Cha was Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, and George W. Bush's top advisor on North Korea. Though I haven't read the book, it's clear from other reviews (here, for example) that he's generally positive about Bush and his handling of North Korea - unsurprisingly, given his role in the administration. For an LRB readership, though, such endorsement of the appalling Bush and his cronies is entirely unacceptable. As a result, most of Lloyd Parry's review is an attempt to pour as much blame as possible for the current state of North Korea on the dreaded neo-cons:
Cha puts the best possible face on the works of his former master, describing Bush’s later efforts to ‘humanise’ the suffering of ordinary North Koreans, and his White House meetings with defectors. But while the hunt was on for a ‘poster child’ for human rights, everything else was falling apart. The US seized on the covert uranium programme as a reason for not delivering the oil it was contracted to supply under the Agreed Framework. The North, which already thought the US wasn’t meeting its obligations, responded by restarting the Yongbyon plant, throwing out inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and eventually announcing that it did indeed have nuclear warheads and was working on more. Clinton had prepared, reluctantly, for war; having averted it, he had energetically concluded three separate diplomatic agreements with North Korea, with a fourth (on limiting ballistic missiles) in the works. After four years of Republican government all those agreements, and the safeguards they incorporated, had collapsed, with nothing to take their place. This was the sum achievement of George Bush, foe of rogue states and protector of the nation: to allow the world’s most isolated government to acquire the Bomb.
"Seized on the covert uranium programme as a reason for not delivering the oil it was contracted to supply" - yeah, what a pathetic excuse. The North screws the Agreed Framework backwards forwards and sideways, and the White House then has the nerve not to deliver the contracted oil. You just can't trust those war-mongering neo-cons.
Lloyd Parry's problem is that he rather likes the book, but can't allow anything that might reflect creditably on the Bush administration. So he pretends it's a different book:
Cha’s account depends on the symbolic annihilation of the men who did most to fashion Bush’s thinking. Paul Wolfowitz is not mentioned; Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and John Bolton, the moustachioed Strangelove of the mid-Bush years, between them merit only seven references in the index. Three of these are to page 84, where Cha unexpectedly records at length the epithets applied to them by the North’s propaganda organs. Cheney: ‘the most cruel monster and bloodthirsty beast’. Rumsfeld: ‘a political dwarf’, a ‘human butcher’, a ‘fascist tyrant who puts an ogre to shame’, and the ‘kingpin of evil’ who puts ‘Hitler into the shade in man-killing and war hysteria’. Bolton, rather anti-climactically, is merely ‘human scum and bloodsucker’. It is tempting to infer a mischievous relish in the decision to include all this.
The "symbolic annihilation", note. The book itself, as we see, barely mentions the terrible foursome: no annihilation of any kind takes place except in the mind of the reviewer. "It is tempting to infer" that Lloyd Parry himself badly wants Cha to share his own particular prejudices, despite a complete absence of evidence. He certainly seems to relish those childish DPRK insults; almost as though - surely not! - he actually agrees with them.
Cha’s anecdotes evoke an administration in which the president’s ‘loathing’ expressed itself in frat house boorishness on the part of his diplomatic teams. At one point, officials from the State Department and the Treasury came close to a fist fight over a difference in approach. At another, members of the US delegation could be heard ‘giggling loudly’ at the film Team America, in which Kim Jong Il is represented as a grotesque singing puppet. ‘One of our members, a jaded foreign service officer, thought it would be “funny” to take the iPod into the adjacent room and show it to the North Koreans,’ he recalls. ‘We decided against this impromptu introduction to American pop culture, and probably avoided a diplomatic incident.’
Well, some of us did actually think Team America's take on Kim Jong Il was pretty funny - but there you go: it just shows our frat house boorishness.
It gets worse. North Korea's militarism is, we learn, entirely understandable in the face of Western threats:
Is it remotely surprising that a leader in this situation should turn to the single institution on which he can rely, the army, and do what he can to strengthen it? Is there any question that without such an army, and without nuclear weapons, North Korea would sooner or later become the victim of Western ‘intervention’?
In fact it's the West who are the real aggressors:
The noises from the North are widely misunderstood. They are not unilateral threats of war, but promises of retaliation in the event of US and South Korean attack.
Well they certainly sounded like unilateral threats of war. All that stuff about having a right to carry out a pre-emptive nuclear strike, for instance....
There are some interesting points in the review, though, despite the relentless playing to the LRB gallery - particularly on China's continued support for Kim Jong Un's nightmare regime:
The standard explanation points to China’s long border with North Korea and the chaos of refugees and fleeing soldiers which could follow a regime collapse in Pyongyang. But Cha identifies a stronger reason: the valuable cross-border trade, and the coal, iron and minerals which China extracts from the North. Copper, gold, zinc, nickel and rare earth metals like molybdenum can be mined more cheaply in North Korea, and with even fewer concerns for health and safety. China keeps the North afloat through gifts of cash, grain, as well as ‘friendship prices’, not out of fraternal feeling, but ‘to sustain a minimal level of stability and subsistence so that China can continue its economic extraction policies.’ It encourages Chinese-style economic reforms not for reform’s sake, but because they will suit Chinese business.
That sounds all too plausible.
Here they are, 1965, on "Hollywood a Go-Go"....The Ronettes!
There are other live versions around - here they are on Shindig - but in this one Ronnie Spector really shines.
The go-go girls are ridiculous, but that was the Sixties. Much better: the black teenagers doing the hand jive up on the balcony at 2:20.
The group go straight into a version of Shout afterwards, showing their versatility or something, but really they never did anything else to match "Be My Baby".
A lively UK tour in 1964:
On their first night in England, the Ronettes were brought to a party at Tony Hall's house where they were introduced to The Beatles. After a brief romance together, Ronnie and John Lennon became friendly until Lennon's death. Estelle also dated George Harrison. But for Ronnie, one of the biggest thrills was meeting Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, who were the opening act for the Ronettes on their UK tour. The feeling was mutually shared by Richards, who wrote of his relationship with Ronnie: "The first time I ever went to heaven was when I awoke with Ronnie (later Spector!) Bennett asleep with a smile on her face. We were kids. It doesn't get any better than that."
John Lennon and Keith Richards: not bad going. Later, married to Phil Spector, she paid the price, being kept a virtual prisoner to ensure it didn't happen again:
In her autobiography, she said that he would force her to watch the film Citizen Kane to remind her she would be nothing without him. Spector's domineering attitude led to the dissolution of their marriage. Bennett was forbidden to speak to the Rolling Stones or tour with the Beatles, because Phil Spector feared that she would be unfaithful.
Bennett [Ronnie's maiden name] claims Spector showed her a gold coffin with a glass top in his basement, promising to kill and display her if she left him. During Spector's reclusive period in the late 1960s, he reportedly kept his wife locked inside their mansion. She claimed he also hid her shoes to dissuade her from walking outside, and kept the house dark because he did not want anyone to see his balding head. Ronnie stated in her autobiography that she walked out of the house through the closed and locked rear sliding glass door, shoeless, shattering the glass as she left, and feet all cut up by the time she got to the gate. She never returned.
Ronnie's still going strong:
In 2011, after the death of Amy Winehouse, Ronnie Spector released her version of Amy's hit 'Back to Black' as a tribute and for the benefit of the Daytop Village addiction treatment centers.
Amy Winehouse's debt to Ronnie is obvious enough:
Winehouse's greatest love was 1960s girl groups. Her stylist, Alex Foden, borrowed her "instantly recognisable" beehive hairdo (a weave) and she borrowed her Cleopatra makeup from The Ronettes. Her imitation was so successful, as the Village Voice reports: "Ronnie Spector—who, it could be argued, all but invented Winehouse's style in the first place when she took the stage at the Brooklyn Fox Theater with her fellow Ronettes more than 40 years ago—was so taken aback at a picture of Winehouse in the New York Post that she exclaimed, "I don't know her, I never met her, and when I saw that pic, I thought, 'That's me!' But then I found out, no, it's Amy! I didn't have on my glasses."
Phil Spector, meanwhile, is still in prison.
Bostonians will have a special interest in Chechnya now, with the Tsarnaev brothers connection. Still, the latest Big Picture gallery at the Boston Globe - Chechnya: Daily Life - comes as something of a surprise:
After two Chechen brothers were named in connection with the Boston Marathon bombings, Reuters photographer Maxim Shemetov took this collection of images titled "Inside Modern Chechnya" showing daily life in a country now in the forefront of the news in and around the capital of Grozny.
And there we are, like some National Geographic feature from the Fifties or Sixties showing the colourful local festivities of some exotic faraway country. This absurd image, for instance:
"Members of a Chechen dance group pose for photographers at a government-organized event marking Chechen language day in the center of the Chechen capital Grozny on April 25."
And just look at the happy crowds.
As one commenter aptly notes, "Looks like old soviet propaganda album, like great leader brings joy and peace to people... shame."
God knows why the Boston Globe feels the need to run a series of photos that could have been issued by the Chechnya Tourist Board. Perhaps a misplaced concern that the country shouldn't be demonised in all the post-bombing fuss.
There's some duty to present the truth though, surely - as, for instance, with this photo gallery from photographer Diana Markosian from last year, at, yes, The Big Picture, in which she documents the lives of young Chechen women:
"For young women in Chechnya the most innocent acts could mean breaking the law. A Chechen girl caught smoking is cause for arrest; while rumors of a couple engaging in pre-martial relations can result in her killing. The few girls who dare to rebel become targets in the eyes of Chechen authorities. After nearly two decades of vicious war and 70 years of Soviet rule, during which religious participation was banned, modern-day Chechnya is going through Islamic revival. The Chechen government is building mosques in every village, prayer rooms in public schools, and enforcing a stricter Islamic dress code for both men and women. This photo essay chronicles the lives of young Muslim girls who witnessed the horrors of two wars and are now coming of age in a republic that is rapidly redefining itself as a Muslim state."
Or there's psycho Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and his lovely horse.
There's plenty to report on beyond the tourist brochure.
Via Mavis Grind, White Stane of Willies, and Tongue of Gangsta.
The Japanese continue with their foot-in-mouth public relations. After yesterday's comfort women comments from Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto, here's a photo of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, taken at an Air Self-Defense Force base on Sunday:
What's the problem? Well, Unit 731 was a notorious biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army based in Harbin, Manchuria, during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and World War II, and was responsible for some of the most appalling war crimes carried out by Japanese personnel. The patients, including infants and the elderly, were infected with diseases and subjected to vivisection without anaesthetic, amongst other unspeakable cruelties.
General Shirō Ishii, the chief medical officer, was a Joseph Mengele figure who, disgracefully, was given immunity after the war by the Americans in return for sharing his ill-gotten information, and died peacefully in Maryland in 1959.
An unfortunate mistake by the Japanese PM, then? You'd think so. But there's that "Leader S. Abe" written just above the "731", which suggests that this particular plane was picked with at least some deliberation. And he's certainly aware of the significance of the number: a news program in 2006 showed a picture of Abe during a report on Unit 731, prompting complaints from the man that this was a deliberate attempt to damage his political career. So yes, he knows exactly what "731" means.
The Chinese, and the South Koreans, haven't been slow to respond:
The press in Seoul suggested the Abe picture was an intended affront to countries like China and South Korea which suffered under Japanese occupation and colonization.
“Abe’s endless provocation!” said the picture caption on the front page of the country’s largest daily, the Chosun Ilbo.
“Abe’s pose resurrects horrors of Unit 731,” ran the headline in the English-language Korea JoongAng Daily....
The Japanese Defense Ministry suggested the number on the trainer was simply coincidental.
“There was no particular meaning in the number of the training airplane the prime minister was in on Sunday. Other than that there is nothing we can say,” a ministry spokesman told AFP in Tokyo.
South Korean ambassador to Japan Shin Kak-Soo said he knew of nothing that indicated there was any intent behind the use of a plane numbered 731, but that Japan needed to pay attention to perceptions.
Likening Japan’s sticky relationship with its neighbors to that between a school bully and his targets, he said: “There is a gap between the perception of a victimiser and that of a victim.”
He said Japanese empathy toward Koreans on the history issue “would prompt a faster healing of wounds.”
The prominence given to the photo will likely fuel public anger in South Korea which has already been aroused by the recent visit of Japanese cabinet ministers and lawmakers to a controversial war shrine.
The Yasukuni shrine in central Tokyo honors 2.5 million war dead, including 14 leading war criminals and is regarded by South Korea and China as a symbol of wartime aggression.
A tale for our times, from the New York Post:
Some wealthy Manhattan moms have figured out a way to cut the long lines at Disney World — by hiring disabled people to pose as family members so they and their kids can jump to the front, The Post has learned.
The “black-market Disney guides” run $130 an hour, or $1,040 for an eight-hour day.
“My daughter waited one minute to get on ‘It’s a Small World’ — the other kids had to wait 2 1/2 hours,” crowed one mom, who hired a disabled guide through Dream Tours Florida.
“You can’t go to Disney without a tour concierge,’’ she sniffed. “This is how the 1 percent does Disney.”
The woman said she hired a Dream Tours guide to escort her, her husband and their 1-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter through the park in a motorized scooter with a “handicapped” sign on it. The group was sent straight to an auxiliary entrance at the front of each attraction.
It could almost be a short story by George Saunders. Maybe it is a short story by George Saunders.
Every country thinks they're the most compassionate. The Germans figure strongly for trustworthiness, arrogance, and lack of compassion. No surprise there.
But how do the French and the Germans make out that we're the least compassionate? I hope they rot in hell and their children all get rickets, the lousy bastards.
More at the link.
The issue of "comfort women" - those (mostly) Korean women forced to service the sexual requirements of the conquering Japanese army - has been a constant source of contention between Japan and Korea despite a Japanese apology. And this is really going to help:
A prominent Japanese politician has described as "necessary" the system by which women were forced to become prostitutes for World War II troops.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said on Monday that the "comfort women" gave Japanese soldiers a chance "to rest".
On Tuesday, Japanese ministers tried to distance themselves from his remarks.
Some 200,000 women in territories occupied by Japan during WWII are estimated to have been forced to become sex slaves for troops.
Many of the women came from China and South Korea, but also from the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan.
Japan's treatment of its wartime role has been a frequent source of tension with its neighbours, and South Korea expressed "deep disappointment" at Mr Hashimoto's words.
"There is a worldwide recognition... that the issue of comfort women amounts to a war-time rape committed by Japan during its past imperial period in a serious breach of human rights," a South Korean foreign ministry spokesman told news agency AFP.
Mr Hashimoto is the co-founder of the nationalist Japanese Restoration Party, which has a small presence in parliament and is not part of the government.
He was the youngest governor in Japanese history before becoming mayor of Osaka, and last year said Japan needed "a dictatorship".
In his latest comments, quoted by Japanese media, he said: "In the circumstances in which bullets are flying like rain and wind, the soldiers are running around at the risk of losing their lives,"
"If you want them to have a rest in such a situation, a comfort women system is necessary. Anyone can understand that."