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Gestures

Monday, December 9th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- I got caught in a cascade of images, swept away -- and then, Mao ]
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This gesture seems to me to have the quality of a caress…

in which case a caress in Kyiv is not so different from piano music in that same city…

or, as it might be, cello music in Sarajevo…

or for that matter, simply standing motionless in Tienanmen Square…

or planting flowers in Washington, DC…

Caresses, music, stillness, flowers… there’s a kinship there.

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But then again, maybe these gestures are too idealistic for the realist’s “real world” — and to quote Chairman Mao in refutation of that last image:

Every Communist must grasp the truth, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

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I keep coming back to that first image — stunning!

The thing about it — to my eye — the humanity is clearly visible on both sides…

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“The Galula Doctrine”

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Small Wars Journal has published another edition of the excellent COIN interview series conducted by Octavian Manea. Here he interviews A.A. Cohen, author of Galula: The Life and Writings of the French Officer who Defined the Art of Counterinsurgency 

The Galula Doctrine: An Interview with Galula’s Biographer A.A. Cohen

OM: Which were the role of Mao and the exposure to Chinese civil war in Galula’s story? It seems to be his decisive formative lab experience like Russia was for George Kennan.

AAC: Unquestionably, of all the influences exerted on Galula’s treatise, Mao and the Chinese Civil were the greatest. Galula had a strong intellectual admiration for Maoist revolutionaries, despite being very opposed to what they stood for. Before the Chinese Civil War, Galula had no interest in insurgency or counterinsurgency. He had not fought as a Partisan during WW2; he had no experience or interest in these fields until he was exposed to China as of late 1945, in the thick of its civil war. There, his analytical penchant led him to see himself as the decipherer of Mao, intent on getting to the bottom of what the revolutionaries were fundamentally about. Galula cut through the egalitarian propaganda and all that surrounding the People’s revolution. Above all, he wanted to understand why these guys were gaining momentum as they were despite the unfavorable odds. When he figured it out, he reverse-engineered their methods to arrive at a counter-process to revolution and insurgency. His embrace of Chinese dialectics, and with these, the notion of unity of opposites or yin and yang, was helpful in achieving this.

Is counterinsurgency to Galula more of a strategy or  more of a technique and a methodology?

What Galula offers, first and foremost, is a doctrine – not a strategy. His doctrine is underpinned by an important theory about people and what motivates them to take up arms, or to side with those who do. The theory goes that in times of danger (war), the majority of people will be motivated primarily by a fundamental need for security. Galula is adamant about this. But he also recognizes that there will be a minority of people – the instigators at the core of a movement – that will be ideologically, or even fanatically motivated. These are the true believers. He makes no qualms about prescribing that this is the group that the counterinsurgent or counterterrorist will need to find and neutralize, while protecting the rest of the population that aspires to a normal, if not better life. If you buy into this theory, Galula’s doctrine offers a multi-step framework for operations; in other words, a method to counterinsurgency. His famous eight steps are there to provide some logical linearity to what is otherwise a very nonlinear form of warfare. Within that framework, you have the flexibility to formulate your strategy and to conduct your operations to achieve your objectives.

Read the rest here.

I agree that Galula was not offering a strategy. Even more strongly, I think Cohen is correct about the historical importance of China’s long period of disorder, from the overthrow of the Q’ing dynasty to Mao ZeDong’s declaration of the People’s Republic, for Galula. However, not just for him but for anyone interested in questions of war and statecraft where insurgency, warlordism, state failure, state-building, foreign intervention, balance-of-power politics, ideological mass-movements, 4GW, revolution and total war coexisted and co-evolved.

The best comparison in our lifetime to China in this period would have been Lebanon  in the 1980′s, except that China’s polycentric conflict was even more complex and on an epic scale.

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Iconic: compare and contrast

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron -- iconic images, riot police, compare and contrast, repetition with variation ]

First, let’s be clear that both these images have been widely considered iconic.

Thus NPR reported of the first photo:

There have been countless accounts of violence recorded during the uprisings in Egypt but the image that perhaps has captured the most attention is the most recent. The image has been widely referred to as the “girl in the blue bra.”

While Real Clear Politics quotes Michael Moore on the second:

“The images have resonated around the world in the same way that the lone man standing in front of the tanks at Tiananmen Square resonated. It is an iconic movement in Occupy Wall Street history,” Michael Moore declared on MSNBC’s “Last Word” program.

Moore was referring to police pepper spraying students at an “Occupy” protest at UC Davis.

So we have two similarities between the two images: they both show police in riot gear taking action against demonstrators, and they have both caught the public eye as somehow being representations that can “stand in” for the events they seek to portray.

Beyond that, it’s all compare and contrast territory — or variations on a theme, perhaps — and different people will find different reasons to attack or defend the demonstrators or the police in one, the other, or both cases.

1.

These are, for many of us, “home” and “away” incidents, to borrow from sports terminology, and some of our reactions may reflect our opinions in general of what’s going on in Egypt, or in the United States.

We may or may not know the rules of engagement in effect in either case, on either side.

In a way, then, what the photos tell us about those two events, in Tahrir Square and on the UC Davis campus, may tell us much about ourselves and our inclinations, too.

2.

As I’ve indicated before, I am very interested in the process of comparison and contrast that the juxtaposition of two images — or two quotes — seems to generate. And I’ve quoted my friend Cath Styles, too:

A general principle can be distilled from this. Perhaps: In the very moment we identify a similarity between two objects, we recognise their difference. In other words, the process of drawing two things together creates an equal opposite force that draws attention to their natural distance. So the act of seeking resemblance – consistency, or patterns – simultaneously renders visible the inconsistencies, the structures and textures of our social world. And the greater the conceptual distance between the two likened objects, the more interesting the likening – and the greater the understanding to be found.

I’d like to examine these two particular photographs, then, not as images of behaviors we approve or disapprove of, but as examples of juxtaposition, of similarity and difference — and see what we might learn from reading them in a “neutral” light.

3.

What I am really trying to see is whether we can use analogy — a very powerful mental tool — with something of the same rigor we customarily apply to questions of causality and proof, and thus turn it into a method of insight that draws on our aha! pattern recognition and analogy-finding intuitions, rather than the application of inductive and deductive reason.

And that requires that we should know more about how the mind perceives likenesses — a topic that is often obscured by our strong emotional responses — you’re making a false moral equivalence there! or look, one’s as bad as the oither, and it’s sheer hypocrisy to suggest otherwise!

So among other things, we’re up against the phenomenon I call “sibling pea rivalry” — where two things, places, institutions, whatever, that are about as similar as two peas in a pod, have intense antagonism between them, real or playful — Oxford and Cambridge, say, and I’m thinking here of the Boat Race, or West Point and Annapolis in the US, and the Army-Navy game.

Oxford is far more “like” Cambridge than it is “like” a mechanic’s wrench, more like Cambridge than it is a Volkswagen or even a high school, more like it even than Harvard, Yale, Princeton or Stanford — more like it than any of the so-called “redbrick universities” in the UK — so like it, in fact, that the term “Oxbridge” has been coined to refer to the two of them together, in contrast to any other schools or colleges.

And yet on the day of the Boat Race, feelings run high — and the two places couldn’t seem more different. Or let me put that another way — an individual might be ill-advised to walk into a pub overflowing with partisans of the “dark blue” of Oxford wearing the “light blue” of Cambridge, or vice versa.  Not quite at the level of the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, perhaps, but getting there…

4.

So one of the things I’ve thought a bunch about is the kind of analogy that says a : A :: b : B.

As in: Egyptian cop is to Egyptian protester as UC Davis cop is to UC Davis protester.

Which you may think is absolutely right — or cause for impeachment — or just plain old kufr!

And I’ve figured out that the reason people often have different “takes” on that kind of analogy — takes so different that they can get extremely steamed about it, and whistle like kettles and bubble over like pots — has to do with the perceptual phenomenon of parallax, whereby some distances get foreshortened in a way that others don’t.

5.

So my thought experiment sets up a sunken garden — always a pleasure, with two video cameras observing it, as in this diagram:

And from the two cameras, the respective views look like this:

In this scheme of things, Aa (Oxford) seems very close to Bb (Cambridge) seen from the viewpoint of camera 1 — but from camera 2′s standpoint, Aa (Oxford) and Bb (Cambridge) are at opposite ends of the garden, and simply couldn’t be father apart.

6.

Now, my thinking here is either so obvious and simple as to be a platitude verging on tautology — or one of those subtle places where the closer examination of what looks tautological and obvious leads to the emergence of a new insight, a new “difference that makes a difference” in Bateson’s classic phrase.

And clearly, I hope that the latter will prove to be the case here.

7.

What can we learn from juxtapositions? What can we learn from our agreements about specific juxtapositions — and what can we learn from our specific disagreements?

Because it’s my sense that samenesses and differences both jump out at us, as Cath Styles suggested — and that both have a part to play in understanding a given juxtaposition or proposed likeness.

Each juxtaposition will, in my view, suggest both a “sameness” and a “difference” — in much the same way that an arithmetic division of integers, a = qd + r, gives both quotient and dividend.

And then we have two or more observers of the juxtaposition, who may bring their own parallax to the situation, and have their own differences.

8.

Tahrir is to Tienanmen as Qutb is to Mao?

Or is pepper spray just a food additive?

And how do icons become iconic anyway? Are they always juxtapositions, cops against college kids, girl vs napalm, man against line of tanks?  Even in the iconic photo of Kennedy from the Zapruder film, the sudden eruption of violence into the stateliness of a presidential parade is there — a morality play in miniature.

Any thoughts?

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North Korea, Juche and “sacred war”

Monday, December 27th, 2010

[ by Charles Cameron ]

Okay, I am now clear that the correct translation of the Korean phrase that has sometimes been rendered “holy war” in recent news reports is in fact “sacred war”.

I’d been wondering just what an atheist state was doing threatening “holy” or “sacred” war…

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Juche is the state philosophy of North Korea, and is considered to be the 10th largest religion in the world by the Adherents.com portal, ranking above Judaism, Baha’i, Jainism and Shinto. It developed out of Marxist-Leninism and has more recently incorporated Confucian elements.

Sunny Lee, writing in a 2007 article in Asia Times titled God forbid, religion in North Korea?, quotes Han Sung-joo, a former South Korean foreign minister, as saying “There is a deification and a religious emotional element [in juche] in the North. The twinned photos of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are everywhere. Every speech says Kim Il-sung is still alive. I think if I stayed another two weeks, I might even see Kim Il-sung. The country worships someone who is deceased, as if he were alive.”

One Christian site goes so far as to call Juche a “counterfeit Christianity:

Recognizing the power of Christianity, Kim wanted it to be directed at himself. So he took Christianity, removed God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, set up himself, his wife and son as the new trinity, and called it Juche. At its core, Juche is a counterfeit Christianity that is deathly afraid of true version, and rightfully so.

I suppose a close comparison here would be with the cult which Robert Jay Lifton described in Revolutionary immortality: Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese cultural revolution.

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In On Junche in Our Revolution, vol II (published in English, 1977), Kim Il Sung writes:

No military threat of the US imperialists, however, can frighten the Korean people. If, in the end, the US Imperialists and their stooges unleash a new war against the DPRK, in defiance of our people’s patient efforts to prevent a war and maintain peace and the unanimous condemnation of the peace-loving people of the world, the Korean people will rise as one in a sacred war to safeguard their beloved country and the revolutionary gains. They will completely annihilate the aggressors.

So the “sacred war” phrasing has been around for a while.

I hope to learn more — these in the meantime are some clues to be going on with…

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Follow-up: Martyrdom, messianism and Julian Assange

Friday, December 24th, 2010

[ by Charles Cameron ]

This is a follow-up to my earlier post on Zenpundit and ChicagoBoyz, picking up on some comments made on both sites, explaining my own interests, and taking the inquiry a little further.

On Zenpundit, Larry said, “Your need to destroy Assange is getting embarrassing. Why not make lemonaid?” and JN Kish, “The real story here should be about the data – and who is helping Assange – not Assange himself.” Meanwhile on ChicagoBoyz, a certain Gerald Attrick commented, “Ah, but as we say in in art crit: Deal with the Art and not the Man…”

To Larry I would say, I think that my post WikiLeaks: Counterpoint at the State Department? — in which I point up the irony inherent in the same State Department spokesman celebrating World Press Freedom Day and chiding Assange for “providing a targeting list to a group like al-Qaida” on the same day — could as easily be read as pro-Assange as today’s post, Martyrdom, messianism and Julian Assange can be read as calling for his destruction.

More generally, it seems to me that there are a whole lot of stories to be told here: the ones I wish to tell are those where I have a reasonably informed “nose” for relevant detail, and which tend to be overlooked by others — and thus have the potential to blindside us.

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My own main interest is in tracking religious, mythic and apocalyptic themes in contemporary affairs, where they are all too easily overlooked, misunderstood or dismissed. Thus I have posted on Tracking the Mahdi on WikiLeaks, and added related material in section 1 of my post today.

I am also interested in concept mapping, games and creative thinking — interests which led me to post WikiLeaks: Critical Foreign Dependencies and The WikiLeaks paradox, and more lightheartedly to take an amused sideways glance at WikiLeaks in The power of network visualization.

And I certainly find Assange himself an interesting figure, and have done what I can to illuminate his background in mythology, religion and games in Wikileaks and the Search for a Cryptographic Mythology, again in Update: Wikileaks and Cryptographic Mythology and (again light-heartedly) in A DoubleQuote for Anders.

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Let me be more explicit: I have no wish to lionize Assange, nor to feed him to the lions — I would like to understand him a little better.

I come from a scholarly tradition that doesn’t favor the demonization of new religious movements, and believes (for instance) that it is entirely plausible that the Waco inferno could have been avoided if the religious beliefs of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians had been taken seriously as such, and not dismissed out of hand as “bible babble”.

James Tabor and Eugene Gallagher in Why Waco for instance, write:

The Waco situation could have been handled differently and possibly resolved peacefully. This is not unfounded speculation or wishful thinking. It is the considered opinion of the lawyers who spent the most time with the Davidians during the siege and of various scholars of religion who understand biblical apocalyptic belief systems such as that of the Branch Davidians. There was a way to communicate with these biblically oriented people, but it had nothing to do with hostage rescue or counterterrorist tactics. Indeed, such a strategy was being pursued, with FBI cooperation, by Phillip Arnold of the Reunion Institute in Houston and James Tabor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, one of the authors of this book. Arnold and Tabor worked in concert with the lawyers Dick DeGuerin and Jack Zimmerman, who spent a total of twenty hours inside the Mount Carmel center between March 29 and April 4, communicating directly with Koresh and his main spokesperson, Steve Schneider. Unfortunately, these attempts came too late. By the time they began to bear positive results, decisions had already been made in Washington to convince Attorney General Janet Reno to end the siege by force.

Jane Seminaire Docherty’s Learning Lessons from Waco, similarly, “offers a fresh perspective on the activities of law enforcement agents. She shows how the Waco conflict resulted from a collision of two distinct worldviews-the FBI’s and the Davidians’—and their divergent notions of reality. By exploring the failures of the negotiations, she also urges a better understanding of encounters between rising religious movements and dominant social institutions.” [Syracuse UP]

I’d therefore be hesitant to drag Assange into a somewhat murky association with the “cult milieu” – but Assange himself was quite open in talking with Raffi Khatchadourian of the New Yorker about the man his mother lived with and had a child by, then ran away from, after her marriage to Assange’s father broke up. Khatchadourian writes:

When I asked him about the experience, he told me that there was evidence that the man belonged to a powerful cult called the Family—its motto was “Unseen, Unknown, and Unheard.” Some members were doctors who persuaded mothers to give up their newborn children to the cult’s leader, Anne Hamilton-Byrne. The cult had moles in government, Assange suspected, who provided the musician with leads on Claire’s whereabouts.

Wikipedia’ has an account of that group, also known as the Santiniketan Park Association.

And as you might expect, there’s a bizarre and frankly conspiracist take on this connection already out and about on the web.

*

For a more detailed and indeed harrowing view of the Santiniketan Park Association from a member who left, see this excerpt from Sarah Moore’s book, Unseen, Unheard, Unknown.

A couple of odd remarks here strike me:

Some of us had multiple birth certificates and passports, and citizenship of more than one country. Only she knows why thus was and why we were also all dressed alike, why most of us even had our hair dyed identically blond.

The motto of the sect is ‘Unseen, Unheard and Unknown’, and even now the thought of the consequences of betraying that motto still worries me sometimes.

We weren’t often allowed to see newspapers, in fact that happened only after we were quite a bit older and even then they’d been censored .

and:

Looking back, I can see that any game or hobby that we started we would get hooked on, playing it over and over again in our limited spare time. If we got into a game or fantasy we tended to want to keep on with it and it assumed the utmost importance in our lives.

It might have appeared that we were obsessive kids but it was understandable considering the malevolent reality we faced outside our games. Usually Anne and the Aunties saw to it that as soon as we started enjoying ourselves, it was stopped, and a new rule would be made, forbidding us from playing that particular game. We would thus be forced to try and make up a new one within the boundaries of the rules that governed our lives, still knowing that eventually this new one would be banned also.

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Speaking of “cults” – there are several WL cables that make reference to a cult or cults, generally in the context of a “cult of personality” (Mao, eg), and in one case with reference to Scientology. There’s also – and this where things get interesting from my POV — one intriguing reference to a cult in Iran:

Though stressing that he is not an opponent of the Islamic system, he warned that the Revolutionary Guard-based faction which “stole the election,” and is now seeking total control is “extremely dangerous to both us and you.” He repeatedly characterized this group as “a criminal cult,” motivated by its fanaticism, ignorance, and the monetary self-interest of its members. He added that the group is intent on exporting revolution. According to source, both Ahmedinejad and Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi are affiliates rather than “leaders” of this group, and neither will likely end up with significant power if the group successfully consolidates control over the state and its economy (see reftel).

A religious group of which “both Ahmedinejad and Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi are affiliates” sounds suspiciously like the Hojjatiyeh.

But that’s the topic for another upcoming post, I promise.

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