Monday, May 04, 2015

US-led exercises in Korea threaten nuclear catastrophe in East Asia



By George Cockburn

ONE OF the world’s largest military drills, involving almost a quarter of a million personnel, the United States Seventh Fleet’s “battle force” Task Force 70, B-54 and stealth bombers, amphibious beach landings, hundreds of tanks, artillery pieces and “nuclear-powered attack submarines” is coming to an end as this newspaper goes to press.
These exercises are taking place in one of most likely flashpoints on the planet for a major war to break out, in a divided country with one of the largest concentrations of armed forces in the world along the Military Demarcation Line (an artificial line drawn by US imperialism to divide Korea) – and yet they are virtually ignored by the western mass media.
In 2013 the Pentagon declared that the exercises included “long-range nuclear-capable B-2 (stealth) bomber flights over the Korean peninsula in a show of force,” in other words dummy nuclear bombing runs, yet in the same breath claimed they were of a "non-provocative nature"!
And this month Washington announced a plans to deploy missile defence forces in Korea, clearly intended to make a pre-emptive first nuclear strike against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) possible.
No wonder the Pyongyang (capital of the DPRK) daily Rodong Sinmun (Daily Worker) recently declared that inter-Korean relations were "inching close to a catastrophe". Viewed from Pyongyang such exercises can easily be seen as a cover for an actual invasion.
The Foal Eagle-Key Resolve exercises led by the US occupation forces in south Korea started 18 years ago this and year are taking place from 2nd March to 24th April.
Korean patriots and supporters of national re-unification and liberation in south Korea have held many protests at US bases and command centres in recent years calling for an end to the exercises.
They have been supported by many organisations, all of them risking arrest, police raids and prison sentences under south Korea’s infamous National Security Law and they include the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, one of the two largest trade union centres in south Korea with almost 700,000 members.

The Korean people need peace!

The Korean peninsula is one of the most dangerous flashpoints in the world, where war could break out at any time. The Korean War ended 1953 with a simple armistice signed by the US, DPRK and Chinese military commanders, but not by the puppet south Korean forces.
This means the DPRK and south Korea are technically still at war 62 years later, despite repeated proposals by the DPRK to normalise the situation and reduce tensions.
The true reason for the refusal by Washington and the puppet south Korean regime to negotiate a genuine peace is that the Korean peninsula is one of the world’s most strategic locations, from which the US can threaten the DPRK, China and Russia, and if the need arose Japan as well. In Washington’s eyes it is the key to its domination of East of Asia and the Pacific.
This policy treats the people of Korea, north and south, with contempt, as pawns in US imperialism’s drive for world domination. It is underpins Washington’s determination not to leave Korea and its ceaseless of lies and propaganda about the DPRK.
The bogus human rights allegations against the DPRK constantly churned out by the Washington-Seoul-Tokyo-Canberra propaganda machine are merely a smokescreen designed to hide US imperialism’s true intensions in Korea.
As the Foreign Ministry of the DPRK recently said: "These exercises are intolerable aggression moves pursuant to the US-Korea strategy designed to ‘bring down’ the socialist system chosen by the Korean people.”
In other words, they are yet another attempt at “regime change” by Washington.
Because of the ongoing state of war, the DPRK has no choice but to maintain large military forces and advanced weapons, and to be prepared for war, which could be unleashed at any time.
In this way the US hopes to prevent the DPRK from developing its economy and improving the living standards of its people but this policy, like the 55 year-long attempt to isolate Cuba, has failed spectacularly.
Danger: nuclear holocaust!

The danger of a US nuclear strike in Korea is very real. In 2011 Wikileaks revealed that the Pentagon had drafted plans for “pre-emptive” nuclear strikes against several states, and the US-Russian nuclear arms reduction talks have now completely broken down as a result of Washington’s mounting provocations against Russia.
Indications that US imperialism, in its desperate drive for world hegemony, is inching towards a new world war, even a nuclear war, are growing by the day.
This month Washington has announced a new shift in the military balance in Korea which, like the plans for a missile defence complex in Poland, are a new threat to the whole of East Asia.
The deployment of the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) anti-ballistic missile system in south Korea has been condemned by the Korean National Peace Committee, and is clearly intended to enable a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the DPRK.
But it also opens the way for “first strikes” against Russia and China, and follows the setting up of similar systems in Hawaii, Guam, Israel and Turkey, and is part of US imperialism’s plans for pre-emptive nuclear strikes against several countries.
Meanwhile Washington is giving the green light to Japan to end its constitutional ban on using force in international disputes. And plans for Japanese troops to be sent to Korea in the event of a military crisis are likely to be announced during Shinzo Abe’s imminent visit to Washington.

A history of US nuclear threats

During the Korean War President Truman ordered the transfer of nine Mark 4 nuclear bombs to Korea, and in November 1950 he said using nuclear weapons had "always been under active consideration".
This prompted British Prime Minister Clement Attlee to hurry to Washington, to be told by Truman him that the US had "no intention" of using atomic weapons in Korea except to prevent a "major military disaster”.
But soon after the end of the Korean War it was the US that unilaterally broke the 1953 armistice commitment not to bring new military systems into Korea, when President Eisenhower decided to deploy nuclear missiles and artillery in Korea. By 1967 the US had 950 nuclear warheads which threatened the DPRK, China and the Soviet Union.
By 1991 these nuclear weapons had been withdrawn, but the Korean peninsula is still under the US “nuclear umbrella” provided from the many US bases in the region.
Even without nuclear weapons, the north was utterly devastated in the 1950-1953 war, in which two million civilians died and more bombs were dropped than during the entire Pacific War.
As US Air Force General Curtis LeMay recalled: "We eventually burned down every town in north Korea... and some in south Korea too. We even burned down Pusan – an accident, but we burned it down anyway".
Napalm was widely used, including against Pyongyang. The world was shocked by the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, and Winston Churchill (in his second term as prime minister) declared he would not take responsibility “for napalm being splashed about all over the civilian population”. Many others protested, including the Archbishop of New York and the Free Church of Scotland. 

The DPRK has extended the hand of peace

In view of this history, it is little wonder the DPRK feels the necessity to have nuclear weapons of its own to defend its revolution and its sovereignty. In recent years Pyongyang has witnessed the spectacles of Iraq and Libya, having agreed to renounce their advanced weapons programmes, being swiftly and mercilessly crushed at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives, their once high living standards now but a distant memory.
The DPRK’s leaders and people are not afraid of war to defend their national sovereignty, but their greatest desire is peace and reunification. For over 40 years the DPRK has set out proposals to consolidate peace, reduce tensions and move towards Korean reunification.
In 1972 DPRK President Kim Il Sung put forward the Three Principles of Reunification, plans for a Confederal Republic of Koryo in 1973, followed by the Five Point Policy for National Reunification in 1975.
On June 15 2000 the historic North-South Declaration was signed by DPRK Dear Leader Kim Jong Il and south Korean President Kim Dae Jung, opening the way for family visits, economic and transport links.
But all these efforts were sunk when George W Bush took office in 2003, declared the DPRK part of an “Axis of Evil”, and scrapped the 1994 Agreed Framework, the closest the DPRK and US have ever come to a peace settlement and normalisation of relations.
In his 2015 New Year Address DPRK First Chairman Kim Jong Un once again called for the north and south to avoid confrontation and resolve their differences, free of foreign interference, “By Our Nation Itself”.

End the exercises, withdraw US forces, negotiate peace!

Here in Britain the Korean Friendship Association, supported by the New Communist Party and other parties and progressive organisations, calls on the United States to pull its military forces out of Korea, end its nuclear strike threat against the DPRK, and agree to a genuine peace settlement.
Rather than being side-tracked by bogus allegations about human rights in the DPRK, the world should unite and call for an end to America’s sabre-rattling exercises, a peace agreement followed by the withdrawal of all US personnel, the reunification of north and south Korea after 60 years of sacrifices and humiliation, and the final national liberation of the Korean nation.
That would be a great achievement for the entire world peace movement.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Richard III, or how to be an anthropologist in your own country



By Steve Hanson

AMERICAN friends often comment on British culture, particularly its weirder manifestations. I usually respond by explaining that it is often no less weird for the island’s inhabitants. It comes and goes, but recently the weirdness has spiked, with the live, televised re-burial of the remains of Richard III, which were found in a car park in Leicester. Here we had a resurgence of what many academics call the “invented tradition”.
“Invented traditions” are no longer a radical proposal. The historian Eric Hobsbawm first used the term when writing about the televised Investiture of Prince Charles at Carmarthen in 1969, commenting that the “imagined communities” of the country suddenly seemed more real than their inhabited spaces.
Benedict Anderson wrote about the historical rise of these “imagined communities”, emerging from newspaper coverage of geographically distant, but suddenly imaginable places. The Investiture in 1969 presented a kind of televised, imaginary medievalism, but in the re-burial of Richard III, we perhaps had a much more real, authentic, 2015 medievalism, to go with the very real poor on the streets in Britain.
No, the “invented tradition” has a de facto curriculum now. For instance Raphael Samuel on the Lost Gardens of Heligan botanical centre, and Patrick Wright on the raising of the Tudor warship the Mary Rose, which I watched all day at school, when I was 10 years old, in October 1982.
As the Mary Rose was being lifted, Government statistics for unemployment were being switched. They were now to be based on the numbers of those claiming benefit, rather than on those registered as unemployed. In the same month, Margaret Thatcher justified her economic policies as “working”. Their cruelty was not really the point, monetarism was, and the emaciation of ordinary people just a by-product of laissez-faire economics. We always have to ask ourselves, when we smell “invented tradition”, what is being masked, and what is being highlighted?
Here was the general atmosphere that the televised raising usefully covered, but what was being pointed to? The Mary Rose was lifted on the 11th October, and the day after, a parade was held in London to celebrate “victory” in the Falklands. The British media had focused on the naval battles, coverage which included the controversial “GOTCHA” headline on the front page of the Sun newspaper. War in Ireland continued, although the Irish National Assembly was in motion. Here was a conflation of “victory” in the Falklands with a naval battle in the 16th Century: It was “invented tradition”.
Prince Charles actually became Prince of Wales in 1958, but the investiture took place over a decade later, in 1969, the point at which Welsh nationalism had taken, in places, the violent form it took in Ireland. The ceremony was only “formal”, not required to rule, but we must think of its “formalism” in art school terms here, aesthetics hooked up to rhetoric, propaganda.
It was doxa, unexamined opinion disguised as natural fact. It was a mishmash of historical litter, re-collaged and re-presented to the population as “authentic”. But the director of the ceremony, Lord Snowdon, wasn’t the first Kurt Schwitters of spin. The 1911 Investiture of Edward, later King Edward VIII, presented a “Welsh” collage, largely stitched together by Lloyd George.
We can fast-forward to the Royal Wedding in 2011 and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee party a year later, and then watch Stephen Frears’ film The Queen, to understand what those occasions masked, alongside their functions as celebratory highlights in a time of “austerity”. Then of course we arrive at the present day and the re-burial of Richard III, a re-burial that also re-inscribes a monstrous character as a national hero.
So, what might the re-burial of King Richard III be both masking and highlighting? This most desperate of “state” funerals occurs at a time when statehood and democracy in Britain is at its most tattered and fragmented. Its forms have been petrified by globalisation, not just here, but right across Europe. If you think you smell a whiff of white English protestant chest-beating pride in the burial of Richard III, which might contain a trace of euro-scepticism, as I do, it is easy to rebuke without using cockney rhyming slang (in which Richard III has a very special significance).
Because under the Plantagenets, England was ruled from Europe as a slightly backwards colony, and Richard III – Richard Plantagenet – took his name from a family with lands in Anjou and Aquitaine. I write this from an ideologically pro-Europe standpoint, but the far right could well invert the point, with some logic-defying acrobatics. If you want to be nationalist about all of this, and I don’t, the Mary Rose was sunk fighting the French, but King Richard III and the Plantagenets were “French”. But really, they were as “French” as the Windsors, our current Royal family, are German: not very. This is all ideological conflation. It is invented tradition.
The recent casting of the actor Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III is interesting. He is already a kind of international trope of the “‘naturalness” of the British upper classes. There was an attempt to symbolically re-embed a “right to rule” for the old elites in the re-burial, but also a simultaneous mourning for the waning of their power, as the “elite” inevitably morph once more, through the processes of capital accumulation, into the London demographics we might see now: Russian, Chinese, global billionaires, living in and among the remnants of empire.
It seems somehow fitting that Cumberbatch read a poem for the fragmented remains of a man accidentally discovered in a car park in Leicester. Cumberbatch was tenuously introduced as “a cousin of Richard”, before reading a poem written for the occasion by Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. There was no incense burning but Cumberbatch delivered a censer full of romanticism to intoxicate the nation. Watching the funeral service live on television made me want to read a Raoul Hausmann sound poem over a discarded KFC party bucket full of chicken bones, before burying it somewhere random, weeping uncontrollably.
Of course, this was not a “state” funeral with the full Royal Family in attendance; they are well advised of the risk of people like me pointing fingers, and so sent some minor players along, to be simultaneously present and not-present. Neat trick.
 Julian Fellowes, writer of the vastly influential English heritage fantasy Downton Abbey, sat on the sofa to comment on the burial during its live broadcast to the nation. His very presence, along with Cumberbatch, unconsciously attached the re-burial of Richard III’s remains to the equally fragmented patriarchal, monarchical, Christian, conservative, white upper class vision of Britain, right at the moment when it is becoming remnants, with the recent near-devolution of Scotland, and future challenges looming.
As the German philosopher Walter Benjamin explained, to really seize hold of the past is to grab an image of it in a moment of crisis. The televised re-burial was full of such images of desperation. We could focus in to see the controversy of a ceremony for a Catholic king in an Anglican church, but the city of Leicester itself, the most multicultural city in Britain, was the larger complexity being masked and suppressed by this fantastical imperialist performance.
This is not a conspiracy theory, nor is it even a complicity theory. These rituals are no different to science fiction, and science fiction is not about some future time, or distant galaxies, but the here and now. The re-burial of Richard III is not about the past either. The author Mark Fisher writes about dyschromia, popular culture constructed from decontextualised bits of the past. But this is nothing new. The past of Richard III was also symbolically constructed from scraps of other times and places. As I watched the purple-robed priests by the TV celebrities and khaki-clad pallbearers, I may as well have been watching a Nambikwara rite-of-passage in the Amazon.
This, for me, wasn’t evidence of the persistence of “postmodernism”, here was proof that it is still both possible and worthwhile to be an anthropologist in your own country.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Life in the Hall of Mirrors



 By Steve Hanson


Afzal Amin, the Tory candidate for Labour marginal seat of Dudley North, was accused in March of secretly conspiring with the English Defence League to stage a fake racist march which would then be scrapped with Amin taking the credit for defusing the situation. He has now resigned.


THE ALLEGED plot Afzal Amin hatched with the English Defence League (EDL) is currently attracting all kinds of commentary: Arguments over whether Amin is actually to blame and the EDL were misled victims; whether or not the EDL should be off-limits to the political mainstream or not. I will leave it to others to debate those details. The contradictions and tensions are clear, a far right party concealing their xenophobia, allegedly making deals with a man who has Asian roots.
But I am not surprised. In my book on small towns, I tracked a white neo-Nazi, running for local councillor, for a tiny, far right cult of a party. He brought a female east-Asian fascist into town to canvass, talking to Pakistani market traders, posing for photographs, which he posted on his blog. Because of this, he was immediately expelled from his own party, and eventually arrested for election fraud. This man and Afzal Amin reflect each other in the warped hall of mirrors that is contemporary politics. But I want to argue that they are both figures through which we might think about the wider, contemporary social world as well.
People dismissed the local neo-Nazi as “an anomaly”, as an eccentric, an almost comforting, harmless, amusing feature of small town life. Yet when I contacted them, Hope Not Hate confirmed links to some very heavy, disturbing political figures. And now, all around me, people are describing the Amin story as “bizarre”, “weird”, saying “you couldn’t make it up”, as though we have just witnessed the political equivalent of a hail of frogs.
It is, to be fair, quite an extreme example in many ways, as is the case of the neo-Nazi I have just outlined. But I would argue that neither of these stories are “anomalies”. Because I began to see on that “local” landscape that what Hegel described as a “contradiction embodied” shot right through most forms of political, cultural and economic life to be found there: Members of the anti-monarchy group Republic going to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee party, anti-supermarket campaigners who designed the very same supermarkets they protested against.
“Extremes” like these are not exceptions. They are intensities that flow into everything around them. We only have to look at popular political comedies such as The Thick Of It to see Ministers push policies they hate, while dealing with all sides like wartime black marketeers. The warped hall of mirrors these figures stand in is not just the mash-up of ideology that passes for contemporary neo-liberal politics, it is the current social space most of us operate in, as people cruise through jobs, relationships and opinions, with an overnight bag permanently packed. 
I have described this before as the simultaneous cohesion and erosion of “conviction”. This is part of an epic hangover from the industrial, colonial, patriarchal Britain of the post-war consensus. Here is the subject haunted by conviction.
“Conviction” also means “to make prisoner”, and in some ways this is appropriate, as people were much more ‘trapped in place’ previously, and some still are, mentally. But to think of these figures as “now released” would be too simplistic, because being in-between “conviction” and “release” is what generates much of the contradiction here. Political life is where the tension between being “a player” and holding convictions is perhaps at its most taught. But this existential conundrum also saturates everyday life.
Some people stick to their old convictions, “their guns”, but their opinions, their subjectivities themselves in fact, are too heavy now. Like a piece of 10-ton factory machinery from the industrial era, they risk crashing through the floor, because the social floor of the old world has decayed, it is weak. The new world is fluid, endlessly mobile, mercurial, the opposite of “conviction”, and this fluidity creates a kind of relativism beyond itself. This is what we are seeing here.
But this is not necessarily “freedom” either, as the sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman, has pointed out. A world of endless “choice” has placed us in a new kind of inferno. The Afzal Amin case is just one more example of the horribly absurd, Hieronymus Bosch landscape and polity we seem trapped in.
The General Election in May looks as though it will deliver the same cubist, coalition jumble we have just had for four years, only inverted. We are about to witness another round of “Britain’s Got Prime Ministers”, as political candidates desperately try to demonstrate every millimetre of difference between them. They are opposites in many ways, but only in the sense of a sock turned inside-out: As much of an embodied contradiction as Afzal Amin and the EDL.

Steve Hanson is the author of Small Towns, Austere Times that was published by Zero Books in 2014.