Brian Benoit


About Author: 
Brian Benoit has indexed maps, newspapers, and government documents at Readex’s Chester, Vermont office since 2002. For five years he worked with rare performing arts material at Harvard College’s Houghton Library. He is author of the recently published Crustacean Vacation (Islandport Press, 2012).
Posts by this Author

Apocalypse Laos: America Loses the Laotian Civil War to the Communists

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American Proxy Wars: Korea and Vietnam is designed to feature Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) coverage of those two countries, but this database can be used for much more than researching the Korean and Vietnam wars. For example, let’s take this new Twentieth-Century Global Perspectives database “off-label” and see what it can tell us about America’s proxy war in Laos.

 

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Laos itself was a creation of French colonialism in the late nineteenth century, and achieved independence in 1954 following the First Indochina War. The Pathet Lao, a communist organization, came into being in the early 1950s in opposition to French ambitions in Southeast Asia. The Pathet Lao were similar to the Viet Cong in that they had both political and military aspirations, and the two groups worked closely together. America targeted them both during the Vietnam War when the North Vietnamese Army moved its supply operations into Laos along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

 

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Apocalypse Laos: America Loses the Laotian Civil War to the Communists

Overt Operations: The North Korean Seizure of the USS Pueblo Exacerbates Flaws in U.S. Naval Intelligence

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As President Trump prepares for a landmark summit meeting with Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, it’s worthwhile to recall an actual landmark in that country’s capital, Pyongyang. Moored on the Potong River in the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, the USS Pueblo is still listed by the U.S. Navy as in active military service since it was seized by the North Koreans on January 23, 1968. One crew member was killed during the assault, and the 82 survivors were imprisoned and tortured by the North Koreans for nearly a year.

Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, America’s suspicions of communism and deployments against the Russians remained largely unchanged. If President Trump expects dramatic shifts in North Korean or American strategic interests to result from a single summit, history has shown that deadly games of cat-and-mouse are persistent motifs of international relations despite diplomatic initiatives to the contrary.

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Overt Operations: The North Korean Seizure of the USS Pueblo Exacerbates Flaws in U.S. Naval Intelligence

Sins of the Father: Syrian President Hafez Assad’s Legacy of Chemical Weapons and the Balance of Power in the Middle East

Only three weeks ago the world media was filled with horrific images of Syria’s purported use of chemical weapons and the military response of America and its allies. But we’ve been here before which raises the question: why does this keep happening?

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Readex’s Nuclear Arms and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Global Perspectives, 1945-1996, contains abundant references to the development of Syrian chemical weapons as a readily attainable foil to Israel’s alleged nuclear capability, and as an impediment to American hegemony in the Middle East. In that region, chemical weapons have become the less-developed country’s nuclear arms, with most of the benefits and few of the liabilities of the latter.

The late Syrian President Hafez Assad, father of current President Bashar Assad, said as much in a 1987 interview in the newspaper Al-Qabas, as broadcast on the Damascus Domestic Service, recorded and translated by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), and now found in Nuclear Arms and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Assad spoke of a “taboo” against the use of nuclear weapons that he used to Syria’s advantage:

Sins of the Father: Syrian President Hafez Assad’s Legacy of Chemical Weapons and the Balance of Power in the Middle East

Casting Light on the Bomb-Throwers: Revisiting Chicago’s 1886 Haymarket Riot and Its Social Fallout

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There’s an ironic twist in the contents of Chicago’s Sunday Inter Ocean newspaper for October 10, 1886, that wouldn’t have been apparent to its readers of that day. Much of the issue was devoted to transcribing the 5-1/2 hour courtroom speech of Albert Parsons, defending himself and seven of his anarchist compatriots against the death penalty for their alleged complicity in the Haymarket Riot of May 4, 1886.

The last act in the great anarchist drama was played yesterday, at least so far as Cook County is concerned. Only the curtain of the gallows needs to be rang down and the drama is ended. So, as the courtroom filled when the doors were opened at 9:45, the specter of death seemed to have entered before them. The vision of eight dangling forms seemed to fill the air with its unwholesome presence.

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Casting Light on the Bomb-Throwers: Revisiting Chicago’s 1886 Haymarket Riot and Its Social Fallout

From the Velvet Underground to the Velvet Revolution: Charter 77’s Redemption of Human Rights in Czechoslovakia

Take a day, and walk around.

Watch the Nazis run your town.

Then go home and check yourself.

You think we’re singing about someone else.

— Frank Zappa, “Plastic People”

Czechoslovakia’s 1989 Velvet Revolution began not with a bang, but with a band. Specifically, that band was the Plastic People of the Universe, who took their name from a song by American musician Frank Zappa. Their style falls loosely into the Western genre of art rock and was inspired by Zappa’s experimental work with the Mothers of Invention, and by Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground’s “Exploding Plastic Inevitable” multi-media collaboration with artist Andy Warhol in the mid-1960s.

 

In 1976 under the auspices of maintaining social standards in music, the Czechoslovak government broke-up a music festival featuring the Plastic People, confiscated their equipment, and arrested the band’s members and associates. Here’s the official response to the international outcry which accompanied that action from the Communist newspaper Rudé Právo [Red Truth], included in Readex’s World Protest and Reform Movements: Global Perspectives, 1945-1996.

From the Velvet Underground to the Velvet Revolution: Charter 77’s Redemption of Human Rights in Czechoslovakia

Duck and (Dis)cover: Strategic Information Hiding in Plain Sight in Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

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Do you remember the “Duck and Cover” drills from the 1950s? The Soviet people practiced similar civil defense maneuvers in case the unthinkable happened. What follows is the entire table of contents (omitting the authors) of Soviet Military Translations, No. 368, 24 January 1967, drawn from Voyennyye Znaniya [Military Skills, Moscow, No. 12, December 1966] and found in Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports:

  • Civil-Defense Services must be Perfected
  • The Actions of Civil Defense and the Armed Forces must be Coordinated
  • Efficient Utilization of Machinery in Rescue Work
  • Civil Defense at a Khar’kov Plant
  • The Methods of Civil-Defense Training are very Diverse
  • Methods of Compensating for a Shortage of Shelters
  • Training of Civil-Defense Commanders is Financed Partially by the Enterprises
  • Average Norms for Loading Casualties on Vehicles
  • England’s Reliance on Evacuation of the Population

Civil defense was far from an abstract concept in the Soviet Union. Consider how granular their concern was, extending to the “norms for loading casualties” onto vehicles, with several articles using the imperative mood. Beneath the Cold War saber-rattling about communism “burying” capitalism and the bravado surrounding the U-2 Incident and the Cuban Missile Crisis, it isn’t much of a stretch to see in this list of articles a nation that is terrified of being nuked.

Duck and (Dis)cover: Strategic Information Hiding in Plain Sight in Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1995

Strong Language on Communism: American Journalist Anna Louise Strong Takes the Long View on China

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Readers of Mao Tse-tung’s ubiquitous “Little Red Book” of quotations have to wait until Chapter 6 until they make the acquaintance of Anna Louise Strong, the American journalist who elicited from Chairman Mao one of his most well known statements:

In his talk with the American correspondent Anna Louise Strong 20 years ago, Chairman Mao Tse-tung put forward the brilliant dictum that for the people who dare to make revolution, the imperialists, including the United States and all reactionaries are paper tigers.

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Mao uttered his famous words during an interview with Strong that took place in the Yenan cave where he was living in 1946. Such quarters were necessary as Mao and Strong shared the perils of aerial bombardment from U.S.-sponsored Nationalist Chinese aircraft during the Chinese Civil War. Strong’s dispatch below hints at the respect with which she was treated by her Chinese interpreter, who apologized for jeopardizing the life of this American reporter from bombs that likely came from America.

Strong Language on Communism: American Journalist Anna Louise Strong Takes the Long View on China

From War to Wilderness: Alaska’s Near Islands

The Near Islands’ name seems like a misnomer. At the westernmost point of the Aleutian Islands, they’re not really near much of anything except each other and Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. But their place in history is assured as the site of the only land battle during World War II to take place on U.S. soil.

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On June 7, 1942, a Japanese force occupied Attu Island, capturing 45 Aleut natives and two non-indigenous citizens. The prisoners were relocated to Hokkaido, Japan. The Japanese would remain on Attu and nearby Kiska Island for about a year, until they were defeated by U.S. and Allied forces in late May of 1943.

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Despite their remote location, Attu and Kiska were strategic in relation to Pacific shipping lanes and as bases for air attacks against the West Coast of the United States. The battle for Attu was by no means an insignificant engagement, as thousands of soldiers were killed and injured on both sides.

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From War to Wilderness: Alaska’s Near Islands

Out of Africa: Ota Benga’s Journey from the Congo to a Cage at the Bronx Zoo

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LECTURED BY THE HEATHEN—Is American hospitality inferior to that of barbarians? Are our manners below the standard of heathendom? These questions are suggested by certain comments of the Batwa pygmies, who are on exhibition at St. Louis. These pygmies come from Central Africa and represent about the lowest type of the human race. They were brought to this country by a missionary, and apparently imagined that they would be received as guests and hospitably entertained. It is a shock to learn that the impression which the Batwa visitors have received is not altogether favorable.

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It was just a passing notice in the press, a minor commentary on the spectacle that was the 1904 World’s Fair, held in St. Louis and also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Compared with the general trend of the newspaper coverage of indigenous people displayed at the fair, this article was marked by the charitable tone of the correspondent. Despite the implicit racism of “heathen” being placed “on exhibition” and judged as less highly evolved, the writer here was at least sympathetic to the Africans’ claims.

Out of Africa: Ota Benga’s Journey from the Congo to a Cage at the Bronx Zoo

Distilling the Essence of Communism: Retrospective Highlights from Readex’s Final Release of Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1994

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Here’s a question to ponder as Readex completes its digitization of JPRS Reports: what have we learned about socialism from the totality of this collection? What can we characterize as the grief and promise of Marx’s and Mao’s and Lenin’s legacy based upon the material that the U.S. government has painstakingly gathered through open-source intelligence over almost forty years?

If Lenin’s own deathbed wishes had been heeded for Trotsky’s ascension to power over the headstrong Stalin, things would have turned out far differently for the Soviet Union, and so as well for the rest of us. The Soviet people demonstrated epic bravery and resolve during the Great Patriotic War, only to squander their achievement through an insistence on literally iron-clad borders in Europe and the Soviet republics. When Yeltsin and Gorbachev dragged the Politburo screaming and kicking back to reality, the empire was finally undone in true Hegelian fashion by the negation of negation, which is to say, glasnost [openness].

And what of China? The Chinese chose a different path to power, hardly less authoritarian but more pragmatic, certainly more measured and flexible. China holds much of the sovereign debt of the United States today, and is America’s rival for superpower status. China began to diverge from the Soviet model back in the 1960s. China’s dictatorship of the proletariat was more modest in scope, more willing to adjust to external circumstances, and their success is plain to see.

There’s certainly more to JPRS Reports than China and the Soviet Union, of course. But in saying that, one has to recognize that everything the United States collected was colored through the prism of the Cold War; Red is the most visible wavelength of that era.

Distilling the Essence of Communism: Retrospective Highlights from Readex’s Final Release of Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1994

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