Five thousand years of recorded history reveal that we, who do the suffering and dying, too often for the benefit of the few, are slow learners. Strange, because we have the numbers and intermittent organization to do better. Yet, some 4 billion of us have been sacrificed to major wars, not to mention minor conflicts.
Our gullibility is too massive for a single blog, so I will skip along through recent turmoils such as Palestine, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Tibet, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya where so many of our woes are self-inflicted and avoidable.
That brings us to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, China’s Xi Jinping, and somebody’s Donald Trump.
My interest in Korea started in 1952 during the Korean War when I was with 426 Squadron that flew North Star aircraft on the Korean Air Lift, making 600 casualty-free, round-trip, flights from Dorval (Montreal) loaded with supplies for our 26,000 airmen, sailors, and soldiers there, and often returning with wounded from the fighting. There was a 5-day crew stopover in the Australian-run Marunuchi Hotel at Haneda, Tokyo, airport.The Koreans and Japanese that I was fortunate to meet were all friendly, efficient, and helpful.
Korean history starts in 2333 BC and is a long story of peace and turmoil with numerous invasions and takeovers leaving an enduring distaste for foreigners.
The 400-year “Golden age of art and literature” Chinese Han Dynasty embraced North Korea in 108 BC. It is argued that those who consider themselves Han still think of others, like Tibetan, Yi, and Dai as somewhat retarded. In 527 AD Buddhism was adopted, The Mongol invasion began in 1231. Paper currency was introduced in 1402. The first Manchu invasion came in 1627. It was the strangest and most frightening. Considered barbarians, the Manchu numbered fewer than 250,000 yet developed military strategies that conquered the Chinese empire to establish the Qing Dynasty that faded into today’s minority of 3 million scattered in China. This conquest by the uncouth Manchu was a huge humiliation to the Koreans and Chinese of Han persuasion. It increased their isolationism.
The French campaign against Korea was an 1866 punitive expedition in retaliation for the earlier Korean execution of several French Catholic missionaries. The encounter over Ganghwa Island lasted nearly six weeks. The result was a French retreat and a check on French influence in the region. The encounter also confirmed Korea in its isolationism for another decade, until Japan forced it to open up to trade in 1876 through the Treaty of Ganghwa.
The first US intervention in Korea came in 1871 on Ganghwa Island. Aboard two US warships, a diplomatic mission had been sent to open trade. They were fired upon by Korean shore batteries of the isolationist Joseon Dynasty. Ten days later the US landed 650 troops, captured several forts, and killed over 200 Koreans for a loss of 3 US marines. Korea then refused to negotiate with the US until 1882.
In 1895 China granted Korea independence. Empress Myeongseong (Queen Min) urged closer ties with Russia to balance Japanese influence. She was assassinated in 1895 at age 43 by the Japanese who considered her an obstacle to their overseas expansion after their victory in the first Sino-Japanese war. Japan received international rebuke and Korea clung to it isolation. Queen Min’s husband, King Gojong, spent 1 year of refuge in the Russian embassy.
In 1905 Japan made Korea a protectorate. And, in 1907, forced King Gojong to abdicate in favour of his son, Sunjong. Unrest in Korea led to the assassination of the Japanese Resident-General, Japanese military invasion, an attempt on Emperor Hirohito’s life, and general unrest until Japan’s WWII surrender in 1945 when Korea was divided at the 38th parallel between USSR and USA occupation zones. Opposition to a divided Korea was led by Kim Gu who was assassinated in his bed in 1949 by a South Korean.
The 1950-53 Korean War was an episode in the Cold War between the USSR and USA each striving for world dominance without stumbling into a hot nuclear war.
The excuse was Syngman Rhee of South Korea boasting that he was going to invade North Korea. In 1949, Kim II Sung of North Korea visited Stalin to persuade him that he, Kim, could conquer South Korea. Stalin did not think that the US would get involved, so gave his consent. Kim II Sung also went to see Mao Tse Tung, the leader of China, to get his support.
The US got involved because of Harry Truman’s belief in the Domino Theory. If Korea fell so would Japan, a vital asset for US trade. He also had the goal of containing Communism that was advancing in eastern Europe and Asia. China adopted it in 1949. In 1950 the US National Security Council advised abandoning containment in order to roll back Communism aggressively.
The US remained in military control of South Korea until 1948 and repatriated 700,000 Japanese.
During the Korean War, six million men fought, half from China, Russia, and North Korea against half from 21 UN countries. Casualty statistics are:For the North: China 900,000, North Korea 600,000
For the South: South Korea 984,400, USA 169,365, UK 5,017, Turkey 3,349, Australia 1,991, Canada 1,396, France 1,135, Thailand 913, Greece 715, Holland 704, Columbia 686, Ethiopia 656, Philippines 488, Belgium/Lux 453, New Zealand 115, South Africa 42.
During the war the USAF bombed North Korea so heavily that there was nothing left to bomb so the idle bomber crews were allowed to breach the dams thus destroying huge acreages of rice and inducing starvation, thus increasing hatred of the US to the highest levels.
With help from Canada and France, South Korea developed a successful nuclear capability and toyed with a nuclear arsenal to deter North Korea’s. Jimmy Carter warned that, if it did, it would lose all US support.
So, with that skimpy background, let us concentrate on the current impasse:
Christine Ahn, founder of Women Cross DMZ, criticizes the West for dragging its feet to prolong the dispute that provides an excuse to sell more armaments to a world with too many created tensions. She reminds us that, in 2015, North Korea offered to halt its nuclear missile deterrent if the US and South Korea stopped their military maneuvers and anti-missile installations. Repeated offers were rejected by both the Obama and Trump administrations. Instead the US installed the THAAD anti-missile system against the wishes of South Korea. Even Bill Perry, ex US Secretary of Defense, admits it is there to protect US bases, not people. She claims that Germany, Australia, and France are among those supporting her arguments.
She also claims that, in 1999 and 2000 under the Clinton administration, we were very close to offering North Korea the assurance it needed to stop its missile program that is designed to bring the USA to the negotiating table. In fact Bill Clinton had scheduled a visit to North Korea to do so when political priorities at home caused him to postpone it, never to be reinstated. North Koreans argue that US lying in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya force them into spending more than they can afford on defense. Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now!" has also been helpful in airing her views.While its nuclear arsenal will always remain puny, North Korea has the insane right, as long as the US, Russia, UK, France, India, Pakistan, and Israel do, to maintain nuclear weapons.
Of course in our highly-unsafe and accident-prone world, it is essential that all nuclear weapons be banned. We can start with listening to North Korea’s worries before it develops a missile that can hit the USA other than Alaska. (no slight, Alaska, you are also loved)That, Donald, is now your vital responsibility. Do remember that War is not the Answer,
p.s. Do note that on 09 July 2017, when 122 UN countries voted to ban all nuclear weapons, North Korea was the only nuclear nation to vote yes.
Ye Olde Scribe