Thursday, October 27, 2011

Trip to Washington

I am honored to have been invited to Washington, D.C. to address two prestigious groups who play important roles in keeping Taiwan related issues before U.S. policy makers, the academic community, and the public at large.

On Friday, November 18, 2011 at 2:30 pm I will address the Taiwan Forum at George Washington University. The Forum is sponsored by the Taiwan Education and Research Program of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at The George Washington University. Forum members include visiting scholars from Taiwan, American academics, journalists, members of the policy and diplomatic communities, and graduate students who share a common interest in advancing intellectual and policy-related discussions on contemporary Taiwan-related issues.

The focus of my remarks will be on “Shadows of the Past: Diverging Views on Taiwan’s Future”.

On Saturday, November 19, 2011 at Noon I will be the keynote speaker at the Thanksgiving luncheon of the Taiwan Association of America Greater Washington Chapter at the Hilton Washington Dulles Airport. The TAA-GWC represents the Taiwanese community in the greater metropolitan Washington, DC area.  It has been the tradition of TAAGWC to hold an annual Thanksgiving Banquet to express appreciation to American friends for their support of Taiwan’s democratization.

My address will be on “Legacies of Conscience and Courage: Peng Ming-min, Hsieh Tsung-min, and Wei T’ing-chao.” 

- Milo Thornberry

Saturday, October 22, 2011

New Dust Bowl?

Did you read about the dust storm (hahoob) in Lubbock, Texas last Monday? As a child of the "Dust Bowl" of the 1930s I shuddered when I saw the Monday pictures and compared them to old pictures. 

I was raised near the epicenter of the Dust Bowl, a light bulb-shaped one hundred million acres on the High plains that extended from southern Nebraska eight hundred miles south to Lubbock, from southeastern Colorado five hundred miles east to central Kansas. The area included the northeastern part of New Mexico, the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles.

Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (2005) tells how more than a quarter million people fled the area during the 30's. Surprisingly, almost two-thirds of the people living in the area in 1930 stayed. They, including my people, were the survivors, who were too hard-headed, too poor, or too crazy to leave.

I was too young to remember the Dust Bowl itself, but when it reappeared for shorter periods in the late forties and early 50s I remember. Someone would spot the large red/black clouds on the northern horizon. The principal would call us all out of class and tell us to get home in a hurry. When I got home, it would be as dark as night. My mother would be stuffing wet towels around the windows and under the doors in a fruitless attempt to keep out the dust. You even had difficulty with visibility in the house. And you had difficulty breathing.
You may understand why when I read about the dust storm in Lubbock on Monday, although two thousand miles away, I checked to make sure I could take a deep breath.

My first question was "Are we about to see another Dust Bowl?" Not likely, the experts say
Meteorologists say people living on Texas' parched plains could see more dust storms as a record drought tightens its grip across the Southwest. At least six sandstorms hit Phoenix this summer, with the most powerful striking on July 5 and measuring a mile high. But experts say another Dust Bowl is unlikely thanks to modern irrigation and farming techniques aimed at holding soil in place.
But not all agree.
Dust storms form when wind whips up loose soil. They aren't unusual in West Texas, although the size and speed of Monday's cloud was rare. Typically, the wall of dirt climbs to only about 1,000 feet in that area, not the 8,000 feet seen with the latest storm, experts said.
The wind picked up with a drop in pressure along the edge of a fast-moving cold front, a pattern that typically happens in the fall and winter, meteorologists said. When the cloud hit Lubbock, winds speeds reached 74 mph in some places and visibility was far less than a quarter of a mile...
"The thing that is scary is this exact type of dust storm is the same type of dust storm from during the 30s," said Tom Gill, a geology professor at the University of Texas-El Paso who has studied dust storms for years. 
Gill believes dust storms could become more common as Texas' drought continues. The state just finished its driest 12 months ever and was blistered by triple-digit heat until early September. This year is on track to be the driest in Texas history, with the average rainfall in the first nine months about 25 percent less than in the same period in 1956, the previous driest year, when 11.23 inches fell... 
There's also concern that other advances since the Dust Bowl could be in jeopardy. Water in the Ogallala Aquifer has been diminishing for years, causing worry in Kansas, Nebraska and other states that rely on it. And, funding for the federal Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to keep land at high risk of erosion out of production, is in jeopardy as Congress looks to cut costs. 
Is Lubbock's storm a harbinger of things to come? I don't know, but you may understand why it not only brought my parents and grandparents to mind, but also my children and grandchildren.

- Milo Thornberry

Saturday, October 15, 2011

What Else Can We Do - Occupy Wall Street?

A few weeks ago at a monthly luncheon where some friends gather to talk politics we went through what has become a monthly litany of complaint about the obstructionist Republican stance in Congress, greed on Wall Street, and the resulting paralysis of the means to govern by President Obama.
“The President’s jobs bill doesn’t have a prayer,” said one to approving nods around the table.
“We need to write more letters and make more phone calls,” I said, realizing how lame it sounded as the words came out of my mouth.
“Writing and making phone calls don’t accomplish anything anymore,” responded one, lamenting not rebuking.
“I wish there was something else we could do that would make a difference,” said another.
Within days of that conversation, a demonstration in New York City calling itself “Occupy Wall Street” caught my attention. The previous week on September 17 I saw the news about 1,000 demonstrators in lower Manhattan, a couple of hundred staying in cardboard boxes in the park, and on the 19th how several had been arrested, but didn’t think much about it. On September 24th, the day after our lunch conversation, at least 80 arrests were made on September 24, after protesters started marching uptown and forcing the closure of several streets. If that didn’t get my full attention, the arrest of 700 on the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1 certainly did.
Was this that “something else” for which my friend and the rest of us were longing?  As the movement has spread over the country, there is a recognition on the part of masses of people that the ordinary political processes and ordinary citizen involvement in those processes is simply not working. Occupy Wall Street has touched a deep and sensitive nerve in the United States.
How do we make sense of the movement? Is it a flurry of activity today and gone tomorrow, as Republicans and some Democrats hope? Is it the birth of a movement that will be an effective counter to the Right Wing extremism that has taken over the Republican Party? Is it that “something else” that demands my participation?
This morning, I saw this piece by Walter Brasch in OEN (Op Ed News) titled OCCUPY WALL STREET: Separating Fact from Media. Based on what I have been reading and seeing on the news, Brasch seems to be on target. I hope you’ll follow the link and read his entire article. What follows are some excerpts:
After citing the responses of some Fox News pundits and mainstream media reports on the movement who, Brasch says, just don’t get it, he asks who the protestors are and what they stand for.
“The protestors rightly say they are part of the 99 percent; the other one percent have 42 percent of the nation's wealth, the top 20 percent have more than 85 percent of the nation's wealth, the highest accumulation since 1928, the year before the Great Depression. Even the most oblivious recognize the protestors as a large cross-section of America. They are students and teachers; housewives, plumbers, and physicians; combat veterans from every war from World War II to the present. They are young, middle-aged, and elderly. They are high school dropouts and Ph.D.s. They are from all religions and no religion, and a broad spectrum of political views.”
Despite their different views, Brasch says they share some core beliefs:
“The protestors are fed up with corporate greed that has a base of corporate welfare and special tax benefits for the rich. They support the trade union movement, Medicare and Social Security, affordable health care for all citizens, and programs to assist the unemployed, disenfranchised, and underclass. A nation that cannot take care of the least among us doesn't deserve to be called the best of us.”
And, he says, they are mad! 
“They're mad that the home mortgage crisis, begun when greed overcame ethics and was then magnified by the failure of regulatory agencies and the Congress to provide adequate oversight, robbed all of America of its financial security. During the first half of this year alone, banks and lending agencies have sent notices to more than 1.2 million homeowners whose loans and mortgages are in default status, according to RealtyTrak. Of course, less regulation is just what conservatives want--after all, their mantra has become, "no government in our lives."

 “The protestors are mad that the wealthiest corporations pay little or no taxes. They point to the Bank of America, part of the mortgage crisis problem, which earned a $4.4 billion profit last year, but received a $1.9 billion tax refund on top of a bailout of about $1 trillion. They look at ExxonMobil, which earned more than $19 billion profit in 2009, paid no taxes and received a $156 million federal rebate. Its profit for the first half of 2011 is about $ 21.3 billion.”

 “They rightfully note that it is slimy when General Electric, whose CEO is a close Obama advisor, earned a $26 billion profit during the past five years, but still received a $4.1 billion refund.”

 “They're mad that the federal government has given the oil industry more than $4 billion in subsidy, although the industry earned more than $1 trillion in profits the past decade.”

 “They're mad that Goldman Sachs, after receiving a $10 billion government bailout, and a $2.7 billion profit in the first quarter of 2011, shipped about 1,000 jobs overseas. During the past decade, corporations, which have paid little or no federal taxes, have outsourced at least 2.4 million jobs and are hoarding trillions which could be used to spur job growth and the economy.”

“They're mad that corporations that took federal bailout money gave seven-figure bonuses to their executives.”

 “They're mad that the U.S., of all industrialized countries, has the highest ratio of executive pay to that of the average worker. The U.S. average is about 300 to 475 times that of the average worker. In Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, and England, the average CEO earns between 10 and 20 times what the average worker earns, and no one in those countries believes the CEOs are underpaid.”

 “They're mad that 47 percent of all persons who earned at least $250,000 last year, including about 1,500 millionaires, paid no taxes, according to Newsmax. If you're a Republican member of Congress, that's perfectly acceptable. They're the ones who thought President Obama was launching class warfare against the rich by trying to restore the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans. They succeeded in blocking tax reform and a jobs bill, but failed to understand the simple reality--if there is class warfare, it is being waged by the elite greedy and their Congressional lackeys.” 
Brasch concludes with a response to the charge that the protestors are not patriotic:
“Herman Cain, Fox TV pundit Sean Hannity, and others from the extreme right wing said the protestors are un-American, apparently for protesting corporate greed. The Occupy Wall Street protestors aren't un-American; those who defend the destruction of the middle class by defending greed, and unethical and illegal behavior, are.” 
I don’t know about you, but this makes a lot of sense to me. I am angry about all of the things Brasch attributes to the protestors. What do you think? Is it past time for you and me to stop talking and get onto the streets? Is this our “something else”? What else can we do?

- Milo Thornberry

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Legacies of Conscience and Courage

(Photo courtesy of Dennis Chen, Oct. 9, 2011)

Legacies of Conscience and Courage: 
Peng Ming-min, Wei T’ing-chao and Hsieh Tsung-min

Presentation to the Annual Meeting
Formosan Association for Public Affairs California-Orange Country 
Atrium Hotel, Irvine, CA October 8, 2011

[This the second half of a two-part presentation to this Annual Meeting. The first half was by my former wife, Judith Thomas, who told how we first met and became involved politically with Dr. Peng. The text for her remarks is not available. Before our presentation, Dr. Peng made a video appearance from Taiwan in which he expressed his gratitude for what Judith and I had done for him and the people of Taiwan in the late 60s. Yes, it was a humbling experience. The following is my part of the presentation.]

I do not have words to describe my gratitude for the honor you have bestowed on Judith and me this evening. The words that come closest to what my heart feels are those a friend of mine in Taiwan is attempting to reclaim as a unique part of Taiwanese culture, “Lo Lat”. Do you know those words? To you I say, “Jin Lo Lat,” (inadequately rendered in English as “I am deeply grateful for all your hard labors on my behalf!”) Would you say it together with the proper tones? “Jin Lo Lat!” Yes, that is what my heart feels for you tonight: for Nick Wu, Chan Wang-Wang, and all of the Working Group; the participating FAPA Chapters, and all of you who came tonight.

Why  Didn’t We Leave?

I have a friend, Ora Custer, ninety-five years of age and still counting. She’s almost blind; at her request I read Fireproof Moth: A Missionary in Taiwan's White Terror to her. Her question, asked several times, is this: “When you knew what kind of a situation you were in there and the danger to you and your family, why didn’t you leave?” In some ways, the book is my answer to that question. My short answer is this: “When you have made close friends and you learn that their lives are in imminent danger, it is easier to do whatever you can to help them than it is to walk away.”

Remembering Matthew and Tony

You have heard from Judith about how our relationship with Dr. Peng developed and how when we learned that he was going to be assassinated we found a way to get him out of the country. There were two other close friends and colleagues: Wei T’ing-chao and Hsieh Tsung-min. We didn’t meet them right away because they were both still in prison when we met Dr. Peng in 1966. These two former students of Dr. Peng at the National University had been arrested with Dr. Peng in 1964 in an attempt to distribute their “Manifesto for Formosan Self-Salvation” calling into question the legitimacy of the Chiang government. Looking back, many say that this was the real beginning point of Taiwan’s struggle for democratization.

Although we couldn’t meet them in person for two years, they were a part of our lives and what we had begun to do with Dr. Peng. Thanks to their courage and creativity, they were able to send out from prison lists on very thin paper with names of political prisoners, their situation and information about their families. We were able to provide the lists to Amnesty International, assuming that even a little public visibility was some protection. Their notes from prison also let us know the desperate plight of the families of political prisoners, and got our aid to families project started.

Wei was released from prison first on September 20, 1968. He hadn’t been out a week when Dr. Peng brought him to our house. The stories about his refusal to be intimidated by the court or his guards were well-known. During his trial, he stood up and dared the judge to sentence him to death.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when he came in the door. Was he hardened and cynical from his experience?

Wei greeted Judith and me. Then, he saw our two and a half year old Elizabeth hiding behind a chair. Before we knew it, Wei was sitting on the floor talking with a delighted Elizabeth in both Mandarin and Taiwanese (and as far as I knew maybe a bit of his native Hakka too). Within weeks, Wei was tutoring me in preparing my history lectures at the seminary. We were also making plans for aiding families of political prisoners.

Hsieh got out of prison exactly a year later in 1969. Like Wei, he came to the house within a week of his release. Wei had already talked with him about the plan to aid families. He said he was ready to begin distribution of the funds immediately. I couldn’t believe it! Here he was, just out of prison and yet ready to assume the dangerous (and under martial law a capital offense) task of delivering money we smuggled into the country (money raised secretly by the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia) to families all over the island. He and Wei both laughed at the danger; and rightly pointed out that they were the only ones with the credibility and knowledge to get money to these families.

The distribution began within the next week. In order to avoid using their real names in talking together at home or anywhere else, we gave them English names as we had to Dr. Peng, who was and continues to be known to us as “Peter.” Wei we called “Matthew” and Hsieh we called “Tony.”

Working with them was consistent with what we had decided two years earlier when we determined to do what we could with Dr. Peng. Because Judith and I were foreigners we assumed that we could do things for which the worst that could happen was to get kicked out of the country, while Taiwanese doing the same things risked prison, torture, and even death. Because they took a great risk with working with greenhorns like us, we decided we would only work with Taiwanese who knew what the real costs were and had been in prison. There would be times in the coming days when we would have reason to wonder if our assumption about being “fireproof moths” and subject only to deportation was a false assumption, but we were right. We were also tragically right about what would happen to Taiwanese associated with us.

Dr. Peng escaped in January of 1970. Until the fact of Judith’s and my role in the escape was announced in the mid-1990s (how we did it wasn’t announced until 2003), neither the KMT nor the U.S. State Department, nor even Beijing’s vast security network, ever knew we were involved. And they all wanted to know. Neither Wei (Matthew) nor Hsieh (Tony) knew about the escape. We decided that even though they would be prime suspects, we could not add to their vulnerability by their actual involvement. It was not a matter that we didn’t trust them; it was a recognition that we were such rank amateurs at such things that we didn’t want to put them more at risk than they already were.

A year later on February 23, 1971, a week before Judith and I were arrested, Matthew and Tony were arrested. We had been right about what would happen to Taiwanese associated with us. It was over thirteen months after their arrest that they were tried secretly and sentenced to fifteen years in prison, terms later commuted by half. Both were tortured horribly. We know details of the interrogation and torture because Tony was able to smuggle out a letter that got to Judith and I in the U.S. On April 24, 1972 we were able to get the letter published as an op-ed piece in the New York Times.

After their release from prison the second time, Hsieh went into exile and lived here in southern California for a while. Wei was rearrested for his involvement with the Formosa Magazine in the Kaohsiung Incident on December 10th, 1979 and was sentenced to another eight years. With the end of martial law in 1987, Hsieh and Wei continued to provide great service to the people of Taiwan. Although forever scarred by his torture, as a Congressman and advisor to the President, Hsieh has worked tirelessly both to document the casualties of “White Terror” and work for reparations to political prisoners. Wei did likewise; in 1997 he published the Taiwan Human Rights Report 1949-1996. After spending most of his adult life as a political prisoner, on December 28, 1999 on his morning jog, Wei’s great heart stopped beating.

Peter, Tony, and Matthew and the Genovese Syndrome

Peng Ming-min, Hsieh Tsung-min, Wei T’ing-chao, although not ostensibly religious, demonstrated to me with their lives the justice and mercy I associate with the highest Christian ideals. They were living examples of the core Christian teaching I had learned as a child as expressed in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. 
On March 27, 1964, I was in Boston preparing to go to Taiwan. In the Boston Globe I read the story of the murder of Katherine (Kitty) Genovese in Queens, New York two weeks earlier. Why a murder story in New York would make the papers in Boston was that this woman had been stabbed repeatedly for thirty minutes as she screamed for help in front of her house. Her cries had been heard by many of her neighbors, but only after the killer left in his car and returned ten minutes later to finish the job did one person call the police. It became a national story of shame for those who heard and did nothing.

The “bystander effect” or the “Genovese syndrome” became the name for the social psychological phenomenon in which individuals do not offer help in an emergency situation when other people are present.

New to the urban northeast, it was easy for me to blame the neighbors in Queens; but my own conscience warned, “they” could be “me.” I was haunted by the picture of Kitty Genovese’s face. I wondered if I was the “they” by leaving the U.S. in the midst of the struggle for civil rights and the beginning of the anti-war movement. I didn’t change course, and I went on to Taiwan. In the reality I encountered there, I couldn’t understand how so many missionaries, American students, U.S. military, and embassy personnel who heard the cries of the Taiwanese people could rationalize their inaction in ways not dissimilar from the neighbors of Kitty Genovese.

Judith and I were told, “You are guests in another country,” as the reason for not getting involved in the political affairs of a country not your own. The principle has some merit in international relations, but it is a principle that serves the status quo. As desirable as that may be in the world of nations, the principle may also be an immoral rationalization.  In Taiwan, a brutal and corrupt government was enabled to stay in power due in no small measure to the support it received from the United States. I love my country and I loved the work the church sent me to Taiwan to do, but my conscience didn’t allow the luxury of being politically uninvolved. By doing nothing, Judith and I believed we were putting our stamp of approval on what the U.S. government was doing there. As an act of faith, we chose otherwise.

I doubt that Peng, Wei, or Hsieh had heard of Kitty Genovese, but they would understand the tragedy of the neighbors’ inaction. They would also understand the story from several weeks ago when a group of bystanders in Utah risked their lives to lift a burning car off of a man trapped underneath saving his life. Dr. Peng, Wei, and Hsieh have spent their lives trying to help others at great personal risk. Their legacy will live on and continue to bear fruit because I believe such conscience and courage is never lost. Such a legacy has never been needed more now in Taiwan, the United States, and the rest of the world.

-  Milo Thornberry