10. April 14, 2023
Ukraine and Taiwan in the Global Colonial and Post-Colonial context of Imperial Wars part 2
Continuing with Timothy Snyder’s “Making of Modern Ukraine” final lecture of April 9th in quotations with my responses thinking about Taiwan in italics. (Note: I was overjoyed to discover that my longtime mentor, Jerome Alan Cohen, whose Foreign Affairs article from October 1st, 1971 Recognizing China, I’d reread this morning, is reading these posts. I’m grateful to him for pointing out that I misspelled Timothy Snyder’s name several times when the last post went out. Apologies! Thank you, Jerry!)
“In Germany from 1945-1989, the main story is the division of the country. Germany loses its eastern territories. What remains of Germany is divided into a West Germany and an East Germany, one democratic, one communist. From the point of view of West Germany, the major story is of one’s own victimhood. We were bombed at the end of the war, so many of our men died. We lost all this territory. Our country was divided. The major story in the 50s, 60s, into the 70s is one’s own victimhood. This business of Germany taking responsibility for the second world war is a relatively recent development and quite partial.
The discussion of German responsibility for the war begins as a discussion of the Holocaust which is very important. It allows other discussions. And it’s tremendously important in and of itself. The problem with the discussion of the Holocaust which takes place in Germany in the 70s and 80s is that it’s missing a lot of important things. It’s missing any discussion of East European territories. It’s missing any discussion of territory at all. And it’s missing perhaps most critically the German imperialism which got Germany out into Eastern Europe in the first place, a crucial part of the history of the Holocaust because that is where the Jews lived. So without the German imperial ambition to get to Ukraine, there could not have been a Holocaust because those territories are where the Jews or most of the Jews actually lived.
Though in this discussion of the Holocaust one of the things which is missing is the German imperial ambition. You get self-criticism about the Holocaust but it’s limited. It doesn’t have territory. And the Jews who are most important in this discussion are the German Jews. Of course that is very important history. But German Jews are only about 3% of the victims of the Holocaust. So that story can’t be a representative one. And it can’t be one which is going to get Germans to think about the broader geographical scope of the war. Whereas the history of the Holocaust tends to be one that moves you to a place where you can talk about other crimes, for example, Jews in Eastern Europe are some of our witnesses to the starvation of Soviet POWs. If you focus on Germany, all you have are the Germans and the Jews which is a very different story and you’re not being forced to think about the other crimes, let alone the other peoples further East.
In the 1970s, West German social democratic governments begin a process of Reconciliation with the Soviet Union. This is the Soviet Union of Brezhnev. So what we have underneath this reconciliation is the meeting of 2 stories about what actually happened in WW2. By this time, by the 1970s, there’s a Soviet story. The Soviet story is a cult of the war, in which we were the victims as well as the victors - the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and Soviet alliance with Nazi Germany completely taboo. The documents are hidden away. No one is remembering that. It’s a Russified cult of the war.
This meets a German story, in which Germans are increasingly ready to take responsibility for the second world war, and the way that Germans move in this direction is to direct the apologetic energy toward the Moscow center. In Germany as in the Soviet Union, the idea that WW2 was about tens of millions of dead Russians becomes normal. WW2 did involve millions of dead Russians, but the scale of suffering was actually greater in Ukraine and Belarus than it was in Russia. And the story in which Russia monopolizes both the victory and the victimhood, also starts to become natural in Germany.
In this weird way, what is actually meeting is a Russian quiet imperialism, the administrative Russification of the 1970s, with the remnants of a German imperialism, a kind of German implicit imperialism, or at the very least, the total absence of a reckoning with German imperialism which means that it’s totally natural that in this situation no one talks about Ukraine at all. The Germans have no reason to talk about Ukraine because there’s been no historical reckoning. So Russia’s silences about Ukraine seem completely natural.”
I’m thinking about how when President Nixon and National Security Advisor Kissinger met with Chairman Mao and Prime Minister Zhou in 1972 neither side did any reckoning about American or Chinese imperialism. I wrote about that meeting in my first post. By 1972, China was completing diplomatic normalizations with the most important Western European countries – France, West Germany, Italy, and the UK — not to mention Australia, Canada, and Japan. What were they thinking about Taiwan at that time if they thought about it?
By 1975, when the Chinese government was still waiting on the US to de-recognize Taiwan and recognize China, Winston Lord, director of the Office of Policy Planning of the State Department, took these now declassified notes on a top level meeting which show that the Chinese side wanted the US side to control Taiwan for them and that the Chinese side, Chairman Mao in particular, asked the US to amp up the China threat to keep Taiwan afraid. This is why Taiwan feels like such a pawn in a game being played by the US and China where the two sides are actually and always have been colluding, on each other’s side, and not only leaving Taiwan out in the cold, but torturing it by amping up the China (PRC) threat which serves both their interests in serving each other anytime it looks like Taiwan might want to achieve self-determination. In the 70s, the Taiwanese people were also literally being tortured by a Chinese dictatorial KMT regime backed by the US.
Meets Chairman Mao
[Text] Peking. October 21, 1975 (HSINHUA)--Chairman Mao Tsetung (Mao Ze-dong) this evening met with Dr Henry A. Kissinger, U.S. secretary of state and assistant to the President for national security affairs, his wife Nancy M. Kissinger and his party…
Chairman Mao shook hands with all the American guests and had a conversation in a friendly atmosphere with Dr. Kissinger, George Bush and Winston Lord on a wide range of questions. Chairman Mao aaked Dr. Kissinger to convey his regards to President Ford.
Present on the occasion were Vice-Premier Teng Hsiao-ping, Foreign Minister Chiao Kuan-hua, chief of the Chinese Liaison Office in the U.S.A. Huang Chen, Vice-Foreign Minister Wang Hai-jung and deputy departmental directors of the Foreign Ministry Tang Wen-sheng and Chang Han-chih.
The Main Themes
This meeting was on the whole disturbing, signifying a cooling of our relationship linked to the Chinese perception of the US as a fading strategic power in the face of Soviet advance. Though the session was cordial, it was considerably less so than previous encounters. In November 1973 the conversation was described by the Chinese as "friendly," "wide-ranging," and "far-sighted." This time the third adjective was omitted. We both still have a "common opponent" (the Soviet Union) but whereas before there was a feeling of working in parallel to counter this threat, this time the message was that the US could not be counted upon to resist pressures and therefore China was going to have to go it alone.
It is true that we "stood on the shoulders" of China to gain leverage on Moscow in the 1971-3 period, but that is "useless" now --presumably both because China won't let itself be used and because detente is in trouble. Thus our policy now is marked by maneuvering and Dr, Kissinger's very busy travels. We are flail away in a rear guard action against the Soviet hegemonic tide which is sweeping toward war: we are "swallows" who are "busy" before "the wind and rain" come. We may be able to postpone the Soviet storm, but it is inescapably on its way.
This turbulent international situation is much more crucial than Taiwan. For now it is better to have the us keep the island under control rather than having it go independent or toward Moscow or Tokyo. The Chinese can wait patiently until the time is ripe, but then they will have to use force. By implication, the us should not ask for peaceful assurances, but it can take its time letting Taiwan go.
The future of China's policies is uncertain. Mao and his followers --Premier Chou, Marshall Yeh, and (noticeably) Vice Premier Teng are all old and "will not do," "will not make it out." There is criticism, perhaps internal, of Mao as being a "warlord" (too anti-Russian?) and a "bureaucrat" (too much emphasis on production?).
Thus China will go it alone -"rifles and millet." Let all the world curse it as a "warlord" or "warmonger." That only makes Mao happy. The Chinese will prepare for "the wind and the rain." And if Moscow attacks, Peking will suck the Russians in, let them occupy the big cities a la Napoleon, and mobilize for a victorious counter-attack.
The US (and Kissinger) are "not reliable." See the general themes above. We are "swallows" before the storm. We "maneuvering" and "busy" -though both are allowable/they are apparently at best delaying actions. We are prone to "Dunkirks." We won't use nuclear weapons. We are no longer "far-sighted."
Our domestic structure is weak. Watergate was mishandled and magnified. Our media (Times) and our Congress (Goldwater) are sapping our strength.
China is relatively backward --both in strength and in our priorities. After America comes Russia, Europe, Japan and then China.
"Europe is too soft now." They are afraid of the Soviet Union. "Europe is too "scattered," "loose," "spread out." East and West Germany should unite under West German domination (so as to pressure the Soviet Union.)
"Japan is seeking hegemony."
US policy toward the Soviet Union is confused and ineffectual. It is variously described as "Dunkirk" appeasement, frantic maneuvering, using China to get to Moscow, joining Moscow in hurling epithets at the PRC. At the same time Moscow remains a "common opponent" of both China and the US and when war breaks out, then (but only then) we should consider joint cooperation.
In any ,event Schlesinger should come to China and visit the areas near the Soviet Union (so as to push us towards confrontation with Moscow). He is presumably welcome because he makes preparations and cries out rather than flying around like a "swallow."
"The small issue is Taiwan, the big issue is the world."They can wait 100 years, for Taiwan is "unwantable," indigestible ("full of counter-revolutionaries"). It's better for the US to keep the island under control for the time being.
China will rely on itself. "Rifles and millet." The Dunkirk strategy if necessary. The Chairman likes to be cursed (unlike Americans who worry about their image?); only then does he pay attention to someone. Dr. Kissinger should go ahead and publicize Chinese aggression against China (Taiwan) and Korea. "I will only be happy when all foreigners slam on tables and curse me." China needs to know its enemies (including the US?) so as to be vigilant: "If you don't curse me, I won't see you, and I will just sleep peacefully."
Snyder continues: “After 1989, we reach a moment where we have tremendous change, of rapid geopolitical realignment, where from the German point of view (we’re now under Christian democratic governance headed by Helmut Kohl) what we have is historical justice. We have unification. East Germany and West Germany are brought together. The most interesting anti-imperial move that’s made at this time, was made by the Poles. When the Poles recognize the Ukrainian border before Ukraine is even independent, they’re making an anti-imperial move vis a vis themselves which makes it much easier for Germans to make the same move vis a vis Poland.
All the way up until 1990, Germany had not recognized its border with Poland. The fact that the Poles put any national quarrels with the Ukrainians out of the question, made it somewhat more likely that the same outcome would prevail on the German Polish border. And the lack of national conflict or border conflict is one of the reasons why the European Union can enlarge as it will to embrace many of the former communist states in 2004, 2007, 2013.
During this time, unified Germany is the most important democracy in Europe. It’s the biggest economy, a very functional democracy and may already be the most important democracy in the world, but you can’t tell the Germans that. As we enter the 21st century, the Germans have a reputation for having dealt with the past which is only partially justified. One has to be careful here because the Germans are, of course, pioneers in identifying a particular historical evil which is the Holocaust and beginning a story of addressing it. And that has been good for their democracy. And in general Truth and Reconciliation is good for democracy.
The problem with this reflection is that it was thought to have been completed. The idea was that, by the time we got to the end of the Cold War, we the Germans have already gone through this process. Now we’re in a position to be a model for other people. Whereas in fact, the end of the Cold War created an opportunity to think about Eastern Europe more broadly and about the German war and the East more broadly which is the thing that doesn’t happen.
The form the criticism very often takes is that other people in Eastern Europe, in Poland for example, or in Ukraine, don’t understand how important peace is. Peace is the crucial category.
What the Germans will say again and again (this spans the political spectrum) is that peace is the important thing. But peace is not what happened to Germany. Defeat is what happened to Germany. But you won’t find Germans arguing that imperial powers have to be defeated. What you find them arguing is that peace is a good thing. There’s no reflection on empire. There’s no imperial analysis in this framework.
There is room for criticism of decline of democracy in a minor key, but here the Germans (again this a broad consensus) generally miss the most important and obvious case in the decline of democracy which is Russia in 1993-2000. But in any event, the rise of Putin in 1999-2000 is a hugely important turning point because it’s here that Russia fails to have competitive elections. Where one Russian president Yeltsin, anoints the next one, Putin. Putin stages a war. You avoid that thing which is so crucial for the success of a democratic system in which somebody coming from somewhere else unexpectedly is a candidate and wins.
Here you have instead the person at the center of the system picking the next person who’s the center of the system. This is the moment when Russian democracy fails. Likewise, there is very little recognition in Germany of the significance of the reverse happening in 2004-2005 in Ukraine.”
I’m thinking about how 1989 is a moment when the Chinese people’s peaceful Tiananmen Square protests to gain democratic reforms fail. Meanwhile, in the US there is very little recognition of the reverse starting to happen in Taiwan with the lifting of martial law in 1987 and all of the reforms President Lee Deng-hui would usher in after the death of Chiang Ching-kuo in 1988. When the people of Taiwan rose up in the Wild Lily movement of 1990, Lee Denghui listened and began to meet their demands.
To be continued…
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