A small quibble with this is that while the Soviet Union in its mature period was predictable and containable, under Stalin it was far more irrational, perhaps the best case being the purge of officers as Nazi Germany rearmed. But Hitchens's comment is interesting in light of a review of Mao's Last Revolution in the Washington Post. Arguably Maoist China in its most extreme periods was fascist by Hitchens's criteria -- the Cultural Revolution was a kind of autophagy in which the youth of China were an instrument used to devour China from within, an irrational act to the extreme and certainly anti-modern. The review's author, Berkeley China specialist Orville Schell, concludes by speculating on the meaning of "The Great Helmsman's" continuing presence in China:
Another [characteristic] is its irrationality. With the Soviet Union there was a degree of predictability, it was essentially rational. There were certain things we knew they weren't going to do. It was containable. But fascism tends to irrationality. It is not an accident that suicide - the death cult - is a part of this. Attacking New York in broad daylight on 9/11, for example, when they could have taken over Pakistan, and had a nuclear-armed state in their hands, if they were just willing to do it quietly. On the other hand the elaborateness of the display meant battle is joined, which excited some of their constituents. It both hates and envies modernism. It doesn't want to do science, but it wants what science produces, to seize and pervert it. The Nazis could have had the nuclear bomb, but they got rid of all Jewish scientists. In this, you can look at A. Q. Khan, and his work to exploit science, and turn it against modernism.
China has come a long way since Mao. But neither he nor his revolution has been completely interred; his body still lies on public view in Tiananmen Square, his image remains on China's money, and his portrait still hangs on the Gate of Heavenly Peace. With China's political system still lacking the kinds of checks and balances that can bring a society back from the brink of extremism, optimism about its political future should be tempered by realism.
Indeed, this September, on the 30th anniversary of both Mao's death and the end of the Cultural Revolution, the party still chose to spend a week celebrating his legacy, culminating with an official concert in the Great Hall of the People entitled "The Sun is the reddest and Chairman Mao is the most beloved." No mention was made of the incalculable damage his Cultural Revolution inflicted on his country. In the future, one important index of China's passage toward political maturity will be the degree to which it feels able to repudiate both Mao and his Cultural Revolution legacy.
Indeed. China bulls will likely continue to be disappointed so long as China continues to maintain the pretense of being Communist, because doing so means the country will remain in the hands of increasingly parasitic cadres that will likely undermine further liberalization. When Mao goes, so too will the cadres.
Shifting to the North Korean front, in the New York Times Vaclav Havel, Kjell Magne Bondevik, and Elie Wiesel call for turning North Korea into a "human rights issue." The long-suffering North Korean people have indeed been the victims of a government that has shown more indifference to the people it is "responsible" for than most of its contemporaries. So it is hard to argue with their op-ed. But at the same time, one is led to wonder whether any humanitarian measure short of a regime change that brings an end to the DPRK's Juche ideology will make the slightest difference in the bleak lives of the North Korean people. The recommendations made by the authors, including nonbinding UN resolutions, seem to be feeble, futile gestures showing how little the rest of the world can do to improve the lot of North Koreans.
Indeed, the true scale of the devastation wreaked on North Korea by its government is yet unknown, because it's impossible for outsiders to guess the exact number of North Koreans who have died at the hands of the Kim Family Regime, whether by famine or gulag. The KFR has, moreover, created a kind of poison pill by cutting the North Korean people off from the world and making them dependent on the KFR. Imagine the severe disruptions to the lives of North Koreans when they suddenly find themselves without their Dear Leader, forced to make their own way in the world. This is no reason to refrain from hurrying the KFR to its demise, but the process of building a functioning society in North Korea will make the reunification of Germany look easy.
Meanwhile, in Japan, LDP policy chief Nakagawa Shoichi has repeated his call for a debate on nuclear weapons, this time while on a visit to Washington. Personally, I have no problem with Japan debating whether it should have nuclear weapons, because having a debate by no means obligates Japan to pushing forward in the direction of a nuclear arsenal. I strongly disagree with Nabeshima Keizo's column in the Japan Times, the title of which says it all: "Even nuclear talk detracts." If Japan is to become a "normal" country that contributes to global security alongside other great powers, then it must drop its taboos about even speaking about certain subjects, the nuclear question being the biggest. Even if the debate leads Japan's leaders to opt against acquiring nuclear weapons, as seems likely at this juncture, it is important to have the debate, because it will help outline the parameters of Japan's normalization and clarify its relations with the US. So have a debate, put the issue to rest, and get on with the business of building a foundation for Japanese security policy in the twenty-first century. At the moment, however, Japan is still not ready to initiate a broad debate on this fundamental question; as the Yomiuri Shimbun reports, the LDP and the Abe Cabinet will abjure from addressing the nuclear issue, although Abe's response -- "We won't discuss the issue at any organization within the government or the LDP, but we can't suppress discussions outside of them" -- hints at what could be a strategy to keep nuclear weapons on the agenda without the government's being burned politically.
Lastly, I want to call attention to an article in The Times on the bizarre criticism by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed of his successor Abdullah Badawi, with Mohammed, who brooked no dissent, suggesting that Badawi is running a "police state." Pot, kettle, black? I wish Malaysia the best of luck in the post-Mohammed period, and Mr. Mohammed a quiet, peaceful retirement -- you've done quite enough for Malaysia already.