Sovietstan / Kabul Beauty School

(WARNING: Long Post)

The First Book of the Week is Sovietstan, Travels in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Taijikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan” by Erika Fatland, (translated by Kari Dickson), published in 2020.

In the past decade, the author personally visited countries whose names end in “stan” except for Afghanistan. Those Central Asian nations became, more or less, independent from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990’s.

The author accepted hospitality from numerous people in the region, and related the historical backdrops of the respective lands. She spoke with several people who thought life was better under the old Soviet system, because they had had education, healthcare and culture then. Americans would consider the said countries to be dictatorships, although the author courteously called their leaders “presidents.”

Turkmenistan has oil and gas, the latter of which it exports to China. Its geography is comprised of more than eighty percent desert. Its political system is authoritarian.

Claiming she was a “student” (but was actually a tourist collecting information to write her book) in order to obtain a visa that was issued to very few applicants to begin with, the author was supervised every second of her stay; limited to a maximum of three weeks.

The author saw only a few Mercedes (and hardly any other cars) on the eight-lane main roads in the capital, Ashgabat. The bus shelters were air-conditioned. Most of the buildings were made of white marble.

There were a luxury Ferris wheel, and bright, colorfully lit fountains at night. However, there were only three ATMs in the whole nation that accepted foreign bank cards. Seven days a week, cops surveiled people on the streets to enforce the 11pm curfew.

Photos of the “president” hung everywhere in public places. Starting in 1992, he provided free utilities and car fuel for everyone. In 1999, he declared himself the nation’s ruler for the rest of his life. He wrote a book called Ruhnama, meaning Book of the Soul. No one questioned its greatness. Or else. It became the only reading material in schools. No more science or humanities were taught.

In the course of about four years, the dictator rid his people of Soviet culture, and banned dogs and recorded music. The health and welfare systems went to hell. Although no one paid taxes, more than half of the people were unemployed. That explained the almost empty roads the author saw in the capital city. Mercifully, the dictator died in late 2006.

Another ruler replaced him who forced the people to read his books. The author visited a rural farming village where the people herded camels and goats. They spoke only Turkmen, not Russian.

When the author and a cab driver were in the desert where no one else was present for miles around, she asked him why people had only the highest praise for their leader — worshipped him like a god and would never dare say a negative word about him.

The driver criticized himself for not working hard enough. He said, “Each one of us has a responsibility to play our part and to help our country develop.” The author wrote that he was born into the system– had never known any other mentality. This aspect of authoritarianism that the author witnessed bears a chilling resemblance to a recent line of propaganda in the United States (!): “We’re all in this together.” Who paid people to say that??

The author was forced to attend a horse show, and the next day, horse races. Attendance was mandatory for the nation’s every town, all of which had hippodromes. The dictator was a jockey in one race, but he accidentally fell after his horse crossed the finish line first, of course. Security compelled all attendees to delete any presidential-mishap footage from their cameras. The next day, a bootleg clip of the embarrassment surfaced on YouTube, anyway.

Predictably, very few citizens of Turkmenistan could afford to stay in the skyscrapers in the resort town of Turkmenbashi. The ones who could afford to go anywhere, holidayed on Turkey’s beaches instead because the former offered “Soviet-style service, bad food and no Internet.” Moreover, Turkmenistan’s dictator owned and controlled nearly all of their homeland’s hotels, restaurants and shops.

Kazakhstan— the most resource-rich nation in Central Asia– is flush with oil, gas, minerals, gold, coal and uranium; the first of which it extracts through Russian pipelines.

The author was pleased to see that the country had an open, Westernized society. It purchases most of its consumer goods from China. People spend their leisure time horse-racing and playing a game mounted on horses, batting around a goat carcass. They eat horse meat and drink soured mare’s milk regularly.

The author was able to travel around unaccompanied by a chaperone. Even so, at the entrance to the capital city of Astana, all buses’ passengers had their identity papers and baggage checked by security, while she and her cab driver weren’t subjected to what Americans would consider undue privacy intrusion.

As an aside, the privacy pendulum has finally swung the other way for political candidates in the United States. In the last several decades, in every election, every candidate’s political enemies have subjected candidates to increasingly punitive fishing-expeditions (It might be recalled that vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro and her husband were mercilessly put through the wringer in 1984).

Supposedly, a candidate’s history of financial dealings are an indicator of a candidate’s character. BUT, it is not necessarily an indicator of how well a candidate will do his or her job in the elective office.

Case in point: President Jimmy Carter’s tax returns were presumably squeaky-clean– as was his character— but there is general consensus that he did a poor job as president. That just shows that the real purpose of the privacy intrusion has been political vengeance!

There are plenty of ways other than scrutinizing personal financial behavior, to try to ascertain whether a candidate will be the public servant the voters want them to be.

Anyway, by the early 1950’s, high incidences of birth defects, mental illness, high blood pressure, and a cancer cluster plagued the region of Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan, thanks to secret testing of weapons of mass destruction by the Soviets beginning in 1949. The author learned this by personally visiting with the victims and their descendants, only the poorest of whom were still living there.

Tajikistan is resource-poor and has primitive infrastructure. Its geography is comprised of more than ninety percent mountains. In autumn 1991, the Communist party candidate won the election for president. He became increasingly unpopular. For, between June 1992 and March 1993, the nation suffered a bloody civil war, in which tens of thousands died. During the fighting, “Having regained power in parts of the country, the Rahmon [Nabiyev] government chose revenge rather than reconciliation, in keeping with old clan culture.”

Tajikistan’s fourth largest town lacks full-time electricity and heat, and has no indoor plumbing. Most of the people who live there are alcoholics. The vast majority of its people are Sunni Muslims. The men go to Russia to earn money to send back to their families. Some divorce their wives and never return home. But such income accounts for about half of the nation’s gross domestic product.

The author’s cab driver bribed three different border guards to minimize trouble when she traveled from Tajikistan into Kyrgyzstan. In the latter country, it was refreshing for her to see an absence of the dictator’s portraits everywhere, and to hear people speaking freely, both verbally and in the press, even negatively (!) about their government, with no punishment whatsoever.

Kyrgyzstan is, comparatively, the freest nation in Central Asia– the first to have a Parliament. Nonetheless, people tolerate corruption and nepotism from their leaders to avoid repeating the two difficult, past periods of political instability they suffered in the past three decades. They’ll vote for the same criminals over and over– which shows how much they want peace at all costs.

Also, at the time of the book’s writing, they lived in a culture in which any man could take a bride (even a Russian one) by abducting her, and she could not protest. He could even take more than one wife. In most cases the bride was likely headed for a life of marriage and children anyway, as she was unlikely to have an education, her own money, or somewhere to flee. Most families encouraged the practice.

Uzbekistan is one of the most oppressive States in Central Asia. The author wrote, “With great cunning, Karimov has used the fear of ethnic violence, Islamist fundamentalism and unstable neighbors as an excuse to rule with an iron fist.” The government’s imposed collectivist Soviet model of cotton growing was an epic economic fail. The author was subjected to unrelenting public scrutiny via police officers and video cameras everywhere she went.

Read the book to learn of numerous other adventures the author had in the aforementioned countries of Central Asia.

The Second Book of the Week is “Kabul Beauty School, An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil” by Deborah Rodriguez with Kristin Ohlson, published 2007.

This career memoir described the author’s early-21st century experiences in Afghanistan, teaching young women how to become beauticians. She wrote, “I love the Afghans, but their true national sport is gossip.”

The American author moved to Afghanistan in May 2002. Her mother owned a hair salon in Holland in the state of Michigan, so she had grown up immersed in that business’s culture. When she volunteered with an international aid organization to get away from her second husband, who was abusive, she realized her calling.

Also, the author wanted to help Afghan females, in one of the few environments that was strictly for them, where they could escape from the daily oppression they suffered, stemming from their culture and from their country’s war-torn situation.

The people of Afghanistan are descended from all different rivalrous tribes. Afghan females are treated as second-class citizens, especially if they are Muslims. They are still forced into arranged marriages. A prospective groom’s mother chooses a first wife for her own son. The men are allowed to take on additional wives if they so choose.

The later wives are those whose reputations have been ruined for one reason or another; some through no fault of their own. If they are not virgins when they are first chosen to be wives, say, due to having been raped, they are damaged goods, and might have an unusually horrible prospect pushed on them– one who is decades older, more abusive than usual, or poverty stricken.

The author’s Afghan friends planned to set up a husband for her. She had two previous failed marriages. The man they chose seemed nice and wealthy enough. He had an oil-drilling business in Saudi Arabia. By the way, the friends were finally pressed to mention, though, that he already had a first wife and seven daughters back in Saudi Arabia. He was hoping the author could bear him a son. The author had already had two sons from her first marriage, living in the United States.

The author felt obliged to get married because any woman seen alone with any man, engaged or not, was assumed to be a prostitute.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details about Afghan culture, the hardships the author faced in furthering her career, and more about her life.

Here at The New Yorker

The Book of the Week is “Here at The New Yorker” by Brendan Gill, published in 1975.

Born in 1914, Gill was the fourth of five children. His mother died when he was seven. His father was a successful surgeon in Hartford, Connecticut.

Gill went to work for The New Yorker magazine as a young adult. “Hard for young writers nowadays to realize how many magazines were vying for short stories in the thirties and forties; hard too to believe how much they were paid!” Sadly, propagandists who compose the words of political smear campaigns are highly compensated, but hardly any other kinds of present-day writers are. It is also interesting to note that most of the prominent writers of the twentieth century were alcoholics, but hardly any were in the eighteenth, and now, there are few of them in the twenty-first.

Harold Ross, founder and managing editor of The New Yorker, deliberately neither smeared nor promoted the subjects of nonfiction articles, and had no hidden agenda– neither financial nor ideological ulterior motives in putting out his magazine. Also, the magazine paid employees to do meticulous, honest, best-efforts fact-checking.

Gill, in his prolix prose describing his workplace’s culture, office space, and various quirky magazine-employees— mentioned James Thurber’s 1957 short story, “The Wonderful ‘O'” which can be read here:

https://www.bookscool.com/en/The-Wonderful-O-711417/1

The story covered various aspects of the human condition, and featured a greedy tyrant, herd mentality, and historical revisionism. One word was essential in the suspenseful plot. That word represents a concept that must actually be put into practice in order for a society to be democratic. Incidentally, the villain was named “Black” and the people he hurt were randomly victimized. Despite its now-controversially named villain, the story is obviously analogous to the United States’ buildup of political hostility in the most recent forty years.

The two major American political parties are engaged in a fight that resembles the Cold War between the former U.S. and the former U.S.S.R. It might be recalled that during the Cold War, there was a space race, an arms race, power-hungry posturing and the specter of the kickoff of world destruction if either side was to be the first to recklessly use a nuclear weapon.

For decades now, America’s own political parties have wreaked vicious, reputation-damaging, life-ruining vengeance against each other. This has resulted in the present situation, borne of childish political fury; in sum, the pretense of taking precautions to stem the spread of a pandemic, that has unduly oppressed all Americans, not just political targets. Shamefully, as well as shamelessly, the parties have exceeded the limits of healthy disagreement and civil discourse.

If one considers six different political systems (of course there can be combinations of more than one in the same nation): feudalism, fascism, communism, dictatorship, anarchy, and democracy, one can see that in general, democracy is the least unfair to the highest number of people because it strikes a balance more or less, between competition and cooperation in its operation.

The American brand of democracy, when it works properly, consists of representatives of the people– Congress, courts, elected officials, legislatures, assemblies, etc., who fluidly cooperate when creating or modifying laws, while members presumably cooperate within their political parties. Each party competes, or debates, when they disagree on policies, and during elections.

When in balance, both competition and cooperation bring out the best traits humans possess, and the best kind of society because there is the best chance for various capacities of improvement for all participants. However, significant imbalance inevitably causes a government to adopt traits of the first five aforementioned political systems.

The most fulfilled humans are those who have the best balance in their professional and personal lives. Therefore, those who serve the public in truly democratic governments ought to be fulfilled, as should people who partake of team sports (including the Olympics), science fairs, battle of the bands, group projects in business school, and competitive bidding in industry, among numerous other areas of American life.

Anyway, read the book to learn about Gill’s experiences at The New Yorker.

The Good, the Bad and Me

The Book of the Week is “The Good, the Bad, and Me, In My Anecdotage” by Eli Wallach, published in 2005.

Wallach was an actor of stage and screen. In many ways, he lived in a bygone era. Born in December 1915, he grew up in a Jewish family among mostly Italians, in a few different working-class neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Horse-drawn wagons sold fruit, milk and ice. The horses’ manure was sold as fertilizer. The Italians put on puppet shows, and had parades honoring Jesus and the saints, with floats, refreshments, and a band playing the national anthem. A marching band would play at funerals.

The value of money was quite high in the early twentieth century. If pennies were run over by the streetcar, they could be filed down to take on the structure of nickels, which could be used in pay phones. In 1932, Wallach began to attend the University of Texas as an out-of-state student for $30 a year. He roomed at a boardinghouse for $40 a month, including meals. His second year there, however, the school raised its tuition to $100 a year. Even so, the dean helped students find work so they could afford their educations.

In 1936, Wallach got free tuition at City College of New York when he took classes toward his master’s degree in teaching, at his older brother’s behest. He got a scholarship to Neighborhood Playhouse, an acting school, also in Manhattan. There, famous instructors taught Method acting. In the 1940’s, open-air double-decker buses that graced Greenwich Village, charged five cents. Wallach shared a one-room furnished apartment on lower Fifth Avenue for which he paid $35 a month. Maid service was included.

However, in 1956, the author hired a press agent for himself and actress-wife for $125 a week. That was a steep price. Ed Sullivan reported in his column that Wallach and his wife had lost their yacht in a sea storm– a line planted by the agent in the New York Daily News. The agent was let go.

Growing up, Wallach never met any black people. He heard about them in Harlem, but had never been there. While in college in Texas, he worked as an usher at a theater in Austin. He escorted blacks to their seats, which were relegated to the (nosebleed section) balcony only.

During Wallach’s fabulous career, in 1961, he acted in an absurdist play written by Eugene Ionesco, called Rhinoceros. It was about how herd mentality turned people into rhinoceroses when they conformed to State authority. For more information about the plot, see the following:

When Wallach acted in a film in Italy in the late 1950’s, he found that some people disagreed with him on how to portray their characters. He wrote, “It had always seemed to me that calling it the Method was incorrect; each country, each society, each theater, and each actor devises his own method.” Such is true of life at large.

Read the book to learn more about Wallach’s life.

My Story

“I don’t think unnecessary suffering builds character at all. It doesn’t make you a better person, it makes you a bitter person; and anyone who walks around claiming it’s good for you is kidding himself and trying to kid the nation.”

The above was said by someone who favored student loans subsidized by the government, as she needed to borrow money to get her education. She felt no one should have to experience extreme hardships by working around the clock for an education. Unlike females, males of her generation could take advantage of the G.I. Bill. And not all those males were sent overseas to fight in a war.

The Book of the Week is “Ferraro, My Story” by Geraldine Ferraro With Linda Bird Francke, published in 1985.

Born in Newburgh, New York in the mid-1930’s, Ferraro became an only child after her family suffered a few tragic deaths before she was born. Her father died when she was eight. Thereafter, she and her mother moved to the South Bronx.

Ferraro was an assistant district attorney in Queens county in New York City for four years, then completed almost three terms as a member of the U.S. Congress. Her political career got a big boost when she was nominated as the first female vice-presidential candidate in America in 1984.

Unsurprisingly, she was subjected to vicious: ethnic slurs, anti-abortion sentiments and sexism. Notwithstanding, at the Democrat Convention in July in San Francisco, via acclamation, almost four thousand delegates yelled “aye” to nominate Ferraro.

Two weeks (yes, that late!) into her candidacy, Ferraro got mud slung at her from all directions. Her political enemies persecuted her and her family for four months straight– right up until election day. Tens of newspaper reporters went on a “fishing expedition” into her husband’s financial affairs, going back years and years, desperate to find any dirt they possibly could.

Nevertheless, Ferraro stuck to the political issues of the day. She lamented, “So often in Congress, those who would vote against abortion funding for the poor would also be the first to cut back funds for aid to children, nutrition programs, even prenatal programs for poor mothers who want to have healthy children.”

In October 1984, the TV audience for Ferraro’s first debate against vice president George H.W. Bush numbered approximately eighty million viewers. Those were the good old days, when the nation was enjoying relative peace and recovering from a serious recession.

Americans had a feel-good president, so they were passive about maintaining their civil rights. Many felt no need to actively push for political change, which can be achieved via five major methods: litigation, voting, non-violent protesting (including corresponding with politicians), running for office oneself, and violence. The first four of those five require hard work and incredible patience to get results. The fifth is immediate, but exacts the heaviest price of all.

Currently, some might say that certain protest-planners are instigating violence in order to bring back Constitutional scholars, civil right attorneys, public defenders and legal-aid type people, whose numbers have diminished considerably in recent decades. However, there are none so dangerous as those who have read their history and have the power and resources to repeat the evil they’ve read about.

Sadly, there must be some evolutionary advantage to the predisposition for nastiness, else it would have been eliminated from the human gene pool generations ago. Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his book “The Gulag Archipelago” wrote, “… a human being hesitates and bobs back and forth between good and evil all his life… But when through the density of evil actions, the result either of their extreme degree or of the absoluteness of power, he suddenly crosses that threshold, he has left humanity behind, and without, perhaps, the possibility of return.”

A major ingredient in the mix of tyranny includes dishonesty. During a dispute between Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman, in an interview, McCarthy said of Hellman, “…every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’ ”

On that note, here is a relevant parody about various dishonest parties, sung to the tune of “Miami, 2017” with apologies to Billy Joel. Strangely enough, Joel thought a blackout (the July 1977 one in New York City) was a major historical event.

AMERICA, 2020

I’ve seen the LIES go out on Broadway.

I saw the United States laid low.

And life went on beyond Stockholm.

The Swedish government was mature and wise,

and Sweden recovered long ago.

Jews held a funeral out in Brooklyn.

Their religious freedom received a blow.

Trump made governors king.

With a selfish power thing,

we couldn’t go on with our normal life flow.

I’ve seen the LIES go out from “experts.”

I saw the mighty nation cowed.

Leaders were awaiting this opportunity.

They used the virus to strike.

They said nothing was allowed.

They crashed the economy in most places,

used “scorched earth” tactics with sour grapes.

The victims were everywhere, but the government didn’t care.

The palace intrigue was like the Nixon tapes.

I’ve seen the LIES go out from the TV.

I’ve watched the masks and “six feet apart” every day.

The medical supplies were waiting for all those patients.

So much misallocation.

All Americans are the ones who pay.

They sent a stimulus to the people,

and made it seem so generous.

They pushed the fiscal cliff, saying, what the hell’s the dif?

And threw everyone under the bus.

You know those LIES are nothing new for us; soon to be many lies ago.

Now we all live on social media. And politics is all we know.

There are not many who’ll forget this. They say America’s in decline.

So– remind the world about, the way the LIES went out to keep the memory alive…

Anyway, read Ferraro’s book to learn more about her vice-presidential campaign and her life.

One last thing:

Thomas Sydenham advised, “The arrival of a good clown exercises more beneficial influence upon the health of a town than of twenty jackasses laden with drugs.”

Clinging to the Wreckage – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Clinging to the Wreckage, A Part of Life” by John Mortimer, published in 1982.

Born in the early 1920’s in England, the author was a barrister and playwright. He practiced divorce law like his father before him, and also criminal defense.

The author once wrote a play about “… a man who always says to people what he thought they wanted to hear… We could, if we had any real intention of doing so, narrow the wage differential, we could make education, spectacles, false teeth and rides on the Underground [the London subway] open to all, regardless of the accident of birth.” However, human nature sucks. Humans must make class distinctions. Someone has to be oppressed. There must be class envy.

Nevertheless, now is the time, if ever, for the United States to continue its trend toward instituting national healthcare. For, it cannot afford not to, if it wants to survive as a democratic nation. See the post, “I Shall Not Hate,” third paragraph from the end. Although survival is in doubt at the moment.

As is well known, there turned out to be no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq after 9/11. But– Colin Powell convinced Congress that there were, so it would vote to attack Iraq.

As is well known, there turned out to be vastly significantly less danger than originally “projected” as announced by Dr. Anthony Fauci, that Americans would die of the coronavirus.

Both Colin Powell and Dr. Fauci, like the emperor, had no clothes!

The two aforementioned lies are part and parcel of the political vendettas that have characterized the United States government in the last several decades.

The difference between the lies is that, from 2003 forward, on orders from high government officials, the United States mucked up Iraq. But most Americans didn’t care or weren’t sufficiently powerful to stop the goings-on at “Gitmo” and everywhere else.

For a 20/20 hindsight look at Iraq, see the post: “The Greatest Story Ever Sold.” Two people who might have been viewed as alarmists in the most recent two decades are Naomi Klein (See the post “No Is NOT Enough, RESISTING Trump’s Shock Politics”) and Naomi Wolf, who can be seen in the following video:

In 2020, on orders from high government officials, the United States is mucking up itself! Oops, too late.

The two Naomis aren’t alarmists anymore, are they?? Such is the sewer of history. Anyway, read the Mortimer book to learn the tenor of the times of his generation, given his demographic group.

Ingrid Bergman, My Story

The Book of the Week is “Ingrid Bergman, My Story” by Ingrid Bergman and Alan Burgess, published in 1972.

Born in 1915 in Sweden, Bergman lived with extended relatives after her mother and father passed away, when she was three and thirteen, respectively. The father’s successful painting and photography-supply businesses were taken over by the family. When she was fifteen, a couple of friends in high places– and of course, passion and hard work– allowed her to get accepted to the Royal Dramatic School. Nevertheless, she quit to become a movie actress in Sweden.

David Selznick in America heard about her talent, and his wife set her wise as to Hollywood’s ways. Her advisors therefore negotiated a one-film contract rather than a seven-year contract. Bergman was the opposite of a prima donna on the set. Selznick was impressed and had his public relations people hold her up as a paragon of virtue and modesty. However, she refused to be typecast, insisting on playing all different kinds of roles.

Bergman wrote, “Another Hollywood thing I hated was the power of those two women, Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, the gossip columnists. Their power shocked me, and I thought it very wrong that the film industry had allowed them to build up to such an extent that they could ruin people’s careers and lives.” Sadly, there is nothing new under the sun in that regard. Gossip in American society has been used more often for evil than for good, especially in politics.

Anyway, in autumn 1946, Bergman got slammed for saying she wasn’t going to return Washington, D.C. because the theater there in which she was performing, banned blacks. Perhaps she was not a racist, but her immaturity in her personal relationships caused her first husband and first-born daughter endless anguish.

Read the book to learn of Bergman’s dream role, whether she got to play it, other roles she played, and about her families.

The Man on Mao’s Right

The Book of the Week is “The Man on Mao’s Right, From Harvard Yard to Tiananmen Square, My Life Inside China’s Foreign Ministry” by Ji Chaozhu, published in 2008.

Born in 1929 in the Chinese village of Taijun, Ji lived a charmed early childhood, as his politically connected father was a law professor and commissioner of education. In 1937, his family was forced to move in with his paternal grandfather in Fenyang when the Japanese continued their siege of China.

By the end of the 1930’s, the family had fled from their palace to the United States. They moved into a tiny tenement in the East Village in Manhattan. One aspect of their living standards that was actually higher, was the modern plumbing.

Ji had a much, much older, politically connected brother– old enough to be his father– who purported to aid the Chinese Communists, then Americans, alternating between the two throughout his life. But his loyalties truly lay with the Communists.

Ji’s father behaved similarly, translating between English and Japanese for the U.S. Office of War Information after the Pearl Harbor attack, but also starting a secret pro-Communist Chinese newspaper sold in Chinatown. In 1946, he returned to China to become president of Peking University.

Ji learned English in a progressive private school. As he got older, he too began to believe that the Americans were imperialists, as they invaded Korea. He therefore quit Harvard in his junior year to return to China.

Ji had no problem enduring mean living conditions there– more than a hundred students in his Tsinghua University dorm had to share one bathroom. They had a communal bathhouse. A food shortage meant that his diet consisted of only sorghum, corn millet, dried sweet potato flour and pickled vegetables. There were no chairs in the cafeteria– students ate standing up.

When Mao Tse Tung’s Communist party took over China in 1949, the U.S. Seventh Fleet in Taiwan protected Chiang Kai-Shek, the corrupt, exiled leader of the defeated Nationalist party.

In April 1951, Douglas MacArthur was dismissed from his military leadership position by president Harry Truman for having grand plans to wage nuclear war against the Communists. Congress member Albert Gore, Sr. echoed MacArthur’s hawkish sentiments, proposing that the United States warn people to evacuate Korea, and then showering it with nuclear waste to force a stop to the war.

Ji began to attend self-criticism meetings and worship Mao as though he were a supreme being. But Ji wasn’t automatically accepted as a member of the Communist party because his reputation was tainted with Western values. His father and much, much older brother had worked for the American government in various capacities, and his family had lived in America for a time.

Nevertheless, Ji’s fluency in English, high-level education, and understanding of Western culture were major assets that few Chinese people had. So China’s Foreign Ministry recruited him to translate and take notes at the Korean peace talks in spring 1952. He and his fellow interpreters risked their lives in traveling to the site of the negotiations in Panmunjon in North Korea. They survived shelling, strafing and bombing.

Ji then survived the pressure to perfectly, manually type up the excessive number of revisions in Korean, English and Chinese that led to an almost-final written agreement in July 1953. This, after about two million war deaths over the course of two years, with neither of the multi-national sides making any significant progress geographically.

After a short stop at home, Ji was then sent to Geneva for more abuse, but without life-threatening dangers overhead.

Back in China, the landlords and the capitalists were under physical siege by the peasants in rural farming villages. Mao egged on the violence. However, in late 1956, after the common Hungarian people staged an uprising against their Communist oppressors, Mao realized he needed to take steps to avoid that kind of situation in China. So, “… for the first time, American magazines, books, and the occasional film became available. Before that, any Western literature or movies were banned.”

In a move that was nothing new under the sun, Mao gave the Chinese people a chance to air their grievances. One professor complained that Party members and cadres were living high on the hog while the peasants were starving.

Mao then wrote articles saying that the government then knew who the infidels were. He launched his Anti-Rightist campaign. A lot of bourgeois people were fired from their jobs, and sent to reeducation camps. Many people suicided, were executed or never heard from again. Unsurprisingly, the famine in China resulted in about thirty million deaths.

Beginning in the late 1950’s, over the next decade, Ji dutifully did the jobs he was assigned. For months at a time, he alternated between going to rural areas to help with manual labor, and sitting at Zhou Enlai’s side, sometimes even at Mao’s side– interpreting at diplomatic meetings.

In August 1966, a group of adolescents comprised of sociopathic sadists supplied with weaponry– also known as the Red Guards– terrorized anyone accused of disloyalty to Communist ideology (i.e., ownership by the dictatorial State, rather than ownership by private parties, of the means of production; plus other conditions). Anyone could be an accuser. Mao encouraged everyone to be snitches. The victims of violence also included embassy personnel of the former Soviet Union, India and Burma. Not to mention, in August 1967, people in the British consulate.

While ugliness raged in China and was exacerbated with U.S. intervention in Vietnam, there was a similarity with the two countries’ leadership. Zhou Enlai’s role under Mao was like vice president Hubert Humphrey’s under president Lyndon Johnson’s. The second fiddles both obeyed their bosses to keep their jobs, even though their bosses’s actions caused an excessive number of needless deaths and ruined lives.

Read the book to learn much more about the history of China, and Ji’s life and times.