Buffaloes And Flies In The South China Sea
By Linh Dinh
05 June, 2015
Ignorance is renewed with each newborn, and by the time any man figures out anything, he can almost feel the mortician leaning over his stiff face. Though all lessons are embalmed within history, few care to explore that infinite corpse. Lewis Mumford, “So far from being overwhelmed by the accumulations of history, the fact is that mankind has never consciously carried enough of its past along with it. Hence a tendency to stereotype a few sorry moments of the past, instead of perpetually re-thinking it, re-valuating it, re-living it in the mind.”
Far from learning from history, people tend to distort it to their own ends, and thus during the last commemoration of Russia's defeat of Germany in World War II, many commentators conveniently forgot that those two countries had collaborated to start the war in the first place. After the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and Czechoslovakia, while Soviet Russia poured troops into Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the eastern portion of Romania. Russians massacred 22,000 Poles at Katyn alone, imprisoned 100,000 and deported 1,200,000 to Siberia, Kazakhstan and other places within the Soviet Union. More than half would die.
In the Polish city of Brest-Litovsk, conquering German and Russian troops paraded together on September 22, 1939. On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded Russia itself, however, thus ending that evil alliance. Working from London, what's left of the Polish government arranged for its citizens in Siberia to be transferred to British controlled Iran, and from there, many of the surviving Polish children could finally consign to posterity their horrific experiences of the Russian Socialist Paradise. In 1981, Irena and Jan Tomasz Gross published a selection of these accounts in their book, War Through Children's Eyes. Here are three:
DOCUMENT NO. 87
TADEUSZ S. Born 1927
When the Soviets invaded us Mommy became frightened daddy was taken into captivity after a sickness lasting a month my mother died When they had made themselves at home in Poland they began to destroy statues crosses and they ordered the people to pray to the rifle because that is also a tool of death. on February 10 1940 at 2 in the morning they came to our apartment and they took us at the point of a rifle they took us without any reason and took us to Russia in the train it was crowded cold people were dying from hunger and cold. at the settlement we worked in the mines 12 hours a day at the mines there was water the clothes we had all rotted in a week after a 12-hour workday we had to stand in line another 12 barefoot in the cold. in the barracks there were bedbugs cockroaches and vermin of all sorts the stoves were busted. After such work people turned into skeletons and when we got the amnesty the people scattered to various places and I with my family went to a kolkhoz at the kolkhoz we worked day and night because it was very hot they gave us practically no food only what we could gather in the fields. with such a diet my brother died with no one to bury him so I buried him myself without a coffin even without a suit because we had only one for the two of us. after such suffering we escaped with my sister because daddy went into the Polish army which was forming then we walked for 200 kilometers on foot through the mountains of course barefoot over sharp stones in 40 degree [Celcius] heat and without water. At the station as we waited for a train we were robbed of everything so that all we had left was a can where there had been milk which we found in the garbage and which we used as a drinking cup.
DOCUMENT NO. 30
My Life in Russia
We were deported to Russia on February 10, 1940. When we arrived we were given very poor housing. There were many bedbugs, lice, and fleas. After a few days they sent the children to school and the older people to work. Children were forced to go to school, and whoever refused was imprisoned in the bathhouse and denied food. When we first got to school we were mocked and beaten—if a Pole said there was a God he was beaten up. Father had to work very hard to earn enough to support the whole family, and not only my father but so did all the Poles who were deported to Russia. For two years we lived in that awful, poor, stupid Russia. After two years the Poles started leaving Russia. Polish people had to get a pass to leave Russia. The trip South was awful. People died of hunger in the train cars and their corpses were thrown out the window along the way. We came to Vologda and were issued food ration cards and bread for the trip. My father was walking toward the car with his bread when a prisoner tried to steal his bread. Fortunately, the police arrested the prisoner and took him away. They would throw the corpses out of the cars and the train would grind the bodies apart on the tracks. From Vologda we left to Chkalov. There, the Polish outpost gave us food and we went all the way to the harbor in pahlevi. The end.
DOCUMENT NO. 31
It took place in February. The Russians came and did a house search. They were looking for weapons. They took us to the station in country wagons. There were very many people in our freight car. It was cramped and stuffy. When the train started we cried that we would never see our home again. We traveled for four days and nights. They didn't give food we used snow to make water. In Siberia the barracks were cramped again. I was going to school. They taught us that there was not God. Once I spoke up in Polish and our teacher sent me to the supervisor and he yelled at me. They drilled two holes in the ceiling. The commander would say into one: "Boh, Boh daj pieroh" [God, God, give a dumpling] and nothing would happen. To the other hole he said: Soviet, Soviet daj kanfiet [Soviet, Soviet, give a candy] and candies would fall down. He would laugh that God gave nothing. The Polish children ran away. Dad died of hunger. He swelled up. They wrapped him up in a sheet and threw him into the ground. My brother didn't have shoes and didn't go to work they took him to prison for two months. Over thirty people died at the settlement. We would stand on a line for bread from evening till morning. More than once we didn't have bread for two days in a row. We waited for our pay for a long time, because the paymaster wasn't there and there was nothing to buy bread with. At first we sold clothes in Russian villages to get bread, but then we ran out of clothes.
I am 13.
Poland was occupied by both Germans and Russians, then just Germans, then just Russians. To a Pole, this plot is all too familiar, for in 1772, Germans and Russians also carved up Poland. Swallowed up by Tsarist Russia, Prussia and Hapsburg Austria, Poland would not regain independence for 123 years. With such a history, Poles are understandably leery of Russia, but according to Russian Andre Vltchek, a prominent voice among the American left, Poles and other Eastern Europeans are nothing but ingrates for turning their backs on Russia, “Many countries that Russia had liberated, betrayed her in the most vulgar manner […] Czechs and Poles desecrated monuments to its soldiers.”
When the Soviet Union collapsed, “the oppressed of the world lost their most powerful guardian,” according to Vltchek, and “‘Russian' is not only a nationality; it is a verb. It means: to stand against oppression, against Western imperialism, to be building bridges between the countries that are resisting Western imperialist terror.” Think about that for a minute, Russian as a verb meaning to liberate all of the world's oppressed. Such evangelical fervor is matched only by the American rhetoric of being the shining city on a hill for all of mankind.
Just as each man must look out for number one, so must each nation, and each will disguise its ugliest, most selfish moments with twisted self justification, if not lofty, altruistic language. No one ever invades, massacres or rapes, but intervenes, rescues or most reluctantly reacts in self defense. No one destroys another culture, but only saves it from itself. Had Poland been more dominant than Russia, it might have been the one to kick its neighbor around. From 1605 until 1618, Polish troops made several forays into Russia and even occupied Moscow for two years. A teenaged Polish prince was declared Tsar. When Polish troops swarmed into Smolensk after a 20-month siege, 3,000 Russian soldiers blew themselves up in its cathedral to avoid capture.
While laying waste to much of Asia during World War II, Japan created the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Like other murderous and plundering nations before and since, Japan depicted itself as a savior, but instead of rescuing the other yellow peoples from colonial whites, it killed, starved, tortured and raped them. Beware, I say, of all countries blaring a messianic mission, for beneath their uplifting banner of universal brotherhood, freedom, democracy or international socialism, etc., one will find a rapist of the first order.
Never colonized by whites, Japan even defeated Russia in 1905, so it did serve as a model in East Asia. Many Chinese and Vietnamese nationalists went to Japan to study. A major funder of Japan's war against Russia was Jacob Schiff, a Jewish banker in New York, and Schiff was also a patron of Leon Trotsky. Hating how Tsarist Russia treated Jews, Schiff was willing to do anything to destroy it. Never leave out race as a factor, for though often disguised, it colors all human actions. The only ones who insist that race doesn't exist are either so racially smug or so racially threatened, though in the second case, they're hysterically lying.
When Jews had no homeland, many of them spoke of universal brotherhood and such, but as soon as they had Israel, they started to act as tribally and racist as everybody else. Tribalism or nationalism is still the dominant factor in war and politics, and not ideology, but within this, you also have greedy individuals who are just looting and hoarding for themselves. As soon as the Vietnam War was over, the Vietnamese fought Cambodia then China, two foes they've gone to war against repeatedly in the past. It didn't matter that they were all “Communist” on paper. There is no universal anything, just thousands of tribes and hundreds of nations trying to survive. The Vietnamese don't care for International Communism any more than the Amish or the Jews.
The new rising power in Asia is not Japan but China, and to her citizens, the Middle Kingdom is only regaining her rightful place on the world stage. After being misruled by the feeble Qing Dynasty, drugged and pillaged by the British, carved up by other Western powers and Japan, raped by Japan then subjected to decades of terror by Mao and his gang, the mainland Chinese are finally allowed to catch up with their overseas brethren. With their intelligence, diligence and commercial prowess, the Chinese can succeed anywhere when not held back by an asphyxiating system.
Writing in 1911, Edward Alsworth Ross observed, “It is rash […] to take the observed sterility of the Celestial mind during the period of intercourse with the West as proof of race deficiency. Chinese culture is undergoing a breaking-up process which will release powerful individualities from the spell of the past and of numbers, and stimulate them to high personal achievement. In the Malay States, where the Chinese escape the lifeless atmosphere and the confining social organization of their own land, their ingenuity is already such that unprejudiced white men have come to regard them as our intellectual peers.”
Feeling ever more confident, China is ready to shove a weakening United States from its own back yard, and that's why it's laying claim to an increasing portion of the Western Pacific. Doing so, it has also come into conflict with Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Gaining access to oil, natural gas and fishing rights has been cited as the rationale for China's behavior, but the Chinese are also keenly aware that those who control sea lanes control energy supplies, and the United States is still the preeminent naval power. With its ability to disrupt shipping through the Strait of Hormuz or Malacca, the US can certainly cripple any adversary. To gain leverage of its own, China is building a canal in Nicaragua to connect the Pacific with Atlantic, and a Chinese company is also managing both ends of the American-built Panama Canal.
Most opponents of the American Empire are cheering for China in the South China Sea faceoff, but Vietnam, the only country to have fought and defeated outright this empire, is forging closer military ties with the United States, all because of China. To a Vietnamese, the white man will come and go, but China is an eternal shadow menacing his identity and existence. From 111BC to 938AD, China occupied Vietnam almost continuously, with only two breaks, of three and 58 years. To gain final independence, Vietnam defeated China in 938AD at the Battle of Bach Dang. After planting steel tipped stakes in the river, the Vietnamese lured Chinese boats over this watery trap, and at low tide, these boats were pierced and their soldiers killed. In 1288, the Vietnamese repeated the same trick, at the same river, to vanquish the Mongols. One ignores history at one's peril.
Le Loi and Tran Hung Dao are the leaders of those two battles, and there is hardly a Vietnamese town without streets and schools named after them, and by the Saigon River, there's a statue of Tran Hung Dao. Every so often, I'm harranged by a Westerner about my flawed reading of Vietnamese history, though his knowledge of the subject doesn't extend beyond Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnam War. Beyond the racial chauvinism that comes from several centuries of being on top of the world, this attitude also betrays the progressive bias that deems much the past as simply a repository of absurd habits, mistakes and superstitions. Mumford calls it “anti-historic nihilism.” Writing in 1944, he comments, “During the last generation, particularly in the United States, it became popular to say that only contemporary history was important; whereas the truth is that all of history is important because it is contemporary and nothing is perhaps more so than those hidden parts of the past that still survive without our being aware of their daily impact. He who knows only the events of the last generation or the last century knows less than nothing about what is actually happening now or what is about to take place.” In this age of geriatric sex change, Kim Kardashian's bulbous buttocks and endless porn for everyone, including nuns and tots, your average American doesn't remember what he half read half an hour ago, much less know anything from another century. He wouldn't be surprised to be informed that this big, beautiful orb of polluted dirt he's standing on is only a few thousand years old. Wow, that old?!
While most Americans are only becoming aware of the tension in the South China Sea, Vietnamese know that the trouble started in 1974, when China wrested control of the Paracel Islands from South Vietnam. In that one-day battle, 74 Vietnamese and 18 Chinese died. Though the US 7th Fleet was in the area, it did nothing to intervene and even refused to rescue South Vietnamese sailors. Nixon had visited China in 1972, and so Vietnam, all of it, was becoming superfluous to Uncle Sam. In 1988, China attacked a Vietnamese garrison in the Spratly Islands, and in that one-day battle, 64 Vietnamese and six Chinese died. In the last two years, Chinese ships have rammed Vietnamese ships just off the coast of Vietnam, and they have also rammed Filipino fishing boats or used water canons against them. Boarding some boats, the Chinese have tossed their catch overboard.
On November 1, 2014, there was an official ceremony in Hanoi to honor the 74 South Vietnamese soldiers who died defending the Paracel Islands, and this is remarkable because it's the only time the Communist government has acknowledged its former South Vietnamese foes as nationalists in any way. As fate would have it, the colonel of the capsized ship is named Ng?y, the same word used to denigrate South Vietnamese troops as “fake.” Equally weird, the site of the most horrific American atrocity against Vietnamese civilians, M? Lai, means “Half American.” The gods are sick.
Odds are high fighting will break out again in the South China Sea. Pushing weapons of mass destruction, Uncle Sam rakes in many coins from all crises, so he has billions of reasons to stoke the flame, but it's anybody's guess if he'll risk his turkey neck when the missiles fly. Though America needs to defend its ebbing hegemony, its manufacturing base has been mostly relocated to China, and China is its biggest creditor. In 2001, a Chinese fighter jet clipped an American spy plane near Hainan Island, and its pilot, Wang Wei, was killed. Forced to land in Hainan, 24 Americans were kept for ten days, then released after the US agreed to a letter expressing “regret and sorrow.” A Chinese demand for a token million dollars in compensation was ignored. Hardly any American remembers this incident, but the Chinese haven't forgotten, and the next time planes collide, expect a much bigger explosion. In 2014, a Chinese jet swerved within 30 feet of another American spy plane.
All sides in this brewing fiasco have reasons to act the way they are, and though each will cite law or logic to defend their actions, it doesn't matter who's right or wrong, only what the winner, if any, can get away with. The Vietnamese have a saying, Nine men, ten opinions. And also, When buffaloes collide, flies die.
While leaning militarily on an unreliable United States, East Asian countries continue to be integrated into China's (and Russia's) economic sphere. Perhaps they will take their losses and accept being lesser partners in this new world order. As a castrated ex champion, the United States might have to do the same. It's a good bet, though, she won't go down so quietly.
Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He's tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.
South China Sea