Book Review: Illusion and Reality By William Bowles

23 September 2006

Strange Liberators – Militarism, Mayhem and the Pursuit of Profit by Gregory Elich. Llumina Press, 2006.

Strange LIberatorsAround 1990, when I was living in New York, I, along with two or three other people were invited to an evening at the North Korean Mission to the United Nations where we were plied with a meal of amazing and delicious Korean cuisine followed by an interminable and utterly boring (to my jaded, Western eyes) video that attempted to put the North Korean case.

After the video finished, our guests, who were polite, modest and wonderful hosts, asked us what we thought of the video, which put me in an extremely awkward situation because as a piece of propaganda directed at a Western audience, it was a total failure. After all, endless scenes of mass rallies, factories, fields, wide boulevards and quotes from Kim il Sung were hardly likely to persuade an American audience raised on a diet of slick and seductive images of the superiority of the Western way of life, that life in North Korea was the best thing since sliced bread.

Trying to explain this to our hosts was not easy and as can be expected, I failed, or they were much too polite to tell me. What it did reveal was the immense gulf that existed between our two cultures. Our Korean hosts had as much understanding of the American way of life as we had of theirs, regardless that our sympathies were with them.

It was obvious that they were genuinely proud of their accomplishments, accomplishments that had been achieved at immense cost, the loss of 4 million people during the Korean War and the entire destruction of their country at the hands of the US-led ‘police action’ as it was euphemistically called.

US destruction of Korea is but one war crime of so many committed by imperialism of which we have been kept utterly ignorant. Were we to have been fully informed of the horrific scale of the destruction, both human and material, I like to think that events might have turned out differently.

It is generally accepted, at least on the Left, that without a massive propaganda effort, persuading the majority of the population to go along with imperialist actions would be, in all likelyhood, impossible. Whether this is true or not is not easy to prove as it doesn’t take into account the degree to which we have been seduced by our own self interest to go along with the imperialist project.

But if there’s one thing the Left is good at, it’s dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s quite simply because we have to do our research in order to try and prove our case as the corporate press will pounce on even the slightest error in order to put us down and prove us wrong.

History, is for us, a powerful weapon with which to investigate and explain the present; how things came to be the way they are. This is however, not an easy thing to do, it requires an immense amount of effort and time and then it has to be distilled into something digestible.

In a previous piece I mentioned a book, Strange Liberators by Gregory Elich which is a very detailed analysis of US foreign policy and especially how its words run utterly counter to its actions.

The book is big (400 pages), so rather than produce a review of the entire tome in one go, I thought it made more sense to deal with it in chunks, the first of which will be North Korea.

Strange Liberators gives over three chapters to how the US has dealt with the unfortunate North Korea and in doing so explodes the myth of this member of the so-called ‘axis of evil’.

Now regardless of what you think of North Korea’s version of socialism, or indeed its record on human rights (depending on what is meant by human rights), the record is clear when it comes to the way the US has humiliated, threatened and literally starved the North Korean people into capitulating to US capital’s demands.

Elich’s book documents this process in the minutest detail replete with pages of references. The problem of course for us is that we don’t have access to the mass media in order to explain the reality of the situation nor is it easy to reduce, as the corporate press does, actions or intentions to convenient sound-bites that can be digested by populations fed a diet of political pap for literally generations.

So how does one convey the nature of a rapacious, imperialist state to all but the already converted without reeling off statistics or resorting to lefty versions of sound bites?

Elich does it with a good deal of sarcasm laced with irony, and then pours the facts on top as a rich source for us to relish for example:

‘The U.S., guided by concern for peace and stability in the region, has patiently sought to encourage a reluctant North Korea to negotiate. This is the popular image, as deeply ingrained as it is inaccurate.’ (p.63)

But gaining access to the facts is akin to an archeological excavation that few either have the skill, understanding or patience to undertake. Luckily, we have people like Elich to do the digging for us.

Elich’s chapters on North Korea deal specifically with the alleged nuclear threat posed to the US by North Korea, an accusation that would be laughable if were not for the fact that using this ‘nuclear threat’ as a pretext, the US has come extremely close, and on a number of occasions, to unleashing nuclear war on the Korean peninsula!

This reality alone would, I am sure persuade many more milions of people of the real intentions of the US, if it were widely known, but of course, the MSM has cunningly concealed the facts from the public.

Firstly, the US got its arse well and truly kicked during the Korean War and as with the Vietnam War, it was not going to be forgiven or forgotten, thus ever since, the mere existence of the DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) is an affront to US capital. Every effort short of war therefore has been made to expunge the DPRK from the face of the planet.

In 1990s with a change in the government of South Korea, steps were being made toward some kind of rapprochement between the North and South which as far as the US was concerned, was a definate no-no.

Every effort was made to sabotage the re-establishment of relations between North and South signaled by the resumption of the war game ‘Team Spirit’ in 1993, suspended by George HW Bush and resumed by Clinton (so much for those who continue fool themselves into thinking that a Democratic administration would be a change for the better!).

‘Team Spirit’ involved bombers, cruise missiles and naval forces and just to piss off the North Koreans even more, Clinton announced that some of the nuclear missiles that had targeted the former Soviet Union would be redirected at North Korea.

Predictably, the North Koreans announced that they would therefore be withdrawing from the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) but following talks with the US, the DPRK stated that it would remain a signatory.

But immediately, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) demanded that the DPRK open up all its nuclear sites to inspection, “something the agency had never before demanded from any nation … a demand that came at the instigation of U.S. officials … Relations were only strained further when North Korea discovered that IAEA inspectors had been passing intelligence to American officials.” (p.63)

US propaganda went into high gear with Clinton warning that “North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear bomb.” (p.64) No evidence was produced to back up this allegation, it was, as with all Goebellian propaganda, accepted by virtue of endless repetition by the Clinton administration and its parrots in the MSM.

Preparations for war were underway.

“We readied a detailed plan to attack the Yongbyon [nuclear] facility with precision guided bombs. We were highly confident that it could be destroyed without causing a meltdown that would release radioactivity into the air … announced Assistant Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter … Years later, the South Korean government commissioned a simulation of a strike on Yongbyon and found that if all the facilities on the site were hit, one quarter of the population within a 50-kilometre radius would die within hours.” (p.64)

Worse yet was being prepared. The thinking in the Pentagon was, “while we’re at it, why not get them all?” (p.65) Thankfully, the then South Korean president, Kim Young-Sam didn’t go along with the maniacs in the US.

“Kim warned U.S. Ambassador James Laney that another war would turn all of Korea into a blood bath.” (pps.64-65)

Following a 32-minute phone conversation between Clinton and Sam, the US reluctantly agreed not to ‘take out’ North Korea. But for the next twelve years, the US unleashed a war on North Korea by other means including starving the population into submission that led directly and indirectly to the deaths of perhaps a million people, many of them children.

Further threats of military strikes, including the use of nuclear weapons, were to follow right down to the present day, threats that Elich itemizes in all their awful, cold-blooded reality.

By now, it should be obvious that Iraq and now Iran is merely the continuation of US policy that has been in play for over fifty years; ‘if you don’t do as we say we’ll blow you the fuck away. We’ll starve and isolate you and force our allies to go along with us.’

You have to ask yourself what possible reason could a small, poverty-stricken country that has never attacked anybody, be such a threat to the US that warrants murder, lies, subterfuge and sabotage.

The US and its major partner, the UK, with the complicity of the corporate and state-run media would have you believe that North Korea, even if it had the means (which it most obviously doesn’t) would risk total destruction by invading the US. What a ludicrous notion!

The answer, as Elich rightly points out is simple; profit, and here Elich runs somewhat counter to the prevailing orthodoxy by stating quite categorically that the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan far from being failures are resounding successes when measured in dollars.

“Western leaders may miscalculated the ease with which they would be able to impose their will on Iraq and seize control of its economy, but there is nothing irrational in the decision to go to war. The losses have been borne almost solely by ordinary Iraqi citizens and by the occupation soldiers who suffer injury and death. The expenses are paid through taxes taken primarily from the pockets of working people, while it is the corporate sector that reaps the benefits. The gains have been real for that class. The fact that many of the Bush adminstration’s goals have not been met does not exclude the fact that some ends were achieved. Even partial gains are valued when the cost is borne by others. That war-torn Iraq is a dangerous and harrowing place need not trouble corporate owners who never set foot there and for whom Iraq represents a profitable venture.” (p.22)

This is the same, cold logic that has propelled US policy toward North Korea for over fifty years. Simply put, defy US capitalism and you will be destroyed.

Strange Liberators – Militarism, Mayhem and the Pursuit of Profit by Gregory Elich. Llumina Press, 2006. (,


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