Why the U.S. bears special responsibility for peace in Korea
By Dae-Han Song (Chief Editor, The [su:p] newsletter)
The Korean war would not have occurred and continued for nearly 70 years were it not for U.S. intervention. As was the fate of many Third World countries, the Korean War was less a civil war like in the U.S. and more a proxy one like in Vietnam. The U.S. northern Union and southern Confederate states fought driven by distinct identities and politico-economic interests developed over a hundred years. A Korea that had been one nation over 2000 years was North and South less than five years old, and formally less than two before going to war 1. North and South were born out of an artificial and arbitrary division inflicted by the U.S. to promote its geopolitical interests. Much like the Vietnam War, the U.S. propped up a weak-unsustainable regime against the democratic yearnings of the great majority of people. Yet, while hundreds of thousands protested the Vietnam War, the Korean War was and remains the “Forgotten War.” The war and its causes forgotten, much of the world and the U.S. views the Korean war in the “eternal present.” Forgotten is the U.S. role and responsibility. Now, with the newly-elected South Korean Moon government pursuing engagement with North Korea, inter-Korean relations have great potential for advancement. Standing in the way is the United States. Anti-war and peace movements need to stave off the hands of the U.S. in the Korean Peninsula and allow space for Koreans to finally achieve peace and self-determination.
The seeds of the Korean War were planted in 1945 by the U.S. division of the peninsula into North and South. It was nourished into life by U.S. support of a South Korean government made up of a reviled minority of Japanese collaborators while grassroots democracy was suppressed. While the Japanese collaborators and the independence fighters were formed during the Japanese colonial era 2, the contest for power to establish a post-colonial order would not have been at the scale, duration, or conclusion of the Korean War were it not for U.S. intervention 3. Furthermore, beyond the massive human loss 4, the war resolved nothing. “Only the status quo was restored 5.” Thus, U.S. intervention, nourishment and leadership not only created the war but also the cease-fire peace we see in the Korean Peninsula today.
To understand this view of history, it is important to recognize that unlike the North Korean government, the South Korean one was weak and contested. North Korea’s government was formed with independence guerrilla fighter and led by a well known one Kim Il Sung. South Korea’s was formed with Japanese collaborators, ex-colonial police and led by Korean-exile and independence advocate Synghman Rhee, little known locally and estranged among the independence community abroad. While the North Korean government built upon the people’s committees and confiscated and redistributed land and property of the Japanese and their collaborators, the South Korean one under the aegis of the U.S. did not acknowledge the people’s committees. Furthermore, the US military government nullified the confiscation of land and factories by the people’s committees and declared these U.S. property to pay for the costs of war. Such harsh policies following liberation were met with mass strikes, uprisings and mutinies which were violently suppressed 6. The US was an occupying army 7 that snuffed out the then sprouting possibility of a unified democratic Korea in exchange for its imperialist interests. Nonetheless, the yearning for peace, reconciliation, reunification still remains. Today with the candlelight protest elected Moon government taking an approach of engagement and dialogue with North Korea, both Koreas are brought back to the path to peace.
North Korea has pursued peace as a strategy since 1994. The more romantic may say that its pursuit of peace carries the weight of the dying wish of their leader Kim Il Sung. The more cynical may conclude that with the fall of its strongest ally – the Soviet Union – North Korea found itself alone in a hostile environment and saw peace as their only means of survival. Irregardless the reason, North Korea has been pursuing a peace treaty. The provocations, missile and nuclear, have served as nuclear shield 8 from attack and leverage in their negotiation for peace 9. On the South Korean side, the new Moon government has made clear that it would pursue dialogue and engagement with North Korea 10. Standing on the way of progress is the United States and the heavy weight and influence its alliance bears on the South Korean government. Now is the time to stave off the hands of the U.S. and allow Koreans to achieve our own peace.
Nonetheless, some balk at peace with North Korea for its human rights conditions. As regards North Korea’s human rights conditions, it is important to confront that: 1) much of the documented human rights violations are devoid of historical, political and socio-economic context; 2) peace and not war is the prerequisite to improving human rights conditions; 3) no country’s human rights conditions have improved via war much less U.S. intervention.
Much of what we hear about North Korea is devoid of cultural, social and historical context. When talking about the economic hardship of North Koreans, most media fails to mention North Korea’s geographic limitations growing food, the impact of the fall of the Soviet Union, nor the epic floods and droughts that collapsed its food distribution system and wreaked havoc on its food supply. When rights are spoken of, there is no acknowledgement of North Korea’s distinct cultural and politico-economic context arisen from its history and struggles. Furthermore, few fail to make the connection between peace and human rights. Do human rights conditions improve during siege or during peace? North Korea’s siege mentality is never seriously explored by the media. It is simply dismissed as the logical result of an irrational and hysterical North Korean leadership. Few media explore the history of being carpet-bombing by U.S. jets during the Korean War, the economic sanctions, or the large scale annual joint war exercises by the U.S. and South Korea simulating the invasion of North Korea complete with nuclear submarines and B-52 bombers. President Kim Dae-jung’s solution was the sunshine policy 11: open up North Korea to South Korea and the world not through violence or pressure but through engagement and peace. Finally, as countless interventions in Latin America, Africa, Middle East, everywhere show, there is no country in which democracy and human rights blossomed after U.S. intervention. That’s because U.S. geopolitical interests require exploitation and control not democracy and free-will.
Now is the time. South Korea’s current president has one of the strongest mandates for change. He was elected riding high atop the millions that protested and demanded change in South Korea. The Moon government has committed to dialoguing with North Korea. North Korea continues to pursue a peace treaty. It’s time that peace and antiwar movements in Korea, the U.S. and the world demand peace in Korea. After over a hundred years of occupation and division, Koreans deserve peace, reunification and self-determination.
- South Korea held separate elections for simply the south, then it founded the Republic of Korea in Aug. 15 of 1948. North Korea followed and established the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea the following month on Sep. 9.
- The South Korean government was composed of mostly Japanese collaborators. The North Korean government was composed of guerilla fighters that had fought for independence from the mountains of Manchuria.
- Japanese collaborators were having their land and property confiscated and redistributed. Yet, it was U.S. intervention on their behalf that fortified them into a formidable force.
- 2.5 million people lost their lives. https://www.britannica.com/event/Korean-War
- From Bruce Cumings. The Korean War: A History
- The most violent suppression took place in Jeju Island with up to ten percent of the population killed on a scorched earth policy.
- This was contrary to the Soviet Union that allowed the people’s committees to emerge and viewed the North as a liberated country rather than a re-occupied one.
- Nuclear shield is the concept that having a nuclear weapon prevents attack from other nations with stronger conventional military forces lest nuclear retaliation.
- For example, military provocations have been used by North Korea as a means of countering the policy of “strategic patience” that seeks to starve out North Korea through isolation. The display of advances in nuclear and missile technology as time passes makes the strategy of stalling for collapse more costly.
- The Moon Administration stated a policy that would place cooperation with international sanctions on one track and dialogue with North Korea on a separate track.
- The sunshine policy takes its name after a fable in which the sun and the wind both compete for who is the stronger: whoever can get the man to take off his coat wins. The wind blows against the man trying to force the coat off, only to have the man clasp on tighter. The sun simply radiates more and more heat and the man, now hot, takes off the coat on his own.