Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
HAVE YOUR DONATION DOUBLED!

If you are able to donate $100 or more for our Annual Fund Drive, your donation will be matched by another generous CounterPuncher! These are tough times. Regardless of the political rhetoric bantered about the airwaves, the recession hasn’t ended for most of us. We know that money is tight for many of you. But we also know that tens of thousands of daily readers of CounterPunch depend on us to slice through the smokescreen and tell it like is. Please, donate if you can!

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Trump’s “Fire and Fury” Wouldn’t Be the First for North Korea

by

Leave it to Donald Trump to threaten to rain “fire and fury” on the North Korean people the same week the world observed the 72nd anniversary of the U.S. government’s vindictive atomic bombings of Japanese civilians. In case anyone missed the message, Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis warned that the Kim Jong-un regime’s actions risk the “destruction of its people.” He wasn’t talking about Kim’s cruel communism.

We know what Trump and Mattis mean, even if many conservatives twist themselves like pretzels to transform the threatened savagery into something more benign. Trump and Mattis were referring to America’s nuclear arsenal.

Trump promised “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” No one would expect him to know this, but the North Korean people have seen their share of fire and fury at the hands of the U.S military. It happened almost 70 years ago, when Harry Truman, another president who went ga-ga over generals, unleashed America’s savage vengeance during the Korean War. It’s called the “forgotten war,” but even when it wasn’t forgotten, few Americans realized how brutally the United States treated people that posed no threat whatever to Americans.

How many know that, quoting historian Bruce Cumings, “far more napalm was dropped on Korea [than on Vietnam] and with much more devastating effect, since the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) had many more populous cities and urban industrial installations than North Vietnam….  By late August [1950] B-29 formations were dropping 800 tons a day on the North. Much of it was pure napalm. From June to late October 1950, B-29s unloaded 866,914 gallons of napalm.” It was also known as “jellied gasoline.” Regarding its effect on the human body, Cumings quotes the survivor of a “friendly fire” attack on Americans: “Men all around me were burned. They lay rolling in the snow. Men I knew, marched and fought with begged me to shoot them…. It was terrible. Where the napalm had burned the skin to a crisp, it would be peeled back from the face, arms, legs … like fried potato chips.”

Cumings adds:

George Barrett of the New York Times had found “a macabre tribute to the totality of modern war” in a village near Anyang, in South Korea: “The inhabitants throughout the village and in the fields were caught and killed and kept the exact postures they held when the napalm struck — a man about to get on his bicycle, 50 boys and girls playing in an orphanage, a housewife strangely unmarked, holding in her hand a page torn from a Sears-Roebuck catalogue crayoned at Mail Order No 3,811,294 for a $2.98 ‘bewitching bed jacket — coral’.” US Secretary of State Dean Acheson wanted censorship authorities notified about this kind of “sensationalised reporting,” so it could be stopped.

Thus the war that is also known as a “limited police action” was anything but. Cumings writes that “From November 1950, General Douglas MacArthur ordered that a wasteland be created between the fighting front and the Chinese border, destroying from the air every ‘installation, factory, city, and village’ over thousands of square miles of North Korean territory.”

Gen. MacArthur presented his own impressions of the early results at a congressional hearing in May 1951 after Truman fired him:

The war in Korean has already almost destroyed that nation of 20,000,000 people. I have never seen such devastation. I have never seen, I guess, as much blood and disaster as any living man, and it just curdled my stomach, the last time I was there. After I looked at the wreckage and those thousands of women and children and everything, I vomited. If you go on indefinitely, you are perpetuating a slaughter such as I have never heard of in the history of mankind. [Quoted in Napalm: An American Biography by Robert M. Neer, 2013.]

Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay, in an oral history quoted by Cumings, said that “over a period of three years or so … we burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea, too.” (Quoted in Cumings’s preface to the 1988 edition of I.F. Stone’s The Hidden History of the Korean War: 1950-1951.)

“To think,” Cumings writes, “that the American Air Force could have dropped oceans of napalm and other incendiaries on cities and towns in North Korea, leaving a legacy of deep bitterness palpable four decades later, and that this was done in the name of a conflict now called ‘the forgotten war’ — as memory confronts amnesia, we ask, who are the sane of this world?”

Americans know nothing of this, but you can bet the people of North Korea know it. They may be ruled in the harshest dehumanizing way by Kim Jong-un, but they still have their humanity.

This devastation was wreaked by so-called conventional weapons. No nuclear weapons were used, as they had been only a few years earlier in nearby Japan. But this is not to say their use was not contemplated.

The Truman war council discussed using atomic bombs just two weeks after the war started, Cumings writes. “At this point, however, the JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] rejected use of the bomb because targets large enough to require atomic weapons were lacking; because of concerns about world opinion five years after Hiroshima; and because the JCS expected the tide of battle to be reversed by conventional military means. But that calculation changed when large numbers of Chinese troops entered the war in October and November 1950.”

Then Truman publicly threatened to use all weapons at America’s disposal. “The threat was not the faux pas many assumed it to be,” Cumings writes, “but was based on contingency planning to use the bomb. On that same day, Air Force General George Stratemeyer sent an order to General Hoyt Vandenberg that the Strategic Air Command should be put on warning, ‘to be prepared to dispatch without delay medium bomb groups to the Far East…. [T]his augmentation should include atomic capabilities.’”

Cumings notes:

The US came closest to using atomic weapons in April 1951, when Truman removed MacArthur. Although much related to this episode is still classified, it is now clear that Truman did not remove MacArthur simply because of his repeated insubordination, but because he wanted a reliable commander on the scene should Washington decide to use nuclear weapons.

Of course, what were then called “novel weapons” were not used in Korea. Yet, Cumings writes, “without even using such novel weapons — although napalm was very new — the air war levelled North Korea and killed millions of civilians. North Koreans tell you that for three years they faced a daily threat of being burned with napalm: ‘You couldn’t escape it,’ one told me in 1981. By 1952 just about everything in northern and central Korea had been completely levelled. What was left of the population survived in caves.’”

Let’s remember that the war never formally ended, and repeated calls by the North Korean government for a peace treaty and nonaggression pact have largely fallen on deaf American ears.

We don’t know if victims would be able to tell if they’d been nuked or napalmed. What we do know is that Trump seems willing to commit the most monstrous crime in our names. Let’s hope it’s empty bluster.

More articles by:

Sheldon Richman, author of America’s Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.  He is also the Executive Editor of The Libertarian Institute.

October 18, 2017
Patrick Cockburn
Seizing Kirkuk
John Wight
Weinstein as Symptom: Notes From Hollywood
Matthew Hoh
Bowe Bergdahl: Traitor to American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy
Chris Ernesto
Funding for War vs. Natural Disasters
Aidan O'Brien
Where’s Duterte From and Where’s He Going To?
Jon Bailes
Mental Health and Neoliberalism: an Interview with William Davies
Ramzy Baroud
The Real Reason Behind Trump’s Angry Diplomacy in North Korea
Paul Craig Roberts
Washington, Not China, is the Biggest Threat to American Power
Mike Davis
El Diablo in Wine Country
Binoy Kampmark
Trump’s Iran Deal
Lara Merling
Remember Puerto Rico Needs Fair Medicaid Funding Too
Phil Rockstroh
2 or 3 Things I Know About Capitalism
Eoghan O’Suilleabhain
Rambo Wept: Our Commandos Good, Your Terrorists Bad
Dimitris Bellantis
On Catalonia: Debates in the Greek Left
Robert Koehler
The Calm Before the Storm
Mike Hastie
Napalm Sticks to Kids
October 17, 2017
Suzanne Gordon – Ian Hoffmann
Trumpcare for Veterans? VA Outsourcing Will Create Healthcare Industry Bonanza
Patrick Cockburn
The Real Destabilizer in the Middle East is Not Iran But Trump
Jonathan Cook
The Real Reasons Trump is Quitting UNESCO
Murtaza Shibli
My Friend From ISIS in Raqqa
Kathy Kelly
Wrongful Rhetoric and Trump’s Strategy on Iran
David Bonner
Beyond Taking a Knee: Duane Thomas, Where are You When We Need You?
Tom Gill
Austerity, Macron-Style
Liaquat Ali Khan
Pakistan Faces a Life-Threatening Military Coup
Jeff Mackler
Is Trump a ‘Moron?’
Amena Elashkar
If You Work for Justice in Palestine, Why Won’t You Let Palestinians Speak?
John Feffer
Trump’s Unprecedented Right-Turn on Foreign Policy
Ariel Dorfman
Trump’s War on the Mind
Dean Baker
The Republican Tax Plan to Slow Growth
Gerry Brown
The Return of One-Man Rule in China?
Binoy Kampmark
Climate Change Insurgent: Tony Abbott’s Crusade
Kent Paterson
Assassination in Guerrero: the Murder of Ranferi Hernandez Acevedo
Rob Okun
Men and Sexual Assault in the Age of Trump
October 16, 2017
Vijay Prashad
A Tale of Two Islands
Ben Dangl
Profiting from America’s Longest War: Trump Seeks to Exploit Mineral Wealth of Afghanistan
Jan Oberg
Trump is Moving Toward War With Iran
Thomas S. Harrington
The Baseless Myth of the Poor, Propagandized Catalans
Steve Brown
When a Radio Host Interviews a War Criminal, Is It Churlish to Ask About His War Crimes?
Howard Lisnoff
Capturing the Flag
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS is Facing Near Total Defeat, But It Has Been Beaten and Come Back Before
Julian Vigo
The Fall of Harvey Weinstein and the Sexual Blindspot of Misogyny
James Munson
The Rich Can’t Achieve Plurality, But the Poor Can
Amitai Ben-Abba
The NIMPE Critique of Antifa
Robert Fisk
We Will Soon See What the Word “Unity” Means for the Palestinian People
Alice Donovan
Civil War in Venezuela: a US Joint Operation with Colombia?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail