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    The Korean Powder Keg: Roots of Conflict


    Number of posts : 341
    Group : Réseau Luxemburgiste International/International Luxemburgit Network
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    Registration date : 2008-04-16

    The Korean Powder Keg: Roots of Conflict

    Post  ElIndio on Tue Dec 14, 2010 4:27 am

    An article of Richard Greeman :

    Dec. 12, 2010. The Korean crisis remains a tinderbox. For an activist
    of my generation, recent South Korean threats of air strikes against
    North Korea and the extension of U.S./ South Korean live-fire war
    games along the 38th Parallel revive eerie memories of June 1950, when
    similar provocative skirmishes led to the outbreak of a full-scale
    military conflagration which, sixty years later, still remains
    unresolved. I happen to have grown up in a ‘progressive’ (pro-Soviet)
    household during the dark days of the bloody Korean conflict, and I
    first became politically conscious during the hysterical
    (‘McCarthyite’) anti-Communist crusade that was its domestic
    counterpart. Here is my testimony.

    [N.B. For detailed analysis of the current crisis, please see parts I
    and II of my ‘The Korean Powder Keg’ reproduced below.]

    The Hidden History of the Korean War

    My kid’s-eye view of the world had been formed during the War against
    Hitler, when the Russians were our brave allies. Then came the Korea,
    and suddenly my patriotic, suburban N.Y. Jewish family became the ‘bad
    guys’ on the ‘wrong side’ of the new American war. I had just
    completing building a really neat Russian MIG-15 for a model airplane
    contest, but thought better of submitting it. Meanwhile a distant
    cousin, a WII pilot who had just managed to settle into civilian life
    and start a family, got called back and sent to Korea. I felt as
    confused as the legendary half-Jewish/half Japanese boy who on the
    anniversary of December 7, 1941 ‘attacked Pearl Schwartz.

    As I grew up, my understanding was deepened by the Left wing
    independent journalist I.F. Stone, one of my boyhood heroes and a
    family friend, whose book The Hidden History of the Korean War first
    cast doubt on the Cold War myth of ‘unprovoked Communist aggression.’
    Later, as a member of the Young Peoples’ Socialist League in
    solidarity with the pro-democracy Korean students, my eyes were
    further opened by an obscure mimeographed YPSL pamphlet called
    something like ‘Behind the Korean Revolt’ which recounted the tragic
    history of an aborted anti-colonial democratic revolution, a
    still-simmering civil war, and a failed ideology-driven U.S. policy.

    Today, thanks to Wikipedia and thirty years of revisionist
    scholarship, the ‘hidden’ history of the Korean tragedy is a secret
    only to the mainstream media and politicians who chose to cling to
    Cold War myths in order to justify U.S. imperialism’s current
    provocations. Free and available to young and old alike, the Wikipedia
    article on ‘The Korean War’ (with its links to more detailed articles
    on everything from specific battles to human rights violations) is
    scrupulously documented with references to public documents, official
    military histories, commission reports and mainstream specialist

    These sources document a tragic story which we old New Leftists more
    or less understood during the Cold War -- insights which enabled us
    escape from the US vs. USSR mindset, to anticipate Vietnam, and to
    sympathize with our contemporary South Korean comrades, the students
    and union members who, then as now, were fighting for democracy
    against U.S. imperialism and its right-wing South Korean allies. Here
    is their story, or what I know of it.

    The Korean Conflict broke out in June 1950 under circumstances
    strikingly similar to those pertaining today. As far as the media and
    official statements were concerned, the North Korean invasion of the
    South appeared like a bolt out of the blue, a shameless act of pure
    aggression. In fact, both Korean armies had been continually harassing
    each other with skirmishes and staging raids across the 38th parallel
    border. Under the guise of counter-attacking a South Korean
    provocation raid, the KPA crossed the 38th parallel behind artillery
    fire at dawn on Sunday 25 June 1950 in a well-prepared mass attack.
    The response of President Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson
    was immediate: all out war on North Korea. The N. Korean offensive was
    presented as a clear case of ‘unprovoked aggression’ caused by
    Communist Russia’s ravenous appetite for conquest. If the Korean
    domino were allowed to fall, all of Asia would be ‘lost.’ Korea
    equaled ‘Munich,’ and ‘Appeasement’ was out of the question. So was
    consulting the American people, who were still licking their wounds
    from WWII and had never heard of a place called Korea. Truman and
    Acheson considered the Americans ‘backward,’ sunk into pre-WWII
    isolationism, unconscious of the momentous task of ruling a global
    empire, the manifest destiny which had fallen to their lot. So the
    elite needed to decide for them, behind their backs, in their own best
    The U.N. Figleaf
    So there was no public debate, and U.S. troops were engaged in the
    Korean conflict by executive order. Two days after the June 25 N.
    Korean border-crossing, Truman went to the U.N. to obtain a legal
    fig-leaf to cover U.S. counter-intervention. In the absence of Russia
    (who had veto power but apparently assumed that no resolution could be
    binding without her vote). On the other hand, the Russians may have
    secretly relished a test of strength. In any case, a rump Security
    Council passed Resolution 83 authorizing member states to help the
    South Vietnamese militarily, ignoring the fact that officially the
    Korean conflict was classified, correctly, as a ‘civil war,’ barring
    outside intervention.
    In any case, that contested Resolution 83 was all Truman needed, and
    on June 27, before the ink was dry, he ordered the U.S. Air force into
    combat. Truman thus presented the public with a fait accompli and, to
    avoid debate, didn’t even bother to request formal approval from
    Congress. This shut the mouths of the rabid Republicans, who in any
    case would only have clamored for a more aggressive anti-Communist
    stand. It also shut the mouths of progressive unionists, civil rights
    and peace activists, whose previous pro-Soviet sympathies now were
    proof of ‘treason.’ Truman also introduced compulsory Loyalty oaths
    and prosecuted U.S. Communist leaders, while Congressional committees
    hounded subversives everywhere.
    The fighting in Korea was horrific, on the scale of WWII. There were
    even ‘thrilling’ (from a 13 year-olds point of view) dogfights
    between Russian MIGs and U.S. Saberjets in ‘MIG Alley’ on the Yalu
    River. There were amphibious D-day-type landings, rapid offensives and
    blitzkrieg counter-offensives, and major battles prolonged by two
    years of stalemated WWI type trench-warfare. Sixty years later, the
    military situation has remained frozen like a fly in amber, despite S.
    Korea’s ‘economic miracle’ and N. Korea’s isolation as the last
    existing Stalinist state. There is nothing to prevent it flaring up
    again in 2010. Indeed, by the time you read these lines N. Korean
    missiles may well be winging their way toward Tokyo and Seoul.

    An Unfinished Asian Revolution

    The roots of today’s crisis go back beyond the still-unfinished Korean
    Conflict of the 1950s, indeed back further, to the half-century
    Japanese imperialist occupation of the Korean peninsula (1890s-1945),
    to the century-old longing of the Korean people for national unity, to
    the anti-Japanese resistance and the anti-colonial Revolution of 1945,
    to the short-lived and long-forgotten united, democratic Korean
    Republic, to its subsequent dismemberment by the U.S. and Russian
    superpowers, and finally to the outbreak of the Cold War, of which the
    Korean Conflict was the prototype.

    Although the Korean Conflict it is usually seen as a proxy-war between
    the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (which is how U.S. policy makers saw it),
    the North Korean Communists were at no time pawns of the Russians, nor
    for that matter of the Chinese Communists, whom they had helped to
    power in 1949. Indeed, Kim Il Sung, the North Korean Party chief was a
    veteran Communist infighter, whose Juche (go it alone) faction was
    able to outmaneuver and purge both the Stalinist and Maoist Party
    factions, while extracting aid from both Russia and China.

    The Asian roots of the Korean conflict lie in the unfinished nature of
    Korea’s national independence revolution, aborted at the time of its
    victory over Japanese imperialism by the arbitrary decision by the
    US/USSR to occupy the liberated Korean peninsula and then divide it in
    half, without consulting any Korean representatives. Korea is an
    ancient nation-civilization, thought by some to be at the root
    (through trade and immigration) of modern Japanese culture, whose
    origins are more recent. However in the 1890s neighboring Japan
    emerged as a military and industrial capitalist power with imperial
    ambitions in Manchuria (where the Japanese defeated the Russian Empire
    in 1905) and Korea, which they formally annexed in 1910. The Japanese
    conquerors, who considered themselves racial superior, forced the
    Koreans to change their names to Japanese names, attempted to
    eradicate their language (like the British in Ireland) and reduced
    them to colonial semi-slavery (including sex-slavery during WWII).
    Koreans were also imported to work in Japan, where their descendants
    remain racial pariahs.

    The Korean independence movement emerged in 1919 with demonstrations
    inspired by Wilson’s ‘right to self-determination.’ It fought the
    Japanese occupation from exile and through the underground until on
    Aug. 15, 1945 the Japanese Governor General turned power over to
    democrat Yuh Woon-Hyung’s moderately left Korean Provisional
    Government. As in France at the time of the Liberation, there was an
    euphoric unity among straight nationalists, democrats and Communists,
    themselves organized into a variety of independent resistance groups.
    On September 6, 1945, a congress of representatives was convened in
    Seoul, founding a modern, democratic Korean state just three weeks
    after Japan's capitulation.

    The Brutal U.S. Occupation

    Then, as now, U.S. imperialism acted out its knee-jerk hostility to
    democracy. On Sept. 8, the day after Korea’s declaration of
    independence, the U.S. military forces under General MacArthur’s
    orders landed at Incheon, placed southern Korea under a U.S. military
    occupation regime and, lacking troops to enforce it, put the Japanese
    garrison back in power to maintain order. The Americans refused to
    meet with Yuh Woon-Hyung’s Provisional Government and treated all
    indigenous attempts at self-government as communist insurgency. As the
    population rose up, the U.S. banned strikes outlawed the Provisional
    Government and the PRK People's Committees. The arrests and massacres
    of the independence demonstrator were carried out by the
    collaborationist Korean Police, who had served as enforcers for
    Japanese imperialists and now served the U.S. Occupiers.

    As a sop to Korean nationalist sentiment, the U.S. set up a puppet
    state under Syngman Rhee, a right-wing anti-Communist who had spent
    most of his life in exile in the U.S. Rhee imposed a brutal
    dictatorship, based on ex-collaborators, in order to crush the
    democratic effervescence of the Liberation, persecute his political
    opponents and carry out military campaigns against strikers, students
    and left-wing insurgents who were forced to take up arms against the
    government. Between 30,000 and 100,000 people would lose their lives
    during Rhee’s war against the left-wing insurgents.

    While the U.S. Command looked on, Rhee’s military police and
    right-wing paramilitary (civilian) armies executed thousands of
    left-wing and communist political prisoners at Daejeon Prison and in
    the Jeju Uprising (1948–49). U.S. diplomat Gregory Henderson, then in
    Korea, calculates some 100,000 pro-North political prisoners were
    killed and buried in mass graves. The South Korean Truth and
    Reconciliation Commission has compiled reports of hundreds of
    thousands of civilian killings before and during the war. Thus Rhee’s
    ferocious anti-Communist repression pushed the mass of patriots and
    democrats into the ranks of the Communists, who numbered among the
    millions, spread about equally in both the South and the North.
    The North Korean Communists Consolidate
    Meanwhile, in August 1950 the northern half of the Korean peninsula
    was being occupied by Soviet troops, who had recently joined the
    anti-Japanese war at U.S. request and had quickly liberated all of
    Manchuria through massive broad-front attacks. (Some Leftists believed
    that Truman dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki as a signal to
    the Russians, whose rapid land advances in Asia were daily encroaching
    on U.S. spheres of influence). At a hasty Moscow meeting from which
    the Koreans were excluded, the newly liberated Korean nation was
    divided in two, with U.S. and Russia as occupiers.

    Unlike the Americans, the Russian occupiers chose to recognize the
    popular Korean Independence Committees, mostly led by Communist
    resistance-fighters, and allowed them to proceed to self-government,
    while centralizing the independent groups and placing Communists in
    key posts. As in the South, the northern Communists were divided into
    factions, and although Kim il Sung, who was eventually to dominate the
    Party, spent part of the War in Manchuria under the Russians, he was
    not a Russian stooge (unlike his East German counterparts).

    Kim based his popularity on the countryside, where the Party carried
    out a relatively successful land reform, without excessive violence
    such as occurred in China. Kim also sent N. Korean volunteer troops to
    China to help Mao Tse-tung’s Red Army defeat the reactionary
    U.S.-backed regime of Chang Kai-Shek in 1949. The Chinese returned the
    complement in 1950 when the U.S. invaded North Korea, but Kim
    prevented the pro-Chinese faction from dominating the Korean Party,
    and his regime remains independent to this day, probably to China’s
    great chagrin.

    In this fluid situation, the multi-tendency Korean Communist Party
    retained some of the qualities of a genuine revolutionary mass-based
    socialist movement. Alas, during the War the North Korean Party-state
    became totally bureaucratized, with Kim Il-Sung purging all
    independent tendencies, fabricating his increasingly outlandish.
    personality cult, and consolidating his own Stalinist-style
    totalitarian military state, forced to live in impoverished autarchy
    by sixty years of U.S. war and sanctions.

    The brittle gerontocracy that rules the DPRK Party-state today knows
    its days are numbered, one way or another. With little to lose, those
    old men would have little hesitation deploying their nukes if their
    regime is seriously threatened. Their goal is to finish their lives in
    luxury, like the victorious North Vietnamese Communist veterans now
    presiding over a state-controlled capitalist miracle. Obviously,
    victory is their only chance for survival, and attack has always been
    their military doctrine. What can Obama possibly hope to gain by
    stirring up this very nasty nuclear hornets nest?

    To return to 1945-1948, the arbitrary division of Korea was still
    considered merely a temporary measure in view of national elections
    and the re-unification of the country, desired by both sides. There
    was much movement back and forth, as a ‘north’ Korean may have been
    born in the south and vice-versa, so it was never clear who belonged
    where as refugees from both sides moved north and south. And so the
    bloody civil war between the Rhee dictatorship and the Communist-led
    resistance in the south of Korea spilled over into the north, and was
    inseparable from the Communist movement there and from the mass
    aspiration for reunification and national sovereignty.

    A similar situation obtained in Vietnam after 1954, when after
    France’s military humiliation and the Geneva Accords, Communist North
    Vietnam was ruled by Ho Chi Minh (a southerner) pending nationwide
    elections while in the South, the U.S. set up as puppet dictator an
    anti-Communist exile named Diem (a northerner). As later in Vietnam,
    the Americans reneged on the promise of national elections. In 1948,
    the U.S. set up dictator Syngman Rhee as the first President of the
    Republic of South Korea (ROK). Curiously, the U.S. then withdrew its
    forces from the still-divided peninsula. With the Korean civil war
    still raging, this was practically an invitation to invasion from the

    The Smoldering Korean Civil War Bursts into Flame
    Full-scale fighting began on June 23 when the Peoples’ Army of North
    Korea crossed the 38th Parallel in a massive, well-planned invasion
    and penetrated deep into the South, over-running the capital at Seoul
    and pushing the South Korean forces into a small enclave around Pusan
    on the SE coast. This brilliant initial military exploit compares with
    the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, both successful in the face
    of somewhat suspicious U.S. un-preparedness. (The U.S. military had
    ignored months of ROK warnings and requests for help).

    But the battle of June 1950 is best understood as an episode in the
    ongoing Korean civil war – a conflict between U.S.-imposed right-wing
    tyranny based a repressive police apparatus inherited from Korea’s
    Japanese overlords on the one hand and a popular, mass-based national
    liberation movement led by a dynamic multi-tendency Communist Party
    relatively independent of both Moscow and Peking. This explains why
    the feeble South Korean Army melted away in the face of the Northern
    advance, with half the ROK troops deserting north to join their
    Communist brothers and the others deserting South toward Pusan to save
    their skins.

    There were horrible massacres on both sides. The Rhee dictatorship,
    before evacuating Seoul, carried out the immediate mass liquidation of
    about one hundred thousand ‘Communists’ -- trade-unionists, students,
    liberals and Communists long held in camps or under surveillance. Mass
    graves of thousands of men, women and children murdered by Rhee have
    recently been uncovered and identified. On the other side, during the
    period of Communist control of four fifths of the South, there were
    mass trials and executions of ‘criminals’ accused of collaborating
    with the Japanese and the Rhee dictatorship, similar to those held in
    France at the time of the Liberation, but on a vaster and more brutal

    The U.S. Intervenes

    At the end of WWII, the U.S. had disarmed with amazing rapidity,
    abandoning or moth-balling huge stocks of military equipment. The
    humiliating defeat of U.S. ally South Korea was an ideal pretext for
    re-militarization. Meanwhile, there were still active-duty U.S. units
    in Japan, and Truman hurriedly ferried over planes and tanks to
    reinforce the besieged Pusan pocket before Rhee’s forces were driven
    into the sea.

    As supreme commander of U.S. forces in the Asia/Pacific, Truman had
    inherited WWII General Douglas MacArthur, an arrogant right-wing
    ego-maniac with political ambitions who, after abandoning his troops
    in Bataan in a cowardly manner 1941, had eventually defeated Japan
    through a costly series of spectacular amphibious invasions of
    heavily-defended islands like Iwo Jima. Against the advice of the
    Pentagon and his own subordinates, MacArthur hastily organized a
    spectacular amphibious invasion at Incheon 100 miles behind N. Korean
    lines (where last month Adm. Mullen carried out provocative live-fire
    amphibious invasion exercises). MacArthur’s plan included sending
    armored columns driving north toward the Chinese border on the Yalu
    River, capturing the DPRK capital at Pangyong, and liberating the
    Korean peninsula from the Communist enemy.

    In September 1950, MacArthur’s D-Day style landings and blitzkrieg
    armored drives to the north went off as planned, dramatically
    reversing the military situation and making him the hero of the day
    and likely 1952 Republican presidential candidate. Truman’s orders to
    MacArthur had been ambiguous. He had been authorized to cross the 38th
    Parallel only if there was no evidence the Chinese would intervene. In
    October, the President requested a meeting with his Supreme Commander,
    which took place on Wake Island since MacArthur arrogantly refused to
    go to Washington. There he reassured Truman that there was little risk
    of Chinese intervention in Korea as UN forces pushed north to the
    Yalu. The troops would be home ‘by Xmas.’

    The Chinese Enter the Fray

    The Chinese Communists, who had taken power in Peking just a year
    before and were still fighting a civil war with Chiang Kai Chek’s
    Nationalist Army, protected by the U.S. 7th Fleet Formosa, were
    naturally alarmed. The Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) protested
    through the U.N. and private diplomatic channels making it clear that
    they would intervene if U.N. forces threatened their security --
    communications which Truman dismissed as ‘a bald attempt to blackmail
    the UN.’ (Sound familiar?) Meanwhile, undetected, a huge army of
    Chinese ‘volunteers’ had been massing in Manchuria and infiltrating
    North Korea heavily camouflaged and under cover of darkness.

    In October, with UN mechanized forces stretched out over long supply
    lines in the impassable wilds of North Korean, the Chinese suddenly
    unleashed wave upon wave nighttime mass infantry attacks, stunning the
    unprepared Americans and over-running their lines. In the celebrated
    Christmas 1950 battles around the Chosin Reservoir, Chinese
    ‘volunteers’ surrounded and decimated a whole battalion of Marines.
    ‘Frozen Chosin’ was a bloody defeat, comparable to that of the French
    at Dien Bien Phu in Indochina four years later, except that the
    surviving Marines were able to fight their way to the cost in the
    longest retreat and largest evacuation in U.S. military history. In
    see-saw battles, combined N. Vietnamese/Chinese again pushed the UN
    forces back far to the south.

    U.S. Defeat

    No GIs were sent ‘home for Xmas.’ Instead, thousands of defeated and
    humiliated U.S. soldiers and officers were taken prisoner and a
    sizable number became demoralized, since they had no idea where they
    had been sent to fight or why. Harshly treated and half-starved (like
    the N. Koreans themselves), some were persuaded under heavy Communist
    political pressure to make anti-US propaganda, giving rise to the myth
    of ‘brainwashing.’

    MacArthur’s grandiose solution to this humiliating U.S. military
    defeat was to ‘finish the job,’ carrying the anti-Communist Crusade
    farther north, into China itself, and his proposed use of nuclear
    weapons was discusses seriously at the highest levels. But the
    arrogant Supreme American Commander was contemptuous of his civilian
    President, a former haberdasher whom everybody called ‘Harry.’ The
    right-wing Man on Horseback over-played his hand, addressing his
    warlike appeals to the electorate and the Congress over Truman’s
    head, and Truman fired him.

    General Ridgeway took over the UN Command, and a possible nuclear war
    with China was averted. Eventually, after years of heavy fighting
    (including savage battles like ‘Porkchop Hill’) and massive infusions
    of U.S. military might the two sides were reduced to a stalemate along
    the 38th Parallel. All in all, it was a defeat for the U.S., South
    Korea, their U.N. allies. Unwilling to admit defeat, the imperialists
    were equally unable to defeat the North Koreans or to sustain a
    continued war of attrition. Armistice talks were opened and dragged on
    for months and years. Sixty year later, nothing essential has changed
    on the ground. Only the stakes in the game have grown considerably
    higher. Obama faces the same dilemma as Truman and MacArthur, and
    North Korea remains an unpredictable wild card.

    The ‘Korea Syndrome’

    During the stalled talks Cold Warrior Truman kept up his
    anti-Communist rhetoric, while far-right Republican grandstanders like
    Joe McCarthy were accusing the hawkish Democrats of ’20 Years of
    Treason.’ Just like today’s rabid Republican attacks on our hawkish
    Obama, the rabid right served to reinforce the bi-partisan imperialist
    drive to war and lock the U.S. into an rigid stance. Nonetheless,
    after two years, despite witch-hunts and intensive anti-Communist
    propaganda, nearly half the electorate considered the decision to
    enter the war ‘a mistake.’ Truman and Acheson were correct in
    assuming the ‘backward’ American public would not support the burden
    of becoming the world’s imperialist policeman. Thus, the 1951
    Republican nomination went not to the controversial warmongering
    MacArthur, but to a moderate WWII hero, General Eisenhower, who was
    swept in to office on the simple promise ‘I will go to Korea.’

    During the presidential campaign, I unwittingly embarrassed my parents
    in front of their Leftist friends, who were earnestly debating whether
    they should support the Democrat Stevenson or the Progressive
    candidate, one Vincent Hallinan. One progressive lady asked me for my
    opinion, and little Richard answered that he thought a general who
    knew how bad war was might make peace. He was right. Unlike Nixon,
    whose 1968 ‘secret plan’ to end the Vietnam War was a hoax, President
    Eisenhower immediately signed the Korean cease fire.

    Eisenhower also had the authority to silence Joseph McCarthy’s
    demagoguery and bring the country back to relative normality.
    Eisenhower cooled down the Cold War, refused to aid the French, who
    were bogged down in Vietnam and wanted him to use the A-bomb; Ike
    confined his imperialist adventures to CIA coups in Iran and
    Guatemala, and famously warned about the ‘military-industrial complex’
    and the dangers of fighting ‘a land-war in Asia.’ At the time, no one
    spoke of a ‘Korea Syndrome’ infecting the American public with a
    salutary mistrust of foreign military interventions.

    The Truman Doctrine Revived
    It took the charisma of the Democrat Jack Kennedy to revive Truman’s
    Cold War and the Imperial Presidency. As opposed to Eisenhower-era
    complacency, Kennedy’s bold new American vision demanded ‘greatness’
    and ‘sacrifice’ to conquer an international ‘New Frontier,’ roll back
    Communism and to set a moral example for the world by ‘standing tall’
    à la John Wayne under all circumstances. A professional anti-Communist
    (his brother Bobby worked for McCarthy), Kennedy succeeded in out
    Red-baiting Tricky Dicky Nixon with accusations of a mythical
    ‘missile-gap’ (shades of Saddam’s WMDs) and ‘won’ the 1959 election by
    a hair, thanks to some timely ballot-stuffing by Chicago’s Boss Daley.
    During his brief presidency JFK, whose favorable posthumous reputation
    is based on the pathos of his untimely death, succeeded in dismissing
    Khrushchev’s ‘Peaceful Co-existence’ Policy as ‘Commie propaganda,’
    invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, confronted the Russians
    eyeball-to-eyeball in Berlin, risked atomic war over Cuba, secretly
    took over the colonial role of the defeated French in the ongoing
    Vietnamese civil war and installed an exiled right-wing Catholic named
    Diem as his puppet dictator in the South (much as Truman had installed
    Rhee), setting the state for a new Korean-style U.S. defeat.
    Once Kennedy revived the Domino Theory, made Vietnam a ‘test of
    American will’ and proclaimed that backing down would cause the U.S.
    an unacceptable ‘loss of credibility,’ he transformed the conflict
    from a routine imperialist colony-grab to an ideology-driven crusade
    with no possible retreat, making loss of domestic support and ultimate
    humiliating military defeat inevitable. Neither Johnson, with his fake
    Bay of Tonkin Incident nor Nixon with his ‘secret plan’ were able
    either to rally public support or to abandon U.S. imperialism’s rigid,
    ideology-driven, moralistic posture. They were doomed to fight on,
    searching for that ever-elusive ‘light at the end of the tunnel,’
    until the Americans were forced to evacuate the U.S. Embassy in Saigon
    by helicopter, leaving their Vietnamese collaborators to their fate
    and completing their self-fulfilling prophecy about America’s ‘loss of

    Realpolitik or Imperial Madness?
    To recapitulate: In 1950 in the crucible of the Korean War, Harry
    Truman forged today’s National Security State, anticipating today’
    today’s USA PATRIOT ACT complete with FBI wiretaps, treason trials,
    and (never used) concentration camps in the South for folks like my
    folks. Truman was also the true Father of Presidential War, a
    dishonorable title that has been carelessly bestowed on
    fellow-liberals JFK and LBJ, on Republicans like Nixon and on
    pipsqueak Bush with his mythical WMDs. In retrospect, they were
    pigmies walking in the giant footsteps of this modest Missouri
    nonentity who earned his rightful place in history as the architect of
    the Cold War and Founder of the Imperial Presidency.
    The geo-political basis for Truman’s National Security State was
    apparently rational, if cynical: according to his liberal advisor
    George Kennan, if the U.S. wanted to continue to dominate the world’s
    resources with one 20th of its population, it would have to do away
    such niceties as democracy and fairness. This meant intervening
    anywhere U.S. interests may be threatened by popular movements,
    supporting pro-US reactionary dictatorships wherever possible, and
    sustaining a high level of patriotic propaganda, repression and
    anti-Communist hysteria to limit criticism at home.

    The problem was that Truman’s rational neo-colonialist geo-political
    strategy became the prisoner of the rigid ideology designed to justify
    it to a basically isolationist electorate. Korea in 1950 was the first
    domino. It was then that U.S. policy became frozen into irrational
    stereotyped postures of inflexible strength and uncompromising
    moralistic rigidity which, despite American imperialism’s indisputable
    military might and endless economic resources, has led to a string of
    quagmires and humiliating defeats (plus two puny victories: the
    invasions of Granada and Panama).

    The March of Folly
    In the wake of America’s defeat in Vietnam, the historian Barbara
    Tuchman published The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, a
    meditation on the historical recurrence of governments pursuing
    policies evidently contrary to their own interests and persisting in
    that folly, despite the repeated evidence of past experience and the
    reasonable advice of critics and allies. Despite 60 years of
    stalemates, quagmires and humiliating defeats, U.S. imperialism is
    still trapped in the march of folly. Whether the crusade be called
    ‘anti-Communism,’ the war on ‘drugs’ or the war on ‘terrorism,’ no
    Administration dares step out of rank, listen to reason, consider
    making peace.
    Like Truman, JFK, LBJ, Nixon-Kissinger and Bush before him, Obama is a
    prisoner of the ‘Frontier Myth’ of America’s manifest destiny to rule
    over ‘lesser peoples’ (beginning with the Indians) by ‘liberating’
    them through what Richard Slotkin in his book Gunfighter Nation calls
    ‘redemptive violence.’ It is thus always ‘High Noon’ on America’s
    world-wide ‘New Frontier,’ and like a Hollywood sheriff with a
    fast-draw reputation to protect, the U.S. is under a perennial
    obligation to shoot it out with every young hothead with a six-gun who
    walks into the saloon and issues a challenge. Engaging in negotiation
    with an enemy defined as ‘Communist’ or ‘terrorist’ would be seen as
    shameful cowardice – if not by the U.S.’s democratic allies (who would
    in all likelihood feel relief) – then by America’s far-right
    noise-machine, which would holler ‘treason’ at the slightest show of
    flexibility. Hence Obama’s insane game of nuclear chicken with North
    Korea’s desperate diehard Stalinist regime.
    Possible Solutions
    Is there a way out of this deadly Asian impasse? There can be no real
    solution short of a democratic, unified Korea. For a century the
    youth, intellectuals and organized workers of Korea have been
    struggling for democracy and national sovereignty, first in the
    anti-Japanese resistance and then against a string of U.S.-supported
    right-wing dictatorships. In 1960, demonstrations by the Korean
    student movement (with which we YPSL’s were allied) overthrew Syngman
    Rhee, but the promise of democracy was thwarted by military coup.
    General Park’s ruthless military dictatorship, under which the Korean
    economy prospered through state intervention, lasted until Park’s
    assassination in 1979. Alas, the revival of democracy was thwarted by
    General Chou’s 1980 military coup, provoking mass demonstrations,
    brutally repressed.
    Only in 1987, after revelations of the torture-death of a student, did
    uprisings by workers and students succeed in restoring the rule of
    law. Today, the Korean working class, allied with the students, is
    arguably the most militant, organized and politically conscious in the
    world. Popular demonstrations have succeeded in imposing the “Sunshine
    policy” (in favor of rapprochment with the North) of Presidents Kim
    and Roh (a former labor leader), put a stop to the 2003 flare-up of
    hostilities with the North, and forced the evacuation of the American
    garrison in Seoul, many of whose 37,000 U.S. soldiers routinely
    indulged in violent, drunken, racist and sexist off-base behavior.
    Surely they will have their say in the present crisis.
    As for the American people, despite a naive patriotism exploited by 60
    years of intensive government anti-Communist and anti-terrorist
    fear-mongering, the vast majority have always eventually rejected as
    ‘mistakes’ elite-imposed wars in Korea, Vietnam, and now Irak
    according to various polls. Indeed, under the illusion that Barack
    Obama would bring peace, as Dwight Eisenhower did in 1952, white
    Americans even overcame their racism and elected a Black President,
    for all the good it did us.
    As we have seen, the imperialist National Security State was an
    invention of liberal Democrats (Truman, Acheson, Brennan) who, then as
    now, relied on the howlings of their rabid Republican critics to
    stifle anti-war critics and appear ‘reasonable.’ So anti-war folks
    beware: rather than acting as cheerleaders in the
    Corporation-sponsored quadrennial Donkeys versus Elephant Stuperbowl,
    we Americans need to revive our independent anti-war movement, put
    Korea high on the agenda, and build links of solidarity with our
    counterparts among the Korean student, union and anti-war Koreans
    movements. Such an international U.S./Korean anti-war alliance is the
    surest way to break through the Cold War shibboleths designed to
    divide us and to build a powerful solidarity movement.
    To unite with our Korean comrades, we must first understand their
    situation, their history and our country’s role in their plight. I
    hope that this Cold War era New Left testimony/analysis of the Korean
    Tragedy will help that necessary understanding. I urge my friends and
    readers to share this information as widely as possible.
    Richard Greeman
    Montpellier France, Dec. 11, 2010

    URGENT APPEAL: Korea remains a tinderbox which could blow up again at
    any minute. We must inform people and raise a protest, beginning with
    the peace movement and Left who seem clueless on this issue. Please

    Second article in the series:

    The Korean Powder Keg II : New U.S. Provocations
    Dec. 10, 2010. Why is the Obama Administration, bogged down in the
    Iraqi and Afghani quagmires, still playing ‘chicken’ with a
    trigger-happy nuclear-armed North Korean regime? Far from allowing the
    crisis following last month’s deadly artillery duel to die down, the
    U.S. and South Korea have ratcheted up the saber-rattling, extending
    the massive mobilization of their troops for a prolonged live fire
    military ‘games’ deliberately designed ‘to effectively deter North
    Korean aggression and strengthen the joint capabilities to respond.’
    (This according to a Dec. 7 joint statement by South Korean Chief of
    Staff Han and his U.S. counterpart, Admiral Mike Mullen.)
    Escalating Threats
    More frightening still are the recent statements by South Korea’s new,
    far-right defense secretary Kim Kwan-jin, who threatens to launch
    South Korean air-strikes at the slightest N. Korean provocation. The
    appointment of the bellicose Kim represents a sudden and dramatic
    revolution in South Korean military strategy. Korean policy has been
    hardening since the 2008 election of hawkish President Lee, who
    scrapped his predecessor’s President Roh’s conciliatory ‘Sunshine
    Policy’ (under which South Koreans were able to communicate with
    family members in the North for the first time in 60 years).
    The South Korean electorate, haunted by memories of the bloody 1950-53
    War, has long been anti-militarist, content to bask in their
    increasing prosperity and let the N. Koreans rattle their cage from
    time to time over the years. ‘North Korea has nothing to lose, while
    we have everything to lose’ explained a professor of politics at Seoul
    National University recently quoted in the N.Y. Times. Now, in a
    striking reversal, we have trigger-happy Defense Minister Kim, backed
    by Admiral Mike Mullen and his atomic fleet, publicly declaring his
    policy of giving ‘more authority to commanders in the field’ including
    to ‘shoot first’ (in the case of aerial dogfights). According to a
    senior South Korean military analyst quoted in the Times, ‘the new
    rules of engagement would also allow pre-emptive strikes on the North
    if there are indications of a possible attack. . .’ Given the North’s
    superior ground power, the South Koreans will rely on “using the air
    force is a way of balancing the power in the region.”
    Possible Consequences of Miscalculation
    The slightest miscalculation on the part of trigger-happy South Korean
    officers or their paranoid-for-a-reason North Korean counterparts
    could re-ignite the still-unresolved 1950-1953 Korean conflict,
    involving South Korea and the U.S. in an Asian land-war of major
    proportions with a military power whose nuclear umbrella (and alliance
    with China) would preclude the use of U.S. nuclear might. Far from
    backing down in the face of U.S. posturing, the North Koreans, like
    the North Vietnamese forty years ago, know they are in a position
    reduce America to what a desperate Nixon called a ‘helpless giant.’
    They are confident of prevailing and, like the North Vietnamese
    Communists before them, they are prepared to pay the price of such a
    As we noted last week, (see ‘The Korean Powder-Keg I’ attached below),
    North Korea’s deliberate lethal shelling of a costal island, following
    upon the sensational revelation of her new, advanced atomic
    facilities, were not ‘irrational’ outbursts, much less pointless,
    isolated ‘provocations,’ but a carefully calculated responses to
    massive U.S./South Korean ‘live-fire’ military exercises carried out
    in disputed coastal waters in the context of an aggressive U.S. policy
    openly aimed at the DPRK’s overthrow as a ‘terrorist state’ (the Axis
    of Evil) and ‘regime change.’

    Does Washington have a Strategy?

    Is there any geo-political strategy behind these bellicose imperialist
    posturings? Apparently South Korea’s hawkish new President and the
    clueless Obama Administration, have been ratcheting up the tension in
    the mistaken belief that increasing outside pressure will somehow
    cause the rigid Stalinist regime to crack, with U.S. and South Korean
    troops being greeted as liberators by N. Korean maidens holding
    flowers. However, historical experience indicates that outside
    pressure only serves to harden national feeling (London under the
    blitz, N. Vietnam under the B-52’s) and to strengthen dictatorial
    regimes (from Hitler’s to Castro’s). In 2003 Bush and Cheney dreamed
    up and then stage-managed such a ‘liberation’ in Baghdad (famously
    faking the toppling of Saddam’s statue) with disastrous long term
    results for U.S. power and prestige. But at least the Bushies had the
    excuse of Far-Right ideology, native stupidity and self-imposed

    No doubt Bush holdover Gates still harbors such illusions concerning
    the ‘liberation’ North Korea, but our wonk of a President and his
    sophisticated Secretary of State have also been advised by former
    President and Special Envoy Jimmy Carter, a former Ambassador to S.
    Vietnam, intelligence experts and veterans of the Bill Clinton State
    Department (which negotiated a treaty with N. Korea in 1999 but at the
    last minute failed to sign it). They know perfectly well that the
    North Koreans sincerely want peace and will reliably give up nukes for
    diplomatic recognition and a treaty to end the State of War which the
    U.S. continues to impose on them. Yet the Obama Administration has
    made a point of refusing to talk with the DPRK, even in the context of
    the six-partite regional peace forum sponsored by the Chinese.

    The China Factor

    Clearly, much of this U.S. naval muscle-flexing is aimed at the
    Chinese, who naturally consider as part of their sphere of influence
    the South China Sea, with claimed coastal waters extending 200 miles
    out into the gulf. The Chinese can only view the presence of a huge
    naval armada in their private lake the way Americans would view a
    Russian fleet headed by the nuclear aircraft carrier V.I. Lenin
    steaming into the Gulf of Mexico to conduct joint live-fire exercises
    with Castro’s Cuba, including an amphibious landing in Mexico. The
    explicit purpose of this show of fore, according to U.S. Chief of
    Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, is to pressure the Chinese to take a public
    stand condemning the North Koreans.

    China’s official position, in its peacemaking role as the major
    regional power, is to invite the U.S. back to the six-party talks it
    is sponsoring – talks which the Obama Administration is for some
    obscure reason boycotting. For China to condemn North Korea under the
    threat of U.S. naval pressure in her coastal waters would be an
    unthinkable loss of face, a betrayal of the 60-year alliance between
    the two Asian Communist neighbors, and an abject submission to U.S.
    imperialism. Highly unlikely.

    Gunboat Diplomacy

    So why is Obama playing Teddy Roosevelt style gunboat diplomacy in the
    South China Sea, signaling an abrupt rupture in America’s peaceful
    relation with China, the U.S.’s biggest economic partner and its major
    creditor? Can’t Obama see that the rising, nuclear-armed Asian
    superpower will be harder to intimidate than Nicaragua? What is the
    pressing geo-strategic advantage of risking a major break with China
    and involvement in another land war in Asia over the North Koreans,
    who are basically rattling their cage in order to get the U.S. to talk
    to them? Why are the Americans, who failed to win the first Korean
    War, were beaten in Vietnam, and are now quagmired in Muslim West
    Asia, once again acting out John Wayne at the Alamo, this time with
    Obama as an unlikely Davy Crockett and N. Korea’s Kim Jing il in the
    role of the Mexican General Santa Ana?

    The short answer is this: after 60 years U.S. imperialism is still
    unwilling to admit it lost the Korean War, beaten by an Asian people
    and forced to withdraw because U.S. public opinion would no longer
    sustain it. The ‘Korea syndrome’ was the grandfather of the ‘Vietnam
    syndrome,’ and U.S. imperialism, like a macho who is worried about
    sexual impotence, keeps trying obsessively to ‘prove himself’ after
    each failure. Indeed, ‘getting over’ the Vietnam syndrome was one of
    the Bush Administrations avowed aims in invading Iraq.

    The roots of the ‘long answer’ go back to the origins of the Cold War
    and the ‘Hidden History of the Korean War’, which my boyhood hero I.F.
    Stone was the first to reveal. I explore these roots in my next
    article. Meanwhile, don’t forget to click on and to pass on this article to

    First article in series:

    The Korean Powder-Keg I

    Dec. 6, 2010. North Korea is a powder keg, and the Obama
    Administration -- like the Bush Administration whose bellicose
    policies it inherited -- is playing with matches. Why are the U.S. and
    its allies hysterical about the Iranians -- whose nuclear programs
    might at some future time lead to nuclear weapons -- while recklessly
    provoking the North Koreans, whose stock of tested nuclear weapons are
    presumably operational now?

    The Korean powder-keg is the kind of situation that calls for delicate
    diplomacy, yet the U.S. chose to send the atomic-powered aircraft
    carrier George Washington to join the provocative U.S./South Korean
    war-games in contested waters just off the coast of North Korea.
    While the Administration and the media chose to focus on the fatal
    shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in order to portray the N. Koreans as
    homicidal maniacs, placed in the context of the U.S. imperialism’s far
    more aggressive and provocative behaviors, N. Korea’s brutal ‘signals’
    may best understood as defensive.
    Look at the facts from the N. Korean point of view.

    Under the pretext of ‘live-fire’ war games, the U.S./S.Korean command
    assembled a huge armada including the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit
    and the 7th Air Force in the South China Sea where U.S. and South
    Korean marines planned to stage a combined amphibious landing
    exercise. This was to take place on the west coast of Korea a few
    miles from Inchon, where, as every Korean school-child knows, in June
    1950 Gen. MacArthur pulled off his historic amphibious invasion of in
    and set out to conquer the North. The N. Koreans had every reason to
    fear that history will repeat itself, given that such maneuvers have
    often been preludes to war (as in Europe in 1914).

    Moreover, North Korean schoolchildren (not to mention military
    leaders) are also painfully aware that sixty years after MacArthur’s
    invasion, the U.S. has still not made peace or recognized their
    government. Thus the most powerful nation on earth is still officially
    at war with their country and free to attack them without warning. Are
    their fears irrational? Let us recall that from the official U.S.
    point of view, the Korean conflict of 1950-1953 was not a “War” but a
    “Police Action,” part of America’s self-appointed role as policeman
    of the world and leader of the anti-Communist crusade. Washington
    still considers itself the world’s policeman and has declared the
    Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) part of the ‘Axis of
    Evil’ -- placed on the U.S. agenda for Iraq-style ‘regime change’
    (i.e. invasion and occupation).

    Give Peace a Chance?

    On the other hand, the goals of the legitimate (if repugnant)
    government of the DPRK are equally simple: As the N. Korean leadership
    has repeatedly stated, they would give up their nukes in return for
    diplomatic relations and a peace treaty ending the war. Moreover,
    such promises have proven reliable in the past. What is the U.S.
    counter-offer? The same one they gave to the Indians: turn in your
    weapons first, and trust the Great White Father in Washington to treat
    you fairly afterwards. A century ago in the Far West, the Apaches and
    the Comanches only had bows and a few rifles, but rather than submit
    to living death on the Reservation they chose to fight on. The
    Comanche of today’s Far East have a huge, modern mechanized army
    backed by nukes. It is unlikely that they will submit, and if they
    feel threatened they will not hesitate to attack first, as they have
    proven in the past.

    The deliberately lethal N. Korean shellings of last week and their
    deliberate revelation of new, more advanced nuclear facilities were
    designed to convince Obama and the South Koreans they mean business.
    It would be sheer madness to call their bluff when, to quote Lennon,
    ‘All they are saying is give peace a chance.’ Yet, Washington,
    apparently still obsessed with America’s John Wayne image as
    hard-nosed Indian-fighter and implacable Sheriff of the world,
    adamantly refuses to negotiate and insists on playing ‘chicken’ with
    an adversary who has much less to lose and is therefore unlikely to
    blink first. If the DPRK is pushed too far and decides to attack, what
    might happen next?

    A New Korean War?

    The 1950-53 Korean Conflict between a United Nations Police Force
    headed by the U.S. (including notably G.B. and Turkey) and the DPRK
    ended in a stalemate, with a Cease Fire and the creation of a narrow
    Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas along the 38th Parallel.
    Along this Cease-Fire line, fortified on both sides, bloody skirmishes
    have been taking place for sixty years. Half of South Korea’s
    population is within 50 miles of North Korea’s arsenal of almost
    12,000 artillery guns and rockets. Those weapons are ‘more than
    sufficient to destroy much of what South Korea has created in over
    half a century.’ Recently discovered were two North Korean
    infiltration tunnels: 2 meters wide, 2 meters high and 65 meters
    underground, capable of transporting 10,000 solders an hour right up
    to the outskirts of Seoul, South Korean capital. The existence of 15
    other tunnels is suspected.

    The North Korean army has 1,100,000 soldiers, well armed and well fed
    despite widespread shortages generally. North Korea is one of the
    poorest countries in the world, South Korea is one of the richest. The
    opportunity for North Korean troops to plunder the South, as they did
    in 1950, would relieve the North’s economic crisis and restore
    popularity to the dictatorial regime. If they feel threatened enough,
    the North Koreans are in a position to over-run South Korea in a
    matter of days, just like they did in 1950. And this time, they would
    be protected by a nuclear umbrella.

    The North Korean government began its atomic program in the 1950s,
    constructed reactors in the 1960s and eventually succeeded in
    producing atomic weapons and in testing missiles to launch them.
    Military experts estimate that the DPRK has built 8 to 12 nuclear
    warheads, but they may have many more. In a situation where it will
    no longer have much to loose, the North Korean regime will not
    hesitate to use them. Assuming a 50% or even a 90% failure rate among
    their Soviet-era medium-range missiles, the North Koreans could still
    take out the U.S. fleet and obliterate Seoul and Tokyo. Would they

    North Korean generals have been cited explaining why Saddam lost the
    1991 war: “Iraq lost because it stayed on the defensive. You must
    take the offensive. Iraq didn’t use all its weapons. If we are at
    war, we will use all of them. And if there is war, we must attack
    first, take the initiative.” There is nothing secret or ambiguous
    about official Peoples’ Army doctrine. Those were precisely the
    tactics of the North Korean army when it attacked on 25 June 1950 and
    succeeded in a few weeks in driving back the American and South Korean
    forces to the Sea of Japan.)

    According to pundit Leslie Gelb, current U.S. policy is to let the
    South Koreans take the lead in this confrontation (‘after all, it is
    their country’) and South Korea’s aggressive President Lee has said he
    ‘would order military strikes on northern bases if Pyongyang seemed
    poised to launch further attacks’ while his new defense minister
    declared on Dec. 1 that the South would use air strikes against North
    Korea if it carried out further attacks. A land-based North Korean
    counter-attack would put the U.S. in an untenable position.

    With its ground forces tied down in the Afghani and Iraqi quagmires,
    there is no way America could fight a land war in Asia, so U.S. war
    plans call for massive air attacks. On the other hand, the use of U.S.
    nukes so close to the Chinese border would have to be ruled out,
    unless Washington is willing to risk and open break with the Asian
    giant and the risk of thermonuclear war. Obama’s senseless provocation
    of a desperate, cornered enemy seems like a formula for disaster, but
    it wouldn’t be the first time in history belligerent countries
    blundered into war.

    From the point of view of the objective self-interest of U.S.
    imperialism, it is difficult to imagine a positive outcome if the
    explosive Korean situation reaches the unknowable tipping point. Yet
    the Obama Administration, with Cheney’s twin Gates in charge of the
    Defense Department, continues to pursue Bush’s hysterical cowboy
    crusade against the Axis of Evil, escalating the pointless fighting in
    Afghanistan, not-so ‘secretly’ expanding the military conflict into
    Yemen and unstable, nuclear-armed Pakistan (Woah!) and now stirring up
    the North Korean nuclear hornet’s-nest. Why?
    As we will show in our next article, the answer to that question is
    rooted in the history of the Cold War, indeed, precisely in the
    history of the Korean conflict, which is where the Cold War began (or
    rather turned hot). Meanwhile, readers should do everything possible
    to build opposition to a new Korean war before it is too late. Please
    click on

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