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Ideological Battleground

9 October 2017

When I was younger, and a good church-attending lass, a phrase I heard a lot was “remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”. At the time, I thought it literally referred to my pupil, and poked myself way too many times in the eye trying to scoop it out (common sense did not come naturally to me). Now, of course, I realise it’s a metaphor for hypocrisy and self-awareness.

Growing up, you always knew who the bad guys were. The communists, the terrorists, the protestors who block the tramlines when you’re trying to get into the city to watch the latest Harry Potter or Marvel movie with your friends. And that’s funny too, because we forget that the characters we fall in love with, who are fighting for a better life and a good cause, are often labelled, by their own societies, as bad guys too. That’s because in real life, the good guys and the bad guys tend to blur.

The good guys build empires on the backs of colonised nations and minorities, just dressed up and glossed over in nationalist and feminist slogans. Some of the bad guys don’t bother to hide their bombs, guns, nooses and hate. We conveniently forget that we – the ‘good guys’ – gave them those weapons in the first place. We forget that some ‘bad guys’ aren’t really bad guys at all – they’re fighting the good fight. It’s all about perception and perspective.

Because we forget what we owe to some of those ‘bad guys’ too. Why do we owe more to the American soldiers who fought the Nazis than the communists and socialists, labelled ‘terrorists’ of sorts, who recognised evil and struggled against it from the moment Hitler gained chancellorship? Why do we romanticise protestors like the Suffragettes in films, and then mutter about ‘pesky protestors’ under our breaths when they inconvenience us by locking down the CBD? And why do we mourn the loss of life in 9/11 and other terrorist attacks in the West, while largely ignoring the rising civilian death tolls of our armies in the Middle East? Why do we forget that the West has created most of its own worst enemies?

North Korea (NK) is one of those bad guys. I’m not going to defend their human rights abuses, or even list them, because that’s not the point. The point is we forget that the polarisation and isolation of NK originated from the Allied occupation after the Second World War, where Korea was split in two and put under the separate administrations of the Soviet Union (North) and the United States (South). Before that, it was under Japanese control. Is it a considerable surprise that a country passed from foreign occupation to foreign occupation adopts nationalist, radical, or anti-West ideologies?

Considering the context in which NK was born, one in which the ideological battles of the world powers played out in their peripheral vision, its aggressive self-severance from the South is less shocking, perhaps more understandable. The West’s fear of communism, combined with the lingering stench of colonialism, wreaked destruction in much of South-East Asia during the same period. From this perspective, even as the Cold War faded into grudging tolerance and globalisation, a country which had no ball to play or dice to role, had nothing to gain and everything to lose by allowing themselves to become a pawn of more powerful states.

Whether or not NK was born evil, or had evilness thrust upon it, its communist reputation is also a legacy of ‘Red Scare’ propaganda. In fact, NK has predominantly anti-communist qualities, like its emphasis on ethnic nationalism, a race-based class system, a neo-feudalistic monarchy and an economy that exists on corruption and privatisation. These are all characteristics which are distinctly anti-Marxist-Leninist. However, it’s still seen broadly as an example of communism. The United States likes to label their enemies as communist, and as such, associate communism with fascism, authoritarianism or villainy. It’s interesting how, for example, China is colloquially no longer considered a communist country, as its relationship to the West has improved since its foray into a capitalist economy

But while condemning the blatant human rights abuses occurring in North Korea, how is it that we forget or ignore similar abuses happening in the West? We cite NK’s concentration camps as evidence of their cruelty, yet where is the international condemnation of Australia’s treatment of refugees? Are they too not locked up without charge or crime, with no clear idea of when they will be released?

Let us not also forget the injustices of our criminal justice and prison systems. Let us not forget that colonisation is not a distant past. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people make up 27 per cent of all prisoners, yet are merely two per cent of Australia’s overall population. Some academics have astutely observed that as the more overt disciplinary regimes of the colonial state have retreated in favour of an ‘assimilation’ approach, the incarceration rates of the Indigenous population continued to grow. Basically, the regimes and tactics we speak of as horrific events of the past have merely been repackaged and tied up with a neoliberal bow.

So, are we really in a position to call ourselves the good guys? This article doesn’t have the scope to address all of the internal injustices which persist in Western countries like the United States and Australia. But I can tell you that it has been estimated that since World War Two, the United States has killed over 20 million people in foreign countries. I can tell you that the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that drone-strikes under Obama – a fabled ‘good-guy’ – have killed up to 807 civilians in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. I can tell you that the conflict in Iraq, initiated by the US in 2003, has seen an estimated total of up to 194,058 civilians killed on both sides. And for what reason? One is definitely because they didn’t fall in line and follow the Western global hegemony.

While we may shout all about democracy and fairness, we are still exerting oppressive and damaging control over certain races, and certain socio-demographics. Perhaps our tactics are not as obtuse, as obvious, as blatantly abusive, but we are not better because we have learnt the language of equality and appropriated it to cover our inhumanity. We all fall south on the morality scale as we continue to draw lines around.