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Now displaying: May, 2018

Welcome to the WhoWhatWhy Podcast.

May 25, 2018

“What would you want if you could have any wish?” asked the photojournalist of the haggard, bloodied Marine before him. The Marine gaped at his interviewer. The photographer snapped his picture, which became the iconic Korean War image.

Finally, the soldier revealed his wish: “Give me tomorrow,” he said at last.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Jeff Schechtman talks with military historian Patrick O’Donnell, who wrote a book about the war almost a decade ago, entitled “Give Me Tomorrow,” a deeply personal look at those who served amid the extreme brutality of the Korean War. That war, fought almost 70 years ago, still echoes today.

O'Donnell tells Schechtman about the war, particularly of the horrors suffered by George Company — a group of men untrained for what they would face in the bloody Chosin Reservoir campaign. O’Donnell explains how the battle went right up to the Chinese border, and how aggressive and brutal the Chinese were in fighting alongside North Korea. He further explains how the North Korean army was in tatters, and that the Americans underestimated the possibility of a Chinese intervention. Eventually, the Chinese massed over 150,000 men near the Chosin Reservoir.

O’Donnell touches on the other epic battles of the war, and why those who came home have always been reluctant to talk about their experiences, which felt so small in the shadow of the Greatest Generation.

He explains how unprepared the US was to fight this war. How budget cuts and demilitarization after WWII left the soldiers with inferior equipment that cost many lives.

O’Donnell makes it clear that the soldiers of George Company, and particularly their performance at Chosin Reservoir, define the very essence of what we honor on Memorial Day.

Patrick O’Donnell is the author of The Unknowns: The Untold Story of America’s Unknown Soldier and WWI’s Most Decorated Heroes Who Brought Him Home (Atlantic Monthly Press, May 22, 2018).

May 18, 2018

The recent Chinese investment in Donald Trump's hotel project in Indonesia is just one in a long string of Chinese ventures across the globe. This deal, between a Chinese state-owned company and an Indonesian developer, falls under the umbrella of China’s One Belt One Road initiative.

One Belt One Road is an ambitious effort to spread the country’s money and influence around the world. The Chinese see it as an extension of their foreign policy: projecting soft power through the financing and construction of infrastructure and other projects.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Jeff Schechtman talks with journalist Will Doig,  who covers urban development, transportation, and infrastructure, was international editor at Next City, and wrote the weekly "Dream City" column for Salon. Doig talks in detail about China’s attempt to pull half the world into its orbit through One Belt One Road.

According to Doig, this is a kind of Chinese Marshall Plan. By lending money to other nations for once-in-a lifetime infrastructure projects, China makes these indebted nations more beholden to its wishes.

One example is the massive Southeast Asia railway project currently underway. Building the railroad through rural areas in Southeast Asia fosters urbanization along the route. The growth of these new communities creates more building and selling opportunities for China. Moreover, these are projects whose complexity requires Chinese labor, technology, and supply chains.

Doig tells Schechtman that the government of President Xi Jinping works on a very long time scale. The Chinese are happy to build cities today that may not fill up for 20 or 30 years — a time when they see themselves as the dominant power in the world.  

Doig is the author of High-Speed Empire: Chinese Expansion and the Future of Southeast Asia (Columbia Global Reports, May 1, 2018).

May 15, 2018

In spite of a Senate hearing in which Gina Haspel repeatedly evaded tough questions about her views on torture, it appears that she will be confirmed as the new CIA director. Enough senators were apparently mollified by her qualified assurances that there will be no more “enhanced interrogation” at the spy agency on her watch.

But John Kiriakou, who as a CIA insider exposed the original torture program in — and ironically was the only government official who went to prison over the issue — thinks that Haspel is actually a true believer in torture.

In his conversation with WhoWhatWhys Jeff Schechtman, he reminds us of all the opportunities she has had to renounce torture and the torture regime she presided over. Had she done so, Haspel could have changed her legacy, as well as the legacy of those who supported her in her efforts. But time and again she chose not to.

Kiriakou is still surprised by how few people have come forward to speak out against what happened. He believes that there are still many in the agency who want to recapture its vaunted “cowboy authority.”

Even as director of the CIA, Kiriakou says, Haspel may not be able to turn the clock back to 2001. But with Trump egging her on, anything can happen. And if the CIA does resume torture of any kind, the senators who voted for Haspel will shoulder part of the blame and should be held to account.

May 14, 2018

In 1952, in the early stages of the Korean War, North Korea accused the United States of using biological weapons a claim the US has always denied. Journalist and retired psychologist Jeffrey Kaye found a copy of a report by the International Scientific Commission on the issue, originally released in 1952. Its investigation concluded that the US used a number of biological weapons, including anthrax, plague, and cholera, and that the confessions of many captured American airmen provided confirmation.

Those confessions were characterized by the US as the result of torture and brainwashing, which Kaye now believes were exaggerated to discredit the biowarfare claims. He describes the events of March 25, 1952, when a swarm of fleas — later found to be infected with bubonic plague — was dropped from aircraft on the North Korean village of Kang-Sou.

Jeffrey Kaye is a retired psychologist and the author of Coverup at Guantánamo: The NCIS Investigation into the “Suicides of Mohammed Al Hanashi and Abdul Rahman Al Amri (publisher: Jeffrey S. Kaye, PhD, 2nd edition: September 10, 2016). He has written widely about torture, asylum, and many other issues related to the US military.

Related: JFK Files Reveal US Biological War Plans Against Cuba

May 11, 2018

Globalization has created a true global middle class, brought millions out of poverty, reduced the price of goods, and created remarkable economic benefits. As an economic system, it has worked exactly as promised. On the other hand, globalism, as a political idea, has been a dismal failure. This is according to Eurasian Group CEO and global analyst Ian Bremmer.

In his conversation with WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman about what connects so many of the global problems we face today, Bremmer makes the case that democracy, plus technology, plus political globalism simply can't work. The West’s existing institutions cannot cope with huge amounts of wealth concentration, technology, big data, and artificial intelligence. According to Bremmer we need look no further than Trump, Brexit, and recent European elections for proof.  

As counterexamples, he cites Japan and Israel. Each has, in different ways, walled itself off, maintained homogeneity, and either rejected or blocked immigrants. As a result, each has been far more successful than Western democracies in negotiating the perils of the global age. Japan, he points out, made a conscious decision to trade slower growth for more “us” and no “them.”

Adding to the global unease is the rise of China. An authoritarian capitalist state, China is thriving in the global age — so much so that its leaders are offering its economic success as a model to the world. Bremmer notes that with all these challenges, the US could not have picked a worse time to precipitate an “America First” crisis of confidence.

Ian Bremmer is the author of Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalization (Penguin Audio, April 24, 2018);  Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World (Penguin Audio,  May 19, 2015); Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World (Co-authored with Willis Sparks) (Gildan Media, LLC, May 1, 2012).

May 4, 2018

The Middle East has been a seething cauldron of conflict since 1918. Twice in the 20th century, in 1967 and 1973, it almost became a flashpoint for nuclear war. The region has always been a chessboard where great powers play out their strategies.

In today’s Syria, it’s the US vs. Russia vs. Jihadists plus Saudi Arabia vs. Israel plus Turkey vs. the Kurds, not to mention Iran and Syria vs. the rebels. No wonder the country has been devastated, leaving behind an almost unimaginable humanitarian crisis.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Jeff Schechtman talks to longtime Middle East journalist Charles Glass, who has traveled extensively in the region covering conflict after conflict, and once spent 62 days as a prisoner of Shi’a militants during the Lebanon war.

He explains how the Syrian economy is shattered: agriculture barely functions, the medical system is nonexistent, and education is spotty at best. The rebuilding effort will be long and costly, and it’s not clear how many of the five million refugees who have left the country will ever come back.

For those that have returned, says Glass, the situation is often bleak. In some areas of Aleppo, returnees have pitched tents in the rubble, just to avoid losing their property rights.

As for chemical weapons, Glass is unsure whether the recent missile attack by the US, France, and Great Britain was justified. Since the action was launched without waiting for an on-site report from weapons inspectors, it was “like having an execution before a trial,” Glass tells Schechtman.  

Another topic of concern is the current role of the 2,000 US troops in the area, now that ISIS is no longer the main objective. As Glass tells it, the US focus is now on containing Iran: US troops have become part of Washington’s long game against Iran, particularly since President Bashar al-Assad has grown increasingly dependent on Iranian troops.

Glass emphasizes that the solution to the ongoing disaster does not lie with the Syrian groups that started the civil war, but rather with the US and Russia, which control the money and weapons that alone can determine the outcome.

Charles Glass is the author of Syria Burning: A Short History of a Catastrophe (Verso March 22, 2016); The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II (Penguin Press, June 13, 2013); Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation (Penguin Press, February 22, 2011).

May 1, 2018

Some people may know where bodies are buried; Rex Bradford knows where all the papers are buried. The leading archivist and historian of the records of the JFK assassination has a lot to say in his talk with WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman.

According to Bradford, the recently released 19,000+ pages are interesting, but in no way dispositive. What they reveal, more than anything else, is further evidence of how so many cover-ups for so many reasons, by so many groups, agencies, and individuals have hopelessly muddied the waters.

Bradford believes that from President Lyndon Johnson’s recruitment of Earl Warren to President Donald Trump’s holding back the release of still more documents, layer upon layer of self-serving lies have made the truth now impossible to uncover. Moreover, he argues that kicking the can down the road really does work as a way to hide what Peter Dale Scott once called “the bleak path to the truth.”

Bradford points out how ironic it is that there are now over five million pages of documents of a story in which the popular narrative was once that one man acted alone.

He talks about who’s been making the decisions about what is and isn’t redacted, missing transcripts from the Church commission, some new documents on Oswald’s alleged trip to Mexico seven weeks before the assassination ... but also about how no new document is a smoking gun.

Much like our politics today or maybe because of those politics Bradford doesn't think we will ever agree on a common set of facts about the assassination.

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