Korean War history distorted and exploited for political ends
By David Green
Recent commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War have evoked standard rhetoric and rationalizations regarding the righteousness of the United States' role in that conflict.
From President Obama to columnist Max Boot to a local veteran writing on these pages, the slaughter that the war entailed — at least 2 million soldiers and civilians dead — is retroactively and perversely justified by South Korea's subsequent economic development and North Korea's ongoing misery, respectively equated with what is called freedom or lack thereof.
This hindsight is contrived and morally specious; as a tool of political propaganda by Obama, it is one of many examples of cynical exploitation of militaristic sentimentality by our current Aggressor in Chief.
The historical narrative that is determined by Obama's political opportunism is empty of serious content and critique, as one would expect by this master of fraudulent, manipulative, and hollow rhetoric.
Historian Gabriel Kolko perceptively wrote in "Main Currents in American History" (1976):
"The Korean War was essentially the internationalization of a civil conflict that had begun in 1945 immediately after Korea's liberation from Japan and the artificial partition, which the United States imposed in August 1945.
"The totalitarian regime (beginning under Syngman Rhee in 1945 and ending not until 1987) that the U.S. funds left the nation in constant turmoil, with guerilla warfare within the south itself and increasingly large scale combat between the two sections along the 38th parallel in the year before the North autonomously made the decision to reunify the nation in June 1950.
"Divorced from the preceding five years of history, theories on the origins of the Korean War become a part of the Cold War's mythology."
Part of what Kolko refers to is Rhee's recruitment of those South Koreans who had collaborated with the Japanese (who were notorious for recruiting thousands of Korean women into sexual slavery) during the occupation (1910-45), and the subsequent murder by Rhee's forces of up to 100,000 leftist and nationalist South Korean dissidents from 1945 to '48 — with the help of their American sponsors.
This American support for formerly collaborationist and authoritarian elements was parallel to support for collaborationist and fascist forces in Greece and Italy against former World War II resistance and leftist fighters during that same period, always fraudulently justified by the Soviet threat.
This strategy also foreshadowed American support for the ruthless authoritarian puppet Diem in South Vietnam against his own indigenous revolt, leading to a genocidal American war (1962-75) that is increasingly distorted and rationalized by politicians, including Obama, as living memories fade and opportunism knocks.
The Korean War was a result of the imperial strategies of the U.S. and Soviet Union, as well the Chinese revolution. Nevertheless, President Truman had the options of either actively promoting a unification agreement or leaving Korea to its own civil war, which would not likely have been joined by either the Soviet Union or China. Instead he chose American aggression — aggravating the subsequent loss of life, destroying the entire country, essentially leveling every structure in North Korea, committing war crimes by bombing dams in North Korea when there was nothing else left to destroy, and risking nuclear war.
It is to Truman's credit that he resisted Gen. Douglas MacArthur's lunatic proposal to use nuclear weapons against China and fired the megalomaniac general. However, it is to his discredit that his decision to use anti-communism to justify American militarism and imperialism set in motion foreign policies that have come to deadly and destructive global fruition for six decades.
As communist enemies have been conveniently and disingenuously replaced by Muslims, the Orwellian basis of American militarism has been revealed as part and parcel of the aggressive ambitions of American global capitalism and multinational corporations — all, not incidentally, to the detriment of American workers and our own freedom and democracy, as can be plainly seen now more than ever.
The Truman administration had momentous decisions to make in this period from 1945 to '53. American workers, accustomed to full employment and labor activism during WWII, demanded a welfare state; unions were empowered to aggressively support such ambitions, and strikes were frequent. These ambitions were consciously subverted by massive government spending justified by military rather than social goals, now known as "military Keynesianism."
Corporate propaganda dominated the media and education in the 1950s. An extraordinary and ongoing climate of fear was created and persists among the population of a country that has no natural enemies and hasn't been invaded in 200 years. Moreover, a massive military-industrial complex that remains unaccountable to the American people was perpetuated.
The global and neoliberal legacy of the Truman era has elevated the South Korean working class while decimating the American working class. But since our own Civil War, the American working class has always been the primary threat to and enemy of American elites, who are at heart vulgar Marxists. As long as American workers continue to fight wars for global corporate capitalists, they will continue to lose in their own struggle for freedom and prosperity.
David Green lives in Champaign, and is a regular contributor to "News from Neptune" on Urbana Public Television.