The Commonplace Horror Of It All.

March 9, 2009

20th Century Democide

I find it more revealing to read the reports or biographies of escaped refugees and political dissidents from an evil dictatorship than what the country-experts write about it. This way I get a sense of the commonplace horror of it all. I just finished reading Kang Chol-Hwan’s The Aquariums of Pyongyang. Kang, you may recall, spent about 45 minutes with President Bush giving him a briefing on his experience. Taken in by North Korean propaganda, his whole extended Korean family emigrated from Japan to the “paradise of North Korea.” Of course, coming from a highly developed and free country to the bankrupt, rigidly control North Korea, his family was loose lipped. Eventually they were all arrested and sent to a forced labor camp when Kang was ten-years old. He and those of his family who survived spent ten awful years there.

This book as mainly about Kang’s experience in the camp, but enough about North Korea itself is described to show that life inside and outside the camps is a matter of degree. Trying to escape the camps means execution if caught; similarly, trying to escape the country means a fast death by execution or a slow one in the camps. A returned escapee is then one of the so-called irredeemables who along with those who spoke out against the regime, or the “revered Great Leader,” are purposely worked to death. And their children with them.

Some things that stick in my mind:

One is that it seems so easy for people’s minds to be so swayed by propaganda as to give up their freedom and wealth in a democracy to enter . . . hell.

Also, as in South Vietnam when it was taken over by the North, everything is a matter of bribes. They are not the lubricant, but the basis of order. Whatever one needs or wants to be done in North Korea was possible if one had enough money or precious goods to barter. Up and down the communist hierarchy, the currency was Omega watches, color TV sets, Japanese Yen, food, and anything else of material value.

Third, are the deaths. Deaths from malnutrition, deaths from lack of medical treatment, deaths from accidents, deaths from everyday beatings, deaths from overwork, deaths from the cold in winter, and deaths from executions. One vignette that sticks in my mind is of three boys that were put to work in a gold mine setting off explosives without adult supervision. They would light the fuses and run. Once they were not fast enough, and two were killed in the explosion and one had half his face blown off.

Fourth is the food, always inadequate, such that painful hunger would cause people to lose their decency, and even take food from their children’s mouths. The ever-present hunger stimulated creativity in catching and nurturing rats for food, catching insects, or finding something to eat in the woods around the camp.

Finally, is the ease with which people were sent to these gulags. No trial, no hearing, no interrogation. Perhaps word from friends or insiders that one was under surveillance would be a first clue of what was to come. But one day, the security police would arrive and haul a whole family, even babies and children, off to one of the camps with virtually no time for preparation or explanation. Or, one might be arrested at work without any chance of one’s family finding out what happened, even when it was separately arrested.

Is this gulag worse than Stalin’s? It’s like asking which is worse, torture with a burning hot iron, or with a knife.

Quite understandably, Kang condemns the South Korean government’s refusal to make human rights in the North an issue, and reluctance to help North Korean refugees, who when caught in China are returned to Kim Jung Il’s loving arms to be executed or worked to death in one of the camps.

His book should be widely read. But, it won’t be by those who need to be educated by it the most.

Link of Note

“N. Korea defector seeks help from Bush” (7/19/05) By Bill Gertz. In The Washington Times

Gertz says:

A North Korean defector who survived 10 years in a prison labor camp said he told President Bush last month that the United States should do more to help those who flee the communist regime. 
    “The people who are at the camps, the [North Korean] government wants to kill them all,” Kang Chol-hwan said in an interview with The Washington Times. “Instead of executing them, they kill them slowly, making them work in forced labor. That was the hardest part.”

What gets me the most about this horror is that it is happening now. Not 60-years ago under the Nazis, or Stalin, or 50-years ago under Mao, or 30-years ago under Pol Pot, but now.
http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/20TH.HTM


State Socialism Exemplified — Burma

December 21, 2008

[First published July 11, 2005]While we focus on the repression of freedom in Sudan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, life can be even worse in some non-Muslim countries, such as Burma (Myanmar). The 42.7 million people in this South Asian country are 89 percent Buddhist, have a life expectancy of fifty-five years, and earn in purchasing power parity $1,200 a year. They are ruled by a socialist military regime, which allows no freedom. Life here is hellish, due to the military’s savage repression of dissent, and their barbaric response to the rebellion of nearly a dozen ethnic minorities.

For example, in the nine villages of Dweh Loh Township, northwest of Rangoon and near the Thai border, the Karen ethnic group has long been fighting for independence. During harvest time in March 2000, military forces attacked the villages, burned down homes, and destroyed or looted possessions. By sheer luck, some of the villagers managed to flee into the forest, leaving behind their rice and possessions and risking starvation— starvation made almost inevitable by the military’s burning of crops and rice storage barns. Soldiers even torched the cut scrub needed to prepare the soil for planting. Those who remained in the village who were not killed were seized for forced labor or portering, or pressed into the military. That done, the soldiers mined all approaches to the village to prevent the villagers from returning.

Soldiers kill any male suspected of being a rebel. These are not all easy deaths. Sometimes soldiers gruesomely torture the victim and prolong death to cause as much agony as possible. Women or young girls are only marginally better off—the soldiers “only” rape them. Then they march them, along with the children and the village men left alive, to work sites to build barracks, defensive works, roads, railroads, or fences, or carry bamboo and firewood. Alternatively, the soldiers force them to porter ammunition and military supplies like mules. This is the most dangerous form of forced labor and many die from it.

Even the children do not escape. Soldiers routinely make them do such arduous labor, or even soldier. Worse, the military sell the girls into prostitution in Burma or into the Thai sex market across the border, which already exploits the bodies of 40,000 Burmese girls. Worse still, the military have forced children to walk ahead of soldiers to trigger mines. No military have used human bodies to clear mines like this since World War II, when the Soviets often compelled prisoners to sweep minefields with their feet.

Even for those Burmese children not forced into labor and portering, general conditions are disastrous for their future and that of the country. Even children living outside the civil war zones are unlikely to go to school. No more than one in five get so much as four years of primary school. They are more likely to be working at some job to help their family survive. According to UN estimates, about one-third of all children six to fifteen years of age are doing so. Many children do not survive to adulthood—half of all those that die each year are children.

In the civil war zones, children and adults alike routinely live on the edge of death. For example, anyone living in the township of Dweh Loh that contained the nine villages I mentioned, had an equal chance of doing forced labor, being looted, or suffering extortion by soldiers on the one hand, or of fleeing into the forests on the other. Those living in other townships throughout this area probably escaped to the forests to barely survive there on whatever food they could grow. Were soldiers to find these refugees, they might shoot them or make them porter under threat of death.

Life was no better for those living in the Nyaunglebin District to the west, where handpicked execution squads of soldiers operated off and on in the area, searching for rebels or their supporters. If these soldiers suspected a villager of even the most minor contact with rebel forces, if a villager was even seen talking to someone suspected of being a rebel, they usually cut his throat. Sometimes the soldiers also decapitated the victim and mounted the head on a pole as a warning to others.

There are around sixty-seven different ethnic groups in Burma, each with its own language and culture, many of which have rebelled and are fighting the military government. With more or less ferocity, these rebellions have been going on since 1948, with a death toll of 200,000 or even possibly 400,000 Burmese. Both sides have also murdered outright an additional 100,000 to 200,000 Burmese. Moreover, rebellion, fighting, and brutal military pressure on the Burmese people have caused 500,000 to 1 million of them to be displaced within the country, many of whom the military have commanded to live in inhospitable forced location zones. Others have escaped relocation for bare subsistence in the forests, bereft of home or village. Still 215,000 others have fled abroad and are formally listed as refugees by international refugee organizations. An added 350,000 Burmese are without refugee status and subsist in refugee-like conditions in neighboring Thailand.

The vast majority of Burmese, however, live far away from the civil war zones and are not members of the rebelling minority ethnic groups. They have other things to fear. Burma is a military dictatorship, and this regime is willing to use its weapons on unarmed people who protest or demonstrate. When students demonstrated against the regime on July 7, 1962, soldiers shot one hundred of them to death. On August 13, 1967, soldiers similarly shot over a hundred demonstrating men and women, and even the children that accompanied them. And so on and on, from demonstration to demonstration, until the worst of them all.

On August 8, 1988, doctors, students, teachers, farmers, musicians, artists, monks, and workers took part in peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrations in all major cities. The military demanded that the demonstrators disperse, and when they would not, soldiers fired round after round into the crowds. They massacred an incredible 5,000 to 10,000 unarmed people simply trying to express their desire for democracy. Soldiers and police then arrested hundreds of those escaping this bloodbath, and tortured them in prison. Many thousands escaped to border areas, leaving their loved ones, homes, and possessions behind.

Those Burmese who stay home, avoid demonstrations, and arouse no suspicion might still be conscripted by the military for forced labor or porter duty. Socialist in mind and spirit, the military have been ambitious in building railways, roads, airports, and so on. And to do so, they simply draft civilians. For example, those who lived near the route of the 110 mile e-Tavoy railway, built by the military in southern Burma, were among the 200,000 people that soldiers forced to work on the project for fifteen days a month without pay. Then there were the 30,000 the military conscripted for the Bassein Airport extension. Those who missed this might have been among the over 920,000 the military compelled to labor on the Chaung Oo-Pakokku Railroad.

Those who do the forced labor have to sleep at the work site, guarded, and without much shelter—sometimes none. The ground is their only bed. To go to the toilet they have to get permission from a guard. Their only food is what the workers themselves can bring. And they have to be sure not to be injured, because there is seldom any medical care. They also can die, as many do, from sickness or exhaustion. If they try to escape from the work site and soldiers catch them, if they are lucky, the soldiers will only severely beat them. Just resting without permission can get them beaten and killed by guards. This happened to Pa Za Kung, a man from Vomkua village in Chin State’s Thantlang Township, doing forced labor on a road from Thantlang to Vuangtu village.

But portering is even worse than forced labor. The military make those living in war zones porter for them, but since as many as two porters are needed for each soldier to move much of their supplies and equipment, people living outside the war zones are also conscripted. Porters suffer from hunger, malnutrition, disease, and exhaustion. Rebel fire kills them, they step on mines, or soldiers shoot them because they cannot force their bodies to work any longer. Or soldiers simply abandon them with no medical care, no food, no help, no way home. All told, this is another form of slavery suffered by millions of Burmese.

Burmese generally have no rights other than to serve the military. This might have changed in 1990, when the military caved in to considerable international pressure resulting from their 1988 massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators, and held real democratic elections— and were shocked when the democratic opposition, under the leadership of 1991 Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won 82 percent of the seats in the new parliament. The military then refused to yield power, and have held Aung San Suu Kyi under virtual house arrest ever since. They also arrested and tortured thousands of her supporters and members of other political parties, and have killed or disappeared thousands more. They even arrested hundreds of those elected to parliament, some of whom died under the harsh prison conditions. Member-elect Kyaw Min, for example, died of hepatitis caused by his imprisonment.

Having learned their lesson about the power of the democratic idea, the military no longer allow political activity or criticism. There is no freedom of speech or association. In this Buddhist country, the military keep a watch on Buddhist monks and prevent their involvement in political activity. They also restrict the leaders of other religions. There can be no unions. Just having a computer modem can lead to arrest, torture, and a fifteen-year prison sentence. Having a fax machine may even mean death, as it did for the Anglo-Burmese San Suu Kyi, who was honorary Consul for the European Union. No independent courts exist, and the law is what the military command. The military monitor the movements of common citizens, search their homes at any time, and take them forcibly from their homes to be relocated, without compensation or explanation.

Nor are Burmese free to start a business or invest. Since 1962, when the military overthrew the democratic government, the military have pursued a “Burmese Way to Socialism.” This has left little room for private businesses and a free market, and companies run by the military dominate many areas of the economy, leaving as the most vigorous sector of the economy the heroin trade. This alone may account for over 50 percent of the economy.

The result is what one would expect. Among all countries, Burma has plummeted to near the bottom in economic freedom, possibly better than only communist North Korea. And the country is nearly bankrupt. However, perhaps having learned from this economic disaster, the military are now trying to liberalize their economic control and have invited foreign investment.


Link of Note

“Rice calls for pressure on Burma” (7/11/05) BBC

Item:

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called on Thailand and other nations in South East Asia to press for change in neighboring Burma

If ever there was a case for outside intervention, it is Burma. It does not have the military capability to deter such action, as does North Korea. Nor does it have an alliance of like-minded Islamic nations to protect it, as does Sudan. It is vulnerable to outside action, but the international mindset is such that sovereignty trumps Burmese enslavement to socialism and their deaths. The best that Secretary Rice can do is ask neighboring countries to “press” Burma for change?

Say a family down the block is mistreating and molesting their children, who often appear with bruises and cuts, limping and malnourished. How about telephoning the family as pressing them to better treat their children? Crazy? Why do we treat international morality different from what within democracies. Simple. Real Politics.Policy
Articles/answers


Love, Fear, And Death In Mao’s China

December 10, 2008

I urge those of you who are interested in China and what it is like to live under absolute communist totalitarianism to read any one of the many Chinese memoirs now coming out. Their virtue is that they provide feeling and insight into what it was like to live day-by-day under such a system. These memoirs get away from the cold abstractions of scholarly and journalistic books on China, and their sterile analyses and statistics. To understand Mao’s China, you have to take to heart and sense its reality for the people, and these memoirs help you do so.

The latest I’ve read is Son Of The Revolution by Liang Heng and his wife Judith Shapiro. It is not as well written as Jung Chang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, nor as historically far reaching, since her book covers the personal history of her family over three generations. But, Liang’s memoir is more detailed in its focus on his life and that of his mother and father. Moreover, unlike Chang’s parents and Chang herself, who were high Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cadre, Liang and his parents were nothing but ordinary small city dwellers. His father was a reporter for a local newspaper and his mother worked for the local police.

His parents suffered incredibly from the various attempts by the CCP to cleanse China of bad thinkers, rightists, spies, and capitalist roaders. Of most interest to me was Liang’s experience as a Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. He lived in Changsha in central China, which was one of the more violent cities during this period. The Red Guards, nothing more than teenagers and even younger children, divided into enemy factions, each claiming to represent the true revolutionary spirit of Mao. Each had weapons handed out by the army or stolen from armories, including even cannon, machine guns, mortars, and so on. The Army and police were ordered to be neutral in the battles between factions, although they themselves often broke into warring groups.

Guns were everywhere, with young kids and even girls, strutting around with pistols tucked into their belts. The battle in the city was horrendous: bullets whizzing down the streets made it very dangerous for anyone to step outdoors. As happened throughout China, teachers, professors, high officials, and cadre were often beaten, tortured, and murdered as the Red Guards tried to purge the city of those whom they perceived as lacking proper support for the revolution, or who they saw as Mao’s enemies. Evidence of this could be owning a Western book, having distant relatives that escaped to Taiwan, a grandfather who had fought the communists during the civil war, a mother that let drop a criticism of the CCP, and so on.

Among the Red Guards and others involved, no matter the fighting faction, they fought for love of Mao. This is not a typo. It was for LOVE.

I have consistently pointed out how such totalitarian systems run on fear. That is well documented in this memoir. But there is something added, which was also there in Chung’s book and others, but I had not picked it up as I did here. That is love. Liang was born in 1954, just as the bloody “land Reform” campaign was completed, and before the establishment of the commune—the factorization of the peasant—and Great Leap Forward. From birth, therefore, Liang was subject to intensive and continuous daily brainwashing and the implantation of correct thought. Mao became everything: the “Red Sun,” the “Great Saving Star,” the “Great Helmsmen,” and the “Heart and Soul of China.” If I remember correctly, the second word he learned after that for his mother was Mao. The Chinese were taught that they owed everything good about their lives to him, and everything bad to the previous nationalist regime, American imperialism, rightists, or capitalist roaders. Hard as it is to believe, because of this “education” that he and other Chinese received, he loved Mao, as did Jung Chang, and as did everyone they knew. It was inconceivable to question or criticize him.

But with this love, there still was the constant fear. But not of Mao, since he was perceived, as they were taught, to have only their welfare and happiness in mind. But the fear was of the CCP cadre, of their classifying one as evil, or their accusing one of violating one of the plethora of rules that governed everyday life. The consequences could be horrendous: denial of ration tickets, being made to divorce one’s mate, being sent to the countryside, public denunciation, humiliation, lying confessions, arrest, torture, even execution. One had no protection against any of this, no media, no lawyers, no courts, and no constitution. Everyone was totally at the mercy of the communist cadre, even the cadre themselves were at the mercy of those higher up.

What a fantastic combination. Love for the man responsible for the daily horrors, while fearing the personal impact of these horrors. Of course, no one could conceive that these were Mao’s fault. It just had to be those bad people around him or lower down in the CCP.

A good review of the book by Xiaowei Zheng is here.


Links of Note

“‘20,000′ on death row worldwide”:

At least 1,770 executions took place last year in China, where a person could be sentenced and executed for non-violent crimes including tax fraud, embezzlement and drug offence….

“China’s military budget jumps 14%”:

China has said it will increase its military spending by 14.7% this year to 283.8bn yuan ($35.3bn ….)….China’s armed forces are the biggest in the world and have seen double-digit increases in military spending since the early 1990s…. Washington has several times accused China of understating its military budget. It said last year’s spend[ing] was not the $30bn stated but closer to $90bn.

“China’s role in genocide”:

At the United Nations last September, the Security Council passed Resolution 1564, threatening Sudan with oil sanctions unless it curbed the violence in Darfur. China immediately threatened to veto any move to actually impose sanctions, so the threat was rendered useless.

RJR: It has to do with Sudan’s oil.

“Feinstein insists U.S. not bound to protect Taiwan”:

In remarks certain to please visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Thursday told a gathering of Chinese-American business and cultural leaders in San Francisco that the United States has no obligation to defend Taiwan if it provokes China into a military confrontation.”

RJR: If there is a hell for high officials that by their statements make war more likely, Feinstein is a strong candidate.

“Is the US asleep at the wheel?”:

US politicians and military officers think that Taiwan exists solely for the benefit of — or as a detriment to — US-China relations. This blissfully egocentric attitude has been the source of much confusion in cross-strait relations, and could lead Washington to make a major miscalculation jeopardizing its strategic position in the Western Pacific.

RJR: One problem is the near universal belief that Taiwan was before World War II part of China. It was not then or ever in the last century, nor did the treating ending the Japanese control of Taiwan (Formosa) give it to China. By treaty, its status is undetermined.

“Seeds of Fury”:

Protests are flaring across China’s countryside over everything from land seizures to corruption. In a nation of 900 million farmers, quelling this rising unrest may be Beijing’s greatest challenge…. By the central government’s own count, there were 87,000 “public-order disturbances” in 2005, up from 10,000 in 1994.

“Torture Exhibition:
Display of Crimes Against Conscience”
Not for the queasy.


“China’s Cultural Revolution — A Docudrama “


Returning to the Democratic Peace

November 27, 2008

[Here I have used China under Mao as the worst example of what a life can be like for a people lacking a democratic peace--fear, insecurity, mass poverty, totalitarianism, and mass murder by the multimillions. Now, I will be more specific about the democratic peace itself. The following was first published December 13, 2004]

We have learned much about international relations and politics that provides new insight into old problems. We have learned that:

• Democratic freedom is an engine of economic and human development, and scientific and technological advancement.

• Freedom ameliorates the problem of mass poverty.

• Free people do not suffer from and never have had famines. 

• Free people have the least internal violence, turmoil, and political instability.

• Free people commit virtually no democide (government genocide and mass murder). Freedom is therefore a solution to democide; the only practical means of making sure that “Never again!”

• Free people do not make war on each other, and the greater the freedom within two nations, the less violence between them. Globalizing freedom is therefore a solution to war.

• Power corrupts, impoverishes, and kills.

This constellation of inter-connected truths sums up the democratic peace and the consequences of excessive power. Fostering freedom is then a moral, Kantian imperative, as well as a practical and realist solution to many of today’s most pressing problems, especially war, violence, democide, famine, and national impoverishment.

I leave to my website the scholarly and scientific analyses establishing these iron laws of history. Here, I will use them to shed bright light on more light on what, how, and why of the democratic peace.


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