My Turn: History of tension between US, world


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has for many months badgered the U.S. with missile threats. Donald Trump has responded with tweets and blurts portending “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never experienced.” Suggesting grander destructive fireworks than Donald Rumsfeld’s 2003 “Shock and Awe” attack on Baghdad, our forces, Trump warns, are “locked and loaded.”

Make no mistake; we could all be targets of such behavior.

Belligerence is a dull tool for cutting through thorny problems.

Kim’s family line follows Kim ll-Sung, his grandfather, a patriot who led forces against the invasion and the three-decade subjugation of Korea by the Japanese. At the end of World War II, Soviet and American forces jointly occupied Korea. Their boundary was the 38th parallel of latitude, which still divides the country. Koreans north and south sought reunification but Cold War tensions prevented this. After the defeat of Japan, Kim Il Sung obtained leadership in the North. In 1950, intent on reuniting the country, he launched an invasion of the South — starting the Korean War.

Might Trump attack North Korean sites to distract attention from his ongoing troubles? That would likely prompt American flag mounting on pickup trucks here, as occurred with Bush’s ill-fated invasion of Iraq, but renewed war in Korea could trigger even more devastating blowback than the Iraq war’s creation of ISIS. This would likely be global nuclear conflict. South Korea wisely vetoed military action without their approval.

The co-commander of World War II Pacific forces, General Douglas MacArthur, brilliantly drove the North’s invaders out of the South, then recklessly pursued them far into the North. Obsessed with undoing Mao Zedong’s revolution in China that had occurred a year earlier, MacArthur intended to push on to Beijing. Instead, China entered the fray and drove his forces back into the South. Demonstrating civilian control of our military, Truman relieved MacArthur of his command for disobeying orders. A 1953 armistice restored that 38th parallel boundary. Failure to reach a peace agreement remains a significant cause of tension.

With South Korea, the U.S. has for decades conducted extensive joint land, sea and air military exercises aimed at the North. The North has responded by developing a nuclear and missile capacity. The question raised is whether the U.S. thus provokes the North. Certainly, these exercises are another source of tension.

Rarely mentioned is what this conflict is really about — that is, reunification.

China drew a commitment from North Korea to end nuclear development if the U.S. ended those annual military exercises. This potential solution to end a 67-year-old war and begin reunification of Korea has been ignored by the U.S.

Our country, the least harmed of the participants in World War II, emerged afterward the lone world power — charged, as it were, with maintaining world peace. The United Nations, which President Roosevelt struggled to create, was headquartered here in New York.

As we say, “Power corrupts.” We have 25,000 military contractors and far outspend every country in the world on weapons production and war preparations.

Like North Korea’s Kim, Russia’s Putin is profiled as an evil person. But consider, the U.S. brought countries once part of Russia into NATO and stationed forces, missiles aimed at Russia and conducts war games there. This too is provocation. Is it not reasonable to expect Putin to be hostile? Conflict is what our military industrial complex feeds upon.

When the World Trade Center was destroyed, President Bush, propelled by Cheney and Rumsfeld, gave not a moment’s thought to mobilizing nations of the world in a manhunt to bring the perpetrators before the International Criminal Court for trial and judgment. In fact, like China, Iraq, Israel, Libya and Qatar, the U.S. isn’t even a party to that institution of global justice — for fear of being judged themselves for their misdeeds.

Instead, deceiving our public, these men conspired to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, where endless conflict still rages. These invasions destabilized the Middle East. Paul Bremer, appointed to supervise devastated Iraq, foolishly disbanded the Iraqi army. Idle members were recruited for the 2003 Muslim factional conflict that later emerged as ISIS.

Provocative military responses to the world’s crises have been U.S. policy since World War II. Huge factors that generated the Cold War: British Prime Minister Churchill’s racism, colonialism and deep hostility toward the Soviet Union; the Truman administration’s betrayal of the peace President Roosevelt envisioned; and our arms industry’s thirst for profit. If it wasn’t for this belligerence, wars in Korea and Vietnam would not have occurred.

President Eisenhower came to understand this and famously warned the nation in his farewell address.

Charlemont resident Carl Doerner is an historian and author.