Masterchef Crusaders

OK, today we’ ve looked at the Crusades and its effects on Europe and the Middle East. One of the areas that we noticed was the introduction of spices to European foods on a wider scale than found since the fall of Rome. To fully understand this, we should also examine the diet of those who did go on the Crusades. Question for this blog: How do you think the diet of the Crusaders had an impact on them if and when they returned home after the Crusades? I’m guessing Gordon Ramsay would have nothing to do with any of this…in the meantime, expand to full screen when viewing this.


China and Japan over World War II – 60 years later…

Tokyo War Crimes trial

During this week in our Global History IV course, we’ve examined human rights violations that prior to this week we probably unthinkable beforehand, with the 1937 Japanese invasion of China. I’ve also asked my intrepid students to consider the idea of whether justice is feasible here (should those responsible should still be prosecuted for their crimes). The students have been quite passionate in their arguments on both sides of the issue (these were criminal acts committed over 50 years ago v. the victims of these activities, regardless of time passed, deserve justice). As we have examined the events through the documentary Nanking,the question keeps coming up: is a truly fair sense of justice possible with crimes of this magnitude? Why or why not?

“China and Japan Spar Over War Trials, More Than Six Decades On”, Didi Kristen Tarlow, New York Times, March 20, 2013

BEIJING – What would international reaction be if Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, were to publicly cast doubt on the fairness of the Nuremberg Trials, which condemned top Nazis at the end of World War II?

Something quite similar may have happened recently in Japan, where, according to media reports, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cast doubt on the Tokyo Trials there (these found about two dozen prominent Japanese guilty of war crimes; seven were sentenced to death).

Here’s a headline from the Japan Daily Press: “PM Abe says WWII war crime trials were just ‘victors’ justice.’ ”

“In a meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee last Tuesday, Abe said that what the world now thinks of the outcome of World War II was dictated by the victorious Allied Forces and it is only under their judgement that the Japanese were condemned,” the Japan Daily Press article said, citing an article in The Telegraph.

World War II is still a sensitive topic not just in China but further afield in Asia, where memories of brutality by the invading Japanese Imperial Army linger and many believe that Japan, unlike Germany, has never entirely faced up to what it did. Memories may be bitterest in China, where millions died and where the government uses anti-Japanese sentiment to bolster nationalism.

This week there was a response in China to Abe’s comments, and it took an unusually scholarly form: The National Library of China announced it would for the first time publish what it said was its original historical documents and records of the trials, in which Chinese judges and prosecutors took part, to be called “Records of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East” (as the court was formally known). The collection will be published starting in June and will be in two parts; 80 volumes of trial records, to be followed by 50 additional volumes of archival materials and references, reported the China Culture News, a newspaper owned by the Ministry of Culture.

The report promised that the documents, which will be available to researchers and ordinary readers, would push back against “rightists” in Japan who deny the justice of the trials or other aspects of World War II history, long a complaint of China’s.

“On Mar. 3, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at a parliamentary budget meeting, openly called into question the Tokyo Trials,” the China Culture News wrote, citing Gao Hong, a researcher at the library and head of document preservation from the Republican era (1911-1949). The new collection “will become a powerful tool for refuting the opinions of Japanese rightists and conservatives who distort or deny the historical truth about the invasion of China.”

Last year the library, together with Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, set up an institute to study the trials, called the Tokyo Trials Research Center, it said.

Yet if China accuses rightists in Japan of distorting the debate over the war, historians have said that China has done so too.

After the war, the Chinese Communist Party glossed over wartime atrocities, to “avoid engendering national hatred towards Japan that would have confused it with China’s true archenemies, the KMT,” or Kuomintang, the Chinese Nationalists, “and the United States,” wrote He Yinan in an essay in a book, “Japan’s Relations with China: Facing a Rising Power.”

“One thing it did was to suppress domestic truth-telling about Japanese war crimes and Chinese suffering,” Ms. He wrote.

The article in the China Culture News may have acknowledged that problem, if obliquely. “For a long time, because of various historical reasons, there has been a great deal of urgent work that has needed to be done to extend the accumulation, thorough research and international scholarly exchanges on the first-hand materials of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East,” it said.

The Comfort Women issue…from a local perspective…

A memorial in Palisades Park, N.J., is dedicated to women, many Korean, who were sexually enslaved by Japanese soldiers during World War II.

So it is now near the end of the year, and we’re looking on issues we have seen in Global I, II, III, and IV. Here’s one we discussed to some point in class – it’s moments like this that we bring issues in other regions close up to our own neighborhoods. If one were to go over the GW Bridge, near Ft. Lee, is the neighborhood, Palisades Park. This neighborhood has also become a firestorm over an issue in Japanese-Korean relations, and yup you guessed it, there’s a history link here. I won’t take the wind out of the sails now – but how do you think the town board should handle this issue?

May 18, 2012

In New Jersey, Memorial for ‘Comfort Women’ Deepens Old Animosity


Two delegations of Japanese officials visited Palisades Park, N.J., this month with a request that took local administrators by surprise: The Japanese wanted a small monument removed from a public park.

The monument, a brass plaque on a block of stone, was dedicated in 2010 to the memory of so-called comfort women, tens of thousands of women and girls, many Korean, who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers during World War II.

But the Japanese lobbying to remove the monument seems to have backfired — and deepened animosity between Japan and South Korea over the issue of comfort women, a longstanding irritant in their relations.

The authorities in Palisades Park, a borough across the Hudson River from Manhattan, rejected the demand, and now the Japanese effort is prompting Korean groups in the New York region and across the country to plan more such monuments.

“They’re helping us, actually,” said Chejin Park, a lawyer at the Korean American Voters’ Council, a civic group that championed the memorial in Palisades Park, where more than half of the population of about 20,000 is of Korean descent, according to the Census Bureau. “We can increase the awareness of this issue.”

Korean groups have been further motivated by a letter-writing campaign in Japan in opposition to a proposal by Peter Koo, a New York councilman and Chinese immigrant, to rename a street in Flushing, Queens, in honor of comfort women.

Mr. Park said that in the past week or so, his organization had received calls from at least five Korean community organizers around the country — in Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey and Texas — expressing interest in building their own memorials. These would be in addition to at least four memorials in the works in California and Georgia, he added.

The monument in Palisades Park is the only one in the United States dedicated to comfort women, borough officials said.

“Starting from Flushing, N.Y., we will continue the construction in the areas of major Korean-American communities,” said Paul Park, executive director of the Korean-American Association of Greater New York, one of the oldest Korean community organizations in the region. “We Korean-Americans observe the issue on the level of a global violation of human rights.”

Tensions between Japan and South Korea over the legacy of comfort women were reignited in December when a bronze statue in honor of victims was installed across the street from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, the South Korean capital. Japanese officials have asked the Korean authorities to remove that statue.

Japanese leaders have said that their formal apologies, expressions of remorse and admissions of responsibility regarding the treatment of comfort women are sufficient, including an offer to set up a $1 billion fund for victims. But many Koreans contend that those actions are inadequate. Surviving victims have rejected the fund because it would be financed by private money. The victims are seeking government reparations.

Mayor James Rotundo of Palisades Park said the lobbying began obliquely late last month. Officials at the Japanese consulate in New York sent e-mails requesting a meeting with borough administrators.

“I called the secretary and said, ‘What is this about?’ ” the mayor recalled in an interview, “and she said, ‘It’s about Japanese-U.S. relations,’ and I said: ‘Oh. Well, O.K.’ ”

The first meeting, on May 1, began pleasantly enough, he said. The delegation was led by the consul general, Shigeyuki Hiroki, who talked about his career, including his work in Afghanistan — “niceties,” Mr. Rotundo said.

Then the conversation took a sudden turn, Mr. Rotundo said. The consul general pulled out two documents and read them aloud.

One was a copy of a 1993 statement from Yohei Kono, then the chief cabinet secretary, in which the Japanese government acknowledged the involvement of military authorities in the coercion and suffering of comfort women.

The other was a 2001 letter to surviving comfort women from Junichiro Koizumi, then the prime minister, apologizing for their treatment.

Mr. Hiroki then said the Japanese authorities “wanted our memorial removed,” Mr. Rotundo recalled.

The consul general also said the Japanese government was willing to plant cherry trees in the borough, donate books to the public library “and do some things to show that we’re united in this world and not divided,” Mr. Rotundo said. But the offer was contingent on the memorial’s removal. “I couldn’t believe my ears,” said Jason Kim, deputy mayor of Palisades Park and a Korean-American, who was at the meeting. “My blood shot up like crazy.”

Borough officials rejected the request, and the delegation left.

The second delegation arrived on May 6 and was led by four members of the Japanese Parliament. Their approach was less diplomatic, Mr. Rotundo said. The politicians, members of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, tried, in asking that the monument be removed, to convince the Palisades Park authorities that comfort women had never been forcibly conscripted as sex slaves.

“They said the comfort women were a lie, that they were set up by an outside agency, that they were women who were paid to come and take care of the troops,” the mayor related. “I said, ‘We’re not going to take it down, but thanks for coming.’ ”

The Japanese consulate in New York has been reluctant to discuss its lobbying.

In interviews this week, Fumio Iwai, the deputy consul general, would not say whether the consul general had requested that the monument be removed. But he denied that the consul general had offered to help the borough in return for the monument’s removal. Mr. Hiroki “did not offer any such condition,” he said.

Mr. Iwai said the issue of comfort women, if not Palisades Park specifically, was the subject of continuing discussions “at a very high level” between the governments of South Korea and Japan.

“So,” he said, pausing as if to choose his words carefully, “things are quite complicated.”

A New Look at Nuremberg…new criminals, new way of finding justice?

So, now in our Global IV classroom, we are witnessing a novel turning point, that of a concept that individuals are accountable for their actions during wartime. Of course, I am writing of the Nuremberg Trials. It’s amazing that at the end of the day, the multitude of horrors that Hitler and the Nazi Party committed upon Europe were examined inside a courtroom and that a group of leaders were able to be seen not as political leaders following some pernicious ideology of a megalomaniac, but rather as criminals conspiring to commit the gravest of crimes.  As we will see soon, many of those sitting in the dockets made their way to the gallows, some lived the remainders of their lives in a prison cell, and those who did leave both behind still had to accept that they were no longer relevant in the world…or so we may think.

As we move into this part of the year, we need to add a new phrase into our vocabulary: Transitional Justice (TJ). This relates to how justice is carried out after a particular period of conflict.Since Nuremberg, we’ve seen a number of different versions of Transitional Justice occur. From western-style courtroom proceedings in the International Criminal Court to Truth Commissons with amnesty being offered in exchange for full testimony, TJ is a hot topic now. Perhaps this month is going to be even more dynamic in the concept of TJ, if only for an issue of one individual, a man named Joseph Kony. Kony is allegedly an African warlord, in the central-east country of Uganda, a beautiful country which unfortunately has been associated with dictatorships, civil war, and some of the most heinous of atrocities to have occurred in the post-World War II period. We have seen how Nuremberg played itself out for post-Hitler Europe. Question for this blog: What could one expect of a Nuremberg-style trial for Joseph Kony? Should it be held in Kampala, Uganda’s capital? Who should oversee the trial? How can Kony be guaranteed a fair trial? There are probably more questions for us in the immediate future, I hope we answer most of them before April 20th.

Now this Youtube video has gone quite viral, and although I do have issues with it (which I will address in our Post-Colonial movements in Africa and Asia), I have to admit I am impressed with much of the message that was put forth here.  On that one, you know my questions now. Catch the video and put in your two cents…

Japanese militarism in the 21st century…

An armband worn by a member of the Japanese group Zaitokukai. The red characters say “The Volunteer Corps Against Lawless Koreans”; the black characters say “Expel barbarians.

So this week, we’ve discussed the rise of militarism in Japan and its impact on 1930s East Asia. In fact, we used this discussion to lead into the event known as ‘The Rape of Nanking’, the term used for the Japanese invasion of Nanking in 1937. The question for this blog’s discussion is as follows: How are these issues similar to the rise of 1930s militarism? How different are their views toward violence? The reason why these questions are important are clear: study the effects of Japanese militarism on East Asia in the 30s, the invasion of Manchuria in ’31, the invasion of China in 1937, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. As we progress through World War II, these militarist forces would bring Japan to its darkest days in the modern period, and with some of these crimes, the modern Japanese government has been quick to deny culpability.

New Dissent in Japan Is Loudly Anti-Foreign
By Martin Fackler

Published: August 28, 2010

KYOTO, Japan — The demonstrators appeared one day in December, just as children at an elementary school for ethnic Koreans were cleaning up for lunch. The group of about a dozen Japanese men gathered in front of the school gate, using bullhorns to call the students cockroaches and Korean spies.

Inside, the panicked students and teachers huddled in their classrooms, singing loudly to drown out the insults, as parents and eventually police officers blocked the protesters’ entry.

The December episode was the first in a series of demonstrations at the Kyoto No. 1 Korean Elementary School that shocked conflict-averse Japan, where even political protesters on the radical fringes are expected to avoid embroiling regular citizens, much less children. Responding to public outrage, the police arrested four of the protesters this month on charges of damaging the school’s reputation.

More significantly, the protests also signaled the emergence here of a new type of ultranationalist group. The groups are openly anti-foreign in their message, and unafraid to win attention by holding unruly street demonstrations.

Since first appearing last year, their protests have been directed at not only Japan’s half million ethnic Koreans, but also Chinese and other Asian workers, Christian churchgoers and even Westerners in Halloween costumes. In the latter case, a few dozen angrily shouting demonstrators followed around revelers waving placards that said, “This is not a white country.”

Local news media have dubbed these groups the Net far right, because they are loosely organized via the Internet, and gather together only for demonstrations. At other times, they are a virtual community that maintains its own Web sites to announce the times and places of protests, swap information and post video recordings of their demonstrations.

While these groups remain a small if noisy fringe element here, they have won growing attention as an alarming side effect of Japan’s long economic and political decline. Most of their members appear to be young men, many of whom hold the low-paying part-time or contract jobs that have proliferated in Japan in recent years.

Though some here compare these groups to neo-Nazis, sociologists say that they are different because they lack an aggressive ideology of racial supremacy, and have so far been careful to draw the line at violence. There have been no reports of injuries, or violence beyond pushing and shouting. Rather, the Net right’s main purpose seems to be venting frustration, both about Japan’s diminished stature and in their own personal economic difficulties.

“These are men who feel disenfranchised in their own society,” said Kensuke Suzuki, a sociology professor at Kwansei Gakuin University. “They are looking for someone to blame, and foreigners are the most obvious target.”

They are also different from Japan’s existing ultranationalist groups, which are a common sight even today in Tokyo, wearing paramilitary uniforms and riding around in ominous black trucks with loudspeakers that blare martial music.

This traditional far right, which has roots going back to at least the 1930s rise of militarism in Japan, is now a tacitly accepted part of the conservative political establishment here. Sociologists describe them as serving as a sort of unofficial mechanism for enforcing conformity in postwar Japan, singling out Japanese who were seen as straying too far to the left, or other groups that anger them, such as embassies of countries with whom Japan has territorial disputes.

Members of these old-line rightist groups have been quick to distance themselves from the Net right, which they dismiss as amateurish rabble-rousers.

“These new groups are not patriots but attention-seekers,” said Kunio Suzuki, a senior adviser of the Issuikai, a well-known far-right group with 100 members and a fleet of sound trucks.

But in a sign of changing times here, Mr. Suzuki also admitted that the Net right has grown at a time when traditional ultranationalist groups like his own have been shrinking. Mr. Suzuki said the number of old-style rightists has fallen to about 12,000, one-tenth the size of their 1960s’ peak.

No such estimates exist for the size of the new Net right. However, the largest group appears to be the cumbersomely named Citizens Group That Will Not Forgive Special Privileges for Koreans in Japan, known here by its Japanese abbreviation, the Zaitokukai, which has some 9,000 members.

The Zaitokukai gained notoriety last year when it staged noisy protests at the home and junior high school of a 14-year-old Philippine girl, demanding her deportation after her parents were sent home for overstaying their visas. More recently, the Zaitokukai picketed theaters showing “The Cove,” an American documentary about dolphin hunting here that rightists branded as anti-Japanese.

In interviews, members of the Zaitokukai and other groups blamed foreigners, particularly Koreans and Chinese, for Japan’s growing crime and unemployment, and also for what they called their nation’s lack of respect on the world stage. Many seemed to embrace conspiracy theories taken from the Internet that China or the United States were plotting to undermine Japan.

“Japan has a shrinking pie,” said Masaru Ota, 37, a medical equipment salesman who headed the local chapter of the Zaitokukai in Omiya, a Tokyo suburb. “Should we be sharing it with foreigners at a time when Japanese are suffering?”

While the Zaitokukai has grown rapidly since it was started three and a half years ago with just 25 members, it is still largely run by its founder and president, a 38-year-old tax accountant who goes by the assumed name of Makoto Sakurai. Mr. Sakurai leads the group from his tiny office in Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics district, where he taps out announcements and other postings on his personal computer.

Mr. Sakurai says the group is not racist, and rejected the comparison with neo-Nazis. Instead, he said he had modeled his group after another overseas political movement, the Tea Party in the United States. He said he had studied videos of Tea Party protests, and shared with the Tea Party an angry sense that his nation had gone in the wrong direction because it had fallen into the hands of leftist politicians, liberal media as well as foreigners.

“They have made Japan powerless to stand up to China and Korea,” said Mr. Sakurai, who refused to give his real name.

Mr. Sakurai admitted that the group’s tactics had shocked many Japanese, but said they needed to win attention. He also defended the protests at the Korean school in Kyoto as justified to oppose the school’s use of a nearby public park, which he said rightfully belonged to Japanese children.

Teachers and parents at the school called that a flimsy excuse to vent what amounted to racist rage. They said the protests had left them and their children fearful.

“If Japan doesn’t do something to stop this hate language,” said Park Chung-ha, 43, who heads the school’s mothers association, “where will it lead to next?”

Comparisons between the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the 2011 Egyptian Revolution

In our Global IV class, we have begun discussions of what was the start of the 1917 Russian Revolution. We’ve analyzed the causes of the Revolution, the violent crackdowns as exemplified in the 1905 ‘Bloody Sunday’ event, and the uncertainty of the direction of the Revolution after the end of the Czar.
I think we are witnessing a return to that same sense of uncertainty in Egypt. As most of you are probably quite aware, there is an overall revolution against the existing orders that be in the Middle East. In 2011, we witnessed several political revolutions, in Tunisia, Egypt, and in Libya. Egypt is an interesting point for us to start, as those early leaders are just starting to figure out what future they anticipate for an Egypt after the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
The following link is an video documentary from the young revolutionaries on the situations in Egypt one year later.

Questions for us today are: How do we see similarities between what we’ve learned so far about the Russian Revolution and the situation in Egypt one year later? How are those similarities found in the Revolutions’ leaders in both cases? Do you think the revolutionaries faced a sense of disillusionment in both cases?

Welcome to North Korea

So here we are on Christmas eve, and what am I posting up? a docuemntary on North Korea. Yesterday, we had some spirited discussion on NK, and yet we saw very little of what we discussed. Sure, we get that there is a nationalist sentiment in NK, ‘Juche’, which helps to explain why the country is so secretive. Yes, we get the idea that the leadership in the country is certifiable, but that doesn’t mean they’re stupid. In the end, though, what kind of hope is possible for North Korea’s future? Any thoughts on this one???

Guns, Germs, and Steel – holiday video project

Back in September, at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, I posed a question to my Global III classes – why has the world turned out the way that it has done so far, with so few people having so much, and so many people having so little. It came from ‘Yali’s question’ in Guns, Germs, and Steel, an incredible piece from Jared Diamond. Throughout the semester, I have heard various students getting close to the answers to that one large question. I wanted to assign GGS for a book project, but I also realized that without visualizing what Diamond wrote, it might shortchange what students are able to analyze in terms of the role that guns, germs, and steel have had on human history…and also provide us with a means to change that question to a more positive conclusion for ourselves.

That said, here is the project guidelines. There are a total of 20 questions. Your task is this: to answer any 10 questions with an original idea, based on evidence shown in the video clips (include the clip # in your blog post), and to respond to an additional 10 posts by your colleagues either by agreeing or disagreeing with their posts. This does not mean one will get credit for simply saying ” I agree with so and so’s post”. I expect that someone will write, for example “Jeremy’s take on question XX is interesting and relevant, for the potential following reasons…” or “On Kathleen’s idea for xx question, I have an issue…”. The rubric will be available this week, and will be available by the Tuesday we return to class from the winter holidays.

Guns Germs and Steel I
1. According to Jared Diamond, what are the three major elements that separate the world’s “haves” from the “have nots”?
2. Jared Diamond refers to the people of New Guinea as “among the world’s most culturally diverse and adaptable people in the world”, yet they have much less than modern Americans. Diamond has developed a theory about what has caused these huge discrepancies among different countries, and he says it boils down to geographic luck. Give several examples from the film to support Diamond’s theory.

Guns Germs and Steel II
1. For thousands of years, people have been cultivating crops. Describe the process used to domesticate crops and create plants that yielded bigger, tastier harvests.
2. According to Diamond, livestock also plays a significant role in a civilization’s ability to become rich and powerful. How did the domestication of animals help people? Give several examples.

Guns Germs and Steel III
How did the movement of the early civilizations of the Fertile Crescent (Middle East) further support Diamond’s idea that geography played a key role in the success of a civilization?

Guns Germs and Steel IV
How accurate is Jared Diamond when he says of a civilizations ability to gain power, wealth, and strength, “…what’s far more important is the hand that people have been dealt, the raw materials they’ve had at their disposal.”(In other words, do you agree with Prof. Diamond) Why or why not?

Guns Germs and Steel V

Guns Germs and Steel VI
How did the movement of the early civilizations of the Fertile Crescent (Middle East) further support Diamond’s idea that geography played a key role in the success of a civilization?

Guns Germs and Steel VII

Guns Germs and Steel VIII

Guns Germs and Steel IX
At the time that the Spanish conquistador’s invaded the Inca Empire, they were armed with state of the art weaponry. Describe this weaponry.

Guns Germs and Steel X
What is Jared Diamond’s explanation for why the Spanish had advanced to steel swords while Inca’s were still making tools and weapons from bronze?

Guns Germs and Steel XI
How did the battle tactics used by the Spanish conquistadors help the small army defeat the Inca army that outnumbered it by the thousands?

Guns Germs and Steel XII
According to Jared Diamond, what made the Europeans “accidental conquerors”?

Guns Germs and Steel XIII
According to Jared Diamond, what is the one factor that allowed Europeans to develop the forces necessary to conquer vast portions of the world?

Guns Germs and Steel XIV
Why were the Europeans who settled the South African cape so successful? Describe two reasons.
How did disease allow the Europeans to conquer the native populations in the Americas and in the African cape?

Guns Germs and Steel XV
While the Europeans who were attempting to overtake/settle the tropical areas of the African continent were responsible for introducing killer germs to the native populations, they also suffered from the effects of the germs native to this part of the world. Describe how these germs worked against the European settlers.

Guns Germs and Steel XVI
How did the native Africans protected themselves from the germs that caused diseases such as Smallpox and Malaria? Give specific examples cited in the film.

Guns Germs and Steel XVII
What is the number one public health problem in Zambia, and who are the people primarily affected by this?
How has disease contributed to the poverty in many African countries such as Zambia?

Guns Germs and Steel XVIII
According to statistics from the film, how has Malaria effected the net growth in Africa over the last 50 years?
Describe how other tropical countries such as Malaysia and Singapore have developed rich economies despite having many of the same geographical and health problems faced by African nations.

On the death of Kim Jong-Il, and thoughts for North Korea’s and Asia future…

See this image, this is North Korea at night. While most of Asia is lit up quite well. North Korea is literally an intelligence ‘black hole’. Why does this concern Asian states, or even the US for that matter. Here’s several reasons: North Korea still considers itself a Communist state with aaggressive dictatorship government, the United States is still technically at war with North Korea (since 1953), and finally, North Korea has established that it has nuclear weapons technology to produce and arm 8 – 11 nuclear warheads. The question, following the death of Kim Jong-Il on Sunday, is what direction should the US take in regard to North Korea? Considering that most of the world knows very little of North Korean affairs, and even less of Kim Jong-Il’s successor, it is a valid question to raise, and the potential answers to that question, both right and wrong, could have dramatic repercussions for the United States, for Asia, and the world for years to come.

Goodbye, hello

Dec 20th 2011, 22:00 by H.T., K.N.C., D.T. | TOKYO and SEOUL


IT IS hard to overestimate how much is at stake for the world after the sudden death of Kim Jong Il, the North Korean despot, on December 17th. Officially, at least, it has thrust into the inexperienced hands of his pudgy young son, Kim Jong Un, control of a nuclear-armed nation that has one of the largest standing armies in the world as well as the capacity to wreak havoc on two of America’s strongest Asian allies, South Korea and Japan. The new Kim’s domain abuts China and Russia, both powers that analysts believe would be opposed to any move America might make to try steering the new regime into its orbit.

Almost nothing is known about the man North Korea’s propaganda apparatus has dubbed the “Great Successor”. Apart from evidence he was schooled for a while in Switzerland, it is not even clear whether he is 27 or 28. Since he was unveiled as the heir-apparent in September 2010, he has not spoken in public, and was always accompanied on trips he took with his father by several other veterans of the ruling clique, including his uncle and aunt. These precautions suggest his grooming as dictator-to-be was a race against the clock.

The pressure on him now is likely to be huge. Whereas his father had 20 years of apprenticeship to the regime’s founder, Kim Il Sung, this third-generation Kim has had just two years since rumours of his privileged status first surfaced, shortly after his father had a stroke. After the death of his grandfather, North Korea’s “eternal president”, Kim Jong Un’s father had three years of official mourning to stay out of the public eye. Now the youngster will have only 12 days’ seclusion for official grieving, to end the day after his father’s funeral on December 28th. Less than four months later, the country he inherits is supposed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the eternal president’s birth, by which time it is meant to turn from a land of bellicose misery into a “strong and prosperous” nation. It is a fair bet that an insecure young Mr Kim, surrounded by crusty generals some of whom are triple his age, feels he has a lot to prove.

Yet in the face of such insecurity and unpredictability, analysts say there is little that foreign powers, whether allies such as China, or “mortal enemies”, such as America, can do except wait and see how things turn out. Marcus Noland, a North Korea specialist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, DC, describes North Korea as a country that has remained “remarkably insensitive to punishments and rewards” from abroad; in other words, it shrugs off both sanctions and support, and its behaviour is mostly guided by domestic political considerations. Foreigners have little leverage.

Perhaps it is for that reason that many outsiders have chosen to take a sanguine view that the succession will be smooth—at least in the early months—rather than something like a prelude to regime collapse, a refugee crisis, “loose nukes” or even war. The Obama administration on December 20th called for a “peaceful, stable transition”, a position shared by Japan and echoed in Seoul by Lee Myung-bak, the South Korean president (who nevertheless has kept troops on high alert). Several Washington-based think-tanks believe the regime had prepared for the succession, and that a “gang of four”—the young Mr Kim, his powerful aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, her husband, Jang Song Taek, and the most senior general, Ri Yong Ho—will work together to keep order. Kept in check by his seniors, some believe Mr Kim may initially represent little change from his father, either for good—for example, by allowing greater economic modernisation—or for bad, say by ratcheting up repression or aggression. Others are more pessimistic, however. Mr Noland thinks Mr Kim may be tempted to engage in provocative acts, another nuclear test or a military engagement for example, to burnish his credentials (some believe he was partly responsible for attacks in South Korea in the last two years). Or he may be simply unable to control factions within the regime, allowing the army to create mischief of its own.

Foreign powers have not even been given a chance to gauge the mood by attending the funeral: it is to be an internal-only affair. That has put more emphasis on the messages sent by North Korea’s interlocutors abroad, which range from condolences, in the case of China and Russia (cravenly, China’s authorities said its people would “forever cherish” Kim Jong Il’s memory) to a sort of sympathetic contortionism by America and South Korea, which have both professed support for the North Korean people in their grief without explicitly offering condolences to the regime. In 1994, when Kim Il Sung died, the refusal of South Korea’s then-government to offer condolences cast a pall over the relationship for years. In contrast, the Clinton administration dispatched an envoy to meet with North Korean officials to express condolences.

Coincidentally, almost at the time Mr Kim was suffering a fatal heart attack on a train last Saturday, an American envoy was meeting with the North Koreans to discuss the resumption of food aid to the impoverished country, whose people are stunted by hunger. There are unconfirmed reports that this was in exchange for a halt to North Korea’s uranium-enrichment programme. Whether true or not, the Obama administration and its allies appear to have been moving gingerly back to a resumption of six-party denuclearisation talks with North Korea, involving South Korea, Japan, China and Russia. The food-aid initiative was promptly suspended on news of Mr Kim’s death, replaced by a wait-and-see attitude.

No one is as yet pressing the new leader for a quick resumption of denuclearisation talks. Beyond that, one discussion on North Korea that its five counterparts in the six-party talks have never been able to have—even secretly, according to analysts—is how to react to a potential breakdown if the regime implodes. For China, such a discussion may smack of disloyalty and risk exacerbating what it fears most—chaos in the North. Neither have South Korea and America, who are broadly allied on dealing with North Korea, always seen eye to eye on how to handle regime change. Worryingly, one reason all of them now are urging a smooth and stable transition may be that there is no alternative plan if it all goes wrong.

European explorers from the 15th to the 19th centuries…


























For AP World History, we are examining the explorers themselves who are the forerunners of an old and new Imperialism which we shall see along the way. We’ve been working on maps showing the course over time, but in the end, those are really only lines on a map. The three sources below the explorers in their own words, or were written by those who accompanied the explorers. The question for this blog is as follows: What common traits can we see in Da Gama, Magellan, and Cook? Moreover, what factors set each apart from the other?

Da Gama:

Magellan’s voyages:

The Death of Captain Cook: