Pyongyang (GPA) – There are rumors that when President-elect Donald Trump first met with then President Barack Obama, Trump was allegedly warned that there would be one major geopolitical hot spot that was likely to become a Gordian knot for the incoming regime. This eternal puzzle for the US global empire is, of course, the Democratic People’s’ Republic of Korea (or DPRK), the state with one of the strongest records of absolute rejection of and resistance to western capital and subversion.
Before we discuss the bombardment of propaganda that always accompanies US blustering on the DPRK, or how the nation has resisted submission to every president during the cold war (and every president since), we should discuss the history of the DPRK as a nation that was born into and continues to uphold the fight against US imperialism. First, we need to cover the DPRK’s origins stemming from the US invasion of the Korean peninsula, or as US history calls it – rarely – the Korean War.
The Post-War Partition of the Korean Peninsula
The Korean conflict was the United States’ first major military campaign after World War II, the first direct conflict between imperialists and revolutionary Marxists militaries, and the first major defeat suffered by the US war machine in its relatively new role as the leader of the global imperialist order.
During World War II the Korean peninsula was controlled by Japan, a country that the Soviet Union had agreed to help the US fight after the threat of Nazi Germany was neutralized. This plan was made by the three top allied leaders; Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Josef Stalin at their meeting in Tehran in 1943 and again at Yalta in 45.
However, by the time the Nazis surrendered in 1945, FDR – the man who respected and found common ground with Stalin – had died and was followed by his anti-soviet, US exceptionalist vice president, Harry Truman. This was the man who needlessly dropped two atomic bombs on an already beaten Japan. While the war crimes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did possibly accelerate the inevitable Japanese surrender, it was also meant to make sure the Soviets would have no say in the surrender of their historically belligerent neighbor, Japan, as well as to signal the world that the atomic age had begun.
Truman wanted the Soviets far away from Japan due to its strategic value in the new postwar order of isolating and surrounding the communist countries. Still, on August 9th, 1945, the day the second atomic bomb was dropped, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. Between the Soviet declaration of war, Japan announcing their intent to surrender on August 15th and the final agreements made on September 2nd the Red Army launched several operations that expelled imperial Japanese occupation forces from Manchuria and secured Korea north of the 38th parallel where the Soviets and their Korean communist allies stopped their advance, upholding an agreement made with the US.
The Cold War began with Korea divided between the Soviet and Chinese allied communists in the North and the government in the South recognized by the imperial powers. Both governments claimed to be the legitimate government of the peninsula in its entirety, giving the 38th parallel its status as a demilitarized ceasefire line between two governments that are technically still at war.
Following the war, US forces occupied South Korea for a time but withdrew once the region had somewhat settled into the postwar order. This withdrawal took place in 1949, which is also the year the Soviet Union broke the United States’ nuclear monopoly with the testing of their first atomic bomb, thus ensuring the ability of Moscow to counter the US threats of nuclear attacks on communist allies. 1949 also saw the victory of communist forces in China, which meant that now the DPRK was sharing a northern border with a new ally and the most populous nation on earth. It was in this ideal climate that Kim Il Sung secured support from Stalin in Russia, and Mao in China to support a DPRK operation to assist the communist forces in South Korea (who were being persecuted and executed by the SK government) by crossing the 38th parallel and removing the imperialists’ client government. Before the conflict, Kim Il Sung attempted to offer a final olive branch to the government in Seoul by sending top diplomats to attempt to organize peace negotiations, but Kim’s offer was rejected outright.
With Soviet supplies and advisers, promises for military reinforcements by Mao and of course the arrival of ethnically Korean soldiers who had fought for the People’s Liberation Army in China’s civil war, Kim Il Sung prepared for, then executed the operation to retake the South. Kim’s forces easily pushed back the South Korean forces, numbered far less than Kim’s. South Korea’s forces were poorly trained by their postwar occupiers and poorly equipped, relying primarily on small arms because the US didn’t see Korea as valuable enough to supply with defense necessities like tanks or artillery. With the weight of the world revolution behind them, DPRK forces engulfed the peninsula, pushing the remnants of the South Korean government into a small pocket at the very end of the peninsula.
The victories by the Korean People’s Army became a thorn in the side of Washington, essentially turning all the contingency plans for containing communism upside down. The US was still gripped by the fear that the Soviet Union was going to pick up where they’d left off after the fall of Nazism and take control of western Europe and most of the cold warriors in the west feared Korea was a distraction. It was only when the Korean conflict was almost over that the US decided to defend their client with air and naval support, primarily due to US concerns that their ally and de facto military base, Japan, would be threatened.
After the KPA had secure 90% of the peninsula and trapped the US and Korean forces in the Pusan perimeter, it became obvious that the US “police action” wasn’t enough the US decided to pursue a path that’s still seen today, legitimizing an intervention in Korea through the young United Nations Security Council (UNSC). A resolution approving a UN coalition to prop up South Korea was easily passed by the UNSC during a boycott by the Soviets – who held veto power – over the UN’s refusal to recognize China’s communist government.
The Real Cost of the Korean War
The story after that, as western historians and journalists tell it is that under the banner of the UN; South Korean, British and US troops launched a ground war, pushing KPA forces back to near the Chinese border then being pushed back to the 38th. What western sources fail to mention is the amount of US resources that were used to achieve this end and the devastation reaped on the Korean people – primarily in the north.
Western sources fail to mention facts like the 32 thousand tons of napalm dropped on the DPRK. Western sources fail to mention the 635,000 tons of standard munitions bombs dropped on Korea; which surpassed the 503,000 tons dropped in the Pacific theater during World war 2 – the war that leveled several of Japan’s major cities. This bombing campaign, billed as civilized targeted airstrikes (if that sounds familiar), which targeted “every brick that was standing on top of another, everything that moved” according to then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk leveled countless cities, towns and villages, including Pyongyang, which had only 3 modern buildings left standing after the war.
Western sources fail to mention that General Curtis Lemay, bragged after the war that “over a period of three years or so, we killed off … 20 percent of the population. This figure rivals, or possibly surpasses, the percentage of the Soviet population lost to World War Two. The majority of these casualties were in the north and include an estimated 3 million civilians. Western sources also blocked out horrors for decades, such as the No Gun Ri massacre, where US soldiers machine-gunned hundreds of civilians hiding under a railroad bridge (and this was southeast of Seoul). The western sources also always fail to mention how bloodthirsty the men waging this war were, such as Truman or Gen. Douglas MacArthur who both seriously considered the idea of dropping “between 30 and 50 atomic bombs … strung across the neck of Manchuria” to stop the ground advance of the Chinese and Soviet forces.
Still, even after all this, the DPRK pushed the UN forces back to the 38th and agreed to the ceasefire still in place today. Also, in spite of these atrocities, the DPRK was more successful in rebuilding after the war than their counterparts in the south. With the help of Soviet and Chinese aid, the reconstruction of the DPRK far outpaced South Korea through a series of economic plans modeled after Stalin’s industrialization of the USSR and Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Meanwhile, South Korea was left devastated and treated as a client/military base by the US. It was this economic model that led the DPRK into modernity despite the damage from the war and keeps their economy going to this day; so much so that even western economists acknowledge the DPRK is still seeing growth despite sanctions that seem to increase weekly.
Following the Cold War, finding themselves without the Soviet Union and their nuclear deterrent, the DPRK soon saw the need to develop their own nuclear weapons. This was of course opposed by Washington at the time and resulted in a treaty between Kim Jong Il and the Clinton regime, which limited the DPRK nuclear program in exchange for material aid, two light-water civilian nuclear reactors and US-supplied fuel as another source of electricity.
The “Axis of Evil”
However, much like the Iran nuclear deal today, the US soon put an even more reactionary regime in power in the form of George W. Bush who decided to show the DPRK that, no, the US doesn’t uphold its agreements. Bush, of course, added the DPRK to his “axis of evil” (a term developed by a man who’s now a liberal hero, the “good conservative” “resistance” member David Frum) along with Saddam’s Iraq and Iran. Pyongyang then watched as the US invaded the first member of this new axis and thankfully failed miserably, preventing them from moving on Iran next. The real lesson the Kim family learned from Iraq, however, was that the US knew Saddam had no WMD’s and that’s why Iraq was seen as the easiest target to hit first.
The DPRK (as well as Iran) were still not spared and it was in the early aughts that the criminal sanctions regimes were imposed on both countries. In 2003 the world also watched as Libyan lead Muammar Qaddafi worked with the global community to end his weapons programs, in what’s now viewed by many as a fatal mistake. Much like Iran, the DPRK continued their weapons program in the hopes that a strong nuclear deterrent would keep them safe.
Following Bush came Obama, who made two crucial moves that fought the DPRK all they need to know. The first was during the Arab spring, which saw a now-non-nuclear Libya bombed by NATO member, torn apart by jihadists and turned to the failed state we know today. The second was that Obama was forced to negotiate with the country that actually did nearly have the capability to produce nuclear weapons; Iran. Unfortunately for Iran, much like the DPRK after Clinton, a new right-wing lunatic has taken power and now seeks to void the nuclear deal and possibly lead the US to war with Iran.
Western Propaganda Concerning the DPRK
But this is all left out in the west. Instead of these facts, western media consumers are treated to ridiculous lies about the DPRK that range from untrue stupidity, racist and contradictory to outright nuclear fear porn reminiscent of the Cold War 60s. The stupid propaganda is the stories like Kim Jong Un’s uncle who was fed to dogs (sourced from a Chinese satirist, and later retracted), or the stories of generals killed by AA guns and Kim’s girlfriend who was supposedly killed (both later seen, very much alive, on television). The racist accusations include stories like that of the DPRK claiming to have discovered unicorns, enforcing “haircut” laws, and the DPRK policy of jailing Olympians who fail to take home medals.
The fear mongering contradictions are just the usual neoconservative bullshit lies they pull out every war. This includes all the imperialist hits like:
- Claiming everyone is starving, while also saying everyone is in the giant dangerous military.
- The DPRK wants nuclear weapons to strike first (despite always saying the contrary).
- The DPRK won’t negotiate, despite saying they would.
- Calling Kim irrational, despite admitting his arguments are based in reality.
And yet here we are, in another standoff demanding that the DPRK give up their nuclear program or face war. There isn’t even an option left on the table that allows the DPRK to determine their own fate, despite US acceptance of other countries who’ve gotten nuclear weapons behind their back such as Pakistan. No, despite this, the US insists that the DPRK fully accept their terms.
And for what? Was does the DPRK have that Washington wants? The short answer is nothing really. Besides removing a buffer between the ROK and China, allowing the US to move to China’s border and make the world more unsafe, there aren’t even resources worth stealing in the DPRK.
No, the DPRK is a perfect example of the US and its role as the global embodiment of an imperial power. Much like Cuba, Panama or Venezuela (who still sells most of their oil to the US), this is purely about a country acting in their own interests. Much like the British empire would treat rogue colonies, the US is only seeking to slap down the DPRK so the rest of the world gets the message – the US will not stand for self-determination, so don’t get any ideas. In fact, the current US regime is so reactionary it doesn’t even use the liberal cliches about human rights or “being seen as liberators.” No, the casualties aren’t even discussed, there isn’t even concern about US allies in South Korea or Japan having potentially millions killed. For this reason alone, even the government of South Korea (when it’s not led by corrupt authoritarians) is opposed to any potential war.
No, this is just the empire acting alone, looking to secure the world and make sure there is no challenge to the unipolar post-cold war order. It’s for these reasons that the US must keep its hands off the DPRK for the sake of an entire region and possibly the world and it is the job of all of us opposed to imperialism (or just regular people who don’t wish to see trillions more wasted for nothing) to continue to fight any future aggression.
James Carey is an organizer based in Detroit, Michigan, founder of Geopolitics Alert, and an experienced analyst on Middle Eastern affairs with a particular focus on Turkey. He also covers topics ranging from Latin America and Asia to Europe. You can also hear James in his weekly podcast; The Left is Dead which he co-hosts with investigative journalist Jake Anderson.