Mao Is Murder

 

Mao Zedong’s most famous aphorism could well be, “Revolution is not a dinner party.”  But perhaps he should have said, “Revolution is a dinner party where the main course is human flesh.”  Here’s one gripping episode from Frank Dikötter’s The Tragedy of Liberation.

In April 1948, the communists advanced towards Changchun itself. Led by Lin Biao, a gaunt man who had trained at the Whampoa Military Academy, they laid siege to the city. Lin was considered one of the best battlefield commanders and a brilliant strategist. He was also ruthless. When he realised that Zheng Dongguo, the defending commander in Changchun, would not capitulate, he ordered the city to be starved into surrender. On 30 May 1948 came his command: ‘Turn Changchun into a city of death.’

Inside Changchun were some 500,000 civilians, many of them refugees who had fled the communist advance and were trapped in their journey south to Beijing after the railway lines had been cut. A hundred thousand nationalist troops were also garrisoned inside the city. Curfew was imposed almost immediately, keeping people indoors from eight at night to five in the morning. All able-bodied men were made to dig trenches. Nobody was allowed to leave. People who refused to be searched by sentries were liable to be shot on the spot. Yet an air of goodwill still prevailed in the first weeks of the siege, as emergency supplies were dropped by air. Some of the well-to-do even established a Changchun Mobilisation Committee, supplying sweets and cigarettes, comforting the wounded and setting up tea stalls for the men.

But soon the situation deteriorated. Changchun became an isolated island, beleaguered by 200,000 communist troops who dug tunnel defences and cut off the underground water supply to the city. Two dozen anti-aircraft guns and heavy artillery bombarded the city all day long, concentrating their fire on government buildings. The nationalists built three defensive lines of pillboxes around Changchun. Between the nationalists and the communists lay a vast no man’s land soon taken over by bandits.

On 12 June 1948 Chiang Kai-shek cabled an order reversing the ban on people leaving the city. Even without enemy fire, his planes could not possibly parachute in enough supplies to meet the needs of an entire city. But the anti-aircraft artillery of the communists forced them to fly at an altitude of 3,000 metres. Many of the airdrops landed outside the area controlled by the nationalists. In order to prevent a famine, the national­ists encouraged the populace to head for the countryside. Once they had left they were not allowed back, as they could not be fed…

Few ever made it past the communist lines.  Lin Biao had placed a sentry every 50 metres along barbed wire and trenches 4 metres deep.  Every exit was blocked.  He reported back to Mao: ‘We don’t allow the refugees to leave and exhort them to turn back. This method was very effective in the beginning, but later the famine got worse, and starving civilians would leave the city in droves at all times of day and night, and after we turned them down they started gathering in the area between our troops and the enemy.’

What was the point of this cruelty?  Victory:

By the end of June, some 30,000 people were caught in the area between the communists, who would not allow them to pass, and the nationalists, who refused to let them back in the city.  Hundreds dried every day.  Two months later, more than 150,000 civilians were pressed inside the death zone, reduced to eating grass and leaves, doomed to slow starvation.

[…]

Soldiers absconded throughout the siege.  Unlike the civilians who were driven back, they were welcomed by the communists and promised good food and lenient treatment.

And victory was indeed achieved:

Hailed in China’s history books as a decisive victory in the battle of Manchuria, the fall of Changchun came at huge cost, as an estimated 160,000 civilians were starved to death inside the area besieged by the communists.  ‘Changchun was like Hiroshima,’ wrote Zhang Zhenglong, a lieutenant in the People’s Liberation Army who documented the siege.  ‘The casualties were about the same.  Hiroshima took nine seconds; Changchun took five months.’

Victory, however, was the basis for decades of tyranny and tragedy.  Why?  Because the Maoists, devoted followers of Lenin, only practiced “By any means necessary” when trying to gain and hold power.  Otherwise, their motto was, “Whatever strikes our fancy.”

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Glad to See Space Escape Government

I admit it: I’ve always been a bit of a space geek. Or, would that be “space nerd?”

Whatever the term, I love space flight, and am especially excited to see it beginning to escape the stagnant, innovation-crushing monopoly of government.

I’ve enjoyed watching the recent rocket launches and the tests of the experimental vehicles. I am pulling for humans to walk on Mars in my lifetime; thinking it’s looking more likely all the time.

I resent government agencies pretending to have some political authority over space flight and the companies practicing it, but the nature of government is to get in the way. Government offices are filled with hordes of people unqualified to do anything but issue or deny permits, and they are going to keep asserting control — fighting the future — as long as they can get away with it.

I also realize when people move to another world — whether a planet or a moon — they’ll probably pollute the place with some sort of government.

I wish they’d establish a society instead, but since most people mistakenly conflate society and government they’ll probably make the wrong choice.

The most foolish thing they might do would be to accept an Earth government’s attempt to govern a colony on another world. And you know they’ll try. Gotta keep milking those “tax cows” and make sure the Earth laws are being enforced. Can’t allow liberty to get a foot-hold anywhere, or it might give Earth inhabitants dangerous ideas.

I’ve thought for decades that unless a new, attainable frontier opens up soon, the human race is doomed. Some people are fine with being jammed together in a politically controlled environment, but some of us aren’t. This is why humans have always journeyed over the horizon.

The first church steeple or courthouse was enough to make some frontiersmen decide it was time to pack up and move to freer spaces. This option has been closed off for too long now, and it’s having dangerous consequences.

I doubt I’d go to Mars or the Moon, even if I had the opportunity. Especially not for a one-way trip. I like uncultivated plants, wild animals and free air too much.

Will space, “the final frontier,” open soon enough to salvage humanity? Will it be a place of liberty or oppression? I don’t know for sure, but it’s finally looking a little hopeful for the first time in decades. We aren’t there yet, but we’re going. It’s just a matter of time.

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Universal Basic Income is a Totalitarian State’s Dream Scheme

Andrew Yang’s small but solid polling in the Democratic Party’s 2020 nomination race shows that “Universal Basic Income” has gone from a fringe idea to an idea with a foothold in the popular consciousness.

Supporters of a basic income span the political spectrum and the economic upheavals of the 21st century — especially fears that automation will increasingly replace human workers — are likely to fuel its journey to the center of policy discussions over the next few years.

A guaranteed income for the masses isn’t here, but it may well be coming. That’s a bad thing.

Let’s assume that the problems a UBI seeks to address are real, vexing, and intractable: That this generation of automation, unlike past iterations, will destroy more jobs than it creates and lower rather than raise wages.

Let’s also assume that a universal income guarantee at, say, the poverty line would cost less and address those problems more efficiently  than expanded versions of existing welfare programs.

Those assumptions, correct or not, leave out one major problem that a UBI would create rather than solve. The problem, put simply, is that a Universal Basic Income would quickly turn into an iron-fisted tool of social and individual control by the entity writing those monthly checks (the government).

A Universal Basic Income wouldn’t be “universal.” Some exclusions (for example, prison inmates) would almost certainly be baked into it from the start. Others would quickly follow. Are you a FORMER felon? Is your name on a sex offender registry or no-fly list? Are you behind on child support or late filing a tax return? Do you make “too much” money above the UBI? Did you fail a random drug test?

Suppose you don’t fall into any of those categories. You’re an upright citizen. The UBI hits your bank account reliably every month. You come to depend on it, even if you’re otherwise employed. It takes the edge off poverty or covers the little extras you’ve become accustomed to.

Then your paymasters in Washington announce that unless Policy X is implemented, the UBI will regrettably have to be eliminated, or cut, or a cost-of-living increase skipped.

Policy X might be one of the exclusions mentioned above. Or it might be something seemingly only tenuously, if at all, related to the UBI itself. A trade war, even a shooting war, premised on an economic downturn being another country’s “fault.” Another housing crash, necessitating another bailout of banks and investment houses with cockamamie trading policies.  You name it, politicians will figure out a way to weaponize an income guarantee to get you on their side of it.

So, do you Support Policy X and the politicians advocating for it, or risk that monthly income guarantee to support what you really think is right?

Maybe you’re a person of principle. Maybe you’ll stand up for what’s right even if it costs you. But will your neighbors?

The cost of a UBI would be total state power. And that would be a terrible deal to take.

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Three Generations of Manhood in Homer’s “The Odyssey”

Today I finished reading The Odyssey, that complex, brilliant, violent, old, relevant epic poem about the journey home of Greek hero Odysseus.

I have many thoughts about this book (“why is the ending so abrupt?” “Wow, Odysseus is wily and violent.” “These feast descriptions make me hungry.” “Athena is one super-cool lady.”) here at the ending, but one scene in particular stands out.

(READ NO FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO HAVE THE STORY SPOILED.)

Odysseus and his son Telemachus, having slain the abusive suitors of Odysseus’s wife Penelope, flee Odysseus’s home in Ithaca and come to the home of his father, Laertes. Laertes has missed and then mourned his son for 20 years, so the reunion is one of the most touching of this book of reunions.

Later, when some men of Ithaca come in pursuit of Odysseus (wanting to avenge their fallen sons and brothers), all three generations of Greek heroes suit up for battle: Odysseus, Telemachus, even old Laertes. A friendly banter of bravado strikes up as Telemachus and Odysseus prepare for battle, prompting Laertes to celebrate:

“What a day for me, dear gods! What joy-

My son and my grandson vying over courage!”

Then the goddess Athena grants Laertes strength and skill beyond his age and he:

“. . . Lifted a mighty prayer to mighty Zeus’s daughter

brandished his spear a moment, winged it fast

and hit Eupithes. . .”

Laertes, after 20 years of waiting and many years of decrepitude and aging, comes back into his own (even if briefly) and fights alongside his son and grandson in the final battle of the story.

It is a beautiful thing when three generations of men can experience their manhood together. We see in this scene something that must have been especially valued and especially rare in the ancient world. Even if the violence is not so attractive now, the cooperation of three generations is still a magnificent thing.

Laertes of course makes me think of my own grandfather, who would have turned 92 yesterday. I did have the chance to let him see me come into manhood, but I do wish that we could have been men together: him, my father, and me. We would have been a formidable team, not fighting vengeful Greeks but certainly in making things grow, keeping up our farm, and taking care of others in our lives with our full energies and powers.

I hope that my father lives well enough to work alongside me and his grandson(s) one day. This was a fitting ending to The Odyssey and a fitting plot point to any good life of men.

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Questioning the Back-To-School Default

Back-to-school time is upon us. My Instagram feed is starting to fill with first-day photos as a new school year begins this week in some parts of the country. For those of us who homeschool, we often get asked, “So, why did you decide to homeschool?” We respond with various personal and educational reasons, including the top motivator for homeschoolers on national surveys: “concern about the school environment.” What always strikes me, though, is that parents who send their kids to school never get asked this question. When was the last time someone asked a parent, “So, why did you decide to send your child to school?”

Societal Expectations and Defaults

Schooling is the default. It’s the societally expected thing to do. It’s also mandated of parents under a legal threat of force, so they may not think much of it. The trouble is that schooling is beginning to take on a much larger role in a child’s life, disconnecting children from family at much earlier ages and for longer portions of a child’s day and year. Even compulsory schooling laws are expanding in many states, to begin at age five and extend to age 18.

I wrote an op-ed about this trend in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, arguing that there are benefits to delaying early schooling for most children and potential harms with sending children to school early, such as increased ADHD diagnosis rates. It can be worthwhile to question the default.

In his book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant writes that a hallmark of originals and change-makers is their tendency to question, and often reject, societal defaults. Grant writes:

Justifying the default system serves a soothing function. It’s an emotional painkiller: If the world is supposed to be this way, we don’t need to be dissatisfied with it. But acquiescence also robs us of the moral outrage to stand against injustice and the creative will to consider alternative ways that the world could work. The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists. (p. 7)

Better options than compulsory mass schooling do exist, and many more would be created if more parents challenged the default. We should be outraged that schooling has seized so much of childhood and adolescence, particularly when the results of all this schooling are lackluster at best and concerning at worst. We should be outraged that government schools increasingly look like prisons and that students are being schooled for jobs that no longer exist. We should question whether a system in which only one-quarter of high school seniors are proficient in math, and only a bit over one-third of them are proficient readers, should be given greater influence and authority over young people’s lives. We should really wonder if it makes sense to place our children in this swelling system, whether they are toddlers or teens. Surely, we should “consider alternative ways that the world could work.”

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Alternative Options

What are these alternative ways? Jessica Koehler has a great article this month at Psychology Today where she lists some of these alternatives and also explains her own journey of shifting from schooling to homeschooling for her children. In addition to homeschooling/unschooling, parents can delay preschool and kindergarten, explore various co-ops and learning centers, take advantage of one of the many micro-schools that are sprouting nationwide, and explore alternative programs for teens, like community college enrollment, travel, or apprenticeships. Or they can build their own alternative to school with other like-minded parents. Other options are virtual learning programs, including public ones, and nearby public charter schools or private schools that can sometimes offer flexible learning and attendance options.

Questioning the schooling default, and acting upon that doubt, can be difficult. It is much easier to put a child on a school bus and be just like everyone else. It is easier to go along. But it may not be better—for you, your child, or the world you could help to create. As Adam Grant says, it’s the non-conformists who move the world. These originals are the ones who question the status quo, refuse to tolerate discontent, and imagine new possibilities. Grant writes:

Ultimately, the people who choose to champion originality are the ones who propel us forward….They feel the same fear, the same doubt, as the rest of us. What sets them apart is that they take action anyway. (p. 28)

We all care deeply about educating children to be literate, competent, inventive, compassionate, and thoughtful. It’s time we question if compulsory mass schooling really has the ability to facilitate these outcomes, for our children and others, or whether alternatives to school might do the job better. It’s time to challenge defaults.

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“España Es Como Una Madre”

Our most memorable Uber driver in Madrid was a young Pakistani man.  We gave him twenty minutes; he gave us his odyssey.  Too bad I failed to record the conversation, because this would have been a great interview to broadcast on Spanish radio.

Our driver’s story: Back in Pakistan, he lived in hunger, so he left home to seek his fortune.  In popular parlance, he became part of the “European migrant crisis.”  He traveled solo, journeying from Pakistan to Iran to Turkey.  Then he zigzagged around the EU, passing through Greece, Romania, Germany, Italy, and France.  Our driver gave few details, but each of these countries treated him badly.  He had to hide from the authorities, and could not legally work.

After three months, however, he reached Spain – and his life turned around.  My Spanish sources tell me that migrants must normally wait three years to receive work permission, but my driver somehow managed to get his work papers almost immediately.

Three years later, he speaks Spanish, has plenty to eat, and loves his new home.  Indeed, he practically describes Spain as a libertarian paradise: work hard, don’t hurt people, don’t steal, and you’ll have a good life.  Using his Spanish travel documents, he was even able to visit Britain.  He liked it, but saw no hope of ever legally working there.

My Spanish is very poor, but I had no trouble understanding our driver when he gushed, “España es como una madre” – “Spain is like a mother.”  He didn’t say a word about government benefits; he was overjoyed to live in a country where he could live in peace and get ahead by working hard.  Though we didn’t even have a language in common, he was my kind of guy.  The American Dream is also the Spanish Dream, because both are the World Dream.

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