Before the massive killing starts, before the government and the corporate media starts branding critical thought treason, we should try to get the facts out about Korea. Typical of the misinformation about the recent crisis is this bland account in the New York Times on Dec. 17. It reads: "The latest inter-Korean crisis erupted three weeks ago with an artillery barrage from the North that targeted Yeonpyeong and killed four South Koreans."
But that wasn't the start of the crisis.
Hours before North Korea started its shelling, South Korean artillery units located in the West Sea Islands, just seven miles from the North Korean coast, engaged in firing exercises for four hours. According to the South Korean Ministry of National Defense, the units on those islands, including Yeonpyeong Island, fired 3,657 times, or over 900 shells per hour, into contested waters claimed by both Pyongyang and Seoul near the Northern Limit Line (NLL). This was reported by Alexis Dudden, who teaches the history of Korea and Japan at the University of Connecticut (radio interview )and Nan Kim Assistant Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee who is a specialist on modern Korean war memory.
Drawn unilaterally by the US Navy in 1953, the Northern Limit Line is not internationally recognized and has never been accepted by North Korea. Rather than in a straight line, the Northern Limit Line was drawn to curve sharply upwards, handing over islands and a prime fishing area to the South that would otherwise have gone to North Korea. The North, having had no say in the drawing of its sea border, has never recognized the Northern Limit Line.
The situation is incredibly dangerous. Whatever we may think of the regime in the North it is a potent military force and it's been preparing for Korean War II for decades. They also have a very nationalistic, wealthy and populous China as their neighbor and ally. China may not think much of North Korea's rulers, but it certainly does not want to see North Korea destroyed and American bases near their border. China was underestimated in 1950. How can we do it again when China is infinitely richer and more powerful? And how do we forget that Russia has a border with Korea?
The North Korea regime has been getting the Full Demon Treatment by the corporate media. It's pictured over and over again as a mad dictatorship presiding over a starving population. This is contrasted with scenes of a prosperous democratic South. I won't defend the regime in the North, a nasty amalgam of Soviet Communism and monarchy, but I also don't buy the picture of the "free and democratic" South Korea ever the victim of Northern attacks supported selflessly by a noble United States.
The Korean War supposedly started on June 25, 1950 attack by communist forces as a Pearl Harbor type attack. Yet, historian Bruce Cummings argues that 1950 North Korean attack wasn't the start of the war, but an escalation of a "civil conflict" that began in 1945.
Without going into all the ins and outs of the war suffice it to say it was incredibly brutal on all sides. Harry Truman's administration bears much of the blame. It created and supported Syngman Rhee's government of the south which became a pitiless dictatorship. During the war Rhee's forces executed 100,000 leftist prisoners. (2008 Associated Press report).
This is madness. There is every reason to think North Korea would fight furiously and that one side or the other would use nuclear bombs.
The U.S. Air Force used napalm freely and it burned all the cities of the north to the ground. Koreans fleeing the warfare were sometimes massacred by U.S. troops. The most notorious of these killings at a village called No Gun Ri. The sick logic was that since some of the refugees might be Communist infiltrators they all should be shot. And this policy of killing was approved at the highest U.S. levels. By wars end 2 and a half million Koreans were dead. Obama recently called it a "victory". "Freedom" in South Korea had been preserved.
Some freedom! Basically South Korea was ruled by a series of dictators until 1987. As late as 1980 they massacred opponents killing of hundreds of student protesters in Gwangju. After '87 there were elections. Liberal forces won them in the late 1990's and in 1998 and started a "Sunshine Policy" seeking to ratchet down the conflict with the north, open up investment, allow family reunification, etc. In 2008, however, a new presidential election brought President Lee to power who has ditched Sunshine in favor of confrontation. Echoing 2003 thinking about a cakewalk into Iraq, forces in South Korea and the U.S. believe with enough pressure North Korea will crack and the South can march in and spread "freedom".
Such a war in Korea would kill millions of Koreans and take with it the lives of 30,000 Americans soldiers stationed there. And it wouldn't take years. The major carnage might occur in just weeks.
There is an alternative to this rush to slaughter.