“War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
The Judgment of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, 1946
Imagine the feelings of people in Hawai’i: Told that they were under missile attack and for 38 minutes “They hugged their children. They prayed. They uttered a few final farewells.” Imagine how they worried for themselves and their children. The people of Hawai’i now know the terror of missiles that indiscriminately kill huge numbers of civilians, a terror that Koreans North and South know intimately. In the case of a restart of the Korean War, Koreans would only have a matter of minutes to “duck and cover” before missiles came raining down on them. The war could quickly go nuclear, with ICBMs launched from US submarines turning Korean children into lumps of black charcoal and white shadows etched onto walls.
Look at the two photos of these children. One of these is a photo of children in South Korea. Another is of children in North Korea. Does it really matter which kids are in the North or which are in the South? Who among us would wish for innocents such as this to die. Korean children and other people of various ages and from all walks of life, including closet Christians, people who enjoy bootleg Hollywood films, athletes scheduled to participate in the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, and revolutionaries resisting Kim Jong-un’s authoritarian regime could be killed if the Korean War is reignited. That’s the problem with war. The superpowers’ toys of mass destruction have evolved to the point where it is likely to be massive, indiscriminate killing, of just about everyone.
Indiscriminate killing is exactly what Donald Trump’s advisors are proposing to do. And in his State of the Union Address, he used the word “threat” three times in relation to North Korea, as if it is they who threaten us. But this is no surprise. Journalists mindlessly reiterate the same idea over and over again. “Oh no! North Korea was such a threat to our peace-loving nation! If we had not attacked them, they would have destroyed our country first.” Future war crimes tribunals will not waste time on such absurd claims.
It appears that another US war crime is brewing, not just an ordinary one that “contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole,” but one that could set off a conflagration like the world has never seen, possibly even a “nuclear winter,” in which so much ash is lifted up into the atmosphere that mass starvation in countries all around the world ensues.
During Donald “Killer” Trump’s first year as president, mainstream journalists consistently presented Kim Jong-un as the aggressor and a credible threat, who might any day now launch a first strike against the US. Does it take a child as in the “Emperor’s New Clothes” to notice that the cartoon-like, madman Trump who tells us that our government will take care of us as long as we “have confidence in our values, faith in our citizens, and trust in our God,” in other words as long as we ignore the rest of the world and adhere to our usual chauvinism, is a far greater threat to everyone, including Americans, than Kim Jong-un could ever hope to be?
Indeed, if one were to search for a look-alike for the Supreme Leader Snoke in the recent “Star Wars” film, it would be hard to find a better candidate than Trump—a man at the helm of a vast, sprawling empire with 800 military bases and many thousands of bona fide nuclear weapons that could wipe out all life on the entire planet; the empire threatening to “totally destroy” the rebel country; many of those bases along with countless destroyers, submarines, and fighter jets poised to attack this country that has repeatedly defiantly refused to submit to Washington’s authority and demands to pursue independent development. True, the Supreme Leader of North Korea would also be a candidate—given the way that our journalists portray his nation—as if all they do is worship him, do parades with goose-stepping soldiers, and starve and undergo torture in gulags.
So indeed, let us compare these two states and consider which is the Evil Empire.
No ideology is convincing and useful without having some element of truth behind it. The former president George W. Bush lumped North Korea in with a fairy-tale assemblage of states he
called the “Axis of Evil.” That was before he invaded one of those states. But perhaps some ideologues found that categorization useful due to the following evil features of North Korea: it is responsible for large-scale domestic, discriminate state killing, i.e., executions, often for petty crimes; a huge percentage of the population is in the military; a large percentage of its GDP is used on military spending; and the government is building useless nuclear bombs—they cannot be used and one could argue that building them is a waste of resources—even in the face of widespread poverty and malnourishment.
Compared to such extreme domestic state violence, the US may appear civilized to some. After all, fewer people are executed in America than in North Korea; and “only” one percent of America’s GDP is spent on the military, compared to North Korea’s 4 percent GDP.
Evil Empire USA
It certainly appears that North Korea resorts far more often to domestic state violence and oppression than the US, although the abuse of people of color, the poor, and other disadvantaged groups by a rapidly expanding for-profit penal system that implements recognized forms of torture such as solitary confinement makes one wonder if the US system is not gradually heading in the direction of authoritarian regimes. Setting that aside, however, North Korea begins to look relatively benign when one compares its state violence to the violence that Washington has inflicted on other populations. The current suffering in Yemen is a good example of this ongoing horror story.
According to conservative estimates, the number of people who have died outside America’s borders at the hands of its military machine since the end of the Korean War (1953) is around 20 million. During the last half century or so, no state has come close to killing as many people outside its borders as the US. And the total number of people killed by the US government, both domestically and internationally, far exceeds the number killed by the North Korean regime. Ours truly is a war state like no other.
In order to know the relative power of states, one must look at absolute numbers. North Korea’s defense spending was $4 billion in 2016, while the US spends around $600 billion per year. Obama increased investment in nukes. Trump is now doing likewise, and this is leading to global proliferation. Due to North Korea’s small population, even with a shockingly large portion of the population in military service, i.e., 25%, the US still has a larger military. North Korea has about one million people ready to fight at any time, while the US has more than two million. And unlike those in North Korea, our well-fed, professional soldiers do not spend half their time farming or doing construction work.
North Korea is not only threatened by the US but also by South Korea and Japan, and even theoretically by China and Russia, who no longer provide any kind of “nuclear umbrella” to them. (Cumings writes that North Korea probably never felt the “comforting shade of a Soviet or Chinese nuclear umbrella,” but until 1990 they could at least claim to have the USSR on their side). The five states surrounding North Korea represent some of the biggest, toughest, scariest militaries in the world, and when you live in that neighborhood you sure as heck better be well-armed. In terms of defense spending, China is Number 2, Russia is Number 3, Japan is Number 8, and South Korea is Number 10 in the world. Everyone knows who Number 1 is. Numbers 1, 2, 3, 8, and 10 are all “near” North Korea. Three of these states are nuclear powers and two could almost instantly build their own nukes, going way beyond North Korea’s nuke program in a matter of months.
Just a quick comparison of the wealth and military power of the US and North Korea suffices to demonstrate that, without question, North Korea does not have anywhere near our killing power and destructive potential.
Anyway, how could Kim Jong-un be a Snoke and a Star Wars-style Supreme Leader without fighting wars and without an empire? The one and only time after the Korean War that Pyongyang engaged in battle with another country was during Vietnam (1964-73), to which they sent 200 fighters. In that same period, the US has fought against 37 nations, a record of violence far beyond any of the states in Northeast Asia—by comparison, more than double the number of nations Russia has fought. South Korea, Japan, and China are all in the single digits. North Korea, like its southern cousin, has a total of zero military bases. The US has 800. By comparison, Russia “only” has nine, China has one or two, and Japan has one. What a wimpy empire Kim Jong-un has. Not a single base. How can he launch attacks and spread terror like a true oppressor of foreign peoples without any bases?
Koreans Will Fight
The US has soldiers with fearsome killing power because they train a lot, kill a lot, and die a lot. They are never out of practice. This is true, but North Koreans, too, are fighters, even if they train less, kill less, and die less. The research of the University of Chicago historian Bruce Cumings’ on Korean history demonstrates over and over that whenever North Korea is hit, it hits back. This is only one reason why the current “Bloody Strike” plan is not smart. Let alone the fact that it would be illegal. Only an administration with an ambassador-less embassy in Seoul could come up with such a stupid plan based on blind ignorance.
North Korea also has many thousands of kilometers of tunnels, and many caves and underground bunkers as well, all set up for war. This is just one example of how North Korea is a “garrison state.” (This type of state is defined as one in which the “specialists on violence are the most powerful group in society”). The US is naturally difficult to attack since its territory extends across the North American continent and has vast oceans on either side; it has the non-empire-building states of Canada and Mexico for neighbors; and it happens to be located far from any former modern empires. But the location of North Korea, where it is surrounded by states with large, powerful, standing armies, one of which presented a credible threat of invasion, regime change and nuclear holocaust, has inevitably turned it into a country that is “built” for war like no other. The huge subterranean network of tunnels in North Korea was constructed by human hands. Missiles can be launched from mobile launchers that can be re-located underground; any potential adversary would not know where to strike. The Korean War taught them lessons about how to prepare for invasions and it instructed them to prepare for nuclear war.
We would do well to listen to the voices of those who remember anti-colonial struggles. These are Koreans on their land, where their ancestors have lived for thousands of years, with clearly defined borders and integrated into one political unit for a millennium, who have repelled foreign invaders many times throughout their history, including invaders from China, Mongolia, Japan, Manchuria, France, and the US (in 1871). The land is part of who they are in a way that Americans can barely imagine. No surprise that juche (self-reliance) is the reigning government ideology or religion. No doubt many North Koreans believe in self-reliance even if their government deceives them that juche will solve all problems. After Washington’s failure in the Korean War and the Vietnam War, it is a tragedy that the Americans who rule the US have still not learned the folly of waging imperialist war against committed anti-colonialists. Our high school history books have fed us a denialist history that erases the nation’s past errors, not to mention wrongs.
In 2004 when Japan’s Prime Minister Koizumi went to Pyongyang and met Kim Jong-il, Kim told him, “Americans are arrogant… Nobody can keep silent if threatened by someone with a stick. We came to have nuclear weapons for the sake of the right of existence. If our existence is secured, nuclear weapons will not be necessary any more… Americans, forgetting what they have done, demand that we abandon nuclear weapons first. Nonsense. Complete abandonment of nuclear weapons can only be demanded from an enemy state that has capitulated. We are not a capitulated people. Americans want us to disarm unconditionally, like Iraq. We will not obey such a demand. If America is going to attack us with nuclear weapons, we should not stand still, doing nothing, for if we did that Iraq’s destiny would await us.” North Koreans’ proud, defiant attitude reflects the inevitable strength of the underdog who has lost everything, who stands to lose nothing if it comes to violence.
Relax, It Will Be Many Years Before North Korea Becomes a Credible Threat
Our government and mainstream journalists arrogantly state outright, or more often just hint, that soon we are going to have to take out North Korea’s nukes if they do not capitulate to our ultimatum—to drop their guns and come out with their hands up. “Bloody nose” strike? In the context of the most built-up border tension in the world, i.e, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), it would take far less than destroying some of their stockpiled weapons to get the war going again. Just walking into the DMZ could do that, but the kind of “bloody nose” attack being discussed would be a clear act of war that would justify retaliation. And do not forget that China shares a long border with North Korea, and does not want the US military in North Korea. That is China’s buffer zone. Of course, any state would much rather fight invaders in someone else’s country than in their own. Having a relatively weak state on their southern border, just as the US has Mexico on its southern border, serves China’s purposes just fine.
We are on the verge of war, according to the retired U.S. Air Force colonel and now-Senator Lindsey Graham. He heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. Trump told him that he will not allow North Korea the capability to “hit America,” unlike our other nuclear power rivals. (In American imperialistic discourse, not even striking America but merely having the capability to strike fully justifies North Korean loss of life). “If there’s going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong Un], it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here. And he has told me that to my face,” Graham said. Graham said there will be a war “if they continue to try to hit America with an ICBM,” that America will destroy “North Korea’s program and Korea itself.” Please remember, Senator Graham, there has not been any “trying” yet. Yes, they tested nukes in 2017, indeed. But so did Washington. And remember that destroying a nation of 25 million people would constitute the “supreme” war crime.
Let there be no doubt that racism and classism are behind the words “they’re going to die over there.” Lots of working-class and not-very-wealthy middle-class Americans stand to lose their lives along with millions of Koreans both north and south of the DMZ. The pathologically rich and greedy types like Trump have never had to serve in the military.
And do not the children of North Korea deserve enough food to grow up strong and healthy? Do not they also have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” just like American children? By saying “over there” in that way, Trump and his servant Graham are implying that Korean lives are worth less than American lives. This kind of racism hardly requires comment, but it is the kind of attitude among Washington elites that could spark “fire and fury” even worse than that of World War II, exactly as Trump said, i.e., a nuclear exchange and nuclear winter. And stopping the wildfire of fear-mongering white supremacy sparked by Trump and the Republican Party that backs him up is one of the highest priorities of the American peace movement today.
Although Americans in Hawai’i and Guam have been spooked by false alarms recently—the fault of Americans—and the false threats of Kim Jong-un, both they as well as mainland Americans have nothing to fear from North Korea. Pyongyang might soon have ICBMs, but there are other ways to deliver nukes, such as on ships. And they have not attacked US targets with those nukes for one simple, obvious reason: violence is a tool of the powerful against the weak. The US is rich and strong; North Korea is impoverished and weak. Therefore, none of Kim Jong-un’s threats are credible. He just wants to keep reminding Washington that following through on their threats, such as “totally destroying” the country, will have costs associated with it, that Americans will feel the sting, too. Fortunately, Americans keep drifting back to reality. Polls show that most Americans do not favor military action in spite of the drum beating and even when many of them are afraid. We want dialogue.
Just ask the experts, those whose job it has been to assess threats to American national security. According to Ralph Cossa, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Honolulu, Kim Jong-un is not suicidal and is not going to try a first strike against the US. And former Defense Secretary William Perry says, “North Korea wouldn’t dare strike first.” It will be a long, long time before North Korea has thousands of nukes; several aircraft carriers and naval battle groups; F-22 Raptor Fighter Jets; ICBM-equipped submarines; AWACS airplanes; Osprey aircraft that can carry huge quantities of troops, equipment, and supplies, and land virtually anywhere; and depleted uranium missiles—the kind that easily wiped out tank after tank during the Iraq War, cutting through their thick shells of steel “like a knife through butter.”
The Doomsday Clock Keeps Ticking, Ticking, Ticking into a Bleak Future
We are at two minutes to midnight. And the question is, “What are we going to do about it?” Here are three first steps you can take right now: 1) Sign the Rootsaction.org Olympic Truce petition, 2) Sign their People’s Peace Treaty while you are at it, demanding that our president meet Kim Jong-un and sign a peace treaty to end the Korean War, and 3) Sign the petition to remove this national security threat from office, i.e., by impeaching him. If South Koreans can impeach their president, so can people in the “land of the free, home of the brave.”
Our highest priority right now during this Olympic Truce may be to extend it and give South and North Korea more time. Peace does not happen instantly. It requires patience and hard work. Invasion practice, euphemistically referred to as “joint exercises,” would shut down dialogue and close this precious window of opportunity. Washington is keen to resume incessant invasion practice, right after the Paralympics end in March, but in order to take advantage of this opportunity, those exercises must be stopped. President Moon of South Korea might just have the power and guts to do that. It is his country after all. Millions of peace-loving, democracy-building, beautiful Koreans in the South impeached President Park Geun-hye in their “Candlelight Revolution.” They have done their job. With their commitment to democracy, South Koreans put Americans to shame. Now is time for Americans to rise up, too.
Once we wake up and realize that we are at a stage in history that is as dangerous as the Cuban Missile Crisis, it may seem that nobody else is awake, that all hope is lost and nuclear war in the near future is guaranteed, whether it be in the Middle East or in Northeast Asia, but as Algren says in the film “The Last Samurai,” “it’s not over yet.” The non-violent battle for world peace is raging. Join it.
From an ethical perspective, when who-knows-how-many millions of lives are at stake, resistance to pathological leadership such as is in evidence in the US Republican Party and its chosen leader Donald Trump, is not a matter of “can we?” We know “we must” do what we can. For the sake of yourself, your children, your friends, and yes, for all of humanity, do something. Reach out and compare notes with other concerned people. Share your feelings. Listen to others. Choose a path you believe is right and just and wise, and persist in it day in day out.