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Behind the Terror
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Book Reviews

When Greed Sacrificed Democracy
The high costs of failing to safeguard human rights

Seeds of Fire
By Gordon Thomas
Dandelion Books,
Tempe, Arizona, 2001

Reviewed by Marie Bannon

Bob Dylan was once asked for his opinion of his critics. He thought for a moment and answered, “Well, imagine ... writing ... about rock’n’roll.” The same goes for book reviews—attempting in a few pages to explain or criticize what a writer took years of sweat and research to get down on the page is a questionable occupation, and, in the face of genius, can reach absurdity. What is important is that pivotal works be brought to public attention.

Seeds of Fire is such a work. Beyond just good journalism, it is a compelling history of some of the most crucial, and unknown, events of the last two decades.

Seeds of Fire
Gordon Thomas (left) in Tiananmen Square; facing the camera is Tan Yaobang, a People’s Liberation Army company commander. Decisions by U.S. and other leaders to do nothing to help the Chinese people in their quest for democracy had serious consequences—for the demonstrators and for America.

he book, released at the close of 2001, begins with a story of international intrigue: how Israeli spies stole Enhanced Promis, a computer program, and how China obtained six sets of the software for $9 million from newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell, ultimately enabling them to access secrets of our government, including the nuclear secrets of Los Alamos. While this is interesting enough, it is only the beginning of the complex history that Gordon Thomas attempts.

The work really comes alive when the author takes us into China, on the verge of the student demonstrations in 1989. Thomas is a master at personalizing history, bringing the reader onto the scene through firsthand observations of people who were there. Nowhere has he done this better than in Seeds of Fire.

Through the eyes of Cassy Jones, an American teacher in Beijing who became involved with Yan Daobao, one of the leaders of the Chinese students’ resistance in the 1980s, we see the growth of the student movement that culminated in the Tienanmen Square demonstrations. It’s like a Greek tragedy unfolding, and although you know how it will end, it is still a heart-wrenching journey.

Thomas takes us on a day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour, voyage through the life of China and its recent history—the infighting among its leaders, the hopes and dreams of the youth that swept the nation, and how close they really came to overthrowing the Communist regime. With interviews of diplomats and officials, he brings us into the analysis and decision-making processes of American intelligence, and the economic and political decisions of the major powers to do nothing to help the Chinese people in their desperate quest for democracy.

“In the Beijing office of Kissinger Associates, staff sent an update on the demonstrations to the consultancy’s office in Washington.... The report would be distributed by Henry Kissinger to his fellow board members, former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, as well as executive members Alexander Haig, Robert McFarlane and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Some of the most powerful men in the United States had ‘had their alarm bells rung,’ a Kissinger Associates employee would say. ...

“[T]he United States, insisted the President, would do nothing to make things more difficult [for Chinese leader Deng]. Any approach by the students to the U.S. embassy in Beijing for help was to be firmly refused. ...

“The President’s view was that the reality was they [the students] were not going to achieve very much, and we don’t want to be on the losing side. His view was that could set us back in all sorts of ways, politically and economically.”

“The ... view was that the reality was [the students] were not going to achieve very much, and we don’t want to be on the losing side.... [T]hat could set us back in all sorts of ways, politically and economically.”
It may not be too surprising that the U.S., the land of the MK ULTRA mind control program, would countenance a regime that had to drug its soldiers to ensure they would slaughter thousands of their own unarmed people. Through the account of soldier Bing Yang, Thomas relates how shortly before the Tiananmen Square massacre, soldiers were ordered out of their barracks, marched to the parade ground, and injected “to protect their health.” Yang recalled “a warm sensation through his body. Climbing into a truck, he felt even more determined to deal with the enemies of the people.”

In addition to the immediate cost in human lives, the U.S. decision to support the regime had serious longterm consequences. Indeed, by protecting our economic interests in China at the cost of a terrible massacre, and allowing the Chinese officials who committed that massacre to maintain power, we would pay a heavy price.

Eventually, in the name of securing our business relations, we delivered the technology China needed to expand its economic bases and increase its espionage capabilities. Using this information, it was able to develop even more sophisticated computer equipment that later allowed it to steal U.S. nuclear secrets.

Over the last decade, the Chinese have sold arms all over the world and even supplied nuclear technology to Iran and Iraq.

On September 11, 2001, Chinese diplomats were in Afghanistan negotiating with Taliban leaders to furnish the Taliban with anti-missile defenses and technological aid in exchange for the Taliban calling off their insurrectionists in China’s northern provinces. Just after September 11, the Taliban-inspired disturbances in China ceased.

The brilliance of Thomas is that he doesn’t dramatize or overstate. He simply gives the reader the information he needs to think with, and encourages him to do so. This may be his greatest contribution.

It is an empirical rule that, for any prolonged conflict to exist, a hidden third party must also exist—one that instigates that conflict from behind the scenes. The knowledge imparted by Gordon Thomas in Seeds of Fire points to the Chinese as the power that could benefit most from the world’s perception of the vulnerability of the United States. That was certainly a major result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Just as Hitler thought he had no choice but to expand his territory in the 1930s to feed his people and maintain his power, modern-day China, plagued with a population explosion and up to 180 million unemployed, had to expand its economic bases in order to survive. In appeasing Hitler, the West laid the groundwork for a terrible world war. Have recent and current U.S. administrations done the same with modern China?

In the 1930s, the city of New York dismantled the Sixth Avenue elevated railroad and sold the steel as scrap to Japan. In 1941, that steel came back at us in the form of bombs and bullets. The players have changed, but the game remains the same. As e.e. cummings said:
told him:i told
him;we told him
(he didn’t believe it,no

sir)it took
a nipponized bit of
the old sixth

el;in the top of his head:to tell


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