|Land of the Morning Calm -- until the Americans came|
In the London Review of Books, Bruce Cumings rehearses the history of the Hermit Kingdom, though not as far back as he could have done. Most Americans know the name of Perry who "opened" Japan but not one in 10 million can name the American who "opened" Korea. (R.W. Shufeldt, in 1882, although the U.S, Navy had been bombarding what was then called Corea and killing Coreans since about 1870.)
After 1945, the Americans pursued the same policy in Korea that it did in Germany, China and Indochina: leaguing with fascists in the name of anticommunism. In Korea, it could not use the Japanese fascists so it used their Korean collaborators.
A vital figure in the long Japanese counterinsurgency effort was Kishi Nobusuke, who made a name for himself running munitions factories. Labelled a Class A war criminal during the US occupation, Kishi avoided incarceration and became one of the founding fathers of postwar Japan and its longtime ruling organ, the Liberal Democratic Party; he was prime minister twice between 1957 and 1960. The current Japanese prime minister, Abe Shinzo, is Kishi’s grandson and reveres him above all other Japanese leaders. Trump was having dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Abe on 11 February when a pointed message arrived mid-meal, courtesy of Pyongyang: it had just successfully tested a new, solid-fuel missile, fired from a mobile launcher. Kim Il-sung and Kishi are meeting again through their grandsons. Eight decades have passed, and the baleful, irreconcilable hostility between North Korea and Japan still hangs in the air.Although supporting fascism cost America a great deal in Vietnam, in the long view it could be argued that it turned out OK in Germany, the Philippines, Turkey, Indonesia and South Korea. All eventually adopted at least semi-real democratic governments. In 2017, though, it does not look as rosy as once it did.
Iran, the Philippines, Turkey and -- perhaps -- Indonesia are not models of democracy (despite the elections this weekend in Iran). But Korea is the example, above all, of the proposition that maybe it would have been a better idea to have supported democrats, however messy that appeared at the time.
It is not merely that by supporting fascists the United States became morally responsible for several genocides; according to Cumings, the toll in Korea was of Rwandan proportions.
There is a strange gap in Cumings' narrative. He says
After the Americans left in 1948 the border area around the 38th parallel was under the command of Kim Sok-won, another ex-officer of the Imperial Army, and it was no surprise that after a series of South Korean incursions into the North, full-scale civil war broke out on 25 June 1950.As too few of us know, the United States was making war against communist states in the late '40s: in Ukraine, China, Korea and elsewhere. To do so in Korea, using South Korean surrogates, was especially reckless, since the South Korean government had no military of its own (only a constabulary of about 8 divisions) nor any American backup.
The Soviets and the Chinese had no option for direct retaliation, but the North Koreans did, and they used it.
After the Chinese routed the American-South Korean invaders of the north, and were pushed back in turn, the US Army had to acknowledge it was beaten. It then turned to a campaign of pure slaughter.
17 of every 20 buildings -- most necessarily of no military significance -- in the north were bombed, and unnumbered Chinese and Koreans were shelled along the inactive front lines.
The code name for the policy --it cannot be called a strategy -- was significant and meant to be: OPERATION KILLER.
Under these circumstances, it is unsurprising that the North Koreans consider that any and all American policies are aimed at regime change, or that they might be prepared to go to any extreme to counter them.
Liberals made fun of Trump when he said, who knew health care could be so complicated. They might want to examine their consciences (if they have any in this area) when it comes to policy in the Land of the Morning Calm.