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 no, it is not all lies. The US did in fact do something terrible, even evil to North Korea, and while that act does not explain, much less forgive, North Korea’s many abuses since, it is not totally irrelevant either.
That act was this: In the early 1950s, during the Korean War, the US dropped more bombs on North Korea than it had dropped in the entire Pacific theater during World War II. This carpet bombing, which included 32,000 tons of napalm, often deliberately targeted civilian as well as military targets, devastating the country far beyond what was necessary to fight the war. Whole cities were destroyed, with many thousands of innocent civilians killed and many more left homeless and hungry.
A US B-26 bomber drops a bomb on the North Korean city of Wonsan in 1951.Interim Archives/Getty Images
For Americans, the journalist Blaine Harden has written, this bombing was “perhaps the most forgotten part of a forgotten war,” even though it was almost certainly “a major war crime.” Yet it shows that North Korea’s hatred of America “is not all manufactured,” he wrote. “It is rooted in a fact-based narrative, one that North Korea obsessively remembers and the United States blithely forgets.”
“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, U.S. bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams in the later stages of the war, flooding farmland and destroying crops.
Historians dispute just how important this bombing really was in making North Korea the country that it is today; some say it was formative in shaping the young nation’s history, others that North Korea was already on its way to becoming the hermit kingdom and that its leaders merely exploited the bombing to get there.
As the North Korea scholar B. R. Myers points out in The Cleanest Race, perhaps the definitive study of the North Korean worldview, anti-American propaganda was already in full swing before the bombing began. Since then, it has not focused as much on the American bombing (which Myers, like most scholars, considers a war crime) as you might expect:
As might be expected, the Korean War occupies a central place in anti-American propaganda, but the [propaganda] dwells less on the US Air Force’s extensive bombing campaign (which is hard to reconcile with the myth of the protective leader) than on village massacres and other isolated outrages.
Yet even if the bombing did not cause North Korea’s obsessive hatred of America and Americans, it did help to focus it. The effects of the bombing were felt nearly universally, the suffering it caused among the first shared experiences for North Koreans. Unlike the propaganda, which only recounted supposed American crimes, here was a real American crime that everyone could see for themselves, and indeed had likely affected them personally. How could it not be formative?
American bombing, to be clear, did not transform North Korea from a nice country into a bad one; the seeds of the country’s generations-long fascist rule had already taken root by the early 1950s, and indeed it is worth remembering that the North had launched the war in the first place. But that bombing did end up abetting, however unintentionally, the Kim family project of creating a paranoid, volatile, and oppressive bunker state.
You can see this, for example, in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, which was all but razed by American bombing. As Myers points out, “The destruction of the original city by American bombs enabled the regime to re-design it from scratch as a grand and enduring work of propaganda in its own right.”
The North Korean capital of Pyongyang. At bottom, the city in 1953, after an estimated 75 percent of it was destroyed by US bombing. At top, the city in 1964 after reconstruction. (Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty)
The symbolism of this is haunting: The US, in its ruthless destruction, made it easier for the North Korean leaders to rebuild their shattered city into a physical embodiment of Orwellian dystopia. The blame for the North Korean project still rests fully with those leaders, who knew exactly what they were doing. But it is a reminder that the United States once lent those leaders a helping hand in converting their nation into a fascist holdover.
In the rare moments when we do talk about the US bombing of North Korea, it can be easy to get lost in debating its long-term political consequences. But the bombing primarily mattered at the time, and still matters today, not because it was politically counterproductive, but because it was horrific and unjust.
You can glimpse both the humanitarian and political consequences in an alarmed diplomatic cable that North Korea’s foreign minister sent to the United Nations, which was nominally leading the war effort, in January 1951. Scholar Adam Cathcart dug up the cable a few days ago, which is what got me thinking again about the bombing that America has largely forgotten. Here are some excerpts from the cable, haunting to read today:
ON JANUARY 3 AT 10:30 AM, AN ARMADE OF 82 FLYING FORTRESSES LOOSED THEIR DEATH-DEALING LOAD ON THE CITY OF PYONGYANG. …
HUNDREDS OF TONS OF BOMBS AND INCENDIARY COMPOUND WERE SIMULTANEOUSLY DROPPED THROUGHOUT THE CITY, CAUSING ANNIHILATING FIRES. IN ORDER TO PREVENT THE EXTINCTION OF THESE FIRES, THE TRANS-ATLANTIC BARBARIANS BOMBED THE CITY WITH DELAYED-ACTION HIGH-EXPLOSIVE BOMBS WHICH EXPLODED AT INTERVALS THROUGHOUT FOR A WHOLE DAY, MAKING IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE PEOPLE TO COME OUT ONTO THE STREETS. THE ENTIRE CITY HAS NOW BEEN BURNING, ENVELOPED IN FLAMES, FOR TWO DAYS. BY THE SECOND DAY 7,812 CIVILIANS’ HOUSES HAD BEEN BURNT DOWN. THE AMERICANS WERE WELL AWARE THAT THERE WERE NO MILITARY OBJECTIVES LEFT IN PYONGYANG. …
THE NUMBER OF INHABITANTS OF PYONGYANG KILLED BY BOMB SPLINTERS, BURNT ALIVE AND SUFFOCATED BY SMOKE IS INCALCULABLE, SINCE NO COMPUTATION IS POSSIBLE. SOME FIFTY THOUSAND INHABITANTS REMAIN IN THE CITY, WHICH BEFORE THE WAR HAD A POPULATION OF FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND.
Even in the English translation from the original Russian, the seeds of North Korea’s now famously vituperative and conspiratorial rhetoric are easy to see; there is an odd reference to “Wall Street bosses” supposedly driving the war.
But while today’s North Korean anti-American rhetoric is so often filled with obvious distortions and lies and thus easy to dismiss, this piece of anti-American rhetoric is chillingly real. That makes the cable jarring to read even beyond the sheer awful suffering it describes. It was a moment when the official North Korean characterization of America, one that we today rightly consider propagandistic nonsense, had a lot of truth to it.
Universal Periodic Review reveals longstanding unwillingness to fully commit to obligations of pertinent human rights treaties.
On 11 May 2015, the United States of America participated in its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The Universal Periodic Review is meant to be a mechanism by which all UN Member States are periodically assessed on their human rights record. The process allows countries to present a report of their efforts to promote and improve human rights within their country. It also affords the Working Group of the UPR, comprised of member countries of the Human Rights Council, the opportunity to assess the human ...
Tributes to Zoran Djindjic, the assassinated prime minister of Serbia, have been pouring in. President Bush led the way, praising his “strong leadership”, while the Canadian government’s spokesman extolled a “heralder of democracy” and Tony Blair spoke of the energy Djindjic had devoted to “reforming Serbia”.
In western newspaper obituaries Djindjic has been almost universally acclaimed as an ex-student agititator who bravely led a popular uprising against a tyrannical dictator and endeavoured to steer his country into a new democratic era.
But beyond the CNN version of world history, the career of Zoran Djindjic looks rather different. Those who rail against the ...
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 ...
Why is the biggest holocaust in all humanity being hidden from history? Is it because it lasted so long that it has become a habit? It’s been well documented that the killing of Indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere since the beginning of colonization has been estimated at 120 million. Yet nobody wants to speak about it.
Today historians, anthropologists and archaeologists are revealing that information on this holocaust is being deliberately eliminated from the knowledge base and consciousness of North Americans and the world. A completely false picture is being painted of our people as suffering from social ills of ...
This article was first published in November 2014.
Recent developments confirm what is known and documented: Washington is behind the Islamic State (ISIS) and at the same time it is behind the moderate Al Qaeda terrorists, which the Obama administration is supporting as part of America’s campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS). And they expect us to believe that they are committed to waging a campaign against terrorists.
The Islamic State (ISIS) was until 2014 called al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
Al Nusra is an al Qaeda affiliate which has committed countless atrocities in Syria. It is now considered by the Obama administration as ...
The end of the Cold War era in 1989 brought during the first coming years a kind of international optimism that the idea of the „end of history“ really can be realized as it was a belief in no reason for the geopolitical struggles between the most powerful states. The New World Order, spoken out firstly by M. Gorbachev in his address to the UN on December 7th, 1988 was originally seen as the order of equal partnership in the world politics reflecting „radically different international circumstances after the Cold War“.
Unfortunately, the Cold War era finished without the „end of ...
Why Does America Keep “Losing” Its Wars?
Below, we demonstrate that the U.S. keeps “losing” war after war.
There are 3 potential reasons this might be happening:
Is this chaos an intentional way to implement regime change and grab resources?
Or is this a sign of the decline of the American empire … and we just can’t win a war anymore?
Or do those in charge just not really give a damn about winning … and are they just focusing on one short-term goal after another?
We’ll let you decide why you think this keeps happening. But if you don’t believe that the ...
Author’s note: a draft version of the article was originally written at the end of December 2015 and published in March 2016. This is the extended article’s version.
On April 24th, 2016 Serbia faced three-level elections: for the national parliament, local municipalities and Vojvodina’s autonomous provincial administration. The elections did not cover Kosovo province as current Serbia’s pro-NATO/EU’s government already two years ago de facto recognized in its negotiations with the EU and Pristina’s government that this province is not any more an integral part of the legal and administrative system of the Republic of Serbia. Nevertheless, these elections were in ...
After the Donald Trump administration’s decision to recognize the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, the national aspirations of the Palestinian people to live in their own state have been severely dashed by Washington’s move. Ever since the formation of the United States, it has been American policy to destroy aspirant nations like the internationally-recognized State of Palestine.
The first nation destroyed by the United States was the Cherokee Nation, or Tsalagihi Ayeli, which, beginning in 1794, was slowly decimated by forced removals from territory in Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, ...
The Imperial Anatomy of Al-Qaeda. The CIA’s Drug-Running Terrorists and the “Arc of Crisis”
As the 9th anniversary of 9/11 nears, and the war on terror continues to be waged and grows in ferocity and geography, it seems all the more imperative to return to the events of that fateful September morning and re-examine the reasons for war and the nature of the stated culprit, Al-Qaeda.
The events of 9/11 pervade the American and indeed the world imagination as an historical myth. The events of that day and those leading up to it remain largely unknown and little understood by the ...
24 March 1999 was a day of gross shame and ignominy in the historical annals of Britain and America. It was the day when the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation became the North American Terrorist Organisation. NATO, for the first time since its founding in 1949, launched a vicious, unprovoked and illegal attack against the sovereign nation of Yugoslavia, in a preplanned act of aggression sponsored by US President Bill Clinton.
The 78 days of NATO air strikes took place without the necessary UN Security Council authorisation. It is equally loathsome that Clinton’s violence against the Serbs, who were our gallant allies ...
As the Duran reported, it was only a matter of time before the ‘Putin Did It’ (see The Duran Lexicon for more) line crept back into the news in light of a re-opened FBI investigation, following the discovery more incriminating Hillary Clinton emails. Sure enough, Howard Dean, the man who ended his own presidential campaign by acting like a crazed hooligan on stage, has said that now the FBI and Putin are on the same side.
This comes days after Putin reassured the world that he really doesn’t want, need or care to meddle in the US election. Of course the usual suspects in the western ...
Last week’s announcement of a record-breaking US aid package for Israel underscores how dangerously foolish and out-of-touch is our interventionist foreign policy. Over the next ten years, the US taxpayer will be forced to give Israel some $38 billion dollars in military aid. It is money we cannot afford going to a country that needs no assistance to maintain its status as the most powerful military in the Middle East.All US foreign aid is immoral and counterproductive. As I have often said, it is money taken from poor people in the US and sent to rich people overseas. That is ...
Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!
Donate to Support Us
We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.
It is apparent given the timelines and the lack of time given to verifying the validity of accusations concerning the gas attack in Homs, Syria, that plans had already been coordinated for such an attack. Watching the mainstream media the viewer receives the impression from the wording of the announcers reports and questions for the “experts” that the matter was already decided in favour of the U.S. military strike on the airbase. I see pictures of Colin Powell at the UN holding up glossy photos of supposed chemical weapons manufacturing plants.
It demonstrates to a high degree how easily manipulated Trump ...
Today, December 10, 2016 is Human Rights Day. We bring to the attention of our readers the powerful message of the late Harold Pinter regarding US Imperial Crimes against Humanity, with an introduction by Gary Kohls. First published in December 2014.
“We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East’. – Harold Pinter
British playwright Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. His powerful acceptance speech exposed the United States for its fascist, imperialist policies since World ...
Did you know that Washington keeps 450 nuclear ICBMs on “hair-trigger alert”? Washington thinks that this makes us “safe.” The reasoning, if it can be called reason, is that by being able to launch in a few minutes, no one will try to attack the US with nuclear weapons. US missiles are able to get on their way before the enemy’s missiles can reach the US to destroy ours.
If this makes you feel safe, you need to read Eric Schlosser’s book, Command and Control.
The trouble with hair-triggers is that they make mistaken, accidental, and unauthorized launch more likely. Schlosser provides ...
Robert Mueller, a former director of the FBI who is working as a special prosecutor “investigating” a contrived hoax designed by the military/security complex and the DNC to destroy the Trump presidency, has yet to produce a scrap of evidence that Russiagate is anything but orchestrated fake news. As William Binney and other top experts have said, if there is evidence of Russiagate, the NSA would have it. No investigation would be necessary. So where is the evidence?
It is a revelation of how corrupt Washington is that a fake scandal is being investigated while a real scandal is not. The ...
When I began reading the work of Douglas Valentine about six years ago, I had not read his books, only the articles that the US online journal Counterpunch had published. In fact I only began reading Counterpunch because of the accident of having been introduced to the two original editors of what was then only a printed newsletter. Later I was even able to publish a few pieces in that journal before its more famous founding editor’s demise. Why do I preface a book review with such personal observations? To that question I will return later.
After reading numerous articles I ...
With the pounding of 59 Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles on Shayrat airbase in Syria the Empire has widened its aggression in the strategically crucial country. The sounds of destruction announce imperialism’s and aggression, interference and intervention. This is the sound of “peace” imperialism likes to impose on peoples of other countries.
Speaking from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, Donald Trump, the US president, branded Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, a “dictator”, and called on “all civilized nations to join” the US “in seeking to end this slaughter and bloodshed in Syria and also to end terrorism of all kinds and ...