Monday, February 20, 2006

Nuclear Crises in North Korea

This was a final paper for an Asian Politics class I took in college.

It’s difficult to ignore the Korean peninsula these days. It’s constantly in the mainstream US news, as President Bush calls the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea a member of the “Axis of Evil”, the DPRK attempts to build Nuclear weapons, and the whole region is gripped, worrying that the war between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea might renew. Much of this is at best over blown hyperbole, or at worst straight up propaganda. In the rush to paint the North Korean government as a terrorist state, the US has ignored it’s own short falls, and instead pushed the peninsula closer to war.

With the end of World War II in 1945, Japan lost it’s hold on Korea, and the victors of the war, the US and Soviet Union, occupied different halves of the Korean peninsula. For the first time in over a thousand years, Korea was divided. The US moved to back right wing movements and dictators like Rhee in the south, while the Soviet Union supported former Guerrilla fighters like Kim Il Sung, who became a dictator in his own way.

The outbreak of violence between the communist north and the capitalist south led the DPRK to control the majority of the peninsula, but the US pushed the DPRK’s army north, occupying up to China’s border, until China intervened on North Korea’s behalf. At one point, General MacArthur of the US forces, threatened to use a nuclear weapon against North Korea and China, in order to guarantee victory. In the end cooler heads prevailed, and an armistice was signed, fixing a “Demilitarized Zone” or DMZ at the 38th parallel. Officially, the war never ended, as no peace treaty or truce was ever signed. The armistice is like a temporary cease fire.

Today, the stalemate between the DPRK in the North and the ROK in the South, continues. While the ROK has opened up to elections and allowing some dissident parties (an anti-communist law is still on the books), the DPRK passed the torch like a monarchy- from father to son. Today Kim Jong-Il, the son of Kim Il Sung, rules the DPRK.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with China taking a more free market approach, the DPRK has found itself with less deterrence to a possible attack. While the ROK still has the continual support of the US, which has been openly belligerent and threatening to the DPRK. This is why many believe the DPRK has embarked on a nuclear weapons program, to act as a deterrent. David Kang and Victor Cha pointed out that the DPRK didn’t cross the 37th Parallel at the height of it’s power during the Cold War, why would it today? They continues to talk about how both the US and the DPRK are trying to deter the other from taking military action, but that North Korea, even with it’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons is “not a threat to start an unprovoked war. North Korea was never in a preeminent position relative to the South, and the real question for the pessimists is why they continue to believe that a nation that is far behind and falling farther behind might still attack.”

Even though the North has opened up a bit and created a free trade zone for western investors, it still can’t even begin to compete economically with the South, let alone militarily. Hy-Sang Lee discusses this and points out that if North Korea were to attract western investment it would have to do more, “The special zone was designed to entice capitalists to invest there, without requiring the political steps to make the country a peaceful and transparent place to commit capital to (pg. 8).” It seems without a socialist benefactor the DPRK has to either compromise, continue to be weak or find a deterrent of some sort.

Part of the reason why North Korea is so far behind is because, with the collapse of so many of it’s socialist allies, it’s economy has been unable to keep up with the export oriented, US backed economy of the South. The South has a high GDP, thanks to the creation of a number of sweatshops producing goods for countries like Japan and the US. These sweatshops were created as part of a policy fixated around pleasing foreign investors like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The government of Kim Young Sam from 1993 on promoted a policy of segyehwa or globalization. At first this policy seemed to be an economic miracle, until “the South Korean economy fell prey to a sudden collapse in November 1997, alarming the entire world. (Moon and Lim, pg. 211)”

This collapse showed how these policies are not always popular with the people of South Korea. When the International Monetary Fund came in to “bail out the government, the IMF forced the government to implement Structural Adjustment Programs. This did not sit well with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, an illegal union in South Korea, which declared a general strike which shook the South Korean economy, as detailed in the movie the Fourth World War and in several articles by David Bacon.

The North doesn’t have strikes as often as the south does, perhaps because there is not such a great income gap. There is not a rich elite in North Korea. The top party leaders end up doing some of the grunt work as well. As James Ho are and Susan Pares in North Korea in the 21st Century state “Each Friday, ministry officials will leave their desks and engage in productive labor.” This is not to say that North Korea is the classless society real communists dream of though. Hoare and Hoare also point out that one’s rights and status is often defined by loyalty to the party.

North Korea is spending money and resources on it’s nuclear program that could be going to other vital necessities and commodities. Hoare and Pares discuss how “shortfalls in fuel and electricity have long been a constant aspect of daily life in the DPRK.” While they point out some of the things that might play a role in that- flooding of coal mines, wasting electricity on unnecessary monuments to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-Il, this author feels that nuclear weapons are ultimately an unnecessary thing and put an undue strain on the economy.

What is so infuriating for countries that are developing Nuclear weapons is the double standard used by the west. Israel is allowed to have nuclear weapons, but Iran is called a rogue state for seeking to build nuclear power plants. Pakistan is a dictatorship with nuclear weapons that the US considers a trusted ally in the “war on terror”. Perhaps most infuriating for North Korea is the fact that the US is the only country to ever us nuclear weapons on cities, killing millions of people, plus the fact that a leading US general threatened North Korea with nuclear bombardment, and yet it’s North Korea that is vilified and turned into the scapegoat for the world.

David Kang and Victor Cha said in Nuclear North Korea: “Kim Jong-Il is a brutal dictator who has impoverished a nation in order to sustain a massive military machine. He presides over horrifying human rights abuses and concentration camps. Due to its bungled economic policies, as many as one million North Koreans may died from starvation in the past decade.” But one could argue that George W. Bush and the US are guilty of the same crimes. The US military budget is by far the biggest expenditure for the government, to the point where money for school, health care and social security is being reallocated to build bombs to drop on other countries. Just think of how many homeless people could be fed in the US with the money spent on our military. As for human rights abuses and concentration camps, just look at the Prison Industrial complex, and the civil rights being stripped away under the Patriot act and at Guantanamo Bay.

I point all this out not to excuse any bad things the government in North Korea has done, but to point out that to only focus on one countries fallacies, and not on the fallacies of the government threatening that other country, is to take sides in a conflict where neither side is right.

I believe that all countries should disarm their nuclear stockpiles. There are no excuses for allowing such dangerous weapons to exist. No one wins with nukes, it’s impossible to do anything productive with them. But as long as one country holds onto them as a threat over other countries, small countries like North Korea feel the pressure to create nuclear weapons to use as a deterrent.

As an American, I can’t tell Koreans what to do, but I do have a say in how the US acts and the US should unilaterally disarm it’s nuclear stockpile. I believe that once the US ceases it’s aggressive posture, and disarms it’s nuclear arsenal, Koreans, like many other countries, will have less of a reason to have their own weapons of mass destruction.


Bacon, David. “Korean Workers Shut Down the Chaebols”

Big Noise Films. “The Fourth World War”

Cha, Victor and Kang, David. “Nuclear North Korea: a Debate on Engagement Strategies.”

Hoare, James and Pares, Susan. “North Korea in the 21st Century: an Interpretative Guide”

Lee, Hy-Sang. “North Korea: A Strange Socialist Fortress.” from “Understanding Korean Politics: An Introduction” Ed: Soong Hoom Kil and Chung-in Moon.

Moon, Chung-in and Lim, Sunghack. “The Politics of Economic Rise and Decline in South Korea.”

Gender Inequality Class Paper

This was a paper I wrote for a women's studies class I took in college.

Inequality seems to be a part of any society that has developed past the hunter/gather stage of existence. One of the most common forms of inequality running through out every type of society is the inequalities between the genders. Typically men have hoarded power in a variety of spheres, and used it to maintain power over women. This inequality has been enforced in spheres of home, economic power, government, and a host of others. Despite institutionalized inequality, there is the possibility that gender equality will exist in industrial society.

Barbara Ehrenreich wrote about inequality in the work place as related to maids. For years in western society, house work like cleaning and cooking was considered something women as subservient wives would do without pay. In recent years though western feminists have struggled and achieved victories in opening up other career paths for women. This has created a situation where many of those families then hire maids to cook and clean. I could relate to what Ehrenreich wrote since my mother is a part time maid and I have often helped her clean different houses. Several of the homes we cleaned belonged to families where the mother/wife was working at a high-income job. I would see first hand how they would treat my mom as though she was just a vacuum. While some of my homes my mom cleaned belonged to superficially liberal people, it was often those people who were the most clueless about basic decency. If you have a dog, and my mom cleans you place in the morning and who find dog hair in the afternoon, guess what, the dog shed since the place was cleaned.

One other instance that stood out in my mind from being an assistant maid for my mom was this one house that belonged to a special ops solider with the US military. He was a bachelor and probably hired my mom because as a man he didn’t want to do a “feminine” job like cleaning. He had his buttons and medals out on display. One of them came from a campaign in support of the Contra’s in Nicaragua. The Contra’s were terrorists who with funding from the US attacked the Sandinista’s and their supporters in Nicaragua. The Sandinista’s were progressives who fought against the dictatorship of Samoza and established many rights for women.

One veteran of the Sandinista revolution was a women, Dora María Téllez. She was recently asked by Harvard University to teach a class, but was denied a visa by the US which called her a terrorist, citing her militancy in fighting the Somoza dictatorship. Even if the US got over it’s long standing policy of messing with the Sandinista’s, one has to wonder how much that decision was prompted by US reservations about a woman who has engaged in violence and led military divisions.

For centuries, the patriarchy has attempted to exclude women from military roles in society. Outside of work as nurses or other non-combat positions, women have been denied study in the arts of defense. I think one can judge how advanced a society is by how much it empowers women with the ability to use violence as self-defense. Cynthia Cockburn wrote in her essay “Gender, Armed Conflict and Political Violence” about Johan Galtung’s concept of “structural violence,” (p. 6). The idea of structural violence is that wherever there is an unequal relationship, that relationship could be called violent. Which that in mind, empowering women to rise up against that kind of violence can only be a good thing.

Consider the Chinese revolution which allowed women to join the People’s Liberation Army and encouraged women to stand up against a culture which promoted foot-binding and other structurally violent practices against women. What has been the result of that? China ranks number 36 on the list of countries with the most women in parliament. The US only ranks at 57.

In our readings we read about China among a number of other countries and issues of gender and feminism in them. One of the big issues for feminists with these countries, is the issue of relativism and universalism. In other words, is there a single standard for womens rights the world over, or is it that each country has it’s own relative rights system?

I think that this debate is often presented in a slanted way though. Because a universalist form of feminism has been perverted and used as the justification for a number of imperialist endeavors such as the invasion of Afghanistan, where President Bush, a supporter of so called “pro-life” groups talked about how horribly the Taliban treated women and that a US invasion could improve the living conditions of Afghan women. The reality is that groups like the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan have denounced the invasion, and have pointed out that the warlords the US allied itself with were just as anti-women as the Taliban was.

A more accurate form of universalism is one where certain values of equality are promoted around the world, and people in different communities who agree with those values take it up to promote them. For example, the traditional Chinese Confucian culture treated women one way, but after a number of Chinese people read about feminist ideas, they started to promote those ideas and eventually improved womens status by a great deal. Even returning to Afghanistan, wouldn’t it be better to support local progressive Afghans instead of bombing a country to submission?

I prefer this second kind of universalism to relativism, which in many cases ends up only allowing non-western variations of patriarchy to go unchallenged. Typically the relativist is a westerner who proclaims that the West can have high standards for womens rights but that other communities should simply accept gender inequality as an expression of their culture. That same argument could be made about the West though. Look at people like Jerry Falwell. Should their view of women become the norm, simply because it is an expression of American culture?

Not that different regions can’t have different gender expressions. The West could learn a thing or two from different regions of the world regarding gender equality. For instance we read about Igbo women and the traditions they had that empowered them and promoted consensus. (Nkiru Nzegwu, “Recovering Igbo Traditions: a Case for Indigenous Women’s Organizations in Development” p. 446).

So the question becomes, how do we not only challenge patriarchy and gender inequality, but end it? How can we create a society where one’s gender isn’t limiting? I believe that the best way to begin to unravel gender inequality is by first connecting the dots between gender inequality and other forms of inequality. For example, I mentioned earlier that it was important to have an integrated military and parliament. But if the US military promoted women to combat positions, that wouldn’t help eradicate gender inequality since the women would be fighting for the anti-women policies of the US government, and for the class, race and other inequalities that the US government promotes.

First we have to flesh out the connections between gender, race and class. We can not abolish one without abolishing the others, since they are so interconnected. Once we see how they are all connected, we can begin to work with others in our communities to dismantle the chains that bind us.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Position Statement on 'Honor' Killings

This was a paper I wrote for a Women's Studies Class.

Honor killings are one of the most violent manifestations of patriarchal power over women. When a woman is seen to have dishonored her family in some way, she is punished by a member of her family, while the police and community often do nothing to prevent the act of violence against her or punish the perpetrator.

Often times the act that supposedly brought dishonor was not a crime at all. If a women tries to escape from her abusive husband, that could be interpreted at bringing dishonor. If a woman is widowed and seeks a new husband, often her family sees that as a dishonor.

Sometimes it might be grounds for divorce, such as cheating or committing adultery, but certainly not grounds for the violent extra-judicial punishment that is meted out.

While many human rights groups, media outlets and politicians focus only on honor killings in Islamic countries or honor killings committed by Muslims, the fact is that honor killings can occur in any country where there is the presence of patriarchy, even in the heart of the United States of America.

Amnesty International has documented scores of honor killings in countries like Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq. In these countries a woman is often forced by either the law or her family to abide by certain practices which are seen as traditions. When they refuse, whether it be by not wearing a Burqa, by seeking a divorce from an abusive husband, or other ways, they are punished by having acid thrown at their face, beaten, or even murdered.

This is only a part of Amnesty’s larger campaign against all violence directed towards women. On their website Amnesty explains that it is against violence against women in custody, acid burning and dowry deaths, “honor” killings, domestic violence and female genital mutilation. While those are all important human rights violations to oppose, the question of how much honor killings and domestic violence are interrelated is ignored.

It seems as though domestic violence is Amnesty’s term for when a woman in the US or another “western” country is subjected to the same violence as a woman in Pakistan is subjected to what is called “honor” killings. Consider the case of Florida citizen Christoper Offord. He murdered his wife because she wanted to snuggle with him instead of watch sports. In another Florida case, Michael Jenkins murdered his wife Felicia during a heated discussion about getting divorced.

These cases sound strikingly similar to cases in Islamic countries like Pakistan. Another excellent example of how western honor killings take place is with the bombings of anti-choice crusader Eric Rudolf. Rudolf used bombs to attack abortion clinics, and killed several people. What’s the difference between what Rudolf was doing and a woman who is murdered by her brother for obtaining an abortion in Pakistan?

It seems by labeling such violence as domestic, Amnesty International is taking these crimes out of the public sphere and into the private sphere. This is playing into the hands of reactionary governments that wish to do the same thing for all such honor killings and violence. Even though many countries where such killings take place have outlawed such practices, the reality is that they rarely prosecute the perpetrators of such hideous crimes. We must demand that all people recognize that the personal is political and that such crimes are not family matters to be dealt with in private, but are issues that concern all of civil society and must be fought against.

Violence against women in the name of honor occurs all over the world, if we are to oppose it in one area, we must oppose it everywhere.

Some try to argue that these acts of violence are manifestations of local culture and should be allowed to stay. These claims are as stupid as they are irrelevant. If we were to accept this logic, then we would have to accept the idea that the Southern states of the US had a right to manifest their local culture by keeping slavery or Jim Crow laws. These claims of local cultures right to be degrading should be laughed at whether they be from Pat Robertson or Mullah Omar of the Taliban.

Besides, there is a culture of feminism in all countries. There are human and women’s rights groups fighting against honor killings and other violence against women in almost every country of the world. This is the kind of local culture we should be promoting. Granted these movements have made further gains and in-roads in some countries compared to others, but we should stand with all progressives and feminists the world over.

Furthermore Women’s civil rights should be respected and as a class they should have equal status as men and trans peoples in all areas of life. Their ethnicity should not be a reason to deny them the rights afforded white privileged women.

Their human rights should be given without hesitation. Women and progressives should be trusted with their own emancipation in their own cultural context. The US should not carry a “white man’s burden” as it would not be exporting feminism, and even if it were, it would be stripping Afghani women, Pakistani women or whomever of their autonomy.

In the first two weeks of the US invasion of Afghanistan, more Afghani’s were murdered than in the 9/11 attacks. While US oil companies lined to install their point man Hamid Karzai, they claimed that this invasion would improve the conditions for women, who were brutally oppressed under the Taliban. Even many western feminists supported this invasion with those promises, the Feminist Majority being one of them.

If they bothered to listen to actual Afghan women in groups like the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan, they would realize that Afghan women did not want their country to be bombed. They did not want patronizing western so-called feminists to tell them that because of this invasion Afghan women would get McDonalds, cell phones and cable TV with Sex and the City, (if they could afford it all) and that then they would be liberated. In actuality, what these so-called feminists from the US were doing was justifying mass murder and imperialism. Opening up Afghanistan to the global capitalist economy is not freedom and liberation for women.

Both RAWA and Amnesty International have criticized the lack of improvement for women’s rights in Afghanistan. For all the rhetoric about liberating Afghan women, they are still attacked if they don’t adhere to the dress code. They are still murdered for being accused of adultery, and now they have to deal with an occupation army that is more concerned with protecting foreign investors than women’s rights.

Such violence against women is global and impacts us all. I know at least two close female friends of mine who have been in abusive relationships where if their male partner felt as though they were challenging his authority, it was dishonoring him and cause for violence. The advent of the internet has allowed men with vile in their heats to express how they feel about women in a way so the whole world can see, consider this post in response to an article about a Japanese man who decapitated his wife:

Actually, head chopping isn't a new thing in Japan, that was an old practice done by Japanese men a long time ago, something America needs to adapt for our wifes… It doesn't mention what she did in order for him to want to chop her head off… They aren't as good, as many foreigners think they are, some of these women are very disrespectful, don't listen, and do many other vile things. You gotta keep them in line sometimes, and Japanese men know there own women, better then foreigners do… I've known so many Japanese wifes that cheated, out of revenge in an argument, they think an argument is a ticket to cheating behind your back. Even a little argument with the husband, the Japanese women is looking for revenge, and thats cheating. Black Americans might not be into head chopping, but we do pull out the gun, if we gotta cheating wife,” (sic).

One must wonder how they can defeat such hatred and violence. How can we make sure that they will never be honor killings again? A three pronged approach makes the most sense:

  • Education is key. People all over the world should be educated about feminist philosophy, and women’s issues. Women and men should be educated about their rights and how to assert and use those rights as equals.

  • Support for progressives, human rights groups, survivors feminists and women’s clinics all over the world. We can’t carry a “western burden” but must see ourselves as equals, as brothers and sisters in solidarity and community against all forms of patriarchy.

  • Fight for prosecution and rehab of honor killing perpetrators by society, not governments. We can not rely on the same governments that ignore honor killings to honestly change their ways. Since we can’t have those who commit violent crimes going unpunished, walking the streets and being a danger, they should get treatment and if rehabilitated reenter society.

With this approach we can change the world for the better and eliminate honor killings and similar violence.

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