Sunday Not Quite A Book Review: “The Cultural Revolution: a people’s history 1962-1976”

July 3, 2016

Book Cover Dikotter Cultural Revolution

Since I haven’t been posting much of late, I thought a good way to get back into the swing of things would be to revive the Sunday Book Review series. Great idea!

Trouble is, the book I read is one that I can’t get a handle on the right approach to reviewing it. smiley d'oh! smiley headbang wall

The topic is so large and so complex that I’m left with just one thing to say: if you are ever tempted by the idea that things would be better if we just gave government all the power it wanted, read Frank Dikotter’s “The Cultural Revolution: a people’s history, 1962-1976”. That should slap some sense into you.

The book tells the story of bloody turmoil China was thrown into for over a decade because of the paranoia and whims of one all-powerful man, Mao Zedong. Setting faction against faction, even against his own Communist Party, Mao threw China into such chaos that at times it seemed a second civil war might result — and in some locales, it did.

Fearing that his “comrades” would sideline or even depose him for his horrific errors in the 1950s, worried that a Khrushchev waited in the wings to bring ideological revisionism and a denunciation of Mao’s legacy as Khrushchev did to Stalin in his 1956 “Secret Speech,” Mao and his allies waged war against enemies often made up wholly in Mao’s mind.

The price, of course, was paid by the people. Whether looking for “capitalist roaders,” “revisionists,” members of various “anti-Party cliques” and agents of foreign powers lurking within the Party itself, or merely people of “bad class background” (for example, former landowners under the old regime and their relations), enemies weren’t just found among a few rivals to Mao. Dikotter’s book tells in appalling detail how ordinary Chinese had to suffer because of Mao’s whims: prison camps, “reeducation” centers, thousands of city residents exiled to the country with no relevant skills and yet expected to survive — and never return to the city. People humiliated, driven to suicide or beaten to death by teenaged “Red Guards.” Knowledge, learning, and arts declared worthless, even evil, if they didn’t conform to “Mao Zedong Thought” and serve the class struggle. The horror stories of Lovecraft and King are nothing compared to what really happened in China in the 1960s.

Over and over, we’re treated moments of madness, but also shown how people resisted, or at least tried to survive. When Mao’s insane economics made even basic goods almost impossible to get, many set up secret factories and trade routes, reestablishing an underground capitalism in Communism’s heartland. Secret book clubs meeting to share a copy of forbidden Western literature. Playing Classical music on old phonographs in a closet, hoping no one would hear and denounce you to the authorities.

It’s said that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” China in the Cultural Revolution is a glaring example of this, and Frank Dikotter’s “The Cultural Revolution: a people’s history, 1962-1976” should be part of any “scared straight” program for anyone tempted by statism.

Highly recommended.

PS: “The Cultural Revolution: a people’s history, 1962-1976” is available in hardcover and Kindle format. I’m happy to say the Kindle book was well-formatted and free of any errors as I recall. Fair disclosure, I get a few cents from purchases made through my links.

How the North Korean Air Force trains: with paper airplanes

June 13, 2016

That sure seems to be the import of the video at the end of an article about other North Korean weirdness. Here’s a screen clip:

"Planes go ZOOM!!"

“Planes go ZOOM!!”

Click the link or the photo, then go to the bottom of the article to watch the video. I’d swear they are practicing attack runs on a giant map, all while Dear Leader III looks on, happy as a pudgy murderous dictator can be. Mel Brooks would steal this for one of his movies.

North Korea: Where surrealism found its home.

Afterthought: On a more serious note, I’m reminded of something George C. Scott says toward the end of “Patton.” I’m paraphrasing, but General Patton (Scott) says he knew the Germans were beaten when he realized they were using wagons and horses for their retreat. In other words, they were running out of fuel and thus the ability to sustain modern combat operations.

Makes one wonder how long North Korea could keeps its planes flying if the Korean War turned hot again.

(Video) Memorial Day and America’s “Forgotten War” in Korea

May 30, 2016

korean war

The Korean War (1950-53) is sometimes called America’s “Forgotten War,” the one that came between our crushing victory in World War II and the turmoil of our defeat in Vietnam.

It’s forgotten in part because its results were, at first glance, inconclusive: the North Korean regime survived, and the war was suspended in a ceasefire. In other words, a “draw.”

I’ve argued before that this is an incorrect way to view the war. True, we failed in our initial objective: to liberate all the Korean peninsula. But our later goal, the survival of the South Korean state, turned into a good few could have anticipated. Since the war, South Korea has become a prosperous democratic nation and a close ally of the United States. So, while we didn’t achieve all our war aims, it’s hard not to call this “victory.”

North Korea, on the other hand, gives new meaning to the phrase “Hell on Earth.”

For Prager University, historian Victor Davis Hanson (1) looks at the Korean War and offers not only the same reasons I adduce to call it a win, but also points out why it was an intensely moral fight on the part of the US and its allies:

The Korean War, and the men who fought it, should never be forgotten.

(1) One of my intellectual heroes.


Bookshelf update – The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962-1976

May 29, 2016

Renaissance scholar astrologer

I’ve updated the “What I’m reading” widget to the right to reflect the latest item on the Public Secrets lectern, Frank Dikötter’s  “The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962-1976”.

Book Cover Dikotter Cultural Revolution


I’m only a few chapters into it, so far, but it seems to be another proof of something I’ve long believed: that Human history produces far more horror than any story by King or Lovecraft. The Cultural  Revolution, like so many other Leftist attempts to remake humanity –the French Revolution during “the Terror,” Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy (2), the USSR, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Cuba, North Korea– shows how dangerous it is to let one person, one group, or government in general to have too much power.

The Cultural Revolution is available in both Kindle (1) and hardcover formats.

PS: Why, yes. This is a shameless bit of shilling on my part. I like getting the occasional gift certificate that comes from people buying stuff via my link. But I still think it’s a good book.

(1) I’m happy to say I’ve found no typos or formatting errors, so far. These are all too common in Kindle e-books.
(2) Yes, Fascism and Nazism, two variations on statism, are products of the Left.

North Korea: more sudden deaths, totally coincidental

January 5, 2016
"You are too short! banished!"

“Likes long walks on the beach and unusual executions.”

I mean, look. Two ex-pat North Korean doctors working in the same clinic die of simultaneous heart attacks after a night of drinking. What’s suspicious about that?

The doctors, An Hyong-chan, 56, and Chol Ri-mun, 50, died in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, late on Friday or early on Saturday after suffering heart attacks. That they died at around the same time from the same cause and in the same location is just the beginning of the tale.

The men, who worked at a clinic that also served as their home in the city’s Tuol Kork district, reportedly died after their wives – also doctors – injected them with an unnamed drug to counteract the effects of an evening of heavy drinking.

The women grew concerned after their husbands developed fevers, abnormal heartbeats and weak pulses after the couples returned home from a night out with 10 other North Koreans, during which the two men had drunk “numerous cocktails”, according to the Phnom Penh Post.

The women told local police they had injected their husbands with “a medicine and a serum” to counteract the effects of the alcohol, and that the men died of heart attacks about an hour later, the newspaper said.

Note that the wives informed the embassy first, then –“hours later”– finally told the locals. Time enough for a clean-up crew and to get stories straight?

As The Guardian notes, this is far from the only mysterious death in which North Korea is part of the picture. One of Kim’s close advisers died in a car wreck just a few days ago. And the regime does have a habit of creatively executing those who somehow offend it. (1)

So, it’s possible it happened as described, but I see other, more likely scenarios:

The wives murdered their husbands on their own. Perhaps the men were abusive, or maybe they were cheating on their marriages, or the women wanted their men gone for other personal reasons. The wives call the embassy because that’s what’s expected of Norks overseas. North Korean officials show up, figure out the plot, and cover things up to prevent embarrassment to the regime and will administer “justice” on their own.

The wives were agents of the regime, willing or unwilling, and executed their husbands on State orders. “Why” is anyone’s guess, but Pyongyang has never been shy about having people killed. In this case, the embassy was called once the mission was completed, and they showed up to get all the details straight before the Cambodians can ask awkward questions. The women will be whisked away and never seen again. Case closed, too bad for the honored dead.

Either one is possible, though I think the last is most plausible.

But the truth? I doubt we’ll ever know.

(1) I was so sorry to learn that the story of Kim feeding his uncle alive to starving dogs was a hoax. Dude, I was counting on you!

R.I.P Tibor Rubin, American hero

December 13, 2015
Tibor Rubin

Tibor Rubin

Tibor Rubin died recently, after living a life that marked him as a great man. Born a Jew in Hungary, Rubin and his family were thrown into the death camps by the Nazis. He lost his mother and sister there, but Tibor survived to see the Americans liberate the camp and its prisoners. Overwhelmed with gratitude at the men who came from over the sea to save him and destroy his people’s tormentors, Rubin vowed to find a way to make it to America and become an American soldier.

Eventually he did, and Rubin found himself fighting in Korea against the North Koreans and Chinese. Legal Insurrection quotes from his medal of honor citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Corporal Tibor Rubin distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism during the period from July 23, 1950, to April 20, 1953, while serving as a rifleman with Company I, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division in the Republic of Korea.

While his unit was retreating to the Pusan Perimeter, Corporal Rubin was assigned to stay behind to keep open the vital Taegu-Pusan Road link used by his withdrawing unit. During the ensuing battle, overwhelming numbers of North Korean troops assaulted a hill defended solely by Corporal Rubin. He inflicted a staggering number of casualties on the attacking force during his personal 24-hour battle, single-handedly slowing the enemy advance and allowing the 8th Cavalry Regiment to complete its withdrawal successfully.

Following the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter, the 8 th Cavalry Regiment proceeded northward and advanced into North Korea. During the advance, he helped capture several hundred North Korean soldiers. On October 30, 1950, Chinese forces attacked his unit at Unsan, North Korea, during a massive nighttime assault.

That night and throughout the next day, he manned a .30 caliber machine gun at the south end of the unit’s line after three previous gunners became casualties. He continued to man his machine gun until his ammunition was exhausted. His determined stand slowed the pace of the enemy advance in his sector, permitting the remnants of his unit to retreat southward. As the battle raged, Corporal Rubin was severely wounded and captured by the Chinese.

Choosing to remain in the prison camp despite offers from the Chinese to return him to his native Hungary, Corporal Rubin disregarded his own personal safety and immediately began sneaking out of the camp at night in search of food for his comrades. Breaking into enemy food storehouses and gardens, he risked certain torture or death if caught. Corporal Rubin provided not only food to the starving Soldiers, but also desperately needed medical care and moral support for the sick and wounded of the POW camp.

His brave, selfless efforts were directly attributed to saving the lives of as many as forty of his fellow prisoners. Corporal Rubin’s gallant actions in close contact with the enemy and unyielding courage and bravery while a prisoner of war are in the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army.

Tibor Rubin didn’t receive his medal until 2005, when it was discovered an antisemitic sergeant had interfered with the initial reports. It’s to the credit of Congress and the Bush administration that they corrected this insult.

You can read more and watch a video about Tibor Rubin at Legal Insurrection — in fact, I insist you do. In an era when we hero-worship narcissistic nothings who’ve never done a thing in their lives worth remembering, when we pander to infantile adults who become upset at hearing words they don’t like, it’s gratifying, refreshing, and reassuring to read of someone who, to the day he died, always looked for some way to pay back the land that had saved his life. Not flashy, not showy: no screaming “look at me, me, me!” Just a man of quiet, humble courage who was a better American than many who were born here.

Rest in peace, Corporal Tibor Rubin. May your memory be a blessing to your family and the adopted country you so honored.

The “citizenship score:” How do you say “1984 lives!” in Chinese?

October 14, 2015
"Victims of a low citizenship score"

“The shame of a low citizenship score”

We’ve all heard of the “credit score,” right? That number that tells lenders whether you’re a responsible borrower, or if you’re some sort of deadbeat? Your borrowing, repayment, and income history are all factored in to arrive at a number that serves as a shorthand for your credit-worthiness.

Now, imagine taking all your Internet activity and all the doings of you and your friends and using that to come up with a “score” showing how good a citizen you are.

Welcome to today’s China:

China’s Communist government is rolling out a plan to assign everyone in the country “citizenship scores.” According to the ACLU, “China appears to be leveraging all the tools of the information age—electronic purchasing data, social networks, algorithmic sorting—to construct the ultimate tool of social control. It is, as one commentator put it, ‘authoritarianism, gamified.’ ” In the system, everyone is measured by a score ranging from 350 to 950, and that score is linked to a national ID card. In addition to measuring your financial credit, it will also measure political compliance. Expressing the wrong opinion—or merely having friends who express the wrong opinion—will hurt your score. The higher your score, the more privileges the government will grant you.

The system will be run by China’s ostensibly private (1) Internet companies. Read on to see how Yahoo –an American company– is a part owner in this tool of oppression. Ironic, right? The Internet, which is supposed to intellectually liberate Man by providing him with near limitless information, is instead being twisted by an evil regime and its American(!) collaborator into a means of thought control.

This should rightly horrify Westerners, Americans most of all (2), and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect a government founded on the principle of human liberty to not only criticize such a system and those who enable it, but to forbid companies that do business in the US from any participation.

But that would require an American government that believed in American values, something we’re currently lacking.

I suppose we should be grateful progressives can’t ever implement something similar here.

We hope. smiley worried

(1) Only officially a Communist state, now. Though the Communist Party maintains a monopoly on political and coercive power, the system has evolved more toward a fascist, state-capitalist model.
(2) Except for certain New York Times columnists who really, really wish we were more like China.