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  March 2, 2018

Empire Files: War With North Korea - Propaganda vs. Reality

On top of overtly genocidal threats, the Trump Administration has announced new terms: that they "will never accept a nuclear North Korea." But, the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea already has nuclear weapons. Does that mean a war is imminent?
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Abby Martin is the creator and director of "The Empire Files" on teleSUR English. Previously she hosted "Breaking the Set" on Russia Today. She founded the independent media site Media Roots and is a board member of Project Censored.

Follow her on Twitter @AbbyMartin.


Empire Files: War With North Korea—Propaganda vs. Reality

February 17, 2018

ABBY MARTIN (AM) (narrating): Among several growing dangers of new wars under the Trump administration, tensions seem to be intensifying most quickly with the one that’s also a nuclear power. Just weeks after the 72nd anniversary of the U.S. nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Trump confronted North Korea with some of the most overtly genocidal threats ever heard.

Donald Trump: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen, and as I said, they will be met with fire, fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before. The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.

AM (narrating): Trump has doubled down on the ruthlessness of the official White House statement with several unhinged tweets threatening nuclear annihilation, in one saying, in quote, his “nuclear button is much bigger and more powerful” than Kim Jong-un’s. The Trump cabinet has even drafted war plans plotting a first strike against North Korea’s nuclear sites. The threats have escalated alongside other modes of attack including harsh new sanctions on the Korean economy. Despite the immense gravity of a U.S. war drive on the peninsula, Trump has seen little resistance from the self-appointed resistance led by the Democratic Party. The bi-partisan support for attacking a sovereign nation only exists among those privileged elites who will profit from such a war. The people of the United States, despite being bombarded with fear-mongering propaganda, think much differently than the millionaires who supposedly represent them. Throughout Asia and the United States alike, many have been holding protests denouncing the threats. The Empire files attended one of those actions in Los Angeles.

Protester 1: I’m out here because of President Trump’s fire and fury statement, and also he stood on the U.N. podium saying “total destruction of North Korea,” so we are denouncing his statement and also telling him that he is not welcome in Korea.

Protester 2: Growing up in the U.S., I remember kids always asking me, “What are you? Where are you from?” This didn’t bother me much. I’m Korean and I’m proud to be Korean, but then they would ask me, “Are you North Korean or South Korean?” Then they would reassure me, “OK, OK, South Koreans good. South Koreans are friends. North Korea is our enemy.” And I would be thinking, “Wow. Really? We are eight years old. How do you already have an enemy—an entire nation that you probably can’t even find on a map.”

Protester 1: They say always that North Korea provokes South Korea and neighboring countries, but they are always on the defense mode. The U.S. is the only country that has used nukes. It has about a six thousands nukes. This is a matter of North Koreans’ and South Koreans’ life and death. Nuclear war has no winner.

AM (narrating): With a U.S. administration that continuously does the unthinkable, I sat down with a journalist an expert in U.S-Korea relations, Tim Chirac, to learn what’s being totally left out of the debate in the U.S. media and in Washington.


ABBY MARTIN (AM): Everyone talks about North Korea, of course, as this police state, dictatorship, and that’s why it’s our enemy, right? And South Korea is our ally because it shares our Western values of democracy and freedom. Do you agree with that?

TIM CHIRAC (TC): Until the late 1980s, South Korea was a pretty dark dictatorship, too, and we supported it. The United States supported a succession of police states there after Syngman Rhee was overthrown. There was about one year of a somewhat progressive government, 1960-61, that wanted to start talking about unification. It wasn’t that long after the division and the terrible impact of the Korean War. But in 1961 there was a military coup by Park Chung-hee, a former general trained by the Japanese imperial forces who took over as military dictator in South Korea, and we supported that government until his assassination in 1979, with huge amounts of military aid. The Park government supported the U.S., sent troops to Vietnam to back the U.S. war in southern Vietnam, and so we had this relationship with a succession of dictatorial governments in the south, and the Park Chung-hee government... I mean, talk about a police state! Talk about a surveillance state! A torture state! And yet we poured hundreds of millions of dollars into supporting them against the will of the Korean people. And there was another military coup in 1980. Another general took over after Park was killed, and he took power by killing hundreds of people in the southwestern city of Gwangju. Even when there was an uprising against that military coup, against martial law forces, the U.S. worked with the Korean military to put down the uprising, and this was really shocking to a lot of South Koreans, and people felt very betrayed. And they finally stood up and won their democracy in the late 1980s—1987 and 1988. So until then that whole myth was not applicable, but I think the reason the United States still has a massive force in Korea... and it’s not just North Korea. Most of the U.S. bases in Japan are in Okinawa, and those are seen as forward bases for the U.S. to project power in Asia and throughout the world. So the rationale has sort of changed.

AM: The enemy-of-the state laws and other repression of political dissidents—are those holdovers from those military dictatorships that you were talking about?

TC: Yeah, they are. South Korea has a law called the national security law under which, if you say anything that sounds like what North Korea says, you can be jailed. And you can be jailed for having North Korean literature. You can be jailed for travelling there without authority from the South Korean government. Lots of people have been persecuted under this national security law. In the past it was used as a way to just stifle dissent, period. Lots of people during the Park period and Chun Doo-hwan period were executed under the national security law. There were lots of trumped-up charges just under this loose law that said if you say anything close to what North Korea says, you’re a communist and you’re pro-North Korean. Therefore, you would be prosecuted. Under Park there would be a group of people that might have studied Marxism or something, and they would charge all thirty of them. They would charge them all for anti-state violations. They could state violations of the national security law.

AM: Horrific.

TC: People back in the 70s were executed and people spent decades in prison. This law is still in place, and a lot of people in South Korea feel like South Korea can’t truly be a democratic country until it gets rid of this law. And under the national security law, even after you’re released from prison, you have to report to the police once or twice a year, and you have to tell them everything you did that might violate the national security law and also anyone you know that may have violated the national security law.

AM: North Korea, of course, or the DPRK, is a country where essentially the media can say anything and people believe it because it’s so closed off, right? And I’ve heard stories—everything from mass cannibalization to Kim Jong-un has his forces just execute people who aren’t crying hard enough at military parades. I mean, it’s just comical—the amount of disinfo. Do you care to debunk any common misconceptions about the country?

TC: Well, the most common misperception is that the leadership is crazy and irrational. There is nothing crazy and irrational about trying to defend your country from what you consider to be a military force that is out to destroy you. That’s totally rational. I think building nuclear weapons, when you look out at the world, and you see what happened in Libya to Gaddafi when he gave up his nuclear program... and then a few years later the U.S. and NATO displace him and put in a government that is completely chaotic now, and he sees this happening to a leader who did give up his weapons... Well, it’s even more of a reason. People in North Korea have the same kind of wants and desires that people all over the world do—to live in safety and have a good health care system and to have jobs and income, water and food—everything. People are no different, north and south, in Korea. There is no reason to gloss over the nature of the authoritarian state in North Korea because we know that there are many political prisoners, but the country has developed over time. It’s come back. It was pretty much destroyed in the Korean war. They have pride in their economic developments. This is a country that was destroyed at one point. Within twenty years they had a very flourishing economy. North Korea had a kind of interesting history as a socialist country because it didn’t... It had this philosophy of Kim Il-sung’s self-reliance called juche, and it developed its own self-sufficient economy. And so they didn’t want to be integrated into the world market, so North Korea developed their own industry then, without being dependent on any one country, and they were very proud of it. You can see the fact that a country that can develop a nuclear weapon and also develop very sophisticated missiles is not a backward country. They maintain a certain degree of independence from all their allies. The other critical thing that Americans really need to know is that it’s their country. It was split arbitrarily. It should never have been split. Dean Rusk, who was a low-level [U.S.] State Department guy, walked into a room and looked at a map of Korea and saw the 38th parallel on a map, a National Geographic map, and said, “We’ll divide it right there,” and so it was completely arbitrary, and there was supposed to be a unified Korea after that. That was just supposed to be temporary. It didn’t turn out to be that way.

AM: Let’s move on to the Korean War. When I grew up in school you’d hear about World War I, World War II, Vietnam, of course, but you don’t really learn much about this war. It’s called the hidden war for a reason, but we’re nonetheless taught that the U.S. was forced to respond because of this invasion of the South by the North. What really happened?

TC: Well, the origins of the Korean War go back to that division in 1945. Throughout the country committees were formed, north and south, sort of right after the division because people want to have a unified Korea. In the north they were recognized as legitimate organizations—these people’s committees. In the south, right away the U.S. put in power people who had collaborated with the Japanese colonialists, Korean police who had been trained by and used by the Japanese colonialists. These were the people who were running the government and running the police. The U.S. saw these people’s committees as communist-inspired and would not allow them to operate. And so that drove a lot of the pro-independence, pro-unification forces underground, and eventually it became a the civil war, basically, throughout the south. In the late 40s there was civil war, basically, throughout the south—leftists fighting against this right-wing government. And in 1947, for example, the southern island of Jeju, the largest island in Korea, the whole island voted. There was a plebiscite in 1948 where the whole island voted against dividing the country which president Rhee wanted to do. And right away there was a small revolt against the occupiers of the island who were these police who had collaborated with the Japanese. And the U.S. immediately saw this as some communist-inspired revolt, and declared the whole island “red island,” and oversaw a counterinsurgency campaign in which 30 to 40,000 people were killed. So all this kind of led up to the formation of two different states. First South Korea declared itself Republic of Korea, then after that North Korea formed the DPRK, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea—after there was an official South Korea formed. And there were tensions along the border, and in 1950, June 1950, Kim Il-sung, the leader of North Korea, decided that time was ripe to, in his view, liberate the whole country from the U.S. And then they made a decision, Truman made a decision, to actually send U.S. forces and South Korean forces north to occupy the north—to roll back communism. That was the idea then. And the problem with not having a democracy in South Korea is that this story has been covered up, how this came to be. Until the late 80s people couldn’t even know their own history, and then, like I was saying before, under this national security law, if you started retelling the history, and it sounded like North Korean history, you could be arrested under the national security laws. So it’s really difficult to even come to grips with your own history there.

AM: The death and destruction caused by the U.S. empire in the Korean War—what were the targets, tactics, and how many people were killed?

TC: It’s hard to say how many people were killed. I mean, I’ve heard upwards of three million civilians were killed. I think three to four million Koreans were killed. But they bombed everything they could bomb. I mean, they would strafe a railroad, anything moving on the ground, railroads, trucks anything like that. Everything was open to blow up, and they dropped millions and millions of barrels of napalm. I mean, they really perfected use of napalm in Korea, and so they would just attack towns and villages. Everything was considered enemy territory, up for bombing, and they would just bomb everything they possibly could. Towards the end of the war the US Air Force actually stopped sending sorties because there were no targets left. I mean, it was really completely flattened, and the US was actually came very close to dropping nuclear weapons on North Korea. MacArthur, General MacArthur, was finally removed from his command, in part, because he wanted to nuke twenty Chinese cities.

AM: And people say today the DPRK is obsessed by its military might, right? And it just keeps building up the military. It seems like there is a correlation to the complete devastation. 30 percent of the population!

TC: They remember that. It’s part of their national mythology. I mean, we have our civil war. We have a revolutionary war. They have the Korean War, which they would considered a war of liberation. They did, with the help of the Chinese, kick the U.S. out of the north, so they don’t want that to ever happen again. That’s part of their national psyche.

AM (narrating): New reports show the Pentagon is preparing for an all-out war with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This includes launching major military drills and deploying thousands of additional forces to Guam, Japan and South Korea, including additional B-52s, the aircraft that drops nuclear weapons. Top US officials have confirmed Trump’s belligerent threats, telling the public to be prepared for war. And if North Korea does not choose the pathway of engagement, discussion, negotiation, then they themselves will trigger an option.

CNN reporter: Tonight, a dire warning from Defense Secretary James Mattis that North Korea should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.

General H.R. McMaster (in CNN report): What’s different about this approach is that we’re out of time, right? As Ambassador Haley said before, you know, we’ve been kicking the can down the road and we’re out of road. There is a military option.

AM (narrating): While the Trump regime wants to turn up the heat, the threats have actually triggered highly unusual peace talks between North and South, behind the back of the U.S. empire. But could such talks prevent a determined U.S. war machine, especially with new conditions being set by Washington?

CBS reporter: Is there any way in which the U.S. can coexist with a nuclear North Korea?

McMaster: Anthony, I don’t think we can tolerate that risk. The world can’t tolerate that risk.

Nikki Haley: The civilized world must remain united and vigilant against the rogue state’s development of a nuclear arsenal. We will never accept a nuclear North Korea.

Rex Tillerson: The rest of the world is quite resolute in this stand that we’re taking. We will never accept them as a nuclear power.

AM (narrating): The DPRK already has nuclear weapons. It’s clearly unrealistic they would ever give them up, but that’s what the U.S. is now saying justifies an attack.

AM: U.S. [UN] ambassador Nikki Haley recently said that North Korea was begging for war, and certainly there have been agreements in the past between even the U.S. and North Korea that have stalled or completely halted for a period of time their nuclear program. So let’s go back. The Trump administration is so belligerent, but let’s go back to the Clinton administration. There was an agreement that ended up freezing its nuclear program for 12 years. So what was that agreement and then how did Bush muck it up?

TC: In the late 1980s, North Korea under Kim Il-sung started looking at having nuclear weapons, and part of the reason was because until 1991, the U.S. had nuclear weapons, tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea, hundreds of them—these kind of handheld weapons that US soldiers would carry. They were nuclear weapons and they had hundreds of them in South Korea. And of course, the U.S. 7th Fleet is in Yokosuka, Japan, and very close to Korea, and there are ships there that have nuclear arms, planes, and in Okinawa the US bases are there, and so they saw building a nuclear capability was a way of defending themselves. They had signed the NPT, the nuclear proliferation treaty, and when they decided to proceed with a nuclear program, they pulled out of the NPT, and that pulling out of the nuclear proliferation treaty was like a red line for the U.S., and the Clinton administration seriously considered a nuclear strike on the Yongbyong facilities at the time. They came very close to it, and there was a lot of talk of war. It was just like today. I remember Jimmy Carter went to North Korea, flew to North Korea, met with Kim Il-sung, and they hammered out what became this agreed framework under which North Korea agreed to end its nuclear program, stop production of plutonium at this plant. So then Bush took over in 2001 with all these neo-cons in his government like John Bolton and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who were against any agreement with North Korea. In his State of the Union address, Bush labeled North Korea as part of the Axis of Evil with Iran and Iraq, so this was the last straw for the North Koreans. They said, “OK, we now see that you believe we’re back in enemy status,” so they pulled out of the agreement themselves and started proceeding on their plutonium program, and by 2006 they had built their first atomic weapon, and tested their first weapon in 2006.

AM: Negotiations—didn’t they start later on during the Bush administration? Then it was Obama that actually completely, again, destroyed them.

CT: In 2005, there was a declaration by South and North Korea, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia that Korea itself would not be nuclear—not allow nuclear weapons North or South. All the countries agreed to that. That agreement with the five countries had been violated by the U.S. because at the time the U.S. was still imposing... sanctions. And when Obama came in in 2009, he and his people had this idea that somehow the problem of North Korea would go away because it was going to collapse. They did not want to negotiate directly with North Korea. So even Bush was willing to have direct talks with them. Obama was not. Gaddafi was overthrown in Libya and he had, of course, given up his nuclear weapons, and they figured, “Well, nuclear weapons and a powerful military is our only protection against this happening to us.”

AM: But representatives have said that they would never strike first, and also that this this whole history proves that they’re willing to negotiate away their nuclear program under certain conditions, so it just seems to contradict the claim that we hear continuously from the U.S. which is this is all about stopping North Korea from having nukes.

TC: Right. It may be too late to stop them from having nukes. I mean, they have nukes. I mean, they are a nuclear power. They have them, and they have obviously a really well-developed missile program. Look, they see themselves surrounded, and, of course, the U.S. has very powerful military in the South. I mean, the U.S. military has an alliance with the South Korean military, which is a very, very powerful military in itself, and Japan’s—constant war games, constant ratcheting up the tensions with North Korea. And what’s kind of interesting when you look at the so-called threat from each side is that you hear Trump’s say “fire and fury like the world has never seen before” bringing up images of what Truman said before he dropped a bomb on Nagasaki, the second bomb—similar kinds of words. But it’s basically saying we’re going to inflict a holocaust on you. And then you look at their threats. America was all shocked when they said they might test some missiles by firing them towards Guam. Now why Guam? Well, that’s where these B-1 bombers are based. These B-1 bombers fly regular missions from there over Korean skies. They have massive amounts fire power on those planes. I mean, they’re bunker buster bombs, all kinds of munitions that could blow half the cities of North Korea sky-high, so the U.S. keeps saying, “We’re ready to annihilate you,” and they say, “Well, we might fire a missile towards Guam.” Their threats tend to be more particularized towards a U.S. base.

AM: And it’s all we see all day over the news: “What are we going to do? This missile was launched.” It’s just nuts.

TC: The U.S. media never looks at it from their point of view. What is it like to hear that your country may be annihilated? Annihilation means everybody’s dead. There are 25 million people in North Korea. So. What? We’re going to kill 25 million people to prevent them from having that one nuclear weapon without even talking to them?

AM: How does this type of rhetoric resonate with South Koreans and their administration?

TC: Well, it’s it scares the hell out of people in South Korea. When I was there in April and May, people were far more worried about what Trump might do than what Kim Jong-un might do. They are used to these kinds of tensions with North Korea. South Koreans... when they hear Trump talking about fire and fury... I guess Trump doesn’t realize that thousands and thousands of South Koreans have relatives in North Korea. He’s talking about their families—maybe their grandfather, their great grandfather, their brother, so he’s talking about destroying their own relatives. They see it as one country, and they don’t see it in this divisive way that so many of our leaders do here. And I might add in both parties—Democrat, Republican: you hear the same hawkish stuff from both sides.

AM: And a complete dehumanization of North Koreans as if they’re all just robots who are hypnotically following and worshiping their little dear leader. They’re human beings.

TC: Instead of seeing them as just these demonic crazy people, we should see them as human beings with hopes and dreams for their country like anybody else, and try to reach some common ground with them.

AM: Many in the U.S. establishment are arguing for a major war, as we were talking about, which would no doubt trigger just death and destruction on a horrific scale. What would that look like for Korea, U.S. soldiers, and if regime change was successfully led by the US, what do you think would replace the regime?

TC: You read the CNN story the other day, from Barbara Starr, who’s a shill for the Pentagon. She talks about a one-month war. They’re going to go in there and somehow take out their missile sites, take out nuclear sites. Obviously, that in itself would kill tens of thousands of people, but North Korea—if they’re attacked, they’re going to fire back. They’re not going to take this lying down, so an attack on Korea could generate not only a counter attack on South Korea but a counter attack on Japan. I mean, it would be a regional war. There are a lot of people in the US military that know how destructive a war would be in Korea—anyone who has served there. Mountainous country. And they know the North Korean army. It would put up a hell of a fight, and they know that the cost would be millions of lives. I think that’s the one factor that’s maybe holding back Trump and his people. Now they keep talking about the military option. To me it’s just obscene to be talking about war as an option when it could kill millions of people. Senator Lindsey Graham just says that’s people over there. It’s not going to bother us. It’s only those Asian people who are going to get killed—even in Japan, but so what? We’re not there, but I mean, tens of thousands of Americans could get killed, too. And as for your second question, I mean, what I know from what I’ve been following of these regime changes, these people—RAND Corporation, for example... Bruce Bennett, who’s a specialist at the RAND Corporation, thinks that the target should be Kim Jong-un.

AM: He worked closely on The Interview with Seth Rogen.

TC: Exactly. And he helped make that movie, and helped with the end of the movie where they blew his [Kim Jong-un’s] head apart. And he said that was a good idea to keep that in. Well, their model is to have the sort of U.S.-induced regime change from within. They’re going to somehow win over all these North Korean elites to somehow go along with some kind of U.S. plan to have a U.S.-backed government overthrow their government. And when you read carefully what they have to say, and hear what they have to say, it’s like South Korea isn’t even part of their discussion. And there was a rumor that got into a story some reporter picked up, some intelligence from some counterinsurgency people in Washington—consultants and contractors. They said, “We’re talking to the Trump administration about doing a counterinsurgency in North Korea.” I mean, these people are nuts. They don’t know anything about Korea. The idea that somehow the U.S. is going to go in there and direct this regime change in North Korea, and everything’s going to be... We’re going to have a pro-U.S. government there and everything’s going to be fine. This is the same kind of mentality as the United States had in 1945: We know what’s best for Korea, and we’re going to determine it, and we don’t give a damn what you Koreans think. It’s exactly the same mentality, and somehow we in America have to learn the real history.


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