Wild Justice: Inscrutable Orientals; Cops & Death

Written by Alexander Cockburn on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.


There’s much fluttering among the pundits about the enigmatic North Koreans, much puzzlement about that nation’s motives in withdrawing from the nonproliferation treaty and telling the U.S. it’s pressing forward with nuclear manufactures. Now let’s see. President George W. Bush announces at the start of last year that North Korea is part of the axis of evil, and therefore a sworn foe of the U.S., just like Iraq and Iran. Then President George Bush emphasizes that the United States has reserved the right to "first use" of its nuclear arsenal. Then President George Bush says the United States will not hesitate to exercise this privilege.

Is the North Korean response so mysterious? It’s not as though they haven’t listened to some pretty serious nuclear saber-rattling before. In the winter of 1950 Gen. Douglas MacArthur asked the Joint Chiefs to give the go-ahead to his plan to drop "between thirty and fifty atomic bombs across the neck of the Korean peninsula." The Joint Chiefs, according to the account given by Jon Halliday and Bruce Cumings in their book Unknown War, came close to giving him the green light. Late in 1951, in Operation Hudson Harbor, a lone B-52 was sent over Pyongyang, as if on a nuclear bombing run.

From 1957 on, as Gavan McCormack reminds us in the current edition of New Left Review, the U.S. kept an intimidating stockpile close to the DMZ, when the North had no nuclear capability. Only pressure from the peace movement in South Korea prompted the U.S. to remove this in 1991. If we are to believe Hans Kristensen in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Sept.-Oct. 2002), the U.S. ran rehearsals for a long-range bombing strike on North Korea up to 1998, maybe even to this very day. As McCormack writes, the DPRK does want "an end to the threat of nuclear annihilation under which it has lived for longer than any other nation."

The North Koreans made the usual mistake of believing Bill Clinton, who signed onto a deal brokered by Jimmy Carter in 1994, known as the Geneva "Agreed Framework." North Korea would drop its plutonium-based nuclear program, and would get in return two electricity-generating light-water reactors. The U.S. also pledged it would move toward "normalization of political and economic relations." The U.S. Congress wouldn’t sign on, and so nothing happened. Then President George Bush broke off all discussions. North Korea, with a million or two already starved to death, 200,000 out of a population of 23 million in labor camps, and saddled with terror and leader-worship, started to play their lone nuclear card once more.

And, one has to say, they’re playing it pretty deftly. The man who seems to have made an utter hash of things is President George Bush.

Cops & Death

Police work continues to be a relatively safe occupation. The Associated Press reports that 147 officers were killed in 2002. In the 1970s, an average of 220 officers died each year. In the 1980s, 185 officers were killed on average, with the average number dropping to 155 in the 1990s.

Craig Floyd, chairman of the Memorial Fund, commented that "law enforcement remains the most dangerous occupation in America today, and those who serve and make the ultimate sacrifice are true portraits in courage." This is nonsense. Compared to the perils of being a retail clerk in a 7-Eleven or toiling on a construction site, let alone working on a trawler in the Gulf of Alaska, logging in the Pacific Northwest or working in a deep mine, police work is pretty safe.

The public apprehension that cops are often borderline psychotic, hair-trigger-ready to open fire on the slightest pretext, virtually immune from serious sanction, is growing apace, fueled by such incidents as the recent dog slaughter on an interstate in Tennessee. Last week CNN featured grainy film of the episode taken from one of the police cruisers.

James Smoak plus wife Pamela and son Brandon were traveling from Nashville along Interstate 40 to their Saluda, NC, home on New Year’s Day when they noticed a trooper following them. In Cookeville, about 90 miles east of Nashville, the Smoaks were pulled over by the trooper and three local police cars. The cops ordered them out of the car, made them kneel and then handcuffed them.

At this point the Smoaks family implored the police to shut the doors of their car so the two family dogs couldn’t jump out. The cops did nothing. Out hopped Patton the bulldog. A cop promptly raised his shotgun and blew its head off, amid the horrified screams of the Smoaks family.

Of course the cops later said Patton was acting in a threatening manner and that the uniformed shotgunner "took the only action he could to protect himself and gain control of the situation," but the film seems to show Patton wagging his tail the moment before he was blown away.

Why were the Smoaks stopped by the four-car posse? Mr. Smoaks had left his wallet on the roof of his car at the filling station, and someone phoned in a report that he’d seen the wallet fly off of a car and fall onto the highway with money spilling out. Well, I guess Mr. Smoaks won’t make that silly mistake again.

Scroll through some Middle America websites and you’ll find much fury about what happened to Patton, as an episode ripely indicative of how cops carry on these days. Here’s "Police State in Progress," by Dorothy Anne Seese writing in the sparky Sierra Times of Jan. 6. The Times bills itself as "An Internet Publication for Real Americans." After relating the death of Patton, Seese brought up other recent police rampages:

"A couple of months ago, a woman was shot to death in her car at a drive-through Walgreens pharmacy for trying to get Soma by a forged prescription. The officer who shot the woman—who had a 14-month old baby with her in the car—claimed self-defense because the woman was trying to run over him. However, the medical examiner found she had been shot from an angle to the left and rear of her position in the driver’s seat. Self defense? The officer is under investigation for second-degree murder and has been fired from the Chandler police department. However, a child is motherless, a man has been deprived of his wife and companion, the mother of his child, because his wife tried to get a drug with a phony prescription. Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s daughter did the same thing and got a slap on the wrist. It seems the law now considers everyone guilty until proven innocent, with people in high places excepted. The number of horror stories increases daily in Amerika."

There was a time when "Amerika" was a word solely in left currency. Not anymore, if the conservative, populist Sierra Times is any guide. Check out its Whack’em & Stack’em feature about killings by cops and you’ll sense the temperature of outrage.

White House Press Room, Jan. 6

Ari Fleischer: Actually, the President has made it very clear that he has no dispute with the people of Iraq. That’s why the American policy remains a policy of regime change. There is no question the people of Iraq—

Helen Thomas: That’s a decision for them to make, isn’t it? It’s their country.

Fleischer: Helen, if you think that the people of Iraq are in a position to dictate who their dictator is, I don’t think that has been what history has shown.

Thomas: I think many countries don’t have—people don’t have the decision—including us…

Russell Mokhiber: Ari, other than Elliott Abrams, how many convicted criminals are on the White House staff?

Fleischer: [Laughter.] You tell me, Russell. You seem to keep count.

Mokhiber: Can you give me a list of convicted criminals on the White House staff, other than Elliott Abrams?

Fleischer: I’ll go right to the convicted criminals division and ask them to turn— [Laughter.]

Mokhiber: No, seriously—why isn’t being convicted of a crime a disqualifier for being on the White House staff?

Fleischer: Russell, this is an issue that you like to repeat every briefing. I refer you to the—

Mokhiber: But you don’t answer—

Fleischer: …I gave you the third time you asked it, which matched the second, which corresponded to the first.

These exchanges show Fleischer to advantage. You think Mokhiber, co-editor of the excellent Multinational Monitor, would have been repeatedly allowed into the press room in Clinton Time?

Those Early Vietnam Demos

In the past few weeks veterans of these early marches have been pooling their memories. Here’s a recollection to me of one of the earliest, from Lawrence Reichard, who these days works as an organizer in Stockton, CA, defending rural workers.

"In the spring of 1962," Reichard writes, "when I was three years old, my mother dragged me to a demonstration against the U.S. war in Laos in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There were five people at that demo. My mom, my older brother, me and two others."

Then, "In 1969 I rode in a VW bus from Charlotte, N.C. to Washington, D.C. for an anti-war demo that drew 500,000. According to Daniel Ellsberg that demo made Nixon reconsider the madman recommendation of his joints chiefs of staff to nuke Vietnam within a few miles of the Chinese border."

That trip was especially memorable for him, Reichard continues, because he made it with the family of Norman Morrison, who immolated himself in front of the Pentagon in protest over the war. Reichard recalls that he read later that LBJ’s aides cut mention of Morrison’s death out of his newspapers so he wouldn’t see it.

"On the rare occasion that I’m asked to speak at a demo, and the turnout is low," Reichard concludes, "I speak about the turnout in Cedar Rapids, and the turnout in D.C. years later, as a way to rally the troops and lift spirits. Imperialism and colonialism are not stopped in a day!" He points out that "It is also noteworthy that in 1954 the American Friends Service Committee wrote a letter to the Eisenhower administration warning against U.S. involvement in Vietnam."

Reichard ended thus, "The anti-war movement has much to be proud of. To the absolute fury of the right wing, the anti-war movement of yesterday and today still, to this day, shackles this country’s ability to wage unfettered war. Right off the bat they have to forget about any war that might last more than six months or cost more than a few hundred U.S. lives. For this you can thank the peace movement and the Vietnamese, who, at tremendous cost, beat us militarily. The entire world owes a tremendous debt to the Vietnamese."

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