Can the United States Own Up to Its War Crimes During the Korean War?

When I was living in San Francisco in 1981, I met and became friends with Chun Sun-Tae, a Korean immigrant who had come to the United States as a college student in the 1960s and ran a small luggage shop in Oakland. James, as he was known, had grown up in the 1940s in the city of Kaesong in what was then the northern frontier of South Korea.

One warm day in June, 1950, he went camping with a group of friends at a nearby lake. The next morning, they woke to the sounds of artillery and gunfire: Kaesong had just been overrun by the Korean People’s Army and was now under control of the communist North.

Over the next three years, Kaesong would change hands several more times, and eventually became the site for the truce talks that led to the 1953 armistice that ended the fighting. It’s now located—as the photo above illustrates—just a few miles north of the current border in North Korea.

As a result of its unfortunate location, Kaesong was attacked several times during the war by US bombers and jet aircraft, who completely controlled Korean skies and dropped huge quantities of napalm and bombs on the country. Once, James told me, an American bomb ripped through a large structure in Kaesong where townspeople had sought shelter; hundreds of people were burned to death.

He described the experience of an American bombing in Memory of Forgotten War, a 2013 film by Ramsey Liem, a professor emeritus at Boston College.

“I still hear the sound… and then big clouds. Right after that… orange fire… blood here, shrapnel passing through my cheek.”

His father sent Chun south to Seoul, where his family thought he would be safe. When the lines dividing North and South were drawn after the 1953 armistice, Kaesong remained in the North—the only major city to change hands from South to North. James never saw his father again. But years later, during the 1980s, he became one of the first Korean-Americans to visit North Korea, and was finally reunited with the surviving members of his family.

Yet Korea remains divided, and tensions between North Korea and the United States are now higher than they’ve ever been. As the conflict has deepened in recent years, the nation north of the DMZ has become a source of hatred, disdain and fear. To most Americans, North Korea is an abomination, a “slave state,” ruthlessly run by a hereditary dictator, Kim Jong Un and a handful of sycophantic generals with funny hats and grim faces.

Few journalists ever get past these stereotypes to report on the country’s past, or look into the reasons for its hostility to the United States. Ask most reporters in Washington, and the words they’ll use for the North are “crazy” and “irrational.” And as we saw with the sophomoric film The Interview (and its reminders at this year’s Academy Awards), Hollywood sees North Korea and its leader as an endless source of amusement and parody.

But last week, for the first time in my memory, a mainstream US media outlet ran an article that not only challenged this narrow view, but cut through the haze to present the reasons for North Korea’s quite valid fear and distrust of America.

The US war crime North Korea won’t forget” was published on March 24 as a commentary in The Washington Post by Blaine Harden, a former Post reporter and the author of two books on North Korea. His first, Escape from Camp 14, told the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, one of the first people to escape from one of North Korea’s notorious prison camps (Shin, who lives in Seoul, has since changed parts of his story).

Harden is now on tour for his second book, The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot, which is about North Korea’s first dictator, Kim Il Sung, and a North Korean defector who flew a MIG fighter jet south during the height of the war. Harden, in other words, is someone with no illusions about the North.

That makes his Post article even more compelling, and I hope it’s read far and wide, especially in Washington. After explaining how the North’s leaders use the Korean War as a propaganda tool against the United States, Harden argues that there is truth behind some of the regime’s claims.

The hate is not all manufactured. It is rooted in a fact-based narrative, one that North Korea obsessively remembers and the United States blithely forgets.

The story dates to the early 1950s, when the US Air Force, in response to the North Korean invasion that started the Korean War, bombed and napalmed cities, towns and villages across the North. It was mostly easy pickings for the Air Force, whose B-29s faced little or no opposition on many missions.

The bombing was long, leisurely and merciless, even by the assessment of America’s own leaders. “Over a period of three years or so, we killed off—what—20 percent of the population,” Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, told the Office of Air Force History in 1984. Dean Rusk, a supporter of the war and later secretary of state, said the United States bombed “everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.” After running low on urban targets, US bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams in the later stages of the war, flooding farmland and destroying crops.

Although the ferocity of the bombing was criticized as racist and unjustified elsewhere in the world, it was never a big story back home. US press coverage of the air war focused, instead, on “MiG alley,” a narrow patch of North Korea near the Chinese border. There, in the world’s first jet-powered aerial war, American fighter pilots competed against each other to shoot down five or more Soviet-made fighters and become “aces.” War reporters rarely mentioned civilian casualties from US carpet-bombing. It is perhaps the most forgotten part of a forgotten war.

He ends with a plea for reconciliation.

Since World War II, the United States has engaged in an almost unbroken chain of major and minor wars in distant and poorly understood countries. Yet for a meddlesome superpower that claims the democratic high ground, it can sometimes be shockingly incurious and self-absorbed.

In the case of the bombing of North Korea, its people never really became conscious of a major war crime committed in their name. Paying attention in a democracy is a moral obligation. It is also a way to avoid repeating immoral mistakes.

And if North Korea ever does change, if the Kim family were overthrown or were to voluntarily loosen its chokehold on information, a US apology for the bombing could help dispel 65 years of hate.

As someone who’s spent years trying to explain the animosity between North Korea and the United States to skeptical Americans, including with many articles in The Nation, these words were a revelation to me. They also caught the attention of people I know with significant experience in both North and South Korea.

“This is hugely significant,” says Christine Ahn, a Korean-American activist who is the prime mover behind a plan by Gloria Steinem and other prominent women to walk across the North-South border next month in a plea for peace on the peninsula. “In the Post, he actually writes that the US committed war crimes in Korea.”

Harden, she noted, has been a major voice exposing the evils of North Korea. “While we can’t deny the existence of labor and prison camps,” said Ahn, “he’s putting North Korea in historical context. That’s what we as activists have been trying to do all along.”

“We are walking to invite all concerned to imagine a new chapter in Korean history, marked by dialogue, understanding, and—ultimately—forgiveness,” Ahn told a news conference at the United Nations on March 10. As The New York Times reported:

The goal of the women was to punctuate their desire for a permanent peace treaty to replace the 1953 armistice that halted, but technically did not end, the Korean War, a conflict that claimed an estimated four million lives, mostly Koreans, and separated millions of families.

The organizers, a broad array of international peace activists, also see their plan as a catalyst for other steps that could revive the North-South reconciliation process, which has essentially been paralyzed by hostility, suspicion and occasional eruptions of violence.

Mike Bassett, a former US Army officer who served in South Korea for most of the last decade as a tank commander and platoon sergeant, also linked Harden’s article to the need for reconciliation. “I was blown away” by the story, he told me. “This has been a subject I never expected anyone to talk about—and definitely not something as powerful as saying ‘we did commit war crimes there.’”

He compared the US attitude towards Korea, summarized in the oft-repeated phrase “the forgotten war,” to Japan’s refusal to recognize its terrible misdeeds during World War II. “The US will never admit what it did in Korea.”

Bassett’s knowledge runs deep. He was raised in Illinois by his grandfather, a Korean War veteran who was stationed with a US artillery battalion in the notorious “Iron Triangle.”

In the months after US forces crossed the 38th parallel in a disastrous attempt to occupy the North up to the Yalu River, it was a hotly contested area where United States, North Korean and Chinese forces often clashed, frequently in hand-to-hand combat. From his grandfather, Bassett learned first-hand about the human destruction caused by US bombing and shelling.

“He said his battalion decimated tons of civilians; he knew,” he said.

During his last deployment in 2008, Bassett was stationed in the most northern part of the DMZ with a reconnaissance-intelligence unit that often encountered North Korean soldiers just across the border. Until then, he had hated North Koreans with all his might. But the experience at the border began to change his perceptions.

“When I started pulling guard shifts on the DMZ, I’d be looking at them, and they were just like me—wet from the rain, cold, hungry. We made eye contact sometimes. I think we began to feel what each other was going through. I remembered what my grandfather had said—“we should have fought to the Yalu” and left Korea united.

“That experience made me want to change from shooting artillery at the North to learning how to resolve tensions. I want the regime to end, but it has to be in a humane way. Those guys [on the border] suffer just like I did.’

After leaving the military, Bassett studied at Yonsei University in South Korea and at American University in Washington, DC. He says he spent much of 2013 in North Korea, working as a consultant for South Korea’s Ministry of Unification on a plan to organize a North-South Korean orchestra that would perform at the Peace Park on the DMZ. But the plan was scuttled after tensions escalated over North Korea’s objection to US-South Korean military exercises that Kim’s regime believes are practice runs for an invasion.

Facing up to the truths of the war is central to the peace process, said Bassett. “The Korean War is still the most advanced propaganda war in human history.”


2015-03-30

By Tim Shorrock

Source: The Nation

Save

Save

Save 

RELATED POSTS
The Birkenstock Bomber: When Bernie Did Serbia
The most useful parable about progressives is that offered by Bernard Sanders, self-styled “socialist-progressive-independent” rep from Vermont. Sanders owes his political career to rage against the Vietnam War among radicals, many of whom moved into the state in the early 1970s. They forthwith planned a long-term, carefully organized, assault on Vermont’s two-party structure. Sanders linked his political ambitions to this effort to organize a third force, the Progressive Alliance. He became mayor of Burlington and, later, congressman. At a rapid clip the emphasis moved from party-building to Sanders-building. By 1994, it was apparent that the only movement B. Sanders was interested in ...
READ MORE
America’s “Humanitarian War” against the World
The following  text is a point by point thematic summary of Prof. Michel Chossudovsky‘s presentation at the Science for Peace Conference, Academy of Sciences, Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur, 15-16 August 2016 Introduction Historically, science has supported the development of the weapons industry and the war economy. “Science for Peace” indelibly requires reversing the logic whereby commissioned  scientific endeavors are directed towards supporting what President Eisenhower called “The Military Industrial Complex”. What is consequently required is a massive redirection of science and technology towards the pursuit of broad societal objectives. In turn, this requires a major shift in what is euphemistically called “US Foreign Policy”, namely ...
READ MORE
Donald Trump: Ruling Class President
The Ruling Class Reserve Tag One of the many irritating things about the dominant United States corporate media is the way it repeatedly discovers anew things that are not remotely novel. Take its recent discovery that Donald Trump isn’t really the swamp-draining populist working class champion he pretended to be on the campaign trail. The evidence for this “news” is solid enough.  His cabinet and top advisor circle has been chock full of ruling class swamp creatures like former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn (top economic adviser), longtime top Goldman Sachs partner and top executive Steve Mnuchin (Secretary of the Treasury), and ...
READ MORE
Neocon 101: What do Neoconservatives Believe?
“Neocons” believe that the United States should not be ashamed to use its unrivaled power – forcefully if necessary – to promote its values around the world. Some even speak of the need to cultivate a US empire. Neoconservatives believe modern threats facing the US can no longer be reliably contained and therefore must be prevented, sometimes through preemptive military action. Most neocons believe that the US has allowed dangers to gather by not spending enough on defense and not confronting threats aggressively enough. One such threat, they contend, was Saddam Hussein and his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Since ...
READ MORE
US Sponsored Coups and Regime Change, NATO Expansionism, Washington Interferes Globally: Ukraine, Mexico, Korea, Venezuela…
On February 2014, a United States-sponsored coup was initiated in the Ukraine in which President Viktor Yanukovych was illegally ousted from power. (1) Over three years later, the putsch has done nothing but plunge the Ukraine, a tortured country plundered throughout modern history (by the West), into another abyss. In a 2015 interview with CNN, then US president Barack Obama openly confessed that “we had brokered a deal to transition power in Ukraine”. Around 10,000 people have been killed in the time since, with the conflict generating 2.5 million refugees who relocated to Russia. The putsch led to Crimea’s annexation a month after ...
READ MORE
One Hundred Years Ago, in the Spring of 1917: Why Did America Go to War in 1917?
1917 was not a good year for any of the belligerent countries, but for the members of the Entente – France, Britain, and Russia – it was nothing less than catastrophic. The main reasons for that were the mutinies in the French army, which made the situation on the western front extremely precarious, as well as the revolution in Russia, which raised the spectre of Russia exiting the war, leaving Britain and France bereft of the ally that forced Germany to fight on two fronts. Add to this the fact that civilians as well as soldiers in France and Britain ...
READ MORE
Is Barack Obama Actually Trying To Start World War III?
Why has Barack Obama airdropped 50 tons of ammunition into areas that “moderate rebels” in Syria supposedly control? This is essentially the equivalent of poking the Russians directly in the eyes. Much of this ammunition will end up in the hands of those that the Russians are attempting to bomb into oblivion, and so to Russia it appears that we are attempting to make their job much harder. And of course the truth is that there aren’t really any “moderate rebels” in Syria at all. Nearly all of the groups that are fighting are made up primarily of radical jihadists ...
READ MORE
Why the Albanians Need Tensions in the Province of Kosovo-Metohija Now?
One sharp and interesting  analysis of situation in Serbian province of Kosovo Metohija came last week from Andrew Korybko, program host at Radio Sputnik. Mr. Korybko speaks on how the whirlwind of geopolitics, military interests and global giants of business, as well as the change of US administration, could impact the fragile peace in Balkans and what’s behind the latest tensions:”Serbia’s NATO-occupied province of Kosovo has been up to its old tricks lately in trying to provoke Belgrade into another military confrontation conveniently timed to coincide with Trump’s inauguration. The former so-called “Prime Minister” of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, was detained in France ...
READ MORE
75 Years Of Pearl Harbor Lies
Pearl Harbor Day today is like Columbus Day 50 years ago. That is to say: most people still believe the hype. The myths are still maintained in their blissful unquestioned state. “New Pearl Harbors” are longed for by war makers, claimed, and exploited. Yet the original Pearl Harbor remains the most popular U.S. argument for all things military, including the long-delayed remilitarization of Japan — not to mention the WWII internment of Japanese Americans as a model for targeting other groups today. Believers in Pearl Harbor imagine for their mythical event, in contrast to today, a greater U.S. innocence, a ...
READ MORE
Americans have Forgotten What We did to North Korea
Perhaps no country on Earth is more misunderstood by Americans than North Korea. Though the country's leaders are typically portrayed as buffoonish, even silly, in fact they are deadly serious in their cruelty and skill at retaining power. Though the country is seen as Soviet-style communist, in fact it is better understood as a holdover of Japanese fascism. And there is another misconception, one that Americans might not want to hear but that is important for understanding the hermit kingdom: Yes, much of its anti-Americanism is cynically manufactured as a propaganda tool, and yes, it is often based on lies. But ...
READ MORE
Neoliberalism and The Globalization of War. America’s Hegemonic Project
The world is at a dangerous crossroads.  The United States and its allies have launched a military adventure which threatens the future of humanity. Major military and covert intelligence operations are being undertaken simultaneously in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia and the Far East. The US-NATO military agenda combines both major theater operations as well as covert actions geared towards destabilizing sovereign states. America’s hegemonic project is to destabilize and destroy countries through acts of war, covert operations in support of terrorist organizations, regime change and economic warfare. The latter includes the imposition of deadly macro-economic reforms ...
READ MORE
CIA: The Corrupt and Ignorant Agency
The American taxpayers have been fleeced for almost seventy years by a so-called «intelligence» agency that has systematically violated the US Constitution, broken practically every federal law on the books, and penetrated virtually every facet of American life. The Central Intelligence Agency’s creation was bemoaned by its creator, President Harry S Truman, who, in a fit of personal angst following the 1963 assassination of President John F Kennedy, wrote in a newspaper column, “I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations… I, therefore, would like to see ...
READ MORE
Independence on Nakba Day – Accountability and Healing as an Israeli Aggressor
I am an Israeli-American. I was raised in a middle-class academic ‘Liberal Zionist’ household (aligned with the Israeli Labor Party and Meretz), which is an inherent contradiction. Liberal Zionism maintains a belief in universal human rights yet it supports a Zionist ideology that endorses and promotes Israel as a Jewish state – one that has been systematically carrying out a project of apartheid and ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian people. Since I can remember, my birth town of Jerusalem has been highly segregated. Growing up, I never interacted with Palestinians other than Abed the soft-spoken gardener from Hebron (aka El ...
READ MORE
What America’s Aristocracy Want
The American aristocracy want inequality of rights, with two basic polar-opposite classes: the ‘elite’, with themselves at the top of everything, and everybody else below them, as subjects to be ruled by them, in such ways as they (themselves, and their fellow ‘elite’) can agree to do. They are convinced that they have earned their high status, in one way or another, and they compete ferociously amongst themselves, to rise even higher within the aristocracy. Many of the aristocrats think that they are ‘elite’ because they are the richest; many think instead that the ‘elite’ are the smartest or the most ...
READ MORE
The Russians Are Coming
As 2016 closes, we find ourselves a deeply unsettled nation. We’re unable to draw the lines of our national interest. Is it jobs and economy, is it national security, or is it now in our interest to ensure global security — in other words, act as the world’s policemen? As the “failing” (to quote Trump) New York Times degenerates into a Washington Post organization with its stagnant Cold War vision of a 1950s world where the Russians are to blame for most everything — Hillary’s loss, most of the aggression and disorder in the world, the desire to destabilize Europe, etc. — the Times has added the ...
READ MORE
All The American Lies About Serbs – Some Of The Worst War Crimes Have Been Committed By Reporters
In the sea of misinformation sloshing around the Western media during the Yugoslav civil wars, Serbs fared the worst. As a rule, they were accused even of atrocities that never happened, or were committed by others. The real truth would usually emerge several years later, from the mouths of international officials who at the time held important and responsible positions. Jack Kelley: Thousands of Serbs died due to his fabricated stories; that puts him on war criminal list American press and electronic media have “discovered” that the Serbs weren’t the “bad guys” to the extent the American reporters from the Balkans made ...
READ MORE
NATO’s Role In The Recruitment Of Islamic Terrorists
According to Israeli Intelligence News Source This article was first published in September 2014. Can we believe Hollande and Cameron? Evidence confirms that NATO is behind the recruitment of “jihadist terrorists  While NATO leaders in Newport Wales [September 2014] debate the Atlantic Alliance’s role “in containing a mounting militant threat in the Middle East”, it is worth recalling that in 2011 at the outset of the war in Syria,  NATO became actively involved in the recruitment of Islamic fighters. Reminiscent of the enlistment of the Mujahideen to wage the CIA’s jihad (holy war) in the heyday of the Soviet-Afghan war, NATO headquarters ...
READ MORE
The Birkenstock Bomber: When Bernie Did Serbia
British Imperial Project In Ukraine: Violent Coup, Fascist Axioms, Neo-Nazis (2014)
America’s “Humanitarian War” against the World
Donald Trump: Ruling Class President
Neocon 101: What do Neoconservatives Believe?
US Sponsored Coups and Regime Change, NATO Expansionism, Washington Interferes Globally: Ukraine, Mexico, Korea, Venezuela…
Is Slavery Still Exist?
One Hundred Years Ago, in the Spring of 1917: Why Did America Go to War in 1917?
Is Barack Obama Actually Trying To Start World War III?
Why the Albanians Need Tensions in the Province of Kosovo-Metohija Now?
“March Pogrom” in Kosovo
75 Years Of Pearl Harbor Lies
Americans have Forgotten What We did to North Korea
Neoliberalism and The Globalization of War. America’s Hegemonic Project
CIA: The Corrupt and Ignorant Agency
Independence on Nakba Day – Accountability and Healing as an Israeli Aggressor
What America’s Aristocracy Want
The Russians Are Coming
All The American Lies About Serbs – Some Of The Worst War Crimes Have Been Committed By Reporters
NATO’s Role In The Recruitment Of Islamic Terrorists