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 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 even more so 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 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 it’s 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 it’s 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 it’s entirety, giving the 38th parallel it’s 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 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 – plus genuine contemplation by Truman of using nuclear weapons, primarily due to US concerns that their ally and de facto military base, Japan, would be threatened. When 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.
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. With help from a flood of Chinese volunteers, the DPRK continued to fight until the imperialist forces were forced into a ceasefire agreement. The stalemate in Korea ended with talks in Kaesong that once again split Korea at the 38th parallel, starting the 64 year standoff we know now. Once the conflict came to a stop, South Korea became important to the west and throughout the cold war became the military colony it is today. The DPRK remained a close Soviet partner until the collapse, and still remains close to China as both a partner and as a crucial buffer between the South and it’s 30,000 US soldiers.
The DPRK survived the Cold War in a relatively strong position, carrying on the revolution in the face of renewed western pressure with decreased outside support. Under Kim Jong-Il the DPRK continued to strengthen itself against predictable future imperialist aggression, even managing to secure concessions and aid from the west in negotiations under Bill Clinton. Through the 90s, the DPRK was willing to work within the global community to pursue common goals but this changed following the declaration of the new “axis of evil” by George W. Bush placing the target on Korea along with Iran and Iraq. When Pyongyang and Tehran observed what this new classification meant for Iraq this triggered both countries decision to accelerate their programs of nuclear deterrence.
This brings us to our current situation. Despite imperialist propaganda portraying the DPRK as some kind of cult headed by an irrational child, they are in reality acting in a completely reasonable manner. The blustering and appearance of unpredictability is what provides the best defense to the DPRK by holding the nuclear and conventional weapons threats over US allies Japan and South Korea. The imperialists know that any move on the DPRK could place millions of lives in danger of destroying two key alliances and for no real material gain for western powers.
This dynamic has changed slightly with the White House now under the control of a president who actually is unpredictable. The new age of Trump combined with a new blitz of propaganda has made even the anti war liberals cry to topple the government of North Korea. All of the usual lies about the DPRK are back with some new ones thrown in but the difference now is we have a US regime that is willing to bluff itself out of options and take the world to the brink of nuclear war based on lies about first strikes and “armadas”.
The liberal elite now has two leaders to classify as childish and unpredictable but I think just like Kim, Trump presumably knows what game he’s playing since the empire doesn’t just lose an aircraft carrier. So now with a president who is somehow simultaneously unfit to lead the empire, and as the only one capable of waging its wars it is more important than ever to resist the war drive at home. The neoliberals at least understood the impossibility of solving their Korea problem but it’s unclear where we go from here. It would be unwise for Trump to execute an attack on the DPRK due to the bloodshed that would follow but as we now see, anything could happen under this new regime. The time to oppose the increasingly irrational war drive is now, not just for the DPRK, but for China and even for South Korea and Japan. 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 to continue to fight 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.