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Post Mao and "Armchair Experts": Response to Tor Guimaraes
Created by John Eipper on 02/02/18 4:42 AM

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Mao and "Armchair Experts": Response to Tor Guimaraes (Istvan Simon, USA, 02/02/18 4:42 am)

I would like to start this comment by thanking Gary Moore for his riddle (February 1st) and all that he said in his post. It needed to be said, and he did it with truly extraordinary skill, admirable tact and diplomacy. Thank you Gary. I much admire your skill in saying things diplomatically.

Still, while I am in awe at Gary's diplomatic skills, I am much less refined than he is in saying things with riddles. I am usually much more direct and explicit and even prefer, at least for myself, the not-mincing-words approach, while still, I hope, remaining within the bounds of civility.

John Eipper said commenting on Gary's post that Tor Guimaraes did not say that Mao was a victim. I am sorry John, but I believe that this is inaccurate or at least misleading. I understand and applaud you that you made the comment with the best of intentions to fulfill your role as moderator, but nonetheless I feel that I need to point out the inaccuracy. Tor very much said that Mao was a victim. Worse, he did so by personally criticizing WAISers in the process qualifying their criticisms of Mao as that of "armchair experts." Further, he said that the discussion produced more heat than information, a second criticism of his fellow WAISers, and in my opinion an unfair one.

I am no doubt one of the armchair experts to which Tor's remarks and criticisms were directed. Both his critical remarks were in part clearly directed at me. Tor did not name me explicitly, but he did not have to. I was clearly involved in the discussion that he responded to. Let me state that I do not take offense for his criticisms, for I am, paraphrasing Harry Truman's words, able to take the heat and do not need to get out of the kitchen.

Nonetheless, I must respond to Tor, and I shall do so much more forcefully and explicitly than Gary's diplomatic and magistral post.

I do not take offense for him calling me an armchair expert, nor that the posts he referred to, mine included, on the subject produced more "heat than information". If Tor wants information, he can read George Zubin Gu's magnificent posts on WAIS, so full of detail, names, references, and what is still more important for me, humaneness. Or he can read Mao's personal physician's account in his superb book that I referred to in my post. Here is the explicit reference for interested WAISers' enlightenment:


I will not waste any more of this post with the criticism that Tor directed at me. It is irrelevant for my purposes and does not deserve any further comment. Rather, I will reserve my fire to the overall tone of his post. For I consider Tor Guimaraes' post one of the most callous ones ever published in WAIS. His remarks and defense of Mao should be offensive to any human being in my humble opinion. It exhibits a level of callousness and indifference towards the deaths of 70 million human beings, and the unspeakable sufferings of their families that Mao's misrule produced. Tor asks an irrelevant question, which he says is important for him, that is to examine Mao's motivation. I must comment on this further, for when one is responsible for the deaths of 70 million human beings, motivation is really irrelevant. For the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

But beyond that, Mao was truly evil, and not at all even mildly well-intentioned. Consider the vile, despicable and ruthless methods that he used to remain in power. After the disasters of the killings of sparrows and the stupidity of the Great Leap Forward, Mao was criticized in the Politburo. He first appeared to accept the criticism--in reality he never did, as it will be apparent shortly. Mao actually generalized it. He invited people to freely criticize him and his regime, and to offer well -intentioned suggestions for improvement. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese responded in good faith, and wrote about what they thought could be improved. Having invited such criticism, what did Mao do? He used the invited criticisms as a means to identify people in opposition to his rule. He had them arrested, tortured, murdered. Good intentions Tor?

Further, Tor said that "compared to the judgment from their respective national populations, the personal opinions from armchair experts from the other side of the world are somewhat hollow. We need evidence and clear reasoning before name-calling."

As for evidence, I think we armchair experts have provided plenty. Second, I could write volumes about the judgment from their respective populations. I reported on my conversations with Chinese people in a previous post. When I mentioned to one of my Chinese acquaintances in 2004, who asked me where I had been, that I was in Beijing visiting Mao's corpse in his mausoleum, he had this to say: " A terrible man, a horrible despot, a Saddam Hussein." He was being too kind to Mao, for though Saddam was an unspeakable villain, he was never responsible for 70 million deaths. But in any case this is typical of the answer of many many native Chinese I have spoken to, and it makes it clear that Mao is regarded as a bloody despicable despot by quite a few Chinese. Among these of course is George Zubin Gu. Likewise my wife and her friends. This is also the view of my Chinese students, many of whom candidly appraised Mao as absolute evil.

But suppose, for the sake of argument, that this was not the case. Why would my opinion be somewhat hollow? It isn't. I am entitled to my opinion regardless of whether the Chinese themselves view Mao favorably or unfavorably. So, no Tor, my armchair expert opinion is not at all hollow.

Finally let me address another point in Tor's post, which I found also offensive. He asks:

"Last, how do we compare the disgusting atrocities by the governments of Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, etc. to the more 'civilized' systematic long-term devastation Western colonial powers imposed on many weaker nations all over the world including China, Vietnam, several African nations, etc. Ditto for imperial powers dictating law and order, replacing governments, causing everlasting civil wars costing trillions of dollars and millions of lives, etc. to suit their own interests."

So why do I find this offensive? I don't find any of what he said about colonial wars, the sins of the West and so on, offensive at all per se. Tor is welcome to discuss and excoriate them all to his heart's content. What I vehemently object to is the comparison to Mao Zedong's murderous misrule, the juxtaposition of the West's sins to Mao's rule. This juxtaposition is deeply offensive, because even if we accepted Tor's possible thesis, that the sins of the West are far worse than Mao's misrule, which by the way I do not accept, even in that case two wrongs do not a right make. So it can never be an excuse for Mao's evil rule.

JE comments:  A large part of the WAIS moderator's job is to unruffle feathers.  Having said that, I did not interpret Tor's comment as drawing a moral equivalency between Mao's "disgusting atrocities" (Tor's words) and the military adventures of the West.  Am I being too indulgent?  Tor?

I plan to read Li Zhisui's book (above link).  Mao's physician died in 1995, in exile in Carol Stream, Illinois.  Did anyone in WAISworld know or meet him?

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  • A-Bomb Revisited: Japan Would Have Surrendered Anyway (Tor Guimaraes, USA 02/04/18 7:15 AM)
    John Eipper commented on the February 2nd post of Istvan Simon: "I did not interpret Tor's comment as drawing a moral equivalency between Mao's 'disgusting atrocities' (Tor's words) and the military adventures of the West. Am I being too indulgent? Tor?"

    I believe John's interpretation of my earlier statements is exactly right. I greatly appreciate his careful reading of all WAIS postings, his attempts at reducing misinterpretations and toning down any aggressive language which only adds unnecessary heat to the discussion but little new information. Thank you, John. Keep up the good work.

    Regarding the first two uses of the A-bomb, the evidence is clear that the US had the moral high ground due to how the Japanese started the war and the continuous Japanese atrocities against soldiers and civilians alike all over the war theater. Nevertheless, the results in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are considered by most people to be a nasty blow to humanity. Was it necessary? I already explained the reasons why it was clearly not necessary, but let me elaborate.

    1. The Japanese was badly beaten.  They had no air power or naval power to speak of. The civilian population was starving and honor-bound and trained with sticks to fight to death if necessary. But they were hardly a worthy opponent against American forces.

    2.  The overwhelming invasion of Manchuria by the Russians (which by then had run over the "invincible" German army all way to Berlin) was a huge shock to the Japanese.

    3. The Americans in the best position to know, Generals MacArthur, Bombs-Away Le May, and other hawkish American generals, held the opinion that the A-bomb was not necessary for the surrender. That is conclusive enough for me.

    4. Once the US government limited the wording of the unconditional surrender demands to "armed forces," the major obstacle (threat to their living god) was removed. Only the military leadership preferred to commit suicide rather than surrender, the rest of the cabinet knew resistance was futile and was ready to surrender.

    5. Above all Truman was a politician. He knew the A-bomb was justifiably popular at the time because an invasion of Japan would kill many thousands of American soldiers. A million is likely a huge exaggeration, given the enormous military superiority the US enjoyed over Japan at the time. Any military resistance could have been vaporized by our overwhelming conventional military power.

    JE comments:  Howard Zinn's People's History argues that the Bomb was used for two reasons only:  to shock and awe the Soviets, and to justify the enormous capital investment.  Francisco Ramírez has forwarded a thoughtful critique of Zinn's categorical thesis.  Tune in later today.

    Thank you for your kind words, Tor.  I do try to give every incoming WAIS post a thorough and open-minded reading.

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    • Howard Zinn and the Dropping of the Bomb on Japan (Francisco Ramirez, USA 02/05/18 3:49 AM)
      Below is a critique from Sam Wineburg of a very popular textbook, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

      Part of the critique focuses on the question of whether Japan was ready to surrender and we dropped the bomb to either punish them or impress the Soviet Union. The critique relies on more recent archival data and charges Zinn of sticking to his earlier thesis and ignoring recent evidence relevant to the thesis.

      This is not my area of expertise, but I thought it would be good to consider evidence when putting forth our opinions on historical events.

      Using nuclear weapons is not the sort of decision I even remotely have ever had to make. Informing some faculty that they are not getting tenure was bad enough for me.

      JE comments:  Tenure denial feels like getting nuked, if it happens to you.

      Wineburg takes issue with Zinn for his historiographical certainty, the cocksuredness of his iconoclastic interpretations.  Zinn has no use for nuances or the "perhaps," even when discussing counterfactuals.  Regarding Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Zinn sees two (and only two) explanations for the US decision:  to justify the massive capital investment, and to awe/intimidate the Soviet Union.  Wineburg presents evidence against the "imminent surrender anyway" thesis, specifically the peace overtures sent by Japan to the Soviet Union.  The Soviets did not see the communication as anything other than a Japanese play for more time.



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    • Peace/War, Humility, and Armchair Experts; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 02/05/18 4:07 AM)
      Ric Mauricio writes:

      "War is over, if you want it." --John Lennon

      But there is something called the ego. There is something in humankind that causes us to compare ourselves to others, and to base our self-worth on whether we are more superior than others. Whether it be in the corporate halls or the halls of government, it causes humans to degrade others by calling them names, by bullying, by destroying others with innuendo.

      This ego leads to arrogance, and arrogance leads to destructive behavior. This is why empires rise and fall. And of course, this is why wars happen. But the only way to stop the maddening crowd and the insanity is to humble ourselves. Yes, we are but armchair experts, but at least we are attempting to flail against the futility of the insanity exhibited by humankind.

      MacArthur's arrogance led to his downfall. How many times, my dear General, did they have to photograph you stepping back on Philippine soil on that beach? And why did you, my dear General, leave the Philippines when you were the most needed, only to return after the Japanese annihilated and beheaded many Filipinos and Americans in Bataan? But yes, you staged it well, with your "I Shall Return" speech and the photo op. Oh, what an ego.

      I heard the justification that dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary to save American lives. Shock and awe? No, my ego demands that my MOAB is bigger than your MOAB.

      JE comments:  Economists understand warfare as societies competing for limited resources, but the psychological explanation is perhaps more convincing:  we have wars because enough people want them.

      Mother of All Bombs, yes, but how about brain-altering electromagnetic waves?  Boris Volodarsky (next) gives details.

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