Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom, by Stephen Gowans. Montreal: Baraka Books, 2018. Paper, $24.95, pp 270
The release of Stephen Gowans’s superb new book could not be better timed. With the Korean Peninsula on the potential brink of major change, looking to Western mainstream media for reasoned analysis is a fool’s errand. Gowans provides a valuable service in filling that gap by situating Korea in its historical context, while making no compromise with received opinion or resorting to lazy formulations.
The war in Syria, mainstream media tell us, is a simple story, with a brutal dictator on one side and freedom-loving rebels on the other. Into this mix, the Islamic State has inserted itself, while the benevolent United States must intervene to rescue the Syrian people. U.S. involvement in Syria, motivated by altruism, the story goes, arose in direct response to events in 2011.
This view is as fanciful as it is notable for its myopic self-regard.
In Washington’s Long War on Syria, Stephen Gowans dismantles the official story, myth by myth, and provides the context without which it would be impossible to understand events.
In Bombs for Peace, George Szamuely, a senior research fellow at the Global Policy Institute at London Metropolitan University, has produced a revealing and sharply argued analysis of Western intervention in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
With Everyday Life in the North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950, Suzy Kim has filled a major gap in the history of North Korea. In the West, it has become customary to fixate on the top leadership in historical coverage of the subject. That approach stems partly from lack of access to North Korean archives, but perhaps more strongly from an inclination to smooth over complexities in order to supply a simplified narrative that is easily digestible and harmonious with the imperatives of Western policy.
For nearly a century, baseball players were chained to their teams through contracts that included a reserve clause, under which a player was not free to sell his services to another team once his contract had expired. Only two options were open: a player could either sign another contract with the same team, or he could retire. The effect of this arrangement was to hold player salaries down.
In 1922, in a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the reserve clause did not violate the Sherman Antitrust Act. Baseball was a game, not a business, the Court averred and as such it was exempt from anti-trust laws. So firmly entrenched did the reserve clause become as a result of this decision, that baseball fans can be forgiven for thinking that no serious challenge had been mounted prior to Curt Flood’s legal battle in 1970 and the arbitration decision five years later that ruled Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally free-agents.
Any time that a book appears by Bruce Cumings, one of our foremost scholars on Korea, it merits attention. His latest book, The Korean War, is particularly welcome given the recent sharp increase in tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The past informs the present, and perhaps nowhere is that more so than in the case of the two Koreas. While South Korea has changed dramatically since the advent of democracy, it is still the case that relations between the two Koreas continue to be influenced by the war.
Michael Parenti has written a compelling work, whose themes are so relevant for our time: the essentiality of rational thought, the struggle to maintain a secular and tolerant society, and the abuse of religion for reactionary political and obscurant objectives. As Parenti points out, “That ‘old-time religion’ is still very much with us and having a considerable impact on U.S. political life.” And that impact has only grown in recent years.