Vol. 26 No. 13 · 8 July 2004

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Too Kind to Pinochet

Stephen Sedley repeats in passing a couple of common ideas about Chile that need qualifying (LRB, 24 June). He describes the way that people divided against each other during the Pinochet dictatorship as a ‘mystery’, given the apparent civility of modern Chile. It is less of one if you consider the Chilean civil war of 1891, the attempted and actual military coups of the 1920s and 1930s, and the increasingly confrontational relationship between the wealthy and the poor – estates seized, militias formed – once the latter were belatedly given the vote in the 1950s. Like Britain and other self-styled ‘stable’ democracies, Chile is good at downplaying the political turbulence in its history. Pinochet’s supporters have been equally good at rose-tinting his economic achievements. While Sedley rightly mentions the brutality that underpinned the dictatorship’s pioneering experiments with privatisation and other free market reforms, he does not question the notion that these brought ‘enterprise’ and ‘prosperity’ to Chile. In fact, the country had a relatively strong economy for decades before Pinochet, based on the same copper mines, good farming conditions and efficient infrastructure that he later benefited from. Despite this, during the dictatorship there were two dramatic and lengthy recessions: the ratio of boom to bust years, as in Britain under Pinochet’s ally Margaret Thatcher, was not impressive by historical standards. And as any visit to a poorer part of town in Chile will tell you, the wealth created during and since the Pinochet period has not always been distributed widely. In 1987 the Financial Times, not an especially strong critic of Pinochet’s economic record, reported that average salaries in Chile were still significantly lower, allowing for inflation, than they had been under the Allende government that he had overthrown 14 years earlier.

Andy Beckett
London N16

Stand-Off in Taiwan

Perry Anderson refers to ‘an international pact against recognising’ a breakaway such as the one Taiwan might make from China, ‘since so many states have reason to fear they would be the first to suffer once the precedent was set’ (LRB, 3 June). There is a fundamental principle of international law called the principle of non-fragmentation, which condemns the disruption of the political unity of an existing state when its government represents all people without discrimination within its territory. When a part of the state rebels and separates from the motherland, other states are reluctant to extend diplomatic recognition to the breakaway state. However, it is doubtful if non-fragmentation is applicable to the relationship between China and Taiwan. True, Beijing has long asserted that there is only one China, of which Taiwan is an inseparable part. Yet, rhetoric aside, the reality is that the PRC does not and has never exercised sovereignty or authority over Taiwan. Taiwan has its own government and military. Its authorities do not accept or implement orders from Beijing. One would be hard pressed to find evidence supporting the claim that Taiwan and China are part of a political unity. Since these conditions do not obtain, there can be no secession.

Taiwan’s international status is peculiar. Qing Dynasty China ceded Taiwan to Japan following the Sino-Japanese War in the Treaty of Shimonoseki of 1895. From then through World War Two, Taiwan was a Japanese colony. Anderson wrote, without identifying the relevant document, that the ‘end of the Pacific War returned Taiwan by Allied agreement to China’. In the Cairo Declaration of 1943 the Allies stated their intention to restore to China those territories, including Formosa, that Japan had stolen. In the Potsdam Proclamation issued before the end of the war in 1945, the Allies said that the terms of the Cairo Declaration should be carried out and Japan’s sovereignty limited to the various islands making up Japan. There is no principle of international law, however, that would recognise these statements as conveying Taiwanese sovereignty to China. The San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 also failed to convey Taiwanese sovereignty to China. There, Japan renounced ‘all right, title and claim to Formosa’ but did not convey sovereignty to anyone, including China.

Neither the Republic of China nor the People’s Republic of China was party to the San Francisco Peace Treaty. The RoC did enter into a separate treaty with Japan, the Taipei Peace Treaty of 1952. There the parties recognised Japan’s renunciation of its right, title and claim to Taiwan as stated in the San Francisco Peace Treaty, but the parties did not go any further. Japan did not transfer Taiwanese sovereignty to China.

Kenneth Choy
Hong Kong

Perry Anderson claims that the separation of Norway and Sweden in 1905 is one of three peaceful separations of bi-national states. Norway, in fact, was a joint kingdom with Denmark for many centuries. Denmark was forced to give up Norway to Sweden after the Napoleonic Wars as punishment for backing the loser, and to loosen Denmark's grip on shipping in the Baltic. The union of Sweden and Norway was uneasy, and the eventual separation could be described as peaceful only if one ignored the partial mobilisation of both sides and the many years during which the Norwegian Storting opposed by all means short of armed force the efforts of the Swedes to govern it.

A.J. Caston
Tervuren, Belgium

Señor Welles

‘From a piety that none of his biographers has fully explained,’ David Bromwich writes, ‘Orson Welles asked to be buried in Seville’ (LRB, 3 June). The explanation may be that some biographers tend to know little of famous men whose language and culture differ from their own. For many years Welles was a dedicated admirer and follower of the renowned Spanish matador Antonio Ordóñez and asked that his ashes when he died be interred on the peaceful Ordóñez family farm, El Recreo, located not in Seville but in Malaga province in the spectacular Rondan countryside. Historically the territory of bullfighters, bandits, guerrillas and smugglers, this rocky region was doubtless seen by Welles as more akin to his buccaneering spirit than some genteel churchyard.

Campbell Lennie


I guess Ralph Seliger attended the 15 May rally in Tel Aviv (Letters, 24 June). Otherwise he wouldn't invoke Yossi Beilin's speech to counter my claim that the Zionist left does not criticise the IDF. He must have noticed that Beilin did not condemn even General Yom Tov Samya, who on the same stage called for the liquidation of Arafat. Nor could Seliger have missed the brutal attack on the large group from Anarchists against the Wall who were holding signs protesting against the IDF. They were beaten up and their signs torn down, not by the police but by peace camp activists. My point is not the integrity of Beilin or his supporters, but their inability to become an opposition and to criticise the IDF. Without that, their efforts are nihil.

Yitzhak Laor
Tel Aviv

Culture of Torture

Slavoj Žižek may be right to say that the photos from Abu Ghraib offer ‘an insight into “American values"’ (LRB, 3 June). But he doesn’t make clear what he means. What is striking – indeed, unbearable – about the images is the way they casually mix two genres: the exposé of atrocity and the holiday snapshot. To understand how this is possible requires that we grasp what it is to be a dominant culture and so to have a culture of dominance. It would mean untangling the strains of triumphalism that run through American culture, from the way we celebrate victories on the sports field to the festivals of public shamelessness and humiliation visible on ‘reality’ TV shows. It would mean reflecting on the contradictions of the ‘volunteer’ or ‘professional’ military, increasingly composed of mercenary outfits shored up by poorly trained reservists and National Guard units. It would mean taking into account the changing US prison system, itself increasingly subject to privatisation, and the employment opportunities it provides in economically marginalised areas of the country (including the corner of Appalachia that most of the Abu Ghraib guards called home) as well as the racial supremacism it breeds. It would certainly mean taking a hard look at the temptation of dominant powers and their representatives to feel they are above the law, including the laws of war, which they happen to be in the process of making.

All this, and one would not yet have begun to think about the work of the camera: the ubiquity and availability of digital images, including pornographic images, their role in abetting torture and humiliation as well as rendering it yawningly routine (to the point of being used as screen-savers on public computers), the cheery poses struck by the guards as they look proudly out at us, expecting approval.

Žižek touches none of this. He cannot even be bothered to make his remark about the ‘outsourcing’ of torture properly. The US does outsource torture, when it wants it done well: the term for handing suspects over to other countries for strenuous interrogation is ‘rendition’.

Rick Livingston
Columbus, Ohio

Slavoj Žižek, commenting on the Abu Ghraib photographs, says: ‘You can find similar photographs in the US press whenever an initiation rite goes wrong in an army unit or on a high school campus’. The photographs have had such an impact precisely because ‘similar photographs’ are never published in the mainstream media, in the US or abroad. I read the New Yorker story in which they first appeared on a crowded train on the Washington DC Metro, and I could sense the eyes of other passengers drawn to the page, shocked by the intrusion of such ugliness into the workaday environment. And Žižek ’s argument that ‘the Iraqi prisoners were effectively being initiated into American culture,’ a culture grounded in obscenity, is as insulting as it is without merit. There is nothing American about pornography, which is perhaps the only universal global language.

Ruth Franklin
Washington DC

Brunel’s Hubris

Peter Campbell says that Brunel's decision to build a broad gauge railway was not hubristic (LRB, 3 June). Certainly he sought higher train speed and greater stability, but why was his new gauge exactly 50 per cent wider than George Stephenson's competing standard gauge? And why does the rising sun shine straight down the London-to-Bristol railway's Box Tunnel only on Brunel's birthday?

As with so many of Brunel's constructions, from Clifton Suspension Bridge to the Great Eastern, competent engineers declared his design for the bridge at Maidenhead foolish, if not downright reckless. Panicked by public concern that the bridge's unprecedentedly flat brick arches would collapse, the Great Western's directors ordered Brunel not to remove the shuttering on the arches. But when a Thames spate shifted these supports, Brunel secretly ordered his carpenters to leave a gap between the brickwork and the replaced shuttering. When the directors later asked Brunel whether he judged that the shuttering could safely be removed he told them that their trains had been crossing the unsupported bridge, in perfect safety, for the best part of a year. Hubris?

Ian Carter
University of Auckland

Tony Blair’s Schooldays

Richard Clogg suggests that Guy Fawkes night wasn't celebrated in Scotland (Letters, 24 June). I lived in Glasgow during the period of which he writes and can testify that the city was ablaze every 5 November.

Graham Hall
Wantage, Oxfordshire

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