James Earley at the Truman Brewery, Buxton Street, off Brick Lane:
The useful idiots of WomenCrossDMZ have emerged blinking into the light of South Korea, having learned nothing, and - thanks to their willing accommodation with North Korean propaganda - having helped to whitewash the world's worst human rights violator. Some achievement:
A group of 30 women activists have crossed the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea in an attempt to promote peace.
Led by American feminist Gloria Steinem, the group rode by bus over the DMZ from the North to the South.
But they were prevented from walking on foot through the abandoned village of Panmunjom, where the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean war was signed.
The activists have faced criticism for spending several days in Pyongyang.
Critics said the women had allowed themselves to become propaganda tools by the North, after they refused to directly criticise the Pyongyang authorities over its human rights record.
But Ms Steinem dismissed the charge, saying the women were focused on breaking through barriers to make human connections and highlight the suffering that the division continues to impose.
She hailed the trip as a "triumph" for peace and reconciliation.
"I'm so confident that once it is clear what we have experienced, these objections will go away," she told reporters after the group arrived on the South Korean side of the border.
The group had originally intended to walk through the "truce village" of Panmunjom, where North and South Korean soldiers are separated by several metres across the border.
But South Korea opposed the plan, sending a bus across the border to the North to fetch the women and transport them back over the border to the South.
The women sang and carried banners as they crossed the first checkpoint leading into the DMZ from North Korea.
"We Shall Overcome", at a guess.
They said the purpose of the crossing was to express hope that Korean families separated in the war could one day be united again and military tensions between the two sides reduced.
But one North Korean defector, Dr Lee Ae-ran, told the BBC that the women were promoting Pyongyang's viewpoint that the US and South Korea were to blame for the division of Korea.
"This is a so-called peace march but there is no peace here. [North Korea ruler] Kim Jong-un's nuclear ambitions and hostile acts towards the south prevents peace," she told the BBC's Stephen Evans in Seoul.
Some interesting observations from Ann Marlowe, reviewing Peter Cole and Brian McQuinn’s new anthology The Libyan Revolution and Its Aftermath. She provides a welcome corrective to Deborah Orr's wretched Guardian piece (explaining why so many in the Arab world were "willing to live under despotism") which I wrote about yesterday. Marlowe, note, has actually spent some time in Libya. Orr, I'm fairly sure, has not.
Anyone who thinks “North Africans aren’t ready for democracy” will be impressed when he or she reads of the speedy organizational efforts of the admittedly small group of Libyans who started Benghazi’s revolutionary government and followed suit in other towns, either openly or clandestinely, and then again of similar efforts by a much larger group to stabilize the country after Tripoli’s fall in August 2011. Daring, decisiveness, and the ability to work at high intensity are not lacking in Libya. So are the flipside of these virtues: impulsiveness, carelessness, and depressive stagnation. Apart from their moodiness, Libyans remind me in many ways of Americans. They are the only people I’ve been among who love freedom as much....
And anyone who thinks that Libya was better off under Qaddafi will be promptly disabused of this illusion. There is no special pleading here, and not all that much space devoted to the Qaddafi years, but the backstories and explanations make it clear that the man was a monster. He stayed in power by buying off the population and executing those who got in his way, sometimes publicly; in his relations with Libya’s neighbors, he adopted a modified version of the same strategy. Even the obscure case of southern Libya’s dark-skinned indigenous Tebu minority makes this clear: As Rebecca Murray explains in her essay on them, Qaddafi financed Tebu living in the contested Ouzou Strip to rebel against Chad; when they lost, he threw them into jail. He played similar games with the Tuareg of Mali and the Libyan south, de-stabilizing Mali then purporting to save it.
Also, points not perhaps sufficiently appreciated when talking about Iraq, as well as Libya:
Are there lessons here that might be applied more generally to U.S. policy in the Middle East, and elsewhere? Sure there are. One ready conclusion is that the major reason the United States ought not to support dictatorships is that they make people bad, and bad people are bad citizens and their countries cause trouble around the world. Being watched, and arbitrarily interfered with, and punished for imaginary crimes, or urged to commit real crimes, makes people useless for most of the business of life. And dictatorships grow people who internalize the persona of the dictator—the Qaddafi homunculus in this case—who is rarely a positive model. Getting rid of this internalization takes time. The Libyans aren’t there yet. They love freedom, but they are often not able to use it constructively.
Another reason not to support dictatorships is that they prevent the development of the institutions necessary for stability, everything from a well-run judicial system to education to sewers and highways to a police that is respected but not feared and an army that can defend the country’s borders. Voting, we have learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, is just the icing on the cake. The cake takes years to bake. As Vandewalle puts it, “The country’s institutions had neither the capacity nor mechanisms to support this new political system.” And it turned out to be difficult to turn “subjects” into “citizens.”
Deborah Orr, at CiF, tries to get to grips with the moral dilemma of Palmyra - why should the threatened destruction of an ancient city somehow make the headlines when thousands are being killed every day, and does this Say Something Bad About Us? - and fails:
Sadness for lost ruins is sadness for the loss of an ideal of humanity, and what it can achieve and create. Sadness for lost people is the opposite. It involves acknowledging what befell them – nothing less than the aspect of humanity that’s a little bit harder to idealise, the part that sees cruelty, destruction and chaos as perversely worthwhile, a horrible and negative achievement, but something that some humans do aspire to, nonetheless.
Well....I suppose that's one way of putting it, though to me it seems to muddy rather than clarify the issue. We feel sad for the fate of Palmyra because it's an irreplaceable archaeological treasure, and its destruction would be a tragedy for our sense of history and therefore our sense of ourselves. And because of what such a destruction says about the anti-human barbarity of those responsible.
Janice Turner in the Times (£) has a similar take:
Why do I care so much about Palmyra, a place I’ve never seen, in a country I’ve never visited? Why do these ancient walls — if I am honest — prey on my mind more than Isis executions, now so frequent that their barbarity is almost banal? Back in March, I realised I could no more watch footage of thugs smashing the winged bulls of Nimrud than of a throat being slit. And it troubled me.
How can I weigh 200,000 Syrian, Libyan and Iraqi lives against monuments, temples, carvings — a bunch of stones that I’d never bother to visit in the British Museum. Racism? I’m not ruling it out but, let me say it, every beheaded Christian, woman stoned to death, gay man thrown from a tower, every poor incinerated Jordanian pilot is an atrocity. Yet, people are expendable. I’m expendable, so are you. Infinite others, just like us, will be born, work, push out children, get sick, grow old and then die.
Culture is not expendable: it is everything we are and have ever been, the stories we tell, the best hope we have of making sense of our stupid existence. History is not expendable: it represents the continuity and survival of our species.
Yes - we know what she's saying, and at least she's clearer than Deborah Orr (not difficult) but the stark equation that people are expendable while culture is not seems an unnecessarily crude caricature of the argument. Basically, anyone who moans about the attention given to Palmyra while people in Syria are being killed seems to me to be guilty of showboating their morality. It's not really an issue. Of course the threatened destruction makes the news. It's a world heritage site - a remarkable preservation of an ancient civilisation. That doesn't mean that the deaths are ignored, or of lesser moral significance; but they are a constant, tragic, background noise. We could have headlines every day - "More killed in Syria, and Iraq, and Libya...." - but inevitably only the more extreme cases now hit the news.
If, in one of those mind experiments that philosophers like to dream up - usually involving fat people being pushed on to railway tracks - we were offered the choice: the preservation of Palmyra, or the death of this child, what would we say? I think it's clear that the moral choice would be to save the child. Palmyra is, after all, just stones. I said earlier that it was "irreplaceable", but it could, theoretically, be rebuilt. And we'll always have photos of it - never mind the artefacts already removed to safety. The story of Palmyra is safe in our history books. A child is, genuinely, irreplaceable. But yes, I'm not at all sure how useful these thought games are, removed from the real world.
Back to Deborah Orr, though. With apologies. We're not quite finished. She continues...
Foreign policy has become a neglected corner of politics, unworthy of mention throughout the election campaign, or by the new government. Few seem to mourn its passing. Even such a short time after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it seems incredible that there were people who thought they were intervening to spread liberal democracy. They were so patently misguided and arrogant that you can’t even feel anger against them, because you imagine – despite so many signs to the contrary – that it must be hard for them to live with what they unleashed. Getting rid of Saddam. Getting rid of Gaddafi. Getting rid of Assad. How easy it all seemed to the people who thought they knew best. Now, perhaps, we have a better understanding of why it was that so many people were willing to live under despotism.
It's hard to know where to start with such a smug and absurd formulation. For a start, I'm not sure that all these people were indeed "willing to live under despotism". They didn't have much choice. Generally people - even in the Middle East, even Arabs - prefer not to live under despotism. Really.
But those three names - Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad. Can we spot the difference? Discounting Gaddafi - a middle case, perhaps - we did overthrow Saddam, but we didn't overthrow Assad. See? So far the former of those is looking to have been the better option.
Nor was Western intervention just a matter of some arrogant plan to impose liberal democracy on the poor benighted Iraqis - you know, the ones who prefer living under despotism. There was the whole history of Saddam, with Kuwait, the Iran aggression, the Kurdish genocide, the UN sanctions farce, the WMD threat, the overarching brutality, etc. etc...
I could go on, but what's the point with a mindset like this? And one that's widely shared. It'll probably have to wait for the next generation, but someday, I imagine, someone is going to write a book looking back at the early years of the 21st century in the Middle East, and they're going to come up with a ground-breaking thesis, overturning years of scholarly agreement, and everyone will be astonished, and think...you know, there may be something in that. The book will argue that perhaps, all things considered, the Western overthrow of Saddam in 2003 wasn't such a bad thing after all.
Those WomenCrossDMZ "peace activists" are certainly getting attention during their brief high-profile stay in North Korea. After their visit to the Great Leader's birthplace, not to mention the Kim Jong Suk Pyongyang Textile Mill and other delights, they're featured today in two separate items in the latest official KCNA news bulletin. First up:
An International Peace Symposium took place here on Thursday by women of different countries.
Present there were Chae Chun Hui, vice-chairwoman of the Korean Committee for Solidarity with the World People (KCSWP) and vice-chairwoman of the Central Committee of the Democratic Women's Union of Korea, officials concerned and members of a delegation to take part in the 2015 international women's grand march for the reunification and peace in Korea.
Speeches were made by anti-war peace activists Irish Maguire Mairead, Liberian Gbowee Leymah Roberta, American Benjamin Susan Jill, Colombian Guerrero Acevedo Angela Patricia, Japanese Takazato Suzuyo and Kim Chun Sil, member of the Korean Committee on Measures for the Sexual Slavery for Japanese Army and Drafting Victims,
Speakers said that the Japanese imperialists keen on aggression and war committed the heinous crimes of forcing 200 000 Korean women into sexual slavery, slashing the Asia-Pacific region and slaughtering its people.
They said the U.S. is trying to ignite wars in different parts of the world, branding it as a kingdom of terrorism and a kingpin of human right abuses.
They went on:
Women's organizations and organizations for peace movement have made efforts for women's rights in various parts of the world.
The power of the women is inexhaustible as they love justice and peace and aspire after the bright future of children. But their human rights are being mercilessly trampled down in the capitalist countries.
Speakers extended full support and firm solidarity to the struggle of the Korean people for the reunification and peace of the country, saying that the tragedy of the Korean nation who has lived divided into two for a long period should be ended as early as possible.
American Benjamin Susan Jill is, presumably, Medea Benjamin (born Susan Benjamin), Code Pink founder, last seen in Iran railing about the Jews - sorry, Zionists - and how they control US foreign policy. I doubt she found much to disagree with here. It is, as per usual for "peace activists", only the West which can be guilty of aggression, racism, and other such crimes against humanity. Did any of these brave women balk at the proposition that "human rights are being mercilessly trampled down in the capitalist countries", voiced in the country so recently damned by the UN for its appalling human rights record? I somehow doubt it. I imagine them all nodding sagely in agreement.
A meeting was held between the Korean women and members of a delegation to take part in the 2015 international women's grand march for the reunification and peace in Korea at the People's Palace of Culture on Thursday.
Present there were Chae Chun Hui, vice-chairwoman of the Korean Committee for Solidarity with the World People and vice-chairwoman of the Central Committee of the Democratic Women's Union of Korea, women in the fields of science, education, culture, health public and media and members of the delegation.
Speakers said that the U.S. imperialists had plunged the Korean nation into the holocaust during the Fatherland Liberation War, adding that it was the most barbarous crimes against humanity unprecedented in the history of world wars.
They denounced the U.S. for bringing nuclear weapons into south Korea and waging frantic war exercises every year by instigating the anti-reunification forces.
They went on:
The Law on Sex Equality was promulgated, letting the Korean women enjoy the equal rights as men, take part in the life of politics, economy and culture and push one of the two wheels of the revolutionary chariot.
A ceremony of linking rainbow-stripped cloths took place reflecting the desire of the Koreans and the world women for reunification and peace of the country.
Again, one imagines little opposition from our peace activists to the abuse hurled at the US imperialists and their barbarous crimes "unprecedented in the history of world wars". By their presence at such staged events they are, whether they like it or not, adding their (dwindling) reputations to such grotesque propaganda.
Still, the exchange of rainbow-stripped (striped?) cloths must have been a deeply moving moment.
KCNA, the official North Korean news agency, is covering the visit of Gloria Steinem and her WomenCrossDMZ chums, complete with happy posed photos:
A delegation to take part in the 2015 international women's grand march for the reunification and peace in Korea visited Mangyongdae, the birthplace of President Kim Il Sung, on Wednesday.
Being briefed on the old home in Mangyongdae, the guests looked round historic relics there.
The delegation also visited the Kim Jong Suk Pyongyang Textile Mill, Kyongsang Kindergarten, Okryu Children's Hospital and the Breast Tumor Institute of the Pyongyang Maternity Hospital on the same day.
That the KCNA is happy to cover this absurd circus tells you all you need to know:
The associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Abraham Cooper, and Greg Scarlatoiu, the executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, said, “We desperately need the voices of feminists protesting the murder, torture and exploitation of North Korean women by their own government, but any sanctioning of a peace march by North Korea can be nothing but human rights theater intended to cover up its death camps and crimes against humanity.”
A senior research scholar at Columbia University’s East Asian Institute and former analyst on Korean issues for the CIA, Sue Mi Terry, added, “Its treatment of women, particularly repatriated female defectors, is hideous, as noted by the UN in recent years. I just hope that if Ms. Steinem and this group of prominent women decide to go through with this walk, it is to highlight human rights abuses that are taking place in North Korea, not to further blame the U.S. and South Korea for the myriad problems created by the North Korean regime…”
[I]n 2014 a United Nations Report on North Korea alleged that the Kim Jong-un regime has been guilty of crimes against humanity including forcing women to abort their babies or killing them after birth. The document said that these crimes included: “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”
On Sunday the 30 women "peace activists" will cross the DMZ to South Korea. This is, of course, a luxury denied to the wretched women of North Korea - an irony which will likely fail to register with Steinem and co. as they attend their triumphant news conference in Seoul.
Gloria Steinem and her WomenCrossDMZ pals have arrived in Pyongyang. Naturally enough one of their first visits was to Mangyongdae, birthplace of Kim Il Sung, where they could pay homage to the Great Leader. They have a busy schedule ahead of them before their dramatic walk on the 24th over the DMZ to the South:
The women have already begun meeting female North Koreans and are scheduled to visit a women’s factory, maternity hospital and children’s preschool in Pyongyang.
No doubt they'll be impressed. I think we can assume that visits have not been arranged to some of the prison camps, where returned refugee women are subjected to forced abortions, or have their infants killed, to preserve the purity of the Korean bloodstock.
With impeccable timing the official KCNA news agency, demonstrating North Korea's strong commitment to feminist principles, has just released a viciously misogynist rant against South Korean President Park Geun Hye. The English version is bad enough, but, as Joshua Stanton shows, the original version in Korean is much worse. Some choice bits:
Is Park Geun Hye really a woman who wears a skirt?
Judging by her appearance and her attitude she's more a mutant venomous snake than a woman.
Park Geun Hye's scurrying about, with her skirt flapping behind her, is all about her rash desperation to spinelessly sell her nation's soul to foreigners. She delays the return of wartime operation control of the Korean military by obsequiously brown-nosing her master, America, in the way that a whore lifts her skirts to lure strangers.
How can a mouth that licks the stinking crotch of her master speak the upright words that this time requires and our nation expects.
And so on. But read the whole of Stanton's excellent post at One Free Korea.
The feminists will, of course, carry on regardless, blinded by their sanctimonious self-absorption, unaware - or unwilling to see - that they're helping to whitewash a regime with one of the worst human rights records in the world.
North Korea has reportedly been carrying out lectures not only for military cadres but also provincial Party officials in the wake of the execution of its defense chief Hyon Yong Chol, Daily NK has learned. At Party lectures, documents have been handed out stating Hyon was executed for his disgruntlement towards Kim Jong Un’s leadership and the Party’s ideology, a local source told Daily NK.
Senior North Korean officials will have learned their lesson: whatever you do, stay gruntled.
San Francisco, 1940:
From the Historic American Buildings Survey notes - "Silas Palmer House, NW corner Van Ness and Washington. Essentially stick in style, with features of the Villa and Shingle eras, as well as tall Mansard roof on tower. Squared bays are typical of 1880s. Some pseudo-Moorish details on entrance porch. Cast iron cresting on roof. Built circa 1886. Destroyed after 1940."
It was demolished, apparently, to make way for a used car lot.
More from the excellent Daily NK, with its anonymous sources reporting on the real opinions of the people of North Korea, away from official circles. This time it's about the execution reported last week of defence minister Hyon Yong Chol - supposedly in dramatic and gruesome fashion with an anti-aircraft gun in front of a Pyongyang crowd, after being caught dozing off at a military event.
News of the execution of Hyon Yong Chol, North Korea’s defense minister, is traveling swiftly throughout the country, while lectures for military cadre have been propagating Hyon’s purge on account of “insubordinance to the country’s monolithic leadership,” Daily NK has learned.
Among ordinary members of the public, Kim Jong Un’s execution of high-level officials to consolidate his power has been dubbed a practice of “cannibalistic politics.”
“People in rural areas are yet unaware of the public shooting of the Minister of the People’s Armed Forces [MPAF], but rumors have started to spread in Pyongyang and Sinuiju,” a source from North Pyongan Province told Daily NK over the weekend. “The rumors are spreading quickly, so within a few days people in provincial areas will know of his execution.”
He added, “It has been the norm for hundreds of other military cadres to be purged if a high-level official such as the defense chief is kicked out or executed due the country’s practice of guilt-by-association.” This applies not only the core members of the MPAF, but also heads of businesses affiliated with the military and donju [newly affluent middle class]earning in foreign currency, described by the source as “shaking with fear” after the most recent execution.
The vast majority of people lack interest in matters taking place within the military, but those running in more socially aware crowds are calling the public execution an act that goes against all norms, "abhorrent just like the Simhwajo incident from the ‘90s (a series of purges carried out in the late ‘90s to consolidate Kim Jong Il’s power),” according to the source.
“Most people know that as a child, Kim Jong Un had the tendency of getting angry and tormenting others around him if he lost at any sports game,” he said, adding that "his regime is even more brutal than his father’s songun [military-first politics] dictatorship."
The uncertainty blanketing the situation--that is, how many other high-ranking officials will be killed following the execution of the MPAF leader--makes the country feel like "a ticking time bomb," the source explained. “Those who genuinely care about the country and express their opinions are considered unfaithful and executed. Opportunists who pander to the dictatorship on the other hand are promoted as loyal servants; Kim Jong Un is just like the leader from 'The Emperor's New Clothes," he asserted.
“It is obvious how the authorities will put a spin on the news of Hyon’s execution once it spreads nationwide. When Suh Kwan Hee, the Party secretary in charge of agriculture, was executed for allegedly working as a spy for the U.S. during the Korean War, people believed the accusations. But no one believes things like that anymore,” he elaborated. “There is an adage that says that even worms writhe when being trampled on. Similarly, if this practice of cannibalistic politics continues, resistance may overpower fear.”
Times - and opinions - have changed. The worms are turning.