Aletho News


US bullying stance on North Korea, Iran reveals Washington’s aggression

By Finian Cunningham | Press TV | April 20, 2013

First Iran, now it’s North Korea. The US global minstrel show of pseudo-handshakes and offers of talks just keeps on rolling, despite the laughable see-through fraudulence.

Remember earlier this year, American Vice President Joe Biden startled the international media with an offer of “direct talks” with Iran to resolve the “nuclear dispute.”

The real reason for why that apparent offer was startling was because it amounted to such transparent nonsense. The barefaced ability to lie by Washington knows no shame. Biden’s overture for talks with Iran was made at the same time that the US tightens illegal sanctions afflicting Iranian civilians, while continuing to threaten the Islamic Republic with war, along with its Israeli surrogate, and as Washington steps up diplomatic and material support for proxy terrorist groups, such as the MKO (Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization), operating within Iran.

Washington’s fatuous rhetoric and posturing is an insult to people’s intelligence. Yet it continues to declaim such asinine verbiage. The latest star-turn in its absurd diplomacy is the “offer” of “dialogue” extended to North Korea by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

After weeks of rising war tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Kerry again appeared to give a startling gesture of goodwill. On a recent trip to East Asia, the top US diplomat said: “The United States remains open to authentic and credible negotiations on denuclearization, but the burden is on Pyongyang [the capital of North Korea].”

Kerry urged North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to “return to the negotiating table.” Is [this] the same table that US President Barack Obama continually warns us that no options are off [it]?

The latest US offer of talks came as a surprise because Washington does not have any diplomatic relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). US policy has long been one of isolating the Northern state through crippling sanctions and, through military exercises with US-backed South Korea, piling pressure on the government in Pyongyang to surrender its nuclear capability.

Fortunately, as with Iran, North Korea is not buying this risible American charade. The government in Pyongyang responded tersely to dismiss the offer made by the US.

“Dialogue cannot coexist with war,” was how the DPRK official news agency, KCNA, aptly put it. That is the essential truth and correct assessment of the US position, not only towards North Korea, but also towards Iran.

Iran, by the way, does not have nuclear weapons. North Korea is believed to have nuclear weapons capability, but it is doubtful that the country has the missile means of delivery. Nevertheless, the US and its Western allies, including the media, insist on demonizing Iran and North Korea as having sinister “nuclear ambitions” without providing a shred of proof.

The US has the temerity to assert that “the burden is on Pyongyang” in the same way that it arrogantly insists that Tehran must “show good faith” about its legally entitled nuclear program.

This astounding US arrogance turns reality on its head. Just who is the real aggressor? Don’t expect to find an answer in the Western corporate media whose goldfish-bowl memory and art of deception are designed to augment this reality-inversion.

After dismissing the US “offer” of talks, North Korea has since issued its own demands for any negotiations to take place. These conditions are perfectly logical, reasonable and just. They also point up the real reasons for why the Korean Peninsula is continually wracked by the threat of nuclear war.

North Korea wants: 1) Recently imposed United Nations sanctions to be revoked. These sanctions were imposed at the behest of Washington over the DPRK’s launch of a space satellite in December. The US maligned that launch by falsely labeling it a “ballistic missile test.” The provocative and unjustified sanctions spurred North Korea to conduct an underground nuclear weapon test on 12 February. Since North Korea withdrew its membership of the Non-Proliferation Treaty last decade, there is no legal constraint on it to conduct such a test. And given the level of continual threat towards North Korea from the US, the former is well justified in developing military defenses, including nuclear weapons.

Condition 2) for North Korea to entertain talks with the US and its Southern ally is for these latter states to immediately halt all threats of war that are implicit in the perennial war maneuvers on and off the Korean Peninsula. These so-called “war games” carried out by the US and South Korea often simulate invasion of North Korea. That is an outrageous, criminal de facto act of war. And yet it is committed every year, and sometimes several times a year.

Condition 3) is for the US to withdraw its nuclear weapons capability from the Korean Peninsula. Bear in mind that it was the US that first instated nuclear weapons on the Peninsula during the Korean War (1950-53). While the US did technically remove nuclear missiles some years back from South Korean soil, it effectively can reintroduce weapons of mass destruction at any moment and it retains North Korea within its target sites. The recent build-up of US nuclear-capable submarines and Aegis-class destroyers in the South and East China Seas, and the simulated bombing raids by B-2, B-52 and F-22 warplanes, all represent clear and present danger of nuclear annihilation to the DPRK. Note too that Washington has been busily integrating a hemispheric missile system between South Korea, Japan and the Pacific West Coast of the US. This missile system targets North Korea, as well as China and Russia.

Finally, what North Korea wants probably above all else as a guarantee for meaningful negotiations, is for the US to end the Korean War with a proper peace treaty. Since the war ended in 1953, the cessation of hostilities was only marked by an armistice, which in effect is a ceasefire. In other words, the US is technically still at war with North Korea and can at any moment resume bombing of that country. During the Korean War, the US dropped more explosives and napalm on the Northern population than it did in the whole of the Pacific War with imperial Japan. Up to a third of the Northern [Korean] population – some 3 million people – were annihilated by American bombs. Given that experience of genocide, is it any wonder that North Korea remains deeply wary of the US and its allies, especially with the ever-present threat of more war looming.

For the past 60 years, the DPRK has been demanding this basic entitlement of a full peace treaty, including a non-aggression pact. For 60 years, every US President has refused to countenance any such

It is a shame that Russia and China have signed up to the recent round of US-led sanctions against North Korea. Moscow and Beijing appear to have bought into the upside-down worldview that the US and its Western media are peddling. Rather than adding to pressure on North Korea, Russian and Chinese leaders need to go back and refresh their memories on the history of aggression and genocide in East Asia and the Pacific. Then they would rightly redirect the pressure on the true aggressor – Washington.

Peace in East Asia, as in the Middle East, depends on a unilateral withdrawal of American militarism, aggression and its self-styled right to inflict nuclear war on others. The burden is not on North Korea or Iran. Far from it, the burden is where it has always been – on the USA.

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , | Leave a comment

Myths about Korean militarism

By David Whitehouse | Worxintheory | March 21, 2013

The frontier between North and South Korea is the most militarized border in the world. There is, of course, another partitioned state in Asia, India-Pakistan, where each side possesses nuclear weapons and commands hundreds of thousands of soldiers. In Korea, though, the stakes are especially high because one of the belligerents is a superpower.

On the opposite side, the world’s most likely superpower-in-the-making, China, is North Korea’s only close ally. It’s not clear that China would intervene militarily in the North’s defense, but the possibility of such action raises the stakes of confrontation even higher. The last war on the Korean peninsula, from 1950 to 1953, pitted the same two outside powers against each other. The Korean War produced well over 2 million civilian casualties.

At various times in the past 20 years, the Pentagon has estimated that one million Korean civilians, divided evenly between North and South, would die in the first days of an all-out war. More than 25 million people live in metropolitan Seoul, South Korea’s capital. The Pentagon refers to the area as the “kill box.”

US military power is overwhelming, but North Korea does possess some deterrents. That’s why there would be casualties on both sides. Chief among the North’s deterrents may be its set of more than 10,000 artillery pieces, dug into the mountains, which could bombard Seoul with explosive, incendiary or chemical weapons. There is no evidence that the North is technically capable of delivering or detonating a nuclear weapon in the South, but the regime has worked in recent years to develop suitable delivery systems and to turn their unwieldy nuclear “devices” into bombs.

In the standard media representation, the rulers of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK — North Korea’s official name) are uniquely bellicose, unpredictable and irrational. Some would say “inscrutable” if that word weren’t obviously racist. George W. Bush was an obvious racist, of course, so he was true to form when he called the regime’s then-General Secretary Kim Jong-il a “pygmy.”

Despite the media’s befuddlement over the regime’s motivations and intentions, they aren’t difficult to figure out. They come through quite clearly at the English-language site of the Korean National News Agency (KCNA) once you figure out how to read through the froth and invective. American reporters and editors are inclined to dismiss the KCNA’s reports because they’re pretty sure that the US can’t be “imperialist” or “arrogant,” as the KCNA claims, and because they treat State Department and Pentagon sources as generally honest and reliable.

These credulous attitudes may arise from complacency, unthinking patriotism, or the job pressures inside the corporate media. In any case, US news outlets consistently produce egregious distortions when they cover the DPRK’s conflicts with the United States. Sometimes the accounts of North Korean actions are accurate enough. Often what makes the picture false is the misrepresentation — or simple omission — of US actions.

As a result, the picture of US-DPRK relations is topsy-turvy. Below, I discuss three points that the media usually get backwards.

1) North Korea nuclearized the peninsula with its bomb test of 2006.

Wrong. The US threatened the use of nuclear weapons in the Korean War of 1950-1953, and President Eisenhower installed an ongoing nuclear arsenal beginning in 1958. The weapons included missiles, bombs and artillery shells. F-4 fighter planes were on constant alert — armed only with nuclear bombs.[1]

There were also portable “atomic demolition mines” (ADMs) that weighed just 60 pounds each. With an explosive yield equivalent to 20 kilotons of TNT, the mines were more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Korea specialist Bruce Cumings writes:

The ADMs were moved around in Jeeps and placed by special teams who carried them in backpacks; meanwhile, US helicopters routinely flew nuclear weapons near the DMZ [the Demilitarized Zone, which divides North from South Korea].… Meanwhile, forward deployment of nuclear weapons bred a mentality of “use ‘em or lose ‘em”; even a small North Korean attack might be cause enough to use them, lest they fall into enemy hands.[2]

President George H.W. Bush withdrew nuclear weapons from the peninsula in 1991 as a cost-free way to place the burden of disarmament on North Korea. The US, of course, was not disarming at all. The Gulf War had shown that the latest generation of “conventional” weapons could inflict suitably horrific damage, and besides, nuclear weapons would be ready-at-hand on offshore ships, submarines and planes.

2) North Korea is serial violator of the Armistice of 1953.

The DPRK regime declared on March 11 of this year that it was nullifying the armistice of 1953. Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations replied that the North could not nullify the agreement unilaterally. The UN is involved because the US fought the Korean War against North Korea and mainland China in the name of the UN. At the time, the anticommunist Taiwan government represented China on the Security Council — a fact that led the USSR to boycott the council. With mainland China excluded and the USSR boycotting, the war resolution passed without a veto.

The fighting ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, so the “UN coalition” is still technically at war with North Korea. I’m not sure why nobody mentions being at war with China, too.

The South Korean defense ministry declared in 2011 that North Korea had violated the armistice 221 times since 1953. This includes 26 claims of military attacks. Some of these attacks were serious, including a 2010 torpedo attack that killed 46 South Korean sailors and an artillery bombardment later in the same year that killed two South Korean marines and two civilians. In the first case, North Korea denies making the attack. In the second, the regime claims that South Korea shot first.

In fact, the regime often disputes accusations of violating the armistice, declaring that their actions were responses to violations by the US and South Korea. Unfortunately, nobody seems interested in keeping records about those violations. (If somebody finds a decent account, please let us know.)

The important thing to know about armistice violations is the big one: The US deployment of nuclear weapons violates an explicit ban on the introduction of “qualitatively new” weapons to Korea. The ban applies to the whole Korean “theater,” so offshore weapons are included.[3] The US has thus committed a major violation of the Armistice continuously for 55 years.

This nuclear posture was known in the Cold War as a “first-strike” policy, since it licensed the use of nuclear weapons even without a nuclear provocation. The US renounced the first-strike option in the European theater but not in Korea. “The logic,” writes Bruce Cummings, “was that we dare not use nuclear weapons in Europe because the other side has them, but we could use them in Korea because it doesn’t.”[4]

3) North Korea has violated the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The world’s great powers came up with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 as a way to maintain their monopoly on nuclear weapons. In the treaty, the nuclear states of that time — the US, Britain, France, the USSR and China — made a vague promise to negotiate their own disarmament in the future.

In order to induce non-nuclear states to sign, the treaty stipulated that nuclear-armed states would help the NPT’s non-nuclear members to develop nuclear power for peaceful uses such as energy production. As a further inducement, the nuclear-weapons states offered a side agreement (not in the NPT) in which they promised not to threaten non-nuclear signatories of the NPT with nuclear attack — or to carry out such attacks.

North Korea did not sign the NPT until 1985. At the time, the DPRK had a small reactor that produced plutonium waste and very little electricity. The Reagan administration feared that the waste could be stockpiled to make a weapon. The US encouraged Konstantin Chernenko, then premier of the USSR, to offer North Korea light-water reactors (LWRs), which produce no waste that can easily be converted into weapons-grade material. The energy-strapped DPRK accepted the deal and agreed to sign the NPT.[5] This was the kind of quid pro quo that the treaty’s authors anticipated when they wrote it.

The USSR was crisis-ridden in the 1980s and dithered over construction of the four promised LWRs, which would have cost about $1 billion apiece. When the Soviet state collapsed in late 1991, the DPRK lost one of its two patrons — the other was China — and entered a decade of natural disaster, economic regression and famine.[6]

With US technical help, and upon US insistence, the UN’s atomic agency (IAEA) began mandatory, intrusive inspections of the DPRK’s nuclear sites in 1992. Following the Gulf War of 1991, the US and the chief inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Hans Blix, improvised a new regime of mandatory inspections backed by the threat of Security Council sanctions. Iraq, Iran and North Korea were the intended target of these “special inspections.” The NPT does not authorize any of this.

IAEA inspectors did surmise in 1992-1993 that North Korea had probably stockpiled a significant amount of plutonium. US intelligence operatives looked over the IAEA data and concluded that the hypothesized amount of stockpiled plutonium would be enough to construct one or two nuclear weapons, although they believed that the DPRK was as yet technically incapable of making the plutonium into bombs. These intelligence estimates gave rise to an oft-quoted “worst-case scenario” according to which North Korea already possessed two nuclear weapons in the 1990s.[7]

Stockpiling plutonium may constitute a violation of the NPT, but if so, then Japan is many times more guilty than North Korea. With US approval, Japan has stored up enough plutonium to construct 5,000 warheads. Nevertheless, Japan’s nuclear sites have never been subject to UN “special inspections,” although the country’s nuclear safety record suggests that it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

North Korea declared Blix to be a stooge of the United States — which, of course, he was — and threatened to pull out of the NPT. Eventually, Clinton backed away from the crisis. He offered to provide the LWRs previously promised by the USSR in return for North Korea’s acceptance of further IAEA inspections. The deal was formally written up along with some other provisions, dubbed the “Agreed Framework,” and signed by both parties.

Like the USSR, the US never delivered the LWRs — never even broke ground on them. If we’re looking for violations of the NPT, that’s a clear one, since the NPT obligates nuclear-weapons states to help non-weapons states with nonmilitary nuclear projects.

The promise of LWRs may have been the part of the Agreed Framework that the Northern regime cared most about. For the entire time of its membership in the NPT, from 1985 to 2003, North Korea waited for assistance with nuclear electricity-production that never came. In Clinton’s second term, those who wanted to ridicule the DPRK began to point to nighttime satellite photos of East Asia that showed every country but North Korea lit up. They didn’t mention that the US played a role in turning out the lights.

Meanwhile, although the US had signed every updated version of its 1968 promise not to target non-nuclear-weapons states, Bill Clinton reaffirmed the first-strike policy against North Korea in 1993. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Clinton publicly approved the retargeting of ballistic missiles from Russia to North Korea.[8]

In January 2002, George W. Bush named North Korea, Iraq and Iran as members of an “Axis of Evil.” Then in March, a leak of Bush’s “nuclear posture review” reconfirmed the US first-strike policy. By the fall, Bush was building up troops in the Middle East to overthrow the Iraqi government. Kim Jong-il had good reason to believe that his government would be next.

In January 2003, North Korea withdrew from the NPT. The treaty itself authorizes a members’ withdrawal when its sovereignty is threatened:

“Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.”

There’s no doubt that George W. Bush’s “global war on terror” qualified as a set of extraordinary events that jeopardized the DPRK’s supreme interests.

In 2010, Barack Obama confirmed once again that the US “nuclear posture” was to keep targeting North Korea. For North Korea and Iran, said Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “All options are on the table.” It’s a phrase that Obama has used many times since, and it suits his understated style: Threaten the maximum, but make it sound moderate.

[1] Bruce Cumings, Parallax Visions: Making Sense of American–East Asian Relations at the End of the Century (Duke University Press Books, 1999), 127-130.

[2] Ibid., 130.

[3] Ibid., 128.

[4] Ibid., 132.

[5] Don Oberdorfer, The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History (Rev. & upd. Basic Books, 2002), 245 and 289.

[6] For more detail on North Korea’s crisis, and on the imperial interests at play in Korea from 1985 to 2003, see my “What’s at stake in North Korea” in the International Socialist Review, March-April 2003. A PDF is available here.

[7] Oberdorfer, 276.

[8] Cumings, 142.

March 29, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Armistice’s Day Is Done–Contrary to NYT

By Jim Naureckas | FAIR | March 13, 2013

The New York Times (3/8/13), writing about Korean tensions, reported:

The North said this week that it considered the 1953 armistice agreement that halted the Korean War to be null and void as of Monday because of the joint military exercises. The North has threatened to terminate that agreement before, but American and South Korean military officials pointed out that legally, no party [to an] armistice can unilaterally terminate or alter its terms.

“Nonsense,” says Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois (Institute for Public Accuracy, 3/13/13):

An armistice agreement is governed by the laws of war and the state of war still remains in effect despite the armistice agreement, even if the armistice text itself says additions have to be mutually agreed upon by the parties. Termination is not an addition.

Boyle pointed to both U.S. military regulations and international law as evidence that the Times’ claim was wrong:

Under the U.S. Army Field Manual 27-10 and the Hague Regulations, the only requirement for termination of the Korean War Armistice Agreement is suitable notice so as to avoid the charge of “perfidy.” North Korea has given that notice. The armistice is dead.

The Army Field Manual states, “In case it [the armistice] is indefinite, a belligerent may resume operations at any time after notice.” Article 36 of the Hague Regulations says:

An armistice suspends military operations by mutual agreement between the belligerent parties. If its duration is not fixed, the belligerent parties can resume operations at any time, provided always the enemy is warned within the time agreed upon, in accordance with the terms of the armistice.

The New York Times should let its readers know that it allowed anonymous officials to mislead them.

March 14, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , | 1 Comment

The Korean War: The “Unknown War”

The Cover-up of US War Crimes

By Sherwood Ross | March 16, 2011

The Korean War, a.k.a. the “Unknown War,” was, in fact, headline news at the time it was being fought (1950-53). Given the Cold War hatreds of the combatants, though, a great deal of the reportage was propaganda, and much of what should have been told was never told. News of the worst atrocities perpetrated against civilians was routinely suppressed and the full story of the horrific suffering of the Korean people—who lost 3-million souls of a total population of 23-million— has yet to be told in full. Filling in many of the blank spaces is Bruce Cumings, chair of the Department of History at the University of Chicago, whose book “The Korean War” (Modern Library Chronicles) takes an objective look at the conflict. In one review, Publishers Weekly says, “In this devastating work he shows how little the U.S. knew about who it was fighting, why it was fighting, and even how it was fighting.

Though the North Koreans had a reputation for viciousness, according to Cumings, U.S. soldiers actually engaged in more civilian massacres. This included dropping over half a million tons of bombs and thousands of tons of napalm, more than was loosed on the entire Pacific theater in World War II, almost indiscriminately. The review goes on to say, “Cumings deftly reveals how Korea was a clear precursor to Vietnam: a divided country, fighting a long anti-colonial war with a committed and underestimated enemy; enter the U.S., efforts go poorly, disillusionment spreads among soldiers, and lies are told at top levels in an attempt to ignore or obfuscate a relentless stream of bad news. For those who like their truth unvarnished, Cumings’s history will be a fresh, welcome take on events that seemed to have long been settled.”

Interviewed in two one-hour installments by Lawrence Velvel, Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, producers of Comcast’s “Books of Our Time” with the first installment being shown on Sunday, March 20th, Cumings said U.S. coverage of the war was badly slanted. Hanson Baldwin, the military correspondent for The New York Times, described “North Koreans as locusts, like Nazis, like vermin, who come shrieking on. I mean, this is really hard stuff to read in an era when you don’t get away with that kind of thinking anymore.” Cumings adds, “Rapes were extremely common. Koreans in the South will still say that that was one of the worst things of the war (was how) many American soldiers were raping Korean women.”

Cumings said he was able to draw upon a lot of South Korean research that has come out since the nation democratized in the 1990s about the massacres of Korean civilians. This has been the subject of painstaking research by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Seoul and Cumings describes the results as “horrific.” Atrocities by “our side, the South Koreans (ran) six to one ahead of the North Koreans in terms of killing civilians, whereas most Americans would think North Koreans would just as soon kill a civilian to look at him.” The numbers of civilians killed in South Korea by the government, Cumings said, even dwarfed Spaniards murdered by dictator Francisco Franco, the general who overthrew the Madrid government in the 1936-1939 civil war. Cumings said about 100,000 South Koreans were killed in political violence between 1945 and 1950 and perhaps as many as 200,000 more were killed during the early months of the war. This compares to about 200,000 civilians put to death in Spain in Franco’s political massacres. In all, Korea suffered 3 million civilian dead during the 1950-53 war, more killed than the 2.7 million Japan suffered during all of World War II.

One of the worst atrocities was perpetrated by the South Korean police at the small city of Tae Jun. They executed 7,000 political prisoners while Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. military officials looked on, Cumings said. To compound the crime, the Pentagon blamed the atrocity on the Communists, Cumings said. “The Joint Chiefs of Staff classified the photographs of it because they make it clear who’s doing it, and they don’t let the photographs out until 1999 when a Korean finally got them declassified.” To top that off, the historian says, “the Pentagon did a video movie called ‘Crime of Korea’ where you see shots of pits that go on for like a football field, pit after pit of dead people, and (actor) Humphrey Bogart in a voice-over says, ‘someday the Communists will pay for this, someday we’ll get the full totals and believe me we’ll get the exact, accurate totals of the people murdered here and we will make these war criminals pay.’ Now this is a complete reversal of black and white, done as a matter of policy.” Cumings adds that these events represent “a very deep American responsibility for the regime that we promoted, really more than any other in East Asia (and that) was our creation in the late Forties.” Other atrocities, such as the one at No Gun village, Cumings terms “an American massacre of women and children,” which he lays at the feet of the U.S. military.

Initially, reporters from U.S. magazines’ “Look,” “Saturday Evening Post,” “Collier’s,” and “Life,” could report on anything they saw, the historian said. They reported that “the troops are shooting civilians, the South Korean police are awful, they’re opening up pits and putting hundreds of people in them. This is all true.” Within six months, though, U.S. reporters were muzzled by censors, meaning, “you can’t say anything bad about our South Korean ally. Even if you see them blowing an old lady’s head apart, you can’t say that.” Even though his writings on Korea years after the war ended were not censored, New York Times reporter David Halberstam wrote a book on the Korean War (The Coldest Winter) in which “he doesn’t mention the bombing of the North (and) mentions the three-year U.S. occupation of South Korea in one sentence, without giving it any significance,” Cumings said. Besides rape, the Pentagon was firebombing North Korean cities more intensively than any of those it firebombed during World War II. Where it was typical for U.S. bombing to destroy between 40 and 50 percent of a city in that war, the destruction rate in North Korea was much higher: Shin Eui Ju, on the Chinese border, 95 percent destroyed; Pyongyang, 85 percent; and Hamhung, an industrial city, 80 percent.”By the end of 1951, there weren’t many bombing targets left in North Korea.”

Cumings believed that Douglas MacArthur, the General who commanded U.S. forces in Korea was prejudiced against Asians and badly underestimated their fighting capabilities. On the day the North Koreans invaded the South in force on June 25, 1950, MacArthur boasted, according to Cumings, “‘I can beat these guys with one hand tied behind my back’ and within a week he wants a bunch of divisions, and within a month he’s got almost all of the trained American combat forces in the world either in Korea or on their way to Korea.” MacArthur’s slight of the fighting trim of North Korean units was shared by other high American officials. “(John Foster) Dulles, (then U.S. delegate to the United Nations) even says things like, ‘They must put dope into these guys (because) I don’t know how they can fight so fanatically.'” Cumings goes on to explain, the North Korean soldiers “had three or four years of fighting in the Chinese Civil War (for the Communists), so they were crack troops, and our intelligence knew about these people but completely underestimated them, and a lot of Americans got killed because they underestimated them.” Again, when the CIA had warned MacArthur that 200,000 Chinese troops were crossing the border into North Korea, MacArthur said, “I’ll take care of it, don’t worry about it, Chinamen can’t fight.” However, the Chinese routed U.S. forces, clearing them out of Korea in two weeks. “Sometimes I wonder why the world isn’t worse off than it is,” the historian reflected, “because people make such unbelievably stupid decisions that will affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people (based) on stupid biases.”

The U.S. use of air power to inflict widespread devastation had a profound impact on future North Korean military practice. To escape the rain of death the North Korean military—starting at the time of the Korean War—built 15,000 underground facilities, putting whole factories, dormitories, and even airfields underground. “So you have jets flying into the side of mountains,” Cumings says, as well as 1 million men and women under arms in a nation of 24 million—so that one in every 24 people is in the military. The U.S. military believes the North Koreans have built their nuclear weapons facilities underground—plural, that is, as it is possible they have one or two backups if a facility is destroyed by an enemy attack. While the U.S. today is concerned that North Korea is developing the means to deliver a nuclear weapon, Cummings said the country “has been under nuclear threat since the Korean War. “Our war plans, for decades, called for using nuclear weapons very early in a new war. That’s one reason there hasn’t been a new war,” Cumings said. The armistice that terminated the peninsular war banned the introduction of new and different quality weapons into the region but the U.S. in violation of the pact inserted nuclear-tipped “Honest John” missiles into Korea in 1958. “They said, ‘Well, they’re (always) bringing in new MiGs and everything, so we can do this.’ But to go from conventional weapons to nuclear weapons essentially obliterated the article of the (armistice,) Cumings said. The U.S. has relied so heavily on nuclear deterrent in Korea that one retired general said it has reached a point where “the South Korean army doesn’t think it has to fight in a new war because we’re going to wipe out the North Koreans,” Cumings continued.

The historian said the North Koreans detonated their first nuclear device in 2006—-of about one-half kiloton equivalent (compared to the 20-kiloton bomb that leveled Hiroshima). Three years later, they detonated a 4- to 5-ton kiloton range bomb that could “certainly blast the hell out of a major city.” While Cumings doubts the North Koreans have yet to miniaturize a bomb so that it can ride on one of their medium-range missiles, there is nothing stopping them from, say, putting such a device aboard a freighter and detonating it upon reaching its port of destination. Cummings noted the North Koreans are “very good at manufacturing missiles” and have medium-range missiles “that are among the best in the world outside of the American bailiwick.” These are sold to Iran and Pakistan and, if fired from Korea, could reach all of Japan and the U.S. base on Okinawa, as well as all of South Korea. Any new war on the Korean peninsula, the historian says, “would be an absolute catastrophe” even though the general consensus is that the North Koreans have been unable yet to miniaturize a nuclear warhead.

Getting back to the Korean War, historian Cummings believes that all parties to the war bear some responsibility for its outbreak: “What they did was take an existing civil conflict that had been going on five years and take it to the level of a conventional war, and for that, they bear a lot of responsibility.” Both sides initiated pitched border battles from 1947 onward and the general in charge of the U.S. advisory group said “the South Koreans started more than half of these pitched battles along the 38th parallel border with North Korea between May and December of 1949,” Cumings discovered. “Hundreds of soldiers were dying on both sides and in August there nearly was a Korean War, a year before the one we know…(as the North Koreans pushed) down to the Ongjin Peninsula in the Yellow Sea south of the 38th Parallel” (but which is not contiguous to the rest of South Korea.)

Both the North’s Kim Il-sung and the South’s Syngman Rhee wanted to fight all-out at the time but were restrained by their American and Soviet advisers, respectively. The following year, after his troops came back from China, Kim Il-sung stationed his crack Sixth Division just north of Seoul and when hostilities broke out captured the South Korean capital in just three days. The South did not develop the kind of military that the North Koreans did, and this is one of the truly hidden aspects of the Korean War. …The North Koreans had tens of thousands (50,000)of fighters in the Chinese Civil War they sent across the border as early as Spring of 1947,” Cumings said. This gave the North Koreans a cadre of battle-tested fighters that routed the Seoul government’s troops.

Because of the troops North Korea furnished the Chinese Communists, deep ties were forged between the two countries. “China was a kind of reliable rear area for training and for cementing a very close relationship,” Cumings said. “Our people in Washington (didn’t) begin to understand this….There (were) a lot of hard-liners in the Chinese military that really liked North Korea.” Nor did U.S. intelligence apparently take into account how repressive U.S. actions in South Korea might make its citizens unwilling to fight all-out for a U.S.-backed government run by strongman Rhee. American military officials in South Korea in the late Forties “were outlawing left-wing parties, knocking over left-wing people’s committees and things like this, for two years” on their own initiative, Cumings said. But the development of the containment doctrine and the start of the Cold War in 1947 put the official U.S. imprimatur on their ad hoc policies.


Sherwood Ross formerly worked for major dailies and wire services. He is a media consultant to MSLAW. Reach him at

The Massachusetts School of Law, producers of “Educational Forum,” is purposefully dedicated to providing a quality, affordable education to students from minority, low-income, and immigrant households who would otherwise not have the opportunity to obtain a legal education. Through its conferences, publications and broadcasts, the law school also provides vital information on important issues to the public.

March 17, 2011 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Korean War: The “Unknown War”