Following excerpts are adapted from the author’s new book, Spare, published by Penguin Random House. Days Later I Was In Botswana, with Chels. We went to stay with Teej and Mike. Adi wasMore
by Paul K Lyons
In the moon’s clear light
all mundane desires
are but a path of dreams
So wrote the great poet Saiokuken Sōchō in medieval Japan, half a millennium ago. The verse comes from a memoir-like text, translated and published as The Journal of Sōchō. Although more a poetry collection with personal remembrances than a diary, the journal – and a companion work – have been called a ‘magisterial study’ of the poet.
Saiokuken Sōchō was born in 1448 in Suruga province (now in Shizuoka prefecture), Japan, to a blacksmith and his wife. He became a Buddhist monk in 1465 and later served Yoshitada Imagawa, but after Yoshitada’s death in battle, he left Suruga and went to Kyoto. He studied renga (a kind of collaborative way of writing poetry) under Sogi. He came to practice Zen Buddhism under Sojun Ikkyu of Daitoku-ji Temple, living by Shinjuan in Daitoku-ji Temple, and after Sojun passed away, he lived in Shuonan in Takigi village (Yamashiro Province, present-day Kyotanabe City, Kyoto Prefecture).
In 1496, Sōchō went back to Suruga, and served Ujichika Imagawa. In 1502, hearing the news of Sogi’s fall at Hakone Yumoto, he went to care for him on his deathbed. After Sogi’s death, he became the leader of the renga world with many influential friends. He is said to have been a diplomatic adviser to the Imagawa clan. In his later years, he built the Saiokuken (present-day Saioku-ji) Temple at Izumigaya by Mt. Utsuno in Totomi Province. He died in 1532. A little further information is available online at Encyclopaedia Britannica and at Worldtrade.com (a book industry website).
Sōchō left behind several manuscripts amounting to a kind a journal of his travels between 1522 and 1527. H. Mack Horton, an associate professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Berkeley, studied the manuscripts and produced, in 2002, an English language version, complete with annotations and various appendices – The Journal of Sōchō (published by Stanford University Press). He also produced a second work (also published by Stanford) to accompany the journal itself: Song in an Age of Discord: ‘The Journal of Sōchō’ and Poetic Life in Late Medieval Japan. The publisher claims that The Journal of Sōchō ‘is one of the most individual self-portraits in the literary history of medieval Japan’ and ‘provides a vivid portrayal of cultural life in the capital and in the provinces, together with descriptions of battles and great warrior families, the dangers of travel through war-torn countryside, and the plight of the poor.’
The journal records, the publisher explains, ‘four of Sōchō’s journeys between Kyoto and Suruga Province, where he served as the poet laureate of the Imagawa house, as well as several shorter excursions and periods of rest at various hermitages. The diverse upbringing of its author – a companion of nobles and warlords, a student of the orthodox poetic neoclassicism of the renga master Sogi, and a devotee of the iconoclastic Zen prelate Ikkyu – afforded him rich insights into the cultural life of the period. [. . .] This variety of cultural detail is matched by the journal’s wealth of prose genres: travel diary, eremitic writing, historical chronicle, conversation, and correspondence.’
The full work can be read freely online at Horton’s own website. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies has called Horton’s books ‘a magisterial study’ of Sōchō. However, describing Sōchō’s manuscripts as a diary or journal might be considered artful publishing. On the one hand, a very large part of the text is poetry, and, on the other, that which is not poetry reads far more like a memoir or autobiographical memories than a diary. Here’s an extract from ‘The Third Year of Daiei (1523)’
‘An old friend of mine named Rikijū lives at Gokokuji temple at Higuchi Aburanokōji. He called on me at my place of retirement, and for more than ten nights we slept side by side. He is an extraordinary lie-abed – a Time sect monk who cannot tell the time
Counting up the hours,
it is past four, now past six –
when does he think it is,
that Time sect monk fast asleep,
as dead to time as Fuji’s peak.
At Shinden’an in Takigi, I came across a letter case containing correspondence sent now and again about an offer to raise my son, the novice Jōha, about whom the writer had so often heard. On the back of one letter was a copy of the Diamond Sutra I had had young Jōha make at thirteen years of age. Shinden’an was built by the Zen nun Jikō, widow of Nose Inabanokami Yorinori. I perused the sutra and at the end, to the side, I wrote:
These dew-like tears
are all that now remain
after the wending wind,
a nurturing mother,
brought deep color to the oak leaves.
Inabanokami Yorinori did me great favors in the past, and I have been told that he said until the day he died that he regretted not seeing more of me. Because of his uncommon taste for renga, I inaugurated a memorial thousand-verse sequence at An’yōji temple in Higashiyama for the repose of his spirit. I discussed the matter with Lord Sanetaka, and for the occasion the Zen priest Shōhaku, Sōseki, Teramachi, Hahakabe, Kawarabayashi Tsushimanokami, and others came up to the capital. It was quite a special event. I composed the tenth hokku of the thousand verses:
In the moon’s clear light
all mundane desires
are but a path of dreams.’
Following excerpts adapted from the author’s latest book, The Hermit King: The Dangerous Game of Kim Jong Un, published by Macmillan
During Kim Jong Il’s reign, North Korea’s primary aim was gangseong daeguk, or a powerful and prosperous country; it became the goal of Kim’s military-first policy. The policy was first promulgated in 1998, and throughout the early 2000s the propaganda machinery churned out numerous studies attributed to Kim Jong Il, such as Military-First Policy (2000), The Great Leader Comrade Kim Jong Il’s Unique Thoughts on Military-First Revolution (2002), and The Glorious Military-First Era (2005), among many others. Of course, Kim didn’t pen a single word himself, but these works were written to justify why the bulk of the country’s already dwindling resources had to be shifted into the military sector. The responsibility for carrying out this policy fell to the National Defense Commission (NDC), the most powerful organ in Kim Jong Il’s North Korea; Kim served as the commission’s First Chairman.
When Kim Jong Il died in 2011, he was posthumously elevated to the position of Eternal Chairman of the NDC. Kim Jong Un assumed the title of First Chairman of the NDC. However, in June 2016 Kim Jong Un opted to create a new highest decision-making body, the State Affairs Commission (SAC). The establishment of the SAC was Kim Jong Un’s way of differentiating his rule from his father’s. He has consolidated power and put into place his own cadre of loyalists throughout the party, the KPA, the security apparatus, and the cabinet. Unsurprisingly, Kim has opted for a divide-and-rule strategy. For example, Kim initially appointed General Kim Won Hong as head of the Ministry of the Protection of State (still widely referred to in the West by its former name, the Ministry of State Security [MSS]), a post that had been vacant for twenty-five years. In January 2017, the general was demoted to major general and his core lieutenants were executed for high crimes. And while under Kim the SAC replaced the NDC as the most powerful decision-making body in North Korea, and the Presidium of the Politburo is the highest-ranking office in the party, it’s difficult to imagine any real give-and-take between Kim Jong Un and members of the Politburo. Still, the party is a unique organization, since it is so pervasive; key party departments, such as organization and guidance, propaganda and agitation, cadres, and general affairs, have much more influence than their titles suggest.
As noted in previous chapters, Office 39, in charge of all hard-currency operations and holdings, is the most important unit in the secretariat, or Kim Jong Un’s main office. Here one can see a contrast to China: although China’s Xi Jinping has consolidated more power than any other leader since Deng Xiaoping, collective leadership has been merely weakened, not completely discarded. No such collective leadership ever existed in North Korea except during its earliest days (1948–1950), and even then Kim Il Sung was always the most powerful figure.
“All of the critical personnel changes made by Kim Jong Un have been based on absolute loyalty, preservation of Juche ideology and Kim Il Sung / Kim Jong Il Thought, and the strengthening and consolidation of his power,” according to an assessment made by the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank under South Korea’s NIS. During Kim Jong Il’s era, the military-first policy meant that the KPA received greater attention than the KWP, much to the consternation of party leaders. The National Defense Commission was the highest decision-making body under Kim Jong Il, but, as noted earlier, Kim Jong Un abolished it and replaced it with the SAC. Even before he eliminated the NDC, its power was reduced: during his first year in power, 2011–2012, the NDC had sixteen members, but by 2016, the number had been reduced to eleven.
North Korea’s dictatorship is unique both in its longevity and in the absolute concentration of power in the top leader. This doesn’t mean that Kim decides everything himself; that would be impossible. Still, no policy or directive can be implemented without his approval. Under Kim, the party has gained the upper hand, and political commissars throughout the KPA relay the party’s orders.
Pyongyang’s highest elites are those that are in charge or have important roles in the party, security apparatuses, the KPA, government, and state-run import-export companies or those charged with specific hard-currency earnings (see figures 1,2,3). They include the top 5 percent of the core class, ministers or officeholders with ministerial rank, and Kim’s inner circle: members of the SAC, the Central Military Commission of the KWP, and the Main Department of Intelligence.
In April 2019, Kim Jong Un undertook the most extensive leadership change since he assumed power. Longtime confidant Choe Ryong Hae was named the nominal head of state, or president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), replacing Kim Yong Nam, who had held that post for over twenty years. Kim also named Kim Jae Ryong as the new prime minister, replacing Pak Pong Ju, who was moved to vice chairman in charge of economics at the central committee of the KWP. Pak Pong Ju is also a member of the standing committee of the Politburo and vice chairman of the SAC. These moves suggest that Pak will continue to have a major voice on economic affairs, while Choe will be able to steer the SPA to bolster Kim’s position and support Kim as first vice chairman of the SAC.
Also notable were the promotions of several others to the SAC: Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui; Kim Yong Chol, head of the united front of the KWP (in charge of South-North issues); Ri Su Yong, head of international affairs of the KWP; and Ri Yong Ho, foreign minister. Many of the old guard were replaced and key economic policy elites were promoted to the central committee. At the same time, Kim was referred to as the Supreme Commander of the DPRK, Supreme Leader of Our Party and State, and Supreme Leader of the Armed Forces. Previously, Kim was usually referred to as the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, rather than supreme leader of all of North Korea’s armed forces. This change signals even greater control over all military and paramilitary forces.
Mindful of the ongoing pressure from international sanctions, Kim reaffirmed the importance of a self-reliant economy and the need for North Korea to continue to pursue a “my way” economic policy. He made a special point on “decisively enhancing the role of the Party organizations in the struggle to vigorously speed up the socialist construction under the banner of self-reliance.” Kim today is in full control of the party, the KPA, and the intelligence services and has begun to move loyalists into key positions. The real litmus test, however, lies in whether Kim is going to turn around the economy under onerous international sanctions while continuing to devote resources to WMD development.
The Power Beside the Throne
The one person who remains outside of any power flow chart is Kim Yo Jong. Her formal title is alternate member of the Politburo and deputy director of the Agitation and Propaganda Department of the KWP. Because she is of the Paektu bloodline, Yo Jong carries much more weight than even Kim Jong Un’s wife, Ri Sol Ju. By planting Yo Jong in one of the most important party departments, Jong Un is making sure that anyone else who wields significant power, such as Choe Ryong Hae, who heads the SPA and is also vice chairman of the party, can be checked.
As Kim Jong Il’s daughter, Yo Jong played a critical behind-the-scenes role in ensuring Jong Un’s succession. And, as described elsewhere in this book, she was the star of the opening ceremony of the February 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, and she never left her brother’s side during the April and May 2018 inter-Korean summits. The South Korean and world media made her into an instant global sensation. Her political influence is second only to her brother’s, although Kim might pull her back from the limelight if she gets too much attention. While Kim Yo Jong was next to her brother during meetings with South Korean president Moon Jae-in in 2018, and was in Singapore and Hanoi when Kim met with Trump, she was noticeably absent when Kim met with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok in April 2019. Although the South Korean press speculated that this was a sign that Yo Jong’s influence was ebbing, it was more likely a deliberate move either by Yo Jong herself or by Kim Jong Un to control her much-reported public appearances.
Following excerpts adapted from the author’s latest book, Manhunters: How We Took Down Pablo Escobar, published by Macmillan
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called Children of God.” — Matthew 5:9
For Connie, for her never-ending love and support. —Steve Murphy
The blue Renault cut in front of us, forcing us off the road, ushering Connie and me into our worst nightmare.
I was driving one of the older-model embassy-issued g-cars. It was a large SUV with huge, West Coast–style mirrors sticking out from the sides. If we were in California, it might look like we were surfers on our way to a deserted beach. But this was Colombia, and the SUV was outfitted like a tank for a reason. I joked to Connie that it could survive a shoot-out and even the apocalypse. Still, its ballast made me feel safe. There were steel plates in all the doors, under the vehicle, and built into the roof. All the windows were bulletproof with extremely thick glass that made them impossible to open. The front and rear were equipped with chrome-plated steel bars known as cattle guards. With all these security devices built in, it weighed about twice as much as a normal vehicle.
Connie and I were headed home from the embassy and had decided to take some of the back roads, next to a military base, to avoid the snarling traffic and to stop by our favorite restaurant for some take-out roast chicken for dinner. We had both put in a long day and were looking forward to unwinding in front of the TV with spicy chicken, roasted potatoes, and a glass of merlot. With me in Medellín most weeks, we rarely had a night to ourselves, and we were really looking forward to being together in our apartment in the northern part of the city.
When the Renault suddenly cut in front of me, I pumped the brake and pushed in the clutch, trying to stop before I hit the tiny car. With all the weight of the SUV, it wasn’t very difficult to lose control, and I knew if I hit the Renault, there would be serious injury to the passengers.
Maybe even death. I managed to slide the vehicle to a stop just a few inches from the smaller car.
After checking to see if Connie was okay, I was furious and prepared to get out of the car and give them a piece of my mind. Except when I looked up, I saw that the three occupants of the car were walking menacingly toward us. They were dressed in light jackets and jeans, and as they drew closer, I could see that each of them had a pistol tucked into the waistband of his pants.
After arriving in Colombia to work on the Pablo Escobar case more than a year earlier, I had a lot of enemies. The world’s most wanted criminal knew my name and the name of my partner, Javier Peña. We knew this because Colombian intelligence had intercepted the drug lord speaking on the phone to one of his thugs and talking about the “two gringos” at the Carlos Holguín base in Medellín. During one conversation, he even referred to “Peña and Murphy.”
So when the three men approached the driver’s-side door of our vehicle and began yelling in Spanish for us to get out of the car, I worried this was no ordinary case of road rage. This was a trap, and we were outnumbered. Besides that, I had the person I loved most in the world sitting right next to me. I needed to protect Connie no matter what happened to me.
At first, I refused to open the door, and I flashed them my Colombian police identification badge, hoping it would scare them off. But they refused to budge, which is when I frantically tried to radio for backup from the embassy. Each embassy car was equipped with portable emergency radios so that we could call the Marines if we got into any trouble. I was hoping the Marines would simply dispatch a roving patrol and scare off the jokers who were holding us hostage inside the car.
But I called once. I called twice. I called three times. No one answered.
By this time, the three men were kicking at the tires and trying to open the doors. I looked over at Connie, who was trying to remain calm, but I could tell she was really scared. The truth is, so was I.
Shortly after trying to contact the embassy, the wife of a DEA agent called us from her portable radio to make sure we were all right. I told her where we were and asked her to radio for help immediately. A few minutes later, our DEA supervisor was on the radio. I told him to hurry and to bring the “margarita” with him—our code name for the mini Uzi that we kept in the office for just such occasions.
While we waited, helpless as the men continued to taunt us and kick in the doors of the car, my darling wife surprised me as she always did when we faced what seemed like impossible odds.
“They’re not that big,” she said, pointing to the men. “I can take that one out if you handle the other two.”
I might have said yes except that they were all armed, and if I opened the door of the car, I would be exposing Connie to being shot or worse.
Once the DEA supervisor was in place with the margarita behind us, I prepared to walk out of the car and confront the three men. We were both good marksmen, and if they tried anything funny, I knew we could easily kill them. But none of us wanted to kill anyone. We just wanted to get home and have our chicken!
Just as I was opening my door, a Colombian National Police motorcycle patrol approached. I saw they were looking at us but showed no indication of stopping. I began blowing my horn to get their attention, which caused the patrol to turn around to investigate. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw our supervisor, holding tight to the margarita.
Clutching my pistol and then tucking it into my waistband, I walked over to the police and showed them my badge and told them who I was: I was DEA and working on capturing Colombia’s most wanted criminal. I told them we had been cut off by the three men in the Renault, and I was worried that they could be sicarios working for Escobar. After all, it was only a few years before that fellow DEA special agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Salazar was kidnapped by corrupt police officers in Mexico and tortured and killed on the orders of drug lord Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo. All DEA agents working in Latin America after Kiki’s death worried that the same thing could happen to them.
I told the cops the men in the blue Renault were all armed.
At the mention of handguns, the police surrounded the men and pointed their weapons at them.
It took a while to sink in, but when the cops realized who I was and that I had contacts at the highest levels of the Colombian police, they began to apologize to Connie and me. As for the three men who had nearly caused an ugly accident, they were low-ranking members of the Colombian military on a joyride. It turned out to be nothing more than a case of road rage and the three young men wanting to intimidate us. They still don’t know how close they came to death that night.
I cursed them out in my best street Spanish and threatened to call their commanding officer. They all became very apologetic and begged me not to call anyone. I believe they knew they would end up in the stockade for their actions, and all they wanted was to get away from us as quickly as possible.
After thanking the police, Connie and I drove home, rattled by the whole experience. As we sat in our living room with our Styrofoam boxes of chicken and potatoes, and Connie poured us each a glass of wine, I worried about the next close call.
And this time, I knew that an armored embassy vehicle wouldn’t be able to protect me. Not against the apocalypse, and certainly not against Pablo Escobar.
Following excerpts adapted from the author’s most recent book, A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerrilla Victory published by Monthly Review Press
With the overthrow of the Batista regime a new chapter in Cuban history began. The early period of the revolutionary government was deeply affected by the means by which it came to power, but many changes occurred in the world of organized labor over the first year of the new regime. In particular, the recently established alliance between the July 26 Movement and the Communist Party did not survive the arrival of the rebels in Havana. Given that the two organizations eventually merged, the realignment of forces within the MR-26-7 takes on considerable importance, in particular the contradictions between a new bureaucracy of the Confederación de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC, Cuban Workers Confederation) and elements who wished to move the revolution in a more radical direction. The future Cuban Communist Party would emerge from the victory of the radicals in this faction fight.
As soon as it was known that Batista had fled, David Salvador was appointed the new general secretary of the CTC, an action that marked the end of the united front with the Communist Party. During the January 1959 strike, the FONU called for a mass meeting in the Parque Central in Havana on January 2, 1959, and another on January 8 to support the revolutionary government. This last appeal, signed by José Maria de la Aguilera for the MR-26-7 and Carlos Fernandez Rodriguez for the Comité Nacional de Defensa de las Demandas Obreras (CNDDO, National Committee for the Defense of Workers’ Demands), is the last statement issued in the name of the FONU as a joint body, although Octavio Louit was still using the title Secretario de Organización del FONU in an interview on January 17. Meanwhile, Ñico Torres and Conrado Bécquer, the latter still in his olive green uniform as a comandante of the rebel army, took the first flight from Santiago to Havana, where they immediately supervised the seizure of the CTC headquarters. This they did in the name of the sección obrera of the MR-26-7, whose leaders took all the seats on the CTC provisional executive committee, with David Salvador as secretary general. The PSP was completely shut out, and, on January 13, the CNDDO wrote a furious letter to Salvador complaining that Torres and Bécquer had told them that the FONU was now dissolved and that they were excluded from decision making and even from entering the building. Receiving no reply, the CNDDO, this time invoking the name of Lazaro Peña, called for a demonstration on January 21, only to be outflanked by David Salvador, who called a demonstration on the same day demanding justice for the 600 workers previously victimized by the Compañía Cubana de Electricidad and to celebrate the end of the compulsory check off of union dues that the government had decreed on January 20.
With the establishment of the revolutionary government in Havana, the center of attention moved to the capital, and it was here that sentiment in the July 26 Movement was most hostile to working with the PSP. The journals Bohemia and Revolución became the mouthpieces for this approach, with frequent articles attacking communism in general and the Cuban communists in particular. In a long interview published in Bohemia in February 1959, David Salvador argues that the FONU was a good idea, but the efforts spent trying to build it were a waste of time, that the communists were not a significant factor in the labor movement, and that only the MR-26-7 had any real presence in the working class. The new leadership of the CTC set up the Frente Humanista (Humanist Front) and using this name succeeded in winning the overwhelming majority of the union elections. Whatever Fidel Castro’s personal views on relations with the communists may have been, and he was careful not to be too specific, his first priority was to keep his own organization together. Thus, when a group of angry communist railway workers knocked on the door of his apartment to denounce what they saw as undemocratic behavior by David Salvador, he listened politely, expressed his interest, but did not pursue the matter further.
As part of the attempt to reassure the more right-wing elements of the MR-26-7 and to confuse the U.S. government, the early “revolutionary government” was headed by a former judge, known for his honesty and his opposition to corruption rather than his radicalism, and many of the new ministers were equally moderate. The appointment of David Salvador to run the CTC, when his personal hostility to the PSP was well known, was the implementation of this strategy within the labor movement.
A galloping bureaucratization of the CTC took place in the first months of 1959; many of the new officials quickly made themselves comfortable and began to resent the constant mobilizations and calls for action. They gravitated toward David Salvador and his associates in the anti-communist wing of the MR-26-7, who started to use crude anti-communism to attack those who wanted to push the revolution to take more radical steps. The more radical elements became known as the “unitario” group within the MR-26-7 sección obrera, among whose most prominent members were those who had been involved in the Las Villas congress: Jesús Soto, Lila León, and José Maria de la Aguilera. These unitarios soon attracted others in the CTC leadership, mainly those with long-term clandestine revolutionary experience such as Ñico Torres and Octavio Louit, who were disturbed by the growing bureaucratization. Seeking allies, they found them in the PSP, who agreed with the need to push the revolution further and who resented being excluded from the leadership of the labor movement.
The basis of the orthodox communist political approach was the theoretical position that history moved in stages and that it was first necessary to complete the “bourgeois democratic” phase of the revolution before moving to socialism. The Cuban Revolution was therefore defined as being “popular, patriotic, democratic, agrarian and for national liberation.” In line with this analysis, the leadership group of the PSP around Blas Roca were content to engage in the revolutionary process as it unfolded and, in particular, to support the wing of the MR-26-7 that seemed most progressive. This was also the section of the leadership that was most sympathetic to their inclusion, primarily those around Raúl Castro and Che Guevara, who condemned sectarianism and spoke publicly for the unity of all revolutionary forces including the PSP. They continued working with those MR-26-7 trade unionists who had wished to carry on the united approach implied by the FONU.
What was the reaction of the rank-and-file workers to this? The first demands to be raised were for the reinstatement of those workers victimized for their militancy or made redundant as part of the old regime’s productivity drive. There was particular joy at the reinstatement of the bank workers sacked for their strike in 1955 and the hundred bus workers dismissed after the coup in 1952. Then there were wage claims, 10 or 20 percent, sometimes enforced by short strikes, more often just won by the threat of action. Some Shell refinery workers managed to double their wages. Throughout 1959, the CTC was the main mobilizing force of the revolution and all of the major demonstrations were called in its name. May Day 1959 saw a million workers on the march, and hundreds of thousands went on strike and demonstrated on the streets to protest at the October airborne attack launched by right-wing exiles from Miami. During the government crisis of July 1959, workers’ protests and a strike on July 26 were important factors in enabling Fidel Castro to remove Manuel Urrutia from the presidency and to secure the post of prime minister for himself. Thus we see a growing rift between the increasing radicalism among ordinary workers contrasting with a tendency to bureaucratization among a section of the CTC officialdom.
Within the CTC, matters came to a head at the 10th Congress of the CTC held in Havana in November 1959. The delegates were 90 percent July 26th Movement supporters, but were deeply split between the anti-communist faction lead by David Salvador and the unitarios fronted by Soto and Aguilera. Conrado Bécquer, who chaired proceedings. had some difficulty in maintaining order. Fidel Castro opened the proceedings, and spoke of the need for unity. Both sides interpreted this to suit their own entrenched position, and matters were no nearer a resolution as the closing session approached. Castro returned, upbraided the delegates for their uncomradely behavior, and it was agreed that a committee composed of Fidel Castro, David Salvador, Conrado Bécquer, José Pellon, and Jesús Soto should compose a compromise list for the executive. The posts were divided between the two factions with an anti-communist deputy to a unitario executive officer, or vice-versa in most positions. Two notable absences were Bécquer and Torres, now leaders of the FNTA and the railway federation respectively. This list was carried by acclaim, with the communist delegates abstaining, and the congress ended in relative harmony.
Che Guevara called the 10th Congress “an arduous war against the representatives of mujalismo, representative of the old CTC gang.” Modern Cuban writing tends to adopt this line, although this was not the case at the time, even in the heated atmosphere of the congress hall, with neither of the newspapers of the PSP and MR-26-7, Hoy and Revolución, using the term mujalista. On the other hand, anti-Castro writers such as Robert Alexander and Efrén Córdova discuss the 10th Congress of the CTC entirely at the level of the bureaucracy itself and see the fight as being between honest officials who respect private property and those who Robert Alexander refers to as “Melons,” green on the outside, red on the inside. The eventual triumph of the unitarios is seen as an imposition by Castro as part of his plot with the communists. Neither of these explanations are satisfactory. In January 1959, the CTC bureaucracy was effectively purged both de jure and de facto. Mujal himself, had sought refuge in the Argentine embassy, from where he was allowed to leave for Miami. The rest of his bureaucratic associates were removed from office and were well enough known by the ordinary membership to have no chance of regaining their positions. However, many of those who took their place quickly adopted bureaucratic attitudes and started using some of the old mujalista techniques such as voting irregularities and anti-communist demagogy. In a manner commonly found among opportunist trade union bureaucrats, they resented the work implied by constant mass mobilization. Aguilera and Louit were particularly vocal in criticizing this trend. The right wing of the bureaucracy, in return, used the accusation of communist influence to attack those who wanted a more radical approach to running the economy. One can say that they adopted similar bureaucratic methods to the mujalistas, but we have to be clear that they did not represent the return to office of the old mujalista bureaucrats themselves.
David Salvador did not last long as general secretary. Events outside the union forced the pace of change, and 1960 was a year in which, following the obvious popularity of the agrarian reform program of the previous year, large-scale nationalizations of foreign-owned enterprises took place. These, if the size of the demonstrations in their support are anything to go by, were very popular, and this radical economic approach, combined with the hostile reaction from the United States, seemed to launch a new wave of popular nationalism among the working class. The more radical political circumstances, combined with the threat of U.S. intervention, pushed the balance inside the CTC in the direction of the unitarios. David Salvador disappeared from view almost immediately after the 10th Congress, and for the rest of 1960 the most prominent CTC spokesman was Conrado Bécquer, with Jesús Soto and Octavio Louit also much in evidence. Salvador resigned in February 1960 and in June joined the “November 30 Movement,” which was linked to the right-wing guerrillas operating in the Escambray mountains. He was arrested in November of that year, expelled from the CTC, and charged with treason. The victory over the U.S.-supported invasion at Playa Girón in April 1961 sealed the dominance of the unitarios within the CTC, and in July 1961 Lazaro Peña, the communist tobacco worker who had been ousted in 1947, assumed leadership of the federation.
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Copyright © 2016 by Steve Cushion
The following article is based on the excerpts adapted from the author’s maiden book, Palestine 1936 published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group
Palestinians, despairing over their thwarted national hopes, wage acts of protest, boycott, sabotage, and violence. All around them Jewish settlements inexorably expand. Islamic hardliners sabotage peace talks, executing suspected collaborators and moderates. Occupation forces launch an aggressive crackdown, demolishing homes, erecting a separation wall, and drawing censure for rights abuses. The world power with the greatest clout over the warring sides pushes a partition plan, even while seeming to doubt its viability. Jewish factions are split: One is ready to give up part of the Land of Israel for peace; another demands the entire ancient patrimony, by force of arms if needed. Further bloodletting appears inevitable.
These could be this morning’s news alerts. Or headlines from the Second Intifada of the early 2000s, the earlier First Intifada, or any number of clashes over the three-quarters of a century since the Jewish state’s creation in 1948.
Instead this is an earlier story—of Palestine’s first Arab rebellion, a seminal, three-year uprising a decade before Israel’s birth that cast the mold for the Jewish-Arab encounter ever since.
Five hundred Jews lost their lives—a civilian toll unmatched until the twenty-first century—and hundreds more British servicemen were killed. But the price exacted upon the Arabs themselves was heavier still, and not just in terms of body count.
The Great Revolt of 1936 to 1939 was the crucible in which Palestinian identity coalesced. It united rival families, urban and rural, rich and poor, in a single struggle against a common foe: the Jewish national enterprise—Zionism—and its midwife, the British Empire. A six-month general strike, one of the longest anywhere in modern history, roused Arabs and Muslims worldwide to the Palestine cause.
Yet the revolt would ultimately turn on itself. A convulsion of infighting and score-settling shredded the Arab social fabric, sidelined pragmatists for extremists, and propelled the first wave of refugees out of the country. British forces did the rest, seizing arms, occupying cities, and waging a counterinsurgency that left thousands dead and tens of thousands wounded. Arab Palestine’s fighting capacity was debilitated, its economy gutted, its political leaders banished.
The revolt to end Zionism had instead crushed the Arabs themselves, leaving them crippled in facing the Jews’ own drive for statehood a decade on. It was the closest the Palestinians would ever come to victory; they have never quite recovered.
To the Jews the insurgency would leave a very different inheritance. It was then that Zionist leaders began to abandon illusions over Arab acquiescence, to confront the unnerving prospect that fulfilling their dreams of sovereignty might mean forever clinging to the sword. The revolt saw thousands of Jews trained and armed by Great Britain, the world’s supreme military power, turning their amateur guard units into the seeds of a formidable Jewish army, complete with special forces and an officer corps.
But it was also during the revolt that some Jews—facing Fascism in Europe and carnage in Palestine—decided that mere passive defense was national suicide, and when Jewish terrorism first appeared on the landscape.
This is therefore a story of two nationalisms, and of the first major explosion between them. The rebellion was Arab, but the Zionist counter-rebellion—the Jews’ military, economic, and psychological transformation—is a vital, overlooked element in the chronicle of how Palestine became Israel.
For it was then—not in 1948—that Palestine’s Jews consolidated the demographic, geographic, and political basis of their state-to-be. And it was then that portentous words like “partition” and “Jewish state” first appeared on the international diplomatic agenda.
Yet ultimately the uprising also persuaded Britain that its two-decade Zionist experiment had proven too costly—in blood, treasure, and the goodwill of broad swaths of its empire. As war with Hitler loomed, the Chamberlain government determined it was high time that Palestine’s doors—virtually the only ones still open to Jews—be shuttered. Few decisions in the twentieth century would carry repercussions as profound.
The reader might imagine that events of such magnitude would already have been amply investigated. This is, after all, the most written-about of the world’s ongoing disputes, having earned itself the all-encompassing designation as The Middle East Conflict. And yet that same reader, keen to learn more, encounters scarcity: a few pages, or at most a chapter, in wider histories of this land. Remarkably, no single general-interest account has yet been written of this formative but forgotten insurgency.
by Our Defence Correspondent
‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he, today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.’ – William Shakespeare
The process of putting thoughts and ideas onto paper, and transforming them into a coherent story is both challenging and exhilarating. Unlike regular writers, we believe that writing a book can be a therapeutic and cathartic experience for military veterans. It is a tangible expression of their creativity, resilience, and determination, and a lasting legacy that honours their service and contributions to our beloved motherland.
Yesterday was a day of pride and celebration not only for this veteran but for the wider military community. The launch of his first book was a moment to honour his service, recognize his sacrifices, and share his story with the world. The veteran’s bravery and determination serve as an inspiration to us all, and his book will be a valuable resource for generations to come. The author is Selvin Sallay, a military veteran, who published his first book, “Battle of Mannakulam through the eyes of a commando” ( Mannakulam Satana Commando Esin).
The event yesterday was truly a colourful and memorable occasion, with wonderful speeches by former commandos and military veterans. Lt. Col. Nilantha Jayaweera and Major General P Chandrawansa, who were the commanding officers of the same battle, added an extra layer of excitement to the proceedings. They mentioned the importance of military literature.
True, military literature has long played an important role in documenting the experiences of soldiers, sailors, and airmen in the wars and conflicts that have shaped the course of human history. Sri Lanka is not an exception. Whether through memoirs, novels, poems, or other forms of creative expression, military literature serves as a powerful tool for capturing the emotions, thoughts, and experiences of those who have fought in these wars, and for preserving these memories for future generations.
In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of military literature for veterans themselves. By putting their experiences down on paper, veterans can gain a greater understanding of the events they went through, and the impact they have had on their lives. Military literature provides a valuable perspective on the nature of war and conflict.
Writing is a powerful tool for preserving the memories and experiences of veterans, educating the public about the realities of war, and promoting a greater appreciation and understanding of the sacrifices made by those who serve in the military. It is therefore essential that veterans be encouraged and supported in their efforts to write about their experiences, and that the value of military literature is recognized and appreciated.
In this context, the publication of “Battle of Mannakulam through the eyes of a commando” by Major Selvin Sallay provides a unique and valuable perspective on one of the pivotal moments in the fight against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), widely considered one of the most brutal terrorist organizations in the world. Through the lens of Major Selvin’s experiences as a commando in the battle of Mannakulam, the book offers readers a powerful and intimate look at the realities of modern warfare, and the courage and sacrifice of those who fight to protect their country and their fellow citizens.
As a participant in the battle, Major Selvin provides a first-hand account of the challenges faced by the commandos in the field, the decisions they had to make, and the emotions they experienced during this intense and highly dangerous conflict. His narrative is at once gripping, thought-provoking, and deeply inspiring, offering an unvarnished look at the realities of the ground they fought.
Yesterday’s event was glamoured by many of his colleagues and relatives. Among them, a special guest was there. That was his mother. The heroic lady whose life is bigger than herself. The emotions of a mother who sends her sons to the battlefield are complex and intense, encompassing a mixture of fear, worry, pride, and heartbreak. Major Selvin’s mother is no exception. But she is different from many other mothers. She was bold enough to send three of four sons to defend the nation during the most difficult time in the country. His second elder brother, Major General Suresh Sallay and his younger brother Brigadier Ramesh Sallay, both of them continue to work in the military. Suresh is currently heading the country’s premier spy agency, the State Intelligence Service.
The idea of sending a son off to fight in a war fills many mothers with dread, as they worry about their safety and well-being, and wonder if they will ever return home. In the case of Major Selvin’s mother, the news of his injury in the Mannakulam Battle must have been especially devastating. Upon initially hearing the news of his injury, the family likely believed that Major Selvin had been killed, and his brother, now the head of the State Intelligence Service, would have been in a state of panic and dilemma over how to break the news to their mother. The moment of learning that Major Selvin was injured but safe, would have been a time of intense emotion and relief for his mother, who would have been torn between her worry for her son’s well-being and her pride in his service.
Major Selvin is a true patriot and a tall man in a band of brothers on a battlefield. He has proved by actions a deep love and devotion to the country, a willingness to defend its values and principles, and a desire to serve and support the greater good. This book is not a piece of rhetoric but a true pulse of a man who fought the most decisive battle in the country.
In addition to its value as a historical document, “Battle of Mannakulam through the eyes of a commando” also serves as a tribute to the bravery and courage of the soldiers who fought in this critical conflict. The publication of this book also highlights the importance of preserving the memories and experiences of those who served in the military, and of making these experiences accessible to the public. By documenting the events of the Mannakulam battle through the eyes of Major Selvin Sallay, the book provides a valuable resource for future generations, who will be able to learn from and be inspired by the experiences of those who came before them.
This book tells the reader why they fought the battle. As G.K. Chesterton says, “a true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” This book is a timely and essential testimony to the bravery and dedication of true patriots who never abandon their country when surrounded by enemies.
Following excerpts adapted from the author’s newly released book, Against the World: Anti-Globalism and Mass Politics between the World Wars published by W. W. Norton & Company
“In a world of falling prices, no stock has dropped more catastrophically than International Cooperation.” — DOROTHY THOMPSON, 1931
The era of globalism was over.
Even committed internationalists “have lost faith and join in the chorus of those who never sympathized with our ideals, and say internationalism has failed,” despaired Mary Sheepshanks, a British feminist and internationalist. Although she was confident that the spirit of internationalism would return once “the fumes cleared from men’s brains,” it had been replaced for the moment by “race hatred and national jealousy, leading to tariffs, militarism, armaments, crushing taxation, restricted intercourse, mutual butchery, and the ruin of all progress.”
The year was 1916. Hundreds of thousands of European boys and men were already dead, and nearly everyone was penning obituaries for internationalism. The fumes did not clear quickly. More than twenty-five years later, the Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig would publish his memoir, The World of Yesterday. It was a nostalgic eulogy for a lost era of globalism. Zweig, a self-described “citizen of the world,” recalled, “Before 1914, the earth had belonged to all. People went where they wished and stayed as long as they pleased. There were no permits, no visas, and it always gives me pleasure to astonish the young by telling them that before 1914 I travelled from Europe to India and to America without passport and without ever having seen one.” After the war, everything changed. “The world was on the defensive against strangers . . . The humiliations which once had been devised with criminals alone in mind now were imposed upon the traveller, before and during every journey. There had to be photographs from right and left, in profile and full face, one’s hair had to be cropped sufficiently to make the ears visible; fingerprints were taken . . . they asked for the addresses of relatives, for moral and financial guarantees, questionnaires, and forms in triplicate and quadruplicate needed to be filled out, and if only one of this sheath of papers was missing one was lost.” He linked these bureaucratic humiliations to a loss of human dignity and the lost dream of a united world. “If I reckon up the many forms I have filled out during these years . . . the many examinations and interrogations at frontiers I have been through, then I feel keenly how much human dignity has been lost in this century which, in our youth, we had credulously dreamed as one of freedom, as of the federation of the world.”
In Britain, economist John Maynard Keynes penned his famous obituary for globalization shortly after the war ended. “What an extraordinary episode in the economic progress of man that age was which came to an end in August, 1914!” he wrote. In the golden age before the war, “The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep.” It was an age in which “the projects of militarism and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries, of monopolies, restrictions, and exclusion, which were to play the serpent to this paradise, were little more than the amusements of his daily newspaper.” These looming threats “appeared to exercise almost no influence at all on the ordinary course of his social and economic life, the internationalization of which was nearly complete in practice.”
Stefan Zweig and John Maynard Keynes remain among the most renowned analysts of the changes brought by the First World War. They both understood these changes in terms of the end of a golden era of globalization, during which people, goods, and capital breezed across international frontiers. But their very nostalgia for a lost world of globalism offers an important clue as to the causes of its downfall. Both men were myopic about the extent to which the freedoms they associated with globalization were the privileges of a narrow elite (“It may be I was too greatly pampered,” Zweig speculated . . . ). The earth had not belonged to everyone before 1914. It had, however, belonged to people like Keynes and Zweig.
Zweig and Keynes traveled the world unmolested by bureaucrats before the First World War largely because they were wealthy, highly educated, white European men. They traveled freely for business and pleasure, with no concern for their physical safety. Nor did they worry about the meddlesome interference of husbands, fathers, or state authorities.
In steerage, the World of Yesterday looked quite different. Migrants headed toward the United States in the late nineteenth century were already subjected to the poking and prodding of doctors charged with excluding sick, disabled, and mentally ill migrants, along with those deemed “likely to become a public charge” (including most single women). Nonwhite migrants were categorically excluded. Millions of people in the world lived in deep poverty in regions that were denied political sovereignty and exploited economically for the benefit of Europeans and North Americans. While it was true that international trade benefited all parties in the aggregate, it exacerbated inequality between rich countries and poor countries. Likewise, within industrialized countries, globalization did not benefit everyone equally: there were clear winners and losers.
Keynes frankly acknowledged all this. The bounty of globalization was not shared equally. But inequality, he claimed, had been seen as a necessary corollary to progress in the nineteenth century. “The greater part of the population, it is true, worked hard and lived at a low standard of comfort, yet were, to all appearances, reasonably contented with this lot.” This was because they believed in the prospect of social mobility. “Escape was possible,” he insisted, “for any man of capacity or character at all exceeding the average.”
The war shattered those illusions. The magnitude of wartime sacrifices bred popular demands for more immediate justice. Across Europe and the world, workers, women, and colonial subjects took to the streets, demanding sovereignty and greater equality. In Russia the discontent combusted into revolution, which seemed poised to spread westward. The wheels of global integration ground to a halt. This spelled disaster for Europe and the world, Keynes warned. “An inefficient, unemployed, disorganized Europe faces us, torn by internal strife and international hate, fighting, starving, pillaging, and lying.”
His warning was prescient. The era of anti-globalism lasted another two decades, punctuated by the greatest global economic crisis in world history, the Great Depression. Nor would the strife be overcome with a new treaty or a peaceful handshake. Rather, as American journalist Dorothy Thompson would observe from Berlin in 1931, “Looking at Europe, from the British Isles to the Balkans, one is forced to the admission that after twelve years of the League of Nations, the International Court . . . multilateral treaties, Kellogg Pacts, the International Bank and disarmament conferences, the whole world is retreating from the international position and is taking its dolls and going home.”
WHY AND how did so many people turn against the world after 1918? And what were the consequences of this anti-global turn? This book attempts to answer these questions. In the process, it reframes the history of interwar Europe not only as a battle between fascism and communism, democracy and dictatorship, but also as a contest over the future of globalization and globalism. The era between the two world wars was defined by attempts to resolve mounting tensions between globalization on the one hand and equality, state sovereignty, and mass politics on the other.
Moving through time and across space, I aim to give voice to the diversity of individuals who participated in this debate, to how it played out in local everyday contexts and at the level of national and international politics. The protagonists include several famous and infamous people—dictators, internationalists, industrialists, and economists— but also many individuals on the margins of history, including migrant women, garment workers, shopkeepers, unemployed veterans, radical gardeners, and disillusioned homesteaders.
There is no doubt about the decline of global mobility and trade in this period. On the one hand, the First World War was a “global” war. It mobilized human and material resources around the world and increased international financial entanglement through a massive web of international debt (especially debts to the United States). But at the same time, the war produced unprecedented supply shocks. The cost of shipping tripled, and inflation soared. Meanwhile, states introduced new tariffs, exchange controls, and other protectionist measures, and sought to cut off supplies to their enemies. Economic historians estimate that global exports declined by 25 percent due to the outbreak of the First World War, recovering to prewar levels only in 1924. There was a brief period of growth in the late 1920s, but all these gains were lost during the Great Depression. By 1933, world trade had declined 30 percent from 1929 levels and was 5 percent lower than it had been in 1913. Trade did not reach pre-1913 rates of growth again until the 1970s.
Transatlantic migration, which reached a peak of 2.1 million in 1913, came to a sputtering halt during the First World War and recovered only briefly after the war ended. Global migration rates remained high in the 1920s, especially within Asia, but the Great Depression radically curbed mobility everywhere in the world. This was partly due to a reduction in demand for migrant labor, but it was also caused by the closing of state borders and new restrictions on migration and mobility. Global communication also slowed down. News that raced via telegraph from Europe to North America and Australia in a single day in 1913 took weeks to arrive in 1920. And the gold standard, the motor of global financial integration, broke down during the First World War and was abandoned by the roadside during the 1930s, first by Great Britain (1931), then the United States (1933), and finally by France and other European powers.
These numbers, and the broader economic histories of globalization and deglobalization between the two world wars, are critically important. But my focus is rather on the grassroots origins and human consequences of the popular revolt against globalism, both for self-professed globalists such as Keynes and Zweig and for individuals who saw globalism as a threat to their aspirations for greater equality and stability. It was this popular confrontation with globalization that ultimately caused its disruption and transformation. Popular anti-globalism arose with accelerating globalization itself in the late nineteenth century, but in the 1920s and 1930s, the demands of anti-global activists were increasingly taken up by political parties and states. Their efforts to render individuals, families, and states more self-sufficient had mixed results, but lasting consequences.
Following excerpts adapted from the author’s new book, Syria Betrayed: Atrocities, War, and the Failure of International Diplomacy published by Columbia University Press.
Everybody had their agenda and the interests of the Syrian people came second, third, or not at all. — Lakhdar Brahimi, UN special envoy for Syria, August 31, 2015
In Early 2011 the world was stunned as the Arab Spring tore through Tunisia, then Egypt, and then Libya, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, and Jordan. Syria stood at the precipice. As diplomats at the United Nations argued about what to do in Libya and the deteriorating situation in Côte d’Ivoire, few understood that Syria was descending into a hell of civil war that would consume more than half a million lives, displace more than half the country’s population, host the brutally genocidal Islamic State, and draw in the militaries of Iran, Hezbollah, Russia, the United States, Turkey, and others. As Syria’s tragedy unfolded, not one foreign government consistently prioritized the protection of Syrians from atrocity crimes. Not only did they do little to alleviate suffering, much of what they did made matters worse. They betrayed Syria’s civilians by breaking the trust between peoples, states, and global institutions exemplified by the responsibility to protect.
It is difficult to convey the extent of the brutality inflicted on Syria’s tormented civilians since the uprising began in 2011, since raw numbers have a numbing effect. Syrians have been shot in the streets as they protested. Tens of thousands were hauled into prisons and tortured until dead. Tens of thousands more live on in those conditions. Barrel bombs packed with high explosives, nails, and other makeshift shrapnel have been hurled indiscriminately by the dozen into civilian neighborhoods. Men, women, and children have been gassed to death with sarin and chlorine. Civilians have been shot, knifed, beheaded, and even crucified. They have been denied food, water, and medicine to the point of malnutrition. Children have had their homes brought down on top of them and have been raped, shot, tortured, and forcibly recruited into armed groups. Women and girls have been kidnapped, trafficked, and sold as sex slaves. Schools have been systematically targeted and destroyed. Hospitals and medical centers suffered the same fate. The government and its allies were not responsible for all Syria’s atrocities, but they were responsible for the overwhelming majority. Syrian civilians found themselves trapped between ISIS extremism and its deranged ideology enforced by beheading, immolation, and slavery and the indiscriminate barrel bombs, artillery fire, rockets, missiles, and militia of the government and its allies. Yet even at the peak of ISIS’s power in Syria, jihadists killed Syrian civilians at a lower rate than the government. Different datasets record the number of civilians killed by the government and its allies in the decade between 2011 and 2021 as being between 175,000 and 207,000. In comparison, those same datasets record that ISIS was responsible for the deaths of between 5,000 and 6,500 Syrian civilians. The number of civilians killed by other opposition groups ranges between 6,000 and 11,000. Put another way, the Syrian government and its allies are likely responsible for between 86 and 94 percent of all civilian deaths directly caused by the war. These stark discrepancies show that while opposition groups certainly perpetrated atrocities, they did not do so on anything like the scale perpetrated by the government and its allies. There is no place for moral equivalency in the story of Syria’s war.
More than sixty years earlier, the newly established United Nations General Assembly adopted a convention to prohibit genocide and establish a legal duty to prevent it. Two years later the four Geneva Conventions established what we today call International Humanitarian Law. Additional protocols agreed to in 1977 stipulated that “the civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited” (article 13, protocol II). The protocols required that any use of force be strictly confined to military goals and established the legal principle of discrimination—the rule that soldiers are obliged to discriminate between soldiers and civilians and should refrain from violence if they cannot tell the difference. Violations of these laws have become known as “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity.” New laws restricted the use of “Certain Conventional Weapons” (1980, 1995, 1996, 2008). The Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997 prohibited possession, manufacture, and use of chemical weapons, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was established to oversee it. In the same year, the Ottawa Treaty banned the manufacture, stockpiling, and use of antipersonnel land mines. In 2008 cluster munitions were also prohibited, by a treaty that garnered the support of more than a hundred states. The scope of legal obligations doesn’t end with the prohibition of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, however. States have legal obligations to prevent these crimes, protect their victims, and promote compliance with the law. These laws reshaped expectations about how war ought to be conducted and civilians protected from its worst ravages. They established legal limits to what a government can lawfully do to its people. They codified the notion that sovereignty entails legal responsibilities as well as rights.
But these laws always stood in tension with two harsh political realities: First, that in war power tends to matter more than justice, since when the fighting starts actors rarely yield to law and justice alone. Indeed, it is precisely because they disagree about what justice is and what it entails that they fight. Second, that for all the talk of the rights of individuals and groups to protection from atrocity crimes, governments have tended to privilege sovereignty—especially their own—over the protection of basic human rights. There is a good reason for that, for sovereignty and its attendant right to noninterference protects postcolonial and small states from the coercive interference of the powerful and helps maintain a basic condition of orderly conduct among states. The awkward juxtaposition of the humanitarian aspirations expressed in international humanitarian law and a sovereignty-based international order raised difficult practical and ethical questions about what to do when states themselves committed atrocities against sections of their own population. The result was an acute gap between what the law said about how states should behave and how they actually behaved. Genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity persisted, often untroubled by outside interference. This became a matter of global concern after the Cold War and high-profile failures to stem genocide in Rwanda and Srebrenica; mass killing and ethnic cleansing in Angola, Bosnia, Burundi, Croatia, East Timor, Kosovo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo; and state repression in Iraq. Time and again, international society proved unwilling or unable to uphold its own laws in the face of such disasters. The principle of the “responsibility to protect”—or R2P as it has become known—was devised as a way of navigating these dilemmas. Unanimously endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 2005, the principle meant that governments recognized they have a responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. They agreed to encourage and help one another fulfill their responsibility. They also pledged to use diplomatic, humanitarian, and other peaceful means to protect populations and decided that when a state is manifestly failing to protect its population from atrocities, the international community has a responsibility to take “timely and decisive action” to do so, using all necessary means through the United Nations Security Council. This commitment was made unanimously by the largest ever gathering of Heads of State and Government at the United Nations in 2005. It was reaffirmed by the General Assembly in 2009 and 2021. At the time of this writing, R2P had featured in ninety-two UN Security Council resolutions and statements and fifty-eight resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council. All this counted for little in Syria.
This book explains how and why the world failed to fulfill its responsibility to protect Syrians. Ultimately, it is a story of priorities, of how other things came to be seen as being more important than protecting Syrians from their government. So-called realists might say that this is inevitable; that we live in a brutal and illiberal world where power matters more than justice and where even trying to stop atrocities in other countries invariably makes things worse. But this takes too much for granted. It ignores evidence that determined action can mitigate and end atrocities.1 And, like all structural theories, it absolves individuals of responsibility for their choices. As I will show, political leaders were presented time and again with choices, and almost every time they chose not to make alleviation of Syria’s suffering their priority. These choices had direct, sometimes immediate, consequences for the lives of Syrians, usually for the worse. Things could have been different. Steps could have been taken to save lives, perhaps even lots of lives. I will show how decision making was guided by shibboleths; false assumptions that were exposed one by one. Chief among them was the conviction that Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, could be persuaded to reform or agree to share power through a political settlement. Foreign actors clung to that belief despite its evident faults even as their peace processes zombified. There were other shibboleths too, about the impossibility of using force to good effect, about the opposition’s inherent extremism, and about Russian good faith.
There are innumerable ways of telling this tragic story, but however one tells it, the central point remains the same: that despite moral imperatives, legal obligations, and our knowledge of what happens when the world turns a blind eye to atrocities, governments and international organizations chose not to prioritize the protection of Syrians because they thought other things were more important. First, Syria’s civilians were betrayed by their own government. To Assad, killing civilians was always a price worth paying for regime survival. Then, they were betrayed by the government’s foreign allies who blocked any meaningful multilateral approach to the crisis. Almost from the start, Assad’s tottering government depended for its survival on foreign allies, principally Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah, cheered on from the sidelines by China and to a lesser extent, at the beginning at least, India, Brazil, and South Africa. Then those who claimed to be the friends of Syria’s people, their most immediate neighbors, betrayed them. For all their posturing, Syria’s Arab neighbors also had other priorities and were often more concerned with their own survival and legitimacy and their regional competition for hegemony, status, and influence, than they were with the plight of Syrians. They competed against one another as much as with Damascus and fostered the fragmentation and radicalism that doomed Syria’s opposition. Turkey stayed the course longer than the others but mainly because it had a Kurdish problem and a refugee crisis to resolve. And then, those states most vociferous in their support for R2P and the principles of protection betrayed Syria’s civilians. The West stridently condemned the violence, demanded reform, and agonized over what to do. Admittedly, the actions of others presented concerned Westerners with few appealing options. But protecting Syria’s civilians was never their main priority either. For the United States at different times, priorities included military withdrawal from the Middle East, combatting Islamist terrorism, rapprochement with Iran, and protecting itself and its allies from the perceived threat posed by refugees fleeing for their lives. For Europeans, distracted by economic crisis and disunity, fear of terrorism and refugees always loomed larger than humanitarian concerns. Priorities shifted, but the protection of Syrian civilians was rarely even close to being at the top of the list. Even the United Nations—the institution entrusted to implement R2P—succumbed. As earnest efforts to negotiate peace crumbled, the organization propped up a zombie peace process that helped Assad while its humanitarian agencies funneled millions of dollars to the government and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of aid to government-controlled areas, despite that same government prohibiting the flow of aid to opposition areas it was besieging, bombarding, and starving. Thus did the United Nations aid and abet a government strategy based on atrocities.
Following excerpts are adapted from the author’s new book, Spare, published by Penguin Random House.
Days Later I Was In Botswana, with Chels. We went to stay with Teej and Mike. Adi was there too. The first convergence of those four special people in my life. It felt like bringing Chels home to meet Mum and Dad and big bro. Major step, we all knew.
Luckily, Teej and Mike and Adi loved her. And she saw how special they were too.
One afternoon, as we were all getting ready to go for a walk, Teej started nagging me.
Bring a hat!
And sunscreen! Lots of sunscreen! Spike, you’re going to fry with that pale skin!
All right, all right.
It just flew out of my mouth. I heard it, and stopped. Teej heard it and stopped. But I didn’t correct myself. Teej looked shocked, but also moved. I was moved as well. Thereafter, I called her Mom all the time. It felt good. For both of us. Though I made a point, always, to call her Mom, rather than Mum.
There was only one Mum.
A happy visit, overall. And yet there was a constant subtext of stress. It was evident in how much I was drinking.
At one point Chels and I took a boat, drifted up and down the river, and the main thing I remember is Southern Comfort and Sambuca. (Sambuca Gold by day, Sambuca Black by night.) I remember waking in the morning with my face stuck to a pillow, my head not feeling like it was fastened to my neck. I was having fun, sure, but also dealing in my own way with unsorted anger, and guilt about not being at war—not leading my lads. And I wasn’t dealing well. Chels and Adi, Teej and Mike said nothing. Maybe they saw nothing. I was probably doing a pretty good job of covering it all up. From the outside my drinking probably looked like partying. And that was what I told myself it was. But deep down, on some level, I knew.
Something had to change. I knew I couldn’t go on like this.
So the moment I got back to Britain I asked for a meeting with my commanding officer, Colonel Ed Smyth-Osbourne.
I admired Colonel Ed. And I was fascinated by him. He wasn’t put together like other men. Come to mention it, he wasn’t put together like any other human I’d encountered. The basic ingredients were different. Scrap iron, steel wool, lion’s blood. He looked different too. His face was long, like a horse’s, but not equine smooth; he had a distinctive tuft of hair on each cheek. His eyes were large, calm, capable of wisdom and stoicism. My eyes, by contrast, were still bloodshot from my Okavango debauch, and darting all around as I delivered my pitch.
Colonel, I need to find a way of getting back onto operations, or else I’m going to have to quit the Army.
I’m not certain Colonel Ed believed my threat. I’m not certain I did. Still, politically, diplomatically, strategically, he couldn’t afford to discount it. A prince in the ranks was a big public-relations asset, a powerful recruiting tool. He couldn’t ignore the fact that, if I bolted, his superiors might blame him, and their superiors too, and up the chain it might go.
On the other hand, much of what I saw from him that day was genuine humanity. The guy got it. As a soldier, he felt for me. He shuddered at the thought of being kept from a scrap. He really did want to help.
Harry, there might be a way…
Iraq was permanently off the table, he said. Alas. No two ways about that, I’m afraid. But maybe, he added, Afghanistan was an option.
I squinted. Afghanistan?
He muttered something about it being “the safer option.”
What on earth was he banging on about? Afghanistan was worlds more dangerous than Iraq. At that moment Britain had seven thousand soldiers in Afghanistan and each day found them engaged in some of the fiercest combat since the Second World War.
But who was I to argue? If Colonel Ed thought Afghanistan safer, and if he was willing to send me there, great.
What job would I do in Afghanistan, Colonel?
FAC. Forward air controller.
Highly sought-after job, he explained. FACs were tasked with orchestrating all air power, giving cover to lads on the ground, calling in raids—not to mention rescues, medevacs, the list went on. It wasn’t a new job, certainly, but it was newly vital in this new sort of warfare.
Why’s that, sir?
Because the bloody Taliban is everywhere! And nowhere!
You simply couldn’t find them, he explained. Terrain was too rugged, too remote. Mountains and deserts honeycombed with tunnels and caves—it was like hunting goats. Or ghosts. You had to get the bird’s-eye view.
Since the Taliban had no air force, not one plane, that was easy. We British, plus the Yanks, owned the air. But FACs helped us press that advantage. Say a squadron out on patrol needed to know about nearby threats. The FAC checked with drones, checked with fighter pilots, checked with helicopters, checked his high-tech laptop, created a 360-degree picture of the battlefield.
Say that same squadron suddenly came under fire. The FAC consulted a menu—Apache, Tornado, Mirage, F-15, F-16, A-10—and ordered up the aircraft best suited to the situation, or the best one available, then guided that aircraft onto the enemy. Using cutting-edge hardware, FACs didn’t simply rain fire on the enemy’s heads, they placed it there, like a crown.
Then he told me that all FACs get a chance to go up in a Hawk and experience being in the air.
By the time Colonel Ed stopped talking I was salivating. FAC it is, sir. When do I leave?
Not so fast.
FAC was a plum job. Everyone wanted it. So that would take some doing. Also, it was a complex job. All that technology and responsibility required loads of training.
First things first, he said. I’d have to go through a challenging certification process.
At RAF Leeming.
In…the Yorkshire Dales?
Copyright © 2023 by Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex
Following excerpts adapted from the author’s new book, “India Is Broken: A People Betrayed, Independence to Today,” published by Stanford University Press, Stanford, California
By the rules of the Indian National Congress (the Congress Party), Vallabhbhai Patel should have been the party’s president at the time of independence. If that had been so, he might well have been India’s first prime minister. However, in August 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, not Patel, became prime minister.
Patel and Nehru differed greatly in their economic and social philosophies and in their approaches to the use of government authority and power. Patel, however, lived to see only the first three years of postindependence India. As deputy prime minister and home (interior) minister, he left a lasting legacy. Even during those few years, he and Nehru fought bitterly on the priorities for India’s political and economic future. If Patel had become India’s first prime minister or if he had lived longer as Nehru’s deputy, post-independence India would have taken a very different shape.
Two Leaders—Two Worlds
Patel was born to a peasant family in October 1875 and was raised in a modest two-story home. As a young man, he observed that fame and fortune came easily to barristers educated in England. As he later explained, “I studied very earnestly” and “resolved firmly to save sufficient money for a visit to England.” Patel became a British-trained lawyer and, upon returning to India, established a very successful criminal law practice.
Patel made his initial mark in politics in the first half of 1928, when he led peasants in Bardoli, an administrative area in the current state of Gujarat, in their fight against the British government’s onerous demands for land revenue. Despite its peaceful nature, the contest with the powerful British Raj became, in the popular imagination, the “battle of Bardoli.” Patel’s protest won the battle of Bardoli against British might, a victory for which Bardoli’s people conferred on him the title “Sardar,” chief or general. Vallabhbhai Patel has ever since been known as Sardar Patel.
Nehru was born in November 1889 to one of India’s most prominent families. His father, Motilal Nehru, was a wealthy lawyer and senior Congress Party leader. Anand Bhavan, the stately Nehru family home in Allahabad, now houses a historic museum and a planetarium. Jawaharlal studied at Harrow, the elite British public school, before attending the University of Cambridge. He qualified as a barrister in England, although he barely ever entered a courtroom. In August 1942, after Gandhi launched the Quit India movement, the British threw all Indian leaders in jail. Interned at the Ahmednagar Fort, Nehru grew a rose garden and played badminton with other prisoners. In a five-month period between April and September 1944, Nehru wrote his magnificent and timeless history The Discovery of India.
Patel was as much a man of action as Nehru was a historian and philosopher. As Gandhi pithily observed, “Jawahar is a thinker, Sardar a doer.”
Gandhi Chooses Nehru
In late 1945 and early 1946, India’s British rulers held elections for the central and provincial assemblies in preparation for the transfer of power. The Congress Party won large majorities in these elections, aided in part by campaign funds Patel helped raise. In a gushing profile, Time magazine wrote that Patel had no “pretensions to saintliness.” The magazine described him as, “in American terms, the Political Boss. Wealthy industrialists thrust huge campaign funds into his hands.”
In late April 1946, the Congress Party was ready to select its next president. Since India’s freedom was imminent, the choice of the party’s president was critical. The Congress Party president would lead the party, and hence India, into independence. Under the established process, twelve of the fifteen Provincial or “Pradesh” Congress Committees nominated Patel; three abstained. As the veteran Congress Party leader Jivatram Bhagwandas (Acharya) Kripalani would later write, the party favored Patel because he was a “great executive, organizer, and leader.” Provincial leaders also felt beholden to Patel for the campaign funds he had raised. The Pradesh Congress Committees were not necessarily endorsing Patel as India’s first prime minister. They understood that Nehru was popular with the Indian public. But they recognized Patel’s leadership qualities and his contributions to the Congress Party. So they placed Patel in a position of prominence from which he could well have emerged as India’s first prime minister.
Gandhi, however, stood above the rules, and he made the decision on who would be the party’s president. Just as he had in 1929 and 1937, when Patel and Nehru competed for the presidency of the Congress Party, Gandhi chose Nehru, knowing on this last occasion that no Pradesh Congress Committee had nominated him. Gandhi saw Nehru as “a Harrow boy, a Cambridge graduate,” who would represent India in international affairs more effectively than Patel. Nehru also had a stronger connection than Patel did with India’s Muslim community. Above all, Nehru was fifty-six years old and like a son to the seventy-six-year-old Gandhi. Patel, whom Gandhi thought of as a younger brother, was seventy-one and in poor health.
The British viceroy, Lord Wavell, had set up an Executive Council as the midway step to India’s independence. As the Congress Party’s president, Nehru became vice president to the viceroy in his Executive Council and, hence, India’s de facto prime minister until the country became independent. Once so established, in addition to the huge popularity he enjoyed with the Indian public, Nehru also had the incumbent’s advantage to become independent India’s first prime minister.
Gandhi believed that Nehru and Patel would be like “oxen yoked to the governmental cart. One will need the other and both will pull together.” According to Patel’s daughter, Maniben, Gandhi expected that Patel would prevent Nehru from “making mischief.”
The Oxen Pull Apart
Prime Minister Nehru and Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Sardar Patel began the post-independence years entangled in a stormy relationship. They fought about the most consequential matters that defined India back then and continue to do so today.
With Pakistan partitioned as a Muslim nation, a question on people’s minds was what the role and place of Muslims in India would be. Within that broader context, an immediate issue arose as the horrors of religious hatred continued after partition in both India and Pakistan. In the Indian areas marked by Hindu-Muslim tensions, the government’s machinery had collapsed or become “fiercely partisan.” A rumor spread that Patel, as home minister, was protecting and aiding Hindus but not Muslims. Nehru seemed to buy into the rumor, even though it had no basis. The historian Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma and Patel’s biographer, writes that Patel “was unquestionably roused more by a report of 50 Hindu and Sikh deaths than by another of 50 Muslim deaths. But his hand was just.”
Patel, in turn, was impatient with Nehru’s soft approach toward Pakistani leaders, who were making only half-hearted efforts to contain the violence against Hindus and Sikhs on their side of the border. Patel insisted that the news of this violence was triggering a “mass psychology” of resentment and anger among India’s Hindus and Sikhs. Nehru and Patel never resolved their differences on how best to deal with India’s Hindu-Muslim issue.
They also sparred over Kashmir. On October 22, 1947, a contingent of about five thousand armed tribesmen from Pakistan drove into Kashmir. The maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, was a Hindu, but the Kashmir Valley had a predominantly Muslim population. The maharaja had avoided choosing between Pakistan and India, but on October 24, he desperately appealed to the Indian government for help. On the morning of October 26, Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession to India. That evening, an Indian infantry battalion landed in Kashmir and halted the tribesmen. Pakistani authorities gave the name “Azad Kashmir” (Free Kashmir) to the land west of where the Indian Army stopped the tribesmen. Indians called that area “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.”
Patel, as minister of states, directed the Kashmir operations. But in early December 1947, he found to his surprise that Nehru, as prime minister, had taken control of India’s Kashmir policy. Patel complained that he had been blindsided, and the two exchanged acrimonious letters.
With Nehru and Patel evidently at loggerheads, Gandhi in late December delivered an ultimatum to Patel: “Either you should run things or Jawaharlal should.” Patel wearily replied, “I do not have the strength. He is younger. Let him run the show. I will help him as much as I can from the outside.” Gandhi, who had kept Patel and Nehru together for so long, agreed that it was time for Patel to step aside but said that he wanted to think the matter over. Fate, however, intervened. On January 31, 1948, a Hindu nationalist named Nathuram Godse shot and killed Gandhi.
After Gandhi’s death, in their moment of shared grief and to quash the swirling rumors of their imminent split, Nehru and Patel came together. In a radio address, Nehru said, “We have had our differences. But India at least should know that these differences have been overshadowed by fundamental agreements about the most important aspects of our public life.” On March 3, Nehru wrote to Patel that the crisis required them to work together as “friends and colleagues.” He ended graciously: “this letter carries with it my friendship and affection.” Patel replied with equal grace: “I am deeply touched, indeed, overwhelmed. We have been lifelong friends and comrades in a common cause.” All talk of Patel’s leaving was forgotten. The twists of history continued, however. On March 8, 1948, while eating lunch at home with his daughter Maniben, Patel had a massive heart attack.
Patel Integrates the States
Patel returned to work quickly after his heart attack and poured his energies into a monumental task that he had begun but not finished. That task was to integrate the princely states into a unified India.
When the British left India, the Indian government in New Delhi did not have authority over the entire land area known today as India. Scattered all over the country were more than five hundred princely states ruled by hereditary princes. All together, the princes ruled over one-third of India’s land area and one-fourth of its population. They had survived as princes because, after the 1857 mutiny of Indian soldiers in the British army, British authorities stopped annexing new territories. They feared that more annexation would trigger another mutiny. Instead, the British Crown established the Doctrine of Paramountcy, which granted the British authorities control over the princely states’ foreign policy, defense, and communications, leaving, at least in principle, administration of the states to the princes. At independence, the British transferred to the new Indian parliament full control only over “British India,” the part annexed before 1857; the British also transferred their paramountcy powers over the princely states. In independent India, therefore, the princely states could determine their political relations with the rest of India and set their own commercial policies. India risked becoming a politically and economically balkanized nation.
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©2023 by Ashoka Mody. All rights reserved.