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Walls and Apertures

In tacking along the North Korean border with Liaoning province for most of the day, it occurred to me that construction of barriers is simply part of life.  One has to seal off memory in order to act, for instance.

Thus the danger of wallowing in history of any sort.  Weighing, judging, understanding, and forgetting are of a piece.   Perhaps it isn’t a bad thing than an old man in Dandong, born in 1933 and tickled to be meeting an American, misses completely the point of a question about what he was doing during the Chinese civil war and the period of Japanese occupation.  (Although perhaps it is not so good that he instead praises the U.S. for dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, which is how more than a few [occasionally inebriated] Chinese folks who were just making my acquaintance ingratiated themselves.)  Who needs to remember that dreadful procession of Japanese, Chinese puppet, and Soviet troops, anyway, capped off by a few swings of North Korean dissidents on the run from Sinuiju and finally the People’s Liberation Army, a civil war, and then war in Korea?  Do I really want to peel away at this man’s memory and think upon the inferno of the American firebombing of Sinuiju in 1950, the bombing of that blackened bridge?  Maybe there is a good reason that tens of books have been written about the bombings of Dresden and Tokyo (and of course Hiroshima/Nagasaki), and that not one has been focused purely on the bombing of civilians in North Korea.

North Korean texbook circa 1958, showing destruction caused by "American imperialism" during the war; collection of the author

Isn’t it a bit hard to reconcile that statistic with the assertion that America-hating leftists are in control of the historical academy?  If they had any influence at all, wouldn’t those academics have produced, say, more than a handful of articles and citations about “Operation Strangle,” part of one of the largest sustained intentional acts of bombing of civilians in the 20th century?  Forgotten salient of a forgotten war…

Memory stalks quietly through the gaps in walls, however, and lurks beyond the field of vision.  It returns at times of great success and makes its heaviness known at moments of incipient failure.  The inability to escape past versions of oneself, to uproot the downward channels of habit, to break out of military encirclements prepared assiduously by one’s own host of errors, presupposes that memory plays a negative role.

Imagining a new self, a new situation, a new relationship of humans or nations is fully necessary.  At times that act of imagining should be fully untethered from the naysaying reality, while at others, reference to some foundations of the past may be made.  Stand on foundations of old, in other words, to more properly hammer at them.

And thus it is just fine to note, and then to forget, the following spaces which the present Chinese version of civilization has deemed uncivilized:

Global Voices Online

Posterous.com (science blogs)



China Digital Times

And then to say “whatever, find another way,” and then find the other way, and be expressive in doing so, and write about something meaningful.

Like the mess that is North Korea.

Bridge linking DPRK and PRC, west of Linjiang, Jilin province -- photo by Adam Cathcart

Death of Chang Song U / DPRK updates

Surprisingly, this story seems not yet to have been picked up by English-language media.  Chang Song U, the brother of Chang Song Taek and a higher-up in the DPRK bureaucracy, was reported on August 25 by KCNA to have died.  Kim Jong Il was said to be saddened; much more detail is available in Chinese.

Chang Song U, RIP

Chang Song U, RIP

In the meantime, North Korean media is celebrating Youth Day, talking almost daily about pro-NK activities in war-torn Mexico, and slapping up as much anti-Japanese propaganda and historical grievance as possible (probably desperately hoping for an LDP/conservative miracle in the parliamentary elections, as a friendly Japan is precisely what the NK leadership doesn’t need from a propaganda/mobilization standpoint).  Again, I strongly recommend reading the Congressional testimony of Selig Harrison on the Korean-Japan dynamic; he has great insights here.  (Multiple links provided in previous post, just search “Harrison” within this blog to find.)  Jeff Rud, a student of Korean War crimes, has an insightful post on his blog on the basis for, and the uses of, recent anti-Japanese dispatches by KCNA.

Japanese troops harass Korean girl in North Korean children's story; anti-American comic up top (collection of Adam Cathcart)

Japanese troops harass Korean girl in North Korean children's story; anti-American comic up top (collection of Adam Cathcart)

Although Hatoyama, the presumptive new Japanese P.M., speaks well of China and would be a significant improvement over the current occupant (Aso of the LDP), China is also angry with Japan at the moment.  However, their reasons are more “War on Terror” related (at least in Beijing’s thought): Japan admitted Uighur independence leader Rebiya Khadeer in July, and so they are being punished by a naval snub.

If China was really gutsy, Xinhua would grab my citation from the Nazi archives about NSDAP/Imperial Japanese wartime propaganda insisting on Xinjiang’s independence.  Now that is a plot!

I have no inside information on the five North Korean officials in Los Angeles so will remain basically mum on that topic.   However, we should take note that they (or some pro-North Korean organization in Los Angeles, apparently) made a statement on August 21 about the need to “elimnate traitors” which is certainly meant to provide some political cover to hardline elements in in Pyongyang or the KPA brass who might otherwise be opposed to accepting an invitation to Los Angeles, which is way beyond the normal circumference in New York/Jersey out of which North Korean officials are normally not allowed to travel in the U.S.  The fact that they drove around in a private car near LAX (they almost certainly arrived on a direct flight from Beijing) both gives me great respect for their death-defying tactics of braving LA’s legendary traffic and the small but persistent power of people-to-people, or Track II, exchanges.

And, as a final reminder that things are warming up with the Chinese, we have news of a Chinese delegation in the DPRK from August 17-21, and frequent performance of a new musical about the Chinese PLA’s liberation of Shanghai, the very city where China is returning the favor by quashing the broadcast of film documentaries critical of Pyongyang.