Yes, Power Kills

[First published January 12, 2006] This poem by Wing is nonspecific as to location. Just consider it an illustration of the historical principle that power kills. None of it is exaggerated.

Capricious*

By Wing Tek Lum

A dozen villagers are tied wrist to wrist in a small circle, and a grenade is tossed in the middle.

A fetus is gouged out of a pregnant woman to satisfy a bet by soldiers as to whether it is a boy or girl.

Refugees seeking shelter are locked in a house which is ringed with firewood and set on fire. Kerosene is poured onto a trio of peasants; the invaders take potshots to see who can ignite them.

A toddler is dropped into a well on a whim.

Marauding troops force an old man to shelter and cook for them; the next morning they throw him into a large kettle and boil him to death.

Out of the blue, a man’s throat is slit while he sits in a privy.

Surrendering prisoners of war clutch leaflets promising leniency, but are executed on the spot. Others who surrender are roped together in columns, and led away to die. Another prisoner is pulled out of a crowd and ordered to go down on all fours; a sergeant then sits down on top of his back to have his hair cut.

Another captor receives a watch as a bribe; suddenly full of pity, he lets two prisoners go, but somehow not the watch donor.

Two sub‑lieutenants start a contest to see who can behead one hundred men first. Heads that have been chopped off line a wall, ear to ear; another head has a cigarette butt popped into its mouth. By the side of a road, four bodies sit with their heads placed on their laps.

Soldiers ready to execute a student unexpectedly hear a woman’s voice nearby and give chase; the student is left on his knees, his pants leg soaked with urine.

Without warning, women are grabbed off the street, or their houses broken into, or a group of schoolgirls kidnapped to serve in a barracks. A clearing or park is turned into a makeshift brothel.

Nuns in a temple are raped, so are three generations in their own home, and out of curiosity, babies too. A company marches back to their bivouac: interspersed within a sea of uniforms the pale white flesh of their captives stands out.

Vaginas are stuffed with all manner of objects, even grenades; breasts are cut off. Flesh from a woman’s thigh is used as filling for dumplings. A live heart is cut out as an appetizer to be served with wine.

A guard is insulted seeing a young woman smoking in public; he forces her to strip naked, her hands bound behind with her belt. Returning home, she commits suicide.

An old woman with bound feet is forced to stand on a tree stump for hours; each time she falls off she is propped back up.



Published in TriQuarterly, Issue 122, Northwestern University. Wing Tek Lum is the 1970 Discovery Award winner.


Link of Note

“Mao Lives” By Arthur Wilson

AHYPERLINK “http://www.commentarymagazine.com/archive/digitalarchive.aspx?st=advanced&By=Arthur%20Waldron”rthur Waldron is the Lauder professor of international relations at the University of Pennsylvania and vice president of the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington, D.C. In collaboration with Stuart Schram, he is currently editing the wartime writings of Mao Zedong
This is an excellent review of Chang and Halliday’s Mao. He provides a good context for understanding Mao, and is sympathetic to the book, without being uncritical. I cannot resist including one quote that expresses my own experience with American academics in this area and a reason for many negative reviews from them:

Even aligned with the USSR, however, Mao in power continued to be viewed favorably by most Western scholars and commentators. To be sure, confiscating and redistributing land from the rich to the poor involved bloodshed, as did the cleaning-up of such notoriously lawless cities as Shanghai. . . . These blemishes were duly noted, though never the scale of death and destruction they entailed. Always, Mao was seen as searching for new ways to build socialism, and on these grounds much if not everything could be forgiven him. . . . In the academic world, Mao’s achievements were extolled while the alternatives offered by the rival Nationalists, or by parties calling for parliamentary democracy, or by refugee critics were dismissed as hopeless dead ends. Scholars who dissented often paid with their careers. Certainly, it was concluded, Mao had shed blood as he “reformed” the system, and he had often shown a hard, authoritarian hand. But given the results, who could cavil? As the influential Harvard professor John K. Fairbank observed in 1972 on returning from a visit, “The Maoist revolution is on the whole the best thing that has happened to the Chinese people in centuries.”


One Response to Yes, Power Kills

  1. wowpanda says:

    The hyper link doesn’t work.

    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/archive/digitalarchive.aspx?st=advanced&By=Arthur%20Waldron

    And I will check on the comment
    As the influential Harvard professor John K. Fairbank observed in 1972 on returning from a visit, “The Maoist revolution is on the whole the best thing that has happened to the Chinese people in centuries.”
    If Fairbank really said that, he must be either incredibly stupid or evil.

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