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After half a century of Pentagon war crimes

Why U.S. wants 'regime change' in North Korea

By Pat Chin

The global movement against war on Iraq keeps growing. At the same time, the people in South Korea continue to demand an end to U.S. occupation of their land and the right to live in friendship with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north.

It is in this context that the Bush administration has been forced, at least for the moment, to moderate its bellicose language against the DPRK.

The DPRK has been demanding direct talks with the U.S. government over its defense and energy concerns, even as the Bush regime is preoccupied with preparing a colossal war of neocolonial conquest on Iraq. The North Koreans say they won't back down from their plans to resume building a nuclear reactor until Washington agrees to sit down and talk about signing a permanent peace treaty, with a pledge that it won't attack the country and won't obstruct normalization between north and south.

Bush only last year had virtually threatened war on North Korea when, in his State of the Union address, he called it part of an "axis of evil" that had to be stopped, through pre-emptive military action, from using "weapons of mass destruction." Iraq was also cast as part of this evil troika, along with Iran.

The Koreans had every reason to be alarmed. From 1950-53 they had suffered a catastrophic invasion by the U.S. The Korean War was halted by a cease-fire armistice, but there has never been a peace treaty. Thus, the White House can claim the legal authority to attack the DPRK at any time without consent from Congress or the United Nations Security Council--not that legality has ever stopped the war machine.

The idea that socialist North Korea presents a threat to the world is ridiculous. Born from the Korean people's decades-long struggle against Japanese colonialism, it is the DPRK that has been under nuclear threat from the U.S. for more than 50 years.

In this period, the U.S. has manufactur ed nearly 70,000 nuclear weapons, at the cost of $5 trillion. (See the book "Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940, edited by Stephen I. Schwartz.) It has deployed thousands of them within reach of the Korean peninsula.

But last November, when the DPRK raised the prospect of resuming its own nuclear program, the Bush White House canceled oil shipments to that energy-starved country and threatened economic sanctions. Now, it has dispatched U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Kelly to the Korean peninsula in a rush of diplomatic activity, while insisting there will be no negotiations with the DPRK.

The crisis for the Bush administration came to a head after North Korea said it was withdrawing from the Nuclear Non proliferation Treaty--a pact aimed primarily at preventing smaller, oppressed nations from acquiring the means to defend themselves--and expelling inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

On Jan. 10, North Korea's UN ambassador, Pak Gil Yon, denied that the DPRK is producing nuclear weapons but stressed that the socialist state, which has been under nuclear threat for over 50 years, is keeping that option open as a sovereign right of self-defense.

Back in October 1994, the DPRK had stopped construction on two graphite nuclear reactors and allowed UN inspectors into the country as part of an "Agreed Framework" between the DPRK and the U.S. government. The Clinton White House--which claimed that the graphite reactors could be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons--agreed, along with South Korea, Japan and the European Union, to help North Korea build two light-water reactors for generating electricity. It was supposed to keep the country supplied with fuel oil until the new reactors were online.

The Clinton administration had erroneously assumed that North Korea was about to collapse after the demise of the Soviet Union and years of severe weather that disrupted agricultural production and the food supply. Eight years later, there's been no collapse. But neither has the U.S.-led consortium built the new reactors. Then, last November, at the start of the usual bone-chilling Korean winter, Washington and Tokyo announced they were stopping all oil shipments to North Korea.

This is what led the DPRK to declare its sovereign right to resume construction on the original reactors, which the Bush administration propaganda machine presents as a threat to the entire region.

What was the Korean War about?

Many in the U.S. are familiar with the anti-colonial nature of the Vietnamese struggle and the brutal atrocities committed by the Pentagon against national liberation fighters and civilians alike. But little is known here about the roots of the Korean War. There was no big anti-war movement after the U.S. invaded Korea. The conflict erupted during the height of the Cold War, when fierce McCarthyite witch hunts left progressives on the defensive.

Massacres like the one at Vietnam's Mylai village, as well as widespread torture, merciless carpet bombing and the use of napalm and other chemical weapons, left 2 million Vietnamese dead. However, the communist-led anti-colonial forces finally triumphed.

In Korea, too, there was a long struggle for national liberation. The movement against colonial domination started after Japan annexed the peninsula in 1910. A liberation force developed in the 1930s led by Kim Il Sung, who later became the first president of the DPRK.

In 1945, after World War II ended in Japan's surrender, Washington hurried troops to South Korea under the guise of protecting the population. But the real reason was to prevent the liberation forces in the south, which had widespread support, from taking power as they had done in the north. It was, in fact, a bid to establish a beachhead near China while protecting the class rule of the south Korean landlords and merchants, who had collaborated with the brutal Japanese occupation.

The Pentagon occupied South Korea, and later South Vietnam, to push back anti-colonial movements there led by communists who--horrors!--had won broad support by addressing the problems of the peasantry and the poor.

As with the Vietnam War, the Korean War was a continuation of an earlier anti-colonial struggle--the Koreans against the Japanese, the Vietnamese against the French. After defeating these colonial predators, both countries then faced new aggression in the form of the U.S. military machine, which cloaked itself in democratic phrases.

The Korean War, which broke out in 1950, saw U.S. troops and forces of the Syngman Rhee dictatorship in the south pitted against the Korean People's Army and southern partisans who fought to free their country of foreign domination.

But while the U.S. claimed to be defending the civilians in the south, it in fact carried out heartless bloodbaths wherever it suspected the people were sympathetic to the revolution in the north. Fighter jets and battleships off the coast deliberately shelled and strafed civilians--many of them refugees. Many homes were burnt to the ground.

During this time, the U.S. also mercilessly bombed the north. All buildings over two stories high were systematically leveled. People were forced to live and work in caves or underground shelters. No town was left untouched.

Germ warfare was also unleashed against the DPRK, South Korea and the People's Republic of China, which had sent 1 million volunteers to Korea to help repel the invasion.

Lee Wha Rang wrote on Jan. 27, 1999, that "At least 36 of the captured American flyers 'confessed' to dropping biological bombs on targets in Korea and China. This lot included Col. Frank H. Schwable, chief of staff, 1st Marine Air Wing. These officers were repatriated in 1953 and recanted their confessions soon after their return, under threat of court-martial.

"The confessors disclosed where the biological weapons were manufactured (Terre Haute, Ind.), the command structure of germ warfare (Unit 406 based in Japan), types of germs (the types developed by Japanese germ warfare units) and details on the bombing tactics." (www. See also, "The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets of the Early Cold War and Korea," by Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman.)

After three years, fierce resistance stalled the war. At least 3 million Koreans had been killed, 1 million of them non-combatants.

Massacres of civilians

One of the best-known civilian massacres in the south took place in the township of Nogun-ri shortly after the start of the Korean War in 1950. The Associated Press broke the story of the atrocity on Jan. 12, 1999, after interviewing survivors and GIs. The U.S. soldiers said they had fired on refugees under official orders.

The slaughter started when U.S. fighter jets strafed a large group of refugees fleeing an area of heavy fighting. About 100 people were deliberately machine-gunned. Another 300 who sought shelter under a railway underpass were killed by ground troops over the next three days. U.S. military occupation of the south kept this story suppressed for almost 50 years.

Civilian deaths were the target of an investigation in May 2002 by the Korea Truth Commission. "We traveled hundreds of miles all over South Korea," explains a KTC report dated June 23, 2002. "At each of 12 sites we visited, we heard survivors recount their painful experiences as if they had happened yesterday. We were also shown structural damage to buildings and tunnels. And we investigated three mass gravesites." ( htm)

In the small village of Sacheon in Gyeongsangnam-do province, for example, 100 people were killed and another 100 injured on Aug. 2, 1950, after four U.S. fighter jets fired on hundreds of refugees who had gathered along a riverbank.

In Chongtong-ri village, members of the KTC delegation were told of another August attack. Four U.S. fighter jets bombed and strafed the entire village, killing 53, injuring 40, and incinerating 100 houses. One 81-year-old survivor asked the delegation angrily, "Why has it taken 50 years? We want compensation for our suffering! When are we getting it?"

In South Korea's Ham Ahn County alone over 30 massacre sites have been located. There are hundreds all over the peninsula--in cities, villages, towns, under railroad trestles, on plains and in the mountains.

A delegation from North Korea, which was prepared to testify about the even greater destruction meted out there by the Pentagon, was prevented by Washington from attending the June 23, 2001, Korea International War Crimes Tribunal in New York that heard testimony about these massacres. At that event, the judges found the U.S. guilty of war crimes against the Korean people. ( verdict.htm, Jan. 12, 2003)

Although many Koreans have known the truth for decades, it's been only over the past few years that they have dared to speak about the murderous carnage committed during the Korean War by U.S. imperialism.

Thanks to the courageous work of groups like the Korea Truth Commission, a voluminous mountain of convincing evidence has been gathered. This, coupled with the revelation that official orders were given to fire on refugees, exposes the lie that the U.S. invaded Korea to protect the South Korean people. It instead confirms the racist and imperialist nature of the carnage, in which all Koreans were seen as potential enemies.

Today, people around the world are recognizing that the Bush administration's threats to attack Iraq are motivated by imperialism's designs on the oil riches of the region. Tomorrow, the threats could shift to Korea, but the underlying causes will remain the same: Corporate America's insatiable appetite for domination and control of the world's resources, and its fear and hatred for those who resist its dictates.

Reprinted from the Jan. 23, 2003, issue of Workers World newspaper
This article is copyrighted under a Creative Commons License.
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