Week 14 / 2015 06 01 – Hip-Hop in Japan

Yellow B-Boys, Black Culture, and Hip-Hop in Japan: Toward a Transnational Cultural Politics of Race, Ian Condry, excerpted and abridged. From positions: east asia cultures critique, Volume 15, Number 3, Winter 2007, pp. 637-671

To consider when you’re reading: We’ve learned from Frantz Fanon that nations, particularly colonized nations, must make their own culture as part of their national liberation struggle. What happens when nations create a culture that includes elements from other cultures?

A Japanese rapper, who calls himself Banana Ice, released a song in 1995 called “Imitation + Imitation = Imitation,” in which he ridicules young hip-hop fans who darken their skin as a sign of respect toward African American musicians. “Your parents, your grandparents are Japanese,” he raps. “You can never be the black person you want to be.” As hip-hop goes global, what happens to the cultural politics of race in American hip-hop?

The projects of Japanese hip-hoppers can be viewed as what Cornel West calls a “new cultural politics of difference,” which rejects racial or ethnic essentialism in favor of a more complex understanding of how identity is constructed. A traditional kind of cultural politics, for example, might say that positive portrayals of the black community counter negative images of African Americans. For West, a cultural politics of race means showing the realities of African-American life: the structural, historical and personal problems of drugs, alcoholism, consumerism, while also showing solutions.

“Black culture” means a range of practices, ideas, and discourses, never one single thing. Similarly, highlighting the “local” features of hip-hop in Japan creates an image of the Japanese people, while ignoring how Japanese emcees criticize mainstream ideas of what it means to be Japanese.

Many Japanese rappers fetishize of blackness as hip, sensual, and rebellious, and de-emphasize blackness to make Japan’s traditionally lighthearted and inoffensive pop music. Mainstream hip-hop combines an outlaw stance with brand-name consumption. Japan now boasts its own gangsta rappers, complete with gold teeth and platinum chains.

The problem is that media portrayal of blackness does not guarantee greater equality. As writer Greg Tate puts it, “what do white people take from black culture? Everything but the burden.” Writing on Japan, one scholar says, “‘Blackness’ became a fad to be consumed [for Japanese youth], without the obligation of learning about or understanding Black people.” We should learn about other people’s cultures before consuming their styles, but should everyone read a book about Japan before eating sushi or watching an anime movie? Where is the line between appropriation and respectful borrowing?

Japanese rappers are expected to respect the African-American roots of the music while also producing something authentic and original. Yet one rapper, Dabo, uses a gun, platinum chains, and prison walls on his albums, relying on “globally recognizable” markers of hip-hop style. But if Dabo imitates American racial images, what about the American hip-hop crew Wu-Tang Clan? They use kung fu imagery and sound samples in their songs, and make shirts with gibberish Japanese writing. Calling these rappers Orientalist or racist suggests there is an authentic ‘culture’ that doesn’t actually exist.

How should we interpret the charges of “imitation” directed at Japanese hip-hop musicians? If we define imitation as working within a genre of music, with sampled and programmed tracks over which emcees rap, then all contemporary hip-hop, in Japan and anywhere else, is imitation. Second, if hip-hop is just a form of storytelling about black Americans, then there is no place for Japanese, French, or even black South African rappers. Yet these emcees exist, and they are part of an emerging global movement taking up issues of economic oppression, government injustices and racism.

The August 2002 cover of Vibe magazine, a monthly American magazine, featured the following headline: “Wanna-Bes: The Weird World of Japanese Dancehall Fanatics.” The article discusses the popularity of both reggae and hip-hop in Japan but questions their significance: “Any Black-music fan knows about the ‘Elvis effect’. . . Black folk make music, and whites remake it and make big bucks. . . . Where is the line between cross-cultural influence and cross-cultural theft?” The author acknowledges that some Japanese hip-hoppers pay homage to the original artists but asks, “what if their fans never do their homework1?” To be fair, the spread of Japanese hip-hop is leading to a deepening appreciation of American hip-hop in Japan. But the larger question is more poignant; are Japanese fans “doing their homework”?

Those who ‘do their homework’ face another problem. Zeebra, one of the leading Japanese rappers, quotes a fan letter: “No matter how much one likes Black music and culture, both were born from the situations Blacks faced. It was a brutal process (resistance against whites, the need to be proud of their own identity, their labor in the midst of poverty, etc.) Considering this, I question the shallow imitation of us Japanese.”

Some use hip-hop to form radical opinions about Japanese society and the healing powers of popular culture. Rapper ECD dropped out of high school at age seventeen, got involved with a motorcycle gang, but “graduated” when he turned twenty. He worked in temporary jobs like construction and moving, while pursuing his musical career. His first release in 1992 included songs that detailed the ancestors of U.S. Hip-hop. He noted that the idea that “the Japanese are simply Japanese” misunderstands history. His record company censored his lyrics that points out that the Ainu were the original people of Japan, and that the original emperor came from Korea; the Japanese are foreigners on Japan’s soil.

From Appreciation to Racism

In Japan, as elsewhere, hip-hop’s origins are traced to the South Bronx, New York City, in the mid-1970s. Hip-hop soon began traveling overseas. In 1979, the hit song “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang played in Tokyo discos, and in 1983 the film Wild Style introduced the four elements of hip-hop — rapping, deejaying, break-dancing, and graffiti art — to Tokyo audiences. This, along with the break-dance scene in the film Flashdance, inspired some Japanese youth to start break-dancing in early 1984 in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, and before long Japanese DJs, rappers, and graffiti artists began to appear as well.

Since the late 1990s, Japan’s hip-hop scene has criticized single notions of “Japan”, instead criticizing aspects of Japanese society. For example, when Japanese artists and fans adopt the catchphrase “keep it real” these days, they are often responding to what they see as the emptiness of consumer culture. In contrast to pop celebrities (tarento) who dominate television, Japanese emcees write about contemporary failures of middle-class ideals (e.g., hard work in school will lead to a good job), especially after a decade-long recession, which began in the early 1990s, left many in the younger generation struggling to find satisfying work and forced them instead to become part-time, temporary workers.

For most of Japan’s history, all foreigners were regarded as “barbarians” (yabanjin) regardless of their skin color. In Japan’s early history, whiteness in skin color (of Japanese) was associated with high birth, while darker skin tended to be associated with farmers and others who had to work outside in the sun. Even so, in some cases the color black had positive connotations: in the 19th century, blackening the teeth and having the blackest hair was a sign of beauty. Even the Buddha, when not depicted in gold, was often illustrated with a dark, sometimes even black, skin tone. Nevertheless, by the late 1880s, as Japan began modernization, it imported the ideologies of Western imperialists, and prejudices toward blacks were imported as well.

Race is fake

From an American perspective, the Japanese are clearly “Asian.” They share physical characteristics that Westerners associate with “the Asian race,” mainly straight black hair, eye features and skin color. Yet Westerners don’t understand the significance of these differences. The racist Western notion that Asians have “slanty” eyes, as depicted for example in the Disney animated film Mulan, is foreign to Japan, where eyes are evaluated based on the number of folds in the eyelids. This reminds us that “race” is, scientifically, meaningless. There is more genetic variation within so-called races than between them.

Race was invented in the eighteenth century as a new way to categorize human differences, to justify the conquest of Native Americans and slavery for imported Africans. Today, capitalism uses the continuing inequalities of race to maintain divisions among populations. In the United States, some visible examples include drug convictions (black people are 12 percent of the population, consume 12 percent of illegal drugs, but suffer nearly 70 percent of the convictions. Put differently, black people are 7 times more likely to go to jail than white people for drugs). One out of every five children in the United States lives in poverty, but for black children, the rate is one in two.

Kosaku Yoshino describes how the Japanese have a strong tendency to perceive of themselves as a distinct racial group, a notion he traces to the late-nineteenth-century ideology that viewed Japan as a “family state”, in which the Japanese are related to one another and to the emperor by “blood.” In Japan, less than 2 percent of the population are foreigners. This includes over 600,000 “Koreans” from both North and South Korea, many of whom were born in Japan. There are also roughly 2 to 3 million burakumin, that is, descendants of an outcaste group of butchers, leather tanners, and executioners.

The burakumin face terrible discrimination when getting jobs and getting married. The rapper You The Rock describes seeing the plight of burakumin as one reason he was deeply moved when he first heard the U.S. groups Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy, who describe the struggles of African Americans. Recently, Japan has also witnessed the appearance of an artist, namely, Jin Back, who raps about living in a burakumin neighborhood in Osaka, as well as a rap duo called KP who are “resident Koreans” (zainichi kankokujin) and who rap in Japanese, in some cases about relations between North and South Korea.

In the United States, slavery is the context the current debate on racism, but in Japan the imperialist aggression of World War II provides the key moment for questions of race. Japan allied itself with other Asians against the white, European colonial oppressors to build the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. But this sphere was based on the belief that the Japanese were destined to rule over a fixed hierarchy of people and races, and which involved massacres and forced labor.

Hip-hop can educate listeners about this history, showing us a transnational cultural politics of race. For example, a collaboration between the rapper Utamaru and DJ Oasis is called “Shakai no mado,” an expression meaning “zipper on one’s pants.” This is a song about opening the zipper, which hides the rotting Japanese political system. Utamaru criticizes impotent politicians, compliant journalists, and a public that simply “nods in unison.” Utamaru also blasts the Ministry of Education for approving history textbooks that downplay the atrocities of the Japanese military during World War II:

the rusted zipper on the fly of the pants completely rotten, in there it’s big
if left alone, it’s a cancer on the world do you want to make such a strong stench?
I can’t understand you, you shitty old men entrusted with the textbooks, you make up a smoldering fantasy on the pretext of representing Japan’s “pride”

For Utamaru, pride in Japan depends on acknowledging Japan’s history, including learning from other cultures and acknowledging the enduring anger, especially in China and Korea, regarding the textbooks’ portrayal of history.

This represents an affiliation with African American struggles but focused on critiquing the enduring racism among right-wing Japanese toward their Asian neighbors. In another song, Utamaru accused Emperor Hirohito of being a sex criminal, a reference to the “comfort women” from Korea and China who were raped by Japanese troops during World War II. Fearing the lyrics could provoke Japan’s right- wing extremists to set up enormous sound trucks (tractor trailers with huge speakers) outside corporate headquarters, Sony refused to release the song. Corporate Japan acts controls what is and what is not acceptable to consumers of popular culture. But this represents a transnational politics that promotes action on racial issues that cross national borders. What is still uncertain, however, is whether such political messages will be transformed into political movements.


From the nineties on, the rise of black music and culture in Japan demonstrates that outside cultural influence can no longer be seen of as coming from national cultures. “Black culture” and not “American culture” is the object of desire for fans. So hip-hop is not an example of “Western” cultural hegemony, and is open to everyone who likes its four elements: rap, deejay, break-dance, and graffiti. A growing number of hip-hop artists, fans, and writers point to a fifth element of hip-hop: “knowledge”: understanding the history and political promise of the style, to protect hip-hop from commodification. Cultural borrowing is possible. We need to move the discussion of world hip-hop away from “What’s authentic – local versus global?” to what transnational cultural politics can accomplish.


Week 12: 05/18/2015 – Frantz Fanon, National Culture and the Fight for Freedom

National Culture and the Fight for Freedom, Frantz Fanon.

I have shortened this speech, simplified the English, added headings and highlighted words you should look up if you don’t know them. Please note that Fanon only uses the male pronoun “he”. But today, this is not acceptable: English writers use “he/she” or simply “she” or “they”, to recognize that women continue to be unequal to men. You can read the full version here.

What happens to culture in a colonial society?

Colonial domination disrupts the cultural life of a conquered people. It changes the laws, and it sends people and their customs to the remote areas of the country. It enslaves men and women.

The colonising power does not say that the oppressed nation and its culture don’t exist. Instead, i tries to make the colonised person admit his culture is inferior, that it’s just a kind of instinct. His ‘nation’ isn’t real, and his biology is inferior.

Not all colonised people react to this the same way. The mass of the people maintain traditions which are completely different from the coloniser, and artists create a purely formal style. The intellectual tries to learn the culture of the occupying power and criticises his own national culture, or tries desperately to prove its worth.

When a country is colonised, there can’t be changes in the national culture. Here and there, artists try to renew their culture’s themes. Nothing happens right away. But in the long term, they prepare a new national consciousness, allowing colonised people to question oppression and struggle for freedom.

In colonisation, a national culture risks being destroyed and it very quickly becomes secret. The coloniser thinks that people who are attached to traditions are faithful to their nation. And it’s true that some people persist in following their culture, and this is a kind of nationalism. But their nationalism doesn’t fight back. These people just concentrate on a hard core of culture, which becomes more and more empty.

How national consciousness forms

After a century or two of exploitation, national culture becomes a set of automatic habits, some traditions of dress and a few broken-down institutions. There is no real creativity. But killing the colonised’s culture creates aggression from the native person. Colonial exploitation, poverty and famine drive the native more and more to open, organised revolt. The majority of people decide they need a decisive break with the occupying power.

The tensions of national consciousness appear in creative work. In literature, for example, there is over-production. Starting as a reply to the colonial power, the literature produced by natives becomes wide and varied. The intelligentsia become producers instead of consuming the occupier’s culture. At first, this literature is mostly poetry, but later on novels, short stories and essays are attempted. As the struggle for liberation becomes more focused, poetry becomes less useful.

Literary themes completely change. There is less bitter, hopeless self-blame and violent writing. The colonialists encouraged criticism, exposing poor living conditions and passions as forms of catharsis. But the continued political organizing of the nation’s people invites the intellectual to go farther than his cry of protest. First he criticises society; then he calls for social change; then he commands people to change society. This disrupts literary styles and themes, and also creates a completely new public. While at the beginning, the native intellectual wrote to be read by the oppressor, now the native writer addresses his own people.


It is only from that moment that we can speak of a national literature. This may be called a literature of combat, because it calls on the whole people to fight for their existence as a nation.

The stories and songs of the people begin to change. The storytellers who used to tell stories about unchanging events now bring them alive and introduce important changes. There is a tendency to bring conflicts up to date and to modernise their kinds of struggle, together with the names of heroes and the types of weapons. The formula ‘This all happened long ago’ is substituted by that of ‘What we are going to speak of happened somewhere else, but it might well have happened here today, and it might happen tomorrow’.

Every time the storyteller relates a fresh episode to his public, the existence of a new type of man is revealed to the public. The storyteller makes innovations and he creates a work of art. It even happens that the characters – highway robbers or anti-social thieves – are remodelled. We see the emergence of the imagination and of the creative urge in the songs and epic stories of a colonised country. The storyteller is helped by his public to seek out new national patterns. Comedy disappears, or loses its attraction. Drama is no longer just about despair and revolt. It becomes part of the people’s political and social action.

Arts and crafts

Handicrafts begin to develop. Woodwork, for example, which repeatedly made the same masks with the same expressions, comes to life. The arms of wooden figures tend to be raised from the body as if they’re about to act. Art pieces showing two, three or five figures appear. There is an avalanche of amateurs or critics in traditional mediums. By carving figures and faces which are full of life, and by carving a group of people fixed on the same spot, the artist encourages people to join an organised political movement.

The same thing happens in ceramics and pottery-making. Formal styles disappear. Jugs, jars and trays are modified savagely. Colours, which used to obey the traditional rules of harmony, increase in number and are influenced by the rising revolution. In the same way, the portrayal of the human face in artwork, which used to be fixed, becomes suddenly changeable. The colonialists defend the native style. For example, consider how white jazz experts reacted to new styles of jazz, such as be-bop. For the experts, jazz should only be made by the sad, broken nostalgia of an old Negro man who is an alcoholic and full of hate for white people. As soon as the Negro understands himself, and understands the rest of the world differently, he begins to hope and forces back the racist universe. His trumpet plays more clearly, and his voice is less hoarse.

Well before the political or fighting phase of the national movement, we can feel and see the new energy of the people and feel the approaching conflict with the colonialists. Forms of expression and themes are fresh and powerful, calling for people to unite. Everything works together to awaken the native person’s sensibility and to criticise defeat. The native renews the purpose and energy of art, music and literature. The conditions necessary for the inevitable conflict are brought together.

Why national liberation is not exclusive

In a colonised country, even the most savage nationalism defends national culture. For culture expresses the nation’s values and taboos. In the colonial situation, culture, which gets no support from the people or the government, dies. Culture needs national liberation to live. The fight for national liberation sets culture moving.

The old culture breaks up. Before national liberation, we see new forms of expression and imagination. There remains one question: what are the relations between the struggle for national liberation – whether political or military – and culture? Does culture stop during the conflict? Is the national struggle an expression of a culture?

When a colonised people fights to re-establish their nation, this is the most complete example of culture. The struggle itself sends culture along different paths and traces out new ones. The struggle for freedom does not return the national culture to its previous shape. After national liberation, colonialism disappears, but so does the colonised man.

A struggle which mobilises all classes of the people, and which expresses their aims and their impatience, will triumph. A nation which is born from people’s action, and which embodies their hopes to change the state, must create rich forms of culture.

Pro-independence activists want to make their country’s real culture shared among all people. But the activists should not wait for the nation’s people to support a single idea of independence in order to achieve their task. The liberation of the nation is one thing; the methods and popular content of the fight are another.

Some people say that wanting a nation is a mistake, and a phase that humanity has left behind. However, we think that wishing to skip being a nation is a mistake. If culture expresses national consciousness, then national consciousness is the most complex form of culture. Being conscious of your national identity doesn’t stop you for communicating with other people. On the contrary, philosophy teaches us that national consciousness, which is not nationalism, is necessary. In fact, it’s the only thing that will give us an international perspective. This is a special problem in Africa, because national consciousness is part of African consciousness. If colonialism is still entrenched in Africa, every independent nation remains in permanent danger.

The most urgent thing today for the intellectual is to build up his nation by learning and showing the will of the people. The building of a nation is always accompanied by the discovery of universalising values. Far from keeping separate from other nations, national liberation leads the nation to play its part on the stage of history. At the heart of national consciousness, international consciousness lives and grows. And this is ultimately the source of all culture.

Week 9 – Coffee Consumption in South Korea, discussion notes

Summary – Coffee Consumption in South Korea

Group 1
– Starbucks is part of neoliberalism: represents confidence and creativity.
– modern style of coffee, rather than a tabang.
neoliberal work: flexible, creative and service-oriented. Contracts rather than full-time, security rather than welfare. Lower state spending.

Group 2
– Starbucks is an alternative space to the family, outside dominant system of patriarchy. Women feel free and in control in a cafe.
– for men, it’s too expensive.

Group 3:
– Starbucks is effeminate, against masculinity. Guys think it’s a waste of time and go drink soju instead. Men drink, play video games, sports instead.
– men have to dress up to go out and drink, but that’s changing.
– perform and reproduce masculinity. Macho is not who you are, it’s what you do.
Group 4:
– korean women are seen as feminine
– women try to raise their status. Western goods improve their image.
– women are guilty for the downfall of the Korean nation and Korean femininity.

Group 5:
– class, gender and nationalism. misogynism: hatred of women. Social conflict gets expressed in Starbucks.

How to write a research outline

For more detail, see: https://explorable.com/research-paper-outline-examples

Research outline format:
– 1-2 pages single spaced, typed, Arial or Times New Roman
– .doc or .docx file format

Research Paper Outline Examples

Once you’ve already decided what topic you will be writing about, the next thing you should pay attention to is the scope of your paper or what you will be including in your discussion. The broader your topic is, the more difficult it is to discuss your topic in full details. This is why you should establish before hand the scope and limitations of your paper and this will be the foundation of your research paper outline. Basically, your outline will constitute three main parts: namely, the Introduction, the Body and the Conclusion.


The Introduction should contain your thesis statement or the topic of your research, as well as the purpose of your study. You may include here the reason why you chose the particular topic or simply the significance of your research paper’s topic. You may also state what type of approach it is that you’ll be using in your paper for the entire discussion of your topic. Generally, your Introduction should state briefly all the major points of your topic your readers will be reading about.


The body of your paper is where you will be presenting all your arguments to support your thesis statement. Please be reminded of the “Rule of 3” where you should find 3 supporting arguments for each position you take. Start with a strong argument, followed by a stronger one, and end with the strongest argument as your final point. You are encouraged to write in full sentences. But you don’t have to, if point form is easier for you. Either is fine.


The Conclusion is where you form a summary of all your arguments and state your final stand. Explain why you’ve ended up with the said conclusion.

Sample #1 – Topic: Asbestos Poisoning

Introduction: Definition of Asbestos Poisoning
Significance of the Study
Definition of Terms

Definition: Asbestos poisoning happens when tiny fibres of asbestos, a mineral, get lodged in the lungs. They interact with the body’s surrounding cells, causing them to mutate and become cancerous.

Significance: This topic is important because thousands of asbestos miners were not told about the risks of cancer when they dug asbestos out of the ground. Many of them have cancer today. To help them pay for treatment, they need to show that they got sick because of their working conditions. Knowing asbestos is a carcinogen will help that campaign. (Source – where did you get this information?)

Terms: asbestos – a group of minerals that occur naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers asbestos poisoning
– Asbestosis is a type of pulmonary fibrosis caused by asbestos exposure typified by excess connective tissue in the lungs.

Symptoms of Asbestos Poisoning
Effects of Asbestos Poisoning


Some symptoms include coughing, bloody phlegm, weakness, dizziness, and unexplained fatigue.

Some effects include prolonged illness and an inability to breathe without the help of a machine. If left untreated, cancer of the lungs can result.

Treatments include costly and painful chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. However, once cancer from asbestos is in a late stage, it is nearly impossible to treat. A major problem is that sufferers can be exposed to asbestos fibres when they are young, and only get cancer decades later. (Source – where did you get this information?)

How to Deal with Asbestos Hazards

Recommendations: mining companies that profited from asbestos production owe their workers. They should pay for the workers’ cancer treatments and for preventative testing annually. Asbestos production is now banned in the developed world, but old buildings still have asbestos. New safety procedures have to be put in place when renovating those buildings, like wearing masks and having good ventilation. (Source)

Sample #2 – Topic: Shakespeare

Introduction: Early Life Family Father Mother Marriage Life of Anne Hathaway

Body: Works Plays Tragedies Hamlet Romeo and Juliet Comedies The Tempest Much Ado About Nothing Histories King John Richard III Henry VIII Sonnets Other Poems His Later Years Last Two Plays Retired to Stratford Death Burial

Conclusion: Analytical Summary
Thesis Reworded
Concluding Statement

Week 10 class readings – War, Imperialism and Asia

Doug Dowd: Talking Peace, Making War (Excerpts)

The U.S. was involved in dozens of wars in North, Central, and South America and in North Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands in the 150 years of our nationhood. World War II had barely ended when the U.S. resumed the military interventions: Here are some of the best-known since 1945:

  • the financing and arming of the French in Vietnam, 1945-1954, followed soon after by our secret military interventions in Vietnam [3]
  • the financing and arming of Israel from 1948 onwards. [4]
  • the Korean War, 1950-53. [5]
  • the CIA overthrow of democratically elected leaders such as Mossadegh in Iran, 1953; [6] of Arbenz in Guatemala, 1954; [7] of Lumumba in the Congo, 1961; [8] of Sukarno in Indonesia, 1965; [9] of Allende in Chile, 1973; [10] the attempts to overthrow Castro before and after the Bay of Pigs, 1961; [11]
  • the payment for and delivery of weapons to right-wing armies to undo or prevent democratic governments in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador; [12]
  • the arming and financing of the Taliban in Afghanistan to provoke the Soviet Union, late 1970s; [13]

The American dead and wounded from our 20th century wars were of course substantial. But unlike other countries’ experiences, as a percentage of our population, there have been virtually no civilian casualties. Whereas the combined populations of Korea, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam were well under half of ours, but at least three million Koreans and one million Chinese died in the Korean War, and at least another three million died in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia — plus many millions of civilians wounded or seriously injured (or killed) by napalm and Agent Orange.

Those numbers help explain why, as has been said, “The people of the United States have not learned to hate war enough”.

The Cold War Gets Hot: Korea

Our pretense for landing in Korea was that the North Koreans, said to be inspired by the Soviet Union, had invaded South Korea. Similarly, in Vietnam, the Viet Minh of the North were described as pawns of Communist China. The United States had to stop the Communists then and there, or Korea would be followed by Japan; Vietnam would be but the first of many “dominoes” extending to the Mediterranean which, one after another, would be toppled by the Soviet Union, or China. It is worth pointing out that the Vietnamese defeated us and yet, not a single “domino” fell to the West.

When the Pacific War ended in 1945 the Koreans were once more seen as exploitable objects, if for different reasons; the looming tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union engineered the division of Korea into North and South.

Lengthy conferences failed to unify the nation, for neither the Soviets nor the Americans wanted a unified Korea to move into the opposing camp. According to the Soviet-American agreement, Japanese armies were disarmed north of the 38th parallel by Russia and south of the line by the United States. The dividing line cut across and separated natural areas of geography, culture, and climate. The result was confusion and conflict and, by the late 1940s, military incursions by Koreans from both sides, building up to civil war. Each side repeatedly crossed the border to the other.

The respected Asian scholar Chalmers Johnson tells what happened: “right-wing forces in the southern half of divided Korea, then under control of the United States, were slaughtering at least 30,000 dissident peasants…, part of a process by which [Syngman Rhee’s] puppet regime in South Korea… consolidated its power.”

A de facto civil war had begun already by 1948-49. Had that civil war been fought out by the Koreans without foreign intervention, doubtless there would have been bloodshed and damage, but nothing approaching the great human, physical, and social damage of the Korean War.

But wouldn’t China and/or the Soviet Union have intervened militarily had the U.S. stayed out of the civil war? No. It is extremely unlikely that the Soviet Union could have intervened militarily, given its postwar weakness and the distances involved. And the Chinese did intervene, but well after the war had begun, and after General MacArthur had issued statements about “nuking” China.

The American troops in Korea were, to a significant degree, veterans of World War II. That might well have led many of them to be bitter, but their feelings remained private: the media in the early 1950s were effectively non-existent, as was any noticeable opposition at home. World War II had led the people of the United States to believe that its citizens had won that ‘good war’; now they had to stand firm against two ‘sinister’ nations, Russia and China. That was a requirement for global democracy.

The political momentum of World War II’s patriotism, taken together with the Cold War and McCarthyism, assured that what little resistance there was would be easily criticized. Yet a substantial opposition to Vietnam did arise even as the Cold War’s strength grew.


America wanted to lead global politics. After World War Two, in order to get European and French acceptance of their leadership, the U.S. made a bargain. The French would cooperate with the U.S. in Europe. In return, the U.S. would help with them in Vietnam, which the French occupied and faced a local independence movement, the Viet Minh.

The U.S. financed the French war in Vietnam and supplied France with much of its weaponry. From 1946 into 1954, the French conducted all-out war against the Viet Minh, shelling from the sea, bombing from the air, fighting on the land, killing thousands of civilians. Nonetheless, the French were defeated by the Viet Minh and surrendered in 1954, and left Vietnam.

But this did not mean that Vietnam had won its independence. At an international conference at Geneva that same year, the U.S. divided the country in two with promised national elections, as in Korea. However, the pro-American politicians in Vietnam knew the independence movement would win the election, and stopped them.

By 1960 it had become impossible to deny American involvement, so it became essential to find a reason for it. The Americans said Ho Chi Minh’s victory would place Vietnam under a Communist, government. The American-friendly leader, Diem, was assassinated in a military coup permitted by the American government. From then on, the Vietnamese government more totalitarian with each new regime-leader.

Fighting a Filthy War: the Troops and the Tactics

When U.S. President Kennedy was elected in 1960, there were already more than a thousand U.S. soldiers in Vietnam; by the time of his murder in 1963, we had admitted to 16,000 (with some in Laos and Cambodia); from 1965 on, the yearly average was more than 500,000 U.S. troops.

We often use “little wars” to test our stream of new weaponry. Vietnam served that purpose all too well, especially with chemical weapons, including napalm and the herbicides Agents Green and Orange. Both of the latter contain dioxin, a cancer-causing chemical. Almost eighty disorders have been associated with exposure to dioxin, including cancers of the lung and prostate.

From 1961 on, all were used from the air. Planes sprayed the herbicides directly over at least 3,181 villages. At least 2.1 million inhabitants — and perhaps as many as 4.8 million — would have been in the villages during the spraying operations in South Vietnam, whose total population was less than 17 million. Its stated intent was to “intimidate” peasants from cooperating with the Viet Cong in the South. That operation last eight years, five of which before our official entry to the war.

In the same years, our “strategic hamlet” program began: the bulldozing of villages suspected of being pro-independence National Liberation Front (NLF) strongholds, and placing the refugees into “houses” surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers.

By the time America left Vietnam, about 3.5 million GIs had served one-year terms there. Almost from the moment of their arrival, most were caught up in endless and “nameless fear.” In Vietnam we possessed what seemed to be unquestionable supremacy in every category of weaponry. But what our troops did not possess was the secret weapon of the Vietnamese. Something under 60,000 U.S. soldiers died in Vietnam; millions of Vietnamese died. Most of them were civilians. We were simply unable to see what we would have done in similar circumstances, if we were occupied by a foreign power.

That was the source of our defeat in Vietnam. We never saw the Vietnamese as human beings, never understood or even tried to understand that almost all Vietnamese would hate, and many would fight against, our occupation. As the war went on and on, we came to fear, despise, and speak of all Vietnamese as “gooks.”

Our troops in Vietnam were demoralized by the ability of the Vietnamese to transport supplies from North to South, through deep tunnels. Could Americans ever do such things? Our troops were not trained to combat an enemy that might strike at any hour of the day or night, with old — or with no — weapons, nor to be on guard for deep pits with poisonous stakes as they marched.

Our mounting thousands of casualties after 1965 took on a nightmare quality, even though Vietnamese casualties were always a great multiple of ours. And they just kept coming. Vietnam became the first U.S. war in which alcohol and heroin were quietly accepted as part of the soldier’s “survival kit.” The heroin found its way to them through the Central Intelligence Agency (American Secret Service); which, in the process also created a new geographic drug system: “The Golden Triangle”.

Until the early 1960s, the domestic opposition to the Vietnam War was small, as with Korea. Once our involvement became both larger and well-known, that began to change. Already by 1963 there were increasingly widespread activities focusing attention on Vietnam, coinciding with the rising number of men drafted into the army. That gave birth in 1964 to the “teach-in movement” on college campuses: a debate with a representative from the government vs. an antiwar professor, plus a moderator. At first attendance was low and pro-government; within a year the meetings were packed, and by 1965 the government had ceased to send a representative, for they always lost. Those who had organized the teach-ins then began the organization of what became mass demonstrations against the war.

– See more at: http://www.stateofnature.org/?p=5548#sthash.hO9gINBq.dpuf