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“We Burned Down Every Town in North Korea”

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Photo by John Pavelka | CC BY 2.0

“We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, some way or another… Over a period of three years or so, we killed off, what, 20 percent of the population?”

— General Curtis LeMay, in “Strategic Air Warfare,” by Richard H. Kohn

The US public wants to know why North Korea is so paranoid, militarily hostile and boastful. And why do the leaders in the capital city Pyongyang point their fingers at the US every time they test another rocket or bomb? Sixty-five years after the US burned down every town in North Korea, the US military is now simultaneously bombing or rocketing seven different non-nuclear countries. The US conducts military exercises with South Korea off the North’s coastline twice a year.

The US regularly tests Minuteman-3 long-range nuclear missiles — from Vandenberg Air Base in California — that can reach and obliterate Pyongyang. Several presidential administrations have called North Korea “evil,” a “state sponsor of terrorism,” and “threatening.” US military officials have called North Korea’s tiny, backward, nearly failed state the “principle threat” to the US security. North Korea may have reason to worry.

North Korea’s rocket tests mostly fail but are nevertheless called “provocative” and “destabilizing” by the State Dept., the Council of Foreign Relations, and the White House. This is regardless of which party is in power. Bill Clinton said in 1994: “If North Korea ever used a nuclear weapon, it would no longer continue to exist.” Likewise today, Defense Secretary Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis used similarly bombastic language discussing North Korea August 8. John Walcott reported for Reuters that Mattis said the North must stop any action that would “lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”

Consider living memory

In Robert Neer’s 2013 book “Napalm,” the author reports that General Lemay wrote, “We burned down just about every city in North and South Korea both … we killed off over a million civilian Koreans…” Eighth Army chemical officer Donald Bode is quoted as saying, on an “average good day” … pilots in the Korean War “dropped 70,000 gallons of napalm: 45,000 from the U.S. Air Force, 10,000-20,000 by its navy, and 4,000-5,000 by marines” — marines who nicknamed the burning jellied gasoline “cooking oil.”

Neer found that a total of 32,357 tons of napalm were used on Korea, “about double that dropped on Japan in 1945.” More bombs were dropped on Korea than in the whole of the Pacific theater during World War II — 635,000 tons, versus 503,000 tons. “Pyongyang, a city of half a million people before 1950, was said to have had only two buildings left intact,” Neer wrote. This is still living memory in North Korea.

Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” says, “Perhaps 2 million Koreans, North and South, were killed in the Korean war, all in the name of opposing ‘the rule of force.’” Bruce Coming’s 2010 history “The Korean War” says, “of more than 4 million casualties … at least 2 million were civilians. … Estimated North Korean casualties numbered 2 million including about 1 million civilians… An estimated 900,000 Chinese soldiers lost their lives in combat.”

After Truman fired Gen. MacArthur in May 1951, the former supreme commander testified to Congress, “The war in Korea has already almost destroyed that nation of 20 million people. I have never seen such devastation. I have 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 that wreckage and those thousands of women and children … I vomited.”

Dems take finger off the button (for a minute)

Two democratic presidential hopefuls said in 2007 that they’d take the threat of nuclear attack “off the table,” hinting at their discomfort with the idea of the Bomb’s deliberate mass destruction. In April 2006, then New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was asked in a TV interview about her position toward Iran. She said, “I have said publicly no option should be off the table, but I would certainly take nuclear weapons off the table. This [Bush] administration has been very willing to talk about using nuclear weapons in a way we haven’t seen since the dawn of the nuclear age. I think that’s a terrible mistake.”

On August 2, 2007, Barak Obama said to the AP, “I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance,” pausing before he added, “involving civilians,” The New York Times reported. Obama quickly retracted the statement saying, “Let me scratch that,” but his intent was loud and clear — and needs repeating: The long-standing U.S. threat to “keep all options open,” that is its willingness to use nuclear weapons against human beings, must be abolished. H-bombs cannot be used without indiscriminately killing of hundreds of thousands if not millions of civilians, creating deadly radioactive fallout that drifts into non-conflict areas, and causing long-term environmental damage, all in violation of the laws of war, the UN Charter, and the Geneva Conventions.

Clinton’s and Obama’s public put-downs of nuclear weapons attacks are both rare and bold in their implications for the nuclear weapons establishment. More such talk should be encouraged.

At least a dozen former nuclear war planners — Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, Melvin Laird, Generals George Butler, Charles Horner Andrew Goodpaster, and Admirals Stansfield Turner, Noel Gayler, and Hyman Rickover, among others — have denounced nuclear weapons and called for their elimination.

What is it exactly to threaten to destroy an entire country’s people? Is it terrorism? Trump’s fire and fury “the likes of which the world has never seen” would have to be beyond the half million dead in the US Civil War; 18 million overall deaths in World War I and 50 to 80 million dead in World War II; 3 million dead Vietnamese and at least 2 million dead Koreans. As usual, Mr. Trump cannot be taken seriously, or he is frighteningly unhinged.

Even, the late Paul Nitze, Reagan White House presidential adviser, a rightwing Cold War hawk, and a founder of the anti-Soviet Committee on the Present Danger, wrote in the 1999, “I can think of no circumstances under which it would be wise for the United States to use nuclear weapons, even in retaliation for their prior use against us.”

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John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

CounterPunch Magazine


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