06/01/2020 No. 156
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Handle with Care!
By Peter Chung Chieh
March 1, 2017

At the time when the life of the former Commander in Chief of the Army of the Republic of China, General Sun Li-jen, was suddenly in danger without warning, I made up my mind to study science, staying away from dirty politics at that very instant. The General was dearly loved domestically and enjoyed a great reputation internationally. The event happened at a time we thought he was invincible, yet his life was on the line suddenly without warning. He was dear to me in so many ways and I could not let the event pass by without understanding the truth or history. The risk of him falling victim taught me a lesson that hidden danger is abundant and around us constantly. I felt that seeking the truth itself was a dangerous task for anyone. At the time, all I could do was pay attention to news reports, but I analyzed them with a critical mind. My habit of paying attention to news remains to this date.

The campaign of the 2016 election in the United States of America was extraordinary in so many ways, as I observed from the Canadian vantage point. The election results came as a shock to so many people, including many U.S. citizens. For the first time, demonstrations against the results erupted the next day in big American cities. With the Chinese blood maintaining my life, I also sympathized with Chinese feelings. Thus, I wrote the article Aftershock for the China-U.S. Friendship website in the first issue of 2017. I entitled it Aftershock because many events were like aftershocks following a devastating earthquake.

Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States on January 20, and the tremors continue. The situation is so delicate that I feel that we have to resort to the phrase “Handle with Care” often seen on boxes of fragile goods such as glass, porcelain or electronics.

Wars solved no problems. World War II was followed by the long Cold War, during which our lives were affected in so many ways. As Stephen J. Whitfield argues, when a political consensus that equated “Americanism” with the militant anti-communism dominated our life, [1] despite the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics more than two decades ago, the fear of communists still lingers on for a long period in the U.S.

The cause of World War II was the disastrous aftermath of the First World War. In fact, human conflicts take place constantly all the time, including this very moment. In science, a quantity such as the ratio of the circumference to the radius of a circle is a constant. But scientists also have a saying: Only Change is Constant. Changes happen domestically and internationally. I did not know much about the U.S. presidential election until 1964, but I studied the elections of 1948 and 1952 in view of their effect on the fate of General Sun Li-jen. [2]

President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) inherited the Presidency following the assassination of President J.F. Kennedy in 1963. A year later, the Republicans had a very controversial candidate, Senator Barry Goldwater, as viewed from both his own party and nationwide due to his opinions on segregation and civil rights. Barry Goldwater even joked about “lob one (nuclear bomb) into the Men’s room in the Kremlin.” His challenge of LBJ failed. This controversial presidential campaign happened at a time when I was in graduate school. I learned the difference of views of the Republicans and Democrats, and each side has a base due to the sense of values of people. However, most of the time, the line between them was blur because both parties tried to appeal to the swing voters.

Four years later, LBJ did not run for re-election because of the strong social opposition to the Vietnam War. During the primaries, the campaign was marked by the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and the subsequent race riots across the U.S. There was widespread demonstration to end the Vietnam War. The leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency was the brother of JFK, Robert F. Kennedy. He was assassinated in June, 1968, and eventually the incumbent vice president, Hubert Humphrey, became the Democratic nominee, and he was pressed to end the Vietnam War rapidly. Even LBJ did not support Humphrey due to disagreement in the handling of the Vietnam War. Disagreement among Democrats led to the victory of Richard Nixon. George Wallace, who advocated segregation in public schools, was a third party featured in the 1968 election.

Four years later, Democratic nominee Senator George McGovern ran an anti-war campaign against incumbent President Richard Nixon. The perception of a left-wing extremist and scandals led to his running mate Thomas Eagleton stepping down. With good economics and success in foreign relations to establish relations with China, Nixon won the election in a landslide. However, the Watergate Affair brought the presidency of Nixon down.

In the past sixty years, the U.S. administration switched between Republicans and Democrats like the swing of a pendulum. Often, the extremists had no chance. However, the 2016 election results surprised many of us. I thought the checks and balances in the American political system would change the 45th President, but he kept us surprised. The protectionism or Americanism made Canadians worry and Mexicans mad, and I also sensed a worry in many countries in Asia.

Only prophets claim what will happen in the future, and we ordinary folks just have to watch and see. The present clues show that the Trump administration may signify the end of hostility toward the U.S. former cold-war rival, Russia. I am not aware of Trump mentioning any military hostilities toward any country throughout his campaign, although he said that he will disregard some American values to take tough measures toward certain groups such as terrorists. His repeated pronouncements of “America First” sounds more like a declaration of economic war than armed conflict. In this respect, large trade partners will certainly face harder bargains, and thus the Chinese administration certainly has more homework to do. Unlike political and military confrontations, economical deals are mostly non-zero-sum games. To maximize the long-term payoffs requires due diligence.  

Being an observer is enjoyable for I need not work hard or feel the future responsibilities. This observer has no magical strategies to offer. Since the package (situation) is very delicate, I think a warning sign “Handle with Care!” should be placed on the most visible surface.

【1】     Stephen J. Whitfield. The Culture of the Cold War, 2nd ed. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN 978-0-8018-5196-4.

【2】     See articles by the author: Chinese lost their Sun in 1955; Freedom and Justice for General Sun (http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_e47848bb0102wqau.html); 孙立人的命运与美国改朝换代
(http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_e47848bb0102wr6b.html); 再谈美国改朝换代与孙立人
(http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_e47848bb0102wx31.html); 冷战与孙立人有啥关系?
(http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_e47848bb0102wxw2.html);  冷战与孙立人有啥关系?续

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Peter Chung Chieh is Professor Emeritus, University of Waterloo and founding president of the Central Ontario Chinese Cultural Centre. He was born in Guangdong, China. He went to Taiwan as a child soldier, and was adopted by the late General Sun Li-jen, who gave him a chance to attend school. Following his chemistry degree from Taida (National Taiwan University), he studied nuclear science in the graduate school of National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. He then studied in the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and went to the University of Waterloo as a post-doctoral fellow. A year later, he became assistant professor and went through all professorial ranks during his 34 years of teaching and research. He retired in 2004.
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