President Donald Trump made headlines yet again this week with an inflammatory tweet directed against North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in which he boasted in “strikingly playground terms” as the New York Times put it, that the United States commands a “much bigger” and “more powerful” arsenal of devastating weapons than North Korea.
Trump’s combative words raises the prospect of war at a time that South Korea has expressed openness towards dialogue with the North.
The anti-Trump opposition should stridently repudiate Trump’s dangerous saber-rattling and devote its energy to supporting South Korea’s peace overtures instead of persisting with its “Russia-Gate” witch-hunt.
However oppressive and autocratic, the North Korean regime has not been entirely irrational in its behavior.
It has been able to survive and sustain a degree of popular support because it has defended its people from the “threat” of the United States and prevented North Korea from succumbing to the same fate as Libya or Iraq because of the development of its nuclear program.
The North Korean psyche has been shaped irrevocably by the legacy of the Korean War, when the United Stated under UN auspices launched a ferocious aerial bombing attack that destroyed most of North Korea’s major cities and killed roughly one million people (20 percent of the population).
After the breakdown of peace talks in 1952, the Air Force destroyed the hydroelectric plant in Suiho providing 90 percent of North Korea’s power supply.
In blatant violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilians in Time of War, article 56, U.S. bombers subsequently struck three irrigation dams in Toksan, Chasan and Kuwonga, and then attacked two more in Namsi and Taechon. The effect was to unleash flooding and to disrupt the rice supply.
An Air Force study concluded that “the Westerner can little conceive the awesome meaning which the loss of this staple commodity has for the Asian – starvation and slow death.”
According to South Korea’s 2005 Truth and Reconciliation Commission, eighty percent of people killed during the Korean War were civilians and five-sixth of atrocities were committed by American backed-forces.
Ambassador John Muccio, via Assistant Secretary of State Dean Rusk, gave orders to use lethal force against refugees who blocked U.S. tanks or had the potential of fomenting insurrections in UN controlled zones.
At No Gun Ri, up to three hundred refugees, including women and children, were strafed and killed by U.S. planes and shot by members of the Seventh Cavalry, George Custer’s old outfit, after being forced into an eighty foot long underpass.
Journalist Keyes Beech noted around this time that “it is not a good time to be a Korean, for Yankees are shooting them all.”
Abu Ghraib style atrocities were committed at Koje-do and other U.S.-UN-run POW camps where over one hundred unarmed prisoners were shot and killed in one single incident after singing revolutionary songs.
POWs were coerced by Chinese Guomindang Guards under the threat of torture into being branded with anticommunist tattoos and then sent on suicidal clandestine missions into North Korea that helped select targets for the bombing.
The U.S. is even alleged to have experimented with germ warfare and sprayed thousands of gallons of napalm over North Korea, burning people’s skin to a crisp like “fried potato chips,” as one Marine witness described it.
The standard narrative about the Korean War blames the North for invading the South. However, revisionist historians have raised questions about the legitimacy of the artificially imposed 38th parallel.
My own research into the topic found ample Southern provocation through paramilitary police raids into the North before the war officially started, and efforts to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung.
North Korea at that time experienced a genuine social revolution, as Charles Armstrong of Columbia University has documented, promoting successful land reform and industrialization measures.
The aim of the revolution was to overcome the legacy of colonialism and facilitate economic development by delinking from the world capitalist economy and promoting the equitable distribution of wealth.
The United States then as now could not tolerate this defiant program, and has sought to play up North Korea’s evil, and isolate or destroy the regime.
At this time, in the face of Trump’s dangerous provocations, the progressive forces in the United States should defy our own “dear leader” by promoting empathy with the North Korean people who have suffered enormously under war and dictatorship over many years.
We should point out the legitimate aims of their revolution and accept responsibility for helping to sow violence and discord on the Korean peninsula.
The United States currently has an estimated 15 military bases in South Korea and at one point had over 900 nuclear warheads stored in the country.
The North has felt itself under siege and reacted accordingly by mobilizing itself for war.
When we recognize this fact and make amends for past wrongs, a process of rapprochement can begin and peaceful solution to the ongoing crisis achieved.
A signal needs to be sent out that we, the American people, want peace and not another Korean War, regardless of what the man sitting in the White House says.
Jeremy Kuzmarov teaches at the University of Tulsa and is author of three books on U.S. foreign policy along with an essay on the history of the Korean War available here: http://peacehistory-usfp.org/korean-war/.