keep bringing you back to this one fundamental issue: that Earth’s inhabitants are being psychologically manipulated at mass scale into organizing themselves in ways that serve the powerful instead of the people.

I foolishly got myself into one of those Facebook pissing contests the other day. The worst kind, the ones below corporate media posts on how ‘our’ forces are ‘patrolling’ the South China Sea to keep it open for ‘the international community’. Usually I give these a wide berth. I’m all for challenging empire narratives but try to choose my battles by applying cost/benefit assessment and heeding Proverbs 26:4.

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.

But though this particular debate was rife with ignorance and folly in unusually distilled forms, and peppered with the cheap and downright nasty, its core drivers inform almost all the West’s assumptions about non Western challengers:

  • We are better than Them because we are a democracy and they are not. 1
  • We are better than Them because we have free speech and they do not.

Re the first assumption, what most people know of China’s system of governance is miniscule. (Try the second of my China Reads from April this year.) But how China is governed is only half the equation. The other half is the West’s claim to being democratic.

Try this video, five minutes and fifty seconds. While the focus is on the USA, and the research it draws on from Princeton, what it gives the lie to is not uniquely American. It applies to all of the Western ‘democracies’. As, indeed, it must. Negating meaningful democracy, whilst fetishising its trappings, is a sine qua non for squaring rule by and for the few with the appearance of rule by and for the many.

Regarding the second assumption, a comparable illusion keeps us hypnotised. Yes, as Caitlin’s post today reminds us:

It looks like we’re free. We can criticize our governments, vote for whoever we want. We can log onto the internet and look up any subject we’re interested in …

But we’re not free. Our political systems herd people into a two-party system controlled by plutocrats. The news we rely on to form ideas about what’s going on are controlled by plutocrats and heavily shaped by secretive government agencies. Internet algorithms are aggressively manipulated to show people information which favors the status quo. Even our entertainment is rife with Pentagon and CIA influence. 2

How free is that? How free is your speech if there are myriad institutional safeguards in place to prevent speech from ever effecting political change?

Which leads to the second video. This one’s a little longer, at 13:22. 3

I implore you to watch both videos, less than twenty minutes in all, then return to the question Caitlin posed.

Do you really want to let our rulers go to war, in our name, over Taiwan? 4


  1. See also Those nights in Tiananmen Square, written two days after this post.
  2. The enormous power of the entertainments industry, with lead roles for Hollywood and now Netflix, in shaping our deepest political understandings has been sorely neglected on this site. I hope to address the deficiency but the task is daunting. Our perceptions of China are shaped as much by Animal Farm and 007, with the recent submarine drama Vigil a case in point, as by the propaganda from news and overtly political commentary.
  3. This second video has one major omission. It pays no attention to the truth, examined in this post, that advertising reliance – usually direct but sometimes indirect, as with the BBC – is as big a negator of media independence as oligarch ownership. That said, the video makes too many powerful points to be ignored on this count.
  4. I do not suppose many of the West’s rulers consciously want war with a China which, like Russia, can ably defend herself. (Some do, however. And as with war on Russia, that DC contingent which believes a nuclear war can be won has moved from lunatic fringe to mainstream if minority status within the US ruling class.) I sense a far greater danger from the brinksmanship currently played out by three of the Five Eyes – USA, UK, Australia – triggering a miscalculation on either side. Nuff said.

2 Replies to “Who wants a war with China over Taiwan?

  1. “US changed its tune on Chiang Kai-shek. Initially it loathed him …”

    You need to review this statement. But first you need to read “The China Mirage” by James Bradley, especially Chapter 4 The Noble Chinese Peasant.

    • Thanks David. I’m not familiar with this book but note this in the Amazon blurb:

      In each of his books, James Bradley has exposed the hidden truths behind America’s engagement in Asia. Now comes his most engrossing work yet. Beginning in the 1850s, Bradley introduces us to the prominent Americans who made their fortunes in the China opium trade. As they — -good Christians all — -profitably addicted millions, American missionaries arrived, promising salvation for those who adopted Western ways.

      And that was just the beginning.

      From drug dealer Warren Delano to his grandson Franklin Delano Roosevelt, from the port of Hong Kong to the towers of Princeton University, from the era of Appomattox to the age of the A-Bomb, The China Mirage explores a difficult century that defines U.S.-Chinese relations to this day.

      Which interests me, but this blog does keep me very busy. If you think I need to read this in order to ‘review’ my statement on Chiang, I’d like to hear, in your own words summarising the evidence, why. You’ll appreciate that bloggers like me get a lot of folk urging us to do even more work without showing any sign they are prepared to do the same. I’m sure you’re not one of those, but still – as a token of good faith …

      Meanwhile, for a gripping yarn on a vast historical canvas, taking in both the India and China sides of Britain’s colonial plunder in its opium chapters, I can’t recommend too highly Amitav Ghosh’s Booker-worthy epic, Sea of Poppies.

      More to the narrow point of Chiang and Taiwan, in a post of four years ago – Green Island; White Terror – I wrote:

      US opposition to European colonialism – always conditional on realpolitik – soon took a back seat to incipient McCarthyism at home; Domino Theory abroad. Thus it was that Ho Chi Minh, tepidly supported against the Japanese in WW2, was ditched by Washington when Indochina’s prewar colonial administration, discredited by Vichy collaboration with the Japanese, thought to waltz back in and pick up where it had left off. (Not that we should single out France. Britain and Holland had much the same idea regarding Malaya and East Indies – with robust verbal support, in Britain’s case at least, from Truman.)

      And so it was that when Chiang Kai Shek foisted his KMT on a Taiwan keen on independence after fifty years under Japan, Washington said nothing. One of the most strikingly consistent features of its foreign policy is an unwavering belief that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”.

      I’m half way into George Kerr’s Formosa Betrayed. [Kerr was a junior US diplomat based in strategically vital Formosa during WW2.] As with other American liberals – Russia expert Stephen Cohen is a case in point – dismayed at ‘wrong turns’ by their leaders, what makes Kerr so credible is his mix of well informed and sincere comment with touching faith in an essentially benign Washington. His title refers to the subordination of Taiwan – “a people who deserved better” – to America’s cold war on the USSR. But the Moscow-Beijing split, and Nixon’s 1972 visit to China, would confer new meaning for the liberal outlook on the idea of Formosa betrayed.

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