Yemeni Assassinations: Prelude to Western Oil War

Yemen: The Last Lunch

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the 1977 assassination of North Yemen president Ibrahim al-Hamdi. The latter, who came to power in a 1974 bloodless coup, was working on reuniting North and South Yemen, as well as reducing the country’s dependence on Saudi Arabia.

Prior to World War I, Yemen was divided between the British and Ottoman empires. North Yemen achieved independence in 1972, South Yemen in 1967. With a Marxist government, the latter had close ties to the Soviet Union.

Owing to lack of evidence, no charges were ever laid for al-Hamdi’s murder. Al-Hamdi had received advanced warnings that his military chief of staff Ahmad bin Hussein al-Ghashmi was planning to assassinate him. Al-Hamdi, who regarded al-Ghashmi as his closest friend, dismissed them.

Bodyguards last saw Al-Hamdi and his brother alive entering al-Ghashmi’s home for lunch on October 11, 1977. Hours later their bodies were found in a remote location along with the bodies of two French prostitutes/spies. According to French intelligence records, al-Ghashmi recruited the two French women to discredit al-Hamdi. Both French and US intelligence files blame Saudi Arabia for the assassination.

In addition to al-Ghashmi, long time president Ali Abdullah Saleh, Saudi Arabia and tribal leaders who opposed Yemeni reunification are also considered potential suspects.

At the time Saudi Arabia, which still views Yemen as a Saudi colony, openly opposed al-Hamdi’s presidency and policies.*

Al-Ghashmi, who assumed the presidency after Al Hamdi’s murder, would also be assassinated eight months later. Saleh, who succeeded him, openly blamed Saudi Arabia for al-Hamdi’s death.

Saleh’s 33 year presidency would end in 1990 when he, too, was assassinated. This was the same year North and South Yemen were unified (until South Yemen seceded in 1994).


*In her new book The Crash of Flight 3804: A Lost Spy, a Daughter’s Quest, and the Deadly Politics of the Great Game for Oil, Charlote Dennett suggests Yemen’s oil reserves exceed those of the entire Persian Gulf

Hidden History: The Supreme Court Reversal of Muhammad Ali’s Draft Resistance Conviction

The Trials of Muhammad Ali

Directed by Bill Siegel (2013)

Film Review

Although I’ve watched several documentaries about the life of Muhammad Ali, I was previously unaware that the Supreme Court overturned his conviction for violating the Selective Services Act (for refusing to fight in Vietnam) – nor of the highly unusual circumstances under which they did so.

In 1966, world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali was convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison. Although he remained out on bail during his five-year appeal, the felony conviction caused boxing commissions in most states to suspend his license to box. During this period, he supported himself and his family through paid speaking engagements.

Ali claimed conscientious objector status as a Black Muslim (contrary to popular belief, most interpretations of Islam are nonviolent). Giving up his slave name Cassius Clay, he joined the Nation of Islam in 1961. He also rejected the notion of Black Americans killing non-white Vietcong when their real enemies were white Americans. Although Martin Luther King rejected the nationalist stance of the Nation of Islam, he supported Ali’s stance on Vietnam.

The initial Supreme Court vote on Ali’s case was 5 to 3 (African American Thurgood Marshal recused himself) in favor of upholding the conviction. Assigned to write the opinion for the majority, Justice John Harlan learned a prior ruling regarding a Jehovah’s Witness draft evader set a clear precedent. In the end, all eight justices agreed to overturn the conviction.

Ali won a gold medal at age 18 in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 summer Olympics, and he won the heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston at age 22.

He would later disavow the Nation of Islam, adhering to Sunni Islam and supporting racial integration like his mentor Malcolm X.

In 2005, President George W Bush awarded him the medal of freedom.

Public library members can view this film free at Beamafilm.

 

CIA: Making the World Safe for US Oil for 73 Years

 

The Crash of Flight 3804: A Lost Spy, a Daughter’s Quest, and the Deadly Politics of the Great Game for Oil

by Charlotte Dennett

Chelsea Green Press (2020)

Book Review

In my view, this books makes a fairly compelling case that US Cold War strategy was more about protecting US oil interests (specifically pipelines) than fighting Communism. In The Crash of Flight 3804, Dennett describes her decades long battle to declassify intelligence records related to the plane crash that killed her father in Ethiopia on March 24, 1947. Daniel Dennett, previously employed by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), was working for the immediate CIA predecessor the Defense Intelligence Group (DIG) at the time of his death. Although his cover was Beirut State Department Cultural Attache, declassified records indicate he performed a vital counterintelligence role in protecting US strategic oil interests from, not only Russia, but also France and Britain.

Beginning in 1945, Emperor Haile Selassie signed oil deals with Sinclair Oil and TWA to break the British stranglehold* over Ethiopia. Charlotte believes he was flying from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia to further cement the US oil foothold in that country.

As she describes it, the post World War II years witnessed a mad scramble by the US, France, Britain and Russia to stake claims to key oil resources as Asian, Middle East and African countries declared their independence from European colonizers. Prior to the development of oil supertankers in the 1970s, overland pipelines were the most efficient method of transporting Middle East oil to European and Asian markets.

Within weeks of her father’s death, Truman signed the 1947 National Security Act that created the CIA. The latter would undertake their first-ever coup in 1949 again Syrian President Shukri al-Quwatli, who refused to allow the Trans-Arabian Pipeline (TAPLINE) to transit his country. He was replaced by an army officer who approved the pipeline, and TAPLINE construction began immediately.

Dennett then traces, country by country, how all US military bases and interventions in the Middle East and Mediterranean follow existing and proposed oil pipelines routes.

I especially enjoyed her detailed analysis of the so-called civil war in Syria, starting with Robert F Kennedy’s revelations in 2014 about his grandfather Joseph P Kennedy’s role in a secret committee to investigate CIA coup plots in Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Although the 1956 Bruce Lovett report has since be declassified, its contents remain unknown to the US public.

Kennedy’s assertions about US backing for militant anti-Assad jihadists were subsequently validated by State Department emails leaked by Wikileaks. Likewise Dennett cites Hillary Clinton emails leaked (by Wikileaks) in 2016 revealing that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were funding ISIS militants in Syria and Iraq with State Department knowledge.

Her analysis of the current war in Yemen (whose oil reserves are believed to exceed those of the entire Persian Gulf) is spellbinding.


*British occupation of Ethiopia began in 1941, following their ouster of Italian troops.

 

 

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Directed by Nicholas Wrathall (2013)

Film Review

This film is dedicated to the memory of US dissident and iconoclast Gore Vidal, who died at 87 in 2012. Born to privilege, Vidal was one of the few Eastern- Washington DC elite to turn against his class. His maternal great-grandfather Thomas Pryor Gore was a long serving US Senator and his mother married into the Auchincloss* family, resulting in close ties to the Kennedy family.

Vidal spent three years in the Pacific during World War II before being invalided out for rheumatoid arthritis. He published his first novel at 19.

After Vidal was blackballed by the mainstream media (the New York Times and Washington Post refused to review his books) for publishing the first American novel explaining the mechanics of gay sex, he moved to Hollywood to write TV and movie scripts. He would receive a thank you letter from Alfred Kinsey, who also worked to demystify homosexual in his bestselling Kinsey Reports in the 1950s.

Vidal counted Paul and Joanne Newman, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, and Eleanor Roosevelt (she worked for his Congressional campaign in the 1960s) among his friend. He spent most of his life in Italy until the death of his lifelong companion Howard Austen. Too disabled to live on his own, Vidal returned to the US.

Most of Vidal’s novels concern the deep US government corruption that dates back to the founding fathers. His seven-book series Narratives of Empire exposes much hidden history surrounding the first 250 years of US empire building.

Although the series ends with Franklin D Roosevelt (who Vidal believes was complicit in the Pearl Harbor bombing), he has been equally critical of presidents who succeeded FDR. In the film he blasts Truman, Kennedy, Carter, Reagan, and George W Bush:

  • Truman – for being the first US president to (unconstitutionally) launch a universal draft in peacetime.
  • Kennedy – for his belligerent foreign policy (Vidal disputes claims by assassination scholars that JFK intended to withdraw US troops from Vietnam) and his failure to use his popularity to champion genuine domestic reform.
  • Reagan for being a mindless puppet of the corporate elite.
  • Bush Jr – for stealing the presidency in 2000 and 2004* and for launching illegal and unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

My favorite parts of the film relate to Vidal’s friendship with the last Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev.


*Vidal’s mother was Hugh D Auchincloss’s second wife and Janet Lee Bouvier (Jackie Kennedy’s mother) his third.

**Vidal refers to the book What Went Wrong in Ohio by Congressman John Conyers on Ohio voting irregularities in the 2004 election. The New York Times and other major media outlets refuse to review the book.

 

Hidden History: US Empire Building in China and the South Pacific

The Coming War on China

Directed by John Pilger (2016)

Film Review

Two things I’ve learned over the years about John Pilger films are 1) there’s virtually no link between the film’s title and its content 2) they all include include considerable hidden history not taught in public schools. .

The main focus of this documentary is US empire building in the Pacific and its disastrous effect on US-China relations.

A good third of the film concerns the US annexation of the Marshall islands following World War II, followed by the cynical US government decisions to use residents (referred to as “savages” in classified documents) as radiation guinea pigs in atmospheric nuclear tests. .

After bombing some of the islands daily for 12 years, residents were forcibly returned to Rongelap despite dangerously high water and soil radiation levels. The US government then subjected them to repeated scans and blood tests to assess their response to the irradiated food they were eating.

As more and more developed cancer and produced offspring with birth defects, they begged the US government to move them. When the Americans declined, they appealed to Greenpeace International, which deployed the Rainbow Warrior to move them to an uncontaminated island in 1985.

The Marshall Islands are also home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Site. The latter forms part of a ring of strategic nuclear bases surrounding and aimed at China. This “noose” includes bases in Okinawa Japan (which are strongly opposed by local residents), South Korea, the Philippines and Australia.

Much of the film concerns the US occupation of China prior to the 1949 revolution (which I was totally unaware of), in large part to protect a thriving opium trade that was second only to slavery in providing capital wealth to the US corporate elite.*

The film also totally debunks common myths the US government promotes to justify their encirclement of China.

Myth 1: China aims to replace the US as the primary global empire.

Fact check: China has no interest in “converting” foreigners to their way of life as the US does. They simply refuse to be economically or politically controlled by US interests, like so-called US allies are. In Western Europe, for example, countries with nominal independence are forbidden to pursue foreign policy contrary to US interests.

Myth 2: Mao was an implacable enemy of the West.

Fact check: Mao Zedong secretly sought to establish diplomatic relations with Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower. After State Department officials who delivered Mao’s messages were fired as traitors, there was no on left in the State Department who could speak Mandarin.

Myth 3: China has a capitalist economy.

Fact check: China has a free market economy. According to Pilger, they reject the “capitalist” label because their billionaires aren’t permitted to influence or control  government operations as happens in the US.

*Roosevelt derived his wealth from his maternal grandfather Warren Delano, dubbed the US opium king. Former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles derived his wealth from his great grandfather’s opium smuggling. All the Eastern Ivy League universities were founded with opium money.

 

 

Hidden History: The 2014 Revolution in Burkina Faso

Burkinabé Rising: The Art of Resistance in Bukina Faso

Directed by Lara Lee (2017)

Film Review

Burkinabé Rising is about the 2014 revolution in Burkina Faso which overthrew dictator Blaise Compaoré after 27 years in power. To the best of my knowledge the event received no coverage whatsoever in the Western media. The vast majority of Americans have never even heard of Burkina Faso. I confess I first discovered the west African country when I  heard their music performed at Womad* in 2000.

Burkina Faso is bordered by Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Ivory Coast. It has a population of 20 million (four times the size of New Zealand). They received their independence from France in 1960.

The primary focus of the film is the historical use of art (music, modern dance, hip hop, visual arts, slam poetry, drama, and traditional masks and mud hut architecture) to raise revolutionary consciousness among young Bukinabé.

Music and dance have been especially successful in evading censorship while  preserving the memory of revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara and investigative journalist Norbert Zonga. Both were assassinated by Compaoré  and his family (Sankara in 1987 and Zonga in 1998).

The use of art in preparing the Bukinabé for full self-government has continued since Compaoré’s ouster in 2014. The role of women, the breadwinners of two-thirds of the country’s households, is of prime importance. At present several grassroots campaigns focus on women’s literacy and the education of girls, as well as the participation of women in civic organization.

There’s also a major emphasis on reviving indigenous languages and reducing food imports by banning GMOs and returning to traditional organic agriculture.


*Womad (World of Music, Arts and Dance) is an international arts festival celebrating the world’s many forms of music, arts and dance. My local city New Plymouth hosts Womad every March.

Rwanda: Story of a Genocide Foretold

Rwanda: Story of a Genocide Foretold

Directed by Michael Sztanke (2019)

Film Review

This documentary is about recent declassified evidence that reveals French complicity in the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

Although Rwanda is a former Belgian colony, France provided military “support” from the early nineties an an effort to “de-anglicize” central Africa. Viewing military presence in Rwanda as an entry point to Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) with its wealth of diamonds, gold, and rare earth minerals, they offered weapons and “military advisors.” Many of the latter assumed operational command over Rwandan troops.

Meanwhile, owing to systematic persecution by the Hutu-led government, many minority Tutsis fled to Uganda where they formed the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) led by current president Paul Kagame. The role of French forces was to assist the Hutu government in repelling the RPF.

In 1991, French general Jean Varret warned his superiors that machine guns and artillery they were supplying Rwanda police were being used in ruthless pogroms against Tutsi civilians. The French government responded by forcing him to resign.

The genocidal attacks against the Tutsis escalated in February 1994, following the assassination of Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana (which was blamed on the Tutsis). The next two months saw the daily slaughter of roughly 10,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. In response in April 1994, a UN mandate authorized the deployment of 2,500 French troops to Rwanda as peacekeepers.

Known as Operation Turquoise, the French peacekeeping mission turned a blind eye to the continuing genocide (which they referred to “reciprocal massacres”) until July 1994, when the RPF began their final military advance to topple the Hutu government. At that point the French set up a series of refugee camps in southern Rwanda. Their alleged purpose was to protect Tutsi victims, but they were also used to facilitate the escape (to Zaire, Togo, Gabon and France) of Hutu government officials and militia from the advancing RPF.

In this way, seven out of 21 ministers managed to escape although four were later convicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. Three are still living quiet undisturbed lives in France.**


*The Belgians created significant ethnic strife in Rwanda by limiting appointments in the colonial government to minority Tutsis. This would engender significant backlash from Hutus when they assumed majority control following independence in 1962.

**Following a 2017 Rwandan government indictment against French generals implicated in the genocide, French president Macron agreed to open the archives to public inspection:  https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/04/05/france-throw-open-archives-rwanda-genocide-clarify-role-25-years/

 

Hidden History: The 21 Korean War POWs Who Defected to China

 

They Chose China

Directed by Shui-Bo-Wong (2006)

Film Review

This documentary is about 21 US Korean War POWs who chose not to repatriate to the US when the Korean armistice was signed in 1953. Initially there were 23. The first two returned to the US in the early fifties, where they were court martialed and given 10 and 20 year prison sentences.

For the most part, the US media echoed Senator Joseph McCarthy’s view that the 21 who remained in China were Communist traitors. However in a 1954 interview about their reasons for defecting, most cited their opposition to imperialist wars or to McCarthy’s witch hunt against US political dissidents, which they equated with fascism.

The 21 were also clearly influenced by their extremely positive treatment during their three years in captivity. The Chinese who ran the North Korean POW camps allowed them to have American food, as well as encouraging them to organize football, baseball and soccer games.

On arriving in China, they were given a choice between working in a factory, joining a collective farm or attending university. Most would leave China prior to 1966, when Mao launched his brutal Cultural Revolution. In giving their reasons for repatriating, some talked of a changing political climate that was less tolerant of foreigners. Other cited concerns about the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary.

Three of the US defectors are profiled in this film:

Clarence Adams – an African American from Memphis who enlisted in 1947 to escape a gang of white supremacist cops who had targeted him. His main reason for defecting to China was to escape white terrorism, as well as economic opportunities denied to him in the US. After spending several hears at university, he worked as a translator in Beijing and broadcast propaganda speeches directed at Black soldiers in Vietnam.

David Hawkins – in a 1957 60 Minutes interview (following his return to the US), he asserts the US had no business invading a country (Korea) that posed no threat to them militarily.* He also strongly advocates for the US to recognize China (the US officially recognized China in 1972 during Nixon’s first term).

James Veneris – the only defector profiled in the film who remained in China, as a factory worker, until his death in 2004.


*See See Hidden History: The US Wars Against Japan, Korea and Vietnam and The Long US War Against the Third World

This film can be viewed free at https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/they-chose-china/

 

An American in Mao’s Cultural Revolution

The Revolutionary: An American in Mao’s Cultural Revolution

Directed by Irv Drasnin, Lucy Ostrander and Don Sellers (2012)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the late Sidney Rittenberg, the only US citizen ever to join the Chinese Communist Party during the tenure of Mao Tse Tung

Rittenberg, active in the Southern union and civil rights movement during the early forties, was drafted in 1941 and trained in Mandarin by the US military. He was deployed to China in 1945 and served briefly as a UN observer following the Japanese surrender in August 1945.

In 1946, the Chinese Communist Party invited him to remain in China to serve as a “bridge” between the Chinese revolution and the Western world. Fearful of becoming too dependent on the Soviet Union, Mao was eager to establish good relations with the US.

After Stalin denounced him as a spy in 1949, the Chinese imprisonment him for six years (without trial) in solitary confinement. During the first year of his imprisonment, he was offered the option of returning to the US or remaining in prison under relaxed conditions allowing him full access to books and writing materials. Rittenberg, who believed that Mao’s revolution offered genuine freedom and democracy for China’s brutally oppressed poor, chose to remain in prison.

Following Stalin’s death he was released with a full apology. With his party membership restored, he was offered a prestigious position at Radio Beijing running the English language section. As a high level Communist Party official, he also enjoyed a life of privilege, with access to a chauffeur, hot water, and higher pay than Mao.

The most interesting part of the film concerns Rittenberg’s experience with three momentous programs Mao launched to counter pro-capitalist* forces in his government (the 1956 Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom campaign, the 1958-62 Great Leap Forward and the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution).

During Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom, Chinese intellectuals were encouraged to criticize government policies they felt weren’t working. While Mao accepted suggestions for improving existing policies, he came down hard on intellectuals (many lost their jobs or were imprisoned) who expressed outright oppositions to his policies.

During the Great Leap Forward, Mao first established vast rural communes that provided free food for all Chinese citizens, and then pulled most of the farmers off the communes to develop local steel and copper foundries. The loss of production would result in a massive famine in which 25-35 million people would die.

The famine-related deaths resulted in heavy criticism of Mao among the party leadership. The Cultural Revolution he launched in 1966 was intended to purge the Party leadership of his critics. The program consisted mainly of empowering youthful Red Brigade members to act as police, judge, and jury of authority figures  they perceived as counter-revolutionary (or simply disliked). Mao simultaneously ordered the police and army to stand back, while the Red Guards brutally assaulted, tortured, and killed people they singled out. During the Cultural Revolution, many intellectuals and academics were also detained without trial and either sent to prisons, labor camps, or agricultural communes.

Erroneously believing the Cultural Revolution was a true democratic rebellion, Rittenberg, became involved in a rebel group at Radio Beijing. Initially Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife and notorious Gang of Four member, encouraged his efforts. However in 1968 when he began criticizing the lack of democratic process, he found himself back in prison in solitary confinement.

He would be released shorty after Mao’s death in 1976. He and his family returned to the US in 1980, where he and his wife started new careers again in adult education. As China increasingly opened up to US investment, both embarked on lucrative careers as consultants to major Wall Street companies.

Rittenberg died August 24, 2019.


*The strength of the pro-capitalist movement Mao was struggling with becomes apparent from the speed with which China abandoned communism for industrial capitalism following his death. See How China’s Peasant Lost Collective Farming and Gained Urban Poverty

People with a public library card can see the documentary free on Kanopy. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine to register.

Hidden History: How China’s Peasants Lost Collective Farming and Gained Urban Poverty

From Commune to Capitalism: How China’s Peasants Lost Collective Farming and Gained Urban Poverty

By Zhun Xu

Monthly Review Press (2018)

Book Review

The purpose of this book is to dispel common Chinese Communist Party (CCP) myths about the rapid privatization of Chinese collective farms following Mao Tse Tung’s death in 1976. For me, the most interesting section concerns Mao’s decision to collectivize Chinese agriculture (which occurred more than nine years after he assumed power in 1949). It becomes clear that throughout his tenure as president, Mao was in constant conflict with a strong anti-socialist faction of the CCP that supported full adoption of capitalism in China. Prior to reading this book, I had no idea that Mao’s disastrous Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) was a last ditch effort to rid his government of his pro-capitalist enemies. Following Mao’s death, his pro-capitalist successor Deng Xiaoping lost no time in privatizing all China’s collective farms and industry.

Xu mainly focuses on three common myths promoted by the current CCP. The first myth is that Chinese collective farms suffered from gross inefficiency and that productivity improved when collectives were dissolved and replaced with small family farms. The second myth blames this inefficiency on laziness and work avoidance, which the CCP alleges was common on collective farms. The third maintains that rural peasants initiated decollectivization spontaneously from the grassroots because they were dissatisfied with collective farming.

Myth 1: Citing detailed crop records and peasant interviews, Xu makes a compelling case that productivity declined significantly following the neoliberal* reforms (including decollectivization) the CCP implemented in the 1980s. The economic advantage of collective agriculture of small privately held family plots is that it enable rural peasants to pool their resources to mechanize their farms, set up irrigation schemes and invest in high yield hybrid crops and chemical fertilizers. Many small farmers lost access to machines and irrigation schemes following decollectivization. In fact many were left landless when cadres* and party bureaucrats seized the best land for themselves. Peasants who were left landless were forced to migrate to the cities, where they contributed to a large surplus labor pool. The latter put great pressure on urban workers who resisted privatization of state-owned industries. At present, the CCP is seeking to increase agricultural productivity by consolidating remaining family farms into large industrial scale land holdings (ie driving even more peasants off their land).

Myth 2: Work avoidance was relatively rare under Chinese collective farming, except where there was significant “stratification.” Most collectives employed a system in which members’ reimbursement was directly linked to the number of work points they accumulated. However in “stratified” collectives, the cadres running the farm abused their authority (by shirking work themselves, trading cushy work assignments for sexual favors, and punishing personal enemies with heavier work duties). This drastically impacted morale and initiative of many of the peasants under them.

Myth 3: Evidence is clear from the interviews Xu conducted that decollectivization was forcibly imposed by the CCP. Xu estimates that 30% of rural peasants supported privatization of the collectives, 30% strongly opposed it, and 40% were indifferent.

The good new is that China is having the same reaction to the failures of neoliberalism as the rest of the world (eg extreme poverty and inequality). Xu describes a renewed interest in Marxism in Chinese academic and activist circles.


*Neoliberalism is a school of economic thought popularized by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher that promotes privatization of public industries and services, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and greatly reduced government spending.

**The Cadres were officials appointed by the CCP to run the collective farms, either because of their role in the Revolution or strong links to party officials.