Zion Island 21.

Reichsarchiv.  Nachlasse Bach-Zalewski.  Private files–Miscellaneous.

 

Transcript of Recording.  Private meeting held in the office of General von dem Bach-Zalewski, beginning at 8:55 PM on 28 June 1948.

 

KG[1]: Heil Hitler!  Obersturmfuhrer Gerstein reporting as ordered.

 

B-Z: Heil Hitler!  Stand at ease.  Indeed, please take a seat.

 

B-Z: I have before me your personal file.  Your family background is rigorously patriotic and you joined the SA.  However, you joined only in July 1933.  You would be considered a “March violet” by many Old Fighters.  Then you managed to get expelled because of the conflict between your Christian religious beliefs and Party doctrine.  Then you–well your father and his friends—arranged for your re-admission.  Then you volunteered for the SS in 1941.  Your record is hardly that of a conventional SS-man.  Well, we take all kinds.  Still, you wish to comment?

 

KG: I am a German patriot.  I despised the Versailles Treaty and am happy to have seen it utterly overthrown.  I am a Christian.  My soul will be saved from Damnation if I follow the teachings of Our Savior Jesus Christ.  I do not think that either faith is incompatible with the other.

 

B-Z: I certainly hope not.  Your file states further that you are assigned to the “technical disinfection section” of the Institute for Tropical Medicine.  This brings you into contact with Dr. Mengele?[2]

 

KG: It does on occasion.  My position is very junior, but Dr. Mengele makes every effort to create congenial relationships among his staff, both German and non-German.

 

B-Z: Yes, yes, German and non-German.  I am told that you have been in contact—unofficially—with both residents of and visitors to our sunny dominion over palm and pine.  The name Schulte has been mentioned.[3]  There is also talk of a Hungarian.  Is this so?

 

KG: Mr. Schulte is here investigating possible copper mining.  Originally I trained as a mining engineer, before going on to medicine.  We met by chance on the train and fell into conversation on that matter.

 

B-Z: Ah, of course.  And this supposed Hungarian?  Does he—or she?—exist?

 

KG: Dr. Nyiszli[4] works as a pathologist at the Institute.  Dr. Mengele holds him in high regard for his technical competence in autopsies.  I have encountered him several times in the course of work.  Again, after studying mining, I turned to medicine.  That gave us a basis for conversation.

 

B-Z: The Institute of Tropical Medicine has need of a pathologist to conduct autopsies?  That’s not very encouraging.

 

KG: Much of Dr. Mengele’s own work at the Institute is, well,….. experimental.

 

B-Z: Is it indeed?  I didn’t realize that.  You know, that’s the problem with governments: they become too complicated.  The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.  Not from bad motives, you understand?  Just from compartmentalization and the pace of too much work.  Yet I am responsible for everyone and everything.  So, I am always glad to hear what is actually going on.  Rather like the private reports on opinion the SD once collected.[5]  I hope that you will feel confident in bringing me any little scraps of news you acquire about the Institute or Dr. Mengele.

 

KG: So far as it does not go against my duty.

 

B-Z: As a German patriot, as a National Socialist, as a Christian hoping for Salvation?

 

B-Z: As for your informal contacts, I have no reason to object.  Certainly, life here can feel very cut-off from the larger worlds from which we came.  Still, such reports, if they reached certain quarters, might be the source of some alarm, is it not so?  Seen in the context of your personal file, they might be misunderstood.  Despite Dr. Best’s efforts as governor, I hear that Neu Kaledonie is a big step down from this place.[6]  Dismissed.  Heil Hitler!

 

KG: Heil Hitler!

 

[1] Kurt Gerstein: b. 1905, Munster, German Empire.  Degree in mining engineering, then studied medicine.  Member of the Nazi Party 1933-1936, 1939—.  Enlisted in the SS (1941) with rank of Obersturmfuhrer, essentially a First Lieutenant.

[2] Josef Mengele: b. 1911, Gunzburg, Kingdom of Bavaria, German Empire.  Ph.D., Anthropology, University of Munich, 1935; M.D., University of Frankfurt, 1938.  Joined the Nazi Party in 1937, and the SS in 1938.  Military service with the Army (France, 1940), and then with the Waffen SS (Russia, 1941).

[3] Probably Eduard Schulte: b. 1891, Dusseldorf, German Empire.  From 1926, General Manager of the Giesche Trust industrial and mining conglomerate, Breslau, Germany.

[4] Miklos Nyiszli: b. 1901, Transylvania, Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Hungarian nationality from 1919.  M.D. 1929.

[5] Heinz Boberach, ed. Meldungen aus dem Reich 1938–1945. Die geheimen Lageberichte des Sicherheitsdienstes der SS, 17 vols. (1984).

[6] Werner Best, b: 1903, Darmstadt, German Empire.  Doctorate in Law, University of Heidelberg, 1927.  Joined Nazi Party, 1930, and the SS in 1931.  Close to Heydrich, he took a senior position in the Gestapo, and then, in 1939-1940, in the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA).  Following a conflict within the RSHA, from 1940 to 1942 he served as chief of the German administration in Occupied France.  In November 1942, following a further conflict, he was appointed Governor General of the German penal colony on the former French possession of New Caledonia.

Reckoning with Racism.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has ordered the removal of the portraits of four previous Speakers on the grounds that they had supported the Confederacy, either before or after serving in the office she now holds.  “There is no room in the hallowed halls of Congress or in any place of honor for memorializing men who embody the violent bigotry and grotesque racism of the Confederacy.”[1]  This may seem to some to be more like virtue-signaling than substantive change, but it’s a first step.  The United States does need to consider the place of racism in its past and present.  One question is how much truth-telling people want or can stand.

In almost every presidential election from 1852 to 1860 and from 1880 to 1976, the states of the Confederacy and then the former Confederacy voted Democratic.  What is true of presidential elections is even more true of Congressional, state, and local elections.[2]  For most of this period, the Democratic Party was a Southern-dominated party.  Only under unusual circumstances did the Democratic party manage to break out of its geographic and cultural isolation to win large numbers of states in other regions.[3]

The point is that for a hundred years the Democratic Party anchored its electoral base in the old Confederacy.  At times and in terms of political representation, it existed almost entirely as a regional party.  After 1876, the federal government conceded virtual “”Home Rule” to the South.  Southern Democrats imposed “Jim Crow” laws,[4] disfranchised African-Americans,[5] created and celebrated the mythology of the “Lost Cause,”[6] put up statues to “Johnny Reb” and to Confederate generals, and lynched with abandon.[7]  Prominent Southern Democrats included Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman, who had proudly led a bloody attack on freedmen before representing South Carolina in the Senate.[8]  At the Versailles peace conference, Woodrow Wilson vetoed a Japanese proposal for a “racial equality” statement in the Treaty.  During the Great Depression, much of the New Deal’s aid to Southerners either tacitly or explicitly excluded African-Americans.  Later, the men who murdered Emmett Till and the jury that acquitted them were Democrats.  These examples barely scratch the surface.

In short, and to put it mildly, the Democratic party long resisted racial equality.  Indeed, until within human memory, it formed one of chief institutional exponents of race hatred in the United States.  How to address this issue?

[1] Emily Cochrane, “Pelosi Removes Portraits Tied to Confederacy From Capitol,” NYT, 19 June 2020.

[2] For presidential elections, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_South#Solid_South_in_presidential_elections For gubernatorial elections, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid_South#South_in_gubernatorial_elections

[3] Notably in 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt’s insurgency split the Republican party, and between 1932 and 1948 when the Great Depression and the Second World War created a national emergency.

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Crow_laws

[5] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disenfranchisement_after_the_Reconstruction_Era

[6] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Cause_of_the_Confederacy

[7] See, if you’ve got a strong stomach: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynching_in_the_United_States

[8] Maybe Speaker Pelosi could try to repeal the Tillman Act (1907).

Zion Island 20.

Library of Congress/Admiral John A. Waters, Jr., Papers/Director of Security, Atomic Energy Commission/Liaison with F.B.I/ “November 1953.”

Folder contained the following clipping from the New York Herald-Tribune, 28 January 1950.  No further information supplied.

 

WANTED: Inventor/Engineer seeks combined office and workshop space in Long Island City industrial building.  Area of 48th Street and Center Boulevard, and upper floors preferred; Western exposure and long-term lease required.  Please respond to Walter Glassman, PO Box 1202, 9224 Queens Blvd, Rego Park, NY.

Down the Malay Barrier 7.

Singapore is a microscopic island-country.  It should be poverty-stricken: it’s tiny and has no natural resources.  In fact, it is very prosperous.  It has a great port and it is located at one end of the Malacca Straits, a major world shipping channel between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.  Need fuel or repairs or supplies?  Stop in Singapore.  Picking up or dropping off a cargo for anywhere in Southeast Asia?  Stop in Singapore.  Business generates profits (ka-ching!) and those profits mean that Singapore is a good place to borrow money.  So, you’ve got a good idea for a pot plantation on a remote island or a new textile factory in Bangladesh or a TS brothel on Soi Cowboy?  Stop in Singapore.  These “core” businesses than send out local shock-waves.  What that means is that there are sky-scrapers, office buildings, and slums all over the place.  However, you can’t build these without construction workers.

In contrast, Bangladesh is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of poor people.  The “surplus” population is shoved off to work abroad in Malaysia, the Persian Gulf, and Singapore.  Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi workers abroad then send home part of their pay to the wife or mother back home.  These are called “remittances.”  The remittances help keep afloat the national economy.  At the same time, Karl Marx mistakenly described religion as “the opiate of the people.”  Truth is, sometimes it is the “speed” of the people.  A lot of miserable Bangladeshis have embraced radical Islam.  This scares the government of Bangladesh, so it locks up a lot of the leaders.

Singapore’s population is 74% of Chinese descent, 13.4% of Malay descent, 9.2% of Indian descent, and 3.3% of other descent.  About 15 percent of the population is Muslim.  In short, it is a Chinese island with a bunch of non-Chinese.  Most Muslims are immigrant laborers.

Sometime in the week of 17-24 January 2016, Singapore deported 27 men back to their home country of Bangladesh.[1]  The police in Singapore had suspected the men of being involved with Islamic militants.  They were all members of the same “study group”[2] that had turned to Islamic radicalism.  Singapore announced that the men were linked to Al Qaeda and/or ISIS, and that they had been planning terrorist attacks in Bangladesh.

The government of Bangladesh then charged 14 of the men as terrorists.  The other 13 were released to their families (whose addresses were, no doubt, noted for future reference).  The police said that the men held radical Islamist beliefs, but they hadn’t broken any law in Singapore.[3]  However, the government press release insisted that the accused were not affiliated with either Al Qaeda or ISIS.  They were just, you know, ordinary Islamist fanatics.  Possibly, the government suggested, they were linked to the opposition parties.  (Wink, wink.)  Nor were the men planning a terrorist act inside Bangladesh.  Nor had they been “radicalized” while they were in Bangladesh.  Instead, they had become radicalized while in Singapore.[4]

Singapore is a golden link in a chain of prosperity, poverty, and migration in South-East Asia.   That chain is now under stress.

[1] Julfikar Ali Manik, “Terrorism Charges Filed in Bangladesh Against 14 Men,” NYT, 24 January 2016.

[2] Probably they weren’t debating “what would Mohammad drive?”

[3] So, in Singapore you can be arrested and deported because the cops don’t like the look on your face.  Bear this in mind when you’re making vacation plans.  Still, see Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me (1952).

[4] I still can’t give blood to the Red Cross because I was in France when there was an epidemic of “mad cow disease” and I might be a carrier.  (Certainly would explain the teaching evaluations.)  Same thing goes for the idea that Muslims had been radicalized in Bangladesh.  If people start thinking that Bangladeshi = suicide bomber, then no more labor permits for Bangladeshis.  No more remittances.  The whole country sinks even before global warming goes to work.

Down the Malay Barrier 6.

As the world measures these things, Bangladesh ranks 6th in population and 92nd in land area.  So, it is really crowded.  It has large natural gas reserves, both on- and off-shore, as well as a good deal of coal.  Otherwise it lacks natural resources beyond the rich soil that supports more than 40 percent of the population.  How is an environmentally-precarious, over-populated country that has scarce natural resources supposed to pay its way in the world and to raise the living standards of its people?

Bangladesh lives from its exports.  First and foremost, it exports cloth and ready-made clothing.  Better than 80 percent of the country’s exports in any given year are textiles or ready-made clothes bound for markets in Europe (60 percent) or North America (40 percent).  In 2013, Bangladesh had about 5,000 garment factories that employed 4 million people.  Most of these were women.[1]

Mostly they had moved as girls from rural villages in search of a better life.  One worker, profiled briefly in the New York Times, dropped out of school and left her village for the city when she was twelve.  She got a job in a garment factory, sitting at a little table and working a sewing machine for long hours turning out jeans too big for any Bangladeshi to wear.  She got paid $30 a month.  Modest enough, but it made a huge difference in the life of her family.  Most of it went for food, ending the danger of hunger.  She married and had a child.  She and her husband both worked.  Their earnings allowed them to rent a room for themselves, while sharing a kitchen and bathroom with other tenants.  Steady work allowed the parents to invest great hopes in their child: “I wanted people to say ‘Look, although his mother worked for a garment factory, her son is well educated and has a good job.”[2]

In a larger context, the story of Bangladesh is the story of the last quarter century of economic progress in the Developing World.  In 1990, 1.9 billion people (36 percent of the world’s population) earned less than $2.00 a day; by 2016, “only” 734 million people (10 percent of the world’s population) earned less than $2.00 a day.  Roughly, that means that 2.4 billion people who would have earned less than $2.00 a day, now earn more.

Pitiful as that advance may seem to many Western observers lounging in a Starbuck’s, it’s the difference between acute hunger—and the vulnerabilities to disease that malnutrition brings—and a full belly.  There haven’t been famines in the West since the Irish potato famine of the 1840s or the famines attending Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War.  They remained all too common in South Asia into recent times.[3]

Furthermore, economic progress gave the government the means to launch previously-unknown social programs: better health care and basic education (especially for girls).  However, like other Western amenities, unemployment insurance will have to wait for better times.

Now the Covid-19 economic slump has dried up global markets for ready-to-wear.  It has led to a million Bangladeshi textile workers being laid-off.  Shoved back toward poverty.

[1] https://oecdobserver.org/news/fullstory.php/aid/4368/Ready-made_garments_in_Bangladesh:_No_longer_a_forgotten_sector.html, and Elizabeth Paton, “Garment Workers Are Facing Ruin,” NYT, 2 April 2020.

[2] Maria Abi-Habib, “Millions Had Risen Out of Poverty.  Coronavirus Is Pulling Them Back,” NYT, 30 April 2020.

[3] See, for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangladesh_famine_of_1974

Down the Malay Barrier 5.

Many different threads of history knot in the case of the steamship “Jeddah.”

First, there is geography.  On the one hand, trade between the Far East and anywhere to the West (the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, East Africa, Europe) must pass through one of two narrow gates: the Sunda Strait (between Sumatra and Java) or the Malacca Straits (between the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra).  On the other hand, the southern edge of the Arabian peninsula, on the northern shore of the Indian Ocean, is a poor land called the Hadramaut.  It grows frankincense and not much else.  Then the River Clyde runs through southwestern Scotland.  Along its banks many shipyards grew up in the 19th Century.[1]  Clydeside became the heart of British ship-building.

Second, there is demography.  The Dutch held the Sunda Strait for centuries; in 1818, the English got the island and harbor of Singapore in the Malacca Straits.  They emphasized attracting Arab merchants already familiar with local people and trade.  It quickly became the hub of East-West trade.  At the same time, Hadhrami (people from Hadramaut) began emigrating to places all around the Indian Ocean.  Usually, they became merchants and sailors.  “Blood is thicker than water”: family networks were vital to success in long-distance trade.

Third, among the “pillars” of Islam, one is “Hajj”: the obligation to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the birth-place of Islam.  In Britain’s “Indian Empire” (today India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), in Indonesia, and in the Philippines, there were many Muslims.  Many of them made the “hajj.” Sea voyages offered the least inconvenient route, but the small sailing ships commonly used for the journey were uncomfortable, slow, and sometimes dangerous.  A second “pillar” is “Zakat”: the obligation to give charity to the poor.

These threads came together when Syed Abdul Rahman Alsagoff, a Hadhrami, arrived in Singapore in 1824.[2]  He went into the spice trade, where he prospered.  His son and grandson followed the trade.  The grandson, Syed Mahomed Alsagoff, possessed great wealth and engaged in generous philanthropy.  In 1870, Alsagoff ordered construction of a steam-powered passenger ship to carry Muslim pilgrims to and from Jeddah, the port-of-entry on the Red Sea for Mecca in the interior.  The ship was to be named the “Jeddah.”

Fourth, British ships and British sea captains were the best in the world.  In 1872 a Clydeside shipyard[3] launched the “Jeddah.”   Alsagoff hired British officers to command the ship.  For eight years it plied its trade between Singapore and Jeddah.

On 17 July 1880, the “Jeddah” sailed from Singapore with 953 pilgrims aboard.  By 3 August the ship was approaching the Red Sea.  Then a terrible hurricane blew up.  The ship began to leak, lost most of its power, and began to list to one side.  On 7 August, believing the ship would sink, most of the officers abandoned the ship—and the passengers—in a lifeboat.  They survived and reported the ship sunk.  But the “Jeddah” did not sink.  The remaining officers and the passengers worked to save the ship, then were rescued by a French ship.

Fifth, Authority and Responsibility cannot be separated without disaster following.  It is an unwritten law of the sea that captains remain aboard until everyone else has been saved, or go down with their ship.  The officers had betrayed this duty and became outcasts.  Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim (1900) imagines the terrible fate of one of these men.

[1] Also a great many distilleries, although you shouldn’t combine the “twa”—boat-building and booze.

[2] The term “Syed” indicates that he was a descendant of one of the Prophet Muhammad and was, thus, of high status among all Muslims.

[3] David Byrne grew up there.  See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AINJTvRUk1w

Down the Malay Barrier 4.

The Ganges River flows across most of northern India, draining the Himalaya Range.  Near its eastern/lower end it is joined by the Brahmaputra River.  Then the mighty river flows into the head of the Bay of Bengal.[1]  Along the way, the rivers carry immense mounts of earth.[2]  When the river approaches the waters of the bay, it slows down and the silt gets deposited along the shores.  This has created a huge delta.  Actually, it is the biggest delta in the world.  It is more than 200 miles across at its widest point and covers more than 40,000 square miles.  Bigger than the Nile delta, or the Mississippi delta, or the Amazon delta, or the Google delta.  Like other great deltas, the flow of water-born sediment has pushed the delta out toward the sea.  Over time, the delta has advanced an estimated 250 miles to the south.

The silt is rich in minerals and nutrients, so that the soil that builds up is excellent farm land.  With the river and many streams close at hand, it is easy to irrigate the land.  The soil is so rich that between 125 and 145 million people live in the delta.  (That is two-thirds of the population of Bangladesh.)  That works out to about 520 people per square mile.[3]  They grow rice, tea, and sisal.[4]

In addition to the human beings, the islands are inhabited by deer, pythons, eagles, crocodiles, elephants, woodpeckers, leopards, and some Bengal tigers (which occasionally invade villages for take-out).

The delta is not one big mass of land.  It is a maze of islands separated by rivers and streams.  The many islands are connected by “traditional” wooden ferry boats, rather than by bridges.[5]  Most of the delta is between 30 feet above sea-level and sea-level.  Indeed, if global warming caused enough of the polar ice pack to melt to raise the sea-levels everywhere by 20 inches, then 6 million delta residents would lose their homes and land.

The delta gets a lot of rain.  The monsoons drop from 59 to 79 inches of rain on the western part of the delta and from 79 to 118 inches in the eastern part.  All that rain is one of the things that makes rice-farming possible.  The run-off causes streams and rivers to rise.

Lying at the head of the Bay of Bengal, the Ganges delta is the frequent target of tropical cyclones.  In the Atlantic these are known as hurricanes.  High winds (typically about 80 miles per hour), lots of rain, and big storm surges (water pushed ashore by the storm).  Tropical cyclones start in the south of the Bay of Bengal, then move northward toward the head of the bay at the Ganges delta.  This shoves a lot of water from deep water toward shallow water.  When it reaches shore it is called a storm surge.  Another problem is that the Ganges delta is densely populated (compared to the Jersey shore during hurricane season).  If they get a big storm, the water level suddenly rises, and many people drown.

What we see here is human beings living at the edge of two great natural physical processes.  The river has created a land that can support many people.  The monsoons of the Bay of Bengal make farming possible, but the cyclones push back the line of safe settlement.

[1] Bengal is in north-eastern India, so the Bay of Bengal is on the eastern side of the Indian sub-continent.

[2] Also, the remains of dead people who were cremated upriver and cast into the stream.

[3] The population density of Conshohocken, PA, is about 13,000/square mile.  However, Conshy is purely residential while the Ganges delta is mostly devoted to farm land.  So the concentration of people in farm villages is much greater than it sounds.

[4] Sisal is a fiber used to make twine.  I bought a roll in the Dollar General to tie up a bunch of small branches that had come down in the yard for trash day and to attach gingerbread cookies to the Christmas tree.

[5] If you read the New York Times, the ferries are overloaded all the time, and capsize all the time, and lots of passengers drown all the time.

Zion Island 19.

Fodor’s South Asia on Five Dollars a Day (1952).

Madagascar.

Madagascar is difficult to visit, but well worth the effort.  The difficulties arise from its remote location, the infrequency of air flights or ship sailings to the island, and from the stringent customs formalities.  The benefits more than repay these difficulties.  The lush vegetation, the immense diversity of fauna, the striking scenery, and the remarkable social experiment being conducted on the island combine to make Madagascar a must-see for the sophisticated traveler.

The island may only be entered through the east coast port city of Toamasina.  There are monthly sailings from Germany and from Dar es Salaam in Tanganyika.  From Dar es Salaam one can make connections to many other destinations.

The capital city is Theresienstadt (formerly Antananarivo).  Here are located the headquarters of the administrative services.  Here, also, is located a small technical institute that supports the European immigrant population’s agricultural development program with a variety of engineering services.

Theresienstadt is also the home of the Institute for Tropical Medicine.  The ITM provides European scientists a home base that serves the many medical research stations dotted about the island.  The ITM is particularly notable for its pioneering techniques in seeking cures for tropical diseases like malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever.

The traditionally sleepy languor of a tropical town has been enlivened in recent years by immigrants from a variety of European cultures.

You have to get out into the countryside to garner a sense of the “real” Madagascar.  The island is divided by climate and geography into three zones.  Along the east coast there is a narrow, high scarp of mountains.  The twisting roadways are largely the product of the extension of Germany’s domestic program of “autobahn” to the tropical island.  These allow for many eye-catching views.  But don’t let your attention wander too much!

The central part of the island is occupied by a plateau.  Here one finds the indigenous population.

The bulk of the European immigrant population is engaged in re-claiming the arid Western coastal strip that slopes down from the central plateau to the Mozambique Channel.  The whole region is dotted with small agricultural settlements.  Irrigation systems are being constructed and mangrove swamps drained to increase farmland.  Soon the fields will give forth a harvest of fruits and vegetables that promise to become a major source of export earnings.

The unusual mixing of different populations might be expected to give rise to some tension.  In fact, the substantial police presence inspires a sense of security that reassures all parties.

Killings.

In 2016, 61.3 percent of the population of the United States was white; 12.7 percent of the population was black.[1]

Homicide (2016).

In 2016, there were 6,676 murders in the United States.[2]

Of the perpetrators, 81 percent of whites were killed by other whites and 15 percent were killed by blacks; and 89 percent of blacks were killed by other blacks and 8.4 percent of blacks were killed by whites.  So, we live in a pretty segregated society in this area just as in many others.

Of these killings, 3,499 victims were white; 2,870 victims were black; 221 victim were “other race”; and 86 victims were listed as “unknown race.”  So, 52 percent of the victim were white; and 42 percent of the victims were black.  This means that white suffer about 5/6s or 80 percent of the homicides they “should” suffer if homicide was evenly distributed by race.  In contrast, blacks suffer more than three times as many homicides as they “should” suffer if homicide was evenly distributed.

Killed by police (2019).

In 2019, police officers killed 1,004 people.[3]

Of the killed, 370 were white; 235 were black; 158 were Hispanic; 39 were “other”; and 202 were listed as “Unknown.”  Of the 784 people killed whose race was known, 47.6 percent were white; and 30 percent were black.

Application (2020).

On 23 February 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was shot to death by two white men attempting to make a “citizen’s arrest” because they suspected that he might be a burglar.  Arbery’s death and the failure of the local authorities to take any action triggered widespread protests and criticism.  In addition video of the killing soon went viral.  When I Googled his name just now, I got 10,600,000 results.

On 25 May 2020, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer as bystanders filmed the event.  The video soon went viral.  Demonstrations soon began and have slid into rioting, looting, and arson in some cases.  When I Googled his name just now I got 205,000,000 results.

On 1 May 2020, the son of a disgruntled Dollar Store customer shot to death unarmed security guard Calvin Munerlyn.  Several candle-light vigils appear to have followed.  When I Googled his name just now I got 144,000 results.

This isn’t to argue that police violence isn’t a grave problem for African-Americans.  It is.  It isn’t to argue that the deaths of Arbery and Floyd don’t deserve all the attention they have garnered.  They do.

It’s just to suggest that there are even more grave problems facing African-Americans than deaths at the hands of the police.  But nobody seems interested in drawing that lesson—or in remembering Calvin Munerlyn.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_and_ethnicity_in_the_United_States

[2] See: https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-3.xls

[3] The Washington Post has been running a data base.  See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/police-shootings-2019/

Down the Malay Barrier 3.

The Shan State forms one of Myanmar’s ethnic communities.  Located in the northeastern quadrant of Myanmar, it borders southwestern China (Yunnan), Laos, and Thailand.  Under other circumstances, a bunch of forested hills on the inland edge of a no-account country would be of no interest.  In fact, however, it is an important–and increasingly important—link in the international narcotics supply chain.

For one thing, the many small farms grow both produce and opium poppies.  Poppies grow easily in the poor soil often found in hill regions.  Poor peasants value poppies as a cash crop.  For another thing, part of the anti-Communist Chinese Kuomintang Army retreated from Yunnan into the Shan State after the Communist victory in 1949.  Rather than transit to join the other supporters of Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan, they settled down in Shan State.  There the refugee army embarked on opium and heroin production.  For yet another thing, since 1962 the central government’s effort to suppress autonomy movements has spawned local resistance groups.  As the old saying goes, “For success in war, three things are necessary: money, more money, and still more money.”[1]  Shan autonomists have relied upon drug sales to build up military forces more than capable of holding off the army of Myanmar on most occasions.[2]

If opium and heroin built the foundations of the Shan State drug trade, the producers have been alert to changes in global market conditions and new product development.  Take, for example methamphetamine and fentanyl.  Methamphetamine is a synthetic stimulant.[3]  “Crystal meth” is an alternative form of methamphetamine.  Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is far stronger than is heroin.[4]  All have become popular “recreational” drugs.  Much of production of the chemical components of both methamphetamine and fentanyl took place in China.  In recent years, pressure from the United States caused the Chinese government to restrict production in China proper.  Producers shifted their facilities outside China, including to Shan State.

New supply chain routes then developed.  Fishing villages dot Myanmar’s long coastline on the Bay of Bengal.  Doubtless the local fishermen feel the same eagerness to profit from the drug trade as do the peasant farmers.  Probably they carry their cargo to ports like Yangon and Singapore, while another route may run down the nearby Mekong River to Ho Chi Minh City.

Myanmar’s war with the ethnic groups has been a murky business.  To offer one example, the Kachin Defense Army, in Shan State, is suspected of having done a deal with the army of Myanmar involving the drug trade.  However, the trouble with criminals—even criminals in uniform—is that they’re dishonest.  The Kachins seem to have been sending some of their product to the Arakan Army on the west coast.  Discovering this betrayal, the army and police launched a series of raids into Kachin territory in Spring 2020.  They hauled in 200 million tabs of meth, 1,100 pounds of crystal meth, 630 pounds of heroin, and almost 1,000 gallons of methyl fentanyl.[5]  The army probably sought to remind the Kachins of the deal, not break the deal.

[1] Attributed variously to Marshal Trivulzio and Raimondo Montecucolli.

[2] You might enjoy and learn from “Proof of Life” (dir. Taylor Hackford, 2000).

[3] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methamphetamine

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fentanyl

[5] Hannah Beech and Saw Nang, “Record Raids in Myanmar Point to Shifting Drug Trade,” NYT, 20 May 2020.