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

Hits: 673

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.”


Originally published on 2015-03-30

Author: Tim Shorrock

Source: The Nation

Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection & Pinterest.

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.

[wpedon id=”4696″ align=”left”]

READ MORE!
The Story of Charlottesville was Written in Blood in Ukraine
“While I recognize the danger of the violent right-wing movement, I am more concerned with the right-wing policies that are being enacted into law and policy by both Democrats and Republicans.”What is the character of racist right-wing politics today? Is it the crazed white supremacist who plows into an anti-fascist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, or can it also be the assurance by Lindsay Graham that an attack against North Korea would result in thousands of lives lost…. but those lives will be “over there”? What about the recent unanimous resolution by both Houses of Congress in support of Israel and ...
READ MORE
President of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK) Ramush Haradinaj, a Kosovo Albanian former guerilla commander who served briefly as prime minister, speaks during an interview with Reuters at the AAK headquarters in Pristina December 4, 2012. REUTERS/Hazir Reka
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is calling for an “impartial investigation” into grisly reports by a European investigative commission alleging that Kosovo government officials were involved in the trade of human organs.­In an exhaustive report released by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in December, it was alleged that Serbian detainees of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) were kidnapped and murdered by Kosovo Albanians so their organs could be sold on the black market.The report says the crimes occurred after the Kosovo War ended in 1999.These shocking allegations came on the heels of a two-year investigation into a ...
READ MORE
Russia or the Neocons: Who Endangers American Democracy?
Political discourse of American mass media is inundated with another wave of Russophobia and fear mongering. Besides the obvious military threat (Russia’s nuclear arsenal), or the challenges to the US foreign policy (the conflicts in Ukraine or Syria), a new fear has been introduced into the news: the US political system is endangered by Russia’s computer hacking, informational warfare, and its support of Donald Trump.The newspaper titles sound like a commercial for the upcoming Invasion of the Body Snatchers sequel. The Washingon Post announces: “Russia Is Now a Threat. The US Should Treat It Like One.” Time magazine raises the ...
READ MORE
America Now Preparing for World War III
Because this article states so many things that might be likely to contradict what most people in Western countries have been led to believe, readers here are especially strongly encouraged to click onto any allegation which seems at all questionable, in order to get to the sources behind any given questionable allegation. And wherever a clicked-onto source turns out to be another article, one is encouraged similarly to do the same there, so that the reader will be able, in this way, to probe down to the ultimate sources, which are the sources upon which this article is finally based.After ...
READ MORE
War Crimes: Agent Orange, Monsanto, Dow Chemical and Other Ugly Legacies of the Vietnam War
Fifty years ago this next month (December 1965), with the urging of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the rubber stamp approval of President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the United States Air Force started secretly spraying the forests of Laos with a deadly herbicide that was known as Agent Orange. Operation Ranch Hand, whose motto was “Only We Can Prevent Forests” (a shameful takeoff of Smokey the Bear’s admonition), was a desperate, costly and ultimately futile effort to make it a little harder for the National Liberation Front soldiers from North Vietnam to join and supply their ...
READ MORE
Blowback: Afghanistan and Bosnia
As the U.S. and NATO casualties rise from the war in Afghanistan, with 2010 being the deadliest year of the nine-year war for the U.S., the question needs to be asked of how we got involved in that interminable and unwinnable conflict? The Afghan war has been dubbed Barack Obama’s War but its origins go back much earlier. Is the U.S. military disaster in Afghanistan an instance of blowback? What is the standard definition of “blowback”? The U.S. intervenes illegally in a volatile and unstable scenario and over time the consequences of that criminality come back to reek havoc on U.S. ...
READ MORE
12 Signs America is on the Decline
When it comes to a few key indicators, Ireland, the UK, Canada and even Albania and Greece are surpassing America.America is declining, in large and important measures, yet policymakers aren’t paying attention. So argues a new academic paper, pulling together previously published data.Consider this:America’s child poverty levels are worse than in any developed country anywhere, including Greece, devastated by a euro crisis, and eastern European nations such as Poland, Lithuania and Estonia.Median adult wealth in the US ($39,000) is 27th globally, putting it behind Cyprus, Taiwan, and Ireland.Even when “life satisfaction” is measured, America ranks #12, behind Israel, Sweden and ...
READ MORE
Why the Rise of Fascism is Again the Issue
The recent 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was a reminder of the great crime of fascism, whose Nazis iconography is embedded in our consciousness. Fascism is preserved as history, as flickering footage of goose-stepping blackshirts, their criminality terrible and clear. Yet in the same liberal societies, whose war-making elites urge us never to forget, the accelerating danger of a modern kind of fascism is suppressed; for it is their fascism. “To initiate a war of aggression…,” said the Nuremberg Tribunal judges in 1946, “is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other ...
READ MORE
NATO’s Destruction of Serbia and Where are Serbia, China and the West Today?
It was NATO’s first out-of-area operation, against its own Treaty and without a UN mandate. On March 24, 1999.Independent Kosovo was established – against UN SC resolution 1244. Thanks to the Clinton administration and Madeleine Albright. CNN’s Amanpour endorsed it generously on TV with her State Department husband, James Rubin, a chief operator in the non-negotiations at Rambouillet. And TIME of course knew the truth too.Serbia suffered tremendously from the 78 days of indiscriminate, hard bombing. I know because I was there.Finally, Serbia and its president Milosevic was threatened with total destruction of Belgrade. And gave in.Western hubris after the ...
READ MORE
The Sabra & Shatila Massacre
On September 16, 1982, Christian Lebanese militiamen allied to Israel entered the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila and the adjacent neighborhood of Sabra in Beirut under the watch of the Israeli army and began a slaughter that caused outrage around the world. Over the next day and a half, up to 3500 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, mostly women, children, and the elderly, were murdered in one of the worst atrocities in modern Middle Eastern history. The New York Times recently published an op-ed containing new details of discussions held between Israeli and American officials before and during the massacre. They ...
READ MORE
The Forgotten Postwar US-Nazi Alliance
As the Second World War advanced from its early stages, the United States was assessing which sections of the earth it would hold conquest over. American planners had to remain patient, however. A seemingly endless string of conquests for the Nazis had astonished the world – particularly those in the US – and led to Adolf Hitler being crowned as “the new Napoleon”.In the summer of 1942, under Hitler’s domineering command of the military, the Germans controlled vast swathes of Europe – from Warsaw to Oslo to Paris, and eastwards onto Athens, Kiev and Sevastopol. It was one major victory ...
READ MORE
US Declares Hegemony over Asia
Never has US intentions in Asia been so obvious. Attempts to portray America’s role in the region as constructive or necessary have been ongoing since the end of World War II, however, recently, with Asia able to begin determining its own destiny for itself, the tone from Washington has become increasingly curt and direct.US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s remarks during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore were all but a proclamation of US hegemony over Asia – a region of the planet quite literally an ocean away from Washington.In Reuters’ article, “U.S. flexes muscles as Asia worries about South China ...
READ MORE
The Latest Plague So Far is a Brilliant Success
The wicked social control experiment using virus as the pretext for further enslavement is performing magnificently by implanting a sense of helplessness, dependence, and blind conformism. It should be noted that the favorable atmosphere enabling Them (whoever they are) to accomplish just that was contrived by the controlled and unscrupulous media in under a month of intense, coordinated, global brainwashing. Praise is in order, not for the obviously immoral master plan but for the technical excellence of its execution. In the subservient Balkans, local  quislings have expectedly introduced a practically region-wide state of emergency, giving that ignoble set of local ...
READ MORE
Liberators over Vratnica
The Ploesti old fields in southeastern Romania were a vital strategic bombing objective for the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Located 35 miles north of the capital Bucharest, Ploesti had formerly supplied one-third of Germany’s oil. The U.S. had targeted Ploesti to deprive the German military of petroleum. The U.S. first bombed Ploesti on June 12, 1942 during the HALPRO bombing raid. Then on August 1, 1943 during Operation Tidal Wave, a major bombardment was launched.The Soviet Red Army advance on Yugoslavia and the capital Belgrade in 1944 was launched from Romania. Russian troops had captured Ploesti ...
READ MORE
Albanian Jihadist’s Easy Passage to Syria’s Brutal War
A former Islamist fighter in Syria recalls why he went to Syria, how easy it was to get there – and why he would go again, if he could.On his first trip abroad, he left with 400 euros in his pocket, a printed map from the internet and the belief that he was fulfilling his destiny in eyes of Allah. The destination was the frontline of the war in Syria, but his jihad ended faster than it started.Two years later, in a bar full of people in his hometown in northern Albania, Ebu Merjem stands out with his long beard ...
READ MORE
NATO’s War against Yugoslavia was Based on Lies
Germany joined the war against Yugoslavia under the pretense of fabricated facts. Sensational confession of German policeman Henning Hentz who served in the OSCE in Kosovo in the 90s confirmed that.The reason here is that photographs taken by Hentz in late January 1999 were used by then German Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping to justify the immediate interference of NATO in the Kosovo conflict. He presented the photographs of the militants killed in Rugovo as photos of innocent Albanian victims.What did really happen in Kosovo in late January of 1999, several months before NATO launched its operation against Yugoslavia?According to Serbian ...
READ MORE
The Lies that are Used for Denying the Legitimacy of Crimea’s Breakaway
Crimea’s breakaway from Ukraine and rejoining Russia is treated in the US-and-allied world as being justification for the explosive re-emergence in 2014 of America’s Cold War NATO alliance as being a restored war against Russia; and, so, whether or not that ‘justification’ is truthful is the paramount geopolitical issue in our era; and it will therefore be discussed and (via the links here) documented in this article.Though international law is generally an unenforced mess that is interpretable far more by partisanship than by any clearly applicable principles, the US Government does quite blatantly violate it on a routine basis, by ...
READ MORE
Donald Trumpenstein: Self-Proclaimed “Cop of the World”
History has repeatedly demonstrated the need to view with the greatest skepticism U.S. imperialism’s justifications for its endless wars and interventions. Need we mention the 1964 U.S.-manufactured Tonkin Bay incident, wherein a virtually non-existent Vietnamese navy was accused of attacking a U.S. destroyer? That false flag pretext was employed to launch the Vietnam War, during which four million Vietnamese were slaughtered in a 10-year U.S. conflagration verging on genocide. Or the more recent Iraq “weapons of mass destruction” lie that resulted in the U.S. murder of 1.5 million Iraqis? Even if the latest sarin gas accusations against Syrian President Bashar Assad should ...
READ MORE
The Social and Economic Achievements of North Korea
“My conscience leaves me no other choice than to break the betrayal of my own silences…I know that the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government.”  The Reverend Martin Luther King, Recipient of the Nobel Peace prize.“The United Nations which was created to prevent the scourge of war has become an instrument of war.”  Former U.S Attorney General Ramsey ClarkIntroductionWashington, D.C.  White House tape recordings, April 25, 1971President Nixon: “How many did we kill in Laos?”National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger: “In the Laotian thing, we killed about ten, fifteen thousand”President Nixon: “See the attack in ...
READ MORE
Russophobia – Symptom of US Implosion
There was a time when Russophobia served as an effective form of population control – used by the American ruling class in particular to command the general US population into patriotic loyalty. Not any longer. Now, Russophobia is a sign of weakness, of desperate implosion among the US ruling class from their own rotten, internal decay.This propaganda technique worked adequately well during the Cold War decades when the former Soviet Union could be easily demonized as «godless communism» and an «evil empire». Such stereotypes, no matter how false, could be sustained largely because of the monopoly control of Western media ...
READ MORE
The Story of Charlottesville was Written in Blood in Ukraine
Russia Calls for Investigation into Human-Organ Trade Ring in Kosovo
Russia or the Neocons: Who Endangers American Democracy?
America Now Preparing for World War III
War Crimes: Agent Orange, Monsanto, Dow Chemical and Other Ugly Legacies of the Vietnam War
Blowback: Afghanistan and Bosnia
12 Signs America is on the Decline
Why the Rise of Fascism is Again the Issue
NATO’s Destruction of Serbia and Where are Serbia, China and the West Today?
The Sabra & Shatila Massacre
The Forgotten Postwar US-Nazi Alliance
US Declares Hegemony over Asia
The Latest Plague So Far is a Brilliant Success
Liberators over Vratnica
Albanian Jihadist’s Easy Passage to Syria’s Brutal War
NATO’s War against Yugoslavia was Based on Lies
The Lies that are Used for Denying the Legitimacy of Crimea’s Breakaway
Donald Trumpenstein: Self-Proclaimed “Cop of the World”
The Social and Economic Achievements of North Korea
Russophobia – Symptom of US Implosion
FOLLOW US ON OUR SOCIAL PLATFORMS
Share

About White Nettle

SHORT LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The website’s owner & editor-in-chief has no official position on any issue published on this website. The views of the authors presented on this website do not necessarily coincide with the opinion of the owner & editor-in-chief of the website. The contents of all material (articles, books, photos, videos…) are of sole responsibility of the authors. The owner & editor-in-chief of this website is not morally, scientifically, or legally responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the contents of all material found on this website. The owner & editor-in-chief of this website is not responsible for the content of external internet sites. No advertising, government, or corporate funding for the functioning of this website. The owner & editor-in-chief and authors are not morally, scientifically, or legally responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the text and material found on the website www.global-politics.eu