Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought

Photo by rottinam | Public Domain

An early challenge to the United States’ self-declared right to manage post-World War II global affairs from the banks of the Potomac came in 1950, when Korean forces joined by Chinese troops pushed back against the United States’ invasion of North Korea. Washington responded with a merciless bombing campaign that flattened much of the country. U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay boasted that “we burned down every town in North Korea.” LeMay proudly guessed that the gruesome U.S. assault killed a fifth of North Korea’s population. The attack included napalm and chemical weapons and the bombing of dams – a war crime for which Nazis were hanged at Nuremberg. The scale of the devastation was soul-numbing, enough to disgust even many veteran U.S. military observers. As Korea expert John Feffer has written:

“The U.S. used massive bombardments to erase North Korea from the map, destroying  75 percent of all physical facilities and using napalm on a large scale for the first time…Three million civilians fled south to escape the saturation bombings…In June 1953, the United States bombed irrigation dams and the retaining wall of the Toksan reservoir, flooding cities and undercutting the capacity of North Koreans to grow food, acts considered war crimes when the Nazis did much the same to the Dutch.”

These monstrous transgressions went down the United States’ “memory hole” even as they took place – and even as the leading public U.S. military journals of the day exulted over how the bombing of Korean dams sent “Asians” scurrying to survive. As far as most U.S.-Americans know, they never occurred and therefore hold no relevance to current U.S.-North Korean tensions.

Things are different in North Korea, where every schoolchild learns about the epic crimes committed by the U.S. “imperialist aggressor” in the early 1950s.

With the southern portion of the Korean peninsula retained for development within the Western-ruled order, the shattered north ripened into a crypto-Stalinist family dictatorship and paranoid garrison state that became the closest thing on Earth to a living example of the nightmare totalitarian regime depicted in George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four– hardly a shining role model for Third World peoples’ revolution even as it achieved significant economic growth with Chinese and Soviet bloc assistance through the 1970s .

“It’s the only Third World country where everyone has good food, good housing, and good education,” a left Peruvian writer claimed in 1981, “but it is the saddest, most miserable country I’ve ever been in in my life.”

The madness of the North Korean regime (and no doubt the sadness of its people) deepened in coming decades with no small help from harsh economic decline, famines, lost Soviet backing, U.S.-led economic sanctions, and hundreds of U.S. nuclear weapons and U.S.-South Korean military exercises (including simulated bombing and missile attacks) menacing North Korea up close. The North Korean dictatorship has long used the sanctions and military encirclement to rally North Korea’s subject populace around the flag.

George W, Bush’s bizarre post-9/11 identification of North Korea as part of an “Axis of Evil” linking Pyongyang to Iraq and Iran provided no small justification for Kim Jong Il’s February 2005 announcement that North Korea had successfully developed a nuclear weapon. Just two and half years before this announcement, the world had seen Bush use blatantly false pretexts to invade defenseless Iraq, a criminal regime change operation that would lead to the premature death of at least half a million Iraqis (by one conservative estimate) between  2003 and 2013.

Here we are now more than two generations out from the all-out U.S. air attack on civilian targets in North Korea. North Korea’s current young and dynastic “communist” dictator, Kim Jong-un, is using the nuclear arsenal his now desperately poor nation developed to (successfully) discourage U.S. re-invasion as a bargaining chip to gain some economic relief from the West. Along with his zany old friend Dennis Rodman (recently seen tearfully wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap on CNN), Kim now has another bizarre U.S. media personality on his side. His new best American friend is his fellow arch-authoritarian Donald J. Trump, a reality television star and real estate mogul who happens (courtesy of the elitist and neoliberal nothingness of the dismal, dollar-drenched Democratic Party) to be the President of the United States – and who is fresh off another Kim meeting (with fellow reality television star and onetime amateur pornography celebrity Kim Kardashian).

The Trump-Kim Singapore summit (last Monday) was an almost surreal publicity stunt replete with Trump’s presentation to Kim of a sensationally moronic mock movie trailer depicting (among other things) the potential glories of high-end condominium developments on what Trump calls  North Korea’s “beautiful beaches.” The geopolitical extravaganza was staged for two epically narcissistic and undemocratic heads of state who now find it politically useful to stand down from the reckless World Wrestling Federation-like nuclear braggadocio they teamed up last year. “Rocket Man” (as Trump disparagingly called Kim while promising his nation “fire and fury” last year) wants legitimation as a world leader and economic respite for his “communist” regime. The “mentally deranged dotard” (as Kim called Trump, promising to “tame” the orange-tinted beast “with flames” last year) wants to enter the pages of history as a great deal-maker and to win a better Nobel Peace Prize (the best one ever) than the one that uppity Harvard Law Black guy Barack Obama (Trump’s strange and highly racialized negative obsession) got.

The Nobel committee may be reluctant given Trump’s decision to rip up Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, which had rolled back economic sanctions in return for Iran agreeing not to develop nuclear weapons. Trump is standing down from war in Asia while ramping up for war in the Middle East, perhaps.

After berating fellow G-7 “leaders” of Western “capitalist democracy” (an oxymoron) at the G-7 meetings, Trump returned from Singapore with pretend-joking praise for Kim’s iron hand at home. “He’s the head of a country, and I mean he’s the strong head,” Trump told his official state television network, FOX News. “Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.’’


Still, anyone who would rather not see Korea turned into a giant ashen cemetery should be glad to see anything like new peaceful negotiations start up between Washington and Pyongyang. The weird Trump-Kim bromance beats the two Dear Leaders trading threats of annihilation. Trump’s agreement to halt the “provocative” (Trump’s own accurate term) U.S.-South Korean military exercises on North Korea’s borders is a welcome advance concession. As U.S. professors Jeffrey Sommers and Peter Paik write, the summit “may reduce the risk of armed conflict, a prospect that China and Russia are certain to welcome along with the two Korea…There is much to cautiously herald in the current moves…toward peace in Korea.”

You wouldn’t know it by listening to the partisan sniping from the imperial Democrats. U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and other top corporate and liberal-interventionists in the United States’ second major war party (the Democrats) argued that the summit could be seen as worthwhile only if North Korean agreed to dismantle all their nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, cease all production and enrichment of uranium, collapse its nuclear weapons infrastructure, and quit ballistic missile tests.

Those were ridiculous and impossible demands.  They would amount to an unconditional North Korean surrender.  No such total capitulation is remotely forthcoming from Pyongyang, not with North Korea’s living memory of the appalling “limited war” damage the U.S. inflicted on it during the 1950s – and not with Pyongyang’s awareness of the numerous defenseless nations that have experienced U.S. invasion and U.S.-imposed regime change in this and the previous century.  Besides the criminal U.S. invasion of Iraq, the North Koreans know what happened to Muammar Gadaffi after he gave up his chemical and nuclear weapons programs to enhance his dealings with the U.S.-led West.  Trump’s current threatening treatment of Iran,a possible prelude to a new Middle Eastern war, is yet another object lesson on why it’s useful for Pyongyang to possess nuclear weapons.

De-nuclearization? It’s unthinkable that either of the United States’ two imperial major parties would call for the openly murderous and racist occupation, apartheid, and terror state of Israel to dismantle and remove its hundreds of nuclear weapons (whose existence is an open secret across the Middle East and the global military and intelligence communities). The same goes for nuclear Pakistan, a longtime leading sponsor and breeding ground of Islamist terrorism. The United States has repeatedly blocked common-sense efforts to make the volatile Middle East a nuclear weapons-free zone – a reflection of Washington’s overriding loyalty to Israel.

It is even more unthinkable for anyone who counts in the U.S. to call for the de-nuclearization of, well, hmm, …the United States.  Orwell would appreciate the classic double-think hypocrisy beneath all the U.S. media-politics bluster about the necessity of little North Korea fully de-nuclearizing while the world’s only Superpower undertakes a Darth Vader-esque upgrade of the greatest and highly thermonuclear weapons-of-mass destruction-complex known to history. The United States, the only nation to ever directly assault civilian populations with nuclear weapons (the criminal and unnecessary atom-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945), is currently embarking on an absurdly expensive top-to-bottom overhaul of a U.S. nuclear arsenal that already possesses 7000 warheads, with enough power between them to blow the world up many times.  This $1.7 trillion re-build – a bonanza for the high-tech weapons-industrial complex– includes the creation of provocative new first-strike weapons systems likely to escalate the risks of nuclear exchanges with Russia and/or China.

(Tell your “liberal” MSNBC-addicted Baby Boomer aunt not to blame Trump.  The nuclear renovation was initiated under her darling Barack Obama, leader of a party that is positioning itself as the real and anti-Russian and CIA-backed party of Empire in the 2018 and 2020 U.S. elections.)

This costly retooling heightens prospects for human self-extermination in a world that is in dire need of giant public investments to end poverty (half the world’s population “lives” on less than $2.50 a day), to replace fossil fuels with clean energy (we are marching to the fatal, mark of 500 carbon parts per atmospheric million within 50 years if not sooner), and to clean up the titanic environmental mess we’ve made of our planet.

Millions live die in poverty every year while devilish “war pigs” – “evil minds that plot destruction, sorcerers of death’s construction” (Ozzy Osborne) – divert scarce resources from meeting needs to the ever-more-sinister building and maintenance of weapons of mass destruction (increasingly overlaid with the ugly genie-power of Artificial Intelligence). The North Korean regime is culpable on this score. So are the governments of Russia and China. Still, no other nation on Earth comes close to Superpower Uncle Sam – source of 37% of the world’s military spending but 5% of the world’s population – when it comes to privileging war over humanity or when it comes to projecting force (and selling weapons) and thus forcing others to prepare to defend themselves and discourage invasion on the global stage

As reported in the platform of the recently formed U.S. Movement for a People’s Party (MPP), “the estimated cost of ending world hunger is $30 billion per year, about 4 percent of the annual American defense budget. The estimated cost of ending extreme poverty is $175 billion per year, about 24 percent of the annual defense budget.”

The United States perverted budgetary priorities (epitomized by the heedless Obama-Trump nuclear weapons upgrade) reflect a moral collapse that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned the United States about in the famous antiwar speech he gave one year to the day before his assassination (or execution).  “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift,” King said, “is approaching spiritual death.”

The “spiritual death” King spoke of has occurred. You can see it in the vapid eyes of the white nationalist Twitter clown Trump and his Republican enablers, but you can behold it also in the words and positions of top Democratic politicians, who are outflanking Trump on the right regarding Korea, Syria, and Russia.

Material and physical death for the species is not far behind on the current U.S.-led eco- and nuclear-exterminist path.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).