“When the U.S. vilifies or threatens war against a people, our instinct should be to unconditionally and vocally oppose this aggression, rather than scrutinize the victim.”
by Andy Koch
I walk out of the job training classroom and into a nearby break room. A small group of recent college graduates in their early twenties, all of them white, sit around a table with coffee. We’re all just starting out as new nurses at the local state hospital.
Person A: “Did you see that thing on CNN last night? That crazy north Korean dictator guy, Kim Jing-Jong or whatever? Like, launched another nuclear bomb?”
Person B: “That whole frickin’ country is crazy. They’re all so brainwashed, it’s just unbelievable. It’s like that book, 1984 [by George Orwell]… it’s like there is ACTUALLY a real country that is exactly like that, with big brother watching you, and everything is propaganda.”
Person C: “I don’t know what’s taking Obama so long to take care of it, you know? It would be for their own good, like Iraq and Saddam Hussein. It’s the same deal. What’s the military for if not for taking care of these Hitler-type guys and shutting down their torture chambers and concentration camps?”
I’ve just met most of these folks for the first time, and from my experience, someone who barely knows you probably isn’t going to give an unpopular opinion any thought. While my politics are opposed to this kind of jingoism, I decided to pick my battle and not take issue with what they were saying. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem worth it, especially when I don’t know how hostile my job environment might be to my politics. Overhearing the conversation brought up feelings of sadness and frustration for me – just another reminder of how much I feel at odds with the war-loving society I live in.
These life-long United States residents’ comparison of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK for short, referred to in U.S. corporate media as “north Korea”) to the fictional society that George Orwell describes in the novel “1984” struck me as particularly ironic. 1984 paints a picture of a global state of affairs in which the powerful rulers of each of three super-states maintain dominance of their respective societies through endless war, constant surveillance, secret detentions and prisons, and a complete stranglehold on information and public thought through propaganda. Now, I honestly don’t know if this comparison applies to the DPRK – I’ve never been there, and isn’t a whole lot of reliable information available to us in the United States about the nation. However, I think the comparison certainly applies to a place I’m more familiar with – the United States.
Most progressives and liberals I know would strongly oppose placing the blame for a sexual assault on the victim. Unlike the mainstream media, they would never ask of a survivor: “Well, what were you wearing? Why were you alone in that area?” This comes from the progressive instinct to side with the oppressed, to believe the victim, to look closely at who was the aggressor and who had the power in any situation. This is an essential act of solidarity which helps to break down oppression.
Unfortunately, among most of the progressive movement in the U.S., this opposition to victim-blaming does not generally apply to oppressed nations. When the U.S. wages war on or vilifies a nation, such as Iraq, Libya, Cuba, or the DPRK, the first place liberals and progressives look is at the victim. “They lack civil liberties, that’s not the kind of society I want”… “that country is a dictatorship”… “their leader is crazy.” I remember hearing no end to the reasons why Libyan leader Ghaddafi was a bad guy from the mouths of progressives, but fewer statements of opposition to the NATO bombing campaign that ensued, killing thousands of civilians.
Why do we jump at the opportunity to justify U.S. aggression? The DPRK isn’t perfect, but why do we need to list its imperfections every time the U.S. threatens war against this oppressed nation that has suffered under white, Western colonialism and imperialism for more than a century? This is victim-blaming on an international scale. When the U.S. vilifies or threatens war against a people, our first instinct must be to unconditionally and vocally oppose this aggression, rather than scrutinize the victim.
There hasn’t been a single year that I’ve been alive in which the U.S. didn’t carry out some kind of military operation against the people of another country. The capitalist ruling class benefits immensely from these wars through the seizure of resources, destruction of “disobedient” governments, profitable contracts for the production of weaponry, and by distracting the working class by whipping up racism and xenophobia. Being told every day by a highly polished media that you are in danger of being killed by terrorists distracts the masses of people from the fact that they are 8 times more likely to be killed by the police (1).
The US media portrays the DPRK as hyper-militarist, always itching to start a nuclear war. Is this the case? How can we judge this objectively? I find that looking historically at the actions which nations take, rather than the rhetoric coming from their leaders, is most useful in determining the objective character of these nations. How many aggressive wars has the US – either on its own or with NATO – waged in the past fifty years? Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Iraq (twice), Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Libya, Somalia, Grenada, Panama, plus countless military interventions fought by US-funded proxy forces such as in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Palestine, and more.
How many countries has the DPRK invaded? None, though some right-wingers might argue that north Korea invaded south Korea during the US’s 1950-53 war which claimed more than 3 million Korean lives. I don’t consider attempting to take back territory under colonial control to be an invasion, however – and by 1950, Korea had been under colonial subjugation for over 40 years, by Japan, then France, then the United States. Taking back your national territory from a colonial or imperial occupying army isn’t an invasion – it’s the right of an oppressed people.
Constant Surveillance, Secret Detentions & Prisons
Warrantless wiretapping has become a routine operation of the US Department of Justice since the start of the US government’s “War on Terror.” According to the ACLU, “more people were subjected to [telephone wiretapping] surveillance in the past two years [2009 and 2010] than in the entire previous decade… The number of authorizations the Justice Department received to use these devices on individuals’ email and network data increased 361% between 2009 and 2011.” (2) During the Bush administration, wiretapping and other breaches of civil rights were fiercely protested. However, once Obama came into office, much of the liberal movement against these attacks packed up and went home, much like the liberal anti-war movement. The rapid erosion of privacy and other civil liberties under the Obama administration hardly registered on most liberal and progressive activists’ radar. I’d like to go more in depth about secret detentions, prisons, and police repression in the US, but a thorough look at these issues would require a discussion of its own. I think it’s enough just to point out that the US has more prisoners than any other country in the world – 2.3 million, disproportionately Black, Native, and Latino. China, with more than four times the US population, has 600,000 fewer prisoners than the US. Looking at it from another angle, the United States, with five percent of the world’s population, has over 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. (3) Given the magnitude of the police state at home, it’s no wonder the U.S. exports prisons around the world, from Guantanamo Bay to Abu Grahib and countless other CIA “black sites.”
The U.S. corporate media is the most expensive, sophisticated propaganda machine in the world – all the more effective because it disguises itself so well as a “free press.” There hasn’t been a single war that the U.S. has waged in the past twenty years that didn’t have the full support of all the major media, from Fox News to the New York Times. Even today no major news outlet is willing or able to expose drone killings, challenge the basic logic of the war on terror, or defend the rights of oppressed nations to self-determination. This is because they are all the private property of the capitalist ruling class – for example, the Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch owns Fox News along with countless other media holdings. Why would we expect the media to represent the interests of anyone but their owners? The media promote what is profitable and beneficial to the capitalist class: racism, war, sexism, etc. The U.S. propaganda system is so effective that the majority of the progressive and left movement is thoroughly misled by it. Remember when Fox, CNN, etc. told us that it was necessary to impose a “no-fly zone” over Libya in order to save its people from their murderous dictator? How many progressives, liberals, and leftists did you see adopt almost an identical position? Maybe they had a little more nuanced approach, and said something like “we are for a no-fly zone but against NATO and Gaddhafi” or “against a no-fly zone but for the Libyan rebels.” How did that turn out? NATO bombed what was once the nation with the highest living standard in Africa into submission, destroying almost all its public infrastructure. Tens of thousands of civilians died in these attacks. “Rebel” groups lynched Black Africans living in Libya by the hundreds. Libya’s government was destroyed, and replaced by a NATO-supported ruling clique which has yet to establish a functional government. We have to learn from these historical lessons – we have to oppose all imperialist war. And yet, even as I write this, an almost identical situation is happening in Syria.
(1) – Data from the 2004 National Safety Council Estimates, analyzed by The Progressive Review, Feb. 9, 2009. http://prorev.com/2009/02/cop-is-more-likely-to-kill-you-than.html
(2) – “New Justice Department Documents Show Huge Increase in Warrantless Electronic Surveillance” by Naommi Gilens, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, Sept. 27, 2012. http://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security-technology-and-liberty/new-justice-department-documents-show-huge-increase
(3) “U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other countries” by Adam Liptak for The New York Times, April 23, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/world/america/23iht-23prison.12253738.html