Washington DC – On March 22, the U.S. military conducted the largest-ever military exercise with south Korea’s armed forces, preparing for an invasion and military strike on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). These war games amassed 300,000 South Korean troops and 17,000 U.S. troops on the 38th parallel, which has formally divided Korea into ‘north’ and ‘south’ since 1945. U.S. stealth bombers and South Korean fighter jets simulated bombing Pyongyang, the capitol of the DPRK, along with other sites in anticipation of “a crisis situation” in the Korean Peninsula, according to U.S. Navy commanders.
This massive mobilization of the U.S. and south Korean war machines took place amid new threats of military aggression by the Trump administration. Speaking in Seoul, South Korea, on March 17, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson rejected the possibility of peace negotiations with the DPRK over its nuclear weapons program. Speaking on “military conflict,” he told reporters and South Korean officials, “that option’s on the table.”
“The policy of strategic patience has ended,” said Tillerson during a press conference. “We are exploring a new range of security and diplomatic measures.” The unprecedented war games in the Korean peninsula last week make clear that these measures include outright war.
The U.S. called its joint military exercises with south Korea “purely defensive,” supposedly in response to a missile test by the DPRK. But considering the U.S. outspends the DPRK on its military in a big way – Trump’s proposed budget raises U.S. military spending to $603 billion versus the DPRK’s $10 billion – this claim is another example of Trump’s ‘alternative facts’ at work.
Mass movement in south Korea topples corrupt U.S.-backed president
Despite its enormous military presence, the U.S. agenda in the Korean Peninsula is not going well. On March 10, South Korea’s Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye on corruption charges. Park is the daughter of former military dictator Park Chung-hee, who ruled the south of Korea from 1961 to 1979 when he was overthrown by a mass movement of workers, labor unions and students.
Park won the 2012 presidential election in the south backed by a coalition of U.S. interests and giant corporations like Samsung. Her government launched a massive assault on unions and the working class, which was met with massive strikes that shut down production and transportation for days. In October 2016, 7000 truckers in south Korea went on strike opposing Park’s plans to deregulate the industry and bust unions. The truckers’ strike exploded into a widespread worker revolt when Park declared the work stoppage illegal and sent riot police to break the union by force. Rail workers, teachers, factory workers and others also struck and added fuel to the fire.
As president, Park followed the foreign policy line of the U.S. She cut off economic ties with the DPRK, antagonized the People’s Republic of China, and defended the continued presence of U.S. military bases in Korea, despite popular protests. Of particular importance was her support for the Thermal High-Area Altitude Defense (THAAD) missile system pushed by the U.S. THAAD’s stated purpose is to defend against attacks by the DPRK, but critics agree it would not successfully shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles if indeed they were fired. Its real purpose is conducting surveillance on China and advancing Washington’s long-term plans for war.
Last year, Park’s government came under intense fire over revelations of a web of corruption between her administration and major corporations like Samsung. Park’s closest advisor – a Rasputin-like cult leader and childhood friend – traded political favors for big business in exchange for money. Massive protests by workers, unions and students forced the National Assembly to impeach Park on Dec. 9, 2016, which was upheld by the Constitutional Court on March 10.. Park and others now face criminal charges stemming from the corruption investigation.
Discredited by the impeachment and opposed by the militant Korean working class, Park’s right-wing Saenuri Party stands to lose the upcoming presidential election. Moon Jae-in, the candidate for the liberal Democratic Party of Korea, has a comfortable lead in the polls. She promises re-engagement with the DPRK and has signaled deep skepticism towards the THAAD missile defense system, along with the overall role of the U.S. military in south Korea. Depending on the outcome, the May 9 presidential election could spell disaster for U.S. military plans in the Korean Peninsula.
The legacy of the Korean War
The U.S. media talks about ‘north’ and ‘south’ Korea as two separate countries. In reality, Korea is a single nation that was forcibly divided by the U.S. immediately after World War II. The DPRK, along with some progressive political parties, labor unions, and most working people living in the south, remain committed to an independent, reunified Korea to this day.
In World War II, Korea played a crucial rule in defeating the Japanese. An anti-colonial guerrilla army, led by communists like Kim Il Sung, overthrew Japan’s bloodthirsty colonial system in 1945, but the U.S. moved in quickly to capture Japan’s old empire for itself. U.S. military officers divided Korea in two along the 38th parallel and established a capitalist puppet government in the south made up of elites and former Japanese collaborators. Fearing the widespread popularity of the communists in the north and the left-wing people’s committees in the south, the Truman administration launched a military campaign to violently crush the Korean revolution in 1950. Aided by the Soviet Union and socialist China, the Korean People’s Army (KPA) pushed the U.S led invasion back to the 38th parallel, which is now the southern border of the DPRK.
3 million Koreans died during the Korean War, 2 million from the north and a million in the south, according to University of Chicago professor Bruce Cumings. That means 1 in 10 Koreans, and 1 in 5 north Koreans – died as a direct result of the U.S./United Nations military action in Korea. In the three years of the Korean War, the U.S. dropped more bombs on this small East Asian nation than all sides dropped in Europe in six years of fighting during World War II. U.S. military personnel oversaw the execution of hundreds of thousands of suspected communist sympathizers by Syngman Rhee’s puppet government in the south.
Despite the destruction caused by the Korean War, the DPRK undertook an ambitious reconstruction effort that allowed them to enjoy a higher GDP and better standard of living than the U.S.-supported regime in the south, which consistently suffered from high unemployment and low wages brought on by Western sweatshops. It wasn’t until the 1980s and the eventual collapse of the DPRK’s largest trading partner, the Soviet Union, that the Republic of Korea would overtake the north in economic productivity.
Socialism in the DPRK
In the U.S. media, the overwhelming image of the DPRK is a totalitarian hellhole. This image didn’t come out of nowhere, nor does it reflect the actual reality of life in the DPRK. It’s an idea intentionally cultivated through Hollywood films like The Interview, Netflix exploitation documentaries, fake news stories – like the now-discredited claim that Kim Jong Un was forcing all Koreans to get his same haircut – and sensationalist ‘defector’ stories, most of which are paid and written by South Korean intelligence offices.
The propaganda image of Kim Jong Un as a crazy dictator fuels the U.S. drive for war against the DPRK. After all, the only way you could believe the ludicrous idea of a tiny impoverished country firing first on the world’s biggest and most armed military power is if you believe the leader (1) is totally insane, and (2) doesn’t care about human life. Ironically, these characteristics apply to the billionaires in the Trump administration, which is playing with fire and risking war in east Asia.
Here are the facts: DPR Korea is a socialist country, meaning the working class and its party – the Workers Party of Korea – hold state and economic power. Its achievements in the face of sanctions and devastating warfare even impressed officials in the U.S. A declassified CIA report, written behind closed doors in 1990, explicitly recognizes that the DPRK administers outstanding social services for children, guarantees totally free housing to citizens, provides a highly successful country-wide public preventative medical program, oversees a police force with an extremely low level of corruption and has achieved high life expectancy and low infant mortality rates.
The same CIA report points out that there are more college-educated women than men in the DPRK, and admits that the Workers Party of Korea legitimately committed to ‘radical change’ in Korean gender relations. The facts support their conclusion: women are permitted to serve in the military, state child-care programs allow women to have independent careers outside of the house and a significant number of high level political positions are occupied by women, including representation in the Supreme People’s Assembly.
The DPRK’s remarkable public health care system – which provides unconditional universal coverage for citizens – continues to perform tremendously well, even in the midst of crippling U.S. sanctions. In 2010 report to the United Nations on the north Korean health care system, Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, called it “something which most other developing countries would envy.” She pointed out that the “DPRK has no lack of doctors and nurses,” and praised the system for its “very elaborate health infrastructure, starting from the central to the provincial to the district level.”
Learning from history: The DPRK’s nuclear program in context
The DPRK has faced economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. since its inception and remains poor, having to dedicate a large amount of its resources to defend against the threat of invasion. Imperialist aggression against the DPRK continues to this day. More than 28,000 U.S. troops permanently stationed in South Korea and the overhanging threat of U.S. Navy freighters carrying nuclear missiles in the Korean Peninsula. War games, like these latest provocations by Trump, take place every year.
After the fall of the Soviet Union and most of the socialist bloc, the U.S. began targeting the remaining socialist and national democratic states for regime change. Colin Powell, serving as a general under George H.W. Bush, said in 1992 that he was “running out of demons” to justify military buildup, saying only “Kim Il Sung and Fidel Castro” were left. Facing economic hardships from the loss of its biggest trading partner and military ally (USSR), the DPRK began investing heavily in its national defense and launched a nuclear program – both for energy and military application.
Contrary to the hysterical claims in the U.S. media that the DPRK wants to “turn Los Angeles into a sea of fire” or “nuke Seoul,” the aim of the Korean nuclear program is to reduce the country’s spending on the military and use it for economic development. In 2016 at the 13th Presidium, the Supreme People’s Assembly explicitly outlined the reasons for its nuclear program: deterrence.
According to the Korean Central News Agency, military spending accounts for 15.9% of the DPRK’s budget, compared with 47.5% for the economy and 36.6% for social services like childcare, health care, sports and education. The DPRK spends such a large amount of its budget on its military for defense purposes, but it would prefer to spend more on developing socialism and improving living standards.
Two years after invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein’s government, George W. Bush presented an ultimatum to both Libya and the DPRK: Shut down their nuclear programs, cooperate with the ‘war on terror,” or risk regime change. Muammar Gaddafi of Libya agreed and abandoned its program, eventually facing regime change anyway when the U.S./NATO toppled his government in 2011. Kim Jong Il, on the other hand, pressed forward and announced its first successful nuclear test in 2006 – deterring U.S. military regime change to this day. The WPK hopes that the deterrence created by a fully stocked nuclear weapons arsenal will keep the U.S. and Japan at bay, allowing them to spend fewer resources on the military as a whole.
U.S. hands off Korea
Workers in the U.S. have zero to gain from a war with the DPRK and China, or the continued occupation of south Korea by the U.S. military. In a war, working class people from the U.S. – not ‘fortunate sons’ like the Trump brothers – would be sent to die for the profits of Wall Street. Pentagon estimates in 2013 noted the U.S. spends over $7 billion annually to maintain its military presence in south Korea – all while claiming that providing universal healthcare to workers in the U.S. is “too expensive.”
When we cut through the propaganda, workers in the U.S. have a lot more in common with the people of the DPRK and the workers in the south who toppled President Park than they do with Donald Trump or the 1% class of billionaires he represents. We should stand resolutely against a war against the DPRK or China, and demand a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Korea’s south.
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