North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The courage in succession

Let's take a moment to appreciate and applaud the many quiet transfers of power throughout the 192-195 countries of the world, not to mention the passing on in countless ways of family and small business control, and simple roles as individuals age.

How tragic when leaders cannot bring themselves to move on, defying formal rituals or elections of succession, and often bringing their countries to ruin because of their entrenchment. In Africa, two individuals stand out (among many others): the Libyan dictator Gadaffi who has declared he has no authority to resign as long as the people want him; and Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent President who by all accounts lost a generally fair election back in November 28.

The Ivory Coast, a nation of 20 million, once considered a foremost candidate for developing a relatively rich standard of living, but is now gripped with a third violent spasm in the past 20 years.

Tonight, heavy fighting rages in Abidjan, the nation's largest city and commercial center. Over the past month, the number of internally displaced citizens has swelled to nearly 1 million, and the economy has stumbled. All because one man who tasted power could not envision himself without it.

Once again, citizens reduced to refugee status

The widely acknowledged winner of the election, Alassane Ouattara, had found himself besieged by pro-Gbagbo forces in an Abidjan hotel for the months since the election, defended by a UN contingent and his own militia. Sporadic fighting had led to nearly 500 deaths since November 28, but over time, Outtara's forces from the north began moving south, taking villages and cities, before eventually sweeping to Gbagbo's stronghold.

Mr Outtara, about to move into power under unfortunate and unnecessary circumstances

Yesterday, in one of the biggest blows to Gbagbo's grip on power, his army chief of staff, General Phillippe Mangou, sought refuge at the South Africa ambassador's residence in Abidjan. Pro-Gbagbo forces then abandoned a blockade of the hotel Ouattara had been restricted to, as well as the Abidjan airport.

Perhaps the city and its citizens will be spared further violence over the next few days, and Mr Outtara can quickly control the city from looters and lawlessness that many fear in the aftermath.
Abidjan, a cosmopolitan and modern city, now damaged from fighting and at further risk from subsequent looting

One thinks of the Biblical story of Solomon discerning the real mother of a child as one who was willing to give up the babe in order to spare it. The false mother was willing to see the loss of the child as long as she received her "fair share." A rather pertinent dynamic when viewing Gbagbo vs Outtara, Gaddafi, the lawless anarchy in Somalia, and the Zimbabwean shambles that Robert Mugabe has inflicted.

King Solomon revealing the hearts of two women

Walking away, entrusting governance and leadership to another in a positive fashion, should be applauded whenever, and whatever scale at which it occurs.

Smoke rising from fighting within Abidjan - a testimony to the destruction brought about by those seduced by power

Sunday, March 27, 2011

99 year anniversary of a gift from Japan to the US

Today is the 99th anniversary of a gift of cherry trees from the Mayor of Tokyo to the city of Washington DC. The gift has over the years "blossomed" into a national celebration heralding the arrival of spring in the U.S. Capitol. Mayor Yukio Ozaki donated the trees in an effort to enhance the growing friendship between the United States and Japan at that time.

Washington Monument with cherry trees

How amazing that the friendship and warmth contained in that gift continues, even through the dark days of World War II. On December 11, 1941, four trees were cut down in the U.S. Capitol, suspected retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan four days earlier, though this was never confirmed. In hopes of dissuading people from further attacks upon the trees during the war, they were referred to as "Oriental" flowering cherry trees for the war's duration.

Jefferson Memorial with cherry trees in full blossom

It seems fitting too, to be reminded of what our nation's capitol enjoys each year, as Japan continues its somber task of rebuilding and mourning an estimated 8,800 lost and 12,600 still missing.

Are there other gifts of this symbolic magnitude?

Dedicated on October 28, 1886, our Statue of Liberty, is a gift to the United States from the people of France. A robed female figure representing Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, bears a torch and a tabula ansata (a tablet evoking the law) upon which is inscribed the date of the American Declaration of Independence. A broken chain lies at her feet. The statue has become an iconic symbol of freedom and of the United States, best remembered in the days of strong immigration funneled through New York's Ellis Island.

Statue of Liberty, a gift from France

With these two gifts given to us, is there anything comparable that the U.S. has given in return? Teatree's sparse knowledge of history shows up - nothing comes to mind. Unless one considers the solemn Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, that honors American soldiers who died in Europe during World War II.

Normandy Cemetery and Memorial

The cemetery is located on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach (one of the landing beaches of the Normandy Invasion) and the English Channel. It covers 70 ha (172 acres), and contains the remains of 9,387 American military dead, most of whom were killed during the invasion of Normandy and ensuing military operations in World War II.

Embedded in the lawn directly opposite the entrance to the old Visitors' Building is a time capsule in which have been sealed news reports of the June 6, 1944 Normandy landings. The capsule is covered by a pink granite slab upon which is engraved: To be opened June 6, 2044.

Around the world, gifts and memorials speaking of friendship and gratitude are continually being made. And while some gifts emphasize a positive friendship, such as the US and Canada's famous Peace Arch between Washington State and British Columbia, others express hopes for reconciliation from past conflicts.

The Peace Arch, a celebration of kinship between the U.S. and Canada

Growing up during the bitterly divisive Vietnam War, one is heartened to read of recent week-long visit to Vietnam by 29 members of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF). The delegation, including people from all walks of life - veterans, their relatives, businessmen, social workers and students - was aimed at helping the delegation members learn about the current situation in Vietnam , Vietnam-US relations, the lingering effects of past wars and especially issues regarding the clearance of mines and unexploded ordnance in Vietnam. Members paid a fieldtrip visit to RENEW – a VVMF project on clearing landmines in Quang Tri province.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund delegation meets with Vietnamese delegation in January 2011

Whether a gift celebrating friendship, a memorial expressing gratitude, or reconciliation efforts meant to heal tragic events in the past, let's enjoy the spring celebration in Washington DC this year with a new appreciation.