North Korea Wouldn't Have Nukes Today if We'd Kept Our Word in the Past
May 17, 2017
Bruce Cumings / The Nation & Justin Raimondo / AntiWar.com & The Burning Platform
The standard neocon-cold war liberal line is that the North Koreans, in league with Moscow and Beijing, launched a war of aggression on June 25, 1950, when North Korean troops poured across the disputed What this truncated history leaves out is that, in doing so, they preempted South Korea's own plans to launch an invasion northward. Sixty years after the non-ending of the Korean war -- there is, to this day, no peace treaty. The lesson of that conflict is that involvement in other peoples' civil wars is never to our benefit, or theirs.
This Is What's Really Behind North Korea's Nuclear Provocations
It's easy to dismiss Kim Jong-un as a madman.
But there's a long history of US aggression against the North,
which we forget at our peril
Bruce Cumings / The Nation
(March 23, 2017) -- Donald Trump was having dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on February 11 when a message arrived mid-meal, courtesy of Pyongyang: North Korea had just tested a new, solid-fuel, intermediate-range ballistic missile, fired from a mobile -- and therefore hard-to-detect -- launcher.
The president pulled out his 1990s flip-phone and discussed this event in front of the various people sitting within earshot. One of these diners, Richard DeAgazio, was suitably agog at the import of this weighty scene, posting the following comment on his Facebook page: "HOLY MOLY!!! It was fascinating to watch the flurry of activity at dinner when the news came that North Korea had launched a missile in the direction of Japan."
Actually, this missile was aimed directly at Mar-a-Lago, figuratively speaking. It was a pointed nod to history that no American media outlet grasped: "Prime Minister Shinzo," as Trump called him, is the grandson of Nobusuke Kishi, a former Japanese prime minister whom Abe reveres.
Nobusuke was deemed a "Class A" war criminal by the US occupation authorities after World War II, and he ran munitions manufacturing in Manchuria in the 1930s, when Gen. Hideki Tojo was provost marshal there. Kim Il-sung, whom grandson Kim Jong-un likewise reveres, was fighting the Japanese at the same time and in the same place.
As I wrote for this magazine [The Nation] in January 2016, the North Koreans must be astonished to discover that US leaders never seem to grasp the import of their history-related provocations. Even more infuriating is Washington's implacable refusal ever to investigate our 72-year history of conflict with the North; all of our media appear to live in an eternal present, with each new crisis treated as sui generis.
Visiting Seoul in March, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asserted that North Korea has a history of violating one agreement after another; in fact, President Bill Clinton got it to freeze its plutonium production for eight years (1994–2002) and, in October 2000, had indirectly worked out a deal to buy all of its medium- and long-range missiles. Clinton also signed an agreement with Gen. Jo Myong-rok stating that henceforth, neither country would bear "hostile intent" toward the other.
The Bush administration promptly ignored both agreements and set out to destroy the 1994 freeze. Bush's invasion of Iraq is rightly seen as a world-historical catastrophe, but next in line would be placing North Korea in his "axis of evil" and, in September 2002, announcing his "preemptive" doctrine directed at Iraq and North Korea, among others. The simple fact is that Pyongyang would have no nuclear weapons if Clinton's agreements had been sustained.
Now comes Donald Trump, blasting into a Beltway milieu where, in recent months, a bipartisan consensus has emerged based on the false assumption that all previous attempts to rein in the North's nuclear program have failed, so it may be time to use force -- to destroy its missiles or topple the regime.
Last September, the centrist Council on Foreign Relations issued a report stating that "more assertive military and political actions" should be considered, "including those that directly threaten the existence of the [North Korean] regime."
Tillerson warned of preemptive action on his recent East Asia trip, and a former Obama-administration official, Antony Blinken, wrote in The New York Times that a "priority" for the Trump administration should be working with China and South Korea to "secure the North's nuclear arsenal" in the event of "regime change."
But North Korea reportedly has some 15,000 underground facilities of a national-security nature. It is insane to imagine the Marines traipsing around the country in such a "search and secure" operation, and yet the Bush and Obama administrations had plans to do just that.
Obama also ran a highly secret cyber-war against the North for years, seeking to infect and disrupt its missile program. If North Korea did that to us, it might well be considered an act of war.
_On November 8, 2016, nearly 66 million voters for Hillary Clinton received a lesson in Hegel's "cunning of history." A bigger lesson awaits Donald Trump, should he attack North Korea. It has the fourth-largest army in the world, as many as 200,000 highly trained special forces, 10,000 artillery pieces in the mountains north of Seoul, mobile missiles that can hit all American military bases in the region (there are hundreds), and nuclear weapons more than twice as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb (according to a new estimate in a highly detailed Times study by David Sanger and William Broad).
Last October, I was at a forum in Seoul with Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state for Bill Clinton. Like everyone else, Talbott averred that North Korea might well be the top security problem for the next president. In my remarks, I mentioned Robert McNamara's explanation, in Errol Morris's excellent documentary The Fog of War, for our defeat in Vietnam: We never put ourselves in the shoes of the enemy and attempted to see the world as they did. Talbott then blurted, "It's a grotesque regime!"
There you have it: It's our number-one problem, but so grotesque that there's no point trying to understand Pyongyang's point of view (or even that it might have some valid concerns).
North Korea is the only country in the world to have been systematically blackmailed by US nuclear weapons going back to the 1950s, when hundreds of nukes were installed in South Korea. I have written much about this in these pages and in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Why on earth would Pyongyang not seek a nuclear deterrent? But this crucial background doesn't enter mainstream American discourse. History doesn't matter, until it does -- when it rears up and smacks you in the face.
Korean War Games
Pyongyang's bellicose posturing conforms to an old pattern,
but the dangers may be greater now because
tensions are rising throughout the region
Bruce Cumings / The Nation
(April 22, 2013) -- North Korea greeted 2013 with a bang (or several of them), not the dying whimper that Beltway officials and pundits had hoped for -- and have been predicting ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall. In December, Pyongyang launched a long-range missile that, after many failures dating to 1998, got the country's first satellite rotating around the earth.
A couple of months later, North Korea detonated its third atomic bomb. Then, as the annual US–South Korean war games got going and a new president took office in Seoul, the North let loose a farrago of mind-bending rhetoric, bellowing that events were inching toward war, renouncing the Korean War armistice of 1953, and threatening to hit either the United States or South Korea with a pre-emptive nuclear attack.
In between, Chicago Bulls great Dennis Rodman brought his stainless-steel-studded, tattooed and multi-hued six-foot-eight frame to sit beside "young lad" (as the vice chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff described the North's new leader) Kim Jong-un at a basketball game in Pyongyang. As the saying goes, you can't make this stuff up.
The Republic of Korea, one of the most advanced industrial states in the world, was, according to Pyongyang, a "puppet of the US imperialists" led by a "rat" named Lee Myung-bak; if he was on the way out, the incoming president, Park Geun-hye, brought something new, a "venomous swish of skirt," to the Blue House in Seoul.
As if the North weren't hated enough (it ranked fourth in a 2007 global index of unpopularity, albeit behind Israel, Iran and the United States), it added blatant sexism to its repertoire -- in Korean, this phrase is used to taunt women deemed too aggressive.
If the North's heated rhetoric set some kind of record, the approach was hardly new. Nothing is more characteristic of this regime than its preening, posturing, overweening desire for the world to pay it attention, while simultaneously threatening destruction in all directions and assuring through draconian repression that its people know next to nothing about that same world.
Twenty years ago, when the Clinton administration brought maximum pressure on the North to open its plutonium facility to special inspections, the North railed on about war breaking out at any minute; that 1993–94 episode likewise sought to shape the policies of an incoming South Korean president, Kim Young-sam.
Almost forty years ago, when Jimmy Carter was president, North Korea shouted itself hoarse about the peninsula being "at the brink of war." The difference is that, in past decades, specialists read this stuff in Korean Central News Agency reports that arrived weeks late, by snail mail; today, it gets instant Internet coverage, which the North is exploiting to the utmost (while the masses still have no Internet access).
The daunting part, of course, is that the North relies on the good sense of its adversaries not to take its incessant warmongering racket seriously.
Today, the rhetoric is designed to do three things: to confront President Park with a choice of continuing the hard line of her predecessor or returning to engagement with the North; to raise the stakes of Obama's stance of "strategic patience" (which has not been a strategy but has certainly been patient, as the North has launched three long-range missiles and tested two nuclear bombs since Obama's 2009 inauguration); and to present China, which for the first time worked with the United States to craft the most recent UN sanctions against the North, with a choice -- enforce the sanctions at the risk of events spinning out of control, or return to its usual posture of voting for sanctions and then looking the other way when the North violates them.
* * *
It can hardly be said that Pyongyang's patented antics are disturbing amicable regional relations. Sitting now as prime minister in Tokyo is Shinzo Abe, whose grandfather Nobusuke Kishi ran the munitions industry in 1930s Manchukuo, the region of northeast China occupied by Imperial Japan after its 1931 invasion.
This was the same time that Kim Il-sung and his fellow guerrillas combated Japanese militarists there, and that Park's father, Park Chung-hee (who was South Korea's ruthless military dictator for eighteen years), was an officer in the Japanese Army and the happy recipient of a gold watch for his loyalty to puppet Emperor Puyi.
Famous for his brain-dead insensitivity to his neighbors' historic grievances against Japan earlier in his career and in his election campaign, Abe said at a public forum on his state visit to Washington in February: "I met [President-elect Park Geun-hye] twice . . . and my grandfather was best friends with her father, President Park Chung-hee . . . . so President Park Chung-hee was someone who was very close with Japan, obviously." Abe probably thought this was a compliment.
Meanwhile, China has besmirched a decade of careful diplomacy with its neighbors by instigating ever more serious confrontations with Japan and Southeast Asian nations over islands (most of them uninhabited rock piles) that it covets, called the Senkakus/Diaoyus, Spratlys and Paracels; barely a week goes by without Chinese naval ships intruding on islands claimed by Japan, counting on Tokyo -- whose navy is far superior to
China's -- not to escalate the conflict. South Korea has a similarly insoluble dispute with Japan over yet another set of windswept rocks, Dokdo/Takeshima, which could also get out of hand.
* * *
Now comes Barack Obama with his "pivot to Asia," bringing new US bases and force projections to the task of containing China -- while denying any such purpose. Surely many in Washington enjoy the spectacle of China, the world's second-largest economy, at the throat of Japan, the third-largest, with their relations arguably at the lowest ebb since they exchanged ambassadors in 1972. North Korea's relations with China may also be at their worst ever, now that Beijing is working hand in glove with Washington on sanctions.
China is apoplectic because the North's missiles and A-bombs just might push Japan and South Korea to go nuclear. They certainly elicited a quick US response: in mid-March, President Obama decided on a $1 billion acceleration of the US ballistic missile interceptor program, adding fourteen new batteries in California and Alaska (calling them interceptors is a bit of a misnomer; in fifteen tests of these systems under ideal conditions, only eight worked).
As luck would have it, such anti-missile forces are also useful against China's antiquated ICBMs. The truth is that Pyongyang ought to be paid by Pentagon hard-liners and military contractors for its provocations; the North Koreans are the perfect stalking horse for America's stealth containment of China -- and for keeping military spending high.
At the end of March, Obama upped the ante by sending B-52 and B-2 Stealth bombers soaring over South Korea to drop dummy bombs. It was a needless and provocative re-enactment of "the empire strikes back"; more than sixty years ago, Washington initiated its nuclear blackmail of the North when it launched B-29s on simulated Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombing missions over North Korea in the fall of 1951.
Operation Hudson Harbor dropped dummy A-bombs or heavy TNT bombs in a mission that called for "actual functioning of all activities which would be involved in an atomic strike, including weapons assembly and testing."
Ever since, nuclear weapons have been part of our war plans against the North; they were not used during the Korean War only because the US Air Force was able to raze every city in the North with conventional incendiaries.
Hardly any Americans know about this, but every North Korean does; no wonder they have built some 15,000 underground facilities related to their national security. However provocative the North appears, we are reaping the whirlwind of our past nuclear bullying.
Washington's injudicious patience and Seoul's hard line have gotten nothing from the North but the ever-growing reliability of its A-bombs and missiles. They really have no choice but to talk to Pyongyang -- most likely along the lines of former Los Alamos head Siegfried Hecker's suggestion that the programs be capped through the "Three No's." "No more nukes, No better nukes, No proliferation."
Given the North's labyrinthine subterranean complexes, spies can never be sure to have pinpointed every bomb anyway, and a handful of nukes will provide security and deterrence for an insecure leadership with much to be insecure about. Otherwise, they are useless.
Last year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said we have been "within an inch of war almost every day" with the North. Today, it looks more like millimeters. What a terrible commentary on seven decades of failed American policies toward Pyongyang.
In 2012 on Jeju, an island off the southern tip of Korea, villagers protested a South Korean-US military base installation. Koohan Paik and Jerry Mander explored the environmental, cultural and political repercussions of yet another military base in the Asia-Pacific region.
Who Really Started the Korean War?
Guest Post by Justin Raimondo / AntiWar.com & The Burning Platform
(July 28, 2013) -- The sixtieth anniversary of the "end" of the Korean war saw President Obama attempt to rescue that classic example of interventionist failure from history's dustbin. Addressing veterans of that conflict, he declared:
"That war was no tie. Korea was a victory. When 50 million South Koreans live in freedom, a vibrant democracy . . . a stark contrast to the repression and poverty of the North, that is a victory and that is your legacy."
This is a fairytale: it wasn't a victory, or even a tie: the US public was disenchanted with the war long before the armistice, and Truman was under considerable pressure at home to conclude an increasingly unpopular conflict.
As for this guff about "democracy": whatever the US was fighting for, from 1950, when the war broke out, to 1953, when it ground to a halt, democracy hardly described the American cause.
We were fighting on behalf of Syngman Rhee, the US-educated-and-sponsored dictator of South Korea, whose vibrancy was demonstrated by the large-scale slaughter of his leftist political opponents. For 22 years, Rhee's word was law, and many thousands of his political opponents were murdered: tens of thousands were jailed or driven into exile.
Whatever measure of liberality has reigned on the Korean peninsula was in spite of Washington's efforts and ongoing military presence. When the country finally rebelled against Rhee, and threw him out in the so-called April Revolution of 1960, he was ferried to safety in a CIA helicopter as crowds converged on the presidential palace.
The mythology that has coagulated around the Korean war is epitomized by Obama's recent peroration, a compendium of uplifting phrases largely bereft of any real history. When history intrudes, it is seen only in very soft focus.
The phrase "Korea reminds us" recurs throughout, like the refrain of a pop song, but nowhere does this anonymous presidential speechwriter remind us of the origins of this war. How did it come about?
The standard neocon-cold war liberal line is that the North Koreans, in league with Moscow and Beijing, launched a war of aggression on June 25, 1950, when North Korean troops poured across the disputed What this truncated history leaves out is that, in doing so, they preempted Rhee's own plans to launch an invasion northward.
As historian Mark E. Caprio, professor of history at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, points out:
"On February 8, 1949, the South Korean president met with Ambassador John Muccio and Secretary of the Army Kenneth C. Royall in Seoul. Here the Korean president listed the following as justifications for initiating a war with the North: the South Korean military could easily be increased by 100,000 if it drew from the 150,000 to 200,000 Koreans who had recently fought with the Japanese or the Nationalist Chinese.
"Moreover, the morale of the South Korean military was greater than that of the North Koreans. If war broke out he expected mass defections from the enemy. Finally, the United Nations' recognition of South Korea legitimized its rule over the entire peninsula (as stipulated in its constitution). Thus, he concluded, there was "nothing [to be] gained by waiting."
The only reason Rhee didn't launch an attack was due to American reluctance to supply him with the arms and aid he would need: war, when it came, would be on America's terms, and our leaders had good reason to think it would come sooner rather than later.
Washington's policy was to keep Rhee supplied with just enough arms to control the South. There is also evidence for Congressman Howard Buffett's contention that the secret testimony before Congress of CIA director Admiral Hillenkoeter proved US responsibility for the war.
Buffett, Republican anti-interventionist from Iowa, went to his grave demanding the declassification of that crucial testimony: alas, to no avail. And yet what we do know is this: the US government had ample warnings of the pending North Korean invasion, via intelligence reports sent to top cabinet officials well before the June 25 commencement of large-scale hostilities. Yet Washington took no action, either diplomatic or otherwise, to deter the North Koreans.
On the other side of the equation, the Communist world was divided on the Korea question, with Stalin skeptical of Kim il Sung's assurances that his forces would achieve victory in three days. Russian policy was: military aid, yes -- Soviet intervention, no. China's Mao, on the other hand, offered his support -- which wasn't actually forthcoming, however, until the US entered the war and advanced into North Korea itself.
Neither Stalin nor President Harry Truman were particularly eager to see the conflict erupt, although both may have considered it inevitable. In which case it was convenient, for propaganda purposes, to be able to portray the enemy as having fired the first shot.
As to who did in reality fire that shot, Bruce Cumings, head of the history department at the University of Chicago, gave us the definitive answer in his two-volume The Origins of the Korean War, and The Korean War: A History; the Korean war started during the American occupation of the South, and it was Rhee, with help from his American sponsors, who initiated a series of attacks that well preceded the North Korean offensive of 1950.
From 1945-1948, American forces aided Rhee in a killing spree that claimed tens of thousands of victims: the counterinsurgency campaign took a high toll in Kwangju, and on the island of Cheju-do – where as many as 60,000 people were murdered by Rhee's US-backed forces.
Rhee's army and national police were drawn from the ranks of those who had collaborated with the Japanese occupation during World War II, and this was the biggest factor that made civil war inevitable. That the US backed these quislings guaranteed widespread support for the Communist forces led by Kim IL Sung, and provoked the rebellion in the South that was the prelude to open North-South hostilities.
Rhee, for his part, was eager to draw in the United States, and the North Koreans, for their part, were just as eager to invoke the principle of "proletarian internationalism" to draw in the Chinese and the Russians.
Having backed the Maoists during World War II, in cooperation with the Soviet Union, the US had already "lost" China, and Truman was determined not to "lose" Korea, too. In spite of the fact that he had ample warning of the North Korean offensive, the President used this "surprise attack" to justify sending American troops to Korea to keep Rhee in power, and in doing so neglected to go to Congress for approval -- or even give them advance notice.
Republicans were outraged: Sen. Robert A. Taft and others denounced this usurpation of Congress's constitutional duty as a dangerous precedent that would come back to haunt us – as it surely did in Vietnam, and continues to do so to this day.
In the months prior to the war, anti-interventionist Republicans in Congress had succeeded in defeating the administration's $60 million aid package to the Rhee regime (by one vote!), but this was later reversed on account of pressure from the well-funded China Lobby. Now Truman had sent our troops to fight in a foreign war as if he were a Roman emperor ordering his legionnaires into Gaul.
In defense of the administration, the liberals came out in support of the war, with The Nation and The New Republic leading the charge: the antiwar Republicans were "isolationists" and their alliance with "legalists," sniffed TNR, revealed a natural affinity, while progressives were burdened with no such sentimental attachments to the Constitution.
The editor of The Nation red-baited Col. Robert McCormick's fiercely conservative Chicago Tribune for being on the same side as the American Communist Party. What's interesting is that the CP's former fellow-travelers, such as Henry Wallace, Corliss Lamont, and the principals of the Progressive Party -- which had run Wallace for President with fulsome Communist support -- rallied behind Truman, reveling in the idea of a UN-sponsored war on behalf of "collective security." Obama, it seems, commands a similar ability to inspire the left to throw its vaunted antiwar credentials overboard.
Sixty years after the non-ending of the Korean war -- there is, to this day, no peace treaty -- the lesson of that conflict is not, as Obama insisted in his speech, that "the drawdown after the end of World War II left us unprepared," but that involvement in other peoples' civil wars is never to our benefit, or theirs.
Sixty years have passed, and US troops are still in South Korea, defending a country well-prepared to take care of itself – sitting ducks if the North Koreans should ever launch an attack. Having stifled every effort at peaceful reunification -- including a promising effort during the Bush era -- Washington continues to enable the Korean standoff, and in doing so perpetuates the North Korean regime, one of the worst, if not the worst, in the world.
North Korea is dangerously unstable, with a significant movement within the military against the rule of Kim Jong-un, the third member of the IL Sungist dynasty to take the reins of power.
There have been episodic reports of gun battles between rival military units, and this, combined with North Korea's dire economic straits, has the potential to spark an explosion sooner or later – and inevitably draw in the South. Having isolated the North Koreans, who have in turn isolated themselves, the West has limited its ability to have much of an effect on the ground.
The two Koreas are very different, opposites in many ways, but one thing unites them: an intense nationalism. This same nationalism resents the US presence, whatever the pretext, and will one day find expression in a successful national reunification. Until that day, the unfinished war and its consequences will continue to be a thorn in our side.
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