Are we the new slaves of American imperialism?
"They did not tell you a secret, just told you that you are going to Korea to protect the rights of American people."
2014 is being celebrated as the birth centenary of prominent Indian Progressive writer, Krishan Chander (1914-77). He completed his postgraduate education in Lahore until 1947, when he migrated to India. Saadat Hasan Manto is often credited with being the only Pakistani writer of his generation to foresee the patterns of Pakistani state and society, especially its ruling elite’s increasing political opportunism and its ties to US imperialism, and the increasing intolerance in our society.
In India, it was Krishan Chander who acutely foresaw patterns of political corruption, as well as increasing Americanisation of its huge middle-class, symptoms of which had started appearing in the 1990s as the Indian economy gradually opened up to free-market neoliberalism, having well and truly consolidated themselves in the 21st century. Chander’s astonishing contemporary relevance was very recently brought home when I re-read his story ‘Nayay Ghulam’ (New Slaves), which is addressed to Kenneth Shadrick, an American soldier who was widely but incorrectly reported to be the first American casualty in the Korean War. Chander here draws upon the 20th century history of US imperialism in Asia and America’s own revolutionary, anti-colonial history to challenge the lies used to justify war, which presciently connect to the recent (overhyped) controversy surrounding the Hollywood film, The Interview, which is about a fictional plot to assassinate the current North Korean leader and the resulting fallout in North Korea-US relations, whose hostile history can indeed be traced to the US intervention in the Korean War.
I haven’t watched the film, but this original, first-time translation from Urdu is being offered here for a new readership in the hopes of providing a corrective to decades of misconception and bad intentions between the two countries, in order that gullible people, like the unfortunate Shadrick, don’t fall victim to them and pay a heavy price. Are we then the new slaves of American propaganda imperialism?
“This letter is addressed to Private Kenneth Shadrick, aged 20, resident of West Virginia, United States. He is the first American soldier to have died on the Korean front fighting in the Korean War. He was sent there by US President, Truman.
I read the news of his death in the evening newspaper, the Free Press Bulletin yesterday. The news of his death was published with great fanfare by General MacArthur’s military headquarters. But there was hardly a shadow of remorse nor any view expressing sympathy with the family of the dead man. No light was shed on the life, habits and manners of the dead man. One also couldn’t know what he looked like because the picture that was published with the news was of General MacArthur. It was Shadrick who died, but MacArthur who made it into print.
As soon as I read news of his death, I decided to write him a letter. I know that the dead can’t read my letter. But, at least, I do hope that if another soldier reads this letter, he will put it in the inner pocket to the left side of the dead man’s military uniform, where private Shadrick has kept his gold watch, the laughing picture of his beloved and the last letter from his mother. And when General MacArthur’s subordinates return the last possessions belonging to the deceased to his heirs, I hope that this letter will somehow reach West Virginia along with these things and will be read by Shadrick’s relatives there. His friends and thousands of other young Shadricks aged 20, residents of West Virginia, and who have been sentenced to death like this first casualty. This letter is very important for them, because the dead cannot live again; however the living can be kept alive.
The news carrying Shadrick’s death also mentioned that the American army had retreated suddenly after being beaten back by the Koreans so suddenly that they had left their injured and dead soldiers there, which means that you still remain there.
Private Shadrick, you are now lying dead on some high Korean plateau, and I can see the bullet which still penetrates your heart. The horror in your eyes, your golden hair shining in the sun and my heart is filled with sorrow and anger, and I ask who was it who brought you here; who took away your youth, your beloved and your mother’s love from you and forced you to die on a strange and unknown plateau so far from your country. Who was it who handed you a gun and told you to go with all the wishes and hopes of your 20-year old youth to the fields and mountains of alien Korea and pump their chest with bullets? Who was it? Who were these powers? We have to find them out because the world is thirsty for peace and wants an answer to this question.
You must think what a strange man who is writing a letter to me with such frankness. Please forgive me, in my haste, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Krishan Chander. Some time back, I used to live in a very small lane in Lahore, known as Chowk Mati. I don’t know what they call it now because, the reality is, maybe you won’t believe me when I say that the people who took away your life from you are the same people who took away my homeland, my city and my lane from me, and just like you can’t return to your home today, I too can’t return to my lane. Is this just a coincidence, a cruel coincidence, a cruel fate which treated both you and me in this manner or is it a terrifying, oppressive conspiracy of a few politicians and powers which protect oppression, and have taken away your life and my homeland? You and I both have to find an answer to this question together, to find a path to the future by connecting the past and the present.
It is true that I have never visited your country; I was never given a passport, neither by the British government nor the Congress government. Despite this, I know your America very well. All its outer beauty as well as its inner ugliness is evident to me. I first saw America’s face in a short story, in my first English book. This was the story of America’s first President George Washington, how he always spoke, and acted on, the truth. This story influenced me a lot in my childhood and I kept believing that America would be a country which spoke the truth, where no one lied. When I grew up, I took admission in an American college in Lahore for further education – Forman Christian College. Here I saw the faces of the great American people who had fought a war of independence against the English crown, who engaged in civil war against slavery against their own brothers from the American south for rights and truth, and tried their best to free the black slaves and for whom other nations of the world have great respect and love.
I bow my head down to salute this America. I, too, have received the feeling for freedom, the value of freedom of writing and speech from my American professors. I learnt to trust the people from them too. I saw Abraham Lincoln, and the Goddess of Liberty standing on the American coast and read the adventures of those struggling brave and fearless men who transformed the tribal scene of America into a living, wonderful, expanding wide culture. There I read Mark Twain, Dreiser and Walt Whitman, who talked to me in his poems in such a way as if he was my neighbour and lived in the house next door.
Then one day, the history professor gifted me a gramophone record. It was a Paul Robeson song and I could see the entire pain and all the happiness ensconced within the creation of this song, and before my eyes, millions of daffodils from the valleys of America blossomed, and millions of arms running the American factories with their clean and honest fingers. I heard the laughter of thousands of kids who were returning from school, their bags tucked under their arms, and along with this laughter, I heard the laughter of several streams which flow gracefully like fairies in the wild mustard rainforests away from everyone’s sight. I am surprised how much a Robeson song can gather in its loneliness, America’s unlimited beauty and its beautiful form. I am grateful to Robeson and my other American friends, since with their help, I lifted the veil of my ignorance and saw the beautiful face of the American people. These people are just like my own countrymen, plain and simple, loving, innocent people like my fellow countrymen.
But there is another America too; not the people’s America, but the America of big businessmen and military leaders who rule their people by usurping their rights. An America which belongs to Ford, Dulles, Du Pont, Rockefeller and Morgan, and several other businessmen and bankers even whose names I am unaware of. But I do know that this is the same America which has made you sleep unto death in Korea and if their hand falls over mine, they will try their best to do the same to me. These great businessmen, masters of imperialist houses of silver, iron, coal, potato, oil, poisonous drugs and armaments, are those who sell every living or non-living thing for personal profit, who have also sold you for a small profit in Korea. Maybe while handing you a gun, they did not tell you a secret, just told you that you are going to Korea to protect the rights of American people.
Now you will have to ask these leaders what are these American rights and what are they doing in Korea because these rights are never called back in America to West Virginia where I can protect them, full of the spirit of a true and complete feeling of nationalism.
Shadrick, you have made a crass mistake that you did not question your leaders about this. You have paid a heavy penalty for this. I know you are not solely responsible in committing this sin; I don’t hold you culpable, because I know how cunning and deceitful these American imperialist businessmen are. One day before the war with Japan broke out, right until the day of Pearl Harbour, these businessmen were sending iron to Japan. For a two-cent profit, they sold their country and you. They did not deem capable even for a two-cent profit, and at the moment, thousands of American Shadricks will be the target of bullets and following this. They would be able to understand that what they had been fighting for until now was not American democracy but a piece of coal which rightfully belonged to Korea, a drop of oil which was Palestine’s by right, that rubber tree and tin mine which was Malay and Indo-Chinese by right. You had not come to spread democracy, but to usurp others’ rights. This was your mistake that you didn’t question your leaders.
I used to think that man does so many things just for nothing, due to inattention, but I also think that when a man lifts a gun in his hand and enters another house, he should ask himself a lot of questions – is this the only way? Is there no other way, am I being honest? Do I have the right to enter another’s house? These questions must be settled before lifting the gun because a gun takes life, does not give it, and we have a beautiful principle here in Asia that if we visit someone’s house to ask for something, we bring flowers not guns. And I have heard that there are lovely flowers in your West Virginia.
My friend! You brought guns not flowers to Asia. That’s why the story of America-Asian relations became so sad and painful. This story began a long time ago, in 1854, when American Commodore Perry arrived on the shores of Japan commanding a small naval fleet and raising his gun, demanding they open all their doors and let American business enter. Do remember that in 1854, Perry appeared in Japan and in 1859 Nicholson was knocking the Delhi gate, and from Bosphorus to Bangkok and even further, the British, Portuguese, French and Dutch imperialists plundered at will. These people who had actually come to Asia for profit and plunder and robbed the world saying that they want to spread Christian civilisation and culture to backward and savage Asia.
Today, when patriots are going all out for their independence in every Asian country, the imperialists have abandoned that slogan. Today, their slogan is, we will not allow socialism, communism to enter Asia. We will spread our democracy. Today, the slogan has changed, but not the slogan mongers. These are the same merchants of death dressed in different garb but I can see their faces clearly even inside this veil and I want that you should also see it as well as millions of American youth like yourself who are being treated as fuel for war. This is the face of this other America, which has worn a face of generosity and charity over its dollarised empire. Throw it off my friend; its end will hasten with this.
I was telling you the story of America and Western imperialists. In 1858, patriots in China rose in revolt in the Boxer Uprising but the Western imperialists colluded to crush the uprising with great force and reopened the doors of this 5,000 year old civilised country. All for an alien looter who wanted to enter and rob the hard work of the Chinese people, control its rivers, wanted to deprive the Chinese people of the wealth and valuable products of its mines and wanted to trample their national honour and sanctity afoot.
So all this happened and the First World War was fought and then the Second World War at the end of which, it looked as if the whole of China and Japan has come under American imperialist domination. And then Korea too; in the middle of Korea, below the 38th parallel, in the entire area, the American dollar found a foothold and in this way, the beautiful country of Korea was divided. Its civilisation history is at least 4,000 years old. If I tell you that this is a crime against humanity, it won’t be an exaggeration, because till now, a nation’s heart has never been measured with longitudinal and latitudinal lines.
Korea has been one country since a long time; one nation, one language, one song and will remain so even after all the conspiracies and wars of the Western and American imperialists. I believe that today, no alien power or force has the right to divide a nation in two and whoever does that, we don’t call him democratic, rather anti-democratic.
Korea belongs to Koreans, just like America belongs to Americans. They will decide or destroy its fate as they wish, set up whatever type of government they like, choose their leaders, change their economic and political system, and they have full authority to decide what will their domestic and foreign policies be, what will be the colour of their flag. They have an established right over these matters and no stranger has the right to impose its decision about them over them. If the Koreans can decide this matter by sitting together peacefully, that is all well, but if they decide the matter through their personal, private civil war, even then, others have a right to have an opinion about it. They can give advice, can call the civil war good or bad, but cannot enter their house gun in hand. After all, even America had a civil war and the American north fought a civil war against slavery, against the American south for many years. But the poor Koreans did not intervene in this civil war.
We also remember the civil war in Britain, when they beheaded their King Charles the First. Even at that time, the Korean king did not send his troops in support of the British monarchy, then why is Britain sending its naval fleet in Korean waters today, for what? For the defence of the 38th parallel? This is such a strange joke, it’s no surprise that if events continue at this speed and the American imperialists continue to flee Korea in this manner, then one day, Britain would have to defend the equator.
But today, the Asians are fully aware of the artifice of the 38th parallel. They know very well that American soldiers are being sent not to save the 38th parallel but that other latitude which pierces Asia’s heart from one end to the other. This cruel imperialist latitude divides every country it passes through into two. It passes Palestine, and it is divided into Israel and Arab; through Burma, it begins to be divided into the Karen and Irrawady states; through Indonesia and New Guinea separates itself from Indonesia; through Indochina, and the puppet government of Bo Dai emerges against Vietnam. This latitude does not join Asian nations rather it weakens them so that they remain subordinated and suppressed under imperialist control.
Western imperialism initially searches for pimps and puppets among the Asians, fashions them into true national leaders to use them for their benefit and tries to mislead the people by labelling other patriots as ‘communist’, and then continues its imperialist plunder under the umbrella of these so-called honest national leaders. This also happens before and after the war. But after the war, when national movements arose forcefully in the whole of Asia, the imperialists took shelter by going underground and brought its local agents and pimps to the surface. This is the imperialists’ final war, my friend, that’s why you took this bullet.
You should really comprehend this situation, as well as thousands and millions of those American youth like yourselves, because world peace depends upon their understanding of this reality. Today, a great responsibility lies upon the American people and youth. I hope that all of them will indeed help us to fulfil the demands of its history, because these people become Private Shadrick one by one in their millions. That’s why they must tell their rulers who have started the war in Korea that they will not support the imperialists in this war but are with the Asian people. They must say that we don’t want to fight any ‘ism’ in Asia, be it communism or Buddhism. It is for the Asians which ‘ism’ they choose to keep, kill, expand, and spread. They are the masters of their own fate and if the United States wants to become master of the destinies of other nations, they will not support this injustice at any cost. We will never become the new slaves of imperialism, not in Europe, or in America, or in Korea or any other Asian field. Let the people make their own destiny, then see how well they make it.
Don’t get the impression from my letter that I am not grieving your death. That is not so, it’s just that today I don’t have tears in my eyes for you, they were shed a long time ago. I have seen so much poverty and social injustice in my heart that witnessing it has ended the tears in my eyes, but I am sad and grievous for your death. I have nothing in my heart but sorrow and anger against your murderers. But who are your real murderers? Is it the North Korean soldier who pumped your chest with a bullet thinking about protecting himself, his wife and children, or someone else? That is also an interesting tale, care to listen?
In 1905, when Russia and Japan fought a war and the latter entered China after settling all its opposition, in those days, a young American lieutenant also accompanied the victorious Japanese forces, who had been sent from West Point in the United States. His name was MacArthur and seemingly, he was accompanying the Japanese as a nonpartisan military observer. Now that I reflect on this entire incident, I feel, perhaps, this respected Lieutenant MacArthur was in search of new business markets for American imperialism even in 1905 and had the Asian countries in their greedy sights. It seems to me that the mission which MacArthur came to fulfil in 1905 was barely completed in 1945. I also have a feeling that when he was aboard Korean waters in 1905, he had already sentenced you to death, even before your birth. Now that I think about this matter with a calm hindsight, your murder does not bring tears to my eyes; rather flames of anger erupt against these oppressors who sent mere 19 and 20-year-old American kids to the Korean slaughterhouse. These boys had yet to study in schools and colleges. They had yet to play football, hockey, tennis and baseball, not the game of war. Their entire youth lay in front of them, and they had every right to live it. The one who has taken away this right from you, I cannot fight him with tears in my eyes. That’s why today, I have tears in my eyes for you.
But don’t get the impression that I’m not saddened by your death. Perhaps for your General MacArthur, your value is no more than a tiny pin on his military map. But I know and have mentioned once before about what happens when a soldier dies on the battlefield. When Private Shadrick, resident of West Virginia, died on the Korean battlefield, a beautiful building like the Taj Mahal died with him. Some new scientific invention, some eternal idea of knowledge and the arts died, which had not been discovered by anyone so far, and left the entire world behind, sad and mournful for him. Perhaps Shadrick’s death is not even the loss of a pin for General MacArthur. But today, wherever there are honest people living who love them, they are mourning for Shadrick’s death with honest hearts, because they know that this was a useless death, spent without a good cause.
Our planet, which is in such dire straits today, despite its lands lost to desert, is a very attractive and beautiful place, having fertile fields and valleys where wheat, barley, corn, fibre, cotton and jute crops blossom. Here, there are many mountain pits and the highest mountain ranges in whose lap are jungles which sparkle like emeralds and whose rocks are shining with gold, silver, antimony and ore. There are rivers spreading over miles and vast lakes which hide the electric power and heat in their virgin breasts like a mother’s milk. Here, all of us can live in comfort, peace and increasing progress. This earth is so rich, so pretty, so wealthy that if we try, it has the power to fulfil our greatest desires.
And if we say that we view other spots in the galaxy away from this world, we will find millions of suns and moons, billions of stars revolving in the air, so many innumerable worlds that with a little effort, every man can find a star for himself. The expansive, magnificent and unlimited continuity of the galaxy has been waiting for man’s adventurous search for thousands of years. The important thing is that instead of fighting over a tiny plateau in Korea, we should touch our sights to the final limits of time and space. The important thing is that we should not destroy billions of rupees in the dangerous and life-destroying dynamite of atomic and hydrogen bombs and spend it on proper use of knowledge, science and art; then man can truly become man and stand in the centre of the galaxy.
This is my deep conviction and total belief, and when I write you these last few lines, my eyes wander away for a moment to the sights outside my front window. From where I’m sitting, I can see a beautiful and peaceful scene. The green leaves of the coconut palm spread out like a fan rock on the long, gay wooden poles which reach a long way, affixed like dark reeds in height and depth. Away from this, are the beautiful hills of Drar and the plateaus which are shining in the monsoon fog, containing the blueness of so many unknown skies. And I think far away from these plateaus, hidden, I think of you. Private Kenneth Shadrick, resident of West Virginia, and I think about those many other Shadricks who like you are aged 20 and live in West Virginia, Kansas, Ohio, Cincinnati, Texas, Boston and Chicago, and about those who have not yet reached 20, who are 19, 18, 17 and 16-years-old. Then I think of that Kenneth Shadrick, who is only three-years-old right now, my child, and after a lot of thinking, I say – no, no, this will never happen. They will never be able to fashion another slave out of him. They will never be able to hand him a gun, send him to any plateau to murder.
That’s why when I look out my window and see your corpse far way on that plateau, I decide, peace, peace, peace today and now; peace, peace today and now, peace in my own time, peace for all time.”