In an exclusive interview with CAM, James Bradley warns that war could break out anytime, and the U.S. would be to blame. Bradley calls for renewed engagement with China at a grass-roots level.
James Bradley is best known as the author, with writer Ron Powers, of Flags of Our Fathers (2000), a New York Times #1 best-selling book that was made into a movie by Stephen Spielberg and Clint Eastwood. The book is about the six Marines who raised the U.S. flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima. One of the men was thought to have been John Bradley, James’s father.
Bradley went on to publish three other critically acclaimed books about the United States in Asia. Bradley’s second effort was Flyboys (2006) about nine U.S. pilots sent to bomb Japanese communications towers over the remote Pacific island of Chichi Jima. Eight of the pilots were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Afterwards their records were suppressed, and their families were left in the dark about what happened to them until Bradley revealed the truth.
In 2010, Bradley published The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War, which spotlights the visit to Asia in 1905 of Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of War, William Howard Taft, who promoted a Japanese Monroe Doctrine for Asia that lay the groundwork for Japan’s penetration of China through Korea. Bradley followed this book in 2016 by publishing The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia, which details a long history of failed U.S. efforts to remake China in the image of the United States.
The China Mirage ends with a warning for today. Bradley writes that, “from those early days [19th century] until now, America has dispatched its hopeful sons and daughters to faraway Asia in search of a mirage that never was. And never will be.” That mirage is the idea of China as moldable in American hands. Now, according to Bradley, we have entered another disappointment phase as an ascendant China has gone about its business of expanding its economy and hence its worldwide influence. The danger is that Washington will not get over its disappointment. Bradley in fact describes the current situation—where the U.S. encircles China—as akin to dry tinder ready to spark a war.
Bradley, at age 66, recently suffered a serious neck injury which has impacted his ability to write. However, he hosts a weekly podcast, UntoldPacific.com, which focuses upon the American experience in Asia. From his current “Covid” home in New Zealand, Bradley spoke with CAM’s managing editor, Jeremy Kuzmarov, for an engaging interview.
Below is the edited transcript:
Jeremy Kuzmarov: Could you briefly state your personal connection to the Asia-Pacific region and the source of your fascination or study of it.
James Bradley: I was born in northern Wisconsin and I hitchhiked to Bass Lake 18 miles away from my home when I was 13 or 14 and I had a sense of freedom and I thought, “wow I got up here for free.” Later at the age of 16, I went down to Miami for Christmas break. And I became fascinated with traveling. As a freshman at the University of Notre Dame, there was only one “Study Abroad” abroad program from which you didn’t have to know the language: the Japanese language was too difficult, so I qualified. I didn’t know a language. So I went to college in Tokyo.
Living in Tokyo changed my view of the world, and specially of Asia. The next year I hitchhiked around the world. I experienced 21 countries by the time I was 21 years old. I started in Wisconsin, then back to Japan, then on to Taiwan, Hong Kong… Thailand, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Paris, a year working in Germany and Italy and then back to Wisconsin. Then I graduated with a degree in East Asian history from the University of Wisconsin Madison.
As I went through life, I didn’t realize I was reading a lot, but now a realize I was, mostly history. My father died in 1994. He had fought on Iwo Jima. We found some secret papers, which became my book Flags of Our Fathers. Now I realize that I was qualified to write that book because I had lived with an Iwo Jima veteran, and I had experienced the silence of the veterans of that massacre. And I could fathom the Japanese side because I had been educated in Japan and later had an office in Tokyo for ten years.
Flyboys, my next book, was about some atrocities on the island next to Iwo Jima (Chichi-Jima), so was still set in Japan. For my third book, I went back, and wondered why did America expand out into the Pacific in the first place? So, I wrote The Imperial Cruise, the history of Theodore Roosevelt cheerleading American domination of the Pacific.
The next big contact the U.S. had with Asia was World War II. My last book, The China Mirage, covers the lead-up to World War II, focusing upon Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his relations with Japan vs. China.
Jeremy Kuzmarov: What were the years that you were traveling and how did it awaken your political consciousness to travel in the region?
James Bradley: I was born in 1954, so [when] the Tet Offensive [occurred] in 1968, I was 14 years old. The Vietnam War was a television show to me. My older brother fought in Vietnam. He came back shot up. Then we went water skiing again. I was like most Americans politically unaware of global stories. I was nineteen in 1974 going to college in Tokyo. By 1975, I was hitchhiking around the world. In Iran, I was a typist at an Iranian hospital. The Shah’s wife visited us, and I chatted with her. I ended up being questioned by SAVAK, the secret police. In Afghanistan, I was dying of amoebic dysentery. I passed out for two days in the U.S. Embassy Hospital. So I had a number of different experiences.
My political awakening was more of a personal humanity awakening. I was from Wisconsin, where as a boy I learned that there were different tribes in the world and they had superstitions. These funny people eat this and who’s eating dog? There’s all these different types of people, but in slowly dealing with various people, I got the feeling there’s only one type of people. Almost everybody in the world sleeps at night. The commonality between us humans. We’re looking at the divisions [but] almost everybody eats a part of a chicken for breakfast, eggs, chicken soup, noodles. Mothers’ tears if you analyze them chemically, the tears of an Afghani mother is equal to the tears of an American mother. Instead of entering from a political realm, I came in from a human realm. As my mother later said, after I wrote a couple books, “All war is civil war because we’re fighting each other.”
Jeremy Kuzmarov: Very interesting. On that topic of war, do you see a threat of war breaking out? A lot of your writing has been about war and its terrible human costs. How dangerous is the situation today with the United States and China?
James Bradley: Extremely dangerous. Like dry tinder that could spark. Like we are on the edge of a cliff. My opinion has been informed by a number of experts, such as Michael Klare, a national security expert, who says that the long-term outlook of the civilian leadership of the United States is that eventually we’ll have to confront China. And that we’d rather have our troops out there forwardly deployed. Why are we in Japan and Korea? Why did we change the name from the “Pacific Command” to the “Indo-Pacific Command” all of a sudden? Look at a map, we own the Pacific.
Now we have to own the Indian Ocean too. China might try to get into the Indian Ocean. We have to contain China. Michael Klare told me on an interview on my Untold Pacific podcast that our military is being told to prepare for inevitable war with China.
In the 1960’s, American geniuses from Harvard to Stanford thought it a slam dunk that the U.S. Air Force would force Ho Chi Minh to the surrender table, as it had Japan. War games are Top Brass time-consumers, and deep taxpayer holes. Participants like U.S. Air Force Chief-of-Staff General Curtis LeMay loved the Harvard–Stanford geniuses and paid them large sums.
The bottom line is that my father was a major taxpayer in the 1960’s and Washington never told him that a U.S. air campaign was a guaranteed loser. General LeMay and the military–industrial geniuses at the New York Times, Harvard, Hollywood and America’s local judges and mayors all believed that the U.S. Air Force would prevail. My father’s generation was not told that the 1960’s war games showed that Ho Chi Minh would win.
Are Americans aware of the recently conducted U.S. vs. China war games? Apparently, the U.S. taxpayers reading this have paid for multiple U.S. – China war games which result in China’s victories.
Why are we doing this? China
’s is ancient. Let’s examine history, Teddy Roosevelt expanded American’s imagination to Asia just yesterday—in 1898. We gained control of Asia just like a historical minute ago — in 1945. You know all those lines in the South China Sea and China is doing that and this island belongs here and Japan has this island claim . . . .that was all written by the U.S. Navy after Japan surrendered and the U.S. Navy was predominant in the Pacific in 1945.
I’m not blaming America or the U.S. Navy. I would have done it too. America controlled Asia. So we thought. But one oversight. In 1945, there was no China. [At the time] China was fighting a civil war. China was not at the table regarding the redrawing of boundaries around its borders.
The world has a similar problem in the Himalayas. The British drew lines. Subsequently, the Chinese and Indians have had to work it out.
Your question was “is war a possibility?”
Great big thinkers like John Pilger, Michael Klare, David Fine and others interviewed on my podcast channel UntoldPacific.com have told my worldwide listeners that the biggest danger is an accident. There are U.S. ships near Chinese ships. Why? Seattle or Shanghai? There are planes near each other. Why? Texas or Taiwan? People much smarter than me are telling me that if there was an accident, — have you ever had an accident? – humankind could move to the next step.
Let’s have a big big time war. My American brothers and sisters have to ask, “Do you want to have every Marine incinerated on Okinawa within 30 minutes?” Here is another question: “Do you want American Generals incinerated on South Korean golf courses within 30 minutes?” Every aircraft carrier in the Pacific would be sunk.
That’s like 4 to 5,000 Americans per ship. So America has to decide. Is Taiwan, which was Chinese for centuries, then America helped Japan get it and Japan ruled it for 80 some years—and then put the dictator Chiang Kai-Shek in there in the unfinished business of the Chinese Civil War—America has to decide whether we want to incinerate all our troops to defend that rock.
Jeremy Kuzmarov: Very good points. In The China Mirage you point to a long history of economic exploitation with Franklin Roosevelt’s grandfather, Warren Delano, and the opium trade. Pushing the opium trade in China and profiting off that. You also point to misunderstandings about China. Your book only goes up to the early Cold War. How do you see this history repeating itself today?
James Bradley: The name of the book is The China Mirage. The China Mirage is that there is a big blank screen in America about China. Now China is one quarter of humanity. But because of history, America and China have had very little contact. We were for most of our history on the East Coast of America, on the Atlantic. We knew London. We knew Paris. What is China? That’s pretty far away. And the Brits had dominated China.
The colonists, when George Washington was a colonist, couldn’t do business with China. The Boston Tea Party was about England bringing in a Chinese product. They had a tax on it and Americans couldn’t go to China and get their own tea.
After America became America, we started dealing with China. It was just a few merchants and a few missionaries. The idea grew: “There’s these funny people out there, but civilization is going West and Christian Western civilization will inevitably conquer China. The American missionaries [would help take over] the Pacific.”
If you read the book, you’ll know the whole story. The China Mirage is in the American mind, the idea that China will change, China is going to want to change. China will want to be more like us and join the Western world and the Americans will be the ones that will do it. This was the missionary dream. Pearl Buck had the number-one best-selling book of the mid-20th century. It’s the only book that was number one two years in a row and it was called The Good Earth (1932). It was about the Chinese.
Why would a book about the Chinese be a bestseller? The Chinese Exclusion Act came in the 1800s, so by the 1930s, Americans didn’t know Chinese people. There weren’t Chinese living next door. It was illegal for them to come here, and very few Americans went to China, but Pearl Buck’s book was [a great success] because it was a Jeffersonian tale.
It told a story of how the Chinese are just like us and America loved it. It spawned a movie by the same name. Everyone saw it and cried. But look….there were no Chinese in the movie because it was illegal to have a Chinese on screen touching somebody. So there’s a big blank screen in the American mind about China.
And getting to your question about the China Mirage today, we love China when they’re going to be just like us. And then we get upset when we discover no, they’re going to be just like China. So in World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Henry Luce of Time magazine, Pearl Buck,… all preached the idea that the Christian dictator Chiang Kai-Shek was going to ignite trickle-down Christianity and Democracy. China was going to be America’s best friend.
Winston Churchill couldn’t believe how FDR talked about China, but this was the idea. China was going to be just like us, the China Mirage and it went on for a couple of decades. And then when Mao got the Mandate of Heaven, Americans were shocked and upset and Joe McCarthy arose. McCarthyism started with the China situation. Joe McCarthy said John Service of the State Department was a communist.
We got so upset with the Chinese people that we fired every single employee in the State Department who spoke Chinese. [After, Nixon’s opening and the Cold War ended], Bush 1, and Clinton and Bush 2 [said again] China is going to be just like us. And then Hillary Clinton declared that the South China Sea was a security concern for the United States and President Obama pivoted the military to Asia because America was going to continue to be #1 in Asia just like after World War II.
Then everything is going to be great. China is going to do business with us, and Walmart buys a lot of products from China, and this interaction was to make China more democratic.
This is the missionary idea, China will change if we just send our missionaries over there. China will become just like us. Ridiculous. But our leaders’ idea was that if we send our capitalists, our executives, China will become more democratic.
So now, we’re in the disappointment phase. You can read it in foreign policy magazines; listen to the biggest thinkers in Washington on China and you’ll hear them say it. “We thought China would change and become more open and more democratic, and they didn’t!”
Folks, you know what? Instead of getting caught up in all this communist terminology and “the CCP,” we should realize China has its own political structure. There’s an Emperor. Under the Emperor are the mandarins. That’s the Chinese Communist Party. There’s a seamless history for thousands of years, and the Emperor is making decisions. He has the Mandate of Heaven right now. According to polls, the Chinese people approve of him while America has a lot of improvements they could make in their own country.
Jeremy Kuzmarov: That’s a very very compelling analysis. When would you say it switched? Was it in the era of the pivot, or the last decade that this disappointment phase set in? Or just the last few years?
James Bradley: It’s the last few years—during the Trump administration. Why is the Attorney General William Barr talking about China? And then Secretary of State Pompeo talking about China. Huge major China speeches. They complain that China stabbed us in the back. We are disappointed: China was going to be just like us.
These high serious officials talk about the disappointment and their surprise. Like they just woke up. How did China get so big? Joe Biden just phoned Boris Johnson of England in January. Hey Boris, we need a belt and road, a Western belt and road. This is ridiculous. The belt and road is billions and billions going on trillions [invested] around the world. A big thinking idea and now we have two guys across the Atlantic about six years too late saying, hey, what do you think about a Western belt and road?
Look at the highways of Michigan, where cars were invented. When I was living in New York a few years ago, going to JFK and LaGuardia airports often, I had to spend $2,000 to $4,000 a year getting my tires and rims fixed because of the potholes. You can’t find that in Shanghai, China.
Jeremy Kuzmarov: Your book goes into the China lobby extensively during the Cold War that was supporting Chiang Kai-Shek. Is there any equivalent today? Who are the most influential voices pushing for military policy? Does it relate to their interests in China or is it just military industry? Who benefits most from a new Cold War, who needs a new enemy? Or is there still a China lobby or is it the Taiwan lobby?
James Bradley: The U.S. is a completely different country than in the 1930s. The China Mirage—or expectation that China should be like America—is still there, but [today], the business of America is war and the business of China is business.
We must be alert to all the war propaganda our leaders project on the Big Blank Screen. Were there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, I can’t remember? A guy named Jeremy Kuzmarov who I’m speaking to wrote a book called Obama’s Unending Wars. I alerted some of my friends about this book, Obama’s Unending Wars, and a couple of highly educated [ones] wrote back and asked, what wars?
When I was a kid, I wasn’t told that we had to go into Vietnam to keep communism from expanding. I was told there was an attack on America, an innocent American ship in the Tonkin Gulf. There’s a lot of misinformation coming out that leads to war.
Jeremy let’s say you and I work in the propaganda section at the State Department. I say to you, “Jeremy, Americans feel guilty about slavery in their past. Why don’t we accuse China of using Uighur slaves in the Xinjiang cotton fields? We both know it’s made up, but so was Saddam’s WMD, so let’s give the slavery story a try.”
It’s gross propaganda. What is near the cotton fields of Xinjiang that America is so concerned about right now? What’s near that: Oh, Afghanistan’s right next door.
How come the American press isn’t all over Afghanistan showing reels and reels of of what has happened there? How many war refugees and displaced persons because of America’s unending wars? Gee, the number is 37 million refugees and it only cost us $6.4 trillion. Right next door the Muslim problem as conceived by the people who invaded Afghanistan is being dealt with brutally. Well, China had some of the same concerns, but they didn’t bomb their Muslims. They came up with different solutions.
[Editors note: Officials from Xinjiang’s government have stated that much of the field labor for cotton in Xinjiang has been replaced by machines (many of them imported from the U.S. firm John Deere). A recent book edited by Hua Wang and Hafeezullah Memon—Cotton Science and Processing Technology—confirms this point, as do a range of media reports from before 2019].
We have to step back and look [at] what’s going on. I was in Shanghai when George Bush started bombing Iraq. I just happened to be in Shanghai and woke up in my hotel room and I had a Chinese newspaper. There was a picture of the United States bombing Iraq and underneath it, the Chinese commentator wrote: “And America talks to us about human rights.”
Jeremy Kuzmarov: On the Uighur issue briefly, what is your assessment of the situation? Are there major human rights abuses? It is certainly being played up for propaganda purposes and your point is certainly well taken, but how bad is the situation there? Is it really exaggerated?
James Bradley: Go down to the streets of New York or Los Angeles. Look at the tents, look at the urine. Look at the feces in the streets. How much freedom do these people have? Let’s look at the American prisons. The statistics are rather stark. Who’s in the prisons and how are we treating them? Did you see the article where the food company for this prison—I think it was [in] Maine or Massachusetts—was supplying dog food for the tacos for the prisoners, for like half a year. And then when they were found out, there was no apology, no fine, and the same food company continued to receive a contract to supply food in the jail.
Let’s look at Afghanistan. Let’s look at how America has dealt with the Muslim problem. Obama was bombing seven Muslim countries at the same time. So that doesn’t excuse any abuse in Xinjiang, but is genocide happening there? No I’m sorry it’s not. If you read the propaganda, you can go on Wikipedia and it says Lee Harvey Oswald killed John Kennedy. So yes, you’re going to continue to see the word genocide, because guess what? The security services of the United States, the CIA, the American military they said they would like to destabilize China. Oh, what a surprise.
Now if you’re going to destabilize China, one way might be with the U.S. Navy on [China’s] Coast, pick a fight with Taiwan. Another way might be in the Indo-Pacific and have conflict up in the Himalayas. Another way might be to use the contacts between Afghanistan and Xinjiang to create unrest there. What a surprise.
Jeremy Kuzmarov: Could you also address in a little more depth the situation with Taiwan. What alternative policy should the U.S. adopt toward the Taiwan issue?
James Bradley: In the 1860s, a one-eyed Civil War general from the United States named Charles LeGendre, whose nickname was “General,” went to China as a diplomat. General LeGendre spoke to the mandarins about America’s Monroe Doctrine and said that China should have its own Monroe Doctrine for Asia. The one-eyed American spoke of how President Andrew Jackson and President James Polk used the military to take land from the Cherokee and Mexicans. General LeGendre pointed to the island of Taiwan and told the mandarins they should invent a pretext and invade Taiwan to demonstrate to the world that Taiwan was part of China. The mandarins responded by telling General LeGendre that he was crazy, that everyone in Asia already knew that Taiwan was part of China.
Frustrated, General LeGendre sailed away. In Tokyo LeGendre pitched a “Japanese Monroe Doctrine for Asia” and Emperor Meiji loved it. LeGendre became the first foreigner employed by the Japanese Foreign Ministry. Twenty-one-year-old Emperor Meiji honored LeGendre with an imperial audience on March 9. The Japanese government created a “Bureau of Savage Affairs” and incorporated new Western words like koronii (colony) into the Japanese language. Japanese newspapers Otherized the Taiwanese, calling them cruel and inhuman, and spoke of Japan’s responsibility to civilize the savages. In early May of 1873, Japan invaded Taiwan with U.S. military advisers supporting the operation. Thus began Taiwan’s troubled recent history.
It’s a long story. You can read my books, but in 1945 Japan’s theft of Taiwan from the Chinese ended and the U.S. took it. And the U.S. took this former Japanese colony. It was really part of China, but again, there was no China after World War Two. The United States was supporting the dictator Chiang Kai-Shek in a civil war against Mao Zedong.
John Service of the U.S. State Department was fluent in Chinese, he spoke a number of dialects. John Service wrote from China that America’s belief that the dictator Chiang Kai-Shek would trickle down democracy and Christianity was a mirage. Service wrote accurately that the Mandate of Heaven would pass to Mao Zeadong.
John Service wrote of reality in China, not appreciating the strength of Washington’s China Mirage. When Mao beat Chiang, the U.S. Navy helped Chiang abscond with China’s gold and artwork to Taiwan and the State Department fired John Service.
Fast-forward to me as a Wisconsin student at Antigo High School in the 1960’s. In history class, I learned that the “real” China is not those 400 million people on the mainland. That’s not the real China. We don’t talk to them. The “real” China is on this rock in the middle of the Pacific. From that rock, Chiang is going to leap and take the mainland. It’s ridiculous. The Chinese Civil War had not ended, Taiwan is the last part of the puzzle.
For the Emperor Xi and his mandarins, the world didn’t start in 1945. It didn’t start in the 1870s when Japan invaded Taiwan. It started thousands of years ago. Taiwan is part of China. I like to say that Emperor Mao made China one; Emperor Deng made China rich; and Emperor Xi is going to make China whole. Taiwan is part of China.
The Chinese would like to reunite Taiwan like East Germany was put together with West Germany. Hong Kong became British years ago through violence, through people dying from cannon fire and musket fire. Now Hong Kong has been reunited with China with no violence. So China would like to do the same with Taiwan. The American decision is whether they want to go against history and have thousands and thousands of their boys and girls incinerated on Guam and on aircraft carriers and on military golf courses in Korea and Japan.
Jeremy Kuzmarov: The Trump administration, provided billion-dollar arms sales to Taiwan. From the Chinese point of view, this is a major antagonistic act. Correct?
James Bradley: Yes. It’s not an important act [though] it’s not like the Taiwan military is going to have a chance against China. But yes, it’s an irritant. A big irritant. On Trump’s side, it’s a sale. If you’re president, you better be a pretty good military arms salesman. But the arms sales are almost meaningless. All those arms sales, bombs, planes would all be countered within 30 minutes.
Look where America is located. Now let’s have a boxing match with China. You have to travel a long way. It’s extremely expensive to project just a few thousand Americans out there. Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War five thousand years ago. There’s 1.4 billion Chinese. Fighting China? This is ridiculous.
There’s a place called Asia and the United States could save a lot of money. The U.S. military could withdraw from Asia in a second and what’s going to fall apart? What is the danger? The American media promotes so much anti-Chinese propaganda: It creates the illusion that China is aggressive and going to invade. No. China doesn’t want to rule the world. China is too smart for that.
The [last time] China went out was in the 13th century. They had those fleets of “treasure ships” larger than any flotilla until World War II. They sailed worldwide. It cost a lot of money and they came back and they reported to the Emperor: “The only thing outside of China are Barbarians and bad food.” Then they burned the ships. The idea of conquering the world is not Chinese. America goes all the way around the world to Iraq or Vietnam.
China doesn’t go down to Argentina and bomb it and occupy it for 16 years. China is concerned [mainly] about its borders. So they don’t look at taking Taiwan or Hong Kong as an aggressive act, these are Chinese. [In] the South China Sea, they’re accused of aggression.
Jeremy Kuzmarov: A lot of those islands actually historically belonged to China. Is that the case?
James Bradley: In the early 1900s, Theodore Roosevelt said, geez, Britain is making all this money on China and we need a connection to China. He saw that the Spanish Empire was weak and had assets in the Philippines, Guam and the Caribbean Islands Puerto Rico and Cuba. So that’s the reason there’s a Guantanamo. Cuba, which is American because we needed it as stepping-stone to China, along with Panama Canal, Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines. Americans should understand how the U.S. became a Pacific Power. One day the U.S. Marines entered Iolani Palace in Honolulu and told Queen Liliukalani to get out. The next day Hawaii had no queen.
If China came into the Caribbean and started talking to Puerto Rico about freedom or whatever, the U.S. would go absolutely ballistic. Well, the South China Sea, it has a name in it called China. It’s South of China. It’s the South China Sea. China is just saying this is our highway.
If you’re on the East Coast of the United States, there’s Highway 95 [Interstate 95] and we protect our coast. Don’t screw around here. This is important to us, and really, that’s China’s attitude regarding the South China Sea. They need to keep the South China Sea open and it’s China.
China thinks that the Americans should handle San Francisco Bay, Chesapeake Bay, the Caribbean. But the South China Sea has a word in it called “China.”
These are not my opinions, this is how the Emperor and the mandarins think, and there’s 1.4 billion people there. We have to wake up. America, the narrative is China wants to be #1, and they’re gonna kick America. No no. China had historically for thousands of years, been number one. They’re just getting back to their former status. America is a new country and it can get very wealthy as #2. What’s wrong with that? There’s only roughly 330 million people, there’s four times more in China. Why doesn’t it make sense that a country with four times the population might have a larger economy?
Jeremy Kuzmarov: How do you think Americans misperceive China today? Mao is sometimes depicted as a murderer and terrible dictator; one of the worst mass murderers in history. Given what you were saying, China’s kind of reviving their former stature. How do the Chinese assess Mao Zedong and the Chinese Revolution and Xi Jinping. Where do you see their places in Chinese history?
James Bradley: Those are too big questions for me but let me take a little shot. Let’s go 1,000 years from now. Will people remember the Vietnam War? Three million dead. I don’t know. Will they remember the Cultural Revolution? I imagine that they’ll remember the remarkable fact that for a century of humiliation, China was not China. There was a German China [Germany colonized China beginning in 1898, seizing the city of Qindao]. Did you ever drink Qingdao beer? Any Chinese restaurant has it. It’s made from Qingdao, China, but once it was German China. The Germans made that beer in German China.
There was a British China. The West was “slicing the Chinese melon.” China was not whole. China was very poor and suffering; it was being sucked dry by outside powers.
Mao fought [from] the early 1930s to 1949, all his adult life to make China whole again. I think that’s what Mao will be remembered for, making China China again.
Americans personalize it. There’s this new dictator Xi. And he does this and if we could just get rid of him and a nicer guy would come in, then China would change. But that’s not the case. There’s over 90 million members of the Chinese Communist Party. So think of 90 million mandarins throughout the country. Highly educated. They’re a member of a ruling team. The Chinese Communist Party is the number one polling organization in the world. They poll the heck out of the people they want to know, did you like that bridge? And what do you think of your local rulers?
Communist Party officials, if they’re running a ward and they do a good job, they get to run the city and then they get to run the country and these top mandarins near Xi, these guys have run units with people bigger than Amazon, bigger than General Motors.
And they’re engineers, not lawyers. So they’re not bickering over what sort of toilet various people can use; they’re discussing plans for China, and the plan is by 2049, the 100th anniversary of Mao, making China one. China is going to be a great country and the Chinese are going to realize the Chinese dream.
America is positing that part of the Chinese dream is the Chinese military invading the whole world and dominating everybody. That’s not [really] China’s dream. They think that’s a waste of money. They see the American Empire declining because the U.S. has 1,000 bases around the world. China doesn’t want to replicate that. Trump was America first. China is China first.
Jeremy Kuzmarov: That’s a very good analysis. I wanted to ask you about the Pacific War. In your book, The China Mirage, you present the Pacific War as an avoidable conflict embodying the flawed U.S. approach to Asia. Could you elaborate?
James Bradley: This is a hard story to tell quickly. Pearl Buck created the noble Chinese peasant in the American mind and put the noble Chinese peasants on the big blank screen and then the hero of the story was Chiang Kai-Shek, the Christian dictator who was going to make China like America. This propaganda went on for ten years and Japan was the villain in the story.
The rub in the Pacific was over China and Japan expanding into China and then down into Southeast Asia and then eventually a conflict over oil. When America shut the oil off for Japan, Japan was a beached whale and then struck out against America.
Japan did not invade America at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese thought that the Americans “think like merchants” and Japan will sink their ships in Pearl Harbor. And then America will leave Asia to Japan. That’s not the way it worked out. The Japanese misjudged the American mind.
Jeremy Kuzmarov: Can you add more about the American war, which kind of brings the conversation back to danger of war with China. The Pacific War was excessively violent with the firebombing of Tokyo and the atomic attacks, and what we saw later in the Vietnam War, so can you comment on that.
James Bradley: One bullet in my brain is too much violence for me, so war is excessively violent. The danger of war right now is with China; we’re in a different world and the business of China is business and the business of America is war. Let’s say we take a country where 50% of their taxes go to support a war machine. And let’s say this country has war colleges. And let’s say every large civic event in the U.S. has the American military marching in the colors, and let’s say there’s a country where the military is the most or one of the most admired institutions.
Well, that country is probably going to go to war. The Defense Secretary of the United States is a former board member of Raytheon. They make cluster bombs. Raytheon’s income is going to go up, Lockheed’s income is going to go up. We need to have enemies. The U.S. Army has Russia and the U.S. Navy needs China.
This isn’t just me talking. I interviewed the great Ray McGovern [who is] ex-CIA. He was a briefer to President George Herbert Walker Bush. He says on UntoldPacific.com, “James, when President Obama said pivot to Asia, there must have been champagne corks popping in all the military contractors’ offices.” Fighting IEDs on the ground, grinding it out in the Middle East, that’s low profit. But pivot to Asia? China…wow—satellites, ships.
I was out in Micronesia in 2019 and when I was in Micronesia, all the Micronesian presidents were in the Oval Office meeting with the U.S. President. Five Micronesian presidents. First time in history, why?
I could see why out there. The U.S. Navy is building a concrete Maginot line from Hawaii down to the Philippines. Just imagine a bunch of cement. Preparing for war with China. This is billions of dollars in contracts and huge.
If America puts another missile on Guam, pointed at China, the island might sink. So 50% of America’s taxes are going to this military industrial complex. I wonder if America is going to be propagandized regarding terrible enemies in Russia and China. Obviously.
Jeremy Kuzmarov: There’s this group called Committee for a SANE U.S.-China Policy. Are you familiar with that group?
James Bradley: Maybe if I saw the logo.
Jeremy Kuzmarov: They just started. It was started by Michael Klare. My question is what would you advocate as as an alternative? There’s this structural force that the average citizen can’t really confront, but those of us who want to see a more humane and sensible approach to China, there are these groups. They may be very small at this time, but what kind of policy should they be promoting or what approach should they take for trying to develop a more sensible approach to China?
James Bradley: The problem is America’s big blank screen about Asia. There’s a big blank screen, very little contact with Americans going to China. Many more Americans have been to Europe and are familiar with it, [thus] we wouldn’t fight England and Canada. We’re familiar with it, but China is so distant, so weird that there’s a lot of aggressive thinking projected on the big blank screen.
What would I do? There has to be more people-to-people understanding. People have to see that China is not a military threat. I’m not Mr. Peacenik saying there are no threats in the world. America also has its borders. We would go absolutely crazy if there were Chinese nuclear submarines right outside of San Francisco Bay and Chesapeake Bay. Well, there have been American planes and submarines and warships right on the coast of China for many, many years.
And China doesn’t want that. In response, China is not going to expand militarily, but look what China is doing. As I said, the business of China is business. Look at Africa. England was in Africa. America could [also] be #1 in Africa, but no, China is number one in Africa because the Chinese went out there [and] asked the Africans what they wanted. There’s Chinese merchants, private merchants embedded all over Africa.
After the disaster of Secretary of State [Antony] Blinken in Alaska [Blinken insulted Chinese officials by publicly criticizing China’s human rights policy before diplomatic talks], the Chinese officials went to Iran and signed a big deal and went to the Middle East [and met with] the oil producers. Wow. America is friends with Saudi Arabia, but that means we have to hate Iran. China, the business of China is business. They have relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran. I think we just need to calm down. And not view China as an enemy.
Jeremy Kuzmarov: Those are wise words.
James Bradley: But doesn’t it sound like naive words? Don’t you think there would be a lot of pushback? China is not an enemy? The American media always has the word aggressive and China together, yet Joe Biden can bomb Syria and Putin’s a killer.
Jeremy Kuzmarov: That may be true but it’s still a good idea.
James Bradley: As far as Putin being a killer, what about the drone war? Mr. Biden worked for Barack Obama who was bombing seven Muslim countries at one time. Let’s talk about killers. Then there’s presidential libraries to Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, and we don’t talk about three million people dead in Indochina. I support a Vietnamese girl who has no arms and no legs. She’s getting straight A’s. How would you like to go to school with no arms and no legs? John F. Kennedy had Hyannisport. Caroline had fluffy pillows. But JFK okayed Agent Orange over Vietnam. And it’s still active, goes through the DNA.
So folks, you know I’m not trying to beat up America, but let’s look at some reality. Go to Laos. One-third of the country is not tillable. Why? Because American bombs live underneath the soil.
I was doing research in Vietnam and I just knew visually this farmer on this corner. My driver always had to take this certain corner and there was a farmer, a Vietnamese farmer on this piece of land. He had a house and two kids.
Then my interpreter told me a few weeks later that one morning the farmer went out in his field and did what he did every day. But his hoe hit an American bomb which had come up with the rains. His wife and kids later had to pick his body parts out of the trees. That’s an American bomb. So we have to look at some reality about the American approach to Afghanistan. We rain bombs on their heads.
The Chinese approach to the Uighurs. They didn’t bomb. I’m answering your question. What can America do? We need a wider view. We can’t have this big blank screen and then allow our national security screenwriters to write these mythical movies. You know, WMD, slave cotton labor. We’re going to have chain gangs, pretty soon, it will be the next discovery.
But you have the Secretary of State and administration officials saying, genocide, genocide, genocide? It’s just propaganda on the big blank screen. But hey, these people in the Biden administration, they’re the same ones that said, Russia, Russia, Russia. And that wasn’t true. And then before them it was WMD. And that wasn’t true. And before that there was Tonkin Gulf and that wasn’t true. So why do we continue to believe?
John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, wrote a book, Why Leaders Lie. He wanted to study why leaders lie, and he discovered to his surprise that leaders don’t lie to each other because Putin and Biden can see the same intelligence and they know the truth.
The lying goes on from the leaders down to their own people. Why? Because the people look up and they want to believe. And Mearsheimer says it’s the public’s desire to believe authority that allows the leaders to lie. There’s WMD, Putin hacked the DNC, there’s cotton slave labor in Xinjiang. They’re writing on the big blank screen, and the reason they can lie is that Americans still want to gobble up this stuff.
Why would anybody read the New York Times or the Washington Post? After all, they have been documented to consistently lie? I don’t get it. I would read CovertAction Magazine for the truth.
Jeremy Kuzmarov: Well, thank you. That’s a great endorsement for our magazine. And you make a great point, it’s ultimately education that would solve it, but there’s also a mental barrier in a percentage of people.
James Bradley: I don’t like to talk about it, but there’s [also] a racial element. I mean, I’m an American. Let’s say I’m in Chicago and I go to London. I can read the menu and I get a beef steak and people look a little bit like me. But when I go to China, wow, nobody looks like me, I can’t read the menu. I can’t even use the chopsticks. It’s weird. It’s Asian.
I had four children. And because of my background in Asia, I could see the future happening in Asia. I went to school in Japan in the ’70s, boom, boom, boom, the growth. I was out in China researching at the beginning of the 21st century. There were whole blocks being knocked down and huge skyscrapers appeared almost overnight. I saw the amazing growth of China, and I said to my four kids, “you’re basically European. Our ancestors came from Holland and England. So when you’re 85, you can go to Rome [and fit in] but Asia would be too weird. Why don’t you go there when you’re young and you’re malleable? And then if you don’t like it, you can always live in the West, but Asia is going to be happening in your lifetime. The last century was the American Century. The next century is the Asian century. Asia is mostly China, so why don’t you take a look at the future; if you don’t like it come on back.”
Now I have a daughter living in Taipei, Taiwan. I have a son who’s been all over Asia; he’s in Chile right now, so he’s on the Pacific. I have a daughter here in New Zealand, and I have another daughter who lived for years in Vietnam. We have to stop China, Biden said. China is not going to be #1 on my watch. Why not? And what are you going to do about it? No, it’s over folks, I don’t mean over in terms of defeat. I mean it’s over like this. Let me give the example. Let’s go back to the mid 1990s.
Look at the political debate within the United States: Monica Lewinsky, Newt Gingrich, Republicans versus Democrats, big fight, Monica Lewinsky some more. In 1995, the founder of Huawei, the largest electronics firm, was sleeping on cement floor with his buddies. They’re trying to figure out how to build a company. I went to Europe for three months in 2019. Every router I used in every Airbnb was Huawei. [He’s not sleeping on a cement floor any more].
The rise of China is not something that just happened. Joe Biden suddenly discovers this and calls Boris Johnson and says we need our own belt one road. What do you think, Boris? What are they talking about? America’s gotta learn how to make some things, America has to look at its dollar [which is losing ground as a global currency]. After the Blinken disaster in Alaska, Lavrov the Russian foreign minister went to China. [He received] a rapturous welcome.
Russia and China are knitting Mackinder’s great continent together [reference to British geopolitical strategist Halford Mackinder who emphasized the importance of controlling Eurasia to global dominance]. Eurasia is the future. The “World Island” as it has been called by strategists; Russia and China are knitting that together.
Look at Russia. That’s the world’s largest food producer. Does China have some people who might want some food? When Siberia melts, that’s going to be all farmland with billions of Chinese right underneath it. So Lavrov goes to China. What’s the first thing he talks about? We have to de-dollarize and get out of this American system. The sanctions stuff is ridiculous. We need an alternative to the American-dominated world order.
America, better take a look at its dollar. I think the standard of living in America is going to change very soon. You know our power comes from our economy. Walk the streets of Los Angeles. Walk the streets of Shanghai. Who would you bet on in the short term? America has a lot of work to do and it’s not out in the South China Sea. And it’s not about Taiwan, and I don’t think we need any more tanks and bombs. We need some paying attention to America.
Jeremy Kuzmarov: Definitely well, you’re right on the mark with your assessment. Really important what you’re saying. It’s the mindset that has to change of the people as far as China. The attitude, the people. But the racism has such deep roots going back 100 or 200 years. That’s hard to overcome.
James Bradley: Americans today think there’s this brand new threat, Putin and Xi, very personalized: Look at these killers and slave labor.
But this is an old thread in American history. Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s was an opportunist. If he could have been famous and covered by the newspapers for criticizing beets or potatoes, he would have been the beef and potato guy. He was looking for an issue. And he was counseled. Hate Russia. Hate China. The Chinese and Russians coming up through the basement to strangle your kids. McCarthyism. And we’re kind of back to McCarthyism II today.
If you and I did a YouTube video, I think I could name five subjects in one minute that would get us kicked off YouTube. That’s freedom of the press? There are words that I can’t say that aren’t dirty words; words about American politics, words about facts actually happening. If I say those, I’ll be censored. Instead of searching for freedom in the cotton fields of the Uighurs, we need to look at the Constitution. And look at American values, like George Carlin said: “You know I love America and all the freedoms I used to have.”
Jeremy Kuzmarov: I think that’s the irony is that China is constantly lambasted as this human rights offender and for its supposed lack of freedom. But as you say, the human rights situation in America is deteriorating. So maybe it’s a mirror.
James Bradley: It is.
Jeremy Kuzmarov: I think one thing Putin said that was good was this mirror analogy: You accuse us of something that actually you do—like election interference or whatever it is—it’s actually more likely that is something the United States has done.
James Bradley: Projection, it’s a psychological term. What about Hong Kong? You know the dictator? Xi just took it over and suppressed [the demonstrations]. And democracy is gone. These are [the dominant] sound bites that just don’t make any sense. When was there democracy in Hong Kong? No. Britain took it at the point of a gun and the Chinese became second-class citizens. There was no democracy in Hong Kong. It was a colony of Britain to sell opium. The deal since 1997 was “one country, two systems.” The key to that is one country. But some in Hong Kong started rioting and they broke into the legislature.
Gee, what happened when some guys went into the American Capitol?
They walked among rope lines and the country went crazy. In Hong Kong, they went into the legislature and smeared the walls with paint and graffiti. I was in Hong Kong in 2019. I didn’t see it, but I saw the film of demonstrators pouring gasoline on a man and lighting him on fire. Subway kiosks smashed, the airport taken over.
The Emperor said “One Country.” the emperor doesn’t want violence in any part of China. The Emperor took Hong Kong. So I called my friends. I said what’s up? I have friends in Hong Kong—Chinese, Australian, American—and the Australian said to me, you know he said something key. He said, “China is going to be ruled by patriots, not dissidents.” That’s very interesting. Mothers with baby buggies couldn’t use the subway when the rioters were rioting with a lot of English and American money in there supporting them. The emperor put an end to that. Now mothers in Hong Kong can ride the subway safely.
Now next step is Taiwan. My daughter lives in Taipei. No, the Chinese are not going to eat my daughter. I think my daughter’s life would not change very much when Taiwan reunites with China.
- Quoted in James Bradley, The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War (Boston: Little Brown & Co., 2009), 186. ↑
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of five books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019), The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018), and Warmonger. How Clinton’s Malign Foreign Policy Launched the U.S. Trajectory From Bush II to Biden (Clarity Press, 2023).
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.