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.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
At the confluence of the period of racial violence known as Red Summer (1919) and the first Red Scare (1917-1920), Jamaica-born poet and journalist Claude McKay merged black anger with radical politics in his most well-known poem, “If We Must Die.”
McKay’s sonnet initially appeared in the July 1919 issue of The Liberator, a radical socialist magazine published in New York City from 1918-24 by Max and Crystal Eastman. The fame and impact of “If We Must Die” was such that it was soon reprinted as a rallying cry in other progressive magazines such as the September 1919 issue of The Messenger, available in African American Periodicals, 1825-1995.
Fifty years ago the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive, a multi-pronged military campaign that underscored South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu’s inability to protect his country’s urban areas from attack.
Although the assaults were eventually repulsed, the heightened focus on the defense of South Vietnamese cities exposed rural areas to greater infiltration by the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) cadre, consisting of civilians and paramilitary personnel collaborating with the communist North.
America formalized the Phoenix Program in 1967 as a means of addressing just this eventuality. Through a melding of rural development with intelligence gathering and targeted detention and killing of suspected Viet Cong, they hoped to turn the tide of the war to the South and democracy.
The “Bridge of No Return” doesn’t look like much today: four waist-high blue bollards at the eastern end stand guard over grass growing through the cracked roadway. A weathered sign reads, “Military Demarcation Line” in English and Korean. The bridge’s railings are surely inadequate to prevent some desperate soul from leaping into the shallow river below. At the western end a low concrete wall hints that the last pedestrian or vehicle passed over the span long ago.
As often happens in real estate, location is everything. This bridge spans the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) in Panmunjom, the United Nations Joint Security Area between North and South Korea, in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The DMZ is a heavily fortified and closely monitored strip of land 151 miles long and 2.5 miles wide that approximates the 38th parallel of latitude. The MDL represents the cease-fire line of a war that has been unresolved since 1953. Those who were repatriated across this bridge acknowledged that they could never go back whence they came; theirs was a one-way trip.
In 1993, protected by a heavily armed Secret Service escort, President Bill Clinton walked over this bridge to within about ten feet of the MDL, scrutinized all the while by North Korean soldiers armed with AK-47s. Obviously President Clinton lived to record this excursion in his memoirs, but on August 18, 1976, two American servicemen supervising a landscaping detail nearby were not so fortunate.
The aims of the Committee of Liberation of the Peoples of Russia are: the overthrow of Stalin’s tyranny, the liberation of the peoples of Russia from the Bolshevik system, and the restitution of those rights to the peoples of Russia which they fought for and won in the people’s revolution of 1917.
Andrei Vlasov, The Prague Manifesto, November 14, 1944
It’s November 14, 1944, and an armed uprising against Stalinist terror and Bolshevism is in progress. Its participants number well into the six figures and have been formed into an actual army. Its leader is Andrei Vlasov, a former general in the Red Army who had fought the Germans at the Battle of Moscow in 1941. Now he is allied with them, but only just.
Vlasov makes his way to the microphone in a crowded ballroom in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and declaims a manifesto excoriating Soviet communist oppression. He speaks as a pragmatic man of firm convictions and steady purpose, and he gives a bravura performance, a definitive example of speaking truth to power. But he is also a man divided in his loyalties.
In 1967 author and journalist Eugene Lyons published an article in the WashingtonEvening Star under the headline, “Freedom Came to Russians on this Day 50 Years Ago.” A bit of math would place that momentous event in 1917; surely he’s referring to the “Great October” revolution?
No, his dateline is March 12, and the revolution he’s commemorating is the one that actually resulted in the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and the collapse of the Romanov dynasty. By Lyons’ reckoning, the true Russian revolution occurred in February (following the Russian Orthodox Julian calendar, which would place it in March according to the Gregorian calendar used in the West).
In his article, Lyons took severe issue with the Soviet mythology surrounding the October (Bolshevik) revolution that literally wiped out the most liberal government Russia had ever known, writing:
The successful grab for power by Lenin, Trotsky, and their small following was a deed plotted in secrecy, a private cabal, with the masses so much raw stuff to be terrorized and processed.
Consider for a moment the plight of Indonesia’s leaders in 1945: how to establish a national identity in a country spread across more than 13,000 islands, featuring hundreds of languages and ethnic groups, all in a precarious balance between the military, Muslims, and communists?
During Indonesia’s struggle to break free from over 300 years of Dutch colonial rule, and then from Japanese military occupation following World War II, early attempts to govern through parliamentary democracy became synonymous with corruption and bureaucratic paralysis. Between 1950 and 1959 there were seven attempts to build coalition governments, the last culminating in a period of martial law. Clearly a new approach was needed.
That approach came to be known as “Guided Democracy” (Demokrasi Terpimpin). Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president and the leader of the 1945 revolution that finally established Indonesia as a sovereign state, exercised an increasingly prominent role in the nation’s politics until his downfall in 1967. His administration’s managed or “Guided” democracy became more than an empty slogan or a euphemism for one-man rule; we shall see that there was indeed a unique Indonesian variant of the socialist experiment.