Korea specialist Professor Bruce Cumings notes North Korea became a national security fortress-state as a result of “the holocaust the North experienced during the Korean War”. After the ‘Communist’ label and racial epithets were applied to dehumanize the populace, the US essentially wiped North Korea off the map, with hundreds of thousands or (more likely) millions of North Koreans killed by US mass-shootings, fly-by bombings, strafings, possible biological warfare, crops being wiped out, and the dumping of hundreds of tons of napalm (a fiery gel that sticks to targets), which drove the country’s peasant population under ground.
While this is generally referred to in the US as the “Forgotten War”, the victims tend to remember it more clearly and have built a security regime centered on deterring the next attack by history’s biggest military empire. However, scholars have also pointed out that when the US becomes less belligerent towards NK, the NK regime in turn decreases its belligerence. This was particularly evident in the contrast between the policies of the Clinton and Bush regimes. As Clinton decreased US belligerence towards NK, NK became significantly more conciliatory. But when Bush Jr. entered office and renewed threatening rhetoric, NK responded in kind, conducting missile tests and honing its nuclear deterrent.
With the Trump regime now making fresh threats (which are illegal under international law) and sending more heavy weaponry towards NK, Cumings writes:
On November 8, 2016, nearly 66 million voters for Hillary Clinton received a lesson in Hegel’s “cunning of history.” A bigger lesson awaits Donald Trump, should he attack North Korea. It has the fourth-largest army in the world, as many as 200,000 highly trained special forces, 10,000 artillery pieces in the mountains north of Seoul, mobile missiles that can hit all American military bases in the region (there are hundreds), and nuclear weapons more than twice as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb (according to a new estimate in a highly detailed Times study by David Sanger and William Broad).
…Last October, I was at a forum in Seoul with Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state for Bill Clinton. Like everyone else, Talbott averred that North Korea might well be the top security problem for the next president. In my remarks, I mentioned Robert McNamara’s explanation, in Errol Morris’s excellent documentary The Fog of War, for our defeat in Vietnam: We never put ourselves in the shoes of the enemy and attempted to see the world as they did. Talbott then blurted, “It’s a grotesque regime!” There you have it: It’s our number-one problem, but so grotesque that there’s no point trying to understand Pyongyang’s point of view (or even that it might have some valid concerns). North Korea is the only country in the world to have been systematically blackmailed by US nuclear weapons going back to the 1950s, when hundreds of nukes were installed in South Korea. I have written much about this in these pages and in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Why on earth would Pyongyang not seek a nuclear deterrent? But this crucial background doesn’t enter mainstream American discourse. History doesn’t matter, until it does—when it rears up and smacks you in the face.
Few Americans have any idea how ferocious a conventional second Korean War could be. They are used to seeing Uncle Sam beat up small, nearly defenseless nations like Iraq, Libya or Syria that dare defy the Pax Americana.
The US could literally blow North Korea off the map using tactical nuclear weapons based in Japan, South Korea and at sea with the 7th Fleet [but] a fight-to-the-end North Korea may fire off a number of nuclear-armed medium-range missiles at Tokyo, Osaka, Okinawa and South Korea. These missiles are hidden in caves in the mountains on wheeled transporters and hard to identify and knock out.
Such a nuclear exchange would expose about a third of the world’s economy to nuclear contamination, not to mention spreading nuclear winter around the globe.
A conventional US attack on North Korea would be far more difficult. The North is a small nation of only 24.8 million. Its air and sea forces are obsolete and ineffective. They would be vaporized on the first day of a war. But North Korea’s million-man army has been training and digging in for decades to resist a US invasion. Pyongyang’s 88,000-man Special Forces are poised for suicide attacks on South Korea’s political and military command and control and to cripple key US and South Korean air bases, notably Osan and Kunsan.
North Korea may use chemical weapons such as VX and Sarin to knock out the US/South Korean and Japanese airbases, military depots, ports and communications hubs. Missile attacks would be launched against US bases in Guam and Okinawa.
US analysts have in the past estimated a US invasion of North Korea would cost some 250,000 American casualties and at least $10 billion, though I believe such a war would cost four times that much today [emphases added].
Military conscription might have to be re-introduced.
[NK] has prepared for a long guerilla war in the mountains that could last for decades. They have been practicing for 30 years.
Is Commander-in-Chief Trump, who somehow managed to avoid military service during the Vietnam War, really ready to launch a big war in Asia?
North Korea is a horrid, brutal regime. But so is Egypt, whose tin pot dictator was wined and dined by Trump last week.
Award-winning journalist Patrick Cockburn writes that instead of starting another war with North Korea, the US might be better off “exploring how to end all the wars it has [already] started”.
[The] militarised options favoured by “the Washington playbook” that Obama came to so despise have produced little but disaster in the post-9/11 era and are likely to do so again. Almost everything advocated by the Washington foreign policy establishment since the start of the war in Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003, Libya and Syria in 2011 and Yemen in 2015 has created or exacerbated the conflicts. Note that none of these wars have ended or show much sign of doing so.
Obama could see what was going wrong, though he generally responded with stoic resignation rather than attempting to change the course of events.
TV channels and op-ed writers who treat the expertise of Washington think tanks with such fawning reverence should reflect on the Obama White House’s view of these institutions.
Relief in foreign capitals that much authority [in the US] is in the hands of experienced generals may be displaced. None of these soldiers were quite as successful or farsighted in Iraq and Afghanistan as their admirers now proclaim and they have a natural tendency towards resolving problems by force.
While Cockburn notes Trump’s recent attacks against Syria, his use of the US’s largest non-nuclear explosive device against ISIS in Afghanistan, and his belligerence towards North Korea have made Trump newly popular with the Washington establishment, Margolis suggests launching a war against North Korea may, after the US public realizes how costly and deadly such a war would be, make Trump even less popular in the US, as well as internationally.
Robert J. Barsocchini is an independent researcher and reporter whose interest in propaganda and global force dynamics arose from working as a cross-cultural intermediary for large corporations in the US film and Television industry. His work has been cited, published, or followed by numerous professors, economists, lawyers, military and intelligence veterans, and journalists. He begins work on a Master’s Degree in American Studies in the fall.