I’m comin’ home, I’ve done my time
Now I’ve got to know what is and isn’t mine
If you received my letter telling you I’d soon be free
Then you’ll know just what to do if you still want me
If you still want me
Whoa, tie a yellow ribbon ’round the ole oak tree
It’s been three long years, do you still want me?
— Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown
The US-Mexico Border
Children are alone in “detention centers.”The government of the USA, Our Government, has been engaging in kidnapping. They tookover 2,000 children from countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. They moved them straight from the arms of their parents into abandoned Wall-Marts, office buildings, cages, and what looked like “dog kennels.”
Most of the children have been returned to their parents, but at the time of this writing, 900 have not. Many of the children, some of them toddlers, are still being abused. (Forced separation itself is abuse). It is anyone’s guess when the parents and children will be reunited. Many of the parents will have to go through reams of red tape and spend many thousands of dollars before they can get their children back. Altogether in the end, perhaps a million dollars will be spent by innocent, impoverished families seeking asylum in a land of ten million millionaires, in the land where stands the Statue of Liberty. On what? On expensive DNA tests to prove they are the parent, and on airplane tickets for their childandfor the government employee escorting the child. “We’re not paying to right our country’s wrongs. We have bankers to bail out.” Is USA, Inc. actually profiting from Our Government’s kidnappings?
Take the case of Jefferson Che Pop, a 6-year-old child from Guatemala (LA Times, 15 July 2018). He and his father were separated by Our Government for two months. When they finally gave Jefferson back, he had a rash on his arms, stomach, and back; one bruised red eye; and a cough and runny nose. He was thinner than the day he was taken away and hardly talking. He is fluent in Mayan Q’eqchi’, not Spanish or English. Who sat by his side each night as he cried himself to sleep?
Exhibit B. Ludin, a 43-year old Guatemalan mother, was told “forget about your children.” She worried herself sick that she might never see them again—a 9-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son (NY Times, 29 June 2018). Unlike some of the children, her 9-year-old daughter was unable to sleep at night. Ludin’s family ordeal lasted 40 days—a traumatic experience for a daughter, a son, a mother, and a father. This is what Attorney General Jeff “Goebbels” Sessions called a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. Even toddlers and children under the age of 5 were taken from their parents—over 100 of them. Among them were babies still being breastfed!
Jefferson was separated from his family for two months. Is Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon the only senator stating what we all know? Putting refugees—especially children!—in cages is wrong. Period. No child should ever be separated and caged, no matter what their reason for coming to the US. Studies have shown that children separated from their parents for their safety during war are more traumatized than children who cowered under the bombs with their parents. In a country where trauma resulting from separation has been well-documented, it is unconscionable that we are treating children this way.
What could be worse than this case of Our Government separating children from their family members? Sadly, in our nation’s past, there are even worse examples of dividing families, and the victims continue to suffer: the brutal separation of African-American families on the slave auction block and the separation of indigenous children into boarding schools are just two examples.
But there is another example of wholesale separation, so abrupt and massive that we avert our eyes: Consider the huge numbers of separated families along the Demilitarized Zone (“DMZ”), an artificial border that sliced apart a people with a shared language and culture, who lived in one region as a single political entity for well over one thousand years. With a quick line drawn on a National Geographic map, 10 million family members—one third of Korean families at the time—were almost instantly separated from each other. This is a border injustice of colossal brutality causing intense pain among Koreans, as vivid and searing as the US-Mexico border.
In both South Korea and North Korea there are thousands of elderly people who have been waiting over a half century to meet their parents, ever since they were small children. There are couples who have not seen each other in over 60 years. Only a few hundred out of tens of thousands of applicants in the South are being selected to have the chance to see their family members in the North this summer.
Lee Sun-gyu was 85 years old when she reunited with her husband in 2015 after living without him for 65 years in South Korea. They were separated by the Korean War, but she met her husband Ooh In-se at last in 2015, when he was already 83. Their only son, Ooh Jang-gyu, met his father for the first time at the age of 65. Imagine Lee Sun-gyu’s joy and sadness, to finally see her husband at the age of 85 but just for two days. (See the clip of them meeting at 18:15 in the video on YouTube:
Her song would go, “It’s been sixty-five long years, do you still want me?”
There was an awkward silence between them when they first saw each other after the long separation. They had lived together for only 6 months before governments, primarily Our Government, tore them apart, by dividing their country at the 38th Parallel, i.e., the “DMZ.” She was pregnant at the time. They were separated on one day in July 1950 when their neighborhood said that her husband had to take part in military exercises. It was only supposed to be for ten days. She never imagined that 65 years would pass before she would see her husband again.
All her life Lee Sun-gyu has lived with her only son, Ooh Jang-gyu (65 years old), waiting for her husband’s return. She never forgot her husband’s words, the words he had given her back in 1950. He said to her that when they got money from the harvest, he would buy her a watch. With that in mind, her gift to him when they were momentarily reunited was two watches with their names engraved on them. She said they had many things to say but she could only talk to him for two days at a special meeting of divided families organized by the governments of North and South Korea. She said that two days was not enough—words no one could deny.
What causes situations like this? Why does Our Government do this? For what noble cause was Jefferson prevented from staying with his father after they reached the US, and Ooh Jang-gyu prevented from knowing his father and living in a country called “Korea”?
There are various reasons, but oddly enough, one of the main causes is simply US wealth. Imagine 200 baseball stadiums packed with millionaires. Then imagine a high school basketball court with the bleachers around it filled with billionaires. That is how many rich people call America home. These people are not handing out 100 dollar bills to homeless people every time they go to the supermarket. Their way of life is built on “making” money, not necessarily “earning” it but “making” it. And they need their markets to expand, markets that are dominated by the corporations that they own.
These are the “masters of mankind.” As Adam Smith wrote, “All for ourselves, and nothing
for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” That was Adam Smith’s conclusionabout the approach to life of the “great proprietors of land” in his The Wealth of Nations (Book 3, Chapter 4). As an example of their greed, he wrote, “For a pair of diamond buckles, perhaps, or for something as frivolous and useless, they exchanged the maintenance, or, what is the same thing, the price of the maintenance of 1000 men for a year, and with it the whole weight and authority which it could give them. The buckles, however, were to be all their own, and no other human creature was to have any share of them.”
The masters of mankind who run the US are no different from the masters of mankind who ran the British Empire.
The Greed of Empires and Markets
Beginning with Venezuela around 1895, the US established the principle that the Western Hemisphere was ours. We had always had the frontier, so our ideology of expansion had always been that of monopolizing land, but land that was easy to steal was in short supply, so we turned to the seas. This is where President Theodore Roosevelt came in. He expanded the US navy so that the US could take the Philippines. In exchange for the Philippines, he “gave” Korea to the Empire of Japan by saying in effect, “Korea is yours, but keep your hands off the Philippines.”
There would now be two new types of colonies, organized for the benefit of corporations. One was markets. The other was “strategic bases to protect markets and enforce American policies,” in the words of American historian Paul Atwood. Justifying market domination was the new ideology of “social Darwinism.” Science told us, according to racist scientists, that it was natural and proper for whites to dominate the US, and for white supremacist America to dominate Latin America and the East. Class inequality would also be explained by social Darwinism. “Those who failed to prosper and rise in the social order had no one to blame but themselves… social Darwinism also served to rationalize and justify the exploitation of the many by the few.”
In 1899 on the floor of the US Senate, Senator Albert Beveridge summed up well the vision of the American empire when he built a case for stealing the resources of the Philippines and subjugating the people there: “Mr. President, the times call for candor. The Philippines are ours forever… And just beyond the Philippines are China’s illimitable markets…” Such frank expressions of the intentions of the American “masters of mankind” are rare today, but they still rule over us.
With a confidence in the superiority of wealthy, Christian, American, white men that is shocking for us today, Senator Beveridge warned that “we are not dealing with Americans or Europeans. We are dealing with Orientals… hundreds of years of savagery, other hundreds of years of Orientalism, and still other hundreds of years of Spanish character and custom.”
“Self-government” was only for whites. “It is a sacred term… liberty does not always mean self-government. Self-government… is acquired only after centuries of study and struggle… The Declaration of Independence does not forbid us to do our part in the regeneration of the world.” The term “regeneration” was straight out of the ideology of social Darwinism, which helped excuse US massacres of Native Americans as well as the eugenics of Nazi Germany.
The Senator hailed from the State of “Indiana,” meaning “Indian Land,” but in his mind, Native Americans and Asians were the objects of White Man’s civilizing mission. “Our Indian wars would have been shortened… had we made continuous and decisive war… The Declaration [of Independence] applies only to people capable of self-government. How dare any man prostitute this expression of the very elect of self-governing peoples to a race of Malay children of barbarism… And you who say the Declaration applies to all men, how dare you deny its application to the American Indian? And if you deny it to the Indian at home, how dare you grant it to the Malay abroad?”
But both Native Americans and Asians demanded liberty anyway. “Prostituting” the Declaration of Independence? It “prostituted” itself: “all men are created equal.” (If “men” meant human beings, then women were included, too). Koreans had heard about the Declaration just as they heard about President Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of the right of all peoples to self-determination in his “Fourteen Points” speech in 1918—100 years ago this year. Disregarding the racist notion that self-determination was only for whites, they launched the March 1st Movement for independence in 1919, to take back their sovereignty from the Empire of Japan. They received zero support from Our Government, but they showed their capacity for self-government over and over: their 1930s guerrilla warfare in Manchuria against their old oppressors and after 1945 their ever-reappearing struggle against their new foreign oppressors—guess which government was Oppressor Number One—such as the Jeju Uprising of 1948-49, the Korean War that ended in 1953, the Gwangju Uprising of 1980, and the recent Candlelight Revolution of 2016-17.
In Beveridge’s imperial fantasy, rich American imperialists were to decide everything. There would be a mighty “republic which the world will finally acknowledge as the arbiter, under God, of the destinies of mankind.” And the authority to carry out His will would come from just one faith: “God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-contemplation and self-admiration. No! He has made us the master organizers of the world… And of all our race He has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world. This is the divine mission of America…” He quotes Mathew 25:23, claiming his vision had Heaven’s stamp of approval: “Ye have been faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things.”
How was his national glory to be paid for? With the lives of other people’s sons, naturally. “As a nation, every historic duty we have done, every achievement we have accomplished has been by the sacrifice of our noblest sons… Americans consider wounds the noblest decorations man can win, and count the giving of their lives a glad and precious duty.” So no worries: Americans love war, and love doing the dirty work of the filthy rich.
Grabbing the Wealth of East Asia through “Straight Power Concepts”
In the case of the border between North and South Korea, the DMZ is fortified with countless mines and endless razor wire; with tank traps, guard posts, and bunkers; and with thousands of artillery guns and missiles. Itis an absolute no-go zoneeven today because just beyond that border, up in the North, live a people whooncedared to violate the “vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” Those were the communists of North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union. Stalinism hardly attracted anyone, so the problem was not Stalinism. The problem for the American “masters” was the state-sponsored sharing going on up North. It was precisely that sharing thathad to be contained. Do not let sharing take the place of greed.
In the case of the US-Mexico border, it is sacred because beyond that border live a people whose valuable resources and wealth have been taken away by American millionaires over and over again, and now they are so poor that they might need some of it back. As many of them are the descendants of the original dispossessed inhabitants of North America, they are certainly entitled to something. Mexico and the lands south of Mexico in Central America had been America’s back yard. Our Government has helped the millionaires expropriate wealth from these pseudo-colonies.
Likewise, the “great China market” has long attracted the greed of American entrepreneurs. That greed has caused “five bloody wars (against Japan, Korea, China and Vietnam and the war of Philippine independence) in the attempt to bend it to the American agenda.” (Atwood). From the perspective of the billionaires and even millionaires, Our Government must stop the sharing of Koreans and of the people of Latin America. They have to build a DMZ in North America to keep the Other out, and lead Americans to believe they are protecting their privileges.
Trump needs more. This is his test-marketing of fascism, in the words of Fintan O’Toole (“Trial Runs for Fascism Are in Full Flow”. Are we going to accept this being done in our name to refugees fleeing violence in their home countries in Central America, whose people were once massacred by European colonialists. Are we going to continue to accept the dislocations of families in Korea?
In the case of Guatemala, the country that Jefferson and Ludin are from, the USA overthrew its legitimate government in a coup d’etat in 1954 and helped kickstart the “death squad” phenomena there from 1966 to the early 1980s. One of Washington’s favorite killers was Ríos Montt. Washington backed up his extrajudicial killings, such as in the bloody year of 1982 when he was president of Guatemala. He was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in 2013 in his own country. El Salvadorand Honduras follow a similar pattern.
George Kennan spelled out the situation of the US at the end of the Second World War:
“We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population…. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment.” In order to maintain “this position of disparity… we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming.” We the rulers have to stop talking about “unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts.”
Bruce Cumings, the American historian of Korea, has written much about Secretary of State Dean Acheson, who dominated the decision-making in the lead-up to the Korean War and during it. “The decision to intervene in force [to fight for and protect the dictator Syngman Rhee] was Acheson’s decision, supported by the president but taken before United Nations, Pentagon, or congressional approval. His reasoning had little to do with Korea’s strategic value, and everything to do with American prestige and political economy.” American “credibility” was at stake. If Koreans do not bow and scrape before the American Mafia-don-style rulers, then what other countries might seek independence and “general industrialization”? (NSC 48).
It was Acheson who wrote, “June 25  removed many things from the realm of theory. Korea seemed to—and did—confirm NSC 68.” InAtwood’s view, National Security Paper Number 68 was “at that time the most far-reaching policy document in American history.” Atwood explains its results: “All in the name of national defense, the new national security priesthood would wage bloody war in Korea and Vietnam, overthrow the democratically elected governments of Iran, Guatemala, and Chile, assassinate the elected president of Congo, nearly come to nuclear war over Cuba, foster civil wars throughout Africa, topple the regime in Indonesia and enable reigns of terror by right-wing death squads throughout Central America.” In accordance with George Kennan’s hopes, they started dealing in “straight power concepts.”
The US occupation of Korea between 1945 and 1948 and the Korean War led to the transformation of the US into a country that the “founding fathers would barely recognize,” in Cumings’ words. It was through the changes in the US government during those years (1945-53) that the US became a country with “hundreds of permanent military bases abroad, a large standing army and a permanent national security state at home.”
Even Australians, Americans, and British who were working inside government, aiming for victory in the Korean War, had their reservations about the new ultra-anti-communist government of Syngman Rhee. The head of the Australian Mission in Tokyo described the new ROK government as an “arbitrary dictatorship of the president and a few members of the cabinet,” according to the historian Gavan McCormack. The American CIA called him “senile” and “obstinate.” The British embassy viewed him as a “dangerous fascist, or lunatic.”
And those were understatements. When war broke out—a war that Rhee had been plotting and pushing for—he rounded up and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Southern “leftist” sympathizers to prevent them from supporting their Northern compatriots. Our man. We backed a fascist genocidaire against many tens of millions on the Korean Peninsula who hoped for an end to colonialism and longed for self-determination. The actualization of their hopes would have harmed “American” prestige (i.e., the prestige of American rulers) and entailed violations of the “vile maxim,” not to mention allowing the spread of this dangerous notion that Koreans, above all, should enjoy the fruits of Korean labor.
Eventually, Americans will have to take responsibility for Americanhistory, for the history of Our Government violating the human rights of Latin Americans and Koreans, just as we took responsibility for the internment of Japanese-Americans under Roosevelt in the 1940s. But We the People have the power to nip this in the bud. We need a zero-tolerance policy toward the barbarism of borders and cages, where the Trump administration suffers every time it does pre-fascist test-marketing.
Splitting Korea in two was one of President Truman’s many barbaric acts, right up there with his nuking the City of Nagasaki just three days after nuking Hiroshima. After all the suffering the US has caused Koreans, how can we ask them to wait a little longer, even one more day? When women in their 80s are waiting to “tie 100 yellow ribbons round the old oak tree”? How many tens of thousands of people would give their right arm just to see their son or daughter, mother or father, or lover one more time?
As the great American historian Howard Zinn once titled a book, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” You either cooperate with these barbaric borders and cages, or you resist them. It is up to us Americans to reign in Our Government. Blocking Koreans from meeting other Koreans has continued for most of the last century. Now we have the kidnapping of children, from families desperate for help. Violating the fundamental right of families to be together threatens all our human rights. If we are to live up to our former reputation as the Land of the Free, we must reject both types of borders, both types of cages. Free Latin Americans and Koreans, and free yourself.
Paul Atwood, War and Empire: The American Way of Life(Pluto, 2010).
Bruce Cumings, The Korean War: A History(Modern Library, 2010).
Many thanks to Kim Eunju of the Nagoya Institute of Technology for telling me the story of Lee Sun-gyu and to K.J. Noh for research assistance on Korea.