The United States has no legitimate business threatening northern Korea. The Pyongyang government may represent a threat to Washington’s plans, but for Bush and his crew to provoke war is irresponsible and wrong. Since the fall of the Stalinist bureaucracies in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe over a decade ago, northern Korea has been left holding the bag. During the cold war, Korea’s southern half sold itself to the highest bidder (not without plenty of internal opposition) as the north solidified its ideological and economic ties to its allies in the ongoing struggle against Japan and the U.S.. Since those allies disappeared from the globe, the Pyongyang government has found itself the target of stepped up attacks.
Although the United States maintains one of its largest foreign contingents in Korea’s southern half and stockpiles thousands of weapons (some nuclear) there, it claims northern Korea’s nuclear development and export of weapons to various countries is a threat. This claim is made by a government who has looked the other way countless times when its allies (Israel, for one) are proven to be building nuclear weapons. It is made by a government which makes and sells more weapons of mass destruction than all the rest of the countries in the world. Admittedly, further weapons proliferation is not favorable to world peace, but for Washington to cry foul and demand a halt to Pyongyang’s research rings quite hollow. After all, it was Washington’s political and military manipulations after the Second World War that created two Koreas in the first place. Much to the anger and dismay of the majority of the Korean people.
How did the division occur, anyhow? Near the end of the Second World War, right before the U.S. dropped the bomb on Japan, the Soviet Union moved into northern Korea to fight the occupying Japanese troops. Within weeks of Japan’s surrender, democratic groups of Korean peasants, merchants, and workers formed local governing organizations and begin to organize a national assembly. The U.S. and U.S.S.R., meanwhile, chose to maintain a “temporary” occupation of the country with the 38th parallel as the dividing line. This occupation was to end after the Koreans established their own government, and Korea was to reunite. However, after the United States realized that the makeup of any Korean–organized government would be anti–colonial, it reneged on its promise.
Within weeks of the election of a popular national assembly, the Soviet Union began to withdraw its forces. The U.S., however, increased its military strength and coordinated security with the remnants of the hated Japanese army. At the same time, Synghman Rhee, an ultra–right Korean politician who was living in America, was flown back to Korea (with the assistance of the US intelligence community). He immediately began to liquidate the popular movement in southern Korea and, with the complete support of the U.S. military, refused to acknowledge the existence of the newly elected national assembly. In the weeks following his installment as ruler of southern Korea, over 100,000 Korean citizens were murdered and disappeared. The United States military provided the names of many of the victims.
After realizing that the United States had no plans to withdraw its troops, the Soviet Union put its withdrawal on hold and asked for assistance from the People’s Republic of China. In the days and weeks that passed, military units from the south persistently forayed into the northern half of Korea, testing its defenses. Eventually, although the exact details remain unclear, northern Korean and Chinese troops attacked. On June 25, 1950, the U.S. responded, using the authority of the U.N. Security Council, and the Korean war began. Three years and one month later an armistice was signed between the warring sides. The toll in lives was: 52, 246 US soldiers, an estimated 4 million Koreans on both sides of the parallel (mostly civilians), 1 million Chinese soldiers, and another 4000 soldiers from armies that allied themselves with the United States.
The Situation Today
In October 2000, the United States and northern Korea signed a bilateral agreement that read, in part: “Recognizing the changed circumstances on the Korean Peninsula created by the historic June 15, 2000 inter-Korean summit, the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have decided to take steps to fundamentally improve their bilateral relations in the interests of enhancing peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region.
The two sides agreed there are a variety of available means, including Four Party talks, to reduce tension on the Korean Peninsula and formally end the Korean War by replacing the 1953 Armistice Agreement with permanent peace arrangements.”
Unfortunately, the United States has not kept its end of the bargain. Most of this is due to the regime change in Washington. Despite the fundamentally imperialist nature of Bill Clinton’s foreign policy, his administration had made genuine steps towards resolving the decades-old dispute on the Korean peninsula and there was a real hope among the Korean people on both sides of the 38th parallel that a lasting peace would come to their land. Indeed, the most optimistic among them began to make plans for the eventual reunification of the country. Then GW Bush moved into the White House and brought with him a number of men and women who had no interest in continuing the Clinton policy of containment or, god forbid, negotiating a lasting peace.
The return to an antagonistic relationship was met by dismay in both Korean capitols. After southern Korea’s president Kim Dae Jung’s visit to Washington in March 2001 where he met with GW and a number of his henchmen, it was clear that the Clinton policy of rapprochement was dead. According to news reports, the meeting began on a sour note when Bush noted his dismay over Kim’s signature on a letter opposing the “Star Wars” missile defense system promoted by Bush and his defense industry cabinet and advisory staff. One of the targets of this so-called missile shield would be northern Korea. After this beginning, Kim knew there was little point to bring up his agenda, which included:
Signing a joint peace declaration with the North.
Formally ending hostilities a half-century after the end of their civil war.
Possibly supplying electricity to the energy-poor North.
Promoting a return visit to Seoul this spring by the North’s leader, Kim Jong-il.
Since that meeting, things have only worsened, with GW’s recent comments including northern Korea in a new “axis of evil” the most recent foray in the war of words between DC and Pyongyang. The hardliners in Washington refuse to even talk about peace, preferring to take a page out of cold war architect John Foster Dulles’ script from the 1950s (written primarily by the defense industry) and revive a decades-old war that most Americans and Koreans would rather forget. Northern Korea, seeing no prospect of achieving its desire for a lasting peace and eventual reunification through conversations with Seoul (conversations which need U.S. support, which is not forthcoming), seems to be returning to its previous hard-line position. Unfortunately for its population, this means more starvation and poverty, since what little money the government has will go towards maintaining and enhancing its military capabilities. As for the people of southern Korea and the rest of the region, it means a life where the fear of all-out war underlies every transaction, thanks to GW and his gang of international outlaws.
What are the alternatives? First and foremost, the United States should re-open the three-way conversation between the United States and both Koreas that was begun by the Clinton administration. Washington should recognize the northern Korean government as a responsible member of the international community and lift the economic sanctions against them. Lifting the sanctions would do more towards alleviating the suffering of the northern Korean people more than any other possible action. The people of this country, besides seeing much of their economic production being used to service the military, have also seen their countryside devastated by drought. It is this drought, more than any other factor, which has caused the scenes of suffering that the US news bureaus love to show us as examples of how Stalinist-type bureaucracies fail their populations. Of course, no government can prevent drought, not even capitalist ones, although the average US television viewer would never know that from these news reports. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the United States needs to let the people of the Korean peninsula decide their own fate-a fate which most certainly involves the eventual reunification of their country.