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Activist and author Brian Becker discusses the most recent naval incident between North and South Korea and gives much needed political and historical context to ongoing media coverage of that region

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JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: What’s up world, and welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. On June 30 it was reported that the South Korean navy fired warning shots at a North Korean patrol vessel, and that this was part of a still-existing war, one that has not ended since the 1950s with a peace treaty only a temporary ceasefire. But rather than bringing more depth or awareness of Korean history and politics to North American media, so much of what we get remains fixed in a kind of Cold War rhetorical frame. Of course, part of this is North Korea’s expressed politics represented for instance in their reference to the month of June as struggle against U.S. imperialism month, which is a recent AP story noted as, from this country’s perspective, hate America month. For more on this we have with us now Brian Becker. Brian is a longtime author and longtime activist, as well as the national coordinator of the Answer Coalition and a leader of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and joins us now from his family getaway or hideaway in western New York. Welcome, Brian, to the show. BRIAN BECKER, PARTY FOR SOCIALISM AND LIBERATION: Thank you so much, Jared. BALL: So as you heard me say in the intro, help us understand the context of this most recent incident as it’s been described, where South Korea fired a warning shot on a North Korean vessel. And then of course help us contextualize this confusion over Hate America month. BECKER: Sure. The incident happened in the Sea of Japan, so-called. That’s contested areas, ever since the Korean war ended on July 27, 1953 with an armistice, as you mentioned, not a peace treaty. The two sides are technically at war, and there are certain issues and certain territorial disputes that remain unsettled. So incidents like the firing by this South Korean vessel at the North Korean vessel in the Sea of Japan, in contested territory, is in fact quite common. Sometimes these lead to minor episodes, sometimes they lead to major escalations of military conflict. But the big picture and the context here is that Korea remains a divided peninsula. It was divided by two U.S. State Department officials who took a pen and drew a line down the 38th parallel of Korea, and took that to Potsdam where the United States met with the British and the Soviet Union 70 years ago, and they arbitrarily divided a country that had been a unified place for 5,000 years, and divided millions of Korean families along Cold War boundaries. The North would be occupied by the Soviets, and the South would be occupied by the Americans, taking the place of the Japanese colonial settlement. And then there was, as you know, a war between 1950-1953. And since that time the United States has remained an occupier of South Korea. There are 30-40,000 U.S. troops that occupy South Korea. They carry out U.S. and South Korean military exercises that simulate the bombing and the invasion of North Korea. And from North Korea’s point of view–and this is where we get back to the hate North America or hate the United States or fight against U.S. imperialism month. From the North Korean point of view when you simulate the bombing and destruction of their country after knowing that in fact that is really what actually happened between June 25, 1950 and July 27, 1953 where 5 million Koreans died in the biggest single complaint of U.S. bombers, was that there was nothing left to bomb because not one structure more than one story high still stood in North Korea after the U.S. bombing campaign. So every year at this time the North Koreans rally the population. They say, we withstood the onslaught of the greatest military force in the world. We defended our country. They could not overthrow our government. We remained sovereign and independent. And we will celebrate this and educate our people in the spirit of defiance against the Western military powers. So there’s something lost in the translation. The American media says it’s hate America month. Well, it’s actually a source of pride in North Korea that they withstood the onslaught by U.S. imperialism which, as history has shown because we now have the unclassified documents, the United States was on the precipice of dropping nuclear bombs on North Korea and China just as they had on Nagasaki and Hiroshima five years earlier. And North Korea in spite of everything, in spite of those threats, didn’t bow down, didn’t cave in. So it’s a source of national pride. BALL: So I guess here since we’re approaching the July 4 holiday as we tape this interview that we’re in the midst of hate England month here in the United States, apparently. But Brian, isn’t part of this, this controversy or the way that North Korea is covered here in the United States, isn’t part of it a legitimate response to an undemocratic country violently threatening its democratic neighbors and allies to the West, the United States? Isn’t this hostility in the West legitimate? BECKER: I would say it’s completely illegitimate. Let’s remember, South Korea was a U.S.-sponsored military dictatorship. There was no democracy in South Korea. There are some elections now. But South Korea is an occupied country. There’s nothing less democratic than being occupied by foreign military forces. We don’t hear about that in U.S. media. We know that the United States asked the Japanese government, the colonizers of Korea, to remain in place after August 15, 1945 when the Japanese surrendered so that America could come and occupy South Korea. And then the United States set up a military dictatorship. And tens of thousands, perhaps scores of thousands of people were executed by the South Korean military dictatorship, and then the United States intervened and bombed and invaded North Korea. Now, North Korea’s political system is a socialist government. There’s one-party rule. It’s not the same as Western-style democracy. But there are some things people should know about North Korea. It’s free education. It’s free housing. Absolutely free. People are given their apartments at age 21 for life. They have free healthcare. There are no such things as income taxes. And the population has guaranteed employment for life. Now, North Korea–and of course the United States has always pictured North Korea in the starkest terms. This is a gray, totalitarian, hermit kingdom dictatorship. Well yes, North Korea does not comport to German, French, Italian or American democratic measures. But so do, so don’t many other governments that the United States supports. Like Saudi Arabia, where those monarchies that behead women for driving, for committing acts of adultery. The American media is demonizing North Korea. What we need to do, what the people in the United States need to do, as we needed to do in Cuba or with Zimbabwe, is get past the demonizing headlines and take a look for ourselves at what’s really going on in the country. Try to understand its people, its culture, its politics, and treat North Korea with mutual respect. And I think if American did that, North Korea would start to have a very different political rhetoric, and there would be in fact an opportunity to normalize relations between North Korea and the United States. And that’s what North Korea wants, just as the United States did today with Cuba. Which, just like they had pictured the Cuban government as the worst totalitarian nightmare on the face of the planet for so long, now they’ve normalized relations. That’s what should happen with North Korea, too. BALL: Brian Becker. Thank you very much for joining us here at the Real News Network and helping us understand a little bit more about this, the context of this Korean history, and particularly what’s happening in North Korea. BECKER: My pleasure. Thank you. BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News Network. And for all involved, I’m Jared Ball. And as we always say, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. Peace, everybody. Catch you in the whirlwind.


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Brian Becker is the National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition and a leader of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.