Sunday, July 25, 2004

July 26, 2004 

"We love your adherence to democratic principle and to the democratic processes," said George H.W. Bush to Ferdinand Marcos as he raised his glass in a toast to the Philippine dictator during his visit to Manila in 1981.[1]  From the beginning of the Marcos dictatorship until its end, the US government persisted in fondling the Filipino tyrant (who fondled America back).

But we are of course expected to pretend that this never happened.

We are not supposed to remember that the American Chamber of Commerce described the imposition of martial rule in the Philippines in 1972 as a "heaven-sent relief" and we are expected to forget that, after martial law was declared, the same august Chamber wished Marcos "every success in your endeavor to restore peace and order, business confidence, economic growth and the well-being of the Filipino people."[2]

We are not supposed to remember that, two years before Marcos inflicted martial law on Filipinos, US investments in the Philippines stood at $16.3 million; and that by 1981, the year of the Bush toast to the Filipino tyrant, US investments stood at $920 million.[3]

We are expected to forget the 1965 -1966 Indonesian bloodbath - the slaughter of a million Indonesians perpetrated by a vile gang of Indonesian generals backed by America.  A culling that overthrew a government that the US government disliked.  A slaughter that midwifed the three-decade dictatorship of the Indonesian despot Suharto.

We are not supposed to remember that during the carnage, the US government had supplied Suharto and his generals lists containing the names of those America wanted slaughtered.  "It was a big help to the army," said Robert J. Martens, a political officer of the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, of the 1965-1966 butchery.  Suharto and his thugs "probably killed a lot of people and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands but that's not all bad.  There's a time when you have to strike hard at the decisive moment."

"We were getting a good account in Jakarta of who was being picked up," said Joseph Lazarsky, deputy CIA station chief in Jakarta.  "The army had a 'shooting list' of about 4,000 or 5,000 people.  They didn't have enough goon squads to zap them all, and some individuals were valuable for interrogation . . . We knew what they were doing . . . Suharto and his advisers said, if you keep them alive, you have to feed them."

"The US is generally sympathetic with and admiring of what the [Indonesian] army is doing," said the American Ambassador in Jakarta, Marshall Green, of the killings.[4]  But we are not supposed to remember these things.

We are expected to forget about the Iraqi coup of 1963.  A coup that took place four years after a massive public demonstration attended by half a million Iraqis had demanded working class leadership in Iraq.  A coup that took place two years after the government of Abdul Karim-Qasim attempted to implement socio-economic reforms that included increasing taxes on the rich, the introduction of inheritance taxes, rent controls, price controls, the regulation of working hours and the provision of compulsory systems of social insurance.

We are not supposed to remember the 1963 coup.  A US-engineered coup that eventually catapulted a certain Saddam Hussein to the highest echelons of leadership in Iraq.  We are not supposed to remember that the Ba'ath Party came to power, in the words of a Ba'athist president, "using an American locomotive."

"I know for a certainty that what happened in Iraq on February 8 [1963] had the support of American intelligence," said King Hussein of Jordan, in a meeting in Paris with the editor of Egypt's most influential daily, al-Ahram.  "Numerous meetings were held between the Ba'ath Party and American intelligence, the more important in Kuwait.  Do you know that on February 8 a secret radio beamed to Iraq was supplying the men who pulled the coup with the names and addresses of Communists there so that they could be arrested and executed?" said the King of Jordan.[5]

We are expected to forget all these things lest we ask some interesting questions.  Without America's support, would the Marcos regime have lasted as long as it did?  Without America's instigation, would Suharto have been able to slaughter so many and rule Indonesia for so long and with such barbarity?  Without the American locomotive of 1963, where would Iraq be today?

"If we have to use force," said Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State during the Clinton administration, "it is because we are America.  We are the indispensable nation."[6]

Indispensable, yes, until we really choose to remember.  "The past is never dead," said William Faulkner.  "It's not even past."

[1] "What We Say Goes: The Middle East in the New World Order," Noam Chomsky, Z Magazine, May 1991.
[2] "Memory as a Means of Empowerment," Maria Serena I. Diokno, August 23, 2001, Paper presented at the Conference on Memory, Truth-Telling and the Pursuit of Justice. The Legacies of the Marcos Dictatorship, September 20-22, 1999, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines.
[3] A Fateful September, Letizia R. Constantino, Issues without Tears Vol. 5, Karrel Inc., 1986.
[4] The new rulers of the world, John Pilger, Verso, 2002.
[5] Bush in Babylon:  The recolonisation of Iraq, Tariq Ali, Verso, 2003.
[6] Quoted in "Blowback: A Review Essay on an Academic Defector's Guide to America's Asia Policy," Walden Bello, March 12, 2000.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

July 19, 2004
The memories of another day - missing ruminations of generations.  Will we ever remember?  Will we ever learn?  Who's to say?
Elvis Presley's first single was released on this day in 1954.  It was "That's all right" with "Blue Moon Kentucky."  The single was a minor hit and one and a half years later, Presley would explode to superstardom with "Heartbreak Hotel."
One and a half years later, on July 19, 1957, the first rocket with a nuclear warhead is launched at Yucca Flat, Nevada.  That's all right, said the smiling rocket engineers.  What heartbreak.
Five Massachusetts women were hanged on July 19, 1692 - for witchcraft.  Hundreds of years later, on July 19, 1948, a similar witch-hunt opens its first inquiry at the University of Washington in Seattle under the banner of the Un-American Activities Committee chaired by Rep. Albert Canwell.  The purpose of the Canwell Committee: to weed-out witches - local Communist subversives - and to hang their souls.
On July 19, 1979, massive celebrations take place in the streets of Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.  Anastacio Somoza Debayle - the last Somoza of the 46-year US puppet dynasty - is overthrown.  Four years earlier, on July 19, 1975, the psychologist Carl Jung wrote in the London Observer, "Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you."  Maybe Don Anastacio should have met Carl earlier?
On July 19, 1998, the General Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation issued the Fifth declaration of the Lacandon Jungle:  "Brothers and sisters, it is the time for the silent weapons which we have carried for centuries to flourish in words again.  It is time for peace to speak; it is time for the word of life.  It is our time."
Ninety year earlier, on July 19, 1908, eminent revolutionary Emma Goldman shook her fist at militarists and wrote in the New York World:  "Go and do your own killing.  We have sacrificed ourselves and our loved ones long enough fighting your battles.  In return, you have made parasites and criminals of us in times of peace and brutalized us in times of war.  You have separated us from our brothers and have made of the world a human slaughterhouse.  No, we will not do your killing or fight for the country that you have stolen from us."
How poorly the world remembers your words dear Emma.
On July 19, 1971, William Colby testified before the US Senate subcommittee how the CIA operation Phoenix killed 21,587 Vietnamese citizens between 1968 and 1971.  On the same day in 1985, Brooke Kroeger of Newsday wrote:  "The U.S. Seventh Fleet, Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Base saturate the Philippines with servicemen who constitute the highest percentage of customers seeking prostitution in the country."
The Entarte Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition opened in Munich on July 19, 1937.  "A culmination of Hitler and Goebbels' purge of all remaining modern art held in both public and private collections in the Reich, the exhibit was designed to ridicule and denigrate creative works not upholding 'correct' Nazi virtues."  On the same day in the same year, Joris Ivens' "The Spanish Earth" premiered in Hollywood - "the film that set the standard for the cinema of international solidarity."
According to Peter Steven of the New Internationalist, "Ernest Hemingway's script and his dramatic yet measured voice added its own poetry and partisan anger" to the powerful imagery of the Spanish Civil War - the doomed cause that ushered in the brutal 40-year fascist regime of Franco and, more importantly, "formed the ominous prelude to Hitler's full-scale onslaught."
Ominous prelude.  If the fascist monstrosity was slain there and then in Spain, would the course of history have been any different?  Who's to know?
A year before the premier of Ivens' film, on July 19, 1936, fascists under the leadership of Franco trigger the Spanish Civil War when they attempt to overthrow the elected Popular Front government in Spain and take the garrisons in Barcelona.  Workers, soldiers, civil guards and policemen faithful to the Spanish republic fight back and attack the barracks and successfully drive out the fascists.  Many celebrate but the celebrations do not last.  Franco's marauders are already pressing their assault on the Republic from other fronts and they have been lent the iron helping hand of Germany and Italy.
Free people all over the world take up Spain's cause and many arrive to fight for Spain as members of the International Brigades.  Leaders of the so-called free world, on the other hand, stand by and watch as fascist forces literally slaughter the Spanish Republic.
On July 19, 1937, in a speech delivered at the House of Commons, Winston Churchill virtually absolves the fascist elements and outrageously blames instead "the swift, stealthy and deadly advance of the extreme communist or anarchist factions" for the outbreak of violence in Spain.
"I hope if Franco wins, he will establish a liberal regime," said US President Franklin Roosevelt in the summer of 1936.  Ahem.  The Roosevelt administration would enforce soon thereafter an arms embargo against the beleaguered Spanish republic - an embargo "prohibiting even private shipments in support of the republic."  The US government even looked the other way when "the devoutly pro-fascist" Thorkild Rieber, the head of the American oil giant Texaco, "supplied - on unsecured credit - 1,866,000 tons of oil" to Franco and his war machine.
The nineteenth day of the seventh month - thanks for the memories.

1.  I drew material and much insight again from the very stimulating website The Daily Bleed.
2.  "What I believe, Emma Goldman, July 19, 1908, The New York World.
3.  For the actual speech (very interesting, in the morbid sense of course), see Entartete Kunst exhibition opening speech, Adolf Hitler, July 19, 1937.  For the statement quoted in the article, click on this link. 
4.  The Classic:  The Spanish Earth, Peter Steven, New Internationalist, Issue 281, 1996.
5.  "A new form of abolitionism:  women organize to fight 'sexual slavery' around the world," Brooke Kroeger, Newsday, July 19, 1985.
6.  "CIA and Operation Phoenix in Vietnam," Ralph McGhee, Februray 19, 1996.
7.  Picasso's War:  The destruction of Guernica, and the masterpiece that changed the world, Russell Martin, Plume, 2002.  If you can get hold of a copy, do read Martin's book.  It is a most fascinating rewarding weave.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

July 12, 2004

The beginning of the first of July was promising enough.

It was close to three in the morning in Hong Kong and everyone inside an enchanting bar in Sai Kung imaginatively called Cheers was waiting for the start of the2004 European Soccer Championship semifinal match between host nation Portugal and The Netherlands.

Portugal had never advanced beyond the semis and the Dutch, who had won the European title in 1988, was the seeded team. But never underestimate the magic that can be summoned by the home team (and likewise never overestimate it). The Czech Republic and Greece (which would eventually win the title) were to meet the day after but greater interest was generated by the match at hand. The Netherlands was the only football superpower left in the celebrated competition and perhaps this was why everyone in Cheers - mostly Asian with a few Europeans - seemed to be rooting for Portugal.

Two hours later, after Cristiano Ronaldo headed home a corner kick and Nuno Maniche drove a spectacular curving 22-meter strike into the Dutch team's goal, and after an unfortunate own-goal by Jorge Alvarade, the final whistle sounded and Lisbon's Jose Alvalade Stadium erupted with jubilation. The score was 2-1. Portugal was in the finals.

By noontime, despite temperatures reaching up to a suffocating 35 degrees Celsius, thousands upon thousands of people dressed in white turn up at the Hong Kong shopping district of Causeway Bay armed with water bottles, hand towels, digital cameras and mobile phones - along with homemade placards demanding the right of Hong Kong citizens to universal suffrage and direct elections.

The mammoth demonstration on July 1 was a show of collective force marking the seventh anniversary of the former British colony's handover to China. Hong Kong police said the rally reached a peak of 300,000; organizers estimated up to 530,000 attended the protest event. Whatever the final tally was, the sum was undoubtedly massive and festive.

Thousands kept spilling out of Wan Chai district and Tin Hau - converging first in Victoria Park to be literally counted before marching on - very well-behaved - to the main government building a few kilometers away. Young people, old couples, market vendors in white shirts, business people in white shirts, mothers and kids in white shirts, toddlers in white shirts in strollers pushed by fathers in white shirts - everyone fanning their faces, talking animatedly and squinting at the brightness of the day.

Around 650 protesters were treated for various heat-related illnesses. Every few meters you would come across medical staff administering first aid on a young or middle-aged or senior Hong Kong person sprawled on the sidewalk, face red and breathing with difficulty. And still they went on.

It was a remarkable parade of discipline, enthusiasm and determination and a very interesting display of Hong Kong-style mass protest. The colossal demonstration passed through make-shift stalls and booths and small platforms on the sidewalks where loudspeakers blared out the speeches and songs being delivered live by politicians and activists belonging to the Democratic party, to trade unions, student groups, Christian groups, religious cults and Trotskyites. It was a marketplace-like atmosphere where people from the sidewalk installations seemed to be selling their political wares with familiar marketplace loudness, doggedness and gaiety. It was very . . . Hong Kong.

"Many of the people who joined today's protest activity were apolitical. They do not normally go to protests. In fact they disdain demonstrations and they dislike activists. But July 1 has become steadily different for them. Or maybe they have become steadily different because of July 1," said Zhang, one of the founders of the Civil Human Rights Front, the group which organized the protest event, and who invited me to walk with the rally. "My mother used to comment negatively whenever I joined political rallies. But look at her now, all dressed in white like everyone else. She arrived on time and she intends to finish the rally," Zhang remarked as we strode past a stall giving away protest leaflets and selling hilarious balloons printed with the caricature of Tung Chee Hwa, the Beijing-installed chief executive of Hong Kong.

"When we first demonstrated on the same issues in 1997, colleagues said about 100 had joined us. I think it was actually closer to just 50 people. I am have not been active in the Front for some years now. The recent rallies are impressive," Zhang told me with a thoughtful wrinkle on his brow. "Ironically, while the numbers of July 1 rallies have increased dramatically, the political frame of the event has also become quite exclusionary."

We had gone over the subject previously - over home-cooked hot-pot summits, over Xinjiang-style lamb barbecue, over braised duck's tongue and more recently over Chinese beer sipped from Suzhou chicken bowls. Zhang, an intense young libertarian born and raised in Hong Kong and who now finds himself working more frequently from Beijing, is hyper-passionate and at the same time cold and calculating. His political work has been tempered forcefully by reality, which somehow has expanded his political vision exponentially. A contradiction just like his birthplace.

"The chauvinism of Beijing is obvious, but for the observant, so is the chauvinism of Hong Kong," said Zhang. I nod slowly as we near the rally's final destination and march past the imposing building of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation and a curious political vista. Right beneath the Asia-Pacific headquarters of HSBC sat - as if they were the foundation of the gigantic institution of global finance - the new dispossessed of the new global economy: thousands of foreign domestic helpers seated in clusters on the concrete floor, eating from plastic bags and chatting and glancing at the rallyists chanting "Return power to the people!"

I look at the faces surrounding me; I stop walking. I step out of the column of my group and step out of the march and look at the faces of other marchers. I walk a few meters more and look back. It is all the same. It seems as if no one wants to look to their right despite the equally noisy din and the obvious panorama of the migrant workers.

"What is prosperity for if we cannot choose our leaders?" I recalled a speaker on a sidewalk in Wan Chai asking the moving crowd rhetorically. A most fundamental question. And yet I couldn't help ask myself as I walked past the HSBC scene: and what is a vote for if we cannot assure the wellbeing of all our brethren? What is the meaning of political freedom without education for the young, without sufficient food on the table and with only one half of the parents present to tend to their children because the other half is forced by economic deprivation to slave away abroad?

1. "Dutch go down; host Portugal winds 2-1 to make Euro 2004 final," Sports Illustrated, July 1, 2004.
2. "Euro 2004: Portugal vs. Holland semi-final preview, Bill Hutchinson, World Soccer.
3. "Voting with their feet," Chen Wu, Business Week Online, July 7, 2004.
4. "Hong Kong's drive for democracy isn't happening in a bubble," Michael Elliott, Time Magazine, July 5, 2004.