By Donald Kirk
One loaded word comes up in every political-military-diplomatic brouhaha: “progressive.” For reasons lying deep in the history of American politics, progressives veer to the left in a movement initiated by crusading idealists who battled more than a century ago against the injustices of a “system” that discriminated against minorities and fostered terrible social and economic inequities.
Inexorably, however, the progressivism of the likes of the two U.S. presidents named Roosevelt, Theodore and his relative Franklin D., and of numerous other distinguished politicians, jurists, academic leaders and editors got tangled up with the rise of leftists and Communists after the Bolshevik revolution that overthrew Tsarist rule in Russia in 1917. By the 1920s and ‘30s, people were saying the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was “progressive.” By now, leftists, radicals, and even otherwise “moderate” liberals identify with movements and regimes that are the antithesis of progressives.
For Koreans, the most obvious abuse of “progressive” is in the belief of far leftists that North Korea is a truly “progressive” state under the benevolent gaze of a great socialist, Kim Jong-un. “Pro-Northers” are likely to say there’s no evidence that Kim, as a third-generation hereditary dictator, presides over one of the world’s most retrogressive dictatorships. They go along with the regime’s denial of human rights abuses and proclaim the “Juche” policy of self-reliance as the essence of North Korean progressivism.
Incredibly, pro-Northerners also revere China as an example of mass progressivism while castigating Japan as the epitome of repressive capitalism.
Pro-northers uphold Beijing’s ruthless repression of the democracy movement that broke out in Hong Kong several years ago. They defend the one-man rule of China’s President Xi Jinping as leader of the Chinese Communist Party, castigate Japan as an outpost of pro-American imperialism and forget Xi’s constant threats against the independent island province of Taiwan.
True, Japan’s Liberal-Democratic Party has controlled the Japanese government for most of Japan’s history since the party was formed in 1955 after the American post-war occupation. Despite inequities, however, Japanese life is nowhere nearly as repressive as that of China while Taiwan, looking forward to its next presidential election, exists as an outpost of democracy in a restive region.
Just as bad, it’s almost fashionable among leftists to support the terrorists who invaded southern Israel on Oct. 7 after imposing their brand of dictatorship over Gaza. There should be no mistaking about Hamas, which drove the almost moderate Fatah from political leadership of Gaza 15 years ago and destroyed whatever was left of the Palestinian Authority beyond the West Bank. Now an independent Palestinian state has all but ceased to function.
One reason for the failure of the Palestinian Authority is the refusal of Hamas to have anything to do with it. The Palestinian Authority may not be an example of democracy and political freedom, but leftists waving Palestinian flags on American campuses obviously have not thought through what Hamas is all about. They have no idea of the threat it poses against an independent Palestine Authority’s ability to govern a Palestinian state.
It may be easy to criticize Israel on any number of grounds, beginning with the expulsion of some 700,000 Palestinians from their homes soon after the formation of the independent Jewish state of Israel in 1948. The fact is, however, that Israel is a paragon of democracy compared with just about every Arab country or entity, certainly including the state of Palestine.
If Hamas were to retain the leadership of whatever is left of Palestine in Gaza and the West Bank, we may be sure it would exercise the same type of brutal authority as do the regimes of just about every other Arab state as well as the Islamic Republic of Iran, responsible for arming Hamas against Israel.
Protesters may criticize Israel for any number of reasons, ranging from the revenge it is wreaking on all of Gaza, not just its Hamas rulers, to the inroads of Israeli settlers in the West Bank territory that rightly belongs to the Palestinians. It should not be necessary, however, to defend Hamas while opposing Israel’s conservative leadership. There is no way to see Hamas as “progressive” when it’s as retrogressive as the world’s most dictatorial states.
Only the North Korean despot, worshipped as “progressive” by assorted useful idiots, could be regarded as a worse dictator than the mysterious monsters who took over Gaza and ordered the invasion of Israel. For leftists, the world’s harshest leaders count as “progressive” as long as they oppose Western-style democracy as led by the U.S. and its allies.
Donald Kirk (www.donaldkirk.com) writes from Seoul as well as Washington.