The Laotian Civil War

indochina.gifThe Laotian Civil War (1959-1975) was a Vietnam proxy conflict that left 40,000 dead.  Officially uninvolved, the CIA recruited an army of hill tribesmen to fight the North Vietnamese and Lao communists while making Laos the most bombed country in history. It was not enough. By 1975 Laos was the last of the Asian dominoes to fall.

In 1953 the French colony of Laos, a  thinly populated and landlocked backwater situated between Thailand and Vietnam, gained its independence. The French transferred power to the old royal family, who established the Kingdom of Laos.

Image result for royal lao flag vs pathet lao flagLike Cambodia and South Vietnam, the nascent government was threatened by Marxist insurgency. During the 1950s the North Vietnamese Army invaded in collaboration with the Pathet Lao, a local communist cell. The Ho Chi Minh Trail, which brought weaponry and manpower to the insurgency in South Vietnam, flowed through Lao territory. Heavily backed by North Vietnamese troops and Soviet and Chinese arms, the Pathet Lao sought to overthrow the Lao monarchy and establish a socialist state.

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The Royal Lao Government was weak in comparison. Despite American support, they could not match the Communists’ numbers or determination, and were set back by internal division and lack of morale.

 

From the 1960s, the CIA conducted a ‘Secret War’ on Washington’s behalf. The 1962 Geneva Convention obliged foreign powers to respect Lao neutrality. Although North Vietnam blatantly disregarded the treaty too, the US simply pretended to honor it. No American ground troops were officially stationed in Laos and no declaration of war made. The CIA conducted their entire campaign in secret with a budget of 3.3 billion dollars a year. Their base at Long Tieng, despite being, with 40,000 inhabitants, the second largest city in Laos and one of the busiest airports in the world, appeared in no atlas, and officially did not exist.  The CIA aimed to divert North Vietnamese manpower and halt the spread of Communism.

Related imageThe primary strategy was aerial bombardment. From bases in allied Thailand, American planes bombed communist territory daily.  The CIA dropped two million tons of explosives on Laos from 1964-73, an average of one planeload every eight minutes. More explosives were dropped on Laos than Germany and Japan in WW2 combined. Today unexploded ordinance still kills an average of 300 Laotians a year. The American public was kept in the dark.

As the Royal Lao Army proved ineffective, CIA operatives trained and equipped a ‘Secret Army’ of 20,000 Hmong militiamen, led by the major-general Vang Pao. An ethnic minority from the mountains, the Hmong proved capable fighters; rescuing downed American pilots and matching communist guerrillas at their own game. A further 20,000 Thai mercenaries assisted. With 60% of Hmong men serving in the Secret Army, the CIA turned a blind eye to  opium trafficking and child soldiery in their ranks.

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In 1973 President Nixon made peace with North Vietnam and abruptly ended US involvement in Laos. Abandoned by their allies, the royalists resisted  for another two years alone before they surrendered on the 2nd December 1975, eight months after the fall of Saigon. The Indochina Wars had come to an end.

The Pathet Lao established a one party dictatorship and exacted brutal reprisals against the royalists and the Hmong, whom they promised to wipe out. 300,000 of Laos’s 4 million people, including a third of the Hmong and 90% of the intelligentsia, fled Laos by the 1980s. Thousands of others suspected of working with the Americans and the old regime were sentenced to ‘re-education camps’. The royal family were worked to death.

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Taiwan

Flag of the Republic of China.svgTaiwan is a disputed territory in the South China Sea. Whilst Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, functions as an independent nation state with its own government, the People’s Republic of China considers it a renegade province rightfully theirs. Given Beijing’s greater strength and international clout, few countries recognise Taiwanese statehood. It is the world’s most populated non-UN member state.

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Formerly known as Formosa, Taiwan is the ancestral homeland of the Austronesian people, a linguistic family which today dominates Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines, Polynesia and Madagascar. It is a land of fertile valleys, tropical jungles, dramatic elevation and picturesque mountains.

Starting with the Dutch and the Spanish in the 1620s, Taiwan saw a series of foreign rulers. In 1662 Koxinga, a Ming Dynasty loyalist, conquered the Dutch colonies and established the island’s first Chinese state. Twenty years later Koxinga’s kingdom  acquiesced to the Qing, China’s new rulers. Slowly but surely, Han Chinese immigrants replaced the aboriginal tribes, who retreated to the island’s mountainous interior. Comparable to the displaced natives of Australia or the USA, today aborigines make only 2.3% of Taiwan’s population.

From 1895 – 1945 the Japanese ruled Taiwan. They aggressively subdued the remaining aboriginal tribes and industrialised the island. Japanese rule was harsh and resented by Han Taiwanese and aborigines alike. Taiwan returned to China after WW2.

Image result for chiang kai shekThe new rulers were the Kuomintang, or Chinese Nationalist Party, who had overthrown the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and established the Republic of China (ROC). The ROC was plagued by unrest, however, and their hold on China tenuous. After the Japanese defeat in 1945 civil war resumed with Mao Zedong’s Communists. Despite American financial support the Nationalists, under generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek, lost the war. In 1949 the ROC’s leadership and two million nationalists fled to Taiwan.

Like Koxinga before him, Chiang dreamed of one day retaking the mainland. Taipei was established as the ROC’s ‘war time capital’ and a Chinese identity asserted over a Taiwanese one.  Mao would have invaded Taiwan too was it not for US president Harry Truman who, in the context of the Korean War, signed a mutual defence pact with Taipei. Thus two rival governments prevailed, the Communist Peoples Republic of China in the mainland, the Nationalist Republic of China in Taiwan.

The Kuomintang ruled Taiwan as a dictatorship under martial law until 1987.  Despite brutal suppression of dissent, during the 1960s and 70s the Taiwanese free market economy boomed, ranking it one of ‘Four Asian Tigers’ alongside Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea. It became a global manufacturing hub.Image result for tsai ing wen

Taiwan democratised in 1992 . Politics today are dominated by the ‘Green’ and ‘Blue’ coalitions. Blue parties, like the Kuomintang, emphasise the Republic of China and maintaining the status quo while Green ones assert a distinct Taiwanese identity and seek formal independence from China.  This would, however mean war. Beijing operates on the One China Policy’ and denies Taiwan the right to secession. The incumbent Tsai Ing-Wen of the Democratic People’s Party, is of the Green.

As both Beijing and Taipei claim to be China’s sole legitimate government, other nations can only recognise one or the other. The ROC held the Chinese seat on the United Nations until 1971, when President Nixon opened diplomatic relations with Beijing. Today only 19 governments, mainly poorer nations in Central America and the Pacific, recognise the Republic of China. Beijing is steadily isolating Taiwan diplomatically by buying off its allies. On April 30th 2018 the Dominican Republic switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in exchange for 3.1 billion dollars in aid, with Burkina Faso following suit on May 24th. Beijing is currently enticing Haiti and Swaziland to do the same.

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Now only the following 19 nations recognise Taiwan, most of which are too small to be shown:

  • Belize
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Kiribati
  • Marshal Islands
  • Nauru
  • Nicaragua
  • Palau
  • Paraguay
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Saint Lucia
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Solomon Islands
  • Swaziland
  • Tuvalu
  • Vatican City

Annexation of Taiwan by the Peoples Republic would be a critical blow to democracy.  Today Taiwan is a proudly democratic and progressive state, which allows freedom of thought, expression and speech unknown in mainland China. As of June 2018 Taiwan, Singapore, Burma and Nepal are the only countries in Asia ruled by females and Taiwan is the only state on the continent to recognise same sex marriage. Whilst the People’s Republic flag in Taiwan might raise a few eyebrows, flying the ROC banner in the mainland would likely put you in jail.

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2018: Western Powers Bomb Syria

Map 1853The press and social media is aflame this week over the joint surgical strike by 105 American, British and French missiles against chemical weapon facilities in Syria.  The attack was a response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Assad regime 9 days earlier, which violated international law and crossed the ‘red line’ set by Obama five years ago and by Emmanuel Macron in 2017.

The move is most controversial in the US. Donald Trump ordered the strike without congressional approval, which is technically unconstitutional, and alienated elements of his support base. Curiously both political opposition and support for the strikes crosses the partisan line.

syrian missile.jpgThe official narrative: On 7th April 2018 Syrian government forces broke international law by attacking the rebel held city of Douma with chemical nerve agents, killing 70 and injuring 500.  Videos circulated of men, women and children clutching gas masks in makeshift hospitals and foaming at the mouth.  The US state department confirmed the attack was real and Assad was responsible.

According to Russia and Assad the gas attack was a false flag operation by the Army of Islam, who holds Douma, and the White Helmets, volunteers who assist civilians in rebel territory. This was to provoke retaliation by the West against Assad, which worked as a charm. Note this narrative does not deny that chemical weapons were used.

Conspiracy theorists and the fringe media paint the attack as a text book false flag operation to justify intervention in Syria as was done in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Vietnam etc. This view is shared by far right personalities like Alex Jones, hacktivist group Anonymous and innumerable posts on my newfeed.

Whether or not the gas attack did happen, or Assad was responsible, critics fear the strike could further entangle the US in Syria or, worse still, risk open war with nuclear armed Russia and Iran. The doomsday bells are ringing.

That said, the strike is restrained, and aligns with US policy. Despite Trump’s claims of ‘mission accomplished’, the mission was ultimately little more than a show of force. The Pentagon admitted it will unlikely deter future chemical attacks, while Syrian rebel groups criticised the strike as ultimately ineffective. There were no reported casualties.

The following spoke in support of the missile strike:

  • Angela Merkel, German Chancellor
  • Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister
  • Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President
  • Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, Saudi King
  • Tayip Erdogan, Turkish President
  • Jens Stoltenburg, Nato Secretary General
  • Jean-Claude Juncker, European Union President
  • John McCain, Republican Senator
  • Elizabeth Wahren, Democrat Senator

The following spoke against:

  •  Vladimir Putin, Russian President
  • Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, Iranian Supreme Leader
  • War Media Channel, Hezbollah
  • Jeremy Corbyn, British Labour Party leader
  • Marine Le Penn, French National Front leader
  • Cenk Uyghur, The Young Turks
  • Anonymous
  • Tucker Carlson, Fox News
  • Tomi Lahren, Great America PAC, Fox News
  • Alex Jones, Infowars
  • Mike Cervnovich, Danger & Play

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The strike is an indicator of the Trump Administration’s move from the America First support base which brought him to power. Just as Obama promised to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq in 2008, Trump promised to cooperate with Vladimir Putin over Syria and limit involvement to combatting ISIS instead of the Assad regime. Whilst his administration refrains from the no fly zone promised by the hawkish Hillary Clinton, the move seems out of touch with Trump’s anti-interventionist campaign rhetoric and particularly his earlier criticisms of Obama.

The alt right blogosphere in particular, who normally stand by Trump’s every action, has lost faith in their hero.

This has happened before: Assad was previously accused of gassing civilians in Ghouta in 2013 and Khan Sheikhoun one year ago. The US responded to Khan Sheikhoun with a missile attack at weapon facilities in Sharyat. Although a few more missiles were fired this April so far the result has been little different than it was last year, except less people were killed. That strike was the first notable rift between the alt right support base and establishment Republicans, as represented by Steve Bannon and the ‘globalist’ Jared Kushner. Bannon has since been fired.

The US has admitted removing Assad from power is not on their agenda anymore. If the powers that be truly wished to instigate WW3, their response to the Douma attack would have been swifter and more aggressive. Given what happened last year, as it stands we are hardly at the brink of Armageddon.

Sources: BBC, CNN, Fox News, New York Times, Haaretz, Al Jazeera, Sputnik, The Guardian, The Independent, The Atlantic, Young Turks

Empire

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An Empire is when one sovereign state rules over others: different countries and peoples controlled by one government.  This contrasts with the modern nation state, where a culture and language have a country of their own.  Rome, for example, was an empire, modern Italy is a nation state.

Empires are as old as time and their cycle of creation and destruction drives history. Empires may be ruled by a single monarch such a king or emperor, or a single government. The Athenian Empire consisted of multiple city states governed by the citizens of Athens. It identified as a simple alliance, but historians consider it an empire.

I define empires by one of three categories:

  1. Direct: One sovereign state governs other territories over contiguous land. Upheld by force and rule of law. (Romans, Mongols, Ottomans)
  2. Colonial: A country rules overseas territories, sometimes indirectly, for the purpose of trade and resource extraction. Upheld by force, rule of law and naval power. (British, French, Portuguese)
  3. De Facto: The Empire does not recognise itself as such but exerts influence through indirect means. Upheld by treaties, economic contracts and military bases. (Athens, Venice, China in Southeast Asia, American Empire).

Starting with Sargon of Akkad in ancient times, a series of empires dominated the Near East and China. By the 300s, Alexander the Great had conquered an Empire spreading from Greece to India. Two centuries later, the Romans ruled the Mediterranean.

From the 1500s to the 1900s European colonial empires dominated the world. The British Empire was the largest. Most conflicts today are a legacy of colonialism.

Today are the largest empires are American and Chinese, though neither of them identify as such.

Image result for roman empire trajanThe longest lasting Empire, belonged to the Romans, who ruled from 275 BC to 1453 AD, over 1600 years when counting the earlier Republican period and its successor the Byzantine Empire. Although not the largest, the Roman Empire was easily the most influential, at least in Europe.

Image result for mongol empireThe largest direct empire, and second largest of all time, was the Mongol Empire (1206-1368). It was founded not by an organised state, as was the case in the other empires listed, but by nomadic tribes in Central Asia.

british empire 2.pngThe largest of all time was the British Empire (1533-1997), which at its peak ruled a quarter of the world’s people and land.

According to Wikipedia, these are the largest empires of all time. A more accurate way to measure an Empire’s influence would be their population, however this is difficult as most figures would be estimates at best. Being difficult to determine, this list does not include de facto empires like the Warsaw Pact.

Largest ancient empires by landmass:

  1. Han Dynasty (East Asian), 4.36% of the earth’s landmass in 100 AD
  2. Achaemenid Empire (Middle Eastern), 3.69% in 500 BC
  3. Macedonian Empire (European), 3.49% in 323 BC
  4. Roman Empire (European), 3.36 %, 117 AD
  5. Maurya Empire (South Asian), 3.36% 250 BC

Largest medieval empires by landmass:

  1. Mongol Empire (Central Asian), 16% in 1309
  2. Muslim Caliphate (Middle Eastern), 7.45% in 750
  3. Ming Dynasty (East Asian), 4.36% in 1450
  4. Gorturk Khaganate (Central Asian), 4.03% in 557
  5. Tang Dynasty (East Asian), 3.63% in 1715

Largest modern empires by landmass:

  1. British Empire (European), 23.84% in 1920
  2. Russian Empire (European), 15.3% in 1885
  3. Qing Dynasty (East Asian), 9.87% in 1790
  4. Spanish Empire (European), 9.20% in 1810
  5. Second French Empire (European), 7.72% in 1920

When they are forged empires cause war, misery, death and destruction and require violent and authoritarian power structures to uphold their rule. However empires are also unifying forces; through them common languages, religions and legal systems have spread across the world.

Christy Moore – Viva La Quinta Brigada

Ten years before folk singer Christy Moore saw the light of morning, the Irish Socialist Volunteers were fighting in Spain. Moore wrote this song as an ode to their struggle but mistakenly pronounced the Spanish ‘quince’ as ‘quinta’. The Irish volounteers actually fought in the XV International Brigade. Poetic licence allowed, it is still a good song.

Verses one and two honour the Irish volounteers who fought against the fascists in Spain.  Frank Ryan of the IRA was their leader.

Verse three features the fascists. I admire Moore for mentioning this. Ryan’s nemesis Eoin O’Duffy was a Free Stater in the Irish Civil War and leader of the fascist ‘blueshirts’. He rallied 700 Irishmen to fight for Franco out of Catholic solidarity. Only 277 fought in the International Brigades.

The final verse is name dropping. While it may seem tedious, one must remember these were real men who fought another people’s war for ideological conviction. The utterance of their names bears weight.

Ten years before I saw the light of morning
A comradeship of heroes was laid
From every corner of the world came sailing
The Fifth International Brigade

They came to stand beside the Spanish people
To try and stem the rising fascist tide
Franco’s allies were the powerful and wealthy
Frank Ryan’s men came from the other side

Even the olives were bleeding
As the battle for Madrid it thundered on
Truth and love against the force of evil
Brotherhood against the fascist clan

Viva la Quinta Brigada
“No Pasaran”, the pledge that made them fight
“Adelante” is the cry around the hillside
Let us all remember them tonight

Bob Hilliard was a Church of Ireland pastor
Form Killarney across the Pyrenees he came
From Derry came a brave young Christian Brother
Side by side they fought and died in Spain

Tommy Woods age seventeen died in Cordoba
With Na Fianna he learned to hold his gun
From Dublin to the Villa del Rio
Where he fought and died beneath the blazing sun

Viva la Quinta Brigada
“No Pasaran”, the pledge that made them fight
“Adelante” is the cry around the hillside
Let us all remember them tonight

Many Irishmen heard the call of Franco
Joined Hitler and Mussolini too
Propaganda from the pulpit and newspapers
Helped O’Duffy to enlist his crew

The word came from Maynooth, “support the Nazis”
The men of cloth failed again
When the Bishops blessed the Blueshirts in Dun Laoghaire
As they sailed beneath the swastika to Spain

Viva la Quinta Brigada
“No Pasaran”, the pledge that made them fight
“Adelante” is the cry around the hillside
Let us all remember them tonight

This song is a tribute to Frank Ryan
Kit Conway and Dinny Coady too
Peter Daly, Charlie Regan and Hugh Bonar
Though many died I can but name a few

Danny Boyle, Blaser-Brown and Charlie Donnelly
Liam Tumilson and Jim Straney from the Falls
Jack Nalty, Tommy Patton and Frank Conroy
Jim Foley, Tony Fox and Dick O’Neill

Viva la Quinta Brigada
“No Pasaran”, the pledge that made them fight
“Adelante” is the cry around the hillside
Let us all remember them tonight

The Massacre at Mỹ Lai

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50 years ago, on the 16th March 1968,  100 American GIs of the 23rd Infantry Division slaughtered 500 men, women and children in the village of Son My, South Vietnam. The soldiers herded the unarmed civilians into ditches and opened fire. Others went from house to house gang raping the younger women. Houses and granaries were burned, the water supply defiled and bodies scalped and mutilated. Not even the livestock were spared.  Despite the death toll no weapons were seized and no Americans killed. The perpetrators claimed they were ‘just following orders’.

Son My, or ‘Pinkville’ to the US military, was a network of rural hamlets in the contested Quang Ngai province, a Viet Cong stronghold and the presumed base of operations for the notorious 48th battalion. Whilst the Saigon government controlled the cities of the south and benefited from US armaments and military support, the Viet Cong fought from the jungles and rice paddies of the countryside, drawing supplies and recruits from sympathetic villages like Son My.

The US strategy was ‘search and destroy’. Mobile helicopter based squadrons sought out enemy hideouts, destroyed them and retreated to friendly territory. Success was measured by ‘body count’.

The 23rd ‘Americal’ Division was tasked with regaining the advantage lost in the Tet Offensive of January 1968. In the leadup to My Lai, Charlie Company lost 28 men, mostly to land mines, booby traps and sniper fire. They itched for revenge.

When Charlie Company assaulted the hamlets of My Khe and My Lai 4 they were expecting to engage the 48th battalion. Captain Ernest Medina, informed his troops that, with all innocents supposedly at the market, those who remained would be ‘either Viet Cong or Viet Cong sympathisers’.

Colonel Barker, the task force’s commander, gave orders to ‘neutralize the area’; destroy the houses, food supplies, wells and tunnels. No mention was made of the village’s inhabitants.

At 7.30 AM, first the artillery and then the gunships opened fire on My Lai 4. The first recorded ‘hostile’ casualty was an old man running from his home, arms waving. By 8.40 the ground troops had landed and were forcing the villagers into ditches. Overhead, the gunships rained death upon anyone who dared an escape. By 8.40 the reported kill count ended at 138 dead ‘Vietcong’. At 11.00 the task force stopped for lunch then continued the slaughter.Image result for my lai massacre

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Although not every soldier in Charlie Company partook in the killing, not one reported, or attempted to prevent it.

A division chaplain noted:

“I became absolutely convinced that as far as the United States Army was concerned there was no such thing as murder of a Vietnamese civilian. I’m sorry, maybe it’s a little bit cynical. I’m sure it is, but that’s the way the system works.”

Image result for hugh thompsonNoticing the plumes of smoke, Major Hugh Thompson of the 123rd Airborne division landed his helicopter at the scene. He witnessed corpse filled ditches and Captain Medina shooting an unarmed woman at point blank. Thompson threatened to open fire if Medina’s men continued the killing. Reluctantly they complied, and he evacuated the survivors.

Knowing it would reflect badly, the division command covered the incident up and instead touted it as a victory.

Image result for seymour hersh 1970Journalist Seymour Hersh broke the story to the American public. His 1969  New Yorker piece exposed the full horrors of the massacre and the men responsible.  He heard of the event from GI Ronald Ridenhouer, who had pieced together the evidence independently reported it to the Pentagon. Hersh extensively interviewed the soldiers and officers of Charlie Company. His story won him the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism and contributed massively to the antiwar movement.

Because he testified, Hugh Thompson’s comrades shunned him as a traitor and departed mess halls at his entrance. The US military did not recognize his heroism until 1998, 30 years later, when he and his two crew mates were awarded the Soldiers Medal. He lived the rest of his days plagued by substance abuse and PTSD.

A single officer, Lieutenant William Calley, was quietly charged with the murder of 22 civilians, court martialed and sentenced to life imprisonment. 69% of the public believed Calley was unfairly scapegoated, however, and President Nixon intervened. He reduced Calley’s sentence to three and a half years of house arrest. 26 other soldiers, including Captain Medina, were court martialled. All were acquitted the following year.

Garry Crosley of Charlie Company:

“We didn’t believe this would be such a publicity stunt. We felt this was happening many times before, and it had probably happened many times since.”

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