Sunday, December 02, 2007

My Man Mao

Political survivors are dangerous. This is easily discerned in “Mao, the Unknown Story” by Jung Chang,( who wrote the popular novel “Wild Swans: three daughters of China”,) and Jon Halliday. This thick well-researched book, tells the ruthless rise to power of Mao Zedon (Mao Tse-Tung), who was the dictatorial leader of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976.

According to Jung Chang, Mao was responsible for up to 70,000,000 Chinese deaths, through purges, murders, assignations, uprisings, and intrigues. To say that Chang dislikes Mao is an understatement.

What becomes clear even in the earliest pages of the book is Chang’s beliefs, all well documented, that Mao cared little for peasants, philosophy, or ideology, but rather for his own aggrandizement, comfort and power.

Mao, according to this book, was a clever manipulator who used every event that crossed his path to his own benefit. A scholar and grade school teacher Mao discovered that success lay in politics. He aligned himself with whichever party was ahead in the race. At first it was the Nationalists, who were vehemently against the interference of the new Soviet Union, but accepted Soviet aid and advisors in order to overthrow the feudal lords ruling China..

But when he saw his upward mobility thwarted in that party he switched sides, joined the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) receiving even more money and ammunition from the Soviet Union, and rode that horse to the finish line. Along the way he swindled his comrades in arms out of their positions, intrigued to steal an army away from a Nationalist general even though Mao knew little or nothing about things military. He actually started his rise to power by lying to some officers saying he was and taking the men to a battle but rather led them to the mountains where he joined them up with bandit gangs that using bandit gangs to establish a foothold in the remote province of Jiangxi..

During his foray with the bandits he discovered, according to Chang, his love of blood and violence. Not one to fight himself, Mao reveled in the spilling of blood, in terrorizing his victims, in ruling by fear.

According to Chang when he first arrived in the province 130,000 Chinese resided there; when he left only 30,000 survived. Mao fed his rag tag army on anything he could steal from anyone he felt like, rich or poor. A peasant was just as likely to lose his chickens as a landowner his villa. The only ideology Mao followed was increasing his own power by whatever means necessary.

Jung Chang and Jon Halliday claim that victims were subjected to a red-hot gun-rod being rammed into the anus, and that there were cases of cutting open the stomach and scooping out the heart] The estimated number of the victims amounted to several thousands. Through the so-called revolutionary terrorism, or red terrorism, Mao secured his authority and domination in Jiangxi.

And who encouraged Mao? Joseph Stalin. In those days Stalin was in charge of the Russian support of the Chinese revolution. When Mao reported razing an entire village, Stalin reportedly encouraged him with a message, “Burn, burn, burn.”

Mao later said that it was okay to use bandits to achieve one’s goals, but then the bandits had to be killed as ‘counter-revolutionary.’ Read it also as eliminating the possibility of these same bandits coming back and going against Mao if they felt like it.

Mao was a mass murderer. He was supported by Stalin, another mass murderer. Add Hitler to the mix, because at one time Stalin and Hitler were partners, and you have three mass murderers in league, each scheming how to kill the other and take over the world.

Luckily, none of them succeeded completely. But the question comes up, what were they really after? A better world through Communism or National Socialism? Not Mao. Not according to Chang and Halliday. Mao was only after what was good for Mao. Other historians claim Stalin was only after what was good for Stalin. Staying in and expanding the position of power became the real motivation. Sort of like a contest of will, how far could an athlete jump, how low could a golfer score, how much money could a businessman make? Not an ideological goal, but rather one of testing one’s destiny.

One wonders at the public who stands by, cowering, or supporting such men. What nerve in the human psyche do these self-aggrandizing despots y touch that allows dictatorships to flourish? Fear? Awe? Hoped for glory by osmosis?

Some politicians actually mean to do the right thing. Some are ideologically driven. Do these men succeed? Are they made of firm enough stuff to withstand the cruelty and hypocrisy which takes place under their rule? Or are the truly fine men and women left behind at the starting gate, while the manipulators, the survivors, the wily coyotes take the reins of power.

One can only stand in awe watching Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dance through the minefields and come out unscathed. Annapolis came and went, promise of a state for the Palestinians discussed yet again, the PA chief Abu Mazen saying in English that he would never recognize a Jewish State, and that the capital of the Palestinian State was Jerusalem. The same tune he’s been playing to the Arab audiences since Camp David when Arafat refused the Clinton Plan.

The amazing political acumen shown by Olmert indicates he’ll be in power for years to come. Olmert claims to believe a Palestinian State is necessary in order for a Jewish State to survive. He is probably right, but one wonders if this isn’t just a bunch of words tumbling off his lips onto the ears of people who want to hear just that message, or if he really means anything he says?

Judging from the other successful politicians who imposed their will on a susceptible population, skepticism seems the order of the day. Still, one can only stand in awe at the accomplishments of skilled manipulators, and wonder what the overall purpose of life is: truth, justice, or merely personal success at any cost?