Ignorance is Strength: Kim Jong Un Edition

In a C4SS op-ed on the Korean “crisis” (“I’m Already Against the Next War, and You Should Be Too,” April 4), Tom Knapp wrote, regarding his negative impressions of North Korea:

“most of what I think I know about it is really just what other governments choose to tell me. And those other governments routinely lie — to everyone, about everything, day in and day out, as a matter of policy …”

The current war scare drummed up by the US government (and by cable news — if there’s any difference) fully bears out Knapp’s skepticism. Let’s take a closer look behind the official version of events in Korea over the past several decades:

The standard framing of the Korean War is an unambiguous, unprovoked aggression by the North, beginning with a sudden and massive invasion across the Demarcation Line. But in fact the years leading up to the war featured constant cross-border incursions by both sides, often involving thousands of troops.

The North Korean version of events was that the Seoul regime had conducted a large-scale artillery bombardment across the border on the 23rd and 24th, followed by a surprise South Korean raid on the town of Haeju. The American military status report at nightfall June 25 said the North Koreans had captured all territory three miles south of the Imjin River — except for the area of the “Haeju counterattack.” John Gunther, in his biography of MacArthur, recounts being informed by a high-ranking member of the American occupation on the 25th: “A big story has just broken. The South Koreans have attacked North Korea!”

As war broke out, South Korean dictator Syngman Rhee ordered the massacre of at least 100,000 leftist dissidents with the acquiescence of the US military command. The victims included tens of thousands of political prisoners imprisoned by Rhee in the preceding years. The regime emptied its prisons, lined up the prisoners and shot them, dumping their bodies into hastily dug trenches. US military officers were present at some of these mass killings;  the US military actually photographed some of them.

By way of background, the Korean system of governance that had emerged in the vacuum left by Japan’s 1945 withdrawal was a loose federation of self-governing communes, in which the large and influential Korean anarchist movement played a major role. Soviet and American military authorities, in their respective spheres, quickly put an end to this. The Americans, obviously suspicious of anarchists or leftists of any kind, encouraged dispossessed aristocrats to form a military regime which imprisoned by the tens of thousands the anarchists it had dispossessed and, in a few years’ time, took advantage of the war to finish them off once and for all.

Fast forward to the present: Kim Jong Un’s threats of nuclear retaliation against American targets take place against the backdrop of large-scale joint US-South Korean naval exercises inside North Korean territorial waters. The US claims them as South Korean waters based solely on a demarcation line unilaterally drawn by the United States at the end of the Korean War. The US-drawn line is not confirmed by any treaty or recognized by any international body. And by the normal standards for calculating territorial waters under international law, North Korea’s claims to the waters in which the exercises took place are entirely legitimate.

So, viewing events from outside the distorting ideological prism of official US statements and their parrots in the media, what really happened is that North Korea responded to an enormous provocation and a credible threat by warning of retaliation in the event of attack.

“OK,” you may be saying. “But even if all that stuff’s true, responding to an offshore provocation in North Korean waters with bluster about nuclear targets in the US is kinda nuts, isn’t it?”

Well, it’s certainly immoral. For one state to respond to another state’s military aggression by killing, or threatening to kill, its civilian population is monstrous. And if it’s monstrous, it’s monstrous when anyone does it. It would also be monstrous if some purely hypothetical country, the only country in the world with atomic weapons, used them to kill several hundred thousand civilians in two Japanese cities. It would be monstrous if some purely hypothetical country with hundreds of long-range bombers had had, as its official military policy, making first use of nuclear weapons and hitting every major population center in the USSR in retaliation for a conventional incursion into Western Europe.

The US government is a state. And lying — deliberately, shamelessly — whenever it serves their interests is what states do. Don’t let millions die for a lie.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory