Sunday, January 7, 2018

Are we primarily egalitarian or authoritarian?

In 1987, Harvard primatologist, Richard Wrangham, studying how human behaviour relates to that of our closest primate relatives, noticed that as humans, gorillas, bonobos, and chimpanzees share a recent ancestor and more than 98 percent of their genes, any behaviours these four species of apes shared today must also have been present in their common predecessor about seven million years ago--their“Common Ancestor”.

Wrangham identified social behaviour shared by the four species like social life and attacking others of the same species. But Bonobos, chimpanzees, and gorillas had hierarchical societies, with often aggressive dominant alpha males. Yet human hunter-gatherers were egalitarian, apparently lacking innate hierarchical communities and any inclination to dominating leaders. Before 10,000 years ago, only essentially egalitarian human societies seemed to have existed on our planet. Human communities were tiny (no more than about 150) with no strong leaders at all. As genomes take at least a thousand generations to change our nature significantly, most human genes have evolved from the genetic makeup of people living in these small Paleolithic bands. Yet today, not only are there fairly egalitarian human societies in the world, but also some people are ruled by despots. Somehow, primitive communism degenerated into a more hierarchical and unequal world.

How could evolution explain these curious and contradictory facts? Our primate relatives are hierarchical but our own ancestors were not, but we seem to have reverted at least partially in recent history. Discoveries in the fields of anthropology and primatology resolved the puzzle because all apes actually resent authority and being bossed around, and will form coalitions to resist it.

Christopher Boehm, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Southern California, suggested that though we may have a deeply rooted instinct to exert power over others, we also have what may be an equally strong aversion to abuses of power, along with some natural tendencies to punish people who commit those abuses.

Boehm surveyed 48 small, nonliterate societies spread across the globe, ranging from small hunting and gathering bands to more sedentary tribes, to see exactly how egalitarian they were, and why. He suggested that with the advent of anatomically modern humans who continued to live in small groups and had not yet domesticated plants and animals (hunter-gatherers), all human societies most likely practised egalitarianism and most of the time successfully--they maintained political parity among adults. Boehm identified the following mechanisms expressing ambivalence towards leaders, anticipation of domination, and countering the dominance hierarchy:
• Public Opinion
• Criticism and Ridicule
• Disobedience
• Extreme Sanctions.

Males who turned into selfish bullies, or even just tried to boss others around were treated brutally, as moral deviants. Because all hunter-gatherers faced bullies or self-aggrandizing political upstarts, and faced them in spite of their strong egalitarianism, if they had not so diligently worked against inequality, they would have turned hierarchical. Boehm wrote:
"As long as followers remain vigilantly egalitarian because they understand the nature of domination and leaders remain cognizant of this ambivalence-based vigilance, deliberate control of leaders may remain for the most part highly routinized and ethnographically unobvious."

So, an urge to dominate is still present in human nature, meaning that to stay egalitarian hunter-gatherers use ostracism, shaming, rejection by the group and sometimes murder to hold down power-hungry upstarts. In other words, by nature today’s hunter-gatherers still incline towards dominating one another, just like the other three species of living apes, and therefore fall in line with other primates, the Common Ancestor and humans all down the evolutionary line. Why then are these primate species with the common ancestor motivated to share power equally though apparently inclined to domination? Boehm's postulate is simply that egalitarianism is in effect a hierarchy in which the weak combine forces to dominate the strong. It is because the instinct to dominate is accompanied by a natural resentment to submitting to domination.

In a contemporary but undeveloped human hunting band, the upstarts who attempt to dominate the others are dealt with harshly. But both wild and captive male chimpanzees that have been studied extensively are extremely ambitious politically, and will form political coalitions to try to unseat the alpha male. Large coalitions can form in the wild to challenge domineering former alphas and run them out of the community.

Evidence from the other species of apes does not support the notion of inevitably dictatorial hierarchies. A phylogenetic comparison among macaques suggests that despotic dominance styles were likely to have evolved from egalitarian dominance styles. Moreover being the "top dog" is not necessarily enviable. Alpha males suffer from their position. They commonly have higher metabolic rates and higher levels of stress hormones. In wild male baboons, the alpha male experiences high levels of both testosterone and glucocorticoid, causing high-ranking males higher stress levels, reducing health, fitness and life. These two hormones have immunosuppressant activity, permitting increased parasitic infestation and infection risks, thereby lowering survival rates. So alpha males enjoy high rank for a shorter time and accompanied by poorer health from the stress of his position.

Now the lowest ranking males in the hierarchy also have high stress levels from being everyone's "underdog", leaving the intermediate beta males most fit, with less stress yet some reproductive and feeding opportunities. It follows that a society in which all were at the same level has advantages in group fitness.

The main worry of the alpha male is to be ousted by a revolution. A tactic of older, subordinate male savanna baboons is forming alliances to combat higher-ranking males to get reproductive access to females. These lowest ranking males would get no opportunity to copulate otherwise. A fight broke out in Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania between Pimu, the alpha male, and four of his underlings. They killed him.

Captive gorillas, like wild and captive chimpanzees, may attack a dominant silverback. But male bonobos do not form coalitions. They don’t need to. They don’t fight with neighbours, and they can’t really tell when a female is fertile, so there’s little reason to bicker over them. Instead males spend a lot of time with females with the hope that she will mate with them when the time is right.

Two neighbouring troops of baboons had different group dynamics, one near a dump had plenty of food and were generally peaceful. The other lived further into the bush where food was scarcer, and the males were more competitive and aggressive. The aggressive troop would raid the dumps scaring off the local baboons while they fed, but were less picky in what to eat. On one occasion they gorged on some discarded food that was tainted, and that the local primates had learned not to eat. The consequence was that the raiding party of aggressive males all died. But now, with the most aggressive males gone, there were far fewer confrontations among the remaining males yielding a more peaceful culture which lasted more than a decade. Robert Sapolsky said:
“If that can occur in a troop of baboons, you don't have a leg to stand on when claiming the inevitabilities and unchangeability of human societies.”

Chimps often practice infanticide to get rid of rivals’ offspring and to hasten a female’s return to fertility, but this usually doesn’t happen in bonobos. Male bonobos are bigger than the females and have bigger teeth, but unlike male chimps they don’t boss the females around. Bonobos can form quite small female coalitions that nevertheless allow the females to challenge dominant males. Researchers saw an alpha male bonobo, who was also the son of the dominant female, attacking a young female carrying an infant. The females present immediately came to the unfortunate's defence. The doubly privileged male  was driven off and evicted from the band. So the females bond sufficiently to dominate the males, and even powerfully enough to overthrow a male hierarchy. Indeed, primatologist Frans de Waal’s studies with captive chimpanzees show that females, too, can band together to partially control their alphas.

Because Boehm's postulate, common to the apes, seems to stretch back to the common ancestor some seven million years ago, the Common Ancestor must have disliked dominating behaviour, and joined coalitions to trim the power of its alphas or those ambitious to be alphas. Egalitarianism conditioned by punishment for unfair behaviour may allow altruistic traits to spread, as game theory models predict. Based on model simulations, egalitarian punishment may also have been a precondition for adapting tools as weapons.

The extent of our social groups is wide--from quite egalitarian to quite despotic. In his book, "Hierarchy in the Forest", Boehm traces the roots of these contradictory traits in chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla, and early human societies. He examines the group structures of hunter-gatherers, then tribal segmentation, and finally at present-day governments to see how these conflicting tendencies are reflected. Human history has rebuffed political thinkers like Thomas Hobbes who thought strong, authoritarian leaders necessary to rule unruly commoners.

Humans became both anatomically and culturally modern at least 45,000 years ago, and the insistence in today's foraging bands on an egalitarian society is much more distant back. The egalitarian bands arrived at a largely implicit “social contract”, by which individuals yielded any desire to dominate so as to remain equal with other group members. And these hunter-gatherers cooperated effectively because their societies were small. Today, a large nation can aim to limit power and uphold a common justice, but it must take precautions against would-be dictators who will still try to usurp a power over everyone.

The capitalist system is a slow but steady accumulation of power by a tiny minority of uber wealthy people. We are failing to counter the concentration of power and will either become subordinates or slaves, or society will have to be destroyed and rebuilt. We ought not to let either of these happen, but should demand an egalitarian world now!

(This summary primarily indebted to the work of Christopher Boehm)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The meaning of Brexit

Brexit does not mean Brexit unless the UK is a sovereign state after leaving the EU. That cannot be the case if the UK government has been required to accept "full alignment" with the rules of the internal market and the customs union because of the Irish border. PM May claims that "full alignment" does not mean we have to accept EU rules and regulations but that we use our own ways of achieving alignment!

Mutually agreed standards obviously helps trade between nations, and those states which choose to trade harmoniously with each other will agree whatever standards assist the process providing that they do not make difficulties elsewhere. The EU already has trade agreements with other countries without making acceptance of EU rules a condition.

And free trade does not necessitate regulating trade union activities, worsening conditions and pay, pensions or redundancy provisions, nor obliging industries that are not involved in exporting to implement the same standards necessary for exporting to any particular country, including the EU. It is for our own government to set the standards that we want for our own people to be able to provide for their own dependents, without being beholden to foreign corporations or, indeed, our own!

It means the UK must not be regulated as a member of the single market, or as if it were such a member. It must be free to set its own policies for its own people and subject only to those people--the electorate. If we were to accept the so-called soft-Brexit of leaving the EU but remaining in the single market, our governments, of whatever hue, would be a hostage to decisions in Brussels by the EU bureaucrats and their corporate puppet masters.

EU harmonisation of labour, bankruptcy, taxation, and corporations is a delight to big business for whom the system is designed. The so-called Social Chapter, much vaunted by left Remainers, has repeatedly been proven to be bogus, even by the ECJ on the occasions when it has been appealed to, and in practice in all those particularly southern European countries that are suffering at the hands of the EU.

Moreover, although the emphasis os constantly on external trade and therefore all those businesses involved in it, it is the vastly larger number of small local businesses that will benefit most from not having to regulate their products to no purpose for them. They will, of course, be subject to whatever regulations an independent UK government imposes on businesses as a whole, but, free of the EU bureaucracy, the UK government could make appropriate provision for small non-exporting businesses should it wish to.

Blair promised us we should not be subject to the idiocies of the CAP during the New Labour period, yielding up some of the rebate on the £350m a week membership bill for it, and got absolutely nothing for it from the EU! Out of the EU we would be liberated from it, and could distinguish properly between needy smallholders and wealthy lowland multi-acre ranches.

As for foreign trade, given that we remained subject to EU control, what would be the incentive for external countries to trade with us when our regulatory framework was the same as that of the EU. They will think they might as well trade directly with the EU and so we might as well have remained a full member anyway.

A soft Brexit might as well be a no Brexit if it means remaining a member of the single market and subject to its decisions and not our own. A hard Brexit has always simply meant Brexit, plain and simple, then the agreement between free civilised countries over how relations between them including trade will be managed. That the EU trades with lots of the world's countries without the need for common regulations about almost everything proves that the obstruction of these negotiations by the EU is their usual tactic of trying to force a referendum reversal, as it did in other cases like Ireland and Denmark. No one on the left should be fooled.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Political Threat of Today

The political threat of today is the attempt by the billionaire backed radical right to undo democracy, centrally in the USA, but world wide.

That something was happening began to be realised in the early 2010s. Extreme decisions were being made by some US elected officials:

  • In Wisconsin in 2011, the newly elected governor, Scott Walker, submitted legislation to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights, by new rules decimating their membership.
  • In New Jersey Governor Chris Christie started vicious attacks on teachers who were left wiondering why.
  • Some other GOP-controlled state legislatures were cutting public education by legalising unregulated charter schools and offering tax subsidies for private education.
  • In 2011 and 2012, legislators in forty-one states introduced more than 180 bills, mostly aimed at low-income and minority, young and less mobile elderly voters, to suppress voter turnout.
  • Finally the Republicans aimed a massive campaign to defeat Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas, told the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, “we are destroying our institutions”. What he and other, even conservative, critics never considered was that was the objective!

Well, some did. William Cronon, a University of Wisconsin historian and the incoming president of the American Historical Association, having looked into Wisconsin Governor Walker’s attack on trade union rights, declared:
“What we’ve witnessed [is part of a] well-planned and well-coordinated ‘national’ campaign”.
He suggested that others look into the funding and activities of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) whose members were not revealed to the public. Every year Republican legislators could draw on hundreds of “model laws” for them to introduce to their states. Such laws covered:

  • attacks on labour unions
  • rewriting tax codes
  • reversing environmental protections
  • privatizing public services
  • acting against illegal immigrants.

A fifth of them succeeded in being passed!

What was going on? Jane Mayer, a well known investigative journalist, in 2010 drew attention to those who had poured more than a hundred million dollars into a “war against Obama”. She wrote Dark Money a book revealing that two billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch (each worth $48.7 billion in February 2017, according to Forbes) were training operatives to staff supposedly independent but really connected institutions like the Cato institute. Rich right-wing donors led by the Koch brothers were supplying masses of untraceable money to groups and candidates intent on crippling unions, restricting voting, deregulating corporations, taxing the poor, and denying climate change all informed by the schools of trained operatives they had built. The current vice president, Mike Pence, is an example having been with many of these organizations over the years.

Historian, Nancy MacClean, extended Mayer’s discoveries and this year published a controversial book, Democracy in Chains, explaining them. George Monbiot wrote that the book was “the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century”. She found James McGill Buchanan to be the intellectual source of the threat to democracy. Charles Koch became interested in Buchanan’s work in the early 1970s when he called on his help to start the embryonic Cato Institute. Buchanan became a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute.

Charles Koch was an entrepreneurial genius who had multiplied the earnings of the corporation he inherited by a factor of at least one thousand, but he also had a dream of liberty—not individual liberty for all, though that is how it is always presented, but of a capitalism all but free of governmental interference and thereby able to achieve the prosperity and peace that only this form of capitalism could produce—well that is his dream! How, though, could it be achieved in a democracy? Only by grooming the most promising libertarian thinkers to find a way. Koch had obsessively worked for three decades to do it.

From the outset, Charles Koch made it clear to Buchanan he wanted no one to know what the objective was. The people would not support the plan, so the cabal had to work in secret. Stealth was to be an intrinsic element of the conspiracy, and Buchanan agreed. They would use their knowledge of “the rules of the game”—how modern democratic governance works—to win.

Buchanan sought an economic definition of incentives to analyse and influence government behavior. Justice and fairness did not come into it for Buchanan. He was only aware of “collective” power, and that, once formed, democratic movements tended to persist, keeping tabs on government officials and sometimes using them to vote out those who stopped responding to their needs. The only fairness that concerned Buchanan and Koch was that the rich minority (and those who dreamt of joining them) suffered, and that was not “American”.

Buchanan regarded the need for elected representatives to respond to the demands of the electorate to win their votes as “government corruption”. He determined to stop it, but he recognised few politicians would risk electoral rejection to carry out his ideas. He named the study of how government officials make decisions (ie political behavior) “public choice economics”. His analysis of how the rules of government might be altered so politicians and administrators could not act on the will of the majority he called “constitutional economics”. The electorate and their organized social and political groups that sought to influence government representation became “the collective order”—the enemy!

So, by the end of the 1990s, Koch had from Buchanan the ideas he wanted. From then on, he donated generously to save capitalism from democracy—permanently! Buchanan’s deep analyses of how incentives guide government action was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1986 having initiated research on how politicians' and bureaucrats' self-interest, utility maximization, and other non-wealth-maximizing considerations affect their decision-making!

Buchanan believed that government failed because of bad faith—because activists, voters, and officials alike used talk of the public interest to mask the pursuit of their own personal self-interest at others’ expense. By the 1970s, he was insisting that the people and their representatives must be permanently prevented from using public power as they had for so long. Those diligently representing their electorate had to be manacled. The plot is a fifth-column assault on American democratic governance.

The dream of this movement, its leaders will tell you, is liberty. Buchanan told an interviewer:

I want a society where nobody has power over the other. I don’t want to control you, and I don’t want to be controlled by you.

It sounds so reasonable, fair, and appealing. But the last part of that statement is by far the most telling, because the “you” Koch, Buchanan and their trained cadres do not want to be controlled by is the majority of the people. To them, unrestrained capitalism is freedom. What this cause really seeks is a return to oligarchy, to a world in which both economic and effective political power are to be concentrated in the hands of a few, an elite. It is fascism.

The way forward was by shifting the focus from “who rules” to “changing the rules”. For “liberty” to thrive, Buchanan decided the task was to figure out how to put legal—indeed, constitutional—shackles on to public administrators and legislators. They would no longer have the ability to respond to the mass of the people to get government to do their bidding. Once these shackles were put in place, they had to be binding and permanent. Though euphemistically called the “constitutional revolution”, by legally enforcing the permanent rule of a capitalist elite, indeed, it was a stealth road to fascism!

Realising that the vade mecum of revolutionary organization had already been written by Vladimir Lenin, Koch appreciated the power of Lenin’s system of cadres. So, paradoxically it seems, he funded “cadres” of high-level operatives to build a movement that refused compromise. The cadres fed morsals of the plan to elements of the large active conservative grassroots base thereby gradually drawing them in. Indeed, after 2008, the cadres increasingly adopted a cloak of conservatism, seeing advantages in doing so, though contrary to their aim to destroy the democratic system. Similar opportunism motivated Koch’s courting of the religious right, even though many libertarian thinkers, Buchanan included, were atheists who looked down on believers. Their aims had considerable common ground with TV evangelical types—men like the Reverend Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Tim Phillips, money grubbing exploiters themselves. So they were happy to sell libertarian economics to their flocks, especially campaigns against public schooling and calls for reliance on family provision or charity in place of public welfare.

The Koch team’s most important stealth move, beginning in the late 1990s, and the one that proved most critical to success, was to wrest control over the machinery of the Republican Party, tough the plotters had no loyalty was to their own anti-democratic cause.

US senator Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania, spotted the mischief makers, perceptively describing the infiltrators as “cannibals” seeking “the end of governing as we know it”. The Reagan Republican and six-term US senator Orrin Hatch, of Utah, exploded after being targeted by a challenger from his own party in 2012 and declared:

These people are not conservatives. They’re not Republicans. They’re radical libertarians… I despise these people.

They were not what they claimed. This cause is different. Pushed by relatively small numbers of radical-right billionaires and millionaires who have become profoundly hostile to America’s modern system of government, an apparatus decades in the making, funded by those same billionaires and millionaires, has been working to undermine the normal governance of our democracy. And the Republican Party is now controlled by fanatical believers in a selfish capitalist goal that brooks no compromise.

Although its spokespersons would like you to believe they are disciples of James Madison, the leading architect of the US Constitution, it is not true. One of their manifestos calls for a “hostile takeover” of Washington, DC. Their real eighteenth century hero is John C Calhoun. He developed his radical critique of democracy a generation after the nation’s founding, as the brutal economy of chattel slavery became entrenched in the South—and his vision horrified Madison.

Their cause, they insist, is liberty, by which they mean the separation of private property rights from the reach of government, and the takeover of social services (schools, prisons, western lands, and much more) by corporations. For the many it is anything but liberty, it is slavery. The objective of the Kochites is to stop democratic resistance, and they have almost succeeded.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The News from the East. Rome 20s AD

Interviewer for the World Last Month in the Roman Forum: We’re talking to Josephus the Rabbi, who is just come out of Judea.

Hi, everyone. I was sitting in an inn in Jerusalem a week and a half ago. At the table next to me was Herod’s personal translator. I sort of did a double take, I said, hi, how are you? I knew the guy. I’d known him for years and years. I said, are you okay? Fine, fine no problem, he was having a bread and wine with friends. He walked out. This is the same inn that later on I saw Pontius Pilate walk into with several special forces men to protect him and his guests for dinner. I have to ask myself sometimes what’s going on.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a clearer example of an army that thought it was an army of liberation, and has become an army of occupation. It’s important, perhaps, to say that some of those soldiers attached to the tenth legion had a pretty shrewd idea of what was going on. You got different kinds of behavior from Romans soldiers. You got this very nice guy, Gallus, who had been a baker, very sensitive towards people, didn’t worry if people shouted at him. He remained smiling. He just said that if people throw rocks at me or stones at me, I give them salt to lick. There was another soldier who went up to a middle aged man sitting on a seat and he said, “If you don't clear out of that seat, I’ll break your neck”, and there was quite a lot of language like that as well. There were good guys as well as bad guys among the Romans as there always are in armies, but the people who I talked to, the centurions and tribunes and so on, most of them acknowledge that something had gone wrong, that this was not going to be good.

One guy said to me, every time we go down to the river here—he was talking about the river area in Jordan—it runs into the Dead Sea—it’s like the German forest down there. You always get shot at and you always get stoned—I mean, have stones thrown at them. Some of the soldiers spoke very frankly about the situation in Jerusalem. One man told me—I heard twice before in Jerusalem itself, once from a Greek schoolmaster and once from a fairly senior officer in what we now have to call the Jerusalem Authority, the authority that’s hanging on there until they can create some kind of Jewish kingdom—they all say that the road into Jerusalem now comes under nightly bandit attack from the surroundings from Jews. Two of them told me that every time a military squadron comes in at night, it’s attacked. In fact, some of the Roman outriders are now going back to old Gallic tactics, they’re hounded so much. There is a very serious problem of security.

The Romans still officially call them “the remnants of Judas the Galilean” or just “terrorists”. But in fact, it is obviously an increase in the organized resistance and not just people who were in Judas the Galilean’s forces, who were in the Zealot Party or Judas the Galilean’s rebels. There was also increasing anger among the Herodean community, those who were of course most opposed to Judas the Galilean, and I think what we’re actually seeing, you can get clues in Judea, is a cross fertilization. Herodeans who are disillusioned, who don’t believe they have been liberated, who spent so long in Perea, they don’t like the Romans anyway. Essenes who feel like they’re threatened by the Herodeans, Herod’s former acolytes who’ve lost their jobs and found that their money has stopped. Samaritans who are disaffected and are beginning to have contacts, and that of course is the beginning of a real resistance movement and that’s the great danger for the Romans now.

Interviewer for The World Last Month in the Roman Forum: We’re talking to Josephus the Rabbi, who is just come out of Judea. There’s a rumour in Rome that legionaries in Judea are stalked by faceless enemies at night, and Josephus writes about how organized the resistance is, how it seems to come alive at night and that what’s clear, he says, is some attacks are premeditated, involve cooperation among small groups of fighters including a system of signaling the presence of Roman forces: talking about the use of secret messages when forces come and then the attacks begin.

Yes, I’ve heard this. I also know that in Bethphage, for example, there’s a system of placing water jars on a prominent rooftop. When the legions approach, the Roman convoy approaches, there’s a water jug on the highest point of the roof. When the last legionary goes by the same spot, the jug is taken down, and the purpose is to work out the time element between the jug going up and the jug coming down because by that, they know how big is the convoy and whether it’s small enough to be attacked. That comes from Simon Peter's mother, who joined the rebels and was taking part in an actual operation.

One of the problems with the Romans I think is that the top people in imperial circles and the Senate always knew that this wasn’t going to be human rights abuses ended, flowers and music for the soldiers, and everyone lives happily every after and loves Rome. You may remember when Pompey first came to Jerusalem, something your Emperor didn’t dare to do in the end, he came with a massive escoprt of legionaries.

Governor Pontois Pilatus made a speech which I thought was very interesting, rather sinister, in the big hall at the Antonia Tower. He said we still have to fight the remnants of Judas the Galilean and the terrorists in Judea, and I thought, hang on a minute, who are these people? And it took me a few minutes to realize, I think, what he was doing. He was laying the future narrative of the opposition to the Romans. That is, when the Romans get attacked, it could be first of all laid down to remnants of Judas the Galilean, as in remnants of the Parthians who seem to be moving around in Mesopotamia now in cohort strength—but never mind. It could be blamed on the Zealots, so Rome was back fighting its old enemies again. This was familiar territory.

If you were to suggest that it was a resistance movement, that would suggest the people didn’t believe they had been liberated, and of course, all good-natured, peace loving people have to believe they were liberated by the Romans, not occupied by them. What you’re finding for example is a whole series of blunders by Pontius Pilatus, the Roman head of the occupation authority in Jerusalem.

First of all, he marched into the temple with his legions’ standards. Well, I can’t imagine any army that better deserves to be dissolved. Then, he took the temple corban, the central funds that pay the wages and fund the rituals. It means that all but the richest priests of the many priestly families are deprived of their welfare and money. Now if you have thousands of educated Jews who suddenly don’t get paid any more, and they all know each other, what are they going to do? They are going to form some kind of force which is secret, which is covered. Then they will be called terrorists, but I guess they know that, and then of course they will be saying to people, why don’t you come and join us.

It was very interesting that in Arimathea, a young man came out to see me from a shop just after the Roman searches there had ended and said some people came from the resistance a few nights ago and asked him to join. I said, what did you say, and he said, I wouldn’t do that. But now, he said, I might think differently. I met a Herodean Jewish family in Jerusalem who moved into the former home of a Galilean spook. This family had been visited three nights previously by armed men who said, you better move out of this house. It doesn’t belong to you unless you want to join us. The guy in Arimathea said that the men, the armed men who came to invite him to join the resistance, had weapons, showed their knives to identify themselves as Sicari, and said, we’re still proud to hold our weapons for Yehouah and ha Eretz. So, now you have to realize that Arimathea and other towns like it are very unlike Caesarea, are very much pro-Judas the Galilean. Arimathea is the site of great resistance activity by the Zealots, it gives people massive employment. They all loved Herod in the way Romans love their emperors or go to prison otherwise. They’d rather not, but now there is a serious resistance movement.

On top of this, you can see the measure of what I think is basically desperation. I’ve been thinking about this, and Pontius Pilate now asked the legal side of the Jerusalem authority to set up the machinery of Jewish torture. In other words, Jews are going to be tortured and murdered. “Controlled”, I think, is the official word they use, but it means tortured and killed. That is the kind of language that Herod used. Jews are used to torture and death. After all, they lived with it for more than 40 years under Herod and his son. Now when you question the Romans about it, first of all they deny it. Then the bolder ones accept it, then other people involved in the administration say, well, it’s probably true, yes, it is true.

But the problem is the wild rumours appearing in Judea. Now, of course there’s no tradition of Philosophical fairness in Judea. There are those that say it’s a good idea, no tradition for example of letting the other side have a say, checking the story out, going back on the ground and asking the other side for their version of events, Socratic method. It doesn’t exist. It’s a little bit, but not much. What you get after saying that Romans are going with Jewish prostitutes, Roman troops are chasing Jewish women, that Jewish women are being invited to marry Pagan foreigners, is that this is worse than it was under Herod the Great. Other rumours are of of Roman beatings. There are also rumours of “I was Herod’s double”, and the opening of the mass graves of children. They’re not totally one sided against the Romans.

But you can see how the occupation forces, let’s call them by their real name, are troubled by this kind of news because it seems to them to provoke or incite animosity towards the liberators of Judea, which it is not meant to do. But of course the problem is that the Rabbis in the synagogue are saying the same thing about the Romans. Now, the last quote I read from Roman official bulletins said that it may be necessary to control what the Rabbis were saying in the synagogues. Well, this is preposterous. I sat on Solomon’s Portico in the Temple a few weeks ago and listened to a speaker teaching a sermon there. I think he was saying the Romans must leave immediately, now. Well, under the new rule presumably he’s inciting the people to violence. What are we going to do? Arrest all the Rabbim in the synagogues, arrest all the scribes who won’t obey, close down the synagogues? I mean what Jewish scribes need are courses in democracy from Greek philosophers brought up in real democracies.

You can come along and say, look, by all means criticize the Romans and put the boot in if you want to, but make sure you get it right. And if you also do that you have to look at your own society and what is wrong in it and how Herod the Great ever came about. He didn’t just come about because Rome supported Herod, which my goodness they did. But Pilate is not interested in this. What Pilate wants to do is control, control the scriptures, control the Rabbis, and it doesn’t work. A lot of the incidents taking place now, the violent incidents are not being divulged.

Interviewer for The World Last Month in the Roman Forum: We’re talking to Josephus the Rabbi, who is just come out of Judea. Josephus, you were just talking about a lot of the attacks we’re hearing about—what seems like a good number, a lot of the attacks—on Roman forces are not being reported.

Right, I have a colleague, for example, who went down to Arimathea before the incident I was describing to you earlier, after two pikemen, one Roman had been killed in the sword fight, he reported, I spoke to both sides. On his way back he was traveling past the town of Herodian a rather sinister place where the huge prison is where Herod executed so many prisoners, including a well known Baptizer back in the late 20’s. As we were, as the colleague was passing by the town, he saw a young man come up and throw a spear at a Roman centurion leading on a horse. The spear missed them and hit a donkey carrying a Jewish mother and children, wounding two small Jewish children, a very clear account of what happened. No bulletin ever emerged that this incident had occurred.

Now, over and over again we keep seeing things, seeing small incidents occur, soldiers threatening people outside custom’s houses because people are trying to jump the line and escape without paying. And it just doesn’t make it back into the Roman record of what’s actually happening in Judea. The danger here is not so much that we’re not being told about it because we can see and find out for ourselves. The danger is that the Roman leadership in Jerusalem, and of course, especially back in the Capri and Rome is also not being told about it. Or if it is, information is only going to certain people who can deal with that information.

It’s very easy to say, well Judea’s been a great success we’ve got rid of a dictatorship, an unruly people are being pacified under Roman rule or whatever interpretation you want to put on that. Human rights abuses have ended, certainly the Herodean kind. But if you try and if this information goes up the ladder every bit of it to people like Pilate, I’m not sure it all is—I think it should be—then you can see how the authority doesn’t represent the reality.

One of the big problems at the moment is the Romans and, to some extent the Greeks, particularly the Romans in Jerusalem. They’re all ensconced in this chic gleaming marble palace, largest, most expensive palace. There they sit with their advisors trying to work out with Rome how they’re going to bring about this new democracy in Judea. They rely upon for the most part former Jewish exiles who never endured Herod the Great, who are hovering around making sure that they get the biggest part of the pie possible. When they leave the palace, when they go into the streets of Jerusalem, the dangerous streets of Jerusalem, they leave in these military convoys with legionaries in the front and back, soldiers, plain clothes guys with turbans and weapons.

One Jew said to me the other day, “who did you think was the last person we saw driving through town like this?” I said, Herod the Great? They all burst out laughing, of course, they said, exactly the same.

We are used to this just like they’re used to censorship. I think it’s difficult—you need to be in Jerusalem to understand the degree to which there’s been this slippage of ambition and slippage in the ideological war. I was in small hotel called the Angel the other day—it has a cool bath, slaves continuously fanning the air. Just going to have a meal in the evening, I came across two westerners, each with drawn swords passing me in the hallway.

I said, “Who are you?”

He said, “Well, who are you?”

“I’m a guest in the hotel. You have swords. Who are you?”

He said, “We work for D.O.D”

“Department of Defense, right?” (But he was obviously Greek—he had a Greek accent.) “Hang on a second you’re not Roman.”

“No, we’re a Greek outfit hired to look after D.O.D. employees in Jerusalem. That’s why we’re armed.”

I said, “Who gives you permission to have weapons?”

He said, “The Jerusalem Authority, we’re here protecting them.”

Now, how often have Jews seen armed plain clothes men moving in and out of inns, they have for more than 20 years, now seeing them again. Well these guys are not going to string them up by their fingernails and electrocute them in torture cells. But again, the image, the picture is the same. The armored escort, war horses in the street, soldiers kicking down the doors searching for, “terrorists”. The censorship plans. Plain clothes armed men going into an inn asking who you are immediately by asking them who they are, same system as before. It has this kind of ghastly ghostly veneer of the old regime about it. The Romans are not Herod the Great, they’re not gratuitously murdering first born children, they’re not lining up people at mass graves, of course they’re not. But if you see through the eyes of the Jews, it doesn’t look quite that simple.

And your emperor only mildly, rather pathetically and rather cowardly, criticized the Authority for an alleged atrocity. This was an attack which was meant to kill the political head of the Essenes. And in the ghastly role which the Jews and Romans play in their bloody and useless conflict, I can understand why the attack was made in that context.

But that attack did not kill the Righteous Teacher, it killed a little child of five and a young woman. Now your leader said that that was "troubling". That isn’t troubling that’s a shameful act, that’s a despicable thing to do. But there was no strong condemnation from Tiberius, he just said it was troubling. If an Essene had attacked Roman forces or a Roman political leader involved in encouraging violence, had killed a little Roman girl, and a young innocent Roman woman Mr Tiberius would not have called it troubling. He would have said it was a shameful, terrorist act, which it would have been. How can it work when the most powerful emperor of the most powerful state in the world, Rome, can be so gutless and cowardly in condemning the killing of two innocent people.

It is not troubling. It is an outrage that those two innocent people died. Just as it would be if the Jews had done it. Just as it is when the Jews do do it. For Tiberius it is not an outrage. Not a tragedy. Not shameful. It is merely troubling. Like a flood is troubling or a heavy rainfall that kills people or a storm is troubling. In that context how can this new peace possibly work.

It’s called a Roman road map, who invented the phrase road map? I suppose the poor old Senate and all the historians dutifully used the word Roman road map. They can’t use “peace process” because to bring peace they have to create a desert.

At large and continuing to expand Roman settlements, the Romans and Roman retired soldiers only in occupied Jewish land. What have the Jews done? Caiaphas says I’m going to finish terrorism, there’s going to be no more violence by the Jews and, bang, there immediately is. We have the three main violent groups, Essenes, Zealots and Galileans immediately carrying out the banditry.

And then praised by Jesus, I remember thinking, he’s praising them, that’s against the Roman road map so Romans have got a green light to knock him off and they tried and failed. I remember interviewing Jesus along similar lines about six months ago in Galilee, as I was talking to him I saw a Roman equestrian pass by the window and his body guard, Simon, looked around very nervously and I thought, oh, no, please go away and so I finished the interview.

But I always thought he was a target, he always had two sicari with him all the time. That’s not the point. Jesus is a very tough Jew, a very ruthless Jew. He was one of the Jews who was driven from Galilee into Tyre and Sidon in 0-20. I actually met him there in southern Tyre in the hills, when he was living rough, months after months on Mount Hermon.

This is a very rough character, very tough guy—grew up the hard way in guerrilla warfare as well as politics.

But when you’re going to have a situation where you have an Roman Governor who doesn’t want to end the settlements, who is indeed the creator of the settlements, and a Jewish High Priest who can’t stop the holy war and a Roman emperor who is so gutless he can only call a killing of a woman and a child troubling, what chance is there for a Roman road map or peace process or any other kind of agreement in eastern marches?

I wanted to end, back in Judea. Joseph Caiaphas who has addressed the Sanhedrin is saying that Jesus the Galilean is moving in an arc around the Jordan River starting northeast of Jerusalem. He said finding Jesus the Galilean would just be a matter of knowing whom to talk to. He says based on information from credible sources, he believes the Jewish rebel wants revenge and has obtained two awords for attacks on Roman forces. Caiaphas says Jesus the Galilean is paying bounty for every Roman soldier killed. Your response?

I long ago gave up putting any credit in anything that Joseph Caiaphas says. The real issue is not where is Judas the Galilean, he could be sitting in Athens or Ecbatana or he could be sitting in Lydda or in the Jewish countryside somewhere. Obviously there were plans to hide him in advance. You know this goes back to another issue of the degree of real effort to find him. Just look back, the Romans wanted to arrest Cleopatra and bring her to Rome. We were going to capture Simon Peter, he’s still on the loose. We were going to capture James the Less, a dwarf, not difficult to identify. But he’s still on the loose. We can’t get John in Judea or Simon, the sons of Judas the Galilean. We can’t get Jesus the Galilean himself. We only got Judas Iscariot because he killed himself.

Joseph Caiaphas says that Jesus the Galilean is moving in an arc, he maybe moving in a circle or square for all I know but it’s clear he’s still alive. That’s the point.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

War Starts Here - Let's Stop It Here

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Briefing on US Military Interventions, Zoltán Grossman, October 2001

Since the September 11 attacks on the United States, most people in the world agree that the perpetrators need to be brought to justice, without killing many thousands of civilians in the process. But unfortunately, the US military has always accepted massive civilian deaths as part of the cost of war. The military is now poised to kill thousands of foreign civilians, in order to prove that killing US civilians is wrong.

The media has told us repeatedly that some Middle Easterners hate the US only because of our “freedom” and “prosperity.” Missing from this explanation is the historical context of the US role in the Middle East, and for that matter in the rest of the world. This basic primer is an attempt to brief readers who have not closely followed the history of US foreign or military affairs, and are perhaps unaware of the background of US military interventions abroad, but are concerned about the direction of our country toward a new war in the name of “freedom” and “protecting civilians”.

The United States military has been intervening in other countries for a long time. In 1898, it seized the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico from Spain, and in 1917-18 became embroiled in World War I in Europe. In the first half of the 20th century it repeatedly sent Marines to “protectorates” such as Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. All these interventions directly served corporate interests, and many resulted in massive losses of civilians, rebels, and soldiers. Many of the uses of US combat forces are documented in A History of US Military Interventions since 1890:

US involvement in World War II (1941-45) was sparked by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and fear of an Axis invasion of North America. Allied bombers attacked fascist military targets, but also fire-bombed German and Japanese cities such as Dresden and Tokyo, partly under the assumption that destroying civilian neighborhoods would weaken the resolve of the survivors and turn them against their regimes. Many historians agree that fire-bombing’s effect was precisely the opposite–increasing Axis civilian support for homeland defense, and discouraging potential coup attempts. The atomic bombing of Japan at the end of the war was carried out without any kind of advance demonstration or warning that may have prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.

The war in Korea (1950-53) was marked by widespread atrocities, both by North Korean/Chinese forces, and South Korean/US forces. US troops fired on civilian refugees headed into South Korea, apparently fearing they were northern infiltrators. Bombers attacked North Korean cities, and the US twice threatened to use nuclear weapons. North Korea is under the same Communist government today as when the war began.

During the Middle East crisis of 1958, Marines were deployed to quell a rebellion in Lebanon, and Iraq was threatened with nuclear attack if it invaded Kuwait. This little-known crisis helped set US foreign policy on a collision course with Arab nationalists, often in support of the region’s monarchies.

In the early 1960s, the US returned to its pre-World War II interventionary role in the Caribbean, directing the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs exile invasion of Cuba, and the 1965 bombing and Marine invasion of the Dominican Republic during an election campaign. The CIA trained and harbored Cuban exile groups in Miami, which launched terrorist attacks on Cuba, including the 1976 downing of a Cuban civilian jetliner near Barbados. During the Cold War, the CIA would also help to support or install pro-US dictatorships in Iran, Chile, Guatemala, Indonesia, and many other countries around the world.

The US war in Indochina (1960-75) pit US forces against North Vietnam, and Communist rebels fighting to overthrow pro-US dictatorships in South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. US war planners made little or no distinction between attacking civilians and guerrillas in rebel-held zones, and US “carpet-bombing” of the countryside and cities swelled the ranks of the ultimately victorious revolutionaries. Over two million people were killed in the war, including 55,000 US troops. Less than a dozen US citizens were killed on US soil, in National Guard shootings or antiwar bombings. In Cambodia, the bombings drove the Khmer Rouge rebels toward fanatical leaders, who launched a murderous rampage when they took power in 1975.

Echoes of Vietnam reverberated in Central America during the 1980s, when the Reagan administration strongly backed the pro-US regime in El Salvador, and right-wing exile forces fighting the new leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Rightist death squads slaughtered Salvadoran civilians who questioned the concentration of power and wealth in a few hands. CIA-trained Nicaraguan Contra rebels launched terrorist attacks against civilian clinics and schools run by the Sandinista government, and mined Nicaraguan harbors. US troops also invaded the island nation of Grenada in 1983, to oust a new military regime, attacking Cuban civilian workers (even though Cuba had backed the leftist government deposed in the coup), and bombing a hospital.

The US returned in force to the Middle East in 1980, after the Shi’ite Muslim revolution in Iran against Shah Pahlevi’s pro-US dictatorship. A troop and bombing raid to free US Embassy hostages held in downtown Tehran had to be aborted in the Iranian desert. After the 1982 Israeli occupation of Lebanon, US Marines were deployed in a “neutral peacekeeping” operation. They instead took the side of Lebanon’s pro-Israel Christian government against Muslim rebels, and US Navy ships rained enormous shells on Muslim civilian villages. Embittered Shi’ite Muslim rebels responded with a suicide bomb attack on Marine barracks, and for years seized US hostages in the country. In retaliation, the CIA set off car bombs to assassinate Shi’ite Muslim leaders. Syria and the Muslim rebels emerged victorious in Lebanon.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, the US launched a 1986 bombing raid on Libya, which it accused of sponsoring a terrorist bombing later tied to Syria. The bombing raid killed civilians, and may have led to the later revenge bombing of a US jet over Scotland. Libya’s Arab nationalist leader Muammar Qaddafi remained in power. The US Navy also intervened against Iran during its war against Iraq in 1987-88, sinking Iranian ships and “accidentally” shooting down an Iranian civilian jetliner.

US forces invaded Panama in 1989 to oust the nationalist regime of Manuel Noriega. The US accused its former ally of allowing drug-running in the country, though the drug trade actually increased after his capture. US bombing raids on Panama City ignited a conflagration in a civilian neighborhood, fed by stove gas tanks. Over 2,000 Panamanians were killed in the invasion to capture one leader.

The following year, the US deployed forces in the Persian Gulf after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which turned Washington against its former Iraqi ally Saddam Hussein. US supported the Kuwaiti monarchy and the Muslim fundamentalist monarchy in neighboring Saudi Arabia against the secular nationalist Iraq regime. In January 1991, the US and its allies unleashed a massive bombing assault against Iraqi government and military targets, in an intensity beyond the raids of World War II and Vietnam. Up to 200,000 Iraqis were killed in the war and its immediate aftermath of rebellion and disease, including many civilians who died in their villages, neighborhoods, and bomb shelters. The US continued economic sanctions that denied health and energy to Iraqi civilians, who died by the hundreds of thousands, according to United Nations agencies. The US also instituted “no-fly zones” and virtually continuous bombing raids, yet Saddam was politically bolstered as he was militarily weakened.

In the 1990s, the US military led a series of what it termed “humanitarian interventions” it claimed would safeguard civilians. Foremost among them was the 1992 deployment in the African nation of Somalia, torn by famine and a civil war between clan warlords. Instead of remaining neutral, US forces took the side of one faction against another faction, and bombed a Mogadishu neighborhood. Enraged crowds, backed by foreign Arab mercenaries, killed 18 US soldiers, forcing a withdrawal from the country.

Other so-called “humanitarian interventions” were centered in the Balkan region of Europe, after the 1992 breakup of the multiethnic federation of Yugoslavia. The US watched for three years as Serb forces killed Muslim civilians in Bosnia, before its launched decisive bombing raids in 1995. Even then, it never intervened to stop atrocities by Croatian forces against Muslim and Serb civilians, because those forces were aided by the US. In 1999, the US bombed Serbia to force President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw forces from the ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo, which was torn by a brutal ethnic war. The bombing intensified Serbian expulsions and killings of Albanian civilians from Kosovo, and caused the deaths of thousands of Serbian civilians, even in cities that had voted strongly against Milosevic. When a NATO occupation force enabled Albanians to move back, US forces did little or nothing to prevent similar atrocities against Serb and other non-Albanian civilians. The US was viewed as a biased player, even by the Serbian democratic opposition that overthrew Milosevic the following year.

Even when the US military had apparently defensive motives, it ended up attacking the wrong targets. After the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in East Africa, the US “retaliated” not only against Osama Bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan, but a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that was said to be a chemical warfare installation. Bin Laden retaliated by attacking a US Navy ship docked in Yemen in 2000. After the 2001 terror attacks on the United States, the US military is poised to again bomb Afghanistan, and possibly move against other states it accuses of promoting anti-US “terrorism”, such as Iraq and Sudan. Such a campaign will certainly ratchet up the cycle of violence, in an escalating series of retaliations that is the hallmark of Middle East conflicts. Afghanistan, like Yugoslavia, is a multiethnic state that could easily break apart in a new catastrophic regional war. Almost certainly more civilians would lose their lives in this tit-for-tat war on “terrorism” than the 3,000 civilians who died on September 11.

Some common themes can be seen in many of these US military interventions.

First, they were explained to the US public as defending the lives and rights of civilian populations. Yet the military tactics employed often left behind massive civilian “collateral damage”. War planners made little distinction between rebels and the civilians who lived in rebel zones of control, or between military assets and civilian infrastructure, such as train lines, water plants, agricultural factories, medicine supplies, etc. The US public always believe that in the next war, new military technologies will avoid civilian casualties on the other side. Yet when the inevitable civilian deaths occur, they are always explained away as “accidental” or “unavoidable”.

Second, although nearly all the post-World War II interventions were carried out in the name of “freedom” and “democracy,” nearly all of them in fact defended dictatorships controlled by pro-US elites. Whether in Vietnam, Central America, or the Persian Gulf, the US was not defending “freedom” but an ideological agenda (such as defending capitalism) or an economic agenda (such as protecting oil company investments). In the few cases when US military forces toppled a dictatorship–such as in Grenada or Panama–they did so in a way that prevented the country’s people from overthrowing their own dictator first, and installing a new democratic government more to their liking.

Third, the US always attacked violence by its opponents as “terrorism”, “atrocities against civilians”, or “ethnic cleansing”, but minimized or defended the same actions by the US or its allies. If a country has the right to “end” a state that trains or harbors terrorists, would Cuba or Nicaragua have had the right to launch defensive bombing raids on US targets to take out exile terrorists? Washington’s double standard maintains that an US ally’s action by definition “defensive”, but that an enemy’s retaliation is by definition “offensive”.

Fourth, the US often portrays itself as a neutral peacekeeper, with nothing but the purest humanitarian motives. After deploying forces in a country, however, it quickly divides the country or region into “friends” and “foes,” and takes one side against another. This strategy tends to enflame rather than dampen a war or civil conflict, as shown in the cases of Somalia and Bosnia, and deepens resentment of the US role.

Fifth, US military intervention is often counterproductive even if one accepts US goals and rationales. Rather than solving the root political or economic roots of the conflict, it tends to polarize factions and further destabilize the country. The same countries tend to reappear again and again on the list of 20th century interventions.

Sixth, US demonization of an enemy leader, or military action against him, tends to strengthen rather than weaken his hold on power. Take the list of current regimes most singled out for US attack, and put it alongside of the list of regimes that have had the longest hold on power, and you will find they have the same names. Qaddafi, Castro, Saddam, Kim, and others may have faced greater internal criticism if they could not portray themselves as Davids standing up to the American Goliath, and (accurately) blaming many of their countries’ internal problems on US economic sanctions.

One of the most dangerous ideas of the 20th century was that “people like us” could not commit atrocities against civilians.

  • German and Japanese citizens believed it, but their militaries slaughtered millions of people.
  • British and French citizens believed it, but their militaries fought brutal colonial wars in Africa and Asia.
  • Russian citizens believed it, but their armies murdered civilians in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and elsewhere.
  • Israeli citizens believed it, but their army mowed down Palestinians and Lebanese.
  • Arabs believed it, but suicide bombers and hijackers targeted US and Israeli civilians.
  • US citizens believed it, but their military killed hundreds of thousands in Vietnam, Iraq, and elsewhere.

Every country, every ethnicity, every religion, contains within it the capability for extreme violence. Every group contains a faction that is intolerant of other groups, and actively seeks to exclude or even kill them. War fever tends to encourage the intolerant faction, but the faction only succeeds in its goals if the rest of the group acquiesces or remains silent. The attacks of September 11 were not only a test for US citizens attitudes’ toward minority ethnic/racial groups in their own country, but a test for our relationship with the rest of the world. We must begin not by lashing out at civilians in Muslim countries, but by taking responsibility for our own history and our own actions, and how they have fed the cycle of violence.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Halt the U.S. Drive to War with North Korea!

Posted by Nick Wright, July 15, 2017,

From the US Peace Council

US television news programs (CNN, MSNBC, and Fox) have been pounding the war drums in the last few weeks and days, since North Korea successfully launched a long- range missile. The long drift to war with North Korea[1] has seemingly become, overnight, a US drive to war with North Korea.

With his usual bluster and saber-rattling, President Trump on his recent tour of Europe continued to threaten “severe action” against North Korea. Trump has made matters worse by devolving authority to battlefield commanders who inflame tensions with their own incendiary statements. Example: the US commander in Korea, General Vincent Brooks, stated publicly “the only thing which separates armistice from war” with North Korea is “our self-restraint, which is a choice.”

Anyone is the US could conclude, quite reasonably, that the US is the aggrieved and threatened party; that North Korea obviously wishes to harm the US people; that the US confronts a new danger; that North Korea is the aggressor; that an innocent and remarkably patient US is the intended victim.

Such a conclusion — all of it — would be false. Almost nothing of what the US mainstream media says about North Korea is true. Only a grasp of the history and the broader context can shed light on this Korea Crisis.

A few key facts:

The US refusal to accept the legitimacy of the North Korean government (DPRK) is part of its long-term policy that any state in the world that follows an independent course is subject to being overthrown by the United States. Economic independence and sovereignty are considered by the US financial and corporate elite as an act of aggression. Therefore, the DPRK, Viet Nam, Cuba, the USSR and now Russia, Syria, Venezuela, China and others have all been targeted by the US politically and militarily. US policy insists that it has the right to curb independent states, to determine a country’s political leaders and socioeconomic system, and to use whatever means it takes – economic sanctions, sabotage, assassination, war — to achieve those goals.
• North Korea acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1985.
• In 1994, the DPRK agreed to freeze its nuclear program in return for the US providing energy materials and generating stations. In January of 2002, President George W. Bush announced that the DPRK was part of the “Axis of Evil,” and subject to regime change and even nuclear annihilation by the US. By the end of 2002, the DPRK had essentially exited the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and began to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent.
• The notion that North Korea poses a threat to the US is false and absurd. It would be national suicide for the DPRK to start a war with the US or South Korea, which have massively superior military capabilities. The DPRK has never threatened to start such a war, rather it has always asserted that it developed weapons of mass destruction in order to deter the US and its allies from an (often threatened) US attack such as those that decapitated Iraq and Libya. The constant denigration and demonization of the North Korean leadership (they are portrayed invariably as madmen, or clowns, or both) is a strategy to make the Big Lie of a threat from North Korea believable to an ill-informed and fearful US public.
• The DPRK has offered to freeze its nuclear weapons program if the US freezes its war practices targeting that country, actions aimed to precede negotiations. Russia and China have endorsed this approach. The US, however, refuses.

The US is Provoking the Crisis

North Korea would not have a nuclear weapons program if it were not under increasing threat from the US, which has been trying to force regime change in the North since 1945 by war, subversion, diplomatic isolation, and economic strangulation.

A recent article noted that:

1. As University of Chicago history professor Bruce Cumings [a leading US historian of the Korean War], writes, for North Korea the nuclear crisis [1] began in late February 1993, when General Lee Butler, head of the new US ‘Strategic Command,’ announced that he was retargeting strategic nuclear weapons (i.e., hydrogen bombs) meant for the old USSR, on North Korea (among other places.) At the same time, the new CIA chief, James Woolsey, testified that North Korea was ‘our most grave current concern.’ By mid-March 1993, tens of thousands of [US] soldiers were carrying out war games in Korea…and in came the B1-B bombers, B-52s from Guam, several naval vessels carrying cruise missiles, and the like: whereupon the North pulled out of the NPT.” [2]

2. It is the US that has been provoking the DPRK with its stationing of THAAD missile (“Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense”), a first-strike weapon, in South Korea over the last year. The US is now testing the THAAD missiles. US-South Korea practice military maneuvers, which used to recur several times a year, are now almost incessant.

3. Moreover, the US is further militarizing South Korea. Residents of the South Korean island of Jeju have strongly object to the South Korean military setting up a base on the island, with the possible deployment of the US Navy’s newest Zumwalt-class destroyer “to deter North Korean aggression.” At the end of World War II, after the Japanese Imperialists had been defeated, Jeju Islanders rose up against the US-installed colonial dictatorship of Syngman Rhee. The US responded by employing the former brutal Japanese military rulers to violently put down the protests.

It is the US that, again and again, has refused talks with North Korea’s leadership:
• In January [2017], North Korea offered to “sit with the US anytime” to discuss US war games and its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Pyongyang proposed that the United States “contribute to easing tension on the Korean peninsula by temporarily suspending joint military exercises in south Korea and its vicinity this year, and said that in this case the DPRK is ready to take such responsive steps as temporarily suspending the nuclear test over which the US is concerned.”
• The North Korean proposal was seconded by China and Russia and recently by South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in. But Washington peremptorily rejected the proposal, refusing to acknowledge any equivalency between US-led war games, which US officials deem ‘legitimate’ and North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, which they label ‘illegitimate.” (Stephen Gowans, ibid.)
• Having partitioned Korea in 1945, the US permanently stationed about 40,000 of troops in South Korea after the end of 1950-1953 hostilities and the 1953 armistice. The U.S. still denies Korea a peace treaty, which the DPRK has insisted on. But peace was never the intention of US imperialism. US foreign policy sees Northeast Asia only through the lens of domination.
• The permanent occupation of South Korea was aimed at geopolitical control of the region, including elimination of the DPRK and moving US missile and military forces right up to the Chinese and Russian borders. The occupation was symbolized by the giant, yearly provocative military maneuvers by the US and its regional allies, such as South Korea. Such rehearsals for real war with the DPRK have stepped up dramatically in recent months.

Few Americans grasp the enormity of the trauma suffered by millions of Koreans in the war of 1950-53. The war devastated dozens of Korean cities. The US dropped over 428,000 bombs over the capital Pyongyang alone, and killed 1.2 million people. The US war on Korea included the use of napalm. The US war’s brutal and blatant violations of international humanitarian law remain unpunished.

The real nature of US policy to the Korean peninsula is neo-colonial domination, through occupation and partition. This has been so since 1945. The US has stooped to employ the same quislings that had run Korea as a Japanese colony. Prof. Cumings wrote in the London Review of Books:
• To shore up their [1945] occupation, the Americans employed every last hireling of the Japanese they could find, including former officers in the Japanese military like Park Chung Hee and Kim Chae-gyu, both of whom graduated from the American military academy in Seoul in 1946. (After a military takeover in 1961 Park became president of South Korea, lasting a decade and a half until his ex-classmate Kim, by then head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, shot him dead over dinner one night.)
• After the Americans left in 1948 the border area around the 38th parallel was under the command of Kim Sok-won, another ex-officer of the Imperial Army, and it was no surprise that after a series of South Korean incursions into the North, full-scale civil war broke out on 25 June 1950. Inside the South itself – whose leaders felt insecure and conscious of the threat from what they called ‘the north wind’ – there was an orgy of state violence against anyone who might somehow be associated with the left or with communism.
• The historian Hun Joon Kim found that at least 300,000 people were detained and executed or simply disappeared by the South Korean government in the first few months after conventional war began. My own work and that of John Merrill indicates that somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people died as a result of political violence before June 1950, at the hands either of the South Korean government or the US occupation forces. In her recent book Korea’s Grievous War, which combines archival research, records of mass graves and interviews with relatives of the dead and escapees who fled to Osaka, Su-kyoung Hwang documents the mass killings in villages around the southern coast. In short, the Republic of Korea was one of the bloodiest dictatorships of the early Cold War period; many of the perpetrators of the massacres had served the Japanese in their dirty work – and were then put back into power by the Americans.
• The most important new factor is the destabilizing THAAD missiles. According to the US peace organization, Global Network, an authority on questions of war technology, the US has recently deployed the THAAD “missile defense” system in Seongju, South Korea despite massive protests by South Koreans. It is claimed by US authorities that THAAD is there to intercept missiles from North Korea. But many experts believe China and Russia are the real targets, given the enormous range of THAAD radar, which counterproductively intensifies unnecessary military tension in the region. The US has also deployed other “missile defense” systems through the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and the Middle East to encircle Russia and China. “Missile defense” is a key element in Pentagon first-strike attack planning.

De-escalate Tensions Now!

The US Peace Council joins with other US antiwar organizations in demanding that:
• The US must reverse course. De-escalate tension now. No more provocations from the US. The United States and South Korea must immediately cease military maneuvers in the region, providing North Korea with an opportunity to reciprocate. The THAAD missiles near the North Korea-South Korea border must be de-activated and removed.
• The United States must engage in good faith, direct talks with North Korea. Such talks should include the perspective of a peace treaty to end the Korean War. A commitment to denuclearization should not be a precondition for talks with North Korea.
• The United States and all states in the region must stop military actions that could be interpreted as provocative, including such actions as forward deployment of additional military forces by the United States, and the testing or assertion of territorial claims by deploying of military forces in contested areas by any state. Withdrawing U.S. naval forces newly concentrated near the Korean peninsula would be an important confidence-building step.

Korea — all of it — has a right to its sovereignty and independence. The recently elected South Korean leader, Moon Jae-in, represents a break with the repressive and reactionary leaders of the past. He campaigned on a number of progressive ideas — more independence from the US; more engagement with the North. But he has had to contend with bullying by a U.S. Administration bent on heightening tensions. The U.S. has no right to enforce the partition of the Korean peninsula and to block steps to unity and social progress desired by the people of Korea, North and South.
War can still be prevented, but only if the antiwar movement compels the U.S. to reverse course.

[1] More properly, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the DPRK. Here the terms will be used interchangeably.

[2] Stephen Gowans in “The Real Reason Washington is Worried about North Korea’s ICBM Test” (What’s Left, July 5, 2017