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So long American Empire?
By Peter Chung Chieh
November 1, 2018


I wrote Aftershocks in 2017 for the China-US-Friendship website before the inauguration of Trump to the Oval Office because I share the feeling of many, and wish to offer some comfort for those who felt the same way I did. Two months later, perhaps out of fear, I wrote Handle with Care! for this website, advising my friends to take care.

Bob Woodward, the reporter who disclosed the Watergate scandal, recently published the book Fear: Trump in the White House. He so entitled the book because when a Washington Post interviewer asked the then president candidate to define POWER, Trump replied: “Real POWER is – I don’t even want to use the word – FEAR.” Woodward has written books about many American presidents. His book release was a big deal, and pre-release news has had a big splash. During this short time, the New York Times published an Op-Ed written by an Anonymous Trump Administration insider. The Editorial confirmed the contents of Fear. We all know the Trump drama, but the credible author of Fear has organized and solidified the credible evidence. Thus, the power of Fear causes Trump himself fear.

For nearly two years now, my feeling of shock, fear, dismay, worry, wonder, or a mix of all these went through roller coasters. I refrained from criticizing politicians. Days ago, Google leaked or deliberately released a 1:03:25-long video showing Google executives and workers getting together to share their feeling after Donald Trump became President-Elect. I listened to all and shared their feeling at that time, and the feeling continues thereafter.

A few days ago, former President Barack Obama said “Trump is the symptom.” He did not point out the cause. Science trained me to find answers for all five (5) Ws. When I wander and feel lost, I often Google with the keywords “Trump news” to see the drama unfold, to see Trump shooting himself in the foot, to see how the reckless man drives the Americana (Train) down the track, and to see how the passengers react. How they interpret Trump gives a wide spectrum of the living history, but Trump calls them fake news. Often, they pointed out my feeling, but they also show bits of wisdom to delight my heart.

On the education channel TV Ontario, Steve Paikin interviewed Chris Hedges, the author of the book “America, the Farewell Tour.” Mr. Paikin titled “So long, farewell American Empire” for the interview of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter.

When I was little, more than 70 years ago, I jumped with joy when I heard that America was helping China in our fight against the dreadful Japanese who threatened the hamlet in which I lived. When General Sun Li-jen’s New First Army (新一军) triumphantly marched into Guangzhou, people lined up to cheer the American equipped troops. Now, I know that America was not born rich and powerful. During the presidency of Herbert Hoover, the Tariff Act of 1930 was signed. This Act caused the Great Depression in the world, affecting industrialized America more than others. The condition led to the so called Fifth Party System, meaning Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) of the Democratic Party got the overwhelming support. FDR implemented a series of economic programs known as the New Deal, which not only produced an economic recovery for America, but the New Deal also made the U.S.A. strong and powerful, just in time to face the world crises that led to World War II. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, FDR was more than ready to destroy the Japanese Empire.

America dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, and WWII ended. Following that, I really wanted to know what atomic bombs were. I went to the Tsinghua Nuclear Institute in Taiwan to learn the science and technology of atomic bombs. When I taught Nuclear Technology mostly to engineering students at the University of Waterloo, I also let them know the history of nuclear technology and weapons. They were not nuclear engineering students. Thus, I did not get to the engineering details of the nuclear technology. The refugee scientists from Europe, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, and Eugene Wigner, helped Albert Einstein draft a letter to send to and urge President Franklin Roosevelt to support the research of nuclear fission. That was how the Manhattan project started. From knowing little, they made atomic bombs with different technologies in three years, a remarkable achievement. Scientists and engineers tested the first atomic bomb in the America desert. A week later, a similar bomb exploded in the sky over Hiroshima. A bomb with different technology, but untested, was dropped on Nagasaki and the devastation in Japan ended WWII. Soon after that, America was way ahead in the nuclear race. Unfortunately, McCarthyism caused Americans to worry due to the ideological conflict between Capitalism and Communism. Under the Trump administration, many Americans probably feel worse than in the McCarthyism period. Many American residents cross the unguarded portion of the border into Canada seeking refugee status.

Knowing so little about America, I thought the American Civil War brought equality for all races in the United States. Only in the past few years did I learn about the movements led by Martin Luther King and many others, while the help of openness of the administrations of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson made great strides. In the early 1960s, I was a student in National Taiwan University. An American penny could buy me a good meal. We all envied the wealth of Americans, equating America with heaven. Studying in America was the dream of youths, especially university graduates in Taiwan. With no parents in Taiwan, I was told that I was not eligible to study in the USA. I entered the University of British Columbia in the fall of 1966. Then the Vietnam War brought chaos and movement to America society and Richard Nixon promised to end the war to get elected.

In 1969, my family came to the University of Waterloo in southern Ontario, which shares borders with the states of New York, Ohio, and Michigan. We got all American media on the TV screen in our living room, and enjoyed watching the American Space achievements as well as the elections and political drama. Woodward’s disclosure of the Watergate Scandal cut President Nixon’s second term short, and Gerald Ford took over the presidency. People considered that Ford’s pardon of Nixon led to Jimmy Carter’s triumph, but the failure of the rescue mission in Iran shortened President Jimmy Carter to one term. Excellent communication was seen as a factor for President Ronald Reagan, too. The two American parties took turns to govern, but new administrations seldom completely dismantled the establishments of the previous administrations until Trump took the Oval Office. The 2016 American election campaign took dramatic turns in the last few days and the result shocked many Americans and the world. The fear got worse as President Trump governed with his power by fear.

Woodward’s book Fear pointed out that President Trump nearly started World War III. We all know he has started the economic war using tariffs against Canada, China and many other countries. Tariffs will hurt Americans as they do others. Will recession and depression reoccur as they did ninety years ago? History does repeat itself. Will there be another FDR to bring America back its glory and restore world order? If not, will there be a leader on the planet who will bring peace to this global village?

For decades, the developed countries have benefited from the cheap merchandise from China and other developing countries. Instead of gratitude, President Trump said China has been taking advantage of America for far too long, and thus is imposing tariffs on imports from China. Maybe it’s time for China and other developing countries to raise the prices of their goods, so that their living standard will catch up with that of the Americans.

During the past 20 months, not only have industrial jobs been at stake; Trump also targets Canadian milk men so that he can declare VICTORY to his voters. I do not know at what level the American government subsidizes its farmers, but Americans pay less for milk than Canadians do.

America and Canada have the geopolitical advantage in terms of agricultural land compared to China. It is natural for China to import food products from North America. However, to eliminate dependence, countries like China with a high population density may develop technologies to industrialize agriculture. I greatly admire the Father of Hybrid Rice, Yuan Longping (袁隆平). He started hybridizing rice to get high yields in the 1960s. As a result, China produced 57 million tons in 1950, but the production last year (2017) was 196 million tons, jumping to more than 300%. I hope the stimulus by Trump will lead more Chinese to follow Yuan’s footsteps. We have a lot more scientific tools now than in the 1960s.

Trump may not be able to wreck the world, but the irrationality of political power has taught us a lesson. International relations are hard to predict. All nations have to be able to deal with rapid and sudden changes at any time. This reminds me of a quote. ”Treat peace time as war time, then you can deal with war time calmly (平时当战时,战时成了平时)”, the late General Sun Li-jen told us when I was a soldier in training.

As the world changes, the gap between the rich and poor countries is narrowing. Globalization affects us all. Maybe the Trump administration has kick-started the long journey of the so-long-American-Empire farewell.

I was about to end this article and rest, but Trump just tweeted: “Best economic numbers in decades. If the Democrats take control, kiss your newfound wealth goodbye!” In fear, Trump creates fear again. Maybe he is right this time. His tariffs and fear tactics will cause a recession. He will leave the Oval Office, and Americans will kiss their wealth goodbye.

At the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly Annual General Debate in New York on September 25, 2018, Trump bragged: “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.” The audience, world leaders, could not help but laugh at his foolishness. “Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s okay.” Trump mumbled. Next day, he told reporters during a news conference that China supposedly respected him for his “very, very large brain”. Amusing, isn’t it.

Peter Chung Chieh

September, 2018

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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 at 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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