Friday, 10 May 2013

The Sheer Idiocy of North Korea Apologism on the Left

I probably should have written a post like this a month or so ago, but In These Times linking to a certain Counterpunch article got my goat up. I may upset some of my fellows on the Left also in writing this, but it must said and I can't help my conclusions.

The article itself is the usual pap, but this extract on the original post by In These Times caught my attention:
Would the US government and people get a little “irrational” if a foreign country that previously had killed millions of our people, sent nuclear capable stealth bombers off the coasts of New York City, Washington DC, Houston, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, there to fly around for a month in preparation for a possible nuclear attack on us? For what is called, in warped US language, war “games”?
The US may have killed 20% of the population of Korea, said General Curtis Lemay, who was involved in the US air war on Korea. If so, that is a higher rate of genocidal slaughter than what the Nazis inflicted on Poland or the Soviet Union. The Korean War may be unknown ancient history to us, but it is no more ancient history to Koreans than the Nakba is to Palestinians.
There are numerous problems with this. Firstly, virtually all of America's activities involve defensive war games with South Korea which occur annually; it is not as though this is a spontaneous threat by the US and the RoK to spook the elites of the North Korean necro-stratocracy into surrendering because they dared defy neo-liberal hegemony (or whatever model is popular this week).

Secondly, although the war games could be seen as intrusive, so can the various examples of North Korean aggression over recent years, most notably the shelling of Yeonpyeong in November 2010. That North Korea has some sort of complaint in this area could possibly be valid, but given circumstances, it is patently ridiculous for them to be so tetchy about it given past actions.

Thirdly, we come to the civilian and military deaths inflicted upon North Korea during the initial Korean War of 1950 to '53. I shall not pass any moral or strategic judgement on US actions during this period as the Korean War is quite a sketchy area for me, and to be brutally honest, for all my interest in the current conflict, learning further about it simply does not appeal to me. So, let's just deal with abstractions and the argument.

As we're at the very blunt low bar of (pseudo-)intellectual discourse, let's do a comparison with the Holocaust: the Israeli Right (and on sadly on occasion the Israeli Left) often evoke the memory of the Holocaust to defend their aggressive military-policing towards the Palestinians (and neighbouring states), the Occupation, and the building of settlements. However, this is plainly ridiculous: however awful and, yes, unique the Holocaust was (and how we should never ever forget how apocalyptic it was not just for the Jews, but for the entire Human Condition (with my dearest respects to Levinas)), it does not negate further injustices and aggressions committed by the original victims against innocent peoples (or the descendants of the original aggressors).

This should go without saying, but although I'm pretty sure the entire Counterpunch staff, well-known for their virulent "anti-Zionism" (to the extent of hiring Holocaust deniers just to get more of that shit written) would appreciate the argument here about the Holocaust and Israeli policy, they would fail to understand that the same argument directly transfers to North Korea's actions today: no matter how bad the US military was sixty years ago, it doesn't mean you can go around threatening and throwing inter-continental shit-fits as much as you like and not see muscles be flexed on the other side. (Same as the great injustice of the Nakba not allowing for suicide bombings in homes for old Jewish people, rocket attacks on Israeli children's playgrounds, or trying to keep the Okhrana-forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion a bestseller and attempting to teach it in schools as historical fact.)

Also, to get back to the extract itself, to compare the Nakba to the North Korean death toll is a false analogy to the core. For one thing, although the forced Palestinian Exodus occurred 65 years ago, the descendants of it are still very, very much living in the shadows of the initial event: seemingly permanent refugee status across the Middle East, the 46 year long occupation, perpetual Israeli military rule, discrimination and police violence with the absolute minimal chance of legal appeal, state-sanctioned settler colonialism that continues to drive out native persons, terrible interim governments that supposedly rule in their names but really undercut, torture and kill their own people at will, and even the very denial of their historic existence by the ideological descendants of the Nakba's architects in the Israeli Right and their American supporters. This is hardly reflective in the current relational situation of the DPRK with the RK and the US, especially while the Kim crime family themselves and their closer cronies see the entirety of the North Korean populace virtually as disposable slaves, doing their bidding dare they "misbehave", upon which they and their entire family are sent to trans-generational work camps, their children's children doomed to that fate as well.

An intelligent North Korean taken out of his environment and given a moment's outrospection, will clearly and correctly see that the near-entirety of his country's problems come directly or indirectly from Kim family rule.

How far can one take this logic: should as a Northern Englishman should I forever be scornful of the French for the Harrying of the North, a genocide by any measure? I mean, for example, the Al-Anafal Campaign is still very much in living memory so its understandable most Kurds are jittery about the government in Baghdad and their own national future. The same for the ethnic Bosniaks and the Kosovar Albanians and the East Timorse and the Tutsis and all the other group victims of recent mass ethnic violence and genocide. But the idea that North Korea can use civilian deaths and war crimes committed by the US more than sixty years ago in defence of its ultra-violent erratics today is absurd and irrational.

Another quick point: would the author of the article care much if Poland placed ICBMs at its Western border and threatened immediate war (even if such a war was obviously unlikely), just in case Angela Merkel decided to distract the German populace from various EU woes by declaring the need for a little bit more lebensraum? (In all honesty he probably would.)

It is a shame that this article is not an isolated incident, but merely a sample of various odd voices that range from desperately trying to portray North Korea as a wholly-to-mostly rational actor, to declaring the entirety of North Korean agression to be just a collossol American propaganda campaign (and saying some very questionable things about the NATO invasion of Afghanistan at the same time). Hell, even Fidel Castro doesn't agree with the last one and is telling Kim Jong-un to calm down! By far the strangest attempt to stifle debate was Chris Roper declaring any personal mockery of Kim Jong-un to be "racist". Elsewhere, the so-called Stop the War Coalition demanded South Korea drop its hostilities...wait a minute, what?!

Absurdity to say the least! The idea that the (for want of a better term) "bad guy" could not possibly be the United States or one of its allies simply cannot be processed in the minds of some, and its both distressing and maddening in equal measure.

One of the few good critical voices of the situation is in this interview with Korean-American social justice activist Hyun Lee at the New Left Project, which does point out some highly relevant problems with US and South Korean tactics (such as ignoring some important requests that aren't that difficult to enact, and often adopting a policy of merely waiting for the regime to collapse even though at this point it is obviously a closed, self-sustaining totalitarian system), but it still doesn't negate North Korea's blatant displays of aggression and warmongering. It also speaks of North Korea's supposed desire to "normalise" relations, but this is impossible given that technically the Korean War is still going on given that what brought it to an end was only a ceasefire, not a peace treaty, and that given that both the DPRK and the RoK both claim territorial sovereignty over the whole of the Korean Peninsula, the conditions for that treaty being drawn up, signed and enforced are extremely unlikely to materialise in the near future (note that this fact is rarely mentioned by "normalisation" proponents). The entirety of North/South and US relations exists in an uneasy grey area, but its the only possible way to operate in the circumstances.

It seems likely that North Korea is doing might be termed a traditional "hazing" of the new South Korean president to see how he or she reacts, and tensions have already started to drop with North Korean missile positions dropping back. However, the overall question of North Korean aggression and the sorry responses to it remain.

Just to be clear: in no way am I directly defending United States (or South Korean) foreign policy as a whole or even on this one particular issue. My main focus is discourse, and how the current Left-directed discourse is substantially not only not to scratch, but embarrassingly wrong, ethically wrong even. That I "want war" or that I am a "warmonger" (a "banned word" surely at this point?) is an offensive idea to me. Truth is, North Korea should be able to have as many nuclear weapons as they like (as dangerous and potentially illegal as it is), and show them off as much as they like (same view on Iran's alleged-but-disproven-but-not-really-evidence-sketchy-but-indicators-there nuclear weapons program for that matter), but that doesn't mean they shouldn't expect counter-shows of strength or further (smartly applied hopefully) sanctions (but of course not direct offensive military action). That's basic geopolitics.

My own position can be summed up by renowned trade union activist Eric Lee, writing on the always excellent Workers Liberty website, who ends his great brief statement on the matter thusly:
Socialist Worker and the Morning Star are struggling with the Korean crisis, but for socialists it is actually not very complicated.
It could be summed up in just six words — “no to war, no to dictatorship”.
No to war — meaning that North Korea must cease its threats and return to negotiations based on UN resolutions.
And no to dictatorship — meaning, down with the Kim regime, and for a united, democratic and socialist Korea.
Indeed. I think any sane and rational socialist of any stripe should be able to agree with that. It seems a sorry, sorry tragedy that a large chunk of the Western Left has virtually given up on what Tony Benn described on the back of Vol. 36 (2000 edition) of Socialist Register as the core foundations of socialism: "Equality, human rights and internationalism." Instead certain patriarchs (or pariahs rather), who are very much inexplicably worshipped by left-wing activists young and old alike, take great pleasure in declaring the so-called "pristine, innocent" qualities of North Korean culture, of a state run by verifiably the worst regime currently existing on the face of the planet today, and not only that, but it being a military structure officially ruled eternally by a man who is dead, based upon running the entire country as a vast, semi-deindustrialised meta-concentration camp (Pyongyang being I guess the "deluxe en suite" given its privileged position). It doesn't matter how many times you play basketball with them, those are the facts.

To reiterate: I am not asking my comrades to support American and South Korean foreign policy without question; I am just asking them to be rational, factual, humane and ethically consistent when discussing this topic. That is all I want.

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