Sunday, August 13, 2017

Fire and Fury?

A commentary by Steve Halpern

This past week I’ve read comments by President Donald Trump that have been on the front pages of newspapers all across the nation. First, Trump threatened North Korea with, “Fire and fury.” Trump followed up this statement with the words: “Maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.” He clarified these words stating that, “North Korea better get their act together, or they are going to be in trouble like few nations have ever been in trouble.” For Trump, these statements weren’t enough. Speaking from his private golf club, while he is reportedly, “working on his vacation,” a banner headline from the Philadelphia Inquirer read, “Trump: U.S. military ‘locked and loaded.’”

To the best of my knowledge President Trump hasn’t specifically threatened North Korea with nuclear warfare. However, the above statements clearly imply, that is exactly what he is doing.

Listening to these statements many have concluded that Trump is different from other presidents. However, when we look at the history of this country, we might argue that while Trump might be more blunt than other Presidents, the content of his words have been a matter of routine policy in this country for decades. This is the history the pro-capitalist press rarely, if ever, reports on. So, this blog is an outline of the history of mass murder, as well as the resistance to U.S. policy, since the Second World War.


Most people know about the fact that the United States dropped nuclear weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What most people don’t know is that the United States carried out a fire bombing campaign against Japan for six months before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The late E. Bartlett Kerr wrote a book documenting this history in his Flames over Tokyo – The U.S. Army Air Forces’ Incendiary Campaign Against Japan 1944 – 1945. Kerr reported that the U.S. military invented specialized phosphorous (fire) bombs to be used specifically against civilian areas of Japan. The military decided to use these bombs because most Japanese housing was made of wood that would easily burn. Experiments were carried out to ensure that these bombs were effective. Close attention was paid to the direction of the wind to ensure that there would be maximum destruction.

At the end of Kerr’s book he gave a list of sixty-seven Japanese cities that were firebombed. The largest city in Japan is Tokyo. Kerr claimed that 50.8% of that city was destroyed with these phosphorous bombs. Kerr also listed cities in the United States that had similar population as the 67 Japanese cities that experienced firebombing. New York City had a similar population as Tokyo at that time.

We might recall the horror of the three thousand deaths at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It is unimaginable to think about what it would have meant if half of the city of New York was burned to the ground. However, that is exactly what happened to Tokyo before the end of the Second World War.

E. Bartlett Kerr makes the seemingly insane argument that these bombings were necessary in order to force Japan to surrender. In fact, the United States went to war against Japan because both nations wanted to dominate Asia. The U.S. government was in a hurry to end the war because they knew that the Soviet Union was mobilizing their armed forces to go to war against Japan.

At that time, Japan was effectively defeated and posed no threat to the United States. As we will see, the U.S. wanted to be in a strong position to reverse the revolutions that were erupting in China, Korea, and Vietnam.


After the war, the Chinese Revolution erupted. China had been dominated by foreign powers since the Opium Wars of the nineteenth century. As a result, tens of millions of Chinese died of starvation.

This problem of massive starvation was new to China. The Chinese built their Grand Canal that stretched for about 1,500 miles. So, in the past when one section of China experienced food shortages, relief supplies were shipped on the Grand Canal.

The foreign powers, dominated by Britain, had no interest in maintaining this canal. These powers were only interested in the profits they could amass from China. So, when there were food shortages tens of millions of people starved to death.        

After the Second World War, China had a tremendous debt mostly due to their purchase of armaments. We might keep in mind that the Chinese government of those days was not only at war with the occupying Japanese army, but also with the Chinese forces under the command of Mao Zedong.

In order to attempt to pay this massive debt, the pro-capitalist Chinese government put in place a system of massive inflation. This policy literally destroyed the Chinese capitalist economy. So, the forces commanded by Mao Zedong took political control of the nation in a relatively bloodless revolution.

The political officials in the United States were enraged by the Chinese Revolution. They actually argued that they, “lost China.” So at the end of the Second World War, the U.S. government attempted to keep the armed forces mobilized in the Pacific. The reason for this continued mobilization was to attempt to bring down the new Chinese revolutionary government.

The problem was that the soldiers stationed in the Pacific wanted to go home. They experienced the horrors of war, and didn’t see any reason to continue fighting a war against China. So members of the U.S. military organized a movement to bring the GIs home. This movement forced the U.S. government to temporarily abandon their plans to place a puppet regime in China.   


Just as in Vietnam and China, there was an insurrectionary movement in Korea to free itself from Japanese occupation. After the war, those who fought against the Japanese took control over the entire nation. However, just a few days after Japan’s surrender, the U.S. armed forced invaded Korea and divided the nation into the northern and southern sections.

The U.S. government placed Syngman Rhee in charge of South Korea. Rhee lived in the United States for decades and had university degrees from George Washington, Harvard, and Princeton. He was also one of the few Korean supporters of the U.S. who was fluent in English.

While the press in this country has been highly critical of the repressive policies of North Korea, we read very little about the long history of repression in South Korea. These repressive policies began with Syngman Rhee. Rhee wanted to take control of the entire Korean peninsula and deliberately provoked the North to invade the South.

Because of his repressive policies, few in the South defended Rhee and the Northern Korea forces took control of the South in a short period of time. The only reason why there is a nation of South Korea today was because of a massive U.S. invasion.

General Douglas MacArthur felt that the U.S. armed forces would overwhelm the Koreans. He also believed that these armed forces could proceed to invade China and take control of that nation.

Well, the Koreans and Chinese allowed the U.S. forces to move north all the way to the Chinese border on the Yalu River. Then, the Chinese and Koreans counterattacked and trapped an entire battalion of U.S. soldiers.

As a part of the U.S. war against Korea General Curtis LeMay claimed that U.S. bombers destroyed about 20% of North Korea. The Air Force dropped about 32,000 tons of napalm bombs. These bombs literally burned Koreans. The Air Force also dropped 630,000 tons of explosive bombs on the country. Many of these bombs were dropped on the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. The residents of this city didn’t leave their homes for days because many of these bombs were time-delayed and the residents had no idea when they would explode.

It was General Curtis LeMay who was the Air Force Commander during the wars against Japan, Korea, as well as Vietnam. In Vietnam, LeMay argued that, “We should bomb Vietnam back into the stone age.” In the war against Korea and Vietnam, literally millions of people were killed by the U.S. forces. In other words, U.S. politicians gave the Air Force permission to carry out LeMay’s horrendous vision.

However, Vietnamese resistance, as well as the anti-war movement that erupted around the world, forced the United States to leave Vietnam. That anti-war sentiment continues to this day.


This blog gives just some of the facts that demonstrate how the current statements threatening war against Korea by President Trump are nothing new. In fact, most of the U.S. wars of the twentieth century took place when there was a Democratic Party President.

Today, South Korea is the only nation that I know of that changed from being underdeveloped to a highly developed nation. We should also keep in mind that, as in all capitalist nations, there is large-scale poverty in South Korea. People around the world know of the corporations Samsung, LG, and Hyundai. I believe that we can say that South Korea isn’t just a developed nation, but it has taken on imperialist characteristics. All of this happened because of massive capitalist investment in the nation.

We might keep in mind that the cause of the First and Second World Wars was the competition of the world powers for which one would dominate the world. Clearly, the United States capitalists have an interest in restricting South Korean global interests.

Clearly the Korean people don’t want another U.S. war against their country. Clearly, China doesn’t want that war either.

Yet, today there are about 80,000 U.S. soldiers stationed on Korean soil. While U.S. politicians portray the North Korean government as crazy, history tells another story. We don’t need to embrace the government of Kim Jon-un to understand that the United States has been the aggressor in Asia for quite a long time.

President Donald Trump isn’t a worker. He has no idea what it means to work for a boss in order to support his family. All wealth comes from working people who provide all the goods and services we all need and want. Donald Trump has no idea of what it means to be a garment worker, or a farm worker, or what it means to work in a factory or a meat processing plant. He was born into wealth, and probably didn’t need to work a day in his life.

Understanding this I believe that Donald Trumps threats to Korea underscore the idea that he has no idea what the word courage means. No, in my opinion Trump and his democratic and republican co-thinkers are motivated by another emotion: fear.

Trump ran for President because he sees the instability in the world. He clearly doesn’t like to think about the fact that this instability can lead to the loss of all the obscene amounts of wealth he owns. Trump believes in the impossible dream that his policies of, “America First,” will create some kind of stability in the world. He is learning that this idea has no more chance of success, than an elephant attempting to dance and the head of a pin.

I believe that there are enough nuclear weapons in the world to destroy this planet five times over. We who live here have literally every reason to oppose all U.S. moves towards war.       

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Place Called Freedom

By Ken Follett
Published by Random House 1995

A review

Ken Follett’s 1995 novel A Place Called Freedom gives us a glimmer of what life was like during the 1700s. This novel traces the life of Follett’s character Malachi McAsh from his time working as a coal miner in a small town in Wales, to his job unloading ships of coal in London, to his life as a slave in Virginia. We also see the contrast between the life of McAsh and the lives of people who had wealth and power during those years.

We would expect that the technology of those years was quite different from what we see today. However, when we see the social relations of those years, we can also see striking differences that most people are unaware of. Then again, when we look at the differences between the social relations of those years and today, we also see many similarities.

When the character of McAsh was born into the world, he became a slave to a Welsh lord. At the age of seven McAsh started working in a coalmine hauling seventy-five pound bags of coal up the stairs that led out of the mine. Adult women carried 150-pound bags of coal for fifteen hours per day.

Most of the coal miners were illiterate, but McAsh’s mother could read. His mother sent a letter to a radical lawyer who informed her that miners had the right to escape slavery for one day on their twenty-first birthday.

This was stunning news to the miners. One miner had attempted to escape, but was apprehended. He was then forced to wear an iron collar to remind everyone of the penalties for disobedience.

McAsh desperately wanted to escape his fate as a slave. He decided to speak at a church service where he would read the letter of the lawyer. McAsh understood that doing this could be viewed as a crime punishable by death. We should keep in mind that the lord who had the power to sentence McAsh to death attended this church service.

After McAsh made his speech in the church many of the miners appreciated what he had to say. However, the royal families were enraged. McAsh was confronted by the character Lizzie Hallin who argued that McAsh should be grateful for the opportunity of making a living by working in the mine. McAsh responded that if she had ever worked in a coal pit, she wouldn’t think this this was something to be grateful for.

Lizzie was an independent minded woman, and thought of McAsh’s statement as a challenge. She persuaded a son of the lord to escort her into the mine and this is how readers learn of some of the realities of mine workers in the 1700’s.

Ultimately the lord found McAsh’s statement as well as his example to be intolerable. He ordered McAsh to be tied to a horse and forced to run backwards all day long as an extreme method of torture. Then the lord decided that letting McAsh escape might be his best alternative and McAsh winds up in London.

Here McAsh discovers that it is very difficult to find gainful employment, but eventually he gets a job unloading ships loaded with coal. Then McAsh learns that his wages are only a small percentage of the wages he was promised. He also learns that this kind of treatment was routine.

Eventually McAsh organizes a strike of the coal heavers. Then the people who had power in those days organized to frame up McAsh. A mob attacked and began to try and brutalize the coal haulers. An official called this attack a riot and ordered everyone to disperse. However, the mob continued to attack the striking workers who had no choice but to defend themselves.

The armed forces had been mobilized because they were well aware of the frame-up. These armed forces intervened murdering several coal haulers and they arrested McAsh. The charge was violation of the riot act.

At his so-called trial McAsh’s lawyer was not allowed to speak on his behalf. This was a normal feature of these so-called trials. However, McAsh gave an effective defense and called several witnesses who testified that the coal haulers had no choice but to defend themselves against a mob. He also established that this incident was clearly a frame-up.

However, in the so-called justice system of the 1700s none of this mattered. Since someone from a royal family testified against McAsh, this was all that was needed to find him guilty and sentence him to death by hanging.

McAsh’s life was spared only because a deal was made and his arresting officer pleaded to have his life spared. His sentence was transportation. This meant being loaded onto a slave-ship to be transported to Virginia. In Virginia McAsh was sentenced to be a slave for seven years.

In some of the histories I’ve read that many of the original settlers to the British thirteen colonies were criminals. Looking at the reality of the so-called justice system of Britain in the 1700’s we get a different picture entirely. The so-called criminals were oftentimes workers who became desperate in their desire to merely survive. The real criminals were the ruling powers who profited from a system of unimaginable horrors.

In Virginia we see what life was like for McAsh as a slave on a tobacco plantation. We learn that the Black and Caucasian slaves lived in separate buildings. However, escaping from slavery was a common practice. Follett reported that slaves routinely gave those who escaped shelter and food, while never betraying them to an owner.  

Eventually McAsh escaped from slavery with Lizzie Hallin who once chastised him for being critical of a lord. There is an attempt to apprehend or murder McAsh and Lizzie, in their attempt to travel to the west beyond the Allegheny Mountains in what Follett referred to as, A Place Called Freedom.

While I found this book compelling and worth a read, my biggest problem with it is the title. The British colonies and the United States were never “a place called freedom.” I’m talking about hundreds of years of genocide against Native Americans as well as hundreds of years of chattel slavery. While Follett’s characters escape many of their hardships, the United States continued to have this horrendous history.

How have things changed?

Clearly the standard of living has improved for many workers since the 1700’s. We usually live longer. There are many technological innovations that make our lives easier. Our working conditions are usually better than those of the slaves of the 1700’s. We are supposed to have the right to be charged with a crime before we are arrested. We are supposed to have a right to a jury trial. We are supposed to have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

However, we might also ask the question: What are the facts?

Today, the cell phones we use might be built by Chinese workers who are paid ten dollars for a work day that might be fourteen hours. Some of the clothes we wear might be produced by workers in Bangladesh who might receive one dollar in wages per day. The beans used to make the coffee we drink might be picked by workers who are paid two dollars per day. In fact, about half of the world’s population lives on two dollars per day or less.

Workers who toil under these conditions have similar motivations to escape as Follett’s character McAsh had in this novel. Yet both democratic and republican party presidents have made it their top priority to deport millions of immigrant workers from this country.

We might also think about the fact that the Department of Agriculture estimates that one out of every six people in this country doesn’t have enough food to eat. President Obama cut the food stamps program by $8.7 billion.

Clearly citizens in this country have a right to a trial when we are accused of a crime. However over 90% of those who live in jail never had a trial. These people accepted a plea agreement where they were coerced to plead guilty rather than run the risk of an extremely long prison sentence. This practice is known as plea-bargaining.

So, while we can argue that profound changes have been made over the years, in many ways there are distinct similarities to our past. The main reason why there have been improvements, flow from the fact there working people engaged in tenacious struggles. However, only on the island of Cuba have working people taken power and managed to defend this conquest for over half a century.

When we look at this history, there is one inescapable conclusion. As long as there is an affluent class dedicated to exploiting workers, the human race will never be liberated. The determination of working people to advance our cause gives us hope that we have the capacity to free ourselves from the rule of the affluent who have controlled the governments throughout the world for hundreds of years.