May 26, 2018
When the Trump administration illegally threw away the nuclear agreement with Iran, usurping the authority of congress, not to mention those silly little people called the “citizens of the United States,” and then it went on to openly support the brutal killing of unarmed protesters in Jerusalem with high-powered weapons by Israeli military/police forces, many thought we had hit rock bottom.
But in fact, now that the Federal government has been practically emptied of men and women of any ethical standards, we learn that we are just getting started.
Blaming Trump does not help much of anything. We have a massive institutional collapse taking place which is rendering the United States essentially ungovernable. The group around Donald Trump who are now calling the shots are a priceless collection of extremists, drawn to the sugar daddy like flies. They are not conservatives in any sense of the word. They are essentially psychotic, caring nothing about a future of severe climate change, and or nuclear war, or for that matter about their own children. They are the superrich, or they service the superrich, and they have effectively taken the final step of severing the ties between the United States and the so-called international community.
Some may feel obligated to follow them on their joyful promenade to the Apocalypse. I would just as well stay as far away as possible from this insane drive to start a world war. As Albert Einstein once wrote, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” I must say, granted the weapons available today, and the impending catastrophe of climate change, Einstein was an optimist.
May 24, 2018 was the turning point. It was a day “of no significance,” to use the term that Ray Hwang employed in describing how the breakdown of institutions in the late Ming Dynasty rendered that powerful political entity impotent from within. Nothing that happened was overly significant for the average person, but the results may be catastrophic.
The two events of May 24 went by practically unnoticed by many Koreans, or for that matter, by many Americans, as they rushed about trying to make enough money to feed their families, or as they indulged in video games and commercial pornography in an attempt to try and escape from a grim reality. But for those of you interested in the grim pursuit of truth, these two events were profound in their implications.
First there was the glib letter from America’s President Donald Trump to Kim Jung-un that grabbed some bandwidth and set the media pundits off chattering in the most amusing and harmless manner. This letter, with Trump’s flashy John Hancock at the bottom, was no ordinary letter. The letter was a proclamation that the president of the United States is now a “supreme leader” who does not need any authorization from congress, from experts, or from anyone else, in making his decisions as he rides forward to represent the United States to the entire world. He can destroy the world if he feels like it and an amazing number of Americans are happy to pretend this political nightmare is a temporary misunderstanding.
The media told us that this letter was but a step in complex negotiations and not the end of the road. The argument was that because the letter does not rule out negotiations, therefore we should be optimistic. Perhaps. But the more convincing interpretation is that this positive spin was purposely promoted in the U.S. media to keep from being aware of just how serious a matter such a letter would be for North Korea, for China, and for many in South Korea.
Postponing the summit a few weeks, or even months is not a big deal. Sending such a rude and threatening letter to Chairman Kim on precisely the same day that North Korea invited foreign correspondents to witness the blowing up of the Pyunggye-ri nuclear test site was a glaring insult. The event at Pyunggye-ri is not real denuclearization, but it is the first in a series of planned good-will gestures that would affirm a commitment to engagement and fundamentally alter the relationship of North Korea with the world. If the United States joined in that process, a path towards denuclearization would be possible. Ask any true expert on non-proliferation and she will tell you that it is the reduction of tensions, and not the destruction of nuclear weapons, which must be the first step.
The letter was a clear insult of the highest order. An insult to North Koreans, to South Koreans, to the Chinese, even to Japanese and others who had worked hard to make this summit possible and to start a real dialog. Moreover, the letter from Trump was not meant for only Kim Jung-un; it was a message to the entire world that if the Trump team threatens war, nothing can be negotiated except the conditions for complete submission to its economic and political demands.
There was another critical cancelation that took place on May 24 which did not show up in many newspapers but had profound significance for those who make military decisions.
The Trump administration suddenly ordered the Pacific Command to officially “disinvite” China (more specifically Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy) from the RIMPAC 2018 Naval exercises to be held in Hawaii. RIMPAC has evolved into one of the most important opportunities for the Chinese and American military to work together and to exchange opinions. Military experts view it as a critical part of the effort to assure cooperation between the two great powers facing the Pacific. The Trump administration officially invited China to attend RIMPAC in May, 2017.
And now, it suddenly rescinds an invitation already sent, the very same day that Trump also cancels the Singapore summit that the Chinese government had put so much work into making possible? It is hard to interpret this act as anything but a tremendous insult to China. Ordinary citizens in China or the United States may not understand this situation at all, but the people involved in military planning have no doubt as to the significance of this decision. It will cause ill will that can last for decades. That was not an accident, it was the whole idea.
The push for military confrontation is also entering a new stage in the Middle East at the very same time. The risks keep going up in Syria, bit by bit. Who knows what exactly is happening on the ground, or what to believe of what is reported by the New York Times. But can see clearly that U.S. commandos have taken the first steps towards directly conflict with the Russians and Iranians also in Syria.
Those operations are obscure, with those involved often unaware of what is going on. Most of the US troops are in fact mercenaries who work for private contractors and not accountable.
But one thing is for sure, a small firefight in such an ambiguous environment could easily move up the chain of command on the American side (or for that matter the Russian side) and be transformed into an order to use tactical nuclear weapons, or other toys. In an overly-automated military, such an act, which could set off a world war, can easily take place without presidential authorization. Perhaps that was the whole point.
But even those risky actions are not enough to sate the lust for war. The slaughter of the protesters against the extreme decision of the Trump administration to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is looking increasingly like it was a cynical political ploy. The protesters were not threatening anyone. Rather the shooting of children was watched with horror around the world, mostly in the Middle East ― not so much in the United States.
The calculation is clear: if Israel and the U.S. goad Islamic groups through such acts of cruelty Islamic militias will eventually launch an attack against Israelis in Israel, or Israelis abroad. When that attack takes place, it will be used as casus belli to strike at the presumed attackers. And, without any doubt, those attackers will be linked back to Iran. Most likely Israel, perhaps together with the United States, will bomb Iran directly in such a scenario.
Most Americans (or South Koreans and Japanese) have access to only the poorest quality of news reporting, if they watch the news at all. They will not know anything about the insults described above, or their geopolitical significance. But the next step taken by North Korea, or by China, or by Iran will be presented by the mainstream media as outlandishly aggressive behavior.
We are taking about an entire class of educated people who are sleepwalking through history.
“The Sleepwalkers” (Die Schlafwandler) is the title of an extended novel by the Austrian novelist Hermann Broch in which he describes the lives of three fictional characters who were caught up in the collapsing cultural order of Europe in the days leading up to the First World War, and through that debacle. Broch describes a bizarre psychological state in the educated classes of Germany at the time. People lived like sleepwalkers, functional in society, competent at their jobs, but in the most profound sense completely oblivious to the signs of economic and systemic collapse. Because they could run a society while remaining unaware of the consequences of their actions, they made the unthinkable possible.
Christopher Clark took that title for his book “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (2012).” Clark’s book is history, not literature, and he describes the policies and the economic principles that drove the nations of Europe to engage in a war that was so destructive, and which no one wanted.
Clark notes in his book that as tensions rose, capable diplomats and politicians came up with more and more ingenious solutions. Yet they could only put off the building tensions, and could not address the profits to be made from arms manufacturing, or the appeal for politicians of stoking emotions.
That is the exact danger we sense in the sudden meeting between Kim Jung Un and Moon Jae-in at Panmunchon immediately following Trump’s cancelation of the Singapore summit. The diplomatic move was ingenious, but it completely fails to address the true issue: the increasing push for a war with China by factions in the United States military.
The final point to take home from Clark’s book, and other studies about 1914, is the importance of secret diplomacy. Not only did all the nations of Europe weave incredibly complex webs of secret diplomatic and military treaties, they also fabricated any number of convincing documents to “prove” that their opponents were in the wrong.
The secret military treaties dictated the manner in which the various countries were aligned with each other, and those treaties, known to only a handful of people, dictated the course of military actions after the catalytic assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For the average citizen, the process seemed as magic as it seemed ineluctable that nation after nation committed itself to a form of mass suicide.
There was a reason for the push for diplomatic transparency after the First World War, and then again after the Second World War.
We are once again walking down that same slippery slope. Numerous meetings between high military officials throughout Asia, and the world have been held to discuss intelligence-sharing, or missile defense cooperation, or other military-military cooperation. Those appearing in newspapers are the tip of the iceberg. Those classified agreements contain numerous rules for what each side is committed to doing in the case of a conflict. That is to say that much of these “intelligence-sharing” agreements are not about stopping evil spies, and missile defense is not so much about stopping missiles. Rather these texts are classified agreements that define who can tell whom what to do in a crisis. We must ask ourselves, why must they be secret?
There is still much we can do to rouse ourselves from our long slumber and take a positive step towards peace. But the first baby step is to break away from the mass psychology of denial that pervades our society and to confront the world, and human nature, as it is.