I doubt that there are many within range of my voice who are not aware of the ongoing crisis with North Korea. Yet few seem to be taking it as the most serious threat of global war since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when utter destruction was averted by the refusals of a Soviet admiral and President Kennedy to allow the warmongers to have the Third World War. Are you confident that President Trump and his inner circle of power will act sanely today?
A recent poll indicated that 58% of Americans believe if North Korea conducts a strike against the United States an all-out response would be warranted.
This is madness and irrationality of the first magnitude. First, the regime in Pyongyang understands that it will be wiped off the map should it attack so it will not attack first unless of course it believes an American attack upon it is imminent. Yet North Korea will not allow itself to be ravaged as it was during the Korean War more than 50 years ago. If war breaks out in Korea it is certain to become a nuclear war and since Korea sits on the borders of both China and Russia the likelihood they would remain neutral is nil. All out global nuclear war is an extremely probable consequence should the U.S. strike North Korea. Pay no attention to Trump’s twaddle that the dire consequences will only be felt “over there.” Given that the future of the human species is always at stake in the nuclear age we should be shouting from our rooftops to stop this madness before it is too late.
The primary fault line is the illogic and downright falsehood that the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, is like a jihadist plotting just the right time to launch a strike against us. The media trumpet this deceit all the time precisely to work up hysteria on the part of the public yet even the CIA reports that Kim Jong Un is a rational actor concerned primarily with defense of his regime. North Korea understands that an attack against South Korea or the U.S. would result in its utter destruction, effectively wiping the tiny country off the map. Why then would North Koreans arm themselves with nuclear weapons and declare they would use them should the U.S. attack?
The answer is quite simple. The United States was the first to threaten North Korea with nuclear destruction going all the way back to the Korean War of 1950-1953 and our government has threatened this implicitly again and again. Having recently witnessed the U.S ravage much weaker nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen Pyongyang believes that nukes are its only deterrent to the same fate. Our media conditions us to believe that North Korea is straining at the bit to attack but this is absurd.
North Korea is no worker’s paradise and Kim Jong Un is surely a dictator and American propaganda asserts constantly that the regime commits human rights abuses against its own population. Yet our own nation did worse, killing millions of ordinary Korean civilians wantonly and it constantly threatens to do so again. North Korea has 25 million people the U.S. nearly 350 million. Since 1958 when North Korea was ravaged and profoundly weakened by the earlier war the U.S has encircled the tiny nation with nuclear weapons, either by stationing them in the south or deploying them on submarines and aircraft carriers, or by overflights of B-52 or B-1 bombers. If the U.S. was surrounded by a hostile power with such weapons what measures would we take?
Public ignorance about the real background of U.S. North Korean relations is a big part of the crisis. The corporate media assert endlessly the usual platitudes that the United States went to war in Korea to promote the freedom of South Koreans and to build a democracy. Yet the truthful and ugly reality is that after World War II Washington imposed on South Korea nothing less than a vicious and murderous dictatorship that in terms of shedding the blood of its own civilians was far worse than the North Korean totalitarian regime.
We all know that the U.S. fought Japan in World War II. So did the Soviets. The U.S. fought in the Pacific while the Red Army fought in China and Korea. The Soviets defeated the Japanese in Korea and could have occupied it entirely and kept the U.S. out. At the Yalta Conference of 1945 FDR and Stalin agreed that Korea should be liberated entirely but the Soviets agreed to a temporary division. The U.S. arbitrarily drew the new borders. The overwhelming majority of Koreans were adamantly against this division.
Korea had been a unified nation with a unique culture for more than a thousand years until the Japanese invaded in 1910 and established a virtual slave state. Koreans virulently resisted the Japanese with armed struggle led by Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of North Korea’s leader today, who accepted Soviet aid but was not their puppet. In fact the Soviets withdrew their troops in 1948 but the Americans did not. Most Koreans appreciated Kim’s armed resistance to the Japanese and on a largely nationalist basis they wanted independence on Korean terms. In other words, and this is a crucial point, at the outset of war, the vast majority of Koreans preferred Kim il Sung over the U.S. appointed leader, Syngman Rhee, precisely because Kim had fought the Japanese. Therefore real American actions even before the outbreak of war in 1950 depict anything but a commitment to democracy and freedom of choice. Washington repudiated the desires of most Koreans, just as it later opposed the majority in Vietnam, and the result was a humanitarian catastrophe.
We Americans have to understand that one of the deeper reasons our country went to war with Japan was over which nation would get to exploit and profit from the resources, markets and cheap labor of East Asia. Japan was sealing the territory off from American access. The U.S. won the war against Japan and then lost China to the Chinese. Of course they were the wrong Chinese from Washington’s perspective and the U.S. was not about to lose the rest of East Asia. That is why Washington established its primary base of operations on the mainland of Asia in Korea, and that is a major reason the U.S. also went to war in Indochina later. Quite apart from the threat that North Korea feels, China sees the American nuclear weapons on its borders as deeply menacing, as they are intended to be.
The government the U.S. set up in South Korea in 1945 was, in the words of the American commander General John Hodge, an “essentially fascist” and “murderous regime.” Let me repeat. It was the American commanding general who stated that South Korea’s government was Nazi-like and yet he was there to promote that very regime.
From 1945 until the outbreak of war the South Korean government, with American approval and aid, executed, murdered and massacred hundreds of thousands of South Koreans opposed to what they viewed as an American puppet regime. On the island of Cheju over 33,000 civilians, including women and children, were massacred by the Rhee government, which was able to do this with American weapons in the hands of South Korean soldiers who had previously served the Japanese and aided them to rule over their fellow Koreans and who then did the same for the U.S. The US imposed conditions in South Korea were not very different than they had been under the Japanese.
It was on the basis of reunifying Korea and ridding the peninsula finally of all foreign occupation and the atrocities associated with it that the North Koreans moved their forces south. Our media said then and continually repeat now that they were “invading” the south. Ask yourself, How could Koreans invade their own nation? The United States fostered civil war in Korea, as it would do later in Vietnam, and intervened directly with massive destructive and atrocious consequences
Once the war began and American troops entered the new commander General Douglas MacArthur ordered a scorched earth policy. Although his orders were only to restore the borders that the U.S. had drawn in 1945, he disobeyed them and marched into North Korea with the intention of unifying all of Korea entirely on American terms. China had issued clear forewarnings that it would not tolerate American armed forces so close to its own borders but MacArthur mocked the Chinese and declared that they would not dare to intervene. In December 1950, with hundreds of thousands of American troops on their borders China did enter the war and very nearly drove the Americans off the Korean peninsula entirely. The Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, bewailed the fact that American forces had suffered the “worst defeat since Bull Run.” The primary reason that the U.S. did not suffer total defeat was Washington’s threat to employ nuclear bombs.
MacArthur was first to threaten but he was overruled and fired by President Truman for fear of initiating World War III but then Truman himself threatened their use. MacArthur’s words were chilling.
I would have dropped between thirty and fifty atomic bombs…strung across the neck of Manchuria…and spread behind us – from the Sea of Japan to the Yellow Sea- a belt of radioactive cobalt. It has an active life of between 60 and 120 years.
As terrible as nukes would have been in 1951 their use today would be immensely worse.
Meanwhile the U.S. systematically devastated Korea, but especially the north, with “conventional” weapons, especially napalm and high energy explosives. MacArthur also requested chemical weapons. The Air Force commander, General Curtis Lemay, who later said of Vietnam that we should “bomb them back into the stone age,” bragged that he had “burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea too.” Pilots returning to their bases reported that there were no targets left to bomb so utterly ravaged was the entirety of Korea. American bombers also systematically destroyed the damns along the Yalu River, the border between China and Korea, killing tens of thousands in the resulting floods, and destroying essential crops for many more civilians. When Nazis did exactly the same in the Netherlands in 1944 their commanders were tried and executed as the war criminals they were.
By the end of the war at least three million Koreans had been killed though many analysts believe this figure is conservative.
It was only the fear of initiating World War III that prevented the use of nuclear weapons. Thus in 1953 an armistice was signed. But this was no peace treaty, simply a cease fire. A technical state of war still exists to this day. One of the most important stipulations of the Armistice which was agreed between the U.S., China and North Korea, but not South Korea, was Article 13(D) which expressly forbade the introduction by the U.S. of any new weapons to be stationed in the south. As noted North Korea was utterly devastated by the war and would remain so for many years so was thus no threat to the south or to the American troops that remained there. Nevertheless the U.S. stationed nuclear weapons on South Korean soil in 1958 in violation of the armistice terms. Since North Korea was no menace to anyone at that time the only logical conclusion is that the nukes were based in South Korea as a measure against, and implicit threat to China, and a clear statement to all that the U.S. base in East Asia was there to stay.
From the 1950s on, Washington poured billions of taxpayer dollars into the South Korean military and in the process financed the growth of major South Korean industries like Hyundai, Samsung, and Daewoo which were organized originally to serve military requirements. The South Korean government remained a dictatorship and police state and its military organization severely disciplined South Korea’s work force to accommodate these industries. By the 1970s when American private investors realized that both the U.S. steel and automotive industries were outmoded and obsolete they disinvested from American companies and poured their dollars into South Korea in search of profits made more certain by cheap Korean labor. This was one major factor in the de-industrialization of America, massive de-employment of millions of Americans, the birth of the “Rust Belt,” and the betrayal of America’s industrial working class.
In 1978 Jimmy Carter announced plans to withdraw all U.S. ground troops from Korea. The War Complex (usually called the Military-Industrial complex) led by Carter’s own National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, set up howls of protest and Carter dropped the plan the next year. Upon Carter’s subsequent defeat in 1980 the Reagan Administration increased troop levels and initiated the military maneuvers that enrage and worry North Korea to this day. In the 1980s over 200,000 American and Korean troops conducted war games on the North Korean border once a year. Today they are conducted two or three times a year though in truth Washington understands that North Korea has no intention to attack. North Koreans, however, believe these war games are the prelude to a U.S. attack upon them.
In 1987 North Korea started its first nuclear reactor. In short order a drumbeat of stories in the major media claimed, with no evidence, that North Korea was building a bomb. In fact the northern regime signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) to inspect its facilities to ensure the intention was peaceful. The reactor’s purpose was to generate power to replace the oil and coal upon which the country depended. Pyongyang even shut its reactor down in a signal it wished to negotiate. Yet anti-North Korean hostility mounted and thousands more American troops poured in for intensified maneuvers along with B-1B and B-52 bombers and nuclear capable naval vessels. At this point in 1993 North Korea announced its intention to withdraw from the NPT. As tensions mounted former President Carter inserted himself and won agreement with Kim Il Sung to remain in the NPT, keep IAEA inspectors, and accept American nuclear reactors for the production of electric energy. In the final year of the Clinton Administration initial plans existed between both Koreas for eventual re-unification. Then the new administration of George W. Bush undid the agreed framework by labelling North Korea as part of the “axis of evil.”
Last year the regime of Kim Jong Un decrypted a secret message from the South Korean military, which takes its orders from the U.S. military command, exposing a plot to assassinate him. This has only intensified North Korea’s nuclear aims. Pyongyang has stated that it will not desist from its nuclear program unless and until the U.S. withdraws from the south.
On October 26 of this year Secretary of Defense, and former General, James Mattis declared that he wanted Korea “de-nuclearized” yet clearly he means only to strip the north of its nukes. On October 29 he avowed that the U.S. would “not tolerate” a nuclear armed Korea. By what means does he intend to solve the problem?
I tell anyone who will listen that the very existence of nuclear weapons is like leaving loaded guns in a child care center. Sooner or later there will be a tragic outcome. My students sometimes counter that the responsible adults in a child care center will remove the threat. Are we ruled by responsible adults? The only sane solution is the denuclearization of planet Earth before these infernal weapons abolish us. Recently the overwhelming majority of the United Nations voted to abolish nuclear weapons. The only nations to oppose are those with nukes. That means that the only way the desire of most humans on this planet can be attained is by collective action to demand and force governments to abolish nuclear weapons. The first place to begin is on the Korean peninsula. The U.S. should withdraw all forces from that country, halt all economic sanctions and thereby enable both North and South Korea to reunify, something peoples on both sides wish. China is in the best position to broker such a reunification and the US must also do the sane thing and acknowledge China’s growing role in East Asia. As long as the U.S. intervenes and militarily occupies the south there is no chance that denuclearization can be accomplished and the apocalyptic danger of actions by a deranged individual or by accident increase by the day.
These remarks were spoken in Faneuil Hall Marketplace as the keynote statement in the annual march and rally by Veterans For Peace in Boston in opposition to the traditional glorification of war on Armistice/Veterans’ Day.
November 11, 2017
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.