Erik Prince’s Training Bases in China

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

I remember being shocked when I first learned that Erik Prince was able to start a mercenary company in the US. (Blackwater was originally just a tactical training facility before it started hiring out private military contractors.)

He has since moved on to providing logistics in dangerous places via his Frontier Services Group, but they’re not just helping Chinese mining interests in Africa. They’re now setting up Blackwater-style training camps in Chinese provinces:

In December, Frontier Services Group, of which Prince is chairman, issued a press release that outlined plans to open “a forward operating base in China’s Yunnan province” and another in the troubled Xinjiang region, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority.

“He’s been working very, very hard to get China to buy into a new Blackwater,” said one former associate. “He’s hell bent on reclaiming his position as the world’s preeminent private military provider.”

In an email to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for Frontier Services Group provided a statement and strongly disputed that the company was going to become a new Blackwater, insisting that all of its security services were unarmed and therefore not regulated. “FSG’s services do not involve armed personnel or training armed personnel.” The training at the Chinese bases would “help non-military personnel provide close protection security, without the use of arms.”

Amateurs talk abouts tactics; professionals study logistics. I guess the true professional provides logistics without dirtying his hands doing anything explicitly tactical at all.

By the way, Erik Prince is Betsy DeVos’s brother. I’m surprised that doesn’t come up more often.

All men and all women were their friends

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

T. Greer shares a parable concerning tolerance:

There once lived in a far country a people of gentle nature and perceptive understanding. They were led by a man of great vision. At great cost to his person and his standing, he decided to dedicate his life to preserving his people’s established way of life. He did this because he saw in them a beauty and virtue he could find nowhere else. In a world of bigotry and darkness they were a rare light: they blindly followed no authority, nor were they were slaves to custom. No trace of the regressive attitudes so common to their countrymen could be found among them. Women were valued highly among them. Indeed, their women were cherished not only as mothers or wives, but also as honored leaders. This was a people filled with a spirit of love: all men and all women were their friends, rich or poor, young or old, saved or heathen. The poor they sustained; the needy they gave generously to (and gave to, no matter how low their background or coarse their appearance). In their eyes, to be learned was considered good. The more learned one was, they supposed, the greater service one could give. Kindness was thus their byword; brotherliness their call-sign. They disdained violence. In politics it was their part to push for less war, smaller armies, and a more peacable way of living with other humans on the Earth. This view extended into the domestic sphere: in political controversies, theirs was always the voice of tolerance. Let the downcast, the unusual, and even the heretic be allowed their natural liberties, they would say, and do not fear if they live among us. In their conception a good society was a society that let men of different beliefs and customs all live happily together. It was a self-serving position: they understood that only if tolerance ruled the day could their less enlightened countrymen be compelled to tolerate them. But this did not bother them: they were happy in the knowledge that in this case self interest aligned so well with virtue.

Their leader was not content (visionaries rarely are). The fight for toleration had been difficult. He and his allies had not been truly victorious. Their future was uncertain. He foresaw a rising tide of anger and reaction that could not be beat back. What then for his happy people? How could they secure their way of life then?

The answer was clear: separation. He would do what he could, of course, to bring about a victory for the light within the kingdom that then existed, but more drastic measures were needed. A new realm was needed. His people would secede. They would establish their own government that would protect the rights of his people. This new country would champion their values: it would be an example to the other nations of the Earth of just what humanity could achieve unencumbered by the dogmatisms and hatreds of the past. But it would be more than that. This new country would not just be an example to the world: it would be an invitation to it. His people would not just protect their own rights–they would protect and cherish the rights of any man or woman who moved there. All sects, all kindreds, all kinds of people would find a home in their homes. Love would be emblazoned in the title of her cities; toleration would be embedded in the hearts of her citizens. It would be a land without war, without fear, and without prejudice. It would be a country man (and woman) was meant to live in.

Read the whole thing — and definitely read the addendum.

Turning Postmodernism Against Itself

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

If politics flows downwards from culture, David Ernst says, then it was only a matter of time before a politician mastered the role, and Donald Trump cracked the code. Ernst explores that postmodern code:

Postmodernism is the source of the emphasis that our culture puts on authenticity, and the scorn it directs towards phoniness. After all, if the only one true thing in the world is that all truth and morality are relative, then anyone who pretends otherwise is either an idiot or a fraud. Hence the contemporary appeal of the antihero, and the disappearance of the traditional hero.

Heroes who stand for traditionally good things in a world where everything supposedly “good” has long been discredited are corny Dudley Do-Rights who are at best too stupid to know better. Antiheroes, by contrast, ingratiate themselves with their audiences for their gritty realism and their candor, no matter how bad they are. Frank Underwood breaks the fourth wall with his viewers and brings them along for his evil schemes; Walter White’s moment of redemption is his final admission to his wife that he sells meth because he likes to, and not to do right by his family; and Tony Soprano establishes a close bond with his daughter early on when he admits to her that he’s not actually a “waste management consultant.” In the postmodern world, there is no greater virtue then authenticity, and there is no greater vice than phoniness.

Postmodernism is also the source of the assumptions underlying the glib jokes of late-night comedians who exhibit disdainful prejudice towards patriotism or religion, but show bitter judgment towards any form of perceived prejudice. It is the baseline for just about every plotline in funny shows about aimless, self-centered people like “Seinfeld,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and “Archer.” It is hyper-prejudice against prejudice, or in the words of Evan Sayet, “a cult of non-discrimination.”

In contrast to the many religions, systems of moral thought, and other ancient traditions that have distinguished every effort to better the human condition, postmodernism presumes that all of these endeavors are the cause of human failure. It therefore operates according to just one moral imperative: discredit anything that other people presume to stand for goodness, because the belief that anything is superior to anything else inevitably results in prejudice, interpersonal strife, and inequality.

Thus, the Venus de Milo has no more aesthetic value than a crucifix in a jar full of urine; Beethoven’s symphonies are no more profound than the latest round of top 40 hits; all religions are fundamentally the same, and their “moderate” postmodern adherents are all comfortably represented on the “Coexist” bumper sticker. In a sense, it isn’t culture at all, but rather an anti-culture that measures success insofar as it deconstructs anything that other people value.

Provided that the postmodern man believes in nothing and values nothing, one wouldn’t be unreasonable in concluding that he cares about nothing. But anyone who knows postmodern man also knows that nothing could be farther from the truth. Rather, the “cult of non-discrimination” is filled with bright-eyed idealism about making the world a better place, and in the cases where it challenges baseless prejudice, it does make the world a better place. Like other utopian visions that seek to remake human beings into something alien to their nature, however, it is incapable of compromise, and thus lends itself to hypocrisy and fanaticism.

How to be a patriarch

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Marcus Sidonius Falx is a Roman of noble birth who has — with his assistant and amanuensis, Dr Jerry Toner of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge — written How to Manage Your Slaves (2014) and Release Your Inner Roman (2016). Here he explains how to be a patriarch:

If you marry a woman just because she is beautiful, then she will feel she never has to do anything else for you. She will not mind if the house is a mess or your meals are badly cooked. And you will have to put up with this because you married her just for her beauty and not for her domestic skills. The same is true if you marry a woman just because she is rich or from an important family. She will always think she has done enough just by being with you.

Of course, you do need to take her looks and her background into account. But wealth, good family and beauty do nothing in themselves to make a wife think kind thoughts towards her husband. In fact, the opposite is more the case. These attributes are more likely to make your wife feel superior to you. She will feel you do not deserve to have her as a wife and resent doing anything you tell her to do. Make sure you check to see whether her family has a good track record in producing healthy, male children. When it comes to a potential wife’s physical appearance, all that really matters is that she is strong, healthy and looks normal. If she is less than beautiful she will be less hassled by other men’s attempts to seduce, and if she has a strong body she will be better suited to hard work and bearing children.

Most girls get married in adolescence and your duty as an older husband is to teach your young bride how to become a good wife. She should be loyal, obedient, affable, reasonable, and work hard at her wool-making. She should be religious without being superstitious, dress modestly and use little make-up. She must be devoted to her family and show as much attention to her mother-in-law as she does to her own. The following checklist for a happy marriage will help her:

1. The passion of newlyweds soon burns out. Marriage starts with lust but will only last if a more sustainable fuel can be found.

2. When the husband got married, yes, he wanted his wife to have children. No, he did not want her to stop looking after him.

3. A modest wife should be seen in public mostly with her husband, but when he is away on business she should stay at home.

4. A wife should have no emotion of her own but should reflect the mood of her husband. She should laugh at his jokes when he is happy and be sad when he is low.

5. A wife should have no friends of her own but should cultivate those of her husband.

6. A happy marriage is one where the words ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ are seldom heard. All things, whether good or bad, should be shared, and the bond will be strengthened all the more by it.

7. A woman should never try to rule her husband. It is the man’s lot to govern his wife, not as a master does his slave, but as the soul does the body by sympathy and goodwill.

8. A sensible wife will stay quiet during her husband’s tantrums.

9. If there is one golden rule, it is that wives should be submissive. As my dream interpreter, Artemidorus, says: ‘If a man dreams that he has sexual intercourse with his wife and that she yields willingly and without reluctance to the union, then it is good for all alike.’

Moral Outrage Is Self-Serving

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

Moral outrage is self-serving, Bowdoin psychology professor Zachary Rothschild and University of Southern Mississippi psychology professor Lucas A. Keefer have found:

Triggering feelings of personal culpability for a problem increases moral outrage at a third-party target. For instance, respondents who read that Americans are the biggest consumer drivers of climate change “reported significantly higher levels of outrage at the environmental destruction” caused by “multinational oil corporations” than did the respondents who read that Chinese consumers were most to blame.

The more guilt over one’s own potential complicity, the more desire “to punish a third-party through increased moral outrage at that target.” For instance, participants in study one read about sweatshop labor exploitation, rated their own identification with common consumer practices that allegedly contribute, then rated their level of anger at “international corporations” who perpetuate the exploitative system and desire to punish these entities. The results showed that increased guilt “predicted increased punitiveness toward a third-party harm-doer due to increased moral outrage at the target.”

Having the opportunity to express outrage at a third-party decreased guilt in people threatened through “ingroup immorality.” Study participants who read that Americans were the biggest drivers of man-made climate change showed significantly higher guilt scores than those who read the blame-China article when they weren’t given an opportunity to express anger at or assign blame to a third-party. However, having this opportunity to rage against hypothetical corporations led respondents who read the blame-America story to express significantly lower levels of guilt than the China group. Respondents who read that Chinese consumers were to blame had similar guilt levels regardless of whether they had the opportunity to express moral outrage.

“The opportunity to express moral outrage at corporate harm-doers” inflated participants perception of personal morality. Asked to rate their own moral character after reading the article blaming Americans for climate change, respondents saw themselves as having “significantly lower personal moral character” than those who read the blame-China article—that is, when they weren’t given an out in the form of third-party blame. Respondents in the America-shaming group wound up with similar levels of moral pride as the China control group when they were first asked to rate the level of blame deserved by various corporate actors and their personal level of anger at these groups. In both this and a similar study using the labor-exploitation article, “the opportunity to express moral outrage at corporate harm-doing (vs. not) led to significantly higher personal moral character ratings,” the authors found.

Guilt-induced moral outrage was lessened when people could assert their goodness through alternative means, “even in an unrelated context.” Study five used the labor exploitation article, asked all participants questions to assess their level of “collective guilt” (i.e., “feelings of guilt for the harm caused by one’s own group”) about the situation, then gave them an article about horrific conditions at Apple product factories. After that, a control group was given a neutral exercise, while others were asked to briefly describe what made them a good and decent person; both exercises were followed by an assessment of empathy and moral outrage. The researchers found that for those with high collective-guilt levels, having the chance to assert their moral goodness first led to less moral outrage at corporations. But when the high-collective-guilt folks were given the neutral exercise and couldn’t assert they were good people, they wound up with more moral outrage at third parties. Meanwhile, for those low in collective guilt, affirming their own moral goodness first led to marginally more moral outrage at corporations.

Forged Through Fire

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

Tyler Cowen deems Forged Through Fire a very important book and shares its main thesis:

If the modern democratic republic is a product of wars that required both manpower and money for success, it is time to take stock of what happens to democracy once the forces that brought it into being are no longer present.  Understanding war’s role in the creation of the modern democratic republic can help us recognize democracy’s exposed flanks.  If the role of the masses in protecting the nation-state diminishes, will the cross-class coalition between political inclusiveness and property hold?

…a second question is what is to become of the swaths of the world that were off the warpath in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when the European state was formed?  Continued and intense warfare forged democracies with full enfranchisement and protected property rights in the Goldilocks zone: in countries that had already developed administrative capacity as monarchies, and where wars were horrendous but manageable with full mobilization…

The bad news is that in today’s world, war has stopped functioning as a democratizing force.

Plagued with forsoothery

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

E.R. Eddison’s 1922 proto-fantasy The Worm Ouroboros is a book entirely sui generis, John C. Wright explains:

In a genre often plagued with forsoothery and faux-archaic speech, it is a wonder to read an author who can pen an entire novel in Elizabethan English without a false step.

But be warned: this is like hearing a classical symphony after a hearing nothing but jazz, rock, and dance music. It is almost not English, but a language older, richer, more elfin yet more gigantic, and as dignified as a king in full regalia leading a pavane, not merely of noblemen and gracious ladies, but demigods in all their splendors.

It’s one of the Classics of Fantasy that I’ve mentioned before.

The Liberal Ideological Complex

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex, but no one warned us about the liberal ideological complex:

There is, however, another interlocking public-private collaboration that is at once more insidious, more powerful, and more straightforwardly partisan: the liberal ideological complex. We do not always see this collaboration so clearly, because we tend to view each aspect of it as unique and not part of a larger picture. We look, for example, at public sector unions as a labor issue. We look at funding for Planned Parenthood through the lens of abortion policy. We look at EPA regulations and grants in terms of global warming and job destruction. And so on and so forth, down to the smallest, most narrowly tailored grant awards of the federal government.

Yet in each of these cases, the complex functions in essentially the same way. Federal funds are provided for organizations that carry out liberal policies. In turn, these groups employ like-minded staff and both the leadership and the staff of these groups contribute money, time, and services to the politicians who favor this use of federal funds. This creates a vicious circle in which campaign funds are indirectly skimmed off the top of taxpayer-funded organizations, all in the service of liberal ideology.

When progressives helped to replace the spoils system with government by so-called experts, they aimed to professionalize the government. The goal was to put policy decisions into the hands of intelligent and highly trained bureaucrats who would know the interests of Americans better than average Americans did themselves. Here is the basis for the extraordinary willfulness of progressive government, a matter that has been remarked upon frequently.

What has been less clearly observed is the effect of progressive government upon the governing class itself. Training, expertise, and administrative experience, progressives argued, would be in the service of the entire nation and would reflect the good of the whole. Progressive authors and intellectuals did not foresee, or did not care, that bureaucrats and experts would develop a set of interests distinct from the American people they served.

While there was perhaps never any such thing as objectivity in governance, the belief that there was kept executive branch actions within certain bounds and restrained partisanship and ideological predispositions. So too did the traditional idea that except for national emergencies and wars, government spending and government revenues should be kept in rough balance.

This world is gone.

Vicarious suffering is an end in itself

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

In The Age of Empathy Frans de Waal explains that we are “pre-programmed to reach out,” but this empathy may not be such a good thing:

In 2012, a collection of papers entitled Pathological Altruism signalled the start of a new trend of skepticism towards empathy and compassion. Behind it lay the claim, as radical as it was blindingly obvious, that precisely because empathy is an evolved mechanism, it might have unintended consequences in the modern world.

Since then, psychologists and sociologists have been exploring the dark side of altruistic behavior, especially with regards to political and cultural tribalism. Jordan Peterson and Christine Brophy have discovered that so-called ‘Social Justice Warriors’ tend to be high in empathy towards the vulnerable, but draconian towards those perceived to be a threat. Similarly, Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning have pointed out that partisanship flourishes in a “victimhood culture,” because people respond to appeals from those they identify with socially.

These seem like lessons for the left especially, but as Donald Trump’s presidential campaign showed, the right has its own sinister uses for empathy. Nationalists have long used the propaganda of victimization to foster in-group mindsets, and to motivate, in Jonathan Sacks’s phrase, “altruistic evil” towards outsiders and scapegoats.

Be all this as it may, the notion that what the world really needs is less empathy still strikes most people as absurd. Are these not cases of too little, rather than too much empathy? Is the cardinal definition of empathy not to “place yourself in somebody else’s shoes”? How would our close relationships function without it? And above all, without the capacity to be moved by another’s suffering, how is good supposed to come into the world?

These questions point, more than anything, to an almighty confusion about how phenomena like empathy, compassion, and altruism work and relate to one another. For this reason alone, we should welcome the most direct assault on empathy to date, Paul Bloom’s much-discussed recent book, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion. Let’s take that adage about “placing yourself in someone else’s shoes.” As Bloom points out, it confuses two things that don’t necessarily go together. One is cognitive empathy, or “social intelligence,” which means the basic ability to grasp someone else’s point of view. This is rightly valued. Bloom’s adversary, however, is what he sees as empathy proper: feeling another’s pain as though it were your own.

This kind of emotional or “affective” empathy is not voluntary, of course, but according to Bloom, nor is it a good basis on which to act in public life. This claim is based on two main observations. First, to embrace empathy is often to abandon perspective and rational judgment, meaning that “our interests fail to coincide with any reasonable assessment of where help is needed most.” And second, echoing some of the research I cited earlier, empathy is actually quite picky about which shoes it enters. It conforms to our existing prejudices, and leads people to seek harsher punishments for perceived enemies, finding some of its purest expressions in “us versus them” situations.

That empathy can be divisive should scarcely be surprising. How often do partisans seek “single identifiable victims” — whether mistreated welfare claimants or destitute veterans — to frame a particular agenda in emotional terms? Once a debate has become suffused with empathy, all appeals to the bigger picture are easily dismissed as callous. And worse, the consequences can reverberate far beyond the debate itself.

Wessie du Toit goes a step further:

Deep-rooted problems like culture wars and a failure to think practically imply that vicarious suffering, more than ever, is welcomed not as a motivation for good actions, but as an end in itself. In other words, empathy is jealously defended because of its value to the empathizer. This, in turn, might point to an atomized, morally perplexed society, much of whose emotional sustenance comes from an ephemeral stream of online media. The feeling of helplessness that arises from passively consuming distant events is now central to the relationship of the individual to the world. In this situation, expressions of empathy and disgust, with their attendant comforts of tribal solidarity, are often all that stand between you and moral estrangement from reality.

The degree that runs Britain

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Oxford University graduates in philosophy, politics and economics make up an astonishing proportion of Britain’s elite:

More than any other course at any other university, more than any revered or resented private school, and in a manner probably unmatched in any other democracy, Oxford PPE pervades British political life. From the right to the left, from the centre ground to the fringes, from analysts to protagonists, consensus-seekers to revolutionary activists, environmentalists to ultra-capitalists, statists to libertarians, elitists to populists, bureaucrats to spin doctors, bullies to charmers, successive networks of PPEists have been at work at all levels of British politics — sometimes prominently, sometimes more quietly — since the degree was established 97 years ago.


But Oxford PPE is more than a factory for politicians and the people who judge them for a living. It also gives many of these public figures a shared outlook: confident, internationalist, intellectually flexible, and above all sure that small groups of supposedly well-educated, rational people, such as themselves, can and should improve Britain and the wider world. The course has also been taken by many foreign leaders-in-the-making, among them Bill Clinton, Benazir Bhutto, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the Australian prime ministers Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke. An Oxford PPE degree has become a global status symbol of academic achievement and worldly potential.

The Labour peer and thinker Maurice Glasman, who studied modern history at Cambridge, says: “PPE combines the status of an elite university degree — PPE is the ultimate form of being good at school — with the stamp of a vocational course. It is perfect training for cabinet membership, and it gives you a view of life. It is a very profound cultural form.”

Yet in the new age of populism, of revolts against elites and “professional politicians”, Oxford PPE no longer fits into public life as smoothly as it once did. With corporate capitalism misfiring, mainstream politicians blundering, and much of the traditional media seemingly bewildered by the upheavals, PPE, the supplier of supposedly highly trained talent to all three fields, has lost its unquestioned authority. More than that, it has become easier to doubt whether a single university course, and its graduates, should have such influence in the first place. To its proliferating critics, PPE is not a solution to Britain’s problems; it is a cause of them.

There’s much more.

Trump’s Reactive Autocracy

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Trump’s reactive autocracy is autocratic and not bureaucratic, socially networked rather than hierarchically networked, and integrated with global social networks rather than apart from them, John Robb notes. It uses social networking to “suss out” and shape the underlying desires of a governing majority of Americans. This form of governance operates very differently than the legacy cold war bureaucracy:

Incremental change vs. Rapid change. Bureaucrats make changes slowly and incrementally. Autocrats can make wholesale changes. Social networking makes it possible to route around bureaucratic roadblocks to create de facto change before the bureaucracy can catch up.

Adherence to Ideology vs. Adherence to Common Sense. US bureaucratic governance is based on neoliberal ideology and the sciences of social complexity (economics, etc.). Social networking has made people increasingly aware to the gap between results/common sense and ideology/models (a similar gap toppled the USSR). Trump exploits that gap.

Serial vs. Parallel focus. Bureaucratic governance mass media coverage focuses on one problem at a time (serially), or as closely to that as possible. In contrast, networked governance can focus on many in parallel. This makes it very difficult for gatekeepers to exercise control.

The Politics of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Apparently Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology sparked a mini-controversy last fall:

In less than three days, Gaiman’s Facebook post attracted more than 20,000 shares, 50,000 likes, and more than 3,200 comments. Reactions were polarized: On one side, throngs of fans were eager for the author’s recreation of these tales; on the other, a smaller, but no less vocal, group of self-proclaimed pagans seemed to dread his inevitable misunderstanding of their religious beliefs. At the time, none of these commenters had read Gaiman’s book.

Lisa L. Hannett notes that “the stories recognized today as pagan Norse myths were written down — and possibly reinvented — in more extended prose form by outsiders and Christians”:

Tacitus, a Roman historian, wrote about Germanic peoples and their rituals centuries before they migrated to the British Isles. Ibn Fadlan, an Arab diplomat traveling the Volga trade route in the 10th century, described the funeral practices (ship burial and slave sacrifice among them) of the Rus, a group of people believed to be Swedish Vikings angling to control eastern trade routes. Saxo Grammaticus, a Dane writing in Latin in the late 11th century, brought the Norse gods down to earth, downplaying their divine qualities and also situating their kingdom in Byzantium instead of in heavenly Asgard. Adam of Bremen, a German monk writing around the same time, shared stories about pagan worship at the temple in Uppsala, Sweden, one of early medieval Scandinavia’s most sacred sites. (Told second-hand based on an informant’s account, Adam’s frequently referenced work includes vague details about the blot ceremony held there every ninth year, at which nine specimens of every creature — including humans — were said to have been sacrificed to the gods.)

The vast majority of what is now known about Norse mythology, however, survives thanks to Snorri Sturluson, an ambitious and powerful chieftain, lawyer, politician, poet, and saga writer who lived in Iceland from 1179 to 1241. These dates are significant: They tell us that Snorri was recording these narratives roughly 200 years after the Christian conversion in Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. They also, significantly, tell us that “original” and definitively pagan narratives about the Norse pantheon do not actually exist.

This claim needs a bit of qualifying. Scholars mostly agree that the myths Gaiman has retold — the same ones found in Snorri’s Prose Edda — were inspired by earlier pagan narratives. In fact, several stanzas of pre-Christian poems are preserved in Snorri’s work. Other snippets of pagan poetry also appear in 13th and 14th century Icelandic sagas, truly novelistic accounts like Grettis saga and Egils saga (the latter also possibly written by Snorri). Yet by the time Snorri was composing his versions of the Norse myths, his worldview was solidly a Christian one.

I was considering getting the audiobook.

Skin on Fire: A Firsthand Account of a VX Attack

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Police say that Kim Jong Nam was killed with VX, the same nerve agent the Aum Shinrikyo cult used on Hiroyuki Nagaoka in Japan in 1995:

The first sign that Hiroyuki Nagaoka had been attacked with VX, the nerve agent that Malaysian police say killed Kim Jong Nam, came when the room he was in appeared to go dark.

Mr. Nagaoka then felt an intense burning sensation inside his chest and lungs that quickly spread throughout his body. He dropped to the floor screaming as his wife cried out, “Are you OK?! Are you OK?!”

He tore at his skin, which felt like it had caught fire. His body was soaked in sweat. Soon after he lost consciousness. When he awoke two weeks later in a hospital, Mr. Nagaoka said his wrists were tied to the bed frame to stop his constant thrashing around.

Nerve agents like VX cause muscles to experience constant stimulation.


Mr. Nagaoka, who is now 78, survived in large part because when he was sprayed with VX by religious cult members it landed on the rear of his sweater, below the collar.

He didn’t even notice the attack at the time, the details of which were revealed when the cult members described it at a trial. Mr. Nagaoka was attacked outside his home in Tokyo but continued on to post new-year greeting cards before the agent took effect when he returned home.

Mr. Nagaoka was targeted because he led a support group of parents whose children had become members of the cult, Aum Shinrikyo. Mr. Nagaoka’s son had joined the cult but left it before the attack.

The cult attacked two other men with VX around the same time as Mr. Nagaoka, one of whom died. Cult members sprayed the three men with syringes while pretending to be out jogging.


Mr. Nagaoka, who had to quit his job as an office worker because of harassment by Aum before the attack, also recovered because a doctor at the hospital in Tokyo where he was treated recognized his symptoms after he had treated victims of another Aum attack with a similar nerve agent called sarin in 1994.

Aum Shinrikyo would go on to orchestrate one of the worst terrorist attacks in Japanese history.

On March 20, 1995, five members of the cult boarded three separate subway trains in Tokyo with plastic bags that contained sarin. They punctured the bags with their umbrellas just as the morning rush hour was peaking, killing 13 people and wounding 6,300.

Mr. Nagaoka says his eyesight became weaker after the VX attack and that he continues to experience numbness in his right arm.