Sunday, June 17, 2012

Vietnam, the US and China

Vietnamese communists: the hermaphroditic creatures


If history proves anything, it is that nothing can be taken for granted. Men and parties that rule nations fall all the time—as witnessed today in much of the Middle East, a region that was once considered stable. The American Central Intelligence Agency, a huge, highly expensive operation with many analysts paid to predict the future, was utterly surprised when the Soviet Union fell apart and the whole Eastern Communist bloc dissolved with it. Change is the norm today, everywhere, and rulers who think they will be in power forever—even if they try to repress signs of discontent—have a poor sense of history. What is certain is that the Americans have a motive to see that the regime in Vietnam that defeated them militarily fall because of its own failures.

Given the tremendous and growing disparity between Vietnam’s nominal Marxist-Leninist ideology and its state-led capitalist practice, Vietnam is as ripe for overthrow as any nation has ever been, and Vietnam’s present rulers should take very little for granted–no more, indeed, than those who ran the former U S S R. Basic change is very likely to occur in Vietnam: how and when cannot be predicted precisely, but the anomaly between its ideology and its practice is too overwhelming to persist indefinitely. The higher levels of the Party are now very corrupt and increasingly cynical, and the patriotic legitimacy it had when it led the struggle against the French and then the Americans is gone. The younger generation of Vietnamese increasingly regard the Communists as corruptionists who practice nepotism.

When I was last in Vietnam in 1987 I saw corruption at all levels, and nepotism is the way many nations are ruled—Vietnam is no exception. All this means the Communist Party is losing its legitimacy and relying on its security apparatus to stay in power, but police will not return the consensus of support from the masses it had during the war against the United States, a consensus based in very large part on nationalism–although many peasants were also for a more just land tenure system and Communist appeals attracted them. And caused them to make immense sacrifices. On the contrary, using its security system to control public opinion is more likely to further alienate the public. It is a liability, although the Vietnamese Communists have a large one, and effective in the short-run. But as we see in the Middle East (or the Bolshevik Revolution under Lenin) soldiers and police can also switch sides, which can produce real crises for the status quo.

The Saigon-regime leader, Nguyen Van Thieu, was corrupt and nepotistic also, had a security apparatus (also corrupt) and fell apart despite the fact the Saigon-regime had superior military power to that the Communists possessed. By losing its legitimacy the Communists make themselves ripe for replacement, even overthrow.

The replacements may, in fact, be worse (they have been in various nations) but that thought is not likely to occur to those who regard the present rulers in Hanoi as the fount of all evil.

The regime is likely to fall—I am surprised it has lasted as long as it has—next month or five years from now–it is impossible to tell. But peasants are a danger to it (as they are in China) because too many are being displaced to build, among other things, industrial zones, open pit mines, and golf courses while many leaders of the Communist Party, who are increasingly factionalized and split, enrich themselves.

There are reports that the American government has specialists on Vietnam who are also thinking about how and why the Communist government might be replaced. These reports are probably true. They believe that the spread of American culture (mainly music) will eventually bring down the regime—but that may very well be wishful thinking. American-style culture has existed in Vietnam for decades. Far more important, in my opinion, is the Communist Party’s loss of legitimacy due to corruption and nepotism, and the élan it once had. It has developed economically but the benefits of economic growth have been very unequal—as it is in China also.

And no less important is the fact that fissures among Communist leaders have emerged; many know about them and effectively they are public, and this split never existed to this extent before. Basing Party rulership on cronyism makes such opposition all the more easy and justifiable. The system of control that the Communist Party elite has worked out is to some crucial extent also self-defeating. A split at the top was the prelude to the Soviet Union’s demise, and the leading opponent among the famous leaders in Vietnam is Vo Nguyen Giap, the architect of the Communist victories in the first and second Indochina Wars and the last living Communist “founding fathers.” He is vocal, has even talked of forming a new party, and any effort to silence Giap might alone trigger mass resistance against existing Party leaders. Having the venerable Giap on its side might very well embolden the potential opposition, which also includes some members of the Communist Party who do not like the way it has been going–and still believe in the ideals, which led to the emergence of the Party in the first place.

The Obama Administration–which includes many people besides the President– is in an ambiguous position: the present Vietnamese regime is ready to be a part of an anti-Chinese coalition the U. S. is talking about forming as an aspect of its yet-vague Pacific strategy that will presumably preoccupy it over the next 10 years, but I think over the next decade the U. S. is likely to be distracted by crises elsewhere—where is unknown but its similar resolution in 2002 to focus on China was impossible once it decided to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—whose outcome remains unknown but were certainly not American victories in the sense it hoped for. Given the nature of the world today, it is impossible to know what will occur 10 years from now. Shooting or other crises will define its priorities. It would be naïve for the Hanoi regime to assume the American-led coalition would ever emerge over the next decade, though in fact—if precedent is any indication—Vietnam is able to be very naïve in conducting its foreign relations.

The American Government would be happy, though, were the Communist-led regime to capsize. The U. S. lost a war with it and the collapse of the present Communist government would give many important people in Washington a certain solace.

The United States has since 1945 felt responsible for every corner of the world, and this sense of having a global mission makes it impossible to know where it is going to place its resources ten years from now. Its military is now increasinly involved in Africa. The Vietnam Government should be aware that American intentions today are not what they do a year from now, much less ten. Its placing confidence in present U.S. promises and intentions flies in the face of historical experience.

It is not certain in this world what will happen next: neither the careful observer nor the people in power know. Vietnam may or may not implode, but Communist states have ceased to exist, and there is such a discrepancy between its nominal ideology and practice—as there is in China also—that the men and women who now rule

Vietnam would be foolish not to take into serious consideration what events elsewhere—the entire Eastern Bloc—means for their future also. Vietnam “Communism,” as it still likes to call itself, can last forever or it might fall next month—but the state has problems and if it does nothing then the contradiction between its nominal ideology and practice will eventually catch up with it. Their present policies are likely to be challenged, somehow, and at some time. If they ignore these questions they ignore the meaning of recent history, not only in the Eastern Bloc but in many Muslim nations also. Making an alliance of some sort with the United States against China—which I think will never emerge in the form the U.S. envisages today—will not resolve its basic problems.

GABRIEL KOLKO is the leading historian of modern warfare. He is the author of the classic Century of War: Politics, Conflicts and Society Since 1914 and Another Century of War?. He has also written the best history of the Vietnam War, Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the US and the Modern Historical Experience. He can be reached at:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ten Camels for Obama

CNN) -- The United States offers millions for information leading to the capture of the world's most wanted terrorists.

A Somali militant group has purportedly countered with an offer of camels for U.S. officials.

Al-Shabaab has placed a bounty of 10 camels for President Barack Obama and two camels for information on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

An audio statement posted on jihadist websites purportedly from Al-Shabaab jeered news that the United States is offering millions of dollars for information on seven key members of al-Shabaab through its Rewards for Justice program.

The battle against al-Shabaab in Somalia

New push against militants in Somalia The man on the audio claimed to be Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, considered by the State Department to be Al-Shabaab's leading fundraiser. The United States has offered $5 million for information of his whereabouts.

"Whoever brings the mujahidin information about the whereabouts of infidel Obama and the lady of Bill Clinton, the woman named Hillary Clinton, I will give a reward," the man said.

A study by Galkayo University, which looked at the effects of drought on livestock, said the average cost of a camel in Somalia is $700.

CNN can not independently verify the authenticity of the audio recording, which was purportedly made by Khalaf during a speech to followers in the southern port city of Merca.

The U.S. State Department's Rewards for Justice program is offering $7 million for information on the location of Ahmed Abdi Aw-Mohamed, the founder of the Islamist group in Somalia.

This year, he and al Qaeda's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a joint video formally announcing a merger between the terror groups.

In announcing the bounties on Mohamed and his key associates Thursday, the State Department called al-Shabaab "a threat to the stability of East Africa and to the national security interests of the United States."

The State Department said it is also offering up to $5 million each for information leading to the location of four of Aw-Mohamed's associates, including Khalaf. In addition, it is offering up to $3 million each for two of the terror group's other leaders

박정희의 딸

그는 아버지의 정치적 과오를

손톱만큼도 인정하지 않고

모든 것을 긍정하는 딸이기에…

오는 12월 대통령선거에서 극보수 새누리당이 다시 집권하든 민주통합당과 안철수를 아우른 중도세력이 정권을 되찾아오든, 민중 생활에 커다란 변화는 없을 것이다. 어려운 사람들의 기대와 환호 속에서 태어난 노무현 정권 아래서 사회양극화가 되레 심해졌다는 사실은 이런 예측을 슬며시 정당화한다. 남북관계가 더 나빠지지도 않을 것이고, 외교가 미국에 더 종속적이 되지도 않을 것이다. 새로운 새누리당 정권이라 해서 전쟁을 각오하지 않는 한 남북관계를 지금보다 더 악화시키지는 않을 테고, 유권자들의 자연스런 민족주의 감정을 거스르려 작정하지 않는 한 지금보다 더 친미적인 스탠스를 취하기는 어려울 테다. 다만 중도세력이 집권하면 이명박 정권이 크게 훼손한 시민적 정치적 자유를 제자리에 되돌려놓으리라는 예측은 가능하다.

이런 예측을 바탕에 두고, 좌파 정치권 한켠에서는 정권교체가 중요한 게 아니라 계급투쟁이 중요하다고 힘줘 말한다. 한정된 정치적 도덕적 열정을 정권교체 같은 허깨비에 쏟을 게 아니라, 민중 생활 개선을 위해 쓰자는 얘기다. 일리가 없지 않다. 나 역시 지난번 대선 땐 그런 생각으로 민주노동당 후보를 지지했다. 그러나 이번 대선은 다르다. 왜? 새누리당 후보로 나올 것이 거의 확실시되는 이가 박근혜이기 때문이다. 왜 박근혜는 다른 새누리당 후보들과 다른가? 그가 박정희의 딸이기 때문이다. 낡아빠진, 위헌적인 연좌제라고? 결코 그렇지 않다. 박근혜가 아버지의 모든 것을 긍정하는 딸이기 때문이다. 그는 아버지의 정치적 과오를 손톱만큼도 인정하지 않는다. 아버지가 불법으로 빼앗아 지금 그가 움켜쥐고 있는 엄청난 재산을 본디 주인에게 되돌려줄 생각도, 나라에 헌납할 생각도 없다. 따라서 박근혜와 박정희를 구분하는 일은 쉽지 않다.

박정희는 누구인가? 온 겨레가 일본 제국주의의 강압적 식민통치에 신음하고 있던 시절, 만주군관학교와 일본육사를 졸업하고 일본 관동군 장교로 복무했던 사람이다. 그는 일본의 괴뢰국가 만주국의 ‘국군’에 들어가기 위해 “만주국과 조국(일본-인용자)을 위해 ‘한 번 죽음으로써 충성을 다하겠다’”는 혈서를 쓴 사람이다. 그가 관동군 장교로 복무하면서 조선인 항일투사들에게 총 한 발 쏘지 않았다 하더라도, 그는 이미 민족을 배신한 사람이다. 민족반역자라는 말도 걸맞지 않을지 모른다. 스스로 썼듯, 그의 조국은 일본이었으니까.

박정희는 누구인가? 해방 뒤 좌익 세상이 이내 올 듯하자, 군대 안의 남로당 세포들을 거느리고 대한민국의 전복을 꾀하던 사람이다. 그 일이 발각돼 군법회의에서 제게 사형이 구형되자, 군 수사당국에 동료들을 모조리 밀고하고 제 한 목숨 건진 사람이다. 동료들을 배신한 거야 박정희의 개인윤리 문제니 그렇다 치자. 그보다 훨씬 더 중요한 것은, 그가 군부 내 남로당 프락치로 암약하며 제 새로운 조국을, 대한민국을 배신했다는 사실이다. 요즘 ‘종북’, ‘종북’ 하지만, 박정희야말로 원조 정통 종북이다.

박정희는 누구인가? 학생과 시민들의 피로 이룩한 저 빛나는 제2공화국을 군사반란으로 무너뜨리고 18년간 이 나라를 철권으로 옥죄었던 사람이다. 그 시절, 헤아릴 수 없이 많은 사람들이 애매하게 빨갱이로 몰려서 죽고 다치고 갇히고 망가졌다. 그 당사자들과 유족들은 지금도 따돌림과 가위눌림 속에서 지옥 같은 삶을 살아가고 있다.

대한민국 시민들이 누려야 할 복지는 꼭 물질적인 것만이 아니다. 정신적 복지가 외려 더 소중할 때도 있다. 그 정신적 복지 가운데 으뜸가는 것이 긍지일 테다. 민족을 배신하고 조국을 배신하고 민주주의를 파괴한 사람의 딸이, 더구나 아버지가 한 짓은 뭐든 잘한 일이라고 우겨대는 딸이 공화국 대통령이 된다면, 대한민국 시민들의 긍지는 심각한 손상을 입을 수밖에 없다. 밥 세끼 입에 들어간다고 공동체의 긍지를 포기한다면, 사람이나 짐승이나 다를 게 뭔가? 그것이 박근혜가 다음 대통령이 돼서는 안 될 이유들 가운데 하나다.

고종석 언론인

Friday, June 1, 2012

My Country, right or wrong!!

Were Nazi Soldiers Heroes?

by Jacob G. Hornberger

Have you ever noticed that Nazi soldiers, especially those who died in World War II, are never celebrated as heroes? Why is that? Didn’t they answer the call of their government in time of war? Didn’t they serve their country by loyally obeying the dictates of their government? Weren’t they patriots for their willingness to fight and die for their country?

I’m not talking about soldiers who committed war crimes or who participated in the Holocaust. I’m talking about ordinary German soldiers, many of whom were civilians before the war started, who fought Allied forces in North Africa, at the Battle of the Bulge, on the Eastern front, and elsewhere.

Why aren’t those Nazi soldiers treated as heroes? Didn’t some of them fight as courageously and heroically as British, Soviet, or American soldiers? Why are they not honored as heroes as much as Allied soldiers are?

Indeed, why aren’t German citizens during World War II honored for having come to the support of their government during a time of war? Didn’t the German people do what citizens are supposed to do? Sure, Germany ended up losing the war but no one can say that the average German citizen didn’t do everything he could to win the war.

Yesterday, the Washington Times went on the attack against MSNBC host Chris Hayes for questioning the automatic invocation of the term ‘heroes’ to describe American soldiers who have died in America’s many wars. The Times wrote:

The word “heroes” has been used to describe America’s fallen for more than 200 years. It’s not “rhetorically proximate” to justifications for war but a traditional mark of gratitude and respect for the sacrifice made by the person who was killed and the family members left behind. It’s a way of recognizing that regardless of how a person died, he did so in service to the country. It’s not a glorification of war but a solemn acknowledgment of sacrifice.

What’s not clear from the Times’ position, however, is whether the principles it enunciates apply only American soldiers or to soldiers in every country. Applying the standard set forth by the Times, would it be appropriate for Germans to use the word “heroes” to describe Germany’s fallen in the many wars in which Germany has been involved, including World War II? Could it be said that describing Nazi soldiers killed in World War II as “heroes” would not serve to justify World War II but instead serve simply as a mark of gratitude and respect for the sacrifice made by the German soldier who was killed and the family members left behind? Could it be said that this would just be a way to recognize that regardless of how the Nazi soldier died, he did so in service to his country? Could it be said that describing the Nazi soldier as a hero would not be a glorification of war but rather a solemn acknowledgement of sacrifice?

In other words, would the Times apply its principles regarding war, soldiers, heroism, and patriotism only to the United States or universally?

Or do they apply only to the winners? Do they apply, for example, to the Soviet Union, one of the winners of World War II, which was governed by a brutal communist regime during the war and for decades afterward, a regime that oppressed Jews and others and kept Eastern Europe under its iron boot for decades after the end of the war. Were communist soldiers opposing Nazi soldiers heroes for serving their government during time of war? Were they heroes for their willingness to die to ensure that their country remained under communist rule rather than Nazi rule?

Indeed, how would the Times apply its principles to the Vietnam War, a war that the United States lost? Surely, it would say that American soldiers who served in Vietnam or who died there were heroes, except perhaps for the ones who committed war crimes. Would it say the same about North Vietnamese communist soldiers or about the Viet Cong?

It seems to me that the reason that Nazi soldiers have never been honored as heroes is because the world has long held Germany to a different standard than the one that the Washington Times applies to the United States. Both German soldiers and the German citizenry should have made a critical examination of what their government was doing and realized that their government was in the wrong. On reaching that determination, it was the duty of the individual soldier to refuse to participate in the military, and it was the duty of the citizen to oppose his government, even in time of war.

Obviously, the Nazi government didn’t take that position. Its position was that it is the solemn duty of the citizen to come to the support of his government in time of crisis or war. The Hitler regime viewed the citizen who joined the Nazi armed forces as a hero for his willingness to fight and die for his country. The German people who supported the troops and the rest of the government were looked upon as patriots.

Isn’t that the same standard adhered to by many Americans with respect to America’s wars, soldiers, and citizenry?

There were some German citizens who said no. Among them were Hans and Sophie Scholl and the members of a secret organization called the White Rose. Their position on patriotism was entirely different from the official one. They felt that it was the duty of a citizen to make a critical examination of his government’s policies. That’s what the White Rose members did, and they concluded that the Nazi government was in the wrong. Thus, the White Rose group not only opposed their government in the middle of World War II, they also exhorted the German citizenry, including German soldiers, to rise up and overthrow the Hitler regime.

Not surprisingly, the German authorities considered the White Rose members to be bad people and unpatriotic Germans, which is why they executed them. Personally, I happen to believe that they were among the most courageous and heroic people in history.

In 1951, during the Korean War, Leonard E. Read, the founder of The Foundation for Economic Education, wrote one of the most thought-provoking essays ever written, entitled. “Conscience on the Battlefield.” In that essay, Read stated that from a moral standpoint, no soldier can ever escape the consequences of his individual actions during war simply by later telling God that he was following orders or loyally serving his government during time of war. It was incumbent on each soldier, Read stated, to make a personal determination as to whether the killing he was ordered to do was morally justified and could be reconciled with the soldier’s individual conscience.

In my opinion, Read and the White Rose people had it right. The genuine patriot stands and fights for his government when it is right and he refuses to support it and even opposes it when it is in the wrong. That’s the type of courage and heroism that enlightens a country, not the blind type of “my government, right or wrong” type of patriotism and heroism that afflicted Nazi Germany and that continues to afflict people in many other countries today.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.