Category Archives: war

Oh Canada

Icarus

How do you measure love of country? You really can’t, but it’s all relative. There’s a personal rubric to everyone’s life to where you can measure love of country to. I think one of the ultimate sacrifices one can make for the country is to enlist in the military. As much as I would love to kiss Canada in the mouth, I don’t think I’m ready to take the risk of dying for the country as part of my occupation. I don’t want that to be an element of my 9 to 5. Of course, as Louis CK once mentioned, these soldiers only “think” that they’re dying for the country, because really what are wars about these days anyway? Unless you belong in a small country fighting an invading force, you’re most likely part of a large military machine fighting for unsexy geopolitical reasons engineered by politicians at the behest of the one-percenters. But hey, at the very least, in the soldiers mind, they would gladly lay their life for the country. That’s what really counts.

So me being an ordinary civilian, how much do I love Canada? Well, it would be easy to say I could die for the country more than I would die for South Korea or the Philippines, but there was actually one point in my life when I could measure my love for the country in another comparative fashion. It’s ugly, but it’s the truth: I love sleeping in my own bed more than I love Canada.

After graduating from university the first time, I was at a loss as to what to do with my life. Looking for some life experiences, I decided to apply for the navy. I figured it would be good to be part of the navy since I could be in the military without having to be in the ground and stabbing someone in the neck. My uncle is in the US Navy, and he seemed to be living quite the good life with his family in Hawaii. I was all ready to go and sign away my existence when I learned that the first eight months would involve me being in a submarine hot bedding. Hot bedding is the practice of sharing a bed with people and taking turns sleeping in shifts. That’s why the bed is “hot,” it’s always warm from the person who slept on it a couple of minutes ago. So that would’ve been my life, hot bedding in a steel canister, floating or sinking in a dark abyss. I decided no. It was too high a price for me to pay.

Living overseas, I’ve met many soldiers. A lot of them have suffered tremendous trauma from their times in conflict zones. I remember one soldier in particular who started drinking with me heavily a week after he came back from Afghanistan. I tried to keep up with him, but there was an odd glint in his eyes that just tells me he’s seen and experienced things most people shouldn’t. But my decision to not join the military was long before I’ve met firsthand people who’ve suffered from conflicts, conflicts which continue to this day. The bed situation was enough for me to say no. I don’t even remember if I was thinking about Afghanistan at the time. In fact, I remember considering and being seriously tempted to go to Afghanistan a few years ago for a non-military job. So it wasn’t even being in a conflict that deterred me, it truly was the beds.

It wasn’t until many years later, long after I’ve been living overseas that I’ve truly grown to love Canada. I’d like to think it was more with me growing older as opposed to me missing what was no longer there. I often trumpet my love for the country and evangelize the goodness that is Canada, but during the time when I could prove my love for country, I failed due to sleeping comforts.

These days, it is very difficult to join the military because you never really know which conflict you’ll be sent to and for what reason. Which place will they send you to, and will your death really matter or will it just be a statistic in the games people play for oil or whatever resources countries are now fighting for?  Conflicts are not as clear cut as fighting the Nazis. This is why I admire people who willingly join now. Knowing all of these detractors, despite cynics like, they still sign up for love of country.

I’m sorry, Canada. I love you. But I love you with my cowardly heart. It is a heart that needs a warm bed heated by my body heat alone.

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Shaking Hands

Skull

Living in South Korea, I think it would be a bit odd if I didn’t comment about the historic event right now regarding North and South Korea. Honestly, I’m very optimistic about the first steps towards a friendlier relationship with North Korea; however, I really don’t know what that friendly relationship means for the country going forward. But whatever it is, it is still better than the North Korea a few months ago that was testing nuclear missiles and insulting its neighbors.

First off, I worry about John Bolton’s comment that they are going to use the Libya model to denuclearize North Korea. This model has been looked at negatively by the people in power in North Korea, especially since it eventually led to the ouster and death of Colonel Gaddafi. As friendly and as willing North Korea may seem to be with denuclearization now, I’m not sure how far those talks would go and what true denuclearization would lead to. Also, factory jobs and the military are the biggest way out of poverty for many North Koreans. If you don’t have a need for a military, you have millions of men potentially on a crisis to transition to other industries. North Korea needs to maintain a perpetual sense of threat in order to justify its bloated military. Also, without the west to fight against, why would North Koreans need Kim Jung Un to save and protect them? It’s a disconnect in the cult of the Kims’ dogma which I’m not sure if Kim Jung Un would survive politically.

So yeah, shake hands with Kim Jung Un, take photos, and make promises. But remember that the North also just decimated a mountain due to their nuclear tests and that Kim Jung Un has killed relatives in order to save his skin. Optimism with a grain of salt is in order.

A friendlier North Korea would do well for the South Korea. I don’t imagine open borders anytime soon, but as I mentioned in past posts, with South Korea relatively meager and stagnant GDP growth rate, a friendlier North could help companies in the South by opening its population to commerce. It would also ease tensions with China and prevent issues like the THAAD missile crisis from harming companies that do business in China and South Korea.

What annoys me, however, is the extremely partisan atmosphere in the country. Just last weekend, there were street protests from the hard right calling the president a traitor and accusing him of selling the country to North Korea. This is insanity. How does that even work? Last time I checked, South Korea is far richer than its northern neighbor. But the problem is the left can be just as toxic with their tribalism as well. I don’t lean on any Korean political parties nor do I subscribe to any particular Korean publication (which can be terribly partisan). I will read anything and I also read/listen to analysis from foreign publications and commentators.  But the minute I say anything negative or express a bit of concern regarding the current president’s actions, I get accused as being brainwashed by the right. And  sometimes this is my wife accusing me of partisanship!

What’s also annoying is Donald Trump taking credit for any headway into North Korea’s denuclearization. I could forgive him for taking some credit. Despite him name calling and trying to compare nuclear buttons with Kim Jung Un just a few months ago, he is still the leader of the United States and he did send Mike Pompeo to meet Kim Jung Un. I don’t know what they talked about and I suspect Trump only sent Pompeo to the North in order to boost his credibility as a Secretary of State nominee, but he still sent him there to presumably open a dialogue. But what’s annoying is Trump taking 100% of the credit to the current North and South Korean situation. What an annoying gnat! He just dismissed all the work of his allies in the South. What’s worse, I suspect if the talks don’t result in meaningful progress, he would gladly throw South Korea under the bus without even remembering President Moon Jae-In’s name.

As for President Moon Jae-In, he should really calm down with saying “Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize” for his work in the inter-Korean talks. I know he’s just trying to be gracious, but Trump will take that graciousness and use it as a cudgel.

I wasn’t in the country during most of the Sunshine Policy of previous administrations, but this feels similar to that attempt to a more peaceful coexistence between the two countries. What’s mostly missing from that previous policy is the North acting in good faith. They were occasionally aggressive during the period and have failed to return much of the goodwill shown to them by the South. I certainly hope things will be better this time around. I personally don’t care so much about nuclear disarmament, especially since North Korea still has thousands of traditional weapons aimed and could destroy Seoul should it ever choose to (I live and work in one of the busiest parts of Seoul), but it would be a great first step at easing tensions in the region. However, I suspect that the song and dance following a true denuclearization, i.e. claims of not following agreements, accusations of hiding nuclear facilities, misleading inspectors, etc., would long be used by political actors to scare each other long after the last rocket has been decommissioned. I’m optimistic, but it will be a long time before people truly no longer see North Korea as a nuclear threat.

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Where I Understand Suspicion Against Foreigners

Cass.jpg

The reason you don’t provoke North Korea is because you don’t want to give them any more incentives to build bombs. Everyone knows that the United States has the biggest military power in the history of mankind with a nuclear arsenal that could destroy the whole world multiple times. It is annoying to hear all of this tough talk against North Korea and appeasement, when the US’ mighty sword has not resolved clean victories and lasting peace in most of the conflicts it got involved in since the Vietnam War. Since Donald Trump got elected, he did nothing but casually hurl inflammatory rhetoric at North Korea and annoy US allies in the region. It is difficult not to argue that it has increased the North Korean zeal with its weapons program as well as encourage inflammatory rhetoric from the North as well.

It doesn’t matter if the US has the bigger bombs, or that it could mete out “fire and fury” at North Korea. Fire and fury has not resulted in the defeat of ISIS, despite Trump’s promise to rid of the group within days of his presidency. This is a ragtag guerilla group which the most advanced military might cannot seem to squash. Military victory is not gained purely on might alone. And the reason why South Korea is wise in being cautious with its approach with its neighbor is that not only would a war cause massive casualties and upend the rest of the eastern Asian region, it would also harm innocent North Koreans in the process. It’s not just because some North Koreans might be related to people in the South, but North Koreans are also human beings, people who have the right to live in peace.

And what is victory in a war with North Korea? A destroyed regime which will result in a power vacuum, perhaps resulting in an Asian version of ISIS? A humanitarian crisis with refugees fleeing the country? A ravaged South Korea and perhaps other major cities in Asia as well? A crippled China, one of the few countries with a growing economy that is fueling a significant portion of the world’s industries? It doesn’t sound like victory at all.

Talks of war against North Korea are gross and shortsighted. It would feel good to punch a fat bully in the teeth, but you don’t starve your neighbors and punch everyone else as well in the process. Most South Koreans don’t worry about nuclear war with the North. They’ve learned to live in the standoff. It is only the US’ rhetoric that is making things a whole lot worse and war with the North that much closer. The Koreas have already suffered countless of times due to foreign powers. This was way before the two Koreas were divided because of the US and the Soviet Union, the reason why South Koreans have traditionally looked at foreign influences with trepidation. Again, North and South Korea is being threatened due to the meddling of foreign influences.

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A Bit of a Break

merrick

A bit of a break from staring at the Joseph Merrick that is politics these days. It’s difficult, but I have to try hard and wean myself from my Internet habits. Even my Twitter hasn’t been that active, despite the occasional fights with neo Nazis.

Speaking of Nazis, I used to volunteer for a hospital when I was fourteen years old. I would help feed and generally assist in the care of senior citizens at Deer Lodge Hospital. It was a good experience, and I got to meet heroes who actually fought Nazis. One man, Mr. Thurston, actually suffered a bullet would while fighting in World War II. He kept the bullet that was meant to kill him, and I remember him telling me that his wife never had much love for the horrible trophy. The man was a hero, and though he passed away over ten years ago, I still remember our conversations.

Come to think of it, that hospital was filled with veterans. It was filled with dying heroes. It was famously the hospital where Tommy Prince spent his last days. It’s almost like a field hospital back in World War II. But instead of young men dying because Winston Churchill sent them to their deaths, it’s time killing old men slowly.

Ironically, to this day, there are still Nazis. There are still Nazis online ready to argue with you and ruin your day. There are still people who can’t enjoy Hugo Boss’ aesthetics without going overboard and donning a swastika armband. Nazis were evil people who lost a war. They were losers. Some people forget that. We should all live in a world where we just shoot Nazis in videogames, not where we argue with them online and in the media.

Oh shoot. That just got political again, didn’t it?

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On Fear and Admitting It

cn-rail

I know where President Obama was coming from when he made the speech to commemorate the Sept. 11 attack. It was a good tribute to the victims of the attack as well as their loved ones. He used the moment to try to unite people into a common purpose, much like after the attack, when Americans were united, so much so that George Bush had a great approval rating.

What got me however when he said, “…as Americans we do not give in to fear. We will preserve our freedoms and our way of life that make us a beacon to the world.” This is simply not true.

While there was courage displayed after the attack, especially with the first responders, there have been so many actions which can only be described as being inspired by cowardice. Iraq was invaded due to fears of phantom weapons. Americans have surrendered their rights to privacy due to fear of terrorism. Airports have been a security nightmare. People have been tortured and locked up indefinitely because of fear. The Middle East has been destabilized exactly because of fear. It caused a ripple of nationalism and xenophobia which crossed over to Europe. And right now, a megalomaniac is close to becoming the president of the United States, running on fear against Muslims and immigrants.

You cannot say Americans do not give in to fear. Americans buy guns in exceedingly high numbers exactly because of fear. They fear terrorists. They fear gay people. They fear minorities. They fear their neighbors. They fear their government. Police officers shoot black people immediately because of fear. Fear is big. And as tragic as it is that 3,000 beautiful lives were lost on 9/11, because Americans were afraid, thousands more died in the Middle East afterwards.

What happened in 9/11 was a great tragedy. Out of that tragedy are stories of courage and strength of spirit. Unfortunately, there are far too many other stories of cowardice and cynicism. This cowardice and cynicism has a persisting and pernicious effect that adapts and evolves. It touches the lives of a greater number of people than the glimmer of bravery that shone in the face of 9/11. There were several great virtues shown after the attack, there were moments of true bravery, but you cannot honestly say that Americans do not give in the fear.

Americans gave in to fear, and the whole world felt it.

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Time Traveling Via NPR

paratrooper

I’ve been listening to old ‘This American Life’ episodes. Over the weekend, I listened to ones that were broadcast right after the attack on the World Trade Center. Like a time traveler, it’s interesting to hear what people feel at the time especially their attitudes towards the US heading to war. As expected, I was annoyed at experts at the time, people like Rumsfeld, who are selling the war with a calamitous need for justice and assurance that America is going to battle in most well thought-out manner. He couldn’t have been more wrong about everything. It’s amazing that they still allow him on television as an ‘expert’ on anything these days.

What’s most interesting was episode 196, when the events of September 11 are examined through different perspectives. Much like the movie ‘Rashomon,’ stories change drastically depending on whose eyes you’re experiencing them through. Of course, people in the west were scared. They we scared of this nebulous terrorist threat. As a westerner, this was probably my default point of view. The west needed a target. It needed to get back at someone. Saddam Hussein has always been a “bad guy” through most of the 90s. Perhaps getting him would turn the scales back into a place of normalcy.

But then there’s also the Muslim point of view. In the episode, a Palestinian teenager explains about why the September 11 attacks doesn’t benefit the Muslims, but instead benefits the Jews in Israel since it puts the Americans into conflict in the Middle East, much like Pearl Harbor brought America out of isolationism in WWII. This of course is seen as anti-Semitic conspiracy theories from western point of views, and in my opinion, rightfully so. But to some Muslims, especially Palestinians and with the different biases between western and Muslim media skewering regional opinion, this could very well be a plausible explanation for the attacks. Another Muslim point of view is that of a former soldier from Iraq who had to reluctantly fight for Saddam’s army. Not a rabid supporter of Saddam, the man had to explain to his son why the normally pleasant and well-meaning Americans had to violently terrorize their city. Looking back on this now, if he had stayed in the Iraqi army, this man would’ve been out of job and perhaps forced to join ISIS by now.

Lastly, the show also looked at war from the point of view of some soldiers. Despite best preparations, war is hell, and things could turn bloody in any minute. It is always best to approach war with reasoned reluctance than with the zeal and optimism the world had back in 2003, when we were confident at shocking and awing the enemy into submission.

Episode 200 looked at the radio station set up by the CIA to help overthrow the democratically elected president of Guatemala in 1954, Jacobo Arbenz. It was an interesting examination of the power of radio back in the day and the way propaganda is used both during a conflict and long after, when myths cultivated. What I find most poignant however, is the comment by Prof. Nick Cullather, who says that while the US does have a responsibility to sometimes intervene in foreign countries’ affairs, it is far more difficult to face the magnitude of the task afterwards. It is quite easy to depose a leader compared to the difficulty of finding a suitable replacement. Just look at Guatemala after Arbenz, Syria in 1949, Iran in the 50s, Chile and the junta in the 70s. And now Iraq with the fall of Saddam has the whole Middle East in a quagmire.

Listening to old radio shows and “time travelling” is a nice distraction during my commute. However, I would’ve hoped our leaders had more insight to predict the future. Looking back now, we were all such fools back then. It is amazing that NPR had the courage and prudence to examine issues from different perspectives, especially with the national climate in 2001-2003. Unfortunately, being seen as an organization with liberal biases, I doubt that it or any other organizations like it would have their ideas taken seriously in the mainstream media.

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