In a recent interview, Donald Trump warned — with stunning diplomatic grace — that, if China does not “solve North Korea,” the US will. That’s right, solve them — because North Korea is a problem, not a country inhabited by millions of human beings who have hearts, dreams, & fears like you & I do. Now that the despicable cowards in congress let Trump illegally attack Syria — a nation we are not at war with — his threat will certainly be seen as credible, especially after sending a US aircraft carrier & strike group to the region. Then, at 5 AM on April 11th — as if to intentionally provoke them — King Tiny-Hands tweets, “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.“
In response, a spokesperson for the DPRK ( Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ) warned of “the catastrophic consequences” for any US aggression or preemptive attack, saying the DPRK is “ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.” As the annual US-South Korean war games unfold amid unconfirmed reports of Chinese troops moving near the DPRK border, it is crucial to understand the conflict before Donald Trump does something awful & stupid…
North Korea vs. the World:
A Crash Course on the Context of the Conflict
The first thing to understand is that North Korea has existed for less than 70 years — before 1948, there had only been one Korea. In 1910, Imperial Japan annexed the Korean Peninsula and tried to integrate Korea into the Japanese Empire — naturally, the Koreans were pretty miffed about it & a long period of lots of fighting began….
The Japanese Occupation: 1910-1945
When Japan took control of Korea, demands for independence were met with repression, prompting Koreans to form resistance groups that waged a guerrilla war against them for 35 years. Koreans were brutally oppressed — Japanese landlords swiped their land, villages suspected of hiding resistance members were massacred, & Korean newspapers were banned. By the end of WWII, Japan had forced 450,000 Koreans into labor camps to assist the war effort, in addition to an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 Korean women were forced into sexual slavery as “comfort girls” for Japan’s military.
The Korean resistance was pushed into Manchuria, China, & the Soviet Union, where they allied with the Chinese & Russian communists who fought Japan until the end of WWII — but, after 35 years of resisting, the Korea they had fought for was not to be…
How One Korea Became Two
In August 1945, the Soviets drove Japanese forces out of the North Korean Peninsula before they surrendered on the 15th. When they reached Pyongyang, the Red Army met the CPKI ( Committee for the Preparation of Korean Independence ), formed by Koreans to organize People’s Committees all over the country. By the 25th, the People’s Committees had declared the People’s Republic of Korea, or the PRK. Japan’s surrender, however, gave control of Korea to the Allies, instructing Japanese forces in the South to surrender to the US, which arrived in September. Korea was split into Soviet & US zones at the 38th parallel.
Unlike the USSR, the US refused to meet with the People’s Committees or the PRK and Lt Gen. John Hodge kept the authorities of the Japanese occupation in place. After public outcry forced the US to remove the Japanese officials, a military government was formed — and the communist PRK was outlawed. The suppression of people’s committees & the PRK ensured that the conservative right & anticommunist factions dominated the interim government that emerged. In the North, the Soviets worked with the CPKI to seize & redistribute land stolen by the Japanese. The USSR supported the People’s Committees & allowed the Koreans to form a provisional government under the leadership of Kim Il Sung.
How Cold War Anti-Communism Screwed Up Everything
When Cold War politics caused US-Soviet negotiations to break down, the US approached the UN, which resolved that a new Korean government would be created by holding UN elections. But there were a few big problems. The Soviet Union, as well as the provisional North Korean government & the majority of Koreans in the South, opposed UN involvement. Apparently, this was not seen as a huge deal by the UN because they went ahead with the plan to hold elections, anyway. The date was set for May 10th, 1948 — but only in the South.
Correctly sensing their country was about to be torn in half, South Koreans organized general strikes & massive protests against the elections, while a full-scale uprising broke out on the Southern island of Jeju. Dominated by the right-wing supporters of Syngman Rhee & overseen by the US military, South Korean forces killed about 60,000 Korean communists ( & suspected communists ) to put down the uprising. To use the words inscribed on a Jeju island memorial, they made it “a place of killing, tragedy, & sad ghosts.” The elections were held.
And, despite what they say, nobody really won.
How the Hope to Unify Korea Was Destroyed
Before the USSR & US withdrew in 1948-49, the ROK ( the Republic of Korea ) was declared in the South and the DPRK in the North. The South Korean president, Syngman Rhee — a right-wing anti-communist — had multiple rebellions on his hands, including a mutiny by ROK soldiers outraged at the Jeju massacre. The ROK rounded up communists & leftists to “re-educate,” lock up, or shoot. As Rhee was crushing revolt among his people, Kim Il Sung led the Korean People’s Army into the South, in an attempt to unify Korea under the DPRK. Today, South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimates that, on Rhee’s orders, 100,000–200,000 leftists & communists were slaughtered by retreating ROK forces as the DPRK overran the peninsula.
The Korean Holocaust Forgotten by the US Public
Undoubtedly, the DPRK could have beaten Rhee and it probably would have been the end of it — but the US intervened. American forces not only drove the DPRK out of South Korea but nearly captured North Korea. Chinese forces — who had fought beside Koreans against Japan — joined the DPRK & helped to hold a line near the 38th parallel. Over the next 3 years, the United States dropped 635,000 tons of bombs on North Korea, including 32,557 tons of napalm — up to 3 million North Koreans died, or 10%–15% of the population. The 85%–90% who lived mostly lived underground, coming out to farm at night.
According to the records of the US Air Force, they were forced to stop bombing because there was literally nothing left to bomb. After erasing every city — including 8,700 factories, 5,000 schools, 1,000 hospitals, & 600,000 homes — the USAF’s last targets were the irrigation dams on the Yalu River, which flooded a few thousand acres of farmland, destroying the North Korean rice crop that millions depended on ( which is a war crime, by the way ). An armistice was signed in 1953, ending the fighting — but US forces never left. Soon, they will be joined by Donald Trump’s new aircraft carrier & naval strike group.
The North Korean Perspective Today
Try to understand today from the perspective of North Korean history — from the occupation by Japan in 1910 to the military government & ROK massacres of the ’40s, to US bombs & cascades of napalm raining fire from the sky onto their people. 107 years — that’s how long ago Korean autonomy was ripped away by an empire that tried to erase the Korean culture & exploit its people. After 35 years of struggle — an inch away from regaining independence — the Korean right to self-determination was torn away again by foreign empires. Then, for the crime of attempting to overthrow a brutal dictator in order to re-unify their country, the North Koreans — who lived through 2 occupations — were nearly wiped from the face of the earth & all that they had was destroyed. Destroyed — by us — the United States.
We did that.
And now our public officials are openly discussing a US attack on North Korea, as if they were the aggressors. Apparently, it does not matter that we have kept our soldiers on the cusp of North Korea’s border for 70 years and nevermind the fact that the US & the Republic of Korea have held yearly dress-rehearsals for invading North Korea since 1961. The DPRK is, somehow, the aggressor– not us. The US has invaded 50 countries since WWII — North Korea invaded just one, which was the ROK in South Korea — and, to be fair, North Koreans saw it as the other half of Korea ( which it kind of is ) that was being ruled by a dictator.
North Korea Is Responding Sanely
To an Insane Set of Circumstances
North Korean leaders have explained repeatedly that their pursuit of ballistic & nuclear technology is for the purpose of possessing a nuclear deterrent — as the US & many others have — that will prevent the US from destroying them. Again. The DPRK consistently tells us that their rational fear of US invasion is based on a combination of the experience of almost being annihilated by us in 1950 & their observation that the US military is objectively on their border — which makes a lot of sense. It sounds more rational than paranoid, really. What does not make sense, however, is that both Obama & Trump turned down North Korean offers to suspend their pursuit of nuclear missiles capable of reaching our mainland, in exchange for ending the US’ “joint military exercises” on the DPRK’s border.
Looking at history, it is startlingly clear that North Korea has never been hostile toward the United States itself — only toward US military forces that traveled across the Pacific Ocean to the Korean Peninsula. The US, on the other hand — well, let’s be real, the US really fucked up and needs to acknowledge that before any real progress can be made. Instead of sending aircraft carriers to the Korean peninsula, the US strategy should be to send its forces back to its own shores — or that would be the decent thing to do, at least. North Koreans never bombed or even set a foot in the US and so our military should leave Korea alone.