Economics and politics - comment and analysis
22. November 2017 I Will Denayer I Countries and Regions, General, General Politics, Terrorism

Will the U.S. attack North Korea?

‘The sane of this world’

“We see the straight highway before usbut of course we cannot use it, because it is permanently closed,” wrote Wittgenstein (see here). In North Korea’s case too there is straight highway, but it also permanently closed. The global media make it look as if North Korea’s leaders are insane and threaten the US. The Wall Street Journal even had a proposal of its own published to end the stand-off: starve all of them to death (see here).

According to an article in Vox, “(D)uring the Korean War, the US dropped more bombs on North Korea than it had dropped in the entire Pacific (…) during World War II. This carpet bombing (…) often deliberately targeted civilian targets, devastating the country far beyond what was necessary to fight the war. Whole cities were destroyed, with many thousands of innocent civilians killed and many more left homeless and hungry” (see here).

Blaine Harden estimates that the US killed 20% of the population over a period of three years. Dean Rusk, former secretary of state, said the US bombed “everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.” After running low on urban targets, US bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams flooding farmland and destroying crops (see here).

According to Gen. LeMay, the head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, hundreds of tons of bombs and incendiary compound were simultaneously dropped throughout Pyongyang, causing annihilating fires. Delayed-action high-explosive bombs exploded at intervals making it impossible for people to escape. The entire city burned down. The number of inhabitants of Pyongyang killed by bomb splinters, burnt alive and suffocated by smoke is incalculable. Some 50.000 inhabitants remain in the city which before the war had a population of 500.000 (see here).

Charles Armstrong writes in the Asia-Pacific Journal that “In the spring of 1953, the Air Force targeted irrigation dams on the Yalu River, both to destroy the North Korean rice crop (…) Five reservoirs were hit, flooding thousands of acres of farmland, inundating whole towns and laying waste to the essential food source for millions of North Koreans” (see here).

“By late August 1950,” the historian Bruce Cumings writes, “B-29 formations were dropping 800 tons a day on the North. Much of it was pure napalm. From June to late October 1950, B-29s unloaded 866.914 gallons of napalm. (…) By 1952 just about everything in northern and central Korea had been completely levelled. What was left of the population survived in caves” (see here).

“To think,” Cumings continued, “this was done in the name of a conflict now called ‘the forgotten war’ — as memory confronts amnesia, we ask, who are the sane of this world?” (see here).

In November 1950, MacArthur ordered the creation of a wasteland between the fighting front and the Chinese border – every ‘installation, factory, city, and village’ over thousands of square miles of North Korean territory had to be destroyed. MacArthur presented his impression at a congressional hearing in May 1951: “The war in Korean has already almost destroyed that nation of 20.000.000 people. I have never seen such devastation. I have never seen (…) as much blood and disaster (…) If you go on (…) you are perpetuating a slaughter such as I have never heard of in the history of mankind (see here).

Although much is still classified, it has become clear that Truman did not remove MacArthur because of his repeated insubordination, but because he wanted a reliable commander if Washington should decide to use nuclear weapons. The US came closest to using atomic weapons in April 1951. They eventually decided against, in no small measure because popular opinion (six years after the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) very much opposed it.

It was not that the Koreans did not have their part of suffering before the war. All of this came after 35 years of Japanese colonial rule. No peace treaty has ever been signed. In the 64 years since the war ended, the US has consistently punished, humiliated and isolated the country. It has subjected North Korea to starvation, prevented its government from accessing foreign capital, imposed economic sanctions and installed military bases on their doorstep. Can it surprise anyone that the brutality of the war left an indelible mark on the psyche of the population and their leaders? Whatever the cost, the North will not allow a similar scenario to take place in the future.

The simple solution

There is a simple solution to this, called signing a peace treaty. The North wants help in building two light-water reactors to provide heat and light. It is ready to give up its nuclear weapons program. None of this is new. Neither Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II or Obama were ever interested. Jimmy Carter summed it up in a Washington Post op-ed in November 2010:

“(The Agreed Framework) includes denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a pledge of non-aggression by the United States and steps to evolve a permanent peace agreement to replace the U.S.-North Korean-Chinese cease-fire that has been in effect since July 1953” (see here).

No American government wants to sign this “Agreed” Framework.

Carter continued: “North Korean officials (…) have permitted access by nuclear experts to an advanced facility for purifying uranium. The same officials had made it clear (…) that this array of centrifuges would be ‘on the table’ for discussions with the United States, although uranium purification (…) was not covered in the 1994 agreements. (…)  Pyongyang has sent a consistent message that during direct talks with the United States, it is ready to conclude an agreement to end its nuclear programs, put them all under IAEA inspection and conclude a permanent peace treaty (…) (see here).

It is of course possible that Kim is not telling the truth. The North-Koreans have violated prior agreements. But so have the US (see here for an historic account of these negotiations). The North Korean position seems to be: leave us alone and we will leave you alone. Kim may not be an example of extreme sanity (are we?), but why would North-Korea want to detonate a nuclear device in the US – assuming they have this capability (which they probably do not), well-knowing that this assures their own destruction? There is no such reason, but this is not how the media play it.

The latest stand-off

The latest stand-off began on July 4, when North Korea launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile – or, at least, this is what it brags about. In a statement, Kim called it “a gift for the American bastards.” Trump swiftly replied that “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury.” Pence added that “the era of strategic patience is over,” threatening that “if China is unable to deal with North Korea, the United States and our allies will” (see here).

What exactly is the threat? North Korean Foreign Minister Ri told diplomats that his country will never negotiate away the “rational ‘strategic option’ against the threat of attack from the United States“  and that “North Korea will use nuclear weapons only against the United States or any other country that might join it in military action against North Korea” (see here). In other words, North Korea is threatening to defend itself if attacked and it reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in its defense, which constitutes of course – or should constitute – the ultimate deterrent in attacking it.

Attacking North Korea would threaten some 66 million Koreans on the Korean peninsula (22 in the north and 44 in the south) and could engulf the US, Japan, China and Russia in nuclear war. I am not saying that North Korean’s actions and reactions are not on the primitive side – but what are you supposed to do when you confront an enemy who refuses to speak? You show your might, hoping the attacker will back off. North Korea has been conducting live fire drills off its east coast, it has tested its sixth nuclear weapon and some of its missiles (without a nuclear warhead) flew over Japanese territory. It’s all not so very intelligent, you can say, except that most of the media fail to mention that, for several weeks in August, Japan, South Korea and the US have been engaged in large-scale joint-military drills on Hokkaido Island and in South Korea in which some 75.000 combat troops, accompanied by hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles, landing craft, heavy artillery, a full naval flotilla and flyovers by squadrons of fighters and strategic bombers took part (see here). The war games are designed to simulate an invasion of North Korea. They include seal commando’s that have the job of liquidating North Korea’s leadership (see here).

The conflict with North Korea is being used as yet another pretext to increase the US military budget. Trump has requested an additional $54 billion for the military – a 10 percent increase – on top of the $598 billion US military budget, which is the world’s largest and more than the next seven highest-spending countries combined (see here). The highway will remain permanently closed as long as wars produce more profits than peace.

Washington has deployed the USS Michigan, a Trident submarine to the Sea of Japan. Many fear that Trump will eventually use military force on North Korea (see here). Will his Joint Chiefs of Staff let him? It is very doubtful. This stand-off has nothing to do with the fight of the free world against the threat of evil communism or/and dictatorship. All of that is ideological nonsense.  Everything, including, potentially, the fate of the planet itself, will be decided on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis: how far can we go?; how much money is there to make?; and can we intimidate China? That potentially millions of people can die is of no concern to these war gamers – it’s never ‘their’ people anyway.