Friday, December 14, 2012

China Mourns Victims of the Nanking Massacre

Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the capture of Nanking, the capital of Nationalist China by the Japanese forces during the Second Sino-Japanese War. This mark the beginning of several weeks of sheer brutality by the Japanese soldiers towards the hapless population. No one really knows how many people died. The official Chinese figure of 300,000 given in official media seems too high. It is estimated that more than 250,000 people resided in the city when the Japanese arrived on December 13, 1937. A series of memorial services were held in the city to commemorate the victims of the massacre.

Japanese militarists and certain economic conglomerates were not content even with the takeover of Manchuria and the neighboring provinces in 1931. The ever expanding industries needed raw materials and markets. While Manchuria was a valuable prize, even more valuable resources were supposed to be in China. Meanwhile, the Chinese Nationalists or the Kuomintang (KMT) was consolidating its hold over the rest of the country under its leader, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek. According to some analysts, the Generalissimo was himself spoiling for a fight. For both sides, only an excuse was sufficient.

The excuse came on July 7, 1937, at the Marco Polo Bridge. Japan responded with strong military forces, totally out of proportion for a small skirmish. It was obvious that Japan had been quite prepared to launch the offensive. The Japanese struck from two directions. Their forces in Manchuria and the nearby regions launched an offensive in the North. Meanwhile, Japanese forces attacked Shanghai. At this latter battle in Shanghai, the Chinese thwarted the Japanese hopes of a short campaign by holding out for three months. By November, the Japanese had taken Shanghai with considerable losses.

However, the Chinese casualties at Nanking were staggering. Chiang Kai-Shek had lost some of his best troops in the battle. When the Japanese made their move towards his capital up the Yangtze River, he was reluctant to make a stand there. Deciding that Nanking cannot be defended, he chose to abandon the city. On December 7th, the Generalissimo left the city and by the 12th, the last effective military forces also pulled out. Along with the troops, around three quarters of the population had also left. The remaining citizens awaited the entrance of the Japanese forces.

And enter they did! The Japanese troops indulged in an orgy of murder, rape, looting and arson, directed at the civilian population. There were reports of systematic torture. The killing spree did not abate for at least two weeks. Things got a little bit better by the next year. By that time, hundreds of thousands of powerless people had been killed.

Although the “Nanking massacre” was carried out by the ordinary soldiers and those of lower ranks in the Imperial Army, the higher ups knew what was going on. An Army cannot engage in a self indulged killing spree for weeks without the superior officers knowing. Some soldiers later claimed that they were actually acting on orders from above. The Commanding Officer of the Japanese forces, Iwane Matsui, didn’t arrive in the city until a few days due to his poor health. Nevertheless, he was well aware of what was happening and did not or could not do anything to stop it. He was implicated for his inaction after the war and was hanged in December 1948.

Iwane Matsui Rides into Nanjin, Wikimedia Commons

There is no clear explanation to the motives of the Japanese Army in carrying out a massacre of this nature or this proportion. One possible motive could have been the terrorizing of the Chinese into subjugation. If it was an objective, the Japanese failed miserably. Rather than being terrorized, the Chinese people fought on and the Sino-Japanese War dragged on. The Japanese soldiers were better trained, had better weapons and were led better than the Chinese. They won the majority of the battles in the next years. But the ultimate victory was out of their reach. The Chinese had a large reserve of manpower and a huge area where they could move about and retreat, if necessary. On top of it, the KMT and the Communist forces were cooperating against the common enemy and the Japanese were being constantly harassed by the Communist guerrillas.

The Chinese resorted to a scorched earth policy to deny the enemy of food and other supplies. The Nanking massacre enhanced the will of the people to resist, rather than the opposite. The campaign also failed to deliver the expected goods to the Japanese industries. Japan was forced to look elsewhere for success, only to be brought down ultimately. Her military forces could not hope for a long drawn campaign over a huge area encompassing East Asia and Western Pacific. They overextended themselves and lacked the necessary troops for an effective victory in China, or anywhere else. As Mao Tse-tung once pointed out, “China is like a gallon jug which the Japanese are trying to fill with half a pint of liquid. When her troops move into one section, we move to another. And when they pursue us, we move back again.”

The Nanking massacre, also referred to as “The Rape of Nanking”, was a case of sheer brutality by the Japanese forces. However, this became the norm in many Asian regions which they conquered. Even then, perhaps in no other place did the Japanese behave worse than in Nanking. The disturbing fact was that these atrocities in Nanking and elsewhere were carried out by the regular army and not by some fanatic crowd such as the SS, SA or the Gestapo. For example, in Nazi controlled regions in Europe, it was the SS or other groups-which followed in the wake of the regular army-that carried out the bulk of the German atrocities during the war. The Nanking massacre and other atrocities were carried out by the same army which had behaved commendably just thirty years back during the Russo-Japanese War. In that war, any Japanese soldier who harmed civilians was inviting severe punishment on himself.

The Nanking massacre is a stumbling block for the improvement of Sino-Japanese relations even today. The Chinese consider it to be a “Forgotten Holocaust.” On the other hand while some Japanese nationalists argue that the intensity of the “Nanking massacre” has been grossly exaggerated, more hard-line nationalists, such as the popular former governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, claim that the “Nanking massacre” never even occurred. With the general elections just two days away and the nationalists poised to record substantial gains, the abrasive Sino-Japanese relations are unlikely to get better in the near future.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ernesto 'Che' Guevara was Betrayed by his own Mistakes

After his capture on the previous day, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara was executed by the Bolivian security forces on October 9, 1967, at La Higuera. Thus ended the brief but eventful life of the best known Marxist revolutionary of the world. After meeting Fidel Castro in Mexico, he played a vital role in the Cuban revolution which ousted Fulgencio Batista. After this victory, Guevara held an important position in the government of his adopted country. Meanwhile, using his experiences as a guerrilla fighter, he wrote several books including the well known manual "Guerrilla Warfare."

While he could have enjoyed the comforts of life as an important personality in Cuba, Che chose the hard road of a revolutionary with the support of his friend Fidel. He took part in two other campaigns in Congo and Bolivia which were both unsuccessful. Congo was a fiasco. Bolivia cost him his life.

Che Guevara at the funeral for the victims of the La Coubre explosion by Alberto Korda. (Popularized cropped version of Guerrillero Heroico) Wikimedia Commons

One major reason for the failure of the latter campaigns was the attempt to repeat the Cuban experience in those countries. The modus operandi of the guerrillas was to enter the relatively inaccessible hinterland and slowly gather local support. It was hoped that a small but well trained guerrilla force would act as the vanguard of the revolution. This was what they employed in Cuba and was successful there with the aid of some advantages the guerrillas had. Che Guevara remarked in his book "Guerrilla Warfare" that "[I]t is not necessary to wait until all conditions for making revolution exist; the insurrection can create them."

While this may be true, it does not assure that an armed group championing the cause of the people will always attract popular support. This is a fact that Che Guevara overlooked and ultimately payed the prize for.

In Cuba, after some initial blunders and misfortunes, the guerrillas found their way and moved on. Initially, the local population was vary and skeptical about the guerrillas but slowly they began to support them. Of course, Fidel's men were helped by the New York Times reporter Herbert Matthews who interviewed the rebel leader and published three articles which turned the guerrillas into heroes. With the passage of time, local population increasingly supported the rebel forces which started their march towards Havana.

However, both in the Congo and in Bolivia, Che Guevara could not garner enough popular support despite almost all other condition for a successful rebellion was more or less evident on the ground. The people felt that the guerrillas were foreign to them, and as for the Cubans led by Che, they were. Many could not understand the internationalism of the Cubans involved. The Cuban revolution was led by a Cuban and while Guevara was not a native Cuban he was not the overall commander of the revolutionary forces either. He was just taking part, albeit a big part, in the war. In contrast, he was leading a campaign in Bolivia. The fact that a Cuban led the movement in Bolivia did not help the matters.

This was perhaps the most vital factor which determined the outcome of the fiasco of Congo and the disaster of Bolivia. This precluded the possibility of long lasting unity among the guerrillas in these campaigns. The Congolese rebels were a poorly led, undisciplined crowd who wasted the money collected and given to them by Cuba and other countries on more worldly pleasures. More importantly, they resented some outsider coming and telling them what they should and should not be doing.

In Bolivia also this disunity and resentment was a key factor in determining the outcome. Che Guevara's "Bolivian Diary" describes the first skirmish they had with Bolivian soldiers which claimed a life of a Cuban. Che deemed it necessary to point out that it was Cuban blood which was first shed in the Bolivian struggle. The avowed internationalist took this decision to cultivate comradeship between the two groups but it hardly succeeded. The Communist Party of Bolivia also did not extend its support to Che Guevara which was another blow. Che once described the party in his "Bolivian Diary" as a distrustful, disloyal and stupid entity. The dogmatist he was, Guevara did not pull out of the campaign when it was obvious that things were going horribly wrong. One reason may have been the fact that he had been completely cut off from Havana and therefore, isolated and stranded in Bolivia. If communications were open with Havana, Castro might have asked him to pull out and he might have heeded. Once he had heeded such warning in Congo and saved himself to fight another battle.

The United States aided Bolivia in the battle against the guerrillas, which added to the difficulties of the latter. Despite this, a united band of guerrillas might have given a better fight. In almost all skirmishes, the Bolivian Army suffered worse. But, with the passage of time, numerical superiority and foreign aid helped the Bolivian forces. Also, as the guerrillas were led by a Cuban, the authorities could project the campaign as a foreign encroachment of Bolivian territory. Forced out of their bases and later separated to two bands, the guerrillas wandered in the inhospitable terrain while engaging the Army. As the rebels had no popular support to speak of, entering villages was also risky. They were ultimately decimated, Che Guevara's execution being one of the final acts. Only a handful survived to tell the tale.

The dogmatic internationalist he was, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara most probably failed to understand the inherent nationalism of many others around him, which ultimately cost him his life.


1. Rooney, D. Guerrilla: Insurgents, Patriots and Terrorists from Sun Tzu to Bin Laden, Brassey's, London (2004)

2. Guevara, Ernesto (Che), Guerrilla Warfare (1961)

3. Guevara, Ernesto (Che), Bolivian Diary (1966-67)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Memory of Steve Biko

Steve Biko, founder of the Black Consciousness Movement in Apartheid era South Africa is perhaps the most famous martyr of anti-Apartheid movement. With his writings and political work, this young intellectual changed the whole outlook of the anti-Apartheid struggle by motivating the oppressed Black people of South Africa to think that "Black is Beautiful." He ceaselessly campaigned to establish a grass root organization while helping the Black people to emancipate them from the sence of inferiority vis-a-vis the Whites. Arrested on August 18, 1977, he was murdered by the police less than a month later, on September 12.

Born in 1946 in King William's Town in Eastern Cape, young Stephen Bantu Biko began his education in the backdrop of the Bantu Education Act of 1952 which was aimed at restricting education opportunities for Black people. However, Steve was able to enter the University of Natal. There he joined the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS). However, the NUSAS was based on the white universities, there was almost no chance of a Black person rising to its leadership. Also, Biko recognized the need for a more grass root movement. It was with these in mind that he created the South African Students Organization (SASO). The SASO adopted a new pro-black and radical doctrine that became known as "Black Consciousness" which by Biko defined as the "cultural and political revival of an oppressed people."

Within a few years, by 1971, Black Consciousness had spread out far and wide and to incorporate adult elements to it, Biko created the Black People's Convention (BPC). Also, they started Black Community Programmes.

One tactic of the Apartheid regime to contain their opponents was to 'ban' them, thereby restricting their movement to a small area. By 1973, Biko and some of his colleagues were banned. However, their ideas had spread, inflaming the oppressed Black people. When the government introduced Afrikaans as the medium of academic instruction in schools, the Black people erupted at Soweto on June 16, 1976. Violence gripped the country for several months.

Although the BCM played a large role in the Soweto uprising, the ultimate beneficiaries were the African National Congress (ANC). The BCM faced harsh measures of the regime which arrested a number of their leaders. On August 18, 1977, the security police arrested Steve Biko and held at Port Elizabeth. Following his transfer to Pretoria, he died on September 12. He was nearly 31.

Police maintained that he died of a hunger strike. But, the truth was revealed later, largely by the efforts of Donald Woods and Helen Zille, the current leader of Democratic Alliance and Premier of Western Cape. It was found that Steve Biko died of severe brain damage.

Much international attention was generated by the death of the young leader. His funeral on September 25 was a day of protest with 15,000-20,000 people attending and many more prevented by the police from doing so. A dozen Western countries sent their delegates, which was a rebuke of the apartheid regime.

The memory of Steve Biko is still alive although his ideas were different from those of the ANC which has ruled South Africa since 1994. Ten years after his death, Richard Attenborough made the film "Cry Freedom" based on the books on Biko written by his old friend Donald Woods. After years of campaigning against the doctors who treated him in the last days, his supporters had reason to cheer when Justice W G Boshoff, said in a landmark judgment that there was prima facie evidence of improper or disgraceful conduct on the part of the doctors in a professional respect. After the fall of apartheid, five policemen involved with his death were not given amnesty by the Truth Commission but charges were never brought up against them.

Monday, February 27, 2012

German Reunification of 1990

After 45 years of separation, Germany was reunified in 1990, less than a year after the dramatic fall of the Berlin wall.

In 1945, just after World War II, the defeated Germany was reduced in size and the remainder was divided among the four principal allies: Britain, France, the United States (USA) and the Soviet Union (USSR). It was intended to be a temporary arrangement until the reunification of the country. This temporary arrangement was to remain for 45 years.

Power Politics and Fear of a United Germany

Due to her central position in Europe, Germany was very important in post second world war power politics. Both the West and the Soviets wanted her under their own influence and therefore were reluctant to dispense with the control they had. The West wanted a unified Germany based on free elections while the Soviets wanted a Germany under their control. However, some parties in the West, especially the French, were apprehensive of the reunification of Germany, because of their knowledge that they would be weaker than a unified Germany. Her recent agonies at the hands of the Germans in two wars were still not distant memories.

In 1946, when the Americans wanted to bring the four zones in to a common economic zone, the French chose to disagree based on this apprehension. Naturally, the USSR also disagreed. Thus the Bizonia was born with the economic unification of U.S. and British sectors.

However, in 1948, with the Czechoslovak coup, the French realized the larger threat from the East and chose to agree to the lesser evil, that of a unified Germany. With the three zones joined economically, Trizonia was born.

Germany East and West

Introduction of monetary reform in Trizonia led to the Berlin blockade which ended in 1949 with a Western victory. In May 1949, Trizonia was declared an independent federal republic, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). In the following October, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was declared in the Soviet sector.

For many years FRG enjoyed wide diplomatic recognition whereas the GDR was recognized only by the socialist camp. The GDR economy was based on the Stalinist model which did not help the country. In June 1953, the workers rioted against the “workers’ state”. Soon economic difficulties and political repression was forcing thousands to leave the GDR through the still open city of Berlin.

To stop this emigration, the GDR authorities erected die Berliner Mauer, the Berlin Wall, on August 13, 1961.

Berlin Wall Falls

Although they were virtually prisoners of their regime, the Germans in the GDR were not totally ignorant of the life in the FRG. Radio and even television signals coming from the West could be picked up and many people had relatives in the West. The fact that they enjoyed a better standard of living than other Eastern Europeans did not matter for the GDR citizens because they were aware of a much better life across the wall and the border fences.

The wave of reform sweeping through Eastern Europe had a direct effect on the GDR when Hungary opened her borders. GDR citizens wanted to leave. As the regime was celebrating its fortieth anniversary in Berlin, it was crumbling on the streets across of the country. With Gorbachev’s USSR not willing to intervene to protect the communists, they had no ally. The replacement of the long standing leader Erich Honecker on October 18 came far too late to save the regime. Its fate was sealed on November 9, 1989, as the Berlin wall fell.

Last Days of the GDR

With the Communist Socialist Unity Party (SED) out of power, the GDR prepared for its first and what turned out to be the only democratic election. On March 18, 1990, East German Christian Democrats, with the support of the FRG Chancellor Helmut Kohl, swept the polls whereas the former Communists polled only 16% of the votes. Lothar de Maiziere became the first and only democratically elected prime Minister of the GDR.

Two months later, on May 18, the FRG and GDR signed a treaty by which they agreed upon monetary, economic and social union between the states. On July 1, 1990, the Deutsche Mark was introduced to the GDR replacing the East German Mark. With the economies and societies linked, the political reunification became just a formality. The reunification treaty was signed on August 31, to be ratified by the legislatures of both countries with vast majorities. On October 3, 1990, Germany was reunited officially.


Cyril E. Black, Jonathan E. Helmreich, Paul C. Helmreich, Charles P. Issawi, A. James McAdams. Rebirth: A History of Europe Since World War Two, Westview Press (1992)

Mills, Clifford W., Angela Merkel, Chelsea House, NY (2008)

Taylor, Frederick. The Berlin Wall: A World Divided. Harper Collins (2007)

Opening of the Berlin Wall and Unification

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Controversial Salvadoran Presidential Election of 1972

El Salvador, a small Central American country, was ruled by various military governments, with the support of the rich oligarchs, from 1932 until 1984. However, the military attempted to give the regime a democratic face to mollify public opinion. In the 1960s, opposition political parties were allowed to participate in the electoral process. Soon, several parties were to appear, including the largest opposition party at the time, the Christian Democratic Party (PDC). Meanwhile, the government had formed an official party, the National Conciliation Party (PCN).

In 1968, the National Assembly elections saw the opposition parties winning 25 out of 52 seats with the PDC winning 19. In 1970 however, the opposition seats fell by seven to 18, with the PDC winning 16. The decline of the opposition was not due to any improvement in the Salvadorian people’s lives but a result of the popularity of the regime due to the so-called ‘Soccer War’ of 1969.

In late 1960s, two political parties had sprung up in the opposition camp. One of them was the Revolutionary National Movement (MNR), a moderately leftwing party affiliated to the Socialist International, despite its ‘revolutionary’ name. The other, the Nationalist Democratic Union (UDN), was closely associated to the proscribed Salvadoran Communist Party (PCS), despite its more moderate name. The Secretary General of the MNR was Guillermo Manuel Ungo, the son of one of the founders of the PDC.

In September 1971, the PDC, MNR and UDN declared the intention of forming a coalition, the National Opposition Union (UNO). The PDC had opposed engaging in coalitions throughout its decade in existence. Yet, especially after the setback in the 1970 National Assembly and local elections, they recognized that the greatest obstacle the opposition was facing was its own disunity. With a much larger following than her two junior partners, the PDC wished to work inside the UNO from an advantageous position. Furthermore, they had Jose Napoleon Duarte, by far the most popular opposition figure, in their ranks. Duarte was chosen as the presidential candidate of the UNO while he chose Ungo as his running mate.

General Fidel Sanchez Hernandez chose his presidential chief of staff Colonel Arturo Armando Molina as the PCN candidate. Meanwhile, two people representing the oligarchs also ran for the presidency. The landed oligarchs were represented by the ‘Soccer War’ hero, General Jose Alberto Medrano, while those engaged in industries and commerce supported Jose Antonio Rodriguez Porth.

However, from the onset, the contest was between Molina and Duarte. Both the PCN and the UNO launched vigorous campaigns. In December 1971, the Duarte campaign caravan was shot at by unidentified assailants and the driver of the leading car died. But it was the only physical attack on the UNO during the campaign.

Meanwhile, other attacks on the UNO continued. The PCN camp viciously attacked the credentials of Duarte and Ungo, accusing them (as the military had almost always accused their opposition) of being communists. Furthermore, the UNO tickets for the six larger departments of El Salvador for the National Assembly elections scheduled for March 1972 were disqualified on a technicality. The government could be almost certain on winning the presidency. In the case of any candidate not being able to obtain 50% of the votes, the president was to be elected by the National Assembly. With the Assembly elections more than two weeks away, the PCN had a majority in that body to ensure that Molina will be president. But, understandably, they were worried about the Assembly elections on March 12. If Molina was not to get enough support, the opposition would have been in an advantageous position during the Assembly election. The disqualification of the UNO lists took care of that also.

Election Day, February 20, 1972

The election went on with no major incident and the turnout was high. As the first results were being released, Molina took an early lead. However, Duarte took two thirds of votes in San Salvador. It was there that almost a third of all eligible voters lived. The government at once stopped releasing results. Later it was announced that Molina won the election with 334,600 (43.42%) against Duarte’s 324,756 (42.14%). The UNO alleged that it was Duarte who actually won with about 9,500 votes more than Molina. However, it did not matter as no one had obtained 50% of the vote. The National Assembly duly elected Molina as president of El Salvador on February 25, 1972.

National Assembly Elections, March 12, 1972

The UNO had another trump card to play. According to Salvadoran election law, defaced ballot papers were considered to be null votes and if these exceeded half the total votes cast, the election could be declared null. The UNO asked their supporters in San Salvador to do precisely this at the March 12 elections. More than half of the voters (almost 75,000 out of 144,101) who cast their votes heeded this call. The UNO asked the San Salvador Department elections office to nullify the election and it did so on March 23. The Central Elections Council (CCE) promptly overturned that decision.

Coup d’├ętat: March 25, 1972

The immediate result of the election controversies was the military coup led by Colonel Benjamin Mejia. The rebel troops quickly took San Salvador and took President Sanchez into custody. Then Mejia announced the ‘triumph of the military youth’ on national radio. However, this was premature as the Air Force and the National Guard turned against the coup. The National Guard converged on the capital and the coup turned into a bloody battle for the capital. Duarte, who had gone on air on national radio asking the people to support the rebels, sought sanctuary in the residence of Venezuelan Embassy’s first secretary. He was found and taken away by the government forces. Strong pressure from Venezuela may have saved the lives of the rebel leaders including Duarte. They were exiled and Molina was inaugurated as the president on July 1, 1972.


Montgomery, T.S. Revolution in El Salvador: From Civil Strife to Civil Peace, Westview Press, 2nd ed. 1995.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

East vs West: All-German Encounter in Football World Cup 1974

The only professional international football match between East Germany and West Germany was played in the World Cup of 1974.

The FIFA world cup of 1974 was held in West Germany across nine cities. The host nation was drawn in Group One along with Chile and new comers Australia and East Germany. The city of Hamburg was to hold the first and what turned out to be the only East-West German professional international ever.

East and West: A Comparison of German Teams

West Germany was the reigning European champions. With players of the likes of Beckenbauer, Breitner, Overath, the ever dangerous Mueller and goalkeeper Maier they were a formidable outfit and were playing on home soil too. They were coached by veteran coach Helmut Shoen.

The East Germans were comparatively inexperienced in professional international level, even though they had done well in Munich Summer Olympics in 1972. Their football, as well as every other aspect of life, was under the influence of the Ministry of State Security (MfS, commonly known as the Stasi) and the communist regime. The Stasi minister Erich Mielke was an ardent football fan and therefore the domestic league was heavily manipulated by him. This did not help the development of a good domestic league.

Countdown to the Game: Preliminary Round

West Germany opened their world cup with a lackluster performance against Chile to the utter disappointment of the home crowd. This prompted them to attack in full force at the hapless Aussies but the 3-0 win was not convincing enough. However, they had by then advanced to the next round.

East Germany started well with a 2-0 victory against the Australians and then drew the match with Chile. But since the Aussie-Chilean match was drawn, by the time the East-West game started, they also had advanced. (Before 1986, the practice of staging the last games of a group simultaneously was not started.)

However, a victory was important for both teams. Helmut Shoen, the West German coach who was born in Dresden wanted his team to win. Beckenbauer would say “we are playing this for Shoen.” For the East German regime, which was trying to prove that they were better than the Westerners in anything, this was a political issue also.

The Match……

The game started at 19:30 hours (Central European Time) at the Volksparkstadion in Hamburg in front of 60,350 spectators including a group of 2,000 ‘loyal’ East German supporters, carefully selected by the communist regime. The players themselves were somewhat confused as to how to behave in such an encounter. First half did not produce a goal despite both teams having chances. Mueller hit the post once and the East Germans missed an open goal.

In the second half, West Germany dominated the game but it was a break at the other end which allowed Juergen Sparwasser to score in the 77th minute, instantly transforming him to an East German legend. The stadium went quiet except for the 2,000 East Germans chanting “sieben, acht, neun, zhen, Klasse” (seven, eight, nine, ten, (top) class) while frantically waving their flags. For the remainder of the game the East Germans managed to defend their lead despite everything their opponent threw at them and won the game.

...and the Aftermath

Helmut Shoen was considerably demoralized by his team's defeat and Beckenbauer had to step in to the void during the remainder of their world cup. Their fans were totally disappointed also. However as the then Dutch captain Cruyff would say at a later time, “Every disadvantage has an advantage” and the West Germans went on to prove it. Their defeat meant that they were the second of the group behind the East Germans. Therefore, the Germans did not meet the Dutch powerhouse until the final. They became better and better as the tournament progressed and ultimately won it. Meanwhile, the East Germans were eliminated at the second round.

In the long term, the East Germans never consented to another East-West game to preserve their clean record. They preserved it successfully but could not preserve their communist regime which finally disappeared from the face of Earth. With the reunification of Germany in 1990, the East German football team disappeared also and the East German football federation was amalgamated to the German Football Federation.


1. Glenn Phillips and Tim Oldham, World Cup '98, London (1998)

2. FourFourTwo, December 2009

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Vietnam Declares Independence: September 2, 1945

After more than six decades of French rule, the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam was formed by the Vietminh in 1945.

Vietnam lost her independence on August 25, 1883, after decades of resistance to Europeans, when the court at Hue recognized French protectorate in Tonkin and Annam in North and Central Vietnam respectively. The south, Cochin China was already under French sovereignty.

The French Impact

The French colonialists transformed many aspects in Vietnamese life. Extensive public works and road building was carried out. But the benefits of these developments did not reach the vast majority of the locals. Heavy taxing and usurious interest rated kept the rural population in constant debt. Even by 1940, the peasant population was more than 85% of the total.

Replacement of local village leaders by French trained Vietnamese officials removed the traditional village authority and the communal life style of the villages was also shattered. Introduction of French law which was administered by French judges, who were generally ignorant of local language and customs, was another death blow to the Vietnamese people.

Growth of Nationalism

Vietnamese people resisted the French after 1883, well into the 20th Century. A new chapter began with the growth of nationalist organizations. Some of these were Marxist oriented but the leading group, Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang (VNQDD-Vietnamese Nationalist Party) was not. In February 1930, an uprising by VNQDD was crushed by the French authorities. The decimation of these nationalists paved way for the Communists to fill the vacuum among the freedom fighters for a national organization.

The Communists were instrumental in forming the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam, commonly known as Viet Minh) a decade later. However, this group was an alliance of democrats, socialists, communists and other interested groups.

Japanese Intervention

In 1940, with France defeated and Vichy France in power, the Japanese were able to establish military bases in Northern Vietnam. Japan took complete control of Indochina on March 9, 1945, months after the liberation of France by the Allied forces. To the Viet Minh, the Japanese were just another invader, which was a fact epitomized by their slogan, “Neither the French, nor the Japanese as masters”.

August Revolution and Declaration of Independence

The same week the Japanese surrendered, the Viet Minh held a congress in Caobang, near the Chinese border, where a provisional government was formed. This government took control in Hanoi after some minor, scattered clashes with the Japanese troops and puppet militia on August 19. Soon the country was largely under the Viet Minh. The puppet ‘Emperor’ Bao Dai abdicated. Declaring his abdication in a remarkable document, it was stated that, “We cannot but regret the thought of our twenty years’ reign during which it was impossible for us to render any appreciable service to our country”. He ended by declaring, “Long live the independence of Vietnam! Long live the Democratic Republic!”

The government issued the declaration of independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on September 2, 1945. It accused the French imperialists of depriving the Vietnamese of their liberties, imposing inhuman laws upon them, ruining the country’s resources, building more prisons than schools among other things. “They have drowned our revolution in blood”, it further stated. For these reasons, they broke off all ties to the French and stated that the leaders of the provisional government “…..solemnly declare to the world that Vietnam has the right to be a free and independent country-and in fact it is so already”.

Long Road to Peace

Almost simultaneously, the British arrived in Cochin China and started to ‘restore order’ for the interests of France. In doing so, they even got the assistance of the Japanese troops remaining in the country, just days after the British and Japanese had stopped shooting each other in Burma, not so far away from Vietnam. By the end of the year, French troops were able to arrive take their colonial lands once again. France tried to defeat the viet minh both militarily and politically, even bringing in Bao Dai back, coaxing him to form a puppet national government to counter the Democratic Republic. The Viet Minh fought on for 8 years until the French met their nemesis at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. But, it was to take more than two more decades for Vietnam to see peace in the country when it was re-unified under the communist rule in 1975.


Primary Source- Vietnam: History, Documents and Opinions on a Major World Crisis ed. Marvin E. Gettleman. Fawcett Publications Inc. USA (1965).

From the above source, the following excerpts were also referred

Jumper, Roy and Normand, Marjorie Weiner, Vietnam: The Historical Background

Isaacs, Harold, Independence for Vietnam?

Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam Sep. 2, 1945.

Abdication of Bao Dai, Emperor of Annam August, 1945.

Image: "Vo Nguyen Giap (left), the military leader and Ho Chi Minh (right) the political leader of Vietnamese independence struggle." In Ha Noi (1945). From Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Death of Trotsky

After eleven years living in exile, Stalin's arch-rival met his death at the hands of an audacious Soviet agent whose identity remained a mystery for years.

Lev Davidovich Bronstien (Leon Trotsky) was born exactly 38 years before the October revolution on November 7, 1879. After playing a leading role in the 1905 revolution, he played a crucial role in the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. In the Soviet government, he was to become the arch-rival of Stalin and was out maneuvered by the latter in to insignificance within the communist party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in the 1920s. Exiled from the USSR in 1929, he was pursued by Soviet agents around the world, until his death in 1940.

Exiled from the USSR

In 1928, Trotsky was exiled to Kazakhstan and a year later from the Soviet Union itself. He was never to return to the country where he once held immense power. For four years, he stayed at an island off the coast of Istanbul, Turkey. Then he was offered asylum in France. After two years, he was no longer welcome in France. The next two years were spent in Norway and he was forced to leave that country also. His last destination was Mexico, where he was greeted warmly by the Mexican president. Trotsky settled in Coyoacan in Mexico City, first at the house of Diego Rivera and later in a heavily guarded compound which was near by.

During the exile, his battle with Stalin continued. He wrote The History of the Russian Revolution (1930) and The Revolution Betrayed (1936) and continued his criticism of Stalin in The Stalin School of Falsification (1937). This was the times of the notorious Moscow show trials, where Stalin eliminated all possible threats to his leadership in the USSR. Meanwhile, Soviet agents were in hot pursuit for Trotsky himself, assassinating his secretary in 1936 and possibly assassinating his son in 1937. But, the revolutionary himself was still out of their reach.

Assassination in Mexico

Then, on the 20th of August, 1940, Trotsky was attacked with an ice-axe by a man who identified himself as Jaques Mornard after the incident. Trotsky died the next day of his head wound.

Although he claimed to be a disillusioned Trotskyite, questioning revealed that he had deep Stalinist views. Also, his apparently flawless French had traces of Spanish accent. The identity of Mornard was not known for a decade until it was found by Dr. Alfonso Quiroz Cuaron, professor of criminology at the national University of Mexico, among the police archives in Madrid. Jaques Mornard was actually a Spanish communist and a NKVD (predecessor of the KGB) agent named Ramon Mercader. In 1989, the Soviet authorities finally confirmed the story of the assassination of Trotsky by the NKVD.

The Road to Mexico City

Ramon Mercader was recruited by a NKVD Colonel, Leonid Eitingon, who had a relationship with his hard-line communist mother, during the Spanish Civil War. Mercader’s fluency in Spanish, which is the spoken language of Mexico, was an added qualification for the clandestine operation.

In 1938, Mercader befriended Sylvia Ageloff, an American Trotskyte in Paris. The following year, under an assumed identity and a forged passport, a certain “Frank Jacson” followed Sylvia to the U.S.A. Then appearing to do business, he made to Mexico City. Ageloff joined him and through her, Mercador gained access to the Trotsky household.

The details of the inside of the house he supplied were essential for the attack undertaken in May 1940. About a score of gunmen, dressed in Mexican police uniforms, stormed in and shot at the bedroom of Trotsky. But he and his wife miraculously escaped. Although the people responsible for the attack were uncovered, Mercador’s role was not found.

Thereafter, Mercador was instructed to befriend Trotsky, posing as an admirer of his views. The fact that he went about the job just after a raid had been thwarted is an indication of his iron will and skills of deception.

The Assassination of Trotsky

On August 17, Mercador met Trotsky to discuss the outline of an article he was writing. They were alone in the latter’s study for eleven minutes. Three days later, Mercador returned, clad in a raincoat, which was surprising for a sunny day. Mrs. Trotsky inquired him about it and he told her “Yes. But you know, it won’t last long-it might rain.” What he could not tell her was that in one of its pockets, he had an ice-axe concealed, for a more sinister purpose.

According to the description of Mercador in his trial, once inside Trotsky’s study, he placed the raincoat in such a way as to be able to retrieve the ice-axe. Once Trotsky started reading his article, he took out the axe and hit Trotsky on his head with his eyes closed. The blow was not critical and Trotsky struggled with the assailant. Guards rushed in and nearly killed Mercador, but Trotsky himself prevented them, declaring that he was to made to answer questions. Rushed to the hospital, Trotsky died due to severe brain damage the next day. His assassin, Mercador, spent 20 years imprisoned in Mexico and then made his way to Cuba, where he died in 1978.


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4. Soviet Readers Finally Told Moscow had Trotsky Slain NY Times Jan 4, 1989. Retrieved Aug 20, 2010.