Saturday, November 29, 2008

Code Pink in Iran

This is an expanded version of an earlier post.

Code Pink has gone to Iran (starting, I believe, November 22), on a friendly, people's diplomacy kind of mission. Accodring to LA Progressive's Linda Milazzo (Nov. 24) and according to Code Pink's blog, their entourage is having a wonderful time in Iran, being led in part by Rostam Pourzal, a lobbyist for the Iranian government (at least, that's what he should legally register as, really!). He has taken the Code Pink activists to some ministries, as well as (on the civil society side) cafes, restaurants, bazaars, and places of gathering where they have met with so many amazing women and men, all of whom were really cool, compassionate and intelligent, and above all peace-loving. People have acted generally enthusiastically toward the American people-diplomats upon learning that they, Code Pink's Jodie Evans and Medea Benjamin, were on a people's mission for peace. It's like, Oh my god! They want peace!

Benjamin's descriptions are at times patronizing and at times quite frustrating to read, though I should admit she sounds sincere in her intent. I do doubt their judgment though. Code Pink did support Obama, and Jodie Evans, in an interview on Air America radio program, Clout, sounded ecstatic about Obama's election, saying, "War is over!" (Meaning it not literally, of course, but believing that with Obama as president, the whole mess will soon come to a speedy end.) As if!

Anyway, on the patronizing side ... Here's the problem: Benjamin sounds surprised to have met so many interesting, intelligent people who like and want peace!

Why would that be surprising? It can only be surprising if she were going by some stereotypes of what Iranians are supposed to be like. Of course most people are peace loving! Most humans in every country on every continent of the world are peace loving. That's why wars are so unpopular everywhere!

The other side of it is, of course, that the Code Pink entourage are either unaware, or have not fully taken in the consequences, of the fact that some 80% of the Iranian population do not support the theocratic setup. The government of Iran knows this. So, clearly an overwhelming majority of the population consists of highly intelligent people indeed! No surprise then that Code Pink delegation ran into some of these intelligent human beings living in Iran.

The sad part, though, is that because the itinerary must have been manipulated by the government, partly due to their own foresight and partly due to Rostam Pourzal's, I can only imagine that the groups who have come to discourse with Code Pink in all the arranged as well as the spontaneous-seeming situations must have been packed with all the 'right' people (at least some, anyway); let's face it, if you don't speak Farsi, and especially if you are dependent on government-provided people to arrange your contacts, you would most likely meet only with the affluent or those connected to the government - such as the women parliamentarians Code Pink met or other ministers they were supposed to meet - or else you will see an assortment of middle class professionals and others; all of whom, quite frankly, are not likely to be openly critical of the theocratic government around lobbyists for the regime (such as Pourzal), or other handlers provided by the government.

So, most likely Code Pink is not going to communicate with the people whose voices are drowned out in the international macho games of intrigue played out between different-level bullys. So, Code Pink will not get to meet with and talk to the most venerable of the society, the working classes, for example, or their unionist leaders (mostly in jail), nor with those whose rights have been viciously violated, such as political activists on behalf of students' rights, minority rights (e.g., Kurdish activists), women's rights and civil libertarians and free speech activists.

One interesting project that Code Pink is working on, according to their blog, is to record some video clips in Iran to be posted on YouTube, as messages to Obama. While meeting with a group of Iranian peace activists, Miles for Peace (a group of cyclists for peace), Code Pink mentioned their YouTube video series Idea. "We told them about the YouTube series we wanted to make called Iran talks to Obama, with Iranians from all walks of life giving advice to the new U.S. president. They loved the idea, and signed up right then and there to be interviewed."

Now, first of all, Obama does not listen to ordinary American people 'from all walks of life', so to think that he would listen to Eye-rainian regular folk is just absurd thinking. But, the irony of all ironies about this video project is that just last week, the Iranian government started blocking some five MILLION website; included in the list is, you guessed it, YouTube! Also included are, of course, blogs and websites expressing dissent. The government says the blocked websites are 'immoral and antisocial' (pornographic ones presumably). But what is immoral or anti-social about dissenting against a theocratic dictatorship?

Here is another example of people Code Pink will likely not get to meet, or be allowed to even talk about. As an anti-war organization with feminist sympathies, Code Pink entourage should love to visit some of the women from Change for Equality campaign (or better known as One Million Signature campaign), some of whom are prisoners in Evin prison. Their 'crime'? Peacefully asking people to put their names and signatures on a petition to be presented, peacefully, to the Iranian government asking it for a simple thing, namely recognizing that women are legally equal to men. I deeply doubt that Code Pink sought from Ahmadinejad an opportunity to meet some of the activists of this organization in prison, just to hear their stories.

Code Pink's stated objective for their Iran trip is to create a people-to-people contact. As they have stated it, they wish to repeat such trips, and would like them to be reciprocated; meaning, they would push the Obama administration to allow similar citizens' groups from Iran to travel to the U.S. Fair enough, and an agreeable enough mission.

But, from its first steps, the trip has been one of a people-to-government mission. The trip was made possible by an invitation of president Ahmadinejad, an invitation solicited by Code Pink in a September meeting between Ahmadinejad and a group of American peace activists. Having arrived in Iran, at least from their own reports (available on their blog), it seems that most of the people they are meeting are government people, or people whom the government has arranged for them to meet.

Another shortcoming is this: how about bringing some news of solidarity and hope to the people who most deserve and need it, those who are persecuted by the Iranian government? That would be a real people-to-people (social activist-to-social activist, that is) meeting of minds. Thousands of political prisoners languish in Iranian prisons without having committed any crime whatsoever, other than holding certain political beliefs at variance with the theocratic setup. The only reason they are in prison is related to those ideas; i.e., for activities such as speaking up against injustices practiced routinely in Iran. Does Code Pink, or any other U.S. leftists, feel any obligation to reach out to these people?

Code Pink has created a situation in which they are going along with a policy of no-arguments with a theocratic dictatorship, no criticisms and no explanations asked. It's an odious form of 'Don't ask, don't tell'.

Now, in case there are some cultural relativists, who spew out garbage such as, "Well, having an Islamic state is in their culture!" it must be said unequivocally, NO, it is not in OUR culture. It is in the culture of a small minority in our country, the same minority that wields very formidable instruments of oppression, and the same minority that has enacted repressive medieval laws, which the state uses to imprison people who have 'acted illegally'.

Since Code Pink plans to repeat such trips, we ask that they reflect on their November 2008 trip, and in their future trips seek to find ways to arrange for visits to Evin and Gohar-dasht prisons, which hold most of the political prisoners in Iran. That would be a welcome complement to their people-to-government trip they have just concluded.

Friday, November 28, 2008

John Trudell: 33 million prisoners

Found this on YouTube. This interview was recorded in 2003, and is in many parts, only one of which I have posted here. On the YouTube page, you can find other segments of the interview, well worth viewing. Enjoy the enlightenment!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mullahs Regional Hegemons

This one's a good one! Found it on Anti-War, who got it from Middle East Times (Nov. 26, 2008).

I love this because now I, and thousands more like me, don't have to spell it out for the western leftists anymore. The ayatollahs in Iran now boast about the fact that they have become a regional hegemon. Congratulations, and I couldn't have said it better! 

Now ... a note to the uninitiated ... you don't become a power, be it a regional one, by playing nice all the time. But, things like that seem to have lost their ability to cause outrage, or even concern these days, among those that should be most offended by it. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Alert: Iranian teacher unionist could be executed today

This urgent alert from SB News.

According to Education International (EI), Farzad Kamangar is in danger to be killed by the Iranian state today:

Education International has been informed that Farzad Kamangar, the Iranian Kurdish teacher and social worker sentenced to death on “absolutely zero evidence” according to his lawyer, could be hanged on Wednesday 26 November 2008.

According to several reliable sources, he has been taken from his cell 121 in ward 209 of Tehran’s Evin prison in preparation for execution. Jail security officers are said to have told him he is about to be executed and they make a fun of him, calling him a martyr.

The Revolutionary Court issued the death sentence against Kamangar on 25 February 2008. His lawyer has said: “Nothing in Kamangar’s judicial files and records demonstrates any links to the charges brought against him.” Kamangar was cleared of all charges during the investigation process. The last time Kamangar was seen, he was at the health clinic of Evin prison and his physical condition was poor. Witnesses testify that he has been beaten again. Kamangar has not been allowed to see his lawyer or family members for the past two months.

EI has been appealing the Iranian authorities to commute Kamangar’s death sentence and ensure his case is reviewed fairly. During the campaign, over 1,700 on-line messages were sent to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in support of Kamangar.

Now, EI is once again appealing to Iranian judicial authorities to halt the execution. EI is also asking members of the international community urgently to intervene.

Don't Give Obama a Second Chance!

In the aftermath of the election of Barak Obama as the next president of the U.S., the 44th (which, incidentally, in the Asian calendar, containing as it does two unlucky number 4s, making it double-unlucky), there is a general masturbatory atmosphere of, "Look at us, we elected a black!" among the white liberal intelligentsia and functionaries in the corporate mass media, large parts of the academia and the official, political establishment.

A slight bit to the left of the above, the apologentsia of the Democratic Party USA are advocating a 'wait-and-see', or, 'we should give him a chance' line of approach to be taken with the currently developing Obama administration. Such second chances are not to be given.

I say a 'second chance' is not to be given, since Obama has already had his first chance; the direction he has taken with his choice of cabinet so far is enough of a first chance any government needs to have. Those representing organized labor, anybody working with the veterans, anybody organizing for provision of food, housing and other necessities to the most needy in the U.S., anti-war activists, civil rights activists, activists for banning uranium-enriched munitions, activists for living wages, activists for fare taxation; in short anybody representing demands on behalf of justice must absolutely NOT, for a second, back down and wait for Obama to have a second chance. He will not take a single step in the direction of addressing the people's needs.

No second chances, and especially not now. People should be up in arms for the direction already set by president-elect Obama. It is especially critical that the rulers see that people have not gone home, and they are still pissed off and not willing to settle for more insults.

How insulting that the head of his transition team for 'intelligence' is Brennan, whose resume the Baltimore Sun, in an article by Melvin A. Goodman, has highlighted this way, "As chief of staff and deputy executive director under Mr. Tenet, [Brennan] was involved in decisions to conduct torture and abuse of suspected terrorists and to render suspected individuals to foreign intelligence services that conducted their own torture and abuse ... He was also an active defender of the illegal program of warrantless eavesdropping, implemented at the National Security Agency under the leadership of Mr. Hayden, then director of NSA."

Obama's secretary of 'defense' is to be the current secretary of war, Gates.

His economic team and treasury department is to be headed by the very people who brought us the current economic disasters.

His nominee for the Attorney General is Eric Holder, former deputy attorney general under Reno, co-chairman of Obama's campaign. As a lawyer for Covington and Burling's, Holder has represented the Chiquita Brands International Inc., and "helped Chiquita secure a slap-on-the-wrist plea deal to charges that it had paid off the terrorists," and in June of this year, was coaching "Fernando Aguirre, the CEO of Chiquita Brands International Inc., for an interview with "60 Minutes," which will be broadcasting a segment on the company's past involvement with Colombian right-wing paramilitary forces (Andrew Longstreth;
The American Lawyer,
June 5, 2008). So, can you imagine the kind of legal protection the American labor is going to enjoy under this highly 'changed' justice department headed by an attorney for a company that sleeps with right-wing paramilitary death squads that go around mowing down unionists?

And then, to top it all with the cream of the crop of supposed discontinuity, Rahm Emanuel, whose father openly disparages Arabs with racist bigotry. Rahm Emanuel himself is about as dangerous a political functionary as you can get in both ideological partisanship of a rightwing kind and the cunning shrewdness of a slithering snake, changing skins between his Israeli and American passports, one minute there in the Israeli Army, enforcing a barbaric and brutal occupation over the stolen lands of the Palestinians, dispossessing their resources daily and increasingly so, and the next day slipping into Clinton White House, and then swiftly out of it right as Monica Lewinsky started rendering the Oval Office pornographically comical.  
I am sure the remainder of his cabinet will likely be filled by other atrocious choices that represent nothing new and no changes-for-the-better whatsoever; except of course better for the rulers, the top 1%.

So, clearly Obama has had his first chance (this is for those who have illusions about him) to show which way he's going to be walking. So don't give him a second chance, if you can help it.

Related article:
The Obama Letdown (Counterpunch, November 26, 2008)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fighting Long-Term Fights

The Vietnamese people and their revolutionary leadership achieved a great deal, from which, I believe, the international Left, especially in the global north, has not learned enough.

A key lesson of the Vietnamese revolutionary struggle - to break free from colonialism of the French and then the imperialist military machine of the U.S. - is important in regards to the kinds of struggles that by necessity have to be carried out in the 'long-term' perspective.

In his article, People's War People's Army, which was written on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Viet Nam People's Army (December 22, 1959), Vo Nguyen Giap reflected on how the outlook of a long-term struggle affected the Vietnamese revolutionaries:
"This [Vietnamese] strategy must be the strategy of a long-term war. It does not mean that all revolutionary wars, all people's wars, must necessarily be long term ... But the war of liberation of the Vietnamese people started in quite different conditions," (emphasis in original).
What was the distinctive factor that made this a long-term struggle by necessity? Giap explains, "We had to deal with a much stronger enemy. It was patent that this balance of forces took away from us the possibility of giving decisive battles from the opening of hostilities, and of checking the aggression from the first landing operations on our soil. In a word, it was impossible for us to defeat the enemy swiftly."

He explains further, "It was only by a long and hard resistance that we could wear out the enemy forces little by little while strengthening ours, progressively turn the balance of forces in our favor and finally win victory. We did not have any other way."

This principle derived from the particular conditions of the Vietnamese struggle, in fact has a universal lesson for the left in all locations of the world today, if we abstract from the revolutionary 'war' (with a heavy military emphasis) to a more general 'struggle', which has many dimensions.

I believe we ALL face long-term struggles, but by long-term we are not talking five hundred years. No. I'm talking within a lifetime. Ho Chi Minh accomplished this. Sure, he died in 1969, but that's just a few years away from total liberation. Not bad at all! The point is therefore that we are not fighting for some abstract idea to be fulfilled in some distant, hopeful future; something which is almost on par with the promises made of what heaven, or more likely hell holds for us, after our death.

Long-term thinking involves at least two key sub-sets. One subset consists of the long-term objectives of our side, the other subset the important strategic objectives of the enemy. The considerations in regards to the latter, in turn divide into two categories: how to check (where possible) the objectives of the enemy from the start, and second, once they gain the initiative (and, for example, start an illegal war of aggression regardless of internal and world opinion), how to keep the long-term pressure on, while preparing for their hopeful defeat.

Let's look at a very small example. As was reported in the Viet Nam News, the clearing of all the cluster bombs, these instruments of death and destruction left behind by the Americans, will take more than 400 years and billions of dollars. If it were just and justified for Germany to pay backbreaking reparations to the victors in WWI, then it should sure as hell have been a requirement at the end of the American aggression in Vietnam. The American Left clearly failed to go the long distance on this particular issue.

But, it is never too late to learn. At this very moment, the American government is carpeting vast areas of Iraq and Afghanistan with uranium-enriched munitions. Any leftist political strategic thinking and platform-writing MUST include a plank for fighting for reparations for the people of Iraq. Also included in our demands must be technical and medical help in the cleanup of the uranium mess in Iraq and Afghanistan. As well, the Iraqis and the Afghans must have a right to medical treatment, for free, for as long as they remain afflicted with the after-effects of unranium contamination of their air, water and soil. Which, by the way, will be at least thousands of years long.

I am sure some of you are laughing so hard that you're almost falling off your seat. Gather yourselves!

That's one of your problems, you see, if you're laughing. Your expectations have been lowered so low that you will submit to anything, as long as they are not sticking it to you sexually in public at high noon at a busy crossroads in town.

Also included in our demands must be the recognition that the so-called Iraq War Disease/Syndrome's cause is the use of uranium-enriched munitions, and due medical care shall be provided all American veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, in perpetuity, meaning their sons and daughters, as well as spouse must also be included in this demand.

This is a long-term view of only one example of what a complete platform would consist of. I believe that most of our demands are long-term, and that we should be thinking and planning our actions with such views. We should not abandon any field of engagement, any 'issue, once the other side seems to retreat from any front, any 'issue' (for example, once Obama declares some phony 'withdrawal' from Iraq); we should not back away from any political front.

The other side never 'withdraws' from anything. They don't take holidays either on any front. Neither should we let them have any. By not letting them have any holidays, by not letting them dictate all the terms on all fronts, we force them to make errors, to slip, and on good days we force them to have to deal with our terms, and thus we change the conditions to our favor little by little, but never ceasing to push things just a little bit more to our favor.

In the long-term view of a revolutionary struggle, every front is (at least potentially) a battle of attrition.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

500-year war against Vietnam

According to a report in the Viet Nam News (Saturday, November 22, 2008), "Statistics show 20.2 percent or 6.6 million hectares of land are affected by unexploded ordnance in Vietnam. About 104,000 people have been injured or killed this way since 1975."

This ongoing war against the Vietnamese people has been brought about through the use of cluster bombs, large-sized munitions that, when they hit the ground, fragment into hundreds of smaller bombs.

As the article states, "Nearly 97 million tons of bombs, of which 296,000 are cluster munitions, were [dropped] across Vietnam between 1965 and 1975." In this insane barbarity, every geographic area in Vietnam was subjected to bombing, urban and rural alike. The Americans used sixteen different types of cluster munitions.

The director of the Vietnam Bombs and Mines Clearance Center, Nguyen Trong Canh, says that, "It would take 440 years and US$10 billion to clear this left-over ammunition across [Vietnam]," adding these unexploded munitions and their clearance will have "an enormous impact on human life, socio-economic development and the environment. As the reader may know, the $10 billion price tag is the equivalent of about a week's worth of war expenditure by the U.S. in Iraq.

Obviously, one major consequence is that unexploded munitions "discourage people from cultivating their land, reducing farm productivity and hampering socio-economic development." Further, each year the Vietnamese government must spend a large amount of its budget (hundreds of millions of dollars) on clearance and other mine clearing-related activities.

Considering that the war was intensified in earnest with LBJ's vicious increase of the U.S. military personnel in Vietnam, more than forty years ago, this makes the war waged by the U.S. government against the Vietnamese people an almost 500-year war! That is half of a millennium.

The American government tends to leave long-lasting impressions on their politico-military victims. They are leaving the same long-lasting impression again today on the Iraqis and the Afghans. This time around not just with cluster bombs, which they still drop on people, but also with uranium-enriched munitions; they call it 'depleted uranium', but that's a misnomer, since the uranium used in the munitions is radioactive and will remain so for four billion years.

As the Viet Nam News report states, a total of 107 countries, including Vietnam, ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Dublin in May of this year. Guess which country is not a signatory? If you guessed the U.S., you are right but no cigars; that was pretty obvious. (See a list of signatory nations here.) 

[Among the Middle Eastern/North Afrian countries that did not sign on: Algeria, Egypt, Iran (shame on us!), Israel, Jordan, Kuwait (not a real country, so they can be excused), Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and UAE.] 

As opposed to the U.S. government, which does everything in very-long-term strategic fashion, a signature shortcoming of the left in the U.S. has historically been a lack of follow-through. One such, as regards the war in Vietnam, is the failure to force the U.S. government to clean up its mess after leaving.

As a result of a lack of follow-through, no lessons were learned from the practical-political struggle of the anti-Vietnam war movement in the U.S. This means that, among other things, once the U.S. government changed course from that barbarity, the American left pretty much went home and never thought of the consequences, nor of any long-term remedies for the previous barbarity unleashed.

In this particular case, among other failures, there was never any follow-up by the left to make sure that the Vietnamese people receive any reparations of any kind. The people of Vietnam have not even received any help from the U.S. government (financial, technical, or even purely rhetorical) in mine and cluster bomb clearing efforts. The only people who provide any help are Vietnam veterans; for example, Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, whose efforts at banning landmines, Campaign for A Landmine Free World, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.

As a result of the 'search, destroy and leave' policy of the American imperialists, a residual, random-intensity war against the people of Vietnam continues, and will do so for hundreds of years.

When will these barbarities be stopped? Obama is certainly not about to stop the barbarity. Only the American people can stop it, and at the rate the American left is going, the world will be waiting for a long time for the Americans to stop their state from terrorizing the rest of the world, or help those who have been victims of American imperialism ... Alas!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Salehi’s Statement on the Current Crisis

Mahmoud Salehi is a trade union activist in Iran (read his biography here), who has been in and out of prison for his activities to defend workers' rights. Below are some highlights of his statement on the current global economic troubles encaging us (read complete text here).

To my dear friends and comrades, to all those who campaigned for my freedom and supported my colleagues in Iran;

Now that the capitalist system is imposing its deep crisis on all of us, we, workers in Iran, not only are with you wherever in the world, we in the same way are seeking for a solution.
The current economic crisis has already destroyed the living conditions of millions of workers and their families. Various capitalists, politicians and their media have given many explanations for this crisis. [...] The majority claim that the greedy and corrupt bankers are the cause of this crisis.
[The capitalists] ... know that despite their destructive efforts they can’t deceive class-conscious activist workers. [...] They are writing many articles in large newspapers and use news agencies like Reuters to propagate their views. They do this because they know well that increasingly more people are reading Marx now and therefore they’re trying to distort Marx’s views. They claim Marx wanted the state to own all manufacturing, financial and service sector institutions and companies. That’s a shame.

Marx believed in nationalization of economy under a working class state and not a state-controlled economy under a system run by capitalists.

If you are, as we do in Iran, seeking for a viable solution, the first step should be to understand the root causes of this situation and accordingly find the best way for us to overcome these difficult situations. Reading Marx from a working class and anti-capital perspective is an essential step. [...]

What I would like to emphasize here is that the current crisis and all its devastating consequences are rooted in the capitalist system. This system is the cause of the crisis as well as unemployment, wars, hunger and other human miseries. To liberate ourselves and put forward an alternative, our class has to organize itself into workers’ councils. This is a viable solution that the working class undertook during the Paris Commune and other class conflicts. This is a path which was theorized and advocated by Marx. This is a solution that our global class in Russia, Spain, Iran and many other countries have strived and sacrificed for. While we are addressing our immediate needs and issues, we need to think of and strategize for this long-term solution.

Mahmoud Salehi,
Saqez, Iran
October 28, 2008

Translated by:
International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran (IASWI)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ho Chi Minh's Path to Lenin

Below are some highlights from a short piece by Ho Chi Minh, from 1960 (click here for complete piece at Marxists Internet Archive). Enjoy! 

The Path Which Led Me To Leninism

After World War I, I made my living in Paris, now as a retoucher at a photographer’s, now as painter of “Chinese antiquities” (made in France!). I would distribute leaflets denouncing the crimes committed by the French colonialists in Viet Nam.

At that time, I supported the October Revolution only instinctively, not yet grasping all its historic importance. I loved and admired Lenin because he was a great patriot who liberated his compatriots; until then, I had read none of his books.

The reason for my joining the French Socialist Party was that these “ladies and gentlemen” - as I called my comrades at that moment - has shown their sympathy towards me, towards the struggle of the oppressed peoples. [...]

Heated discussions were then taking place in the branches of the Socialist Party, about the question whether the Socialist Party should remain in the Second International, should a Second and a half International be founded or should the Socialist Party join Lenin’s Third International?

I attended the meetings regularly, twice or thrice a week and attentively listened to the discussion. First, I could not understand thoroughly. Why were the discussions so heated? Either with the Second, Second and a half or Third International, the revolution could be waged. What was the use of arguing then? As for the First International, what had become of it?

What I wanted most to know - and this precisely was not debated in the meetings - was: which International sides with the peoples of colonial countries?

I raised this question - the most important in my opinion - in a meeting. Some comrades answered: It is the Third, not the Second International. And a comrade gave me Lenin’s “Thesis on the national and colonial questions” published by l'Humanite to read.

There were political terms difficult to understand in this thesis. But by dint of reading it again and again, finally I could grasp the main part of it. [...] Though sitting alone in my room, I shouted out aloud ... : “Dear martyrs, compatriots! This is what we need, this is the path to our liberation!”

[...] Though I was still lacking French words to express all my thoughts, I smashed the allegations attacking Lenin and the Third International with no less vigour. My only argument was: “If you do not condemn colonialism, if you do not side with the colonial people, what kind of revolution are you waging?”

[...] Finally, at the Tours Congress, I voted with them for our joining the Third International.

At first, patriotism, not yet communism, led me to have confidence in Lenin, in the Third International. Step by step, along the struggle, by studying Marxism-Leninism parallel with participation in practical activities, I gradually came upon the fact that only socialism and communism can liberate the oppressed nations and the working people throughout the world from slavery. [...]

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Obama and Bush's Torture Policy

For any who harbor illusions of substantial 'change' with an Obama presidency, the excerpts below from an article from the Baltimore Sun should be enough for a speedy disposal of any such expectations.

The article highlights some of the president-elect's transition team's personnel for 'intelligence transition process'. As you will read the resumes of key intelligence transition personnel, it should become clear that, even in an area as starkly over-the-top, in terms of the 'image' of the U.S., as the policy on torture, there shall be little if any noticeable change. I expect that any change will be one of tone alone, but substantively there will be a smooth continuation of the same old, same old.

It is not only futile to put any hopes on the Democrats to change much of anything of substance, it is actually deceiving and, in my opinion, an act of treachery. For after all, it was two Democrat administrations, JFK and LBJ, who subjected the completely innocent Vietnamese population to hugely torturous acts the likes of which we had not seen until the rape of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Torture is an indispensable corollary to imperialism (see, Torture: A Bully's Creed). There is no getting away from it as long as the U.S. imperialism remains operative. So, Obama supporters, despite the nice words that your man had about the evils of torture, the 'candidate of change' is most likely to prove himself complicit in war crimes. Now, go and assuage your consciences with trite bromides about Obama's messianic missions for 'restoring America's image'; your president-to-be will maintain the image of 'America the global bully', since he is as dark an agent of continuity of torturous acts as his predecessor, George W., and those who came before him.

From the Baltimore Sun:

Change in intelligence?
by Melvin A. Goodman; Nov 14, 2008

"[President-elect Obama] appears to be ready to remove the top two intelligence officials, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael V. Hayden - both retired general officers - which suggests Mr. Obama recognizes the need to change the military culture of the intelligence community. But he also has placed the intelligence transition process in the hands of two senior cronies of former CIA Director George J. Tenet: John O. Brennan and Jami A. Miscik, who were actively engaged in implementing and defending the CIA's corrupt activities during the Bush presidency."

"[The] Obama team has turned to discredited cronies of the Tenet era. Mr. Brennan, as chief of staff and deputy executive director under Mr. Tenet, was involved in decisions to conduct torture and abuse of suspected terrorists and to render suspected individuals to foreign intelligence services that conducted their own torture and abuse. Mr. Brennan had risen through the analytic ranks and should have known that analytic standards were being ignored in Mr. Tenet's CIA. He was also an active defender of the illegal program of warrantless eavesdropping, implemented at the National Security Agency under the leadership of Mr. Hayden, then director of NSA."

"Ms. Miscik was deputy director of intelligence for Mr. Tenet during the run-up to the Iraq war, when intelligence was manipulated to support the Bush administration's decision to use force in Iraq. She endorsed the politicized findings of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in October 2002, as well as the unclassified White Paper of October 2002 that was designed to sway votes on the authorization to use force against Iraq. Ms. Miscik was also a willing participant in the crafting of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's regrettable speech to the United Nations in February 2003, which was designed to sway the international community."

Related article:
Obama advisers: Harsh interrogators will walk (Stephen C. Webster)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Iran and the US-Iraq SOFA

I have believed for some time now that whenever we see a spike in the belligerent rhetoric coming from Washington, DC, regarding the imminent attacks to be unleashed against Iran for its refusal to give up on its nuclear program, it is actually an indirect way the Americans are trying to get the Iranian state to do more to get the Iraqis to acquiesce to the Americans designs for Iraq. 

The recent status of forces agreement (SOFA) negotiations going on between the U.S. and the Iraqi government show us yet another such episode. While the acceptance of the SOFA agreement by the Iraqi government was in doubt, we saw another surge of the threats of American military attacks on Iran in the American media. Sure enough, the Iranians got busy to persuade their allies in the Iraqi government to sign onto the SOFA agreement. I'm not saying Iran calls all the shots in Iraq by any measure, but they do have substantial influence and the point here is that the Americans wanted Iran to engage those influences more aggressively and to push them in the direction of a positive response to the SOFA deal. Which the Iranians did. 

Some have argued with some justification that the Iranians are sending a signal to the president-elect Barak Obama by persuading their Iraqi brethren to go along with the SOFA deal, while others have called the SOFA deal a defeat for the Iranians. Personally, I agree somewhat with the first take, while I think the SOFA agreement in and of itself is neither a threat to the Iranians nor a boon. 

What the Iranians want in the region is a recognized role assigned to them by the Americans as an indispensable 'partner' in the workings of the major issues concerning the long-term fate of the region. And in playing a key role in the Iraqi regime signing onto the SOFA deal, they have made a showcase of their 'indispensable' role to the Americans. This in turn should gain them some favor in other areas of their dealings with the Americans. 

This, again, should show to the U.S. Leftists who think the Iranian regime has some deep-seated anti-imperialist bent that no such thing will be exhibited by the Iranian state in its current setup. They want regional hegemony and the only power that can guarantee them such a status is the U.S. It is only in this light that we can understand what the Iranian government is up to in the greater middle east (stretching to Afghanistan and beyond). 

Related articles from Uruknet:
Obama, Iran, and the US-Iraq SOFA (Robert Dreyfuss)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Can They Do Anything?

Just look at the list of the industries that have come hat in hand to the government, to ask for money from the regular folk, whom they patronize 24/7 every freaking month of every century.

Rail Industry: completely created out of thin air (stolen land) and handed over, to the tune of a ten square miles on each side of every mile of track laid, "and the issuance of 30-year, 6% U.S. Government Bonds, to the Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad (later the Southern Pacific Railroad) companies in order to construct a transcontinental railroad," (

And yet, despite this huge treasure handed to the rail industry for free, the same rail industry was so incapable of providing use-value to passengers (since only the freight part of the industry has been profitable), that in 1971 the government had to step in and set up the Amtrak to provide services for people needing to travel by train. Subsequently, Amtrak has had to regularly raid the public funds to keep running.

Other companies in total monopolistic positions have also received government bailout. Lockheed, was one of the largest beneficiaries of the Emergency Loan Guarantee Act, passed in August 1971, and the loan guarantee enjoyed by Lockheed was $1.4 billion (depending on how you calculate the equivalency, that is between $7b and $17b in 2007 dollars; for dollar equivalencies see,

The energy industry, likewise, was created, has been maintained and regularly bailed out by the government. Enron -- infamous for intentionally providing rolling blackouts to their California ratepayers and precipitating an 'energy crisis', before its financial shenanigans became public -- is the most notorious example that comes to mind and needs no referencing. The energy industry, of course, includes nowadays the nuclear industry; thanks to the writings of Harvey Wasserman, we are in full knowledge of how regularly this industry comes to steal its regular dose out of the public trough.

The banking and insurance companies likewise seem not to know how to run their industry. The current financial meltdown (which is now leading to commercial meltdown) is well known to the reader. As is, most likely, the Savings and Loans debacle of the 1980s-early 1990s, which according to Wikipedia, "was the failure of 747 savings and loan associations (S&Ls) in the United States. The ultimate cost of the crisis is estimated to have totaled around $160.1 billion."

Other bank failures had also happened. Just for one example from the 1970s, from Wikipedia: "Franklin National Bank, based in Franklin Square in Long Island, New York was once the United States' 20th largest bank. On October 8, 1974, it collapsed in obscure circumstances, involving Michele Sindona, renowned Mafia-banker and member of the irregular freemasonic lodge, Propaganda Due. It was at the time the largest bank failure in the history of the country."

Going back in history, we have had the Panic of 1819, Panic of 1837, Panic of 1857, of 1873, of 1893, of 1907, and of course the Great Depression. It seems that 'panic', rather than a smooth operating status, is a systemic feature of the banking industry in the U.S.

The American car industry's record of producing useless cars, which only go to boost the drivers' egos, is and has been notorious throughout the ages. The 1950s' ostentatious fins and other assorted accessories come to mind as the earliest signs of imbecility and such useless features continue to dictate a macho 'I don't give a damn' attitude conveyed through their very design, as embodied in, starting in the 1970s Chevrolet Blazer, one of which was owned at some point in my early life by my uncle; the first air conditioned giant-mobile I ever sat in. Today, that stupidly dictated fad has morphed into the ubiquitous SUVs, and the madness continues to survive. No wonder then, that they have to come begging for government intervention in the 'free freaking market'.

I wouldn't be too surprised if, at some future point, even the oil industry came to the government for permission to raid the public funds.

So, pretty much all the basic industries typical of any industrialized society cannot be run successfully by the American bourgeoisie. Really. Can they do anything?

Yes. They can do 'advertising' pretty well. The proof of that is how profitable media companies are. Even here, though, before we go into it, it must be remembered that the radio and TV were completely intertwined with the role of the state as the holder of the public good called the public airwaves. Of course, the 'public' airwaves have long been privatized and lost their public character in all aspects.

But, to get back to the main point about the mass media, the fact that media companies never have to come with hat in hand to the state is twofold: first they know better than the general public that they are the strategic allies of the state, especially the executive of the state, and are therefore (the second fold) the strategic allies of the owners of the state, the capitalist class of industrialists and financiers. This means the industrialists/financiers/state will ALWAYS be saturating the media to make sure the public mind is exhaustively (to the point that it is possible) kept in three modes: ignorant (of the full social truth encaging them), insecure (to make them psychologically dependent on state and its 'security' forces), and envious (of the rich and famous, so they won't think of real alternatives).

And if the American general political behavior is any indication, the media is indeed very powerfully effective both existentially and (therefore) financially. The state/industrialists/financiers know that their only and best salvation is to keep the population in the three already mentioned modes of being (ignorant, insecure and envious), so successfully recreated by the media, which in turn elongates the ruling classes' rule.

You see, the establishment's game is always one of deflection and delay. They have nothing else; this is it. There is no 'perfect' capitalism. Crisis is as natural to capitalism as is the rotation of earth around the sun. They KNOW the system is bankrupt in addressing the needs of the absolute majority of the population, and they KNOW that the system is only beneficial for those at the very top. So, all they CAN do is fleece us as much as they can while they can; meanwhile they deflect (by lies and false promises) and delay their demise. And in this deflection game, why of course they need the media. So, the mass media stay profitable.

* * *

Given that the American capitalists cannot avoid recurrent crises, we must now look at the other side and ask: Is the American Left beset by the same chronic inability to do anything also? For, I mean, look at it. There is hardly anything RIGHT about this system. It can not educate the people, it cannot provide healthcare, housing, food or a secure job or retirement (even after the working stiff put in their share of taxes into the public fund for thirty years or more), and they cannot even run their own most basic of capitalist industries.

Yet, these same capitalists regularly lecture us about how good the 'free market' is, and how it has brought unprecedented prosperity to the largest number of humans in history; and the Left cannot launch a successful practical critique (which is coupled with social action) attacking the system in its fundamentals.

There is no 'free market'. 'Capitalism' does not create things. People expending mental and muscular energy create things; i.e., workers, technicians and engineers (artisans and master guildsmen/women of former ages) create things. Workers and engineers have created and continue to maintain, for example, the tracks that were laid down, the trains, the switchboards, the signal wires, the buildings and offices that constitute the rail industry. No practical conclusions are drawn from these basic facts, when the U.S. Left enters the political arena with proposals for how to change things.

One of the fundamental reasons the U.S Left cannot articulate any realistic exits from this hell, in spite of all the contradictions present in the actually existing capitalism in the North American region, I believe, is the pernicious presence of a 'lesser evil' type of political calculation that permeates the Leftist thinking; much like fractal structures that repeat themselves infinitely down the structural lattice, this line of logic repeats itself in all levels of politico-philosophical thinking done by the U.S. Left.

In the realm of purely 'economic' sphere (which, I believe does not even exist under the current system, and that is why Marxists properly call it 'political economy'), the U.S. left is forever stuck in the false dualism of 'state owned' v. 'privately owned', and in this false dualism, the Left thinks 'state owned' is the better of the two evils. But, within the existing system, the distinctions are mostly arbitrary.

Let's imagine a 'privately owned' trucking company. Where did the trucks come from? They need, among other essentials, steel. Where does the steel come from? Originally, it comes in the form of a mineral extracted from the earth; iron ore. Nobody 'produces' iron ore. It came with the planet; a public good. So, from the first steps in the chain of production that makes a trucking company possible, every little bit of every truck has been made possible by the labor of workers, technicians and engineers. The roads and highways that a trucking company depends on were made by workers, laid on public lands. The taxpayers have paid for all of them. So, the line between private and state owned, under the current system, is completely an arbitrarily drawn line.

However, sticking to this false dichotomy, any and all solutions (from the Left) to our social problems, as pertains to the economic sphere, side with state-oriented solutions. But such are no solutions for the working people; they merely prolong the stranglehold of the capitalist class on the economy, since the state is THEIR state.

Within the realm of the politics proper, we all know the lesser evil thinking espoused by the Left, which surfaces regularly in the form of a valiant defense of the Democrats.

Lesser evil kind of thinking in the political sphere, however, is not limited to the electioneering cycles in the U.S. alone, and is easily extended to the international arena. This thinking goes back to the Cold War training that formed the current generation of the American left, and in spite of the rise of the so-called New Left and what most of the Left in the U.S. may believe itself to be, this type of reasoning has rendered it a slave to the rhetorical plan of the right-wing ideologues starting from 1950s.

For example, in the international relations, such thinking ends up having to support states such as the Iranian theocratic regime. Within Iran, the lesser evil thinking then splits: one lesser evil line says that we must support Ahmadinejad's Iranian version of neoconservative forces that are beating their chests in a pissing contest with the Bush administration and his regime. Another lesser evil subset goes with the 'moderates' or the 'reformists', headed by former president Khatami.

The interesting thing about both these tendencies is their neglect to ever think that the Iranian people are a very different species than the Iranian state; which, according to their own leaders, e.g., Hashemi Rafsanjani, have only the active support of 15% of the population.

Most of the significant forces within the American left seem completely incapable of coming up with a line of thinking independent of the frameworks imposed by chief gangsters such as president George W. Bush. These leftist thinkers, writers, activists and agitators have been trapped within the framework of 'You are either with us or with our enemies!' None ever think that the American people and the American state's enemy-of-the-day may not have anything in common, and my indeed be completely opposed to each other.

They also forget that in this made-up enemies' pissing contest, it is the very people suffering under both enemies who are truly getting it daily (like the American people are getting it daily right now and for the past eight years) no matter which enemy is dictating the terms. Workers and the regular folk have their own terms to dictate and demand, and socialists and uncompromising democrats all over the world must stand with the people, and with their own principles, not with whomever the American state declares as the enemy.

Before some people jump to "Did you hear what he said?!!" hysteria, let me clarify that we do stand with our true strategic allies, the oppressed of the world and with those at the forefront of the fight against imperialism, such as the Palestinian people, the Iraqis and the Afghans who are fighting an injustice, the scales of which belie all reason, as we do with the Haitian people and all others oppressed by imperialists and local bullys alike. We stand with the people at the same time that we criticize the Iraqi, Afghani, and yes even the Palestinian leaderships, as we have the right to do, and as we would be IRRESPONSIBLE if we didn't, just as we have criticized our OWN leaderships through the ages.

But, what we cannot and should not stand with is any government, state authority, regime, any elites and any masters of any society who oppress and maintain their rule by subjugating the people, and who rule by illegitimate means of violence. A theocratic dictatorship, for example, is such a thing. If any leftist has any problem condemning such a state formation, he or she has no standing within any movement for justice. Anywhere.

But reality does not only provide shades of evil. It also provides tons of positively actionable routes, and it only takes sticking to principles to see those routes. Reality, I believe some wise person once said, is more radical than most things (all things?) thought by us the humans, these social being that we are, still caged in our pre-history, in the sense that our social circumstances determine us, not the other way around.

To conclude briefly then: Until the time comes when the American Left breaks out of this lesser evil thinking in all spheres, and until they start to, as they say, think outside the box presented by the system, the American Left will remain another of the failed estates in this society, and the American ruling classes will continue to determine all the terms of all the debates and all the proposed 'solutions' to our social ills.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Yasser Arafat 1929 - 2004

Kristen Ess – Palestine News Network
Tuesday November 11, 2008

Four years ago today Yasser Arafat died in France after taking ill in Ramallah. He was airlifted from the Muqata never to return. The image of the great man turned slight by poison or too many years under siege indoors, whatever it was that eventually killed him, that photo is forever etched in the mind. Abu Ammar waving goodbye.

Talking to people today and yesterday, it seems that there is no one who does not remember where he was four years ago, and where he was days later when the national hero’s body was returned to the soil of Palestine.

The funeral in the Muqata was more packed than any event has ever been in this country. Security staff could not get the doors of the helicopter open because of the crowds. People openly wept, the covers of newspapers and magazines were black.

It was the end of Ramadan and fasting was harder that day. Hundreds of thousands of people in mourning and no one smoked.

Abu Ammar is buried in a flower-laden tomb in Ramallah although he was supposed to be laid to rest in the eternal Palestinian capital Jerusalem. The Israeli administration, the occupying authority, would not allow it. After already being held under siege in the Muqata for years, he was not allowed to spend eternity outside of it.

His chair was saved in Bethlehem’s Church of Nativity on Christmas eve, his photo and a kafia, until recently. The Muqata may have tried to put a new face on the Palestinian Authority, but no one can forget the unifying leader who was Abu Ammar. 1929 – 2004.

We are Sick of the American-Israeli Interference

Found this on Uruknet. This is a distressed message from a voice, which represents Palestinians who are increasingly growing sick of not only the Israeli oppressors but also the collaborator Palestinian leadership, who has led astray Palestinian people's struggle for justice, independence and dignity in their own lands.

Kawther Salam, Palestine Think Tank
November 10, 2008

I am writing this article after I escaped from the criminal action of Israelis on November 1, 2008, who came to Vienna to watch and to harass me. I wonder if the mission of these criminals to terrorize me in exile was coordinated between the Israelis and the Palestinian "security" team, just like what is happening in Palestine now.

We Palestinians are sick and tired of the Palestinian Authority, which is implementing the Israeli-American so-called "security plan" instead of the Israeli military, with a mission of terrorizing, chasing, arresting people, destroying the houses of civilians and boasting about their vile crimes in the streets. Everybody knows that these forces are useless cowards during the Israeli raids on Palestinian cities under their authorities. The Palestinian civil society is sick of the so-called "Hamas authority", the radical Palestinian movement which distorts the face of Islam, and which has turned the holy mission of the Palestinian struggle into a struggle for their own pockets and unknown foreign agendas.

We, all the Palestinians, are sick of both of you and of your continuous fights. The daily news about you bring us headache and causes us deaf- and blindness.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Maoist Chávez and Socialist Sarkozy

Found this on The Commune; an apt commentary by David Broder. Enjoy!

by David Broder

Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who during his ten years in power has introduced extensive state-capitalist measures based on the country’s oil wealth, has embarrassed his international fan club in recent weeks with a series of gaffes when on diplomatic business.

Chávez has long entertained close relations with such “anti-imperialists” as Colonel Gaddafi, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Belarussian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko, but his recent speeches have offered a particularly useful insight into the real content of his “21st century socialism” and “Bolivarian revolution”. Once again it is clear that “21st century socialism” is nothing but classic “20th century style state ownership and bureaucracy”.

First came his trip to China in late September, organised in order to sign an arms deal. Upon touching down in the emerging superpower he commented that China “has shown the world that one doesn’t have to attack anyone to become a great power… we are offering tribute in the land of Mao. I am a Maoist.” This was embarrassing not only for the grey Stalinist bureaucrats accompanying him, who have largely eschewed Mao’s ideas in favour of a free-market ideology, but also those such as Socialist Appeal who have for the last two years gushed over an off-hand comment made by Chávez that he is a Trotskyist.

And two weeks ago, after meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chávez welcomed Sarkozy’s bank nationalisations in a TV address: “Sarkozy, you are coming closer to socialism, welcome to the club: your ideas are interesting… we must create a new system. With differences here and there, but at least it must be something new. We of course call it socialism, you call it nationalism, but hey, we can discuss that.” Chávez, who has used the police to break up steel workers’ picket lines, clearly does not see the working class as the agent of revolutionary change, but rather, himself.

Was Chávez joking? If his own project were something other than nationalism and state ownership, you might have thought so.

Cu Chi Tunnels - Part 4: Tunnels' Defense

This is the fourth installment on the Cu Chi tunnels, a collection of quotations from the book by Mangold & Penycate (1985). This installment focuses on how the tunnels were defended; mostly from Chapter 10: Stop the Americans! 
(For diagrams of typical tunnel systems, see here ... here ... and here.)

"[The] tunnels did need a defense system; they could not be left unprotected at the mercy of every GI foot patrol that stumbled upon a tunnel entrance or telltale ventilation shaft. The slow development of a tunnel defense strategy eventually owed much to Captain Linh's careful observations of the Americans during Operation Crimp.

"'They marveled at everything they saw,' he said, 'everything seemed strange and new to them - the jungle, the fruits, the water buffalo, even the chickens. Again and again they would stop and stare, even pick things up. Not only were they easy targets for our snipers, but I realized the best way to kill them was with more booby traps. After Crimp, we made more and more of them. I was sure they would work well for us.'

"[The homemade booby-trap business began to boom. Those with access to explosive powder, detonators, and a crude tunnel workshop, produced first and foremost, the DH-5 or DH-10 mine. These were modeled on the successful American claymore mine, and were to be used primarily against the American light armored tracks and half-tracks, and inevitably against unwary infantrymen. They were detonated either by pressure or - and this was a surprise - by command (remote-detonated)." (p. 109)

"The DH-5 and DH-10 were made out of crude steel, shaped like a saucer and containing five or ten pounds of high explosive. The mines stood on bipods pointing directionally, or they would lie buried a few inches underground. They inflicted dreadful injuries. [...]

"Tunnel rat Lieutenant David Sullivan ... recalled a particularly devious Viet Cong booby trap. A tunnel entrance would be exposed to lure the Americans. When a rat tem was sent down to investigate, the guerrillas in the tunnel knew that other GIs would gather round the entrance for communication or on guard. A claymore mine hidden in a nearby bush would then be detonated by wire from inside the tunnel. Sullivan lost several men like that: The VC waited until they heard the rats in the tunnel and then blasted the men still on the surface. In the confusion, the rats aborted the search and the guerrillas escaped into the tunnel system.

"One of the most feared variants of the DH-10 was the notorious Bouncing Betty, conical, with three prongs jutting out of the soil. When a foot struck a prong, a small charge was detonated, which shot the mine into the air about three feet, where it then exploded, showering shrapnel at groin level.

"For sheer ingenuity in adapting to local warfare conditions, a guerrilla farmer from the Cu Chi village of Nhuan Duc was to win the top award. To Van Duc invented a helicopter booby trap. It was known as the cane-pressure mine and for a while it was a successful (and to the Americans, quite baffling) answer to the problem of how to destroy the helicopters that brought troops and supplies into the jungle. [...]

"Mindful of the simple physical principle that the blades of a helicopter create a considerable downdraft, the farmer (To Van Duc) suggested placing DH-10 mines at the TOPS of trees in an area where the helicopters could be expected to fly fairly low, or one to which they could be lured to fly low for surveillance. A highly sophisticated friction fuse was connected to the branches of the tree or fairly tall bush, which bent under the helicopter's downdraft, detonating the mine, which then exploded under the machine. " (p. 110-111)

"At the other end of the evolutionary scale of weapons were those that owed more to the War of the Roses than to the high-tech was in Vietnam. There was the crossbow and arrow ... Historically cotemporaneous was a ... heavy mud ball with spiked bamboo stakes sticking out of it. This was attacked to a tree by a seemingly innocuous jungle vine. When freed by the tripwire, the ball swung hard across the track.

"Then there was the coconut mine, a hollowed-out nut packed with explosive powder and then covered by a rock as the missile - not lethal but scary. Or there was the bamboo mine. This was large bamboo joint, cleaned out and filled with nuts, bolts, broken glass or scrap metal, together with a small amount of plastic explosive or powder explosive. A friction fuse operated by a tripwire detonated this package.

"The most common ... booby trap was the wired grenade, used in tunnel entrances or in the tunnels themselves. [...] On jungle tracks and paths near the tunnels a favorite tactic was to place the grenade, with the safety pin removed, inside an appropriate tin can. A pull on the tripwire extracted the grenade from the can, which then automatically primed itself and exploded. [...]

"And there was the infamous punji stick traps around all the tunnels. Sometimes the Viet Cong dug tiger-trap pits; if a GI fell into one, he became impaled on the spikes. The trap was kept to reasonable size so that it could easily be camouflaged with twigs and foliage. but its depth was sufficient so that the victims foot would descend with enough force for the stakes to pierce ... the GI's jungle boot. A more sophisticated version had stakes buried in the wall of the pit, but facing downward, making extraction of the foot even more painful. Sometimes the sticks were smeared with excrement to aid infection, sometimes with a poison the VC simply called Elephant's Trunk, which they claimed caused death within twenty minutes of entering the bloodstream. " (p. 112-114)

"Inside the tunnels there were occasionally false walls, thinly plastered with clay, on the other side of which waited Viet Cong with bamboo spears. As a tunnel rat (American soldier) made his way slowly forward, the VC would spy through a hole in the false wall and spear [him]. [...]

"Booby traps and ambushes took a disproportionately high toll among infantrymen and remained a source of great anxiety to military tacticians in Vietnam. Throughout the war, booby traps were responsible for 11% of all American deaths, and 17% of all wounds.

"Real damage was often caused by the high rate of wound infection. [...] The ... booby traps inside and just outside the tunnels generated sufficient fear among the ordinary grunts to seriously affect their military effectiveness. A high-tech infantry that usually fought only by day and was helicoptered out by night was not necessarily going to go out of its way to discover long tunnel complexes. Everyone knew about the booby traps. And what the grunt eye did not see on patrol, no officer's heart was going to grieve about.

"In a revealing study conducted by Lt. General Julian J. Ewell, former commander of the II Field Force in Vietnam, it was shown that at least half the booby traps found by the 9th Division's GIs had been found by detonation - in other words, the men had set them off. 46% of the resultant casualties were multiple, caused by the bunching of troops, who just did not know any better. In 1969, booby traps were the single most important casualty source in the 9th Division. [...]

"If the tunnels' outer defenses failed to deter, the next line of defense was the so-called spider hole. Spider holes were superbly camouflaged pits, dug to shoulder depth near each of the three tunnel entrances, and linked by short communications tunnels to the main tunnel. One, sometimes two, Viet Cong snipers stood, perfectly protected, and shot at intruders; when it became too dangerous to stay, they scuttled through the communication tunnel back into the main tunnel complex. No sophisticated detection or weapons system could easily or mechanically find, fix, and destroy the ubiquitous spider-hole sniper. He could be (and frequently was) mortared, shelled by artillery, napalmed, or besieged by tank. But the longer he fought, the more he fulfilled his primary function, which was to engage large numbers of the enemy and keep them busy, distracting them from the real prize, the tunnel complex over which he kept his lonely vigil." (p. 115-116)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Cu Chi Tunnels - Part 3: Resource Management

In this third installment of quotations from the book, The Tunnels of Cu Chi , we bring you some of the ingenuities employed by the Vietnamese in their fight for liberation.
(For diagrams of typical tunnel systems, see here ... here ... and here.)

One of the aspects of any fight against an oppressor throughout history has been the task of adapting elements ready at hand in the effort to gain some comparative advantage over the enemy. One particular form of this, mastered by the Vietnamese liberation fighters, was to use whatever 'garbage' the enemy left behind.

This became clear to some of the people (the Australians) fighting against the Vietnamese, but the lessons were soon overlooked or never fully appreciated by others (the Americans). As an example, the book by Mangold/Peycate points to an episode during the Operation Crimp, one of the first operations carried out by the American and Australian military personnel in the district of Cu Chi, in early January 1966.

"[The Australians] realized the value to the Viet Cong of American combat detritus, after [finding] a small tunnel workshop in which hand grenades had been made. The inner casing was made from a small discarded tomato juice tin, and the outer casing from an old beer can. The fragmentation pieces were blue metal road gravel, and the firing mechanism was from old French or American grenades. 'Because of what we found in the tunnels ... we ordered this policy of burn-bash-bury. We had twenty-four-hour ration packs with little tins on them. You never EVER left your tin around so it could be found; you never left anything the enemy could use. Your spoon, they would even use that for making weapons. We left nothing, absolutely nothing,'" (p. 44). This was the lesson that was learned by the Australians, according to the book, and not adhered to by the American GIs.

"As the war became harder on the Viet Cong, they used the waste so generously left around by the Americans more and more, and in some areas, they became dependent on it." (p. 44)

* * *

"Next to food for survival, the manufacture of ammunition and weapons had priority in the tunnels. In the early days of the American presence, there were serious shortages. 'We hardly received any supply of weapons from the North,' said Captain Linh. 'We received only mine detonators and delay fuses. We needed explosives and fortunately soon found them lying all around us on the ground.'

"One single battalion of the newly arrived 25th Infantry Division in Cu Chi fired, in the course of one month, no less than 180,000 shells into the Cu Chi district, averaging 4,500 daily. In one month, throughout South Vietnam, the Americans fired about a trillion bullets, 10 million mortar rounds, and 4.8 million rockets. And this was just the beginning of the war.

"As Captain Linh noted, a great deal of this ordnance fell on Cu Chi. And considerable numbers, as is the nature of these things, failed to explode. For once it was the Viet Cong that began a course of on-the-job training. 'We tried to understand the American science,' explained Captain Linh. 'We would have teams of watchers during a bombing strike, looking for the bombs that did not explode. They would try to mark the location. Then after the raid we would hurry to the spot and try to retrieve the TNT ... [Of] a thousand shells the enemy fired at us, only about a hundred caused casualties; a percentage of the nine hundred that did not hurt [anyone] did not explode either. The Americans used their weapons to fight us and we used their weapons to fight back.'

"Captain Linh's cottage industry began to grow. 'There were unexploded shells everywhere in the Cu Chi area. We organized special workshop chambers in the tunnels and we learned to take the ordnance in there. We dismantled their detonators, fitted our own, and changed the shells into powerful weapons, of which the Americans were very afraid. We exploded them with batteries or made booby traps with them. We also found claymore or directional mines, which did not explode because the bombers did not drop them from the proper height or at the right angle. Sometimes we even had more of these mines than we could use. With each claymore mine, suitably adapted in our tunnel workshops, we could inflict casualties of up to seven American soldiers. We did not need any great technical skill. They were very dangerous to the Americans, but harmless against us when we were in the tunnels.'

"Coca-Cola cans, in an act of ironic cultural inversion, were carefully turned into hand grenades for use against the Americans by the artisans who worked by candlelight and paraffin lamp in the special tunnel workshops. First they poured used bomb fragments into the tin, then TNT was poured into the middle, and finally a homemade detonator was placed on the top. Major Quot recalled: 'At every hamlet underground in the Cu Chi tunnels we had a productive team making mines and hand grenades and repairing firearms. [...] We even organized a little assembly line -- one person specialized in taking the explosive out of the 'dud' American shells, another prepared it, and a third fitted the detonator into the mine itself.' This underground arms industry was to be far more than just a nuisance to the Americans. It was to become the primary means for denying the GIs access to the tunnels complex.

"The electrical power to run the workshops came principally from small hand or foot generators. 'The signals unit had a small gasoline-driven generator,' said Captain Linh, 'but these were rare. Usually there were pedal generators, some hand generators from China, and batteries. We were never short of electricity in Cu Chi; we even threw away dim torch batteries and used only bright ones. We were 'presented' with batteries by the Americans; they were easy to pick up.'"(p. 72-74)

"Only a few GIs ever penetrated the second or third tunnel levels. Jan Shrader ... explored one second-level section and recalled finding chambers over five meters high. 'It was incredible, all that space ... the thing we found more than anything else was arms and materiel, but in very good storage." [...] Shrader also found tunnel workshops where fairly sophisticated armaments were being copied. 'There were these workshops set up where they actually made small arms, Chinese copies of Thompson submachine guns and different French designs. They'd take a French machine gun which they'd captured ... and set up a little tunnel workshop and start turning out copies by hand. They made hand grenades, ammunition, and lots of mines.'

"Sergeant Arnie Gutierrez did discover what some of the largest underground store rooms were for. 'In the chambers, which were fifteen feet high, they were assembling artillery pieces and big mortars. They would be stripped down outside the tunnels, carried through, assembled during the night inside the tunnel, for maintenance or whatever, stripped, and then taken back through the tunnel and out again, reassembled and used. No wonder we never found their guns outside. In one set of underground chambers we found two 105 field guns. These two 105s were over forty years old and they were still in perfect condition. Can you imagine it, putting damn great field howitzers to bed every night in a tunnel?" (p. 74-75)

"In 1966, the Viet Cong managed to steal an M-48 tank from the ARVN (South Vietnam army) unit north of Lai Khe, an event which caused understandable consternation on the government side. Three years later, the Americans found it -- in a tunnel. It had been buried about six feet down and tunnels had been dug around it. The tank itself was used by the VC as a command center; the batteries, the lights and the radio were still working." (p. 75)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Cu Chi Tunnels - Part 2: Strategic Import and Structure

In this second installment about the tunnels of Cu Chi district in Vietnam, we will continue to quote from the book, The Tunnels of Cu Chi (Mangold/Penycate, 1985). This installment will focus on the strategic significance and the structure of the Cu Chi tunnels, which were highly instrumental in the Vietnamese guerrilla fight against the American military machine (for a diagram of a typical tunnel system, see here ... and here).

"On 28 September 1967, a detachment of the Korean 28th Infantry Regiment of the 9th (S. Korean) Division captured a remarkable document during a sweep north of Saigon ... The document appears to be ... the only tunnels manual ever issued by the Communists. It is a ten-page technical and political booklet, revealing many secret details about the tunnels' structure and strategic purpose ...

" The primary role of the tunnels is stressed and re-stressed. 'They are for the strengthening of combat vitality for our villages. They also provide more safety for our political and armed units and for the masses as well. But their sheltering purpose in only significant when they serve our soldiers in combat activities. As mere shelters, their great advantages are wasted.' ... 'There must be combat posts and equipment inside the underground tunnels for providing continuous support to our troops -- even if the enemy occupies the village.' The document [continues]:
'If the tunnels are dug so as to exploit their effectiveness fully, the villages and hamlets will become extremely strong fortresses. The enemy may be several times superior to us in strength and modern weapons, but he will not chase us from the battle-field, because we will launch surprise attacks from within the underground tunnels. We can see that underground tunnels are very favorable for armed forces as limited as ours, in strength and weaponry.'
"The tunnels would be crucial for launching close-in attacks on the Americans and would also provide opportunities to seize their weapons; they would provide excellent mobility and 'we may attack the enemy right in the center of his formations or keep on fighting from different places.'" (p. 56-57)

"[The tunnel] system was to be simple and effective: 'We must plan for the eventual impossibility of fighting from inside the underground tunnels. A secret passage must then be available from which our troops may escape and fight in the open, or reenter the underground passage if necessary.' The passages of the tunnels were not to be either straight or 'snakelike', but were to zigzag at angles of between 60 and 120 degrees ... Zigzagging ... [made] a straight line of fire inside impossible, and helped deflect explosive blasts.'" (p. 57-58)

"A clever and finely engineered trapdoor system was devised ... to create entrances and exists to secret passages and from one tunnel level to another ... Air, sanitation, water supplies and cooking facilities were sufficient to maintain a primitive but reasonably safe existence. It was crucial to the whole plan that even if the first tunnel level was discovered, the secret trapdoor that led down to the next would remain hidden from the enemy. That meant making trapdoors that were virtually invisible." (p. 58)

"The sides of the trapdoor were usually beveled downward at an angle so that it could take considerable over-pressure. There was no sag. If the trapdoor was inside the tunnel, the VC placed earth on top of it and hid in the earth small finger wires, which allowed a soldier to lift the door. If the trapdoor was outside, then small plants would be encouraged to grow on it, or dead foliage would be ... planted to make it as one with the environment.

"Ventilation holes were simplicity itself. They ran obliquely from the surface to the first level -- obliquely to avoid monsoon rain flooding in. Some always pointed east toward the preferred light of the day. Others, 'must be turned toward the wind.'" (p. 59)

"Entrances to the tunnels were carefully and precisely engineered to cater for various contingencies. The ... manual explained:
'Because the activities of the militia and the guerrillas require appearing and disappearing quickly, the entrances to the underground tunnel must be located like the corner of a triangle, so that each can support the other in combat. Our troops must also be able to escape from the underground tunnel through a secret opening so they may continue to fight.'
"The entrances also had to be able to resist fire, flood, and chemical warfare: 'for this reason, we must locate the entrances to the tunnels in dry, elevated, and well-ventilated areas. Such an entrance will not be blocked by the chemicals that will otherwise kill the occupants. Also rainwater will not stagnate in the entrance so located.'" (p. 59)

"[The] fact remains that the tunnels of Cu Chi were the primary factor in fighting the campaign against the Americans, and if sloppiness or engineering imprecision infected the building of the system, the communists would lose.

"Some first-hand evidence of the stability and efficiency of the Cu Chi tunnel system fell into American hands when a VC guerrilla, Ngo Van Giang, was captured by the S. Vietnamese on 31 January 1968. In a sixteen page debriefing statement, Giang is quoted at length by his interrogators on the subject of the Cu Chi tunnel network. He told his captors where a tunnel became an open bunker, special roofs had been constructed by using 50-cm-thick layer of 'husks'. Then there was a layer of dirt 50 cm thick. On top of the dirt, they had planted flowers or used fallen trees as camouflage. Incredibly, according to Giang, if a 200-kg bomb fell within just ten meters of the tunnel, no damage would result. The husks and leaves used were excellent protection against bomb blast. Bamboo poles were also employed for their resilience. 'In April 1966,' Giang told his captors, 'an airplane dropped a 200-kg bomb at Chua hamlet, and the bomb hit right on this type of tunnel. The dirt and husks caved in, but the cadre [inside] was not wounded.'" (p. 60-61)

"One of the most important secrets of kept from the Americans during the entire war, according to Major Quot, was that the construction of the tunnels was such that each section could be sealed off. 'The Americans thought that our armed forces were confined to one tunnel and that they were able to kill everybody down there by blowing down gas or pumping down a large quantity of water. But this was not so. It was important that the enemy never understood this.'" (p. 64)

"Although the tunnels were natural shelters against the U.S. bombing attacks, further special protection became necessary when the bombing increased in ferocity. So, the tunnelers dug conical A-shaped shelters that were geometrically designed to resist both artillery shells and bomb blast. More important, their conical shape acted as an amplifier and magnified the distant sound of approaching B-52 strikes. This was the only warning tunnel dwellers might get of an imminent attack." (p, 64-65)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cu Chi Tunnels - Part 1: Introduction

In light of the emergence of the Tunnels of Gaza, which have been dug and developed as a response to prison conditions imposed on the entire Gaza Strip, it is instructive to study other instances of tunnels used to combat oppression, particularly in anti-colonial/anti-imperialist struggles of the Vietnamese people against the French and later the Americans.

All the quotes below are from a book by Tom Mangold and John Penycate, titled,
The Tunnels of Cu-Chi (1986).

"The underground tunnels of Cu Chi were the most complex part of a network that -- at the height of the Vietnam War in the mid sixties -- stretched from the gates of Saigon to the border with Cambodia. There were hundreds of kilometers of tunnels connecting villages, districts, and even provinces. They held living areas, storage depots, ordnance factories, hospitals, headquarters, and almost every other facility that was necessary to the pursuit of the war by the South Vietnam's Communists and that could be accommodated below ground." (p. 15)

"No single military engineer designed this vast labyrinth, nor -- despite Vo Nguyen Giap's overall generalship in Hanoi -- did any one commander order it to be built. The tunnels evolved as the natural response of a poorly equipped and mainly local guerrilla army to mid-twentieth century technological warfare. Aircraft, bombs, artillery and chemicals obliged the Viet Cong to live and fight underground ... [By] becoming an army of moles pitched against armies winged into battle by helicopter, the Viet Cong guerrillas, and later the North Vietnamese army, protracted the war to the point of persuading the United States that it was unwinnable. " (p. 15-16)

"The district of Cu Chi (pronounced ku-chi), in what was South Vietnam, became the the most bombed, shelled, gassed, defoliated and generally devastated area in the history of warfare. For years, most of Cu Chi suffered the fate of being a "free fire zone". That meant random artillery fire, known as "harassment and interdiction" rained upon it ... Bomber pilots were encouraged to offload unused explosives and napalm over Cu Chi before returning to base." (p. 17)

"The strategic significance of this part of South Vietnam is self-evident: It straddled the main land and river routes into Saigon. During the war, these were the Viet Cong's supply routes from Cambodia, where the Ho Chi Minh trail from North Vietnam ended. Secondly, Cu Chi district covers the only sizeable territory in South Vietnam across which troops and vehicles can move easily, even in the monsoon rains that fall on the area in summer months every year." (p. 18)

"The tunnels in Cu Chi were originally dug as hiding places for the Viet Minh, the nationalist guerrillas who fought the colonial power, France, in the 1940s and 1950s." (p. 20)

From the prelude, this poem:

The Mother -- The Native Land
by Duong Huong Ly

When she dug the tunnels, her hair was still brown.
Today her head is white as snow.
Under the reach of the guns she digs and digs.
At night the cries of the partridge record the past.
Twenty years, always the land is at war.
The partridge is the night cries out the love of the native land.
The mother, she digs her galleries, defenses,
Protecting each step of her children.
Immeasurable is our native land.
The enemy must drive his probes in everywhere,
Your unfathomable entrails. Mother,
Hide whole divisions under this land.
The dark tunnels make their own light.
The Yankees have captured her.
Under the vengeful blows she says not a word.
They open their eyes wide but are blind.
Cruelly beaten, the mother collapses.
Her body is no more than injuries and wounds.
Her white hair is like snow.
Night after night
The noise of picks shakes the bosom of the earth.
Columns, divisions, rise up from it.
The enemy, seized by panic, see only
Hostile positions around him.
Immeasurable is our native land.
Your entrails, Mother, are unfathomable.