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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Khmer Rouge Trials Long Overdue

This week, after more than 30 years, a United Nations supported tribunal began the trial of the three highest ranking surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge--the Communist government responsible for Cambodia's notorious killing fields in which some 2 to 3 million Cambodian men, women and children were systematically slaughtered between 1975 and 1979.

Skulls of Cambodian Victims at Infamous S-21 Jail
  It's about time.

If there was a more internecine government in power during the past 30 years I have yet to see it.

I was in Cambodia in 1975 when Khmer Rouge guerillas were attempting to overthrow the U.S.-backed government of President Lon Nol. I watched as they indiscriminately bombarded refugee camps with 107mm Chinese rockets and attacked villages and killed anything that moved. I was evacuated from Phnom Penh in March 1975 and made my way to Vietnam to cover the end of the war there.

I made several trips to the Thai-Cambodian border between 1975 and 1979--the year the rapacious Khmer Rouge government was ousted by a Vietnamese invasion. During those trips I heard one horror story after another from Cambodians who had managed to escape the Killing Fields of their homeland. Eventually, more than a million Cambodians filled the squalid camps along the Thai-Cambodian border.

Cambodian refugees that I personally interviewed told me of rice paddies being fertilized with the bones and blood of butchered relatives and friends. They spoke of Christian churches and Buddhist temples being turned into torture chambers; of seeing children being roasted over Khmer Rouge fires; of still beating hearts being ripped from the breasts of enemies; of cities emptied of people and streets littered with bones.

As I prepared to write this blog on the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders I went back into my files and found one woman's story that became all too familiar in the late 1970s.

Her name was Muong Sokuntherry. At the time I interviewed her in late 1979 at the Khao I-Dang refugee camp near Aranyaprathet, Thailand, she was 27. Here is what I wrote at the time:

"A few refugees are apprehensive about entering the Thai camp (Khao I-Dang): they have heard that those who enter never come out again. Trust in authority does not come easy for a people betrayed so often by governments. Indeed, Muong Sokhuntherry, a 27-year-old woman with haunting black eyes and a voice soft as velvet, is living proof of that betrayal.

"She is the last surviving member of a family of 20. In the past four years she has seen her husband, a former schoolteacher, executed; her mother, father, brothers and sisters clubbed to death in a rice paddy; and her three children--8, 7 and 2, die of starvation.

"A former typist in a small office in Phnom Penh, Muong was, like millions of other Cambodians, driven out of the capital after the Khmer Rouge takeover. Following a grueling two-week walk through the jungles to Ta Koe province west of Phnom Penh, Muong and thousands of others became slave laborers, forced to work as many as 18 hours a day constructing dikes and irrigation ditches for rice paddies.

"'They gave us food only once a day,'" she told me. "'It was a cup of very thin rice soup, mostly water. There were no vegetables, so we ate greens from the jungle and plants from the river. We boiled tree bark and ate that too. My children got weaker and weaker. And they fell to the ground one by one and died.'"

This will no doubt be an example of the kind of testimony the tribunal will hear during the next several weeks. Don't expect any redeeming statements from any of the victims who are called to testify. The Khmer Rouge government will, and should be, roundly condemned for the ugly, murderous regime that it was.

For four years a nine-member Khmer Rouge junta headed by Pol Pot and calling itself the "Organization on High" ruled Cambodia with a brutality unseen since the holocaust in Europe. Pol Pot, the nation's so called "supreme leader" and one of the architects of a policy to return Cambodia to the middle ages, died in a jungle camp in 1998 after his former comrades turned on him. 

But four others from the nine member group survived. Three of them (85-year-old Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s chief ideologist and No. 2 leader; 80-year-old Khieu Samphan, an ex-head of state; and 86-year-old former foreign minister Ieng Sary, went on trial this week in Phnom Penh. 
Ieng Sary, 86, former Foreign Minister

A fourth, 79-year-old Ieng Thirith, was ruled unfit to stand trial last week because she has Alzheimer’s disease. She is Ieng Sary’s wife and was the regime’s minister for social affairs.

Some may wonder why, at this late date, the government is putting these aging Communists on trial.

A quick look at the brutal Khmer Rouge regime that claimed the lives of an estimated 2.5 million people provides an answer.

Under Marxist leader Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge tried to take Cambodia back to a pre-industrial age, forcing millions of people from the cities to work on communal farms in the countryside.  But this dramatic attempt at social engineering had a terrible cost, and whole families died from execution, starvation, disease and overwork.

Before Pol Pot took power in 1975 he and his Khmer Rouge henchmen lived in the country's remote north-east. There they were influenced by the surrounding hill tribes, who were self-sufficient in their communal living, had no use for money and were "untainted" by Buddhism.

When he came to power, he and his ruling clique quickly set about transforming Cambodia - now re-named Kampuchea - into what they hoped would be an agrarian utopia.

Declaring that the nation would start again at "Year Zero", Pol Pot isolated his people from the rest of the world and set about emptying the cities, abolishing money, private property and religion, and setting up rural collectives.

Anyone thought to be an intellectual of any sort was killed. Often people were condemned to death for wearing glasses or knowing a foreign language. Tens of thousands of the educated middle-classes were tortured and executed in special centers.

The most notorious of these centers was the S-21 jail in Phnom Penh, where more than 17,000 men, women and children were imprisoned during the regime's four years in power. 

Hundreds of thousands of others died from disease, starvation or exhaustion as members of the Khmer Rouge - often just teenagers themselves - forced people to do back-breaking work.

The Khmer Rouge government was finally overthrown in 1979 by invading Vietnamese troops, after a series of violent border confrontations. The Khmer Rouge leadership retreated to remote areas of the country, where they remained active for a while but gradually became less and less powerful.

In the years that followed, as Cambodia began the process of reopening to the international community, the full horrors of the regime became apparent. 
Survivors told their stories to shocked audiences, and in the 1980s the Hollywood movie "The Killing Fields" brought the plight of the Khmer Rouge victims to worldwide attention.

Pol Pot was denounced by his former comrades in a show trial in July 1997, and sentenced to house arrest in his jungle home. But less than a year later he was dead - denying the millions of people who were affected by this brutal regime the chance to bring him to justice.
Nuon Chea, 85, former Khmer Rouge Chief Ideologue

Now the remaining Khmer Rouge hierarchy is finally on trial and the first of the men to appear was the party's former ideologue, Nuon Chea, who opened his defense against a charge of genocide.

He said that the Khmer Rouge revolution in the 1970s was aimed at freeing Cambodia from colonialism and protecting it from invasion by Vietnam. His testimony marked the first time a leader of the Khmer Rouge has defended the motives of the ultra-communist regime.

In opening arguments Cambodian and international prosecutors said the defendants had masterminded one of the worst horrors in modern history, killing or enslaving millions of people in their creation of a "living nightmare."
International co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley told the tribunal it should not be tempted by feelings of compassion for the elderly and infirm defendants in their 80s who had "murdered, tortured and terrorized" their own people.

I can't imagine that happening--nor, I am convinced, can any of the 
Cambodian people who managed to survive the destructive rule of the Khmer Rouge.

I plan to follow this trial and will keep you posted.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

When Does a Gap Become a Canyon? (Part 2)

Accomplished wordsmith William Safire once defined a gap between the generations as "a frustrating lack of communication between young and old, or a useful stretch of time that separates cultures within a society, allowing them to develop their own character."

That's a pretty good definition. But it doesn't tell the whole story.

Generation gaps have no doubt existed on this planet since the first homo sapiens appeared about 200,000 years ago. However, the drastic differences that the term implies were not much in evidence until the twentieth century. Before that time humans were not very mobile. Young people typically lived near their extended families, worshiped in their childhood churches and often worked on the family farm or in a family business. In the 19th Century most people lived and died without traveling more than 200 miles from where they were born.

With the advent of television and movies, adolescents were exposed to cultural influences alien to their own families and cultures. Then came the 1960s. Civil rights, women's liberation and the Vietnam War exposed a more serious chasm between young and old.

A study released recently by the Pew Research Center found younger and older Americans in 2011 see the world much differently, creating the largest generation gap since the tumultuous years of the 1960s. The study said Americans of different ages are increasingly at odds over a range of social and technological issues. That divide grew greater after the 2008 election, when 18- to 29-year-olds voted for Democrat Barack Obama by a 2-to-1 ratio.

Almost eight in 10 people believe there is a major difference in the point of view of younger people and older people today, according to the independent public opinion research group.

The top areas of disagreement between young and old, according to the Pew Research Study, are the use of technology and taste in music. Slightly behind these areas of difference are listed the following:

  • Work ethic
  • Moral values
  • Respect for others
  • Political views
  • Attitudes toward different races and groups
  • Religious beliefs.
    There is nothing new here. When I was a teenager Rock and Roll was considered "jungle music" and those who sang and played it were, in the minds of older Americans, little more than savages. Some radio stations wouldn't play Rock and Roll. Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis were considered evil influences on the youth of the day.

    The 1950s were probably the beginning of what we know today as a generation gap. Before then the closets of most teenagers resembled those of their parents. Not so in the 1950s.  That decade brought a revolution in styles that pushed the envelope and actually continue to influence fashion today.

    A lot of guys combed their hair into greasy ducktails, wore skin tight jeans and shirts with the collars turned up. It was "the look" of the day.

    Girls wore short-shorts, poodle skirts, pony tails, and, if you were lucky, did the "dirty bop" with you. (Believe me, it was tame compared what happens on the dance floor today).

    So what's the big deal about the widening generation gap of 2011 and how does it differ from the gap that existed in the 1960s?

    First, the Pew Study said, the two largest areas of difference--technology and music--are less emotionally charged than political issues. The older generation is likely to be proud of the younger generation's skill in using new technology rather than to view it as a problem. As for the musical differences, each generation wants its own style of music, and the older generation generally can relate to that desire--even if most people older than 50 probably consider rap and hip hop a form of discordant monotone chanting rather than vocal or instrumental sounds organized in some coherent sequence comprised of melody, rhythm and harmony.

    In the other areas of difference, the Pew study reported, the younger generation tends to regard the older generation as superior to their own generation--clearly a difference from the 1960s with its rallying cry of "Don't trust anyone over thirty." 

    According to the study, all generations regard older Americans as superior in moral values, work ethic and respect for others. Why are older Americans regarded as superior in moral values, work ethic and respect for others? Does it have something to do with the way many children are reared today? If parents equivocate when it comes to teaching such values to their children then it is not surprising  that a generation gap between young and old exists.

    And who is at fault for that? The younger generation? I tend to think the fault rests with parents and those charged with educating the young. By the time they are adolescents it is most likely too late to instill in them the values that are revered by older Americans.

    One common complaint I hear from older Americans about younger Americans is their reluctance to accept responsibility for their actions.

    "It's not my fault," is heard all too often from the younger generation. That, however, is a dangerous trap, said Doctors Henry Cloud and John Townsend in their 2007 book ("It's Not My Fault') because it not only keeps them from overcoming the effects of all that they can’t control—like other people, circumstances and genetics—but separates them from a solution. And when they give away the ownership of their life, they end up losing the one opportunity they have to fulfill their dreams and enjoy the best life has to offer. 

    When I was growing up my parents and grandparents simply never endorsed my attempts to use the "blame game" for my mistakes, misfortunes and misdeeds.

    "Stop making excuses," is what I heard. Eventually I did.

    I never felt there was a generation gap between my parents and me, perhaps because I respected them and they never gave me a reason not to. If there is an area that can be improved on with young people today that may be it.

    Children may be grateful in the short term when parents refuse to impose rules of behavior and inculcate discipline in them. But in the long term I believe they are thankful--even if they may never admit it.

    Learning to respect others, to honestly work for what you get in life and to live  according to some variant of the Golden Rule ("do not treat people in a way you would not wish to be treated yourself") may just be the unpretentious bridge that spans the gap between generations.

    It certainly beats plummeting into the canyon.   

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    When Does a Gap Become a Canyon? Part 1

    In the past week or so two stories caught my attention. One decried the growing wealth gap between the young and old in America. The other highlighted the growing difference between older and younger Americans on issues such as social values and morality.

    Should we be surprised by either of these stories?

    I think not.

    Let's look at the wealth gap first. I will get to the Social Values and Morality Gap in Part 2.

    A report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau said the wealth gap between younger and older Americans has increased to the widest on record, worsened by a prolonged economic downturn that has wiped out job opportunities for young adults and saddled them with housing, credit card and college debt.

    The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, the report said, adding that the gap in wealth is now more than double what it was in 2005 and nearly five times the 10-to-1 disparity a quarter-century ago, after adjusting for inflation.

    Why is this?  Part of it is caused by the economic downturn, which has hit young adults particularly hard. As I saw when I was a Dean at the University of Illinois, more young people are pursuing college or advanced degrees, taking on debt as they wait for the job market to recover. Others are struggling to pay mortgage costs on homes now worth less than when they were bought in the housing boom.

    But that is not the whole story. All of us have gone through hard times at one time or another. I can recall when mortgage interest rates were 19 percent and buying a house was simply out of the question. I can recall unemployment rates running between 7 and 9 percent and double-digit inflation--none of which made life much fun.

    Perhaps it's the way many in the so-called silent and baby-boomer generations lived and spent money. Without sounding like some old geezer, I should point out that when I was in my 20s I didn't have a credit card. I did have a gasoline charge card from Standard Oil, but the thought of charging meals, groceries, vacations, car repairs, etc. on a credit card was simply not an option. Credit cards were simply not the ubiquitous snares that they are today.

    I paid cash for just about everything. I even paid back my student loan--though I was fortunate to have a large part of my college education paid for via the GI Bill.

    Today, young people are crushed under the weight of credit card debt. Why? Because for many the thought of actually saving up to buy something is simply anathema. We are in the era of instant gratification. A lot of young people want things and they want them now! So what do they do? They pull out those credit cards that aren't already maxed out and continue to accumulate more debt.

    And what about those houses that are now worth less than the mortgages? Why would a couple in their late 20s or early 30s opt to buy a $600,000 or $700,000 house with 5% down, an adjustable rate mortgage, a balloon second mortgage and monthly payments of $5,000 or $6,000?

    Why? Because they just HAD to have THAT house--even though common sense told them that home prices during the so-called "housing boom" were grossly over-inflated.

    Call me old-fashioned, but I can guarantee you that there is no way I would have done that when I was starting out. Yet that is what a lot of those Gen X-ers and Gen Y-ers did. And now many are suffering because of the choices they made.

    The Census Bureau report comes just before the Nov. 23 deadline for a special congressional committee to propose $1.2 trillion in budget cuts over 10 years.

    But more importantly, it has created questions about the government safety net that has sustained older Americans on Social Security and Medicare amid cuts to education and other programs, including cash assistance for poor families.

    "It makes us wonder whether the extraordinary amount of resources we spend on retirees and their health care should be at least partially reallocated to those who are hurting worse than them," said Harry Holzer, a labor economist and public policy professor at Georgetown University who called the magnitude of the wealth gap "striking."

    Wait a minute! The money that retirees are getting from Social Security and Medicare is money that they paid into the system all their working lives. Are they supposed to feel guilty about that? Older Americans paid into a system that was set up to supplement savings and private sector retirement plans such as profit sharing, employee stock ownership plans, and savings incentive plans.

    Social Security and Medicare are NOT entitlement programs. They are NOT welfare plans for retirees. In fact, the money retirees take out of Social Security and Medicare is in essence money they have loaned the federal government. That the federal government spent that money unwisely or delved into it to fund other programs is not the fault of those who made good faith payments into the system.

    There is no doubt that the numbers contained in the Census Bureau report are striking. For example, the median net worth of households headed by someone 65 or older is $170,494. That is 42 percent more than in 1984, when the Census Bureau first began measuring wealth broken down by age. 

    The median net worth for the younger-age households was $3,662, down by 68 percent from a quarter-century ago, according to the analysis by the Pew Research Center. In all, 37 percent of younger-age households have a net worth of zero or less, nearly double the share in 1984. But among households headed by a person 65 or older, the percentage in that category has been largely unchanged at 8 percent.

    Net worth includes the value of a person's home, possessions and savings accumulated over the years, including stocks, bank accounts, real estate, cars, boats or other property, minus any debt such as mortgages, college loans and credit card bills. Older Americans tend to hold more net worth because they are more likely to have paid off their mortgages and built up more savings from salary, stocks and other investments over time. The median is the midpoint, and thus refers to a typical household.

    Households headed by someone under age 35 saw their median net worth reduced by 27 percent in 2009 as a result of unsecured liabilities, mostly a combination of credit card debt, mortgages and student loans. No other age group had anywhere near that level of unsecured liability acting as a drag on net worth. The next closest was the 35-44 age group, at 10 percent.

    Among the older-age households, the share of households worth at least $250,000 rose to 20 percent from 8 percent in 1984.

    It is highly irritating and actually unfair to blame retirees for the plight of the younger generation. Unless of course, those retirees didn't do their job in rearing fiscally responsible offspring or, even worse, encouraged them to pile up credit card debt by promising them that a parental bail out was in the offing.

    Retirees worked long and hard for whatever wealth they have managed to accumulate. And, as the Census Bureau report shows, most are NOT wealthy--not when only 20 percent have a median household net worth of $250,000 or more.

    Most older Americans are working longer than their parents did. Both my parents were able to retire at 62. How many older Americans can do that today? Not many. In fact, most are working well into their late 60s and early 70s.

    Indeed, the whole concept of "retirement" has undergone a transformation today. The notion of spending the alleged "Golden Years," sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair watching squirrels and listening to birds, is simply hooey.

    So when economists lament the fact that retirees have 47-times more household net worth than Generation X-ers or Generation Y-ers, I can't help but think of that old Smith Barney TV commercial that said: "They make money the old-fashioned way. They earn it."

    Amen to that.

    (NEXT:  When Does a Gap Become a Canyon? (Part 2)

    Sunday, November 6, 2011

    Is the American Empire at an End? Part III

    When President Obama scrapped the U.S. Manned Space program via Presidential fiat recently, he signaled to the world that the U.S. was ceding its leadership and expertise in space exploration to nations like China and India.

    In one of the most arrogantly oblivious declarations any president ever made he said he was ending the Constellation manned lunar landing program because "we've been there before."

    Instead of sending more Americans to the moon, he talked about possibly landing men on an asteroid in 2025 or perhaps Mars at some later date.

    Our friends the Chinese were no doubt ecstatic at this announcement.

    They have already embarked on a Lunar Exploration Program that will send both robots and men to the moon by 2025. This year, a Chinese rocket will carry a boxcar-sized module into orbit, the first building block for a Chinese space station scheduled for completion sometime in 2020--the same year that the International Space Station, which is jointly operated by the U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan and 11 European countries, is scheduled to be de-orbited.  

    In early October a Long March 3C rocket with the Chang'e-2 probe took off from Xichang launch center. The Xinhua News Agency said Chang'e-2 would circle just nine miles above the rocky terrain in order to take photographs of possible landing locations.

    It is China's second lunar probe - the first was launched in 2007. The craft stayed in space for 16 months before being intentionally crashed on to the Moon's surface. This year the Chinese began mapping the entire surface of the moon with orbiting vehicles and in 2012 it will land lunar rovers that will begin prospecting for strategic materials.

    Chinese scientists believe the moon is loaded with base metals and something called "lunar helium-3," considered a perfect fuel for nuclear fusion power plants.

    Robert Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Aerospace, the company he created over a decade ago to develop commercial space habitats using expandable (or inflatable) technology licensed from NASA, insists this is just the beginning of what he fears is an attempt by China to actually claim the moon as its own territory, locking out the United States and other nations.

    One obvious obstacle is the Outer Space Treaty, of which China is a party. That treaty prohibits nations from making territorial claims to the Moon or other celestial bodies. Bigelow suggested, though, that China could work to amend the treaty through the support of countries in Africa and Latin America where China is making major investments and who routinely vote against the United States in international bodies such as the United Nations.

    Alternatively, he said, China could simply decide to withdraw from the treaty. Public opinion, he said, won’t be factor. “There isn’t going to be World War Three over this,” he said. “There isn’t going to be a single shot fired.”

    Here is what the U.S. can expect, thanks to a myopic U.S. president: Soon, the only people walking around on the moon will be Chinese and don't expect them to share any significant base metal or lunar helium-3 finds. That is simply not the DNA of a hard-core Communist regime that controls China.

    As Bigelow said in a recent talk to the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) in Las Cruces, New Mexico, earlier this month: "China’s quest for prestige—to demonstrate that it is the most powerful country in the world—will inevitably drive the country to lay claim to the Moon. China already has a grand national vision. Their vision is that China wants to be indisputably number one in the world, measured any way you want to measure."

    One of the biggest advantages of the Chinese system is that they have five-year plans so they can develop well ahead, said Peter Bond, consultant editor for Jane's Space Systems and Industry. 

    "They are taking a step-by-step approach, taking their time and gradually improving their capabilities," Bond said. "They are putting all the pieces together for a very capable, advanced space industry."

    Meanwhile, NASA closed out its 30-year space shuttle era in July, leaving the U.S. dependent on hitching rides to the space station aboard Russian Soyuz capsules at a cost of $56 million per passenger, rising to $63 million from 2014. The U.S. also hopes private companies will develop spacecraft to ferry cargo and crew to the space station.

    That is little solace to more than 6,000 American scientists and space experts who lost their jobs because of Obama's lack of vision.

    China is not the only country aiming high in space. Russia has talked about building a base on the moon and a possible mission to Mars but hasn't set a time frame. India, which has already achieved an unmanned orbit of the moon, is planning its first manned space flight in 2016.

    To be sure, space exploration is expensive. But to intentionally abandon leadership in an area where the U.S. has been a leader is simply misguided.

    When President Kennedy announced in 1961 that the U.S. would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade because "we choose to," it was a statement dripping with optimism that instilled pride and confidence in the American people.

    Fifty years later we have a president who chooses to eliminate manned flights to the moon and concede lunar exploration to the Chinese.

    Not a move that instills pride and confidence, let alone optimism.

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    Is the American Empire at an End? (Part II)

    Most Americans, I believe, would prefer to think of China as a friendly nation with a different political and economic perspective of the world.

    While the U.S. remains committed to a free-wheeling form of capitalism and a democratic system of government where power (for the most part) is lodged with an informed (one hopes) citizenry, China remains a largely closed society with a political system ruled by an elite Communist politburo that prefers to manage the nation's economy and control access to information.

    True, both nations seem to be benefiting from two-way trade, though the Chinese are expected to have a $300 billion trade surplus with the U.S. in 2011. Meanwhile, U.S. consumers are told they are benefitting because they are buying products made in China for much less than what they would cost if made in the USA.

    The problem is, while Americans might like to think of China as a friendly nation, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to do so given China's recent behavior.

    I am talking about what appears to be that nation's secret cyber war against the United States. Last August, for example, the Internet security firm McAfee revealed a widespread attack against 72 organizations, including the United Nations, U.S. defense contractors and several other corporations in what a McAfee executive called "the biggest transfer of wealth in terms of intellectual property in history."

    This past week some 48 chemical and defense companies were victims of a coordinated cyber attack that has been traced to China, according to the security firm Symantec Corp.

    Computers belonging to these companies were infected with malicious software known as "Poison Ivy," which was used to steal information such as design documents, formulas and details on manufacturing processes, Symantec said this week.

    While Symantec did not identify the companies, it said they included several Fortune 100 corporations that develop compounds and advanced materials, along with businesses that help manufacture infrastructure for these industries. Most of the infected computers were located in the US and UK, and included companies that developed advanced materials used in military vehicles.

    In February, McAfee warned that hackers working in China broke into the computer systems of five multinational oil and natural gas companies to steal bidding plans and other critical proprietary information.

    Computer hackers, possibly from the Chinese military, interfered with two U.S. government satellites four times in 2007 and 2008 through a ground station in Norway, according to the Congressional Economic and Security Review Commission.

     U.S. military and intelligence agencies use satellites to communicate, collect intelligence and conduct reconnaissance. While the Commission doesn’t accuse the Chinese government of conducting or sponsoring the four attacks directly, it says the breaches are consistent with Chinese military writings that advocate disabling an enemy’s space systems, and particularly “ground-based infrastructure, such as satellite control facilities.”

    U.S. authorities for years have accused the Chinese government of orchestrating cyber attacks against adversaries and hacking into foreign computer networks to steal military and commercial secrets. Assigning definitive blame is difficult, the Commission says, because the perpetrators are adept at obscuring their involvement.

    Nevertheless, China this year “conducted and supported a range of malicious cyber activities,” the Commission's report charged. Evidence emerging this year tied the Chinese military to a cyber attack on a U.S.-based website of the Falun Gong spiritual group, among other attacks.

    Should we be surprised? Not really.

    There are tens of thousands of Chinese students at America’s best universities, doing doctorates and post-docs in computer science and information technology. When they complete their studies in the U.S. many return to China with their U.S. degrees and improved skills.

    Most of the world’s computers are made in China and it has been suggested that ‘malware’ – viruses and malicious ‘worms’ could be hardwired into the millions of computer chips being manufactured in the Far East. If so, the Chinese wouldn’t even need to use the Net to mount an attack; the enemy is sitting there already, right on your desk.

    “What’s going on is very large-scale Chinese industrial espionage,” says Richard Clarke, a former top U.S. government official who held roles in counterterrorism and cyber-security and now is chairman of Good Harbor Consulting, a security and risk-management company in Arlington, Va. "They're stealing our intellectual property. They're getting our research and development for pennies on the dollar."

    Meanwhile, American officials are reluctant to raise the subject with their counterparts in China. What message does that send to the Chinese? The answer is simple: keep stealing from us.

    Clarke and other cyber-experts say it’s time for the U.S. to start fighting back. President Obama, the urge, should “authorize action to go after the computers involved in the attack.” Clarke says the U.S. could zap malware across the Internet, “the same way the Chinese do it. You can destroy the computers involved in the attack. They can pay a price.”

    While such a move would risk escalating tension and might invite retaliation from the Chinese, Clarke says it’s better than rolling over while all your R & D and intellectual property is stolen and the U.S. does nothing about it.

    There is little doubt that the America is at risk--not from traditional armies and military machines, but from a new form of digital warfare and espionage.

    And if Americans still prefer to believe that China is nothing more than a friendly economic competitor, they had better wise up fast. We are facing a new kind of warfare and China is the primary adversary.

    It is stealing our secrets, our technology and our intellectual capital at a rate unseen in history. And if we continue to let it happen, there is little doubt that the American Empire will soon be at an end.

     (Next: Is the American Empire at an End? (Part III)