Bill Totten's Weblog

Friday, November 10, 2006

Korea 1945-1953

Was it all that it appeared to be?

Chapter 5 of Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (Common Courage Press, 1995)

by William Blum

To die for an idea; it is unquestionably noble. But how much nobler it would be if men died for ideas that were true. - H L Mencken, 1919

How is it that the Korean War escaped the protests which surrounded the war in Vietnam? Everything we've come to love and cherish about Vietnam had its forerunner in Korea; the support of a corrupt tyranny, the atrocities, the napalm, the mass slaughter of civilians, the cities and villages laid to waste, the calculated management of the news, the sabotaging of peace talks. But the American people were convinced that the war in Korea was an unambiguous case of one country invading another without provocation. A case of the bad guys attacking the good guys who were being saved by the even better guys; none of the historical, political and moral uncertainty that was the dilemma of Vietnam. The Korean War was seen to have begun in a specific manner: North Korea attacked South Korea in the early morning of 25 June 1950; while Vietnam ... no one seemed to know how it all began, or when, or why.

And there was little in the way of accusations about American "imperialism" in Korea. The United States, after all, was fighting as part of a United Nations Army. What was there to protest about? And of course there was McCarthyism, so prevalent in the early 1950s, which further served to inhibit protest.

There were, in fact, rather different interpretations to be made of what the war was all about, how it was being conducted, even how it began, but these quickly succumbed to the heat of war fever.

Shortly after the close of the Second World War, the Soviet Union and the United States occupied Korea in order to expel the defeated Japanese. A demarcation line between the Russian and American forces was set up along the 38th Parallel. The creation of this line in no way had the explicit or implicit intention of establishing two separate countries, but the cold war was soon to intrude.

Both powers insisted that unification of North and South was the principal and desired goal. However, they also desired to see this carried out in their own ideological image, and settled thereby into a routine of proposal and counter-proposal, accusation and counter-accusation, generously intermixed with deviousness, and produced nothing in the way of an agreement during the ensuing years. Although both Moscow and Washington and their hand-picked Korean leaders were not always displeased about the division of the country (on the grounds that half a country was better than none), officials and citizens of both sides continued to genuinely call for unification on a regular basis.

That Korea was still one country, with unification still the goal, at the time the war began, was underscored by the chief US delegate to the UN, Warren Austin, in a statement he made shortly afterwards:

"The artificial barrier which, has divided North and South Korea has no basis for existence either in law or in reason. Neither the United Nations, its Commission on Korea, nor the Republic of Korea [South Korea] recognize such a line. Now the North Koreans, by armed attack upon the Republic of Korea, have denied the reality of any such line." {1}

The two sides had been clashing across the Parallel far several years. What happened on that fateful day in June could thus be regarded as no more than the escalation of an ongoing civil war. The North Korean Government has claimed that in 1949 alone, the South Korean army or police perpetrated 2,617 armed incursions into the North to carry out murder, kidnapping, pillage and arson for the purpose of causing social disorder and unrest, as well as to increase the combat capabilities of the invaders. At times, stated the Pyongyang government, thousands of soldiers were involved in a single battle with many casualties resulting. {2}

A State Department official, Ambassador-at-large Philip C Jessup, speaking in April 1950, put it this way;

"There is constant fighting between the South Korean Army and bands that infiltrate the country from the North. There are very real battles, involving perhaps one or two thousand men. When you go to this boundary, as I did ... you see troop movements, fortifications, and prisoners of war." {3}

Seen in this context, the question of who fired the first shot on 25 June 1950 takes on a much reduced air of significance. As it is, the North Korean version of events is that their invasion was provoked by two days of bombardment by the South Koreans, on the 23rd and 24th, followed by a surprise South Korean attack across the border on the 25th against the western town of Haeju and other places. Announcement of the Southern attack was broadcast over the North's radio later in the morning of the 25th.

Contrary to general belief at the time, no United Nations group - neither the UN Military Observer Group in the field nor the UN Commission on Korea in Seoul-witnessed, or claimed to have witnessed, the outbreak of hostilities. The Observer Group's field trip along the Parallel ended on 23 June. Its statements about what took place afterward are either speculation or based on information received from the South Korean government or the US military.

Moreover, early in the morning of the 26th, the South Korean Office of Public Information announced that Southern forces had indeed captured the North Korean town of Haeju, The announcement stated that the attack had occurred that same morning, but an American military status report as of nightfall on the 25th notes that all Southern territory west of the Imjin River had been lost to a depth of at least three miles inside the border except in the area of the Haeju "counter attack".

In either case, such a military victory on the part of the Southern forces is extremely difficult to reconcile with the official Western account, maintained to this day, that has the North Korean army sweeping south in a devastating surprise attack, taking control of everything that lay before it, and forcing South Korean troops to evacuate further south.

Subsequently, the South Korean government denied that its capture of Haeju had actually taken place, blaming the original announcement, apparently, on an exaggerating military officer. One historian has ascribed the allegedly incorrect announcement to "an error due to poor communications, plus an attempt to stiffen South Korean resistance by claiming a victory". Whatever actually lay behind the announcement, it is evident that very little reliance, if any, can be placed upon statements made by the South Korean government concerning the start of the war {4}.

There were, in fact, reports in the Western press of the attack on Haeju which made no mention of the South Korean government's announcement, and which appear to be independent confirmations of the event. The London Daily Herald, in its issue of 26 June, stated that "American military observers said the Southern forces had made a successful relieving counter-attack near the west coast, penetrated five miles into Northern territory and seized the town of Haeju". This was echoed in The Guardian of London the same day: "American officials confirmed that the Southern troops had captured Haeju".

Similarly, the New York Herald Tribune reported, also on the 26th, that "South Korean troops drove across the 38th Parallel, which forms the frontier, to capture the manufacturing town of Haeju, just north of the line. The Republican troops captured quantities of equipment". None of the accounts specified just when the attack took place.

On the 25th, American writer John Gunther was in Japan preparing his biography of General Douglas MacArthur. As he recounts in the book, he was playing tourist in the town of Nikko with "two important members" of the American occupation, when "one of these was called unexpectedly to the telephone. He came back and whispered, 'A big story has just broken. The South Koreans have attacked North Korea!'" That evening, Gunther and his parry returned to Tokyo where "Several officers met us at the station to tell us correctly and with much amplification what had happened ... there was no doubt whatever that North Korea was the aggressor".

And the telephone call? Gunther explains: "The message may have been garbled in transmission. Nobody knew anything much at headquarters the first few hours, and probably people were taken in by the blatant, corrosive lies of the North Korean radio". {5}

There is something a little incongruous about the picture of American military and diplomatic personnel, practicing anti-communists each one, being taken in on so important a matter by communist lies-blatant ones no less.

The head of South Korea, Syngman Rhee, had often expressed his desire and readiness to compel the unification of Korea by force. On 26 June the New York Times reminded its readers that "on a number of occasions, Dr Rhee has indicated that his army would have taken the offensive if Washington had given the consent". The newspaper noted also that before the war began: "The warlike talk strangely [had] almost all come from South Korean leaders".

Rhee may have had good reason for provoking a full-scale war apart from the issue of unification. On 30 May, elections for the National Assembly were held in the South in which Rhee's party suffered a heavy setback and lost control of the assembly. Like countless statesmen before and after him, Rhee may have decided to play the war card to rally support for his shaky rule. A labor adviser attached to the American aid mission in South Korea, Stanley Earl, resigned in July, expressing the opinion that the South Korean government was "an oppressive regime" which "did very little to help the people" and that "an internal South Korean rebellion against the Rhee Government would have occurred if the forces of North Korea had nor invaded". {6}

Soviet Jeader Nikita Khrushchev, in his reminiscences, makes it plain that the North Koreans had contemplated an invasion of the South for some time and he reports their actual invasion without any mention of provocation on that day. This would seem to put that particular question to rest. However, Khrushchev's chapter on Korea is a wholly superficial account. It is not a serious work of history, nor was it intended to be. As he himself states:

'My memories of the Korean War are unavoidably sketchy". (He did not become Soviet leader until after the war was over.) His chapter contains no discussion of any of the previous fighting across the border, nothing of Rhee's belligerent statements, nothing at all even of the Soviet Union's crucial absence from the UN which, as we shall see, allowed the so-called United Nations Army to be formed and intervene in the conflict. Moreover, his reminiscences, as published, are an edited and condensed version of the tapes he made. A study based on a comparison between the Russian-language transcription of the tapes and the published English-language book reveals that some of Khrushchev's memories about Korea were indeed sketchy, but that the book fails to bring this out. For example, North Korean leader Kim Il-sung met with Stalin to discuss Kim's desire "to prod South Korea with the point of a bayonet". The book then states unambiguously: "Kim went home and then returned to Moscow when he had worked everything out". In the transcript, however, Khrushchev says: "In my opinion, either the date of his return was set, or he was to inform us as soon as he finished preparing all of his ideas. Then, I don't remember in which month or year, Kim Il-sung came and related his plan to Stalin" (emphasis added). {7}

On 26 June, the United States presented a resolution before the UN Security Council condemning North Korea for its "unprovoked aggression". The resolution was approved, although there were arguments that "this was a fight between Koreans" and should be treated as a civil war, and a suggestion from the Egyptian delegate that the word "unprovoked" should be dropped in view of the longstanding hostilities between the two Koreas. {8} Yugoslavia insisted as well that "there seemed to be lack of precise information that could enable the Council to pin responsibility", and proposed that North Korea be invited to present its side of the story. {9} This was not done. (Three months later, the Soviet foreign minister put forward a motion that the UN hear representatives from both sides. This, too, was voted down, by a margin of 46 to 6, because of North Korea's "aggression", and it was decided to extend an invitation to South Korea alone.) {10}

On the 27th, the Security Council recommended that members of the United Nations furnish assistance to South Korea "as may be necessary to repel the armed attack". President Truman had already ordered the US Navy and Air Force into combat by this time, thus presenting the Council with a fait accompli, {11} a tactic the US was to repeat several times before the war came to an end. The Council made its historic decision with the barest of information available to it, and all of it derived from and selected by only one side of the conflict. This was, as journalist I F Stone put it, "neither honorable nor wise".

It should be kept in mind that in 1950 the United Nations was in no way a neutral or balanced organization. The great majority of members were nations very dependent upon the United States for economic recovery or development. There was no Third World bloc which years later pursued a UN policy much more independent of the United States. And only four countries of the Soviet bloc were members at the time, none on the Security Council. {12}

Neither could UN Secretary-General Trygve Lie, of Norway, be regarded as neutral in the midst of cold war controversy. In his memoirs, he makes it remarkably clear that he was no objective outsider. His chapters on the Korean War are pure knee-reflex anti-communism and reveal his maneuvering on the issue. {13} In 1949, it was later disclosed, Lie had entered into a secret agreement with the US State Department to dismiss from UN employment individuals whom Washington regarded as having questionable political leanings. {14}

The adoption of these resolutions by the Security Council was possible only because the Soviet Union was absent from the proceedings due to its boycott of the United Nations over the refusal to seat Communist China in place of Taiwan. If the Russians had been present, they undoubtedly would have vetoed the resolutions. Their absence has always posed an awkward problem for those who insist that the Russians were behind the North Korean invasion. One of the most common explanations offered is that the Russians, as a CIA memorandum stated, wanted "to challenge the US specifically and test the firmness of US resistance to Communist expansion". {15} Inasmuch as, during the existence of the Soviet Union, the same analysis was put forth by American political pundits for virtually every encounter between the United States and leftists anywhere in the world, before and after Korea, it would appear that the test was going on for an inordinately long period and one can only wonder why the Soviets never came to a conclusion.

"The finishing touch", wrote I F Stone, "was to make the 'United Nations' forces subject to MacArthur without making MacArthur subject to the United Nations. This came on July 7 in a resolution introduced jointly by Britain and France. This is commonly supposed to have established a United Nations Command. Actually it did nothing of the sort." {16} The resolution recommended "that all members providing military forces and other assistance ... make such forces and other assistance available to a unified command under the United States" (emphasis added). It further requested "the United States to designate the commander of such forces". {17} This would be the redoubtable MacArthur.

It was to be an American show. Military personnel of some sixteen other countries took part in one way or another but, with the exception of the South Koreans, there could be little doubt as to their true status or function. Eisenhower later wrote in his memoirs that when he was considering US military intervention in Vietnam in 1954, also as part of a "coalition", he recognized that the burden of the operation would fall on the United States, but "the token forces supplied by these other nations, as in Korea, would lend real moral standing to a venture that otherwise could be made to appear as a brutal example of imperialism" (emphasis added). {18}

The war, and a brutal one it was indeed, was fought ostensibly in defense of the Syngman Rhee regime. Outside of books published by various South Korean governments, it is rather difficult to find a kind word for the man the United States brought back to Korea in 1945 after decades of exile in America during the Japanese occupation of his country. Flown into Korea in one of MacArthur's airplanes, Rhee was soon maneuvered into a position of prominence and authority by the US Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK). In the process, American officials had to suppress a provisional government, the Korean People's Republic, that was the outgrowth of a number of regional governing committees set up by prominent Koreans and which had already begun to carry out administrative tasks, such as food distribution and keeping order. The KPR's offer of its services to the arriving Americans was dismissed out of hand.

Despite its communist-sounding name, the KPR included a number of conservatives; indeed, Rhee himself had been given the leading position of chairman. Rhee and the other conservatives, most of whom were still abroad when chosen, perhaps did not welcome the honor because the KPR, on balance, was probably too leftist for their tastes, as it was for the higher echelons of the USAMGIK. But after 35 years under the Japanese, any group or government set up to undo the effects of colonialism had to have a revolutionary tinge to it. It was the conservatives in Korea who had collaborated with the Japanese; leftists and other nationalists who had struggled against them; the make-up of the KPR necessarily reflected this, and it was reportedly more popular than any other political grouping. {19}

Whatever the political leanings or intentions of the KPR, by denying it any "authority, status or form", {20} the USAMGIK was regulating Korean political life as if the country were a defeated enemy and not a friendly state liberated from a common foe and with a right to independence and self-determination.

The significance of shunting aside the KPR went beyond this. John Gunther, hardly a radical, summed up the situation this way: "So the first-and best-chance for building a united Korea was tossed away". {21} And Alfred Crofts, a member of the American military government at the time, has written that "A potential unifying agency became thus one of the fifty-four splinter groups in South Korean political life". {22}

Syngman Rhee would be Washington's man: eminently pro-American, strongly anti-Communist, sufficiently controllable. His regime was one in which landlords, collaborators, the wealthy, and other conservative elements readily found a home. Crofts has pointed out that "Before the American landings, a political Right, associated in popular thought with colonial rule, could not exist; but shortly afterward we were to foster at least three conservative factions". {23}

Committed to establishing free enterprise, the USAMGIK sold off vast amounts of confiscated Japanese property, homes, businesses, industrial raw materials and other valuables. Those who could most afford to purchase these assets were collaborators who had grown rich under the Japanese, and other profiteers. "With half the wealth of the nation 'up for grabs', demoralization was rapid". {24}

While the Russians did a thorough house-cleaning of Koreans in the North who had collaborated with the Japanese, the American military government in the South allowed many collaborators, and at first even the Japanese themselves, to retain positions of administration and authority, much to the consternation of those Koreans who had fought against the Japanese occupation of their country. To some extent, these people may have been retained in office because they were the most experienced at keeping the country running. Another reason has been suggested: to prevent the Korean People's Republic from assuming a measure of power. {25}

And while the North soon implemented widespread and effective land reform and at least formal equality for women, the Rhee regime remained hostile to these ideals. Two years later, it enacted a land reform measure, but this applied only to former Japanese property. A 1949 law to cover other holdings was not enforced at all, and the abuse of land tenants continued in both old and new forms. {26}

Public resentment against the US/Rhee administration was aroused because of these policies as well as because of the suppression of the KPR and some very questionable elections. So reluctant was Rhee to allow an honest election, that by early 1950 he had become enough of an embarrassment to the United States for Washington officials to threaten to cut off aid if he failed to do so and also improve the state of civil liberties. Apparently because of this pressure, the elections held on May 30 were fair enough to allow "moderate" elements to participate, and, as mentioned earlier, the Rhee government was decisively repudiated. {27}

The resentment was manifested in the form of frequent rebellions, including some guerrilla warfare in the hills, from 1946 to the beginning of the war, and even during the war. The rebellions were dismissed by the government as "communist-inspired" and repressed accordingly, but, as John Gunther observed, "It can be safely said that in the eyes of Hodge [the commander of US forces in Korea] and Rhee, particularly at the beginning, almost any Korean not an extreme rightist was a communist and potential traitor". {28}

General Hodge evidently permitted US troops to take part in the repression. Mark Gayn, a correspondent in Korea for the Chicago Sun, wrote that American soldiers "fired on crowds, conducted mass arrests, combed the hills for suspects, and organized posses of Korean rightists, constabulary and police for mass raids". {29} Gayn related that one of Hodge's political advisers assured him (Gayn) that Rhee was not a fascist: "He is two centuries before fascism - a pure Bourbon". {30}

Describing the government's anti-guerrilla campaign in 1948, pro-Western political scientist John Kie-Chiang Oh of Marquette University has written: "In these campaigns, the civil liberties of countless persons were often ignored. Frequently, hapless villagers, suspected of aiding the guerrillas, were summarily executed." {31} A year later, when a committee of the National Assembly launched an investigation of collaborators, Rhee had his police raid the Assembly: 22 people were arrested, of whom sixteen were later found to have suffered either broken ribs, skull injuries or broken eardrums. {32}

At the time of the outbreak of war in June 1950, there were an estimated 14,000 political prisoners in South Korean jails. {33}

Even during the height of the war, in February 1951, reported Professor Oh, there was the "Koch'ang Incident", again involving suspicion of aiding guerrillas, "in which about six hundred men and women, young and old, were herded into a narrow valley and mowed down with machine guns by a South Korean army unit". {34}

Throughout the war, a continuous barrage of accusations was leveled by each side at the other, charging the enemy with engaging in all manner of barbarity and atrocity, against troops, prisoners of war, and civilians alike, in every part of the country (each side occupied the other's territory at times), trying to outdo each other in a verbal war of superlatives almost as heated as the combat. In the United States this produced a body of popular myths, not unlike those emerging from other wars which are widely supported at home. (By contrast, during the Vietnam War the inclination of myths to flourish was regularly countered by numerous educated protestors who carefully researched the origins of the war, monitored its conduct, and publicized studies sharply at variance with the official version(s), eventually influencing the mass media to do the same.)

There was, for example, the consensus that the brutality of the war in Korea must be laid overwhelmingly on the doorstep of the North Koreans. The Koch'ang Incident mentioned above may be relevant to providing some counterbalance to this belief. Referring to theincident, the British Korea scholar Jon Halliday observed:

"This account not only serves to indicate the level of political violence employed by the UN side, but also confers inherent plausibility on DPRK [North Korea] and Southern opposition accusations of atrocities and mass executions by the UN forces and Rhee officials during the occupation of the DPRK in late 1950. After all, if civilians could be mowed down in the South on suspicion of aiding (not even being) guerrillas - what about the North, where millions could reasonably be assumed to be Communists, or political militants? {35} (Emphasis in original.)

Oh's account is but one of a number of reports of slaughter carried out by the South Koreans against their own people during the war. The New York Times reported a "wave of [South Korean] Government executions in Seoul" in December 1950. {36} Rene Cut forth, a ncorrespondent for the BBC in Korea, later wrote of "the shooting without trial of civilians, designated by the police as 'communist'. These executions were done, usually at dawn, on any patch of waste ground where you could dig a trench and line up a row of prisoners in front of it". {37} And Gregory Henderson, a US diplomat who served seven years in Korea in the 1940s and 1950s, has stated that "probably over 100,000 were killed without any trial whatsoever" by Rhee's forces in the South during the war. {38} Following some of the massacres of civilians in the South, the Rhee government turned around and attributed them to Northern troops.

One way in which the United States contributed directly to the war's brutality was by introducing a weapon which, although used in the last stage of World War II, and in Greece, was new to almost all observers and participants in Korea. It was called napalm. Here is one description of its effect from the New York Times.

"A napalm raid hit the village three or four days ago when the Chinese were holding up the advance, and nowhere in the village have they buried the dead because there is nobody left to do so ... The inhabitants throughout the village and in the fields were caught and killed and kept the exact postures they had held when the napalm struck - a man about to get on his bicycle, fifty boys and girls playing in an orphanage, a housewife strangely unmarked, holding in her hand a page torn from a Sears-Roebuck catalogue crayoned at Mail Order No 3,811,294 for a $2.98 "bewitching bed jacket - coral". There must be almost two hundred dead in the tiny hamlet." {39}

The United States may also have waged germ warfare against North Korea and China, as was discussed earlier in the chapter on China.

At the same time, the CIA reportedly was targeting a single individual for termination - North Korean leader Kim II Sung. Washington sent a Cherokee Indian, code-named Buffalo, to Hans V Tofte, a CIA officer stationed in Japan, after Buffalo had agreed to serve as Kim II Sung's assassin. Buffalo was to receive a considerable amount of money if his mission succeeded. It obviously did not, and nothing further has been revealed about the incident. {40}

Another widely-held belief in the United States during the war was that American prisoners in North Korean camps were dying off like flies because of Communist neglect and cruelty. The flames of this very emotional issue were fanned by the tendency of US officials to exaggerate the numbers involved. During November 1951, for example - long before the end of the war - American military announcements put the count of POW deaths at between 5,000 and 8,000. {41} However, an extensive study completed by the US Army two years after the war revealed that the POW death toll for the entire war was 2,730 (out of 7,190 held in camps; an unknown number of other prisoners never made it to the camps, being shot in the field because of the inconvenience of dealing with them in the midst of combat, a practice engaged in by both sides).

The study concluded that "there was evidence that the high death rate was not due primarily to Communist maltreatment ... it could be accounted for largely by the ignorance or the callousness of the prisoners themselves". {42} "Callousness" refers here to the soldiers' lack of morale and collective spirit. Although not mentioned in the study, the North Koreans, on several occasions, claimed that many American POWs also died in the camps as a result of the heavy US bombing.

The study of course could never begin to catch up with all the scare headlines to which the Western world had been treated for three years. Obscured as well was the fact that several times as many Communist prisoners had died in US / South Korean camps - halfway through the war the official figure stood at 6,600 {43} - though these camps did hold many more prisoners than those in the North.

The American public was also convinced, and probably still is, that the North Koreans and Chinese had "brainwashed" US soldiers. This story arose to explain the fact that as many as thirty percent of American POWs had collaborated with the enemy in one way or another, and "one man in every seven, or more than thirteen per cent, was guilty of serious collaboration - writing disloyal tracts ... or agreeing to spy or organize for the Communists after the war". {44} Another reason the brainwashing theme was promoted by Washington was to increase the likelihood that statements made by returning prisoners which questioned the official version of the war would be discounted.

In the words of Yale psychiatrist Robert J Lifton, brainwashing was popularly held to be an "all-powerful, irresistible, unfathomable, and magical method of achieving total control over the human mind". {45} Although the CIA experimented, beginning in the 1950s, to develop just such a magic, neither they nor the North Koreans or Chinese ever possessed it. The Agency began its "behavior-control" or "mind-control" experiments on human subjects (probably suspected double agents), using drugs and hypnosis, in Japan in July 1950, shortly after the beginning of the Korean War. In October, they apparently used North Korean prisoners of war as subjects. {46} In 1975, a US Navy psychologist, Lieutenant Commander Thomas Narut, revealed that his naval work included establishing how to induce servicemen who may not be naturally inclined to kill, to do so under certain conditions. He referred to these men using the words "hitmen" and "assassin". Narut added that convicted murderers as well had been released from military prisons to become assassins. {47}

Brainwashing, said the Army study, "has become a catch phrase, used for so many things that it no longer has any precise meaning" and "a precise meaning is necessary in this case". {48}

"The prisoners, as far as Army psychiatrists have been able to discover, were not subjected to any thing that could properly be called brainwashing. Indeed, the Communist treatment of prisoners, while it came nowhere near fulfilling the requirements of the Geneva Convention, rarely involved outright cruelty, being instead a highly novel blend of leniency and pressure ... The Communists rarely used physical torture ... and the Army has not found a single verifiable case in which they used it for the specific purpose of forcing a man to collaborate or to accept their convictions." {49}

According to the study, however, some American airmen, of the ninety or so who were captured, were subjected to physical abuse in an attempt to extract confessions about germ warfare. This could reflect either a greater Communist resentment about the use of such a weapon, or a need to produce some kind of corroboration of a false or questionable claim.

American soldiers were instead subjected to political indoctrination by their jailers. Here is how the US Army saw it:

"In the indoctrination lectures, the Communists frequently displayed global charts dotted with our military bases, the names of which were of course known to many of the captives. "See those bases?" the instructor would say, tapping them on the chart with his pointer. 'They are American - full of war materiel. You know they are American. And you can see they are ringing Russia and China. Russia and China do not have one base outside their own territory. From this it's clear which side is the warmonger. Would America have these bases and spend millions to maintain them were it not preparing to war on Russia and China?' This argument seemed plausible to many of the prisoners. In general they had no idea that these bases showed not the United States' wish for war, but its wish for peace, that they had been established as part of a series of treaties aimed not at conquest, but at curbing Red aggression." {50}

The Chinese Communists, of course, did not invent this practice. During the American Civil War, prisoners of both the South and the North received indoctrination about the respective merits of the two sides. And in the Second World War, "democratization courses" were held in US and British POW camps for Germans, and reformed Germans were granted privileges. Moreover, the US Army was proud to state that Communist prisoners in American camps during the Korean War were taught "what democracy stands for". {51}

The predicted Chinese aggression manifested itself about four months after the war in Korea began. The Chinese entered the war after American planes had violated their air space on a number of occasions, had bombed and strafed Chinese territory several times (always "in error"), when hydro-electric plants on the Korean side of the border, vital to Chinese industry, stood in great danger, and US or South Korean forces had reached the Chinese border, the Yalu River, or come within a few miles of it in several places.

The question must be asked: How long would the United States refrain from entering a war being waged in Mexico by a Communist power from across the sea, which strafed and bombed Texas border towns, was mobilized along the Rio Grande, and was led by a general who threatened war against the United States itself?

American airpower in Korea was fearsome to behold. As would be the case in Vietnam, its use was celebrated in the wholesale dropping of napalm, the destruction of villages "suspected of aiding the enemy", bombing cities so as to leave no useful facilities standing, demolishing dams and dikes to cripple the irrigation system, wiping out rice crops ... and in those moving expressions like "scorched-earth policy", "saturation bombing", and "operation killer". {52}

"You can kiss that group of villages good-bye", exclaimed Captain Everett L Hundley of Kansas City, Kansas after a bombing raid. {53}

"I would say that the entire, almost the entire Korean Peninsula is just a terrible mess", testified Major General Emmett O'Donnell before the Senate when the war was one year old. "Everything is destroyed. There is nothing standing worthy of the name." {54}

And here, the words of the venerable British military guide, Brassey's Annual, in its 1951 yearbook:

"If is no exaggeration to state that South Korea no longer exists as a country. Its towns have been destroyed, much of its means of livelihood eradicated, and its people reduced to a sullen mass dependent upon charity and exposed to subversive influences. When the war ends no gratitude can be expected from the South Koreans, but it is to be hoped that the lesson will have been learned that it is worse than useless to destroy to liberate. Certainly, western Europe would never accept such a 'liberation'." {55}

The worst of the bombing was yet to come. That began in the summer of 1952 and was Washington's way of putting itself in a better bargaining position in the truce discussions with the Communists, which had been going on for a full year while the battles raged. The extended and bitter negotiations gave rise to another pervasive Western belief - that it was predominantly Communist intransigence, duplicity, and lack of peaceful intentions which frustrated the talks and prolonged the war.

This is a lengthy and entangled chapter of the Korean War story, but one does not have to probe too deeply to discover the unremarkable fact that the barriers were erected by the anti-Communist side as well. Syngman Rhee, for example, was so opposed to any outcome short of total victory that both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations drew up plans for overthrowing him; {56} which is not to suggest that the American negotiators were negotiating in the best of faith. The last thing they wanted to be accused of was having allowed the commies to make suckers of them. Thus it was that in November of 1951 we could read in the New York Times:

"The unadorned way that an apparently increasing number of them [American soldiers in Korea] see the situation right now is that the Communists have made important concessions, while the United Nations Command, as they view it, continues to make more and more demands ... The United Nations truce team has created the impression that it switches its stand whenever the Communists indicate that they might go along with it." {57}

At one point during this same period, when the Communists proposed chat a cease fire and a withdrawal of troops from the combat line should take place while negotiations were going on, the United Nations Command reacted almost as if this were a belligerent and devious act. "Today's stand by the Communists", said the UNC announcement, "was virtually a renunciation of their previously stated position that hostilities should continue during armistice talks". {58}

Once upon a time, the United States fought a great civil war in which the North attempted to reunite the divided country through military force. Did Korea or China or any other foreign power send in an army to slaughter Americans, charging Lincoln with aggression?

Why did the United States choose to wage full-scale war in Korea? Only a year earlier, in 1949, in the Arab-Israeli fighting in Palestine and in the India-Pakistani war over Kashmir, the United Nations, with American support, had intervened to mediate an armistice, not to send in an army to take sides and expand the fighting. And both these conflicts were less in the nature of a civil war than was the case in Korea. If the US/UN response had been the same in these earlier cases, Palestine and Kashmir might have wound up as the scorched-earth desert that was Korea's fate. What saved them, what kept the US armed forces out, was no more than the absence of a communist side to the conflict.


1. New York Times, 1 October 1950, page 3.
2. The US Imperialists Started the Korean War is the subtle title of the book published in Pyongyang North Korea, 1977, pages 109-10.
3. Radio address of 13 April 1950, reprinted in The Department of State Bulletin, 24 April 1950, page 627.
4. For a discussion of the war's immediate origin, see:
a) Karunakar Gupta, "How Did the Korean War Begin?", The China Quarterly (London) October/ December 1972 No 52, pages 699-716.
b) "Comment; The Korean War", The China Quarterly, April/June 1973, No 54, pages 354-68. This consists of responses to Gupta's article in issue No, 52 and Gupta's counter-response.
c) New York Times, 26 June 1950. Page 1 - South Korea's announcement about Haeju. Page 3 - North Korea's announcement about Haeju.
d) Glenn D Paige, The Korean Decision (June 24-30, 1950) (New York, 1968) passim, particularly page 130.
e) I F Stone, The Hidden History of the Korean War (New York, 1952) chapter 7 and elsewhere.
5. John Gunther, The Riddle of MacArthur (London, 1951), pages 151-2.
6. New York Times, 25 July 1950, page 4; 30 July, page 2.
7. Khrushchev Remembers (London, 1971) chapter 11. Study of transcription vs book: John Merrill, Book Reviews, Journal of Korean Studies (University of Washington, Seattle) Vol 3, 1981, pages 181-91.
8. Joseph C Goulden, Korea: The Untold Story of the War (New York, 1982) page 64
9. New York Times, 26 June 1950.
10. Ibid, 1 October 1950, page 4.
11. Goulden, pages 87-8; Stone, pages 75, 77.
12. For further discussion of the UN's bias at this time see Jon Halliday, "The United Nations and Korea", in Frank Baldwin, editor , Without Parallel: The American-Korean Relationship Since 1945 (New York, 1974), pages 109-42.
13. Trygve Lie, In the Cause of Peace (New York, 1954) chapters 18 and 19.
14. Shirley Hazzard, Countenance of Truth: The United Nations and the Waldheim Case (New York, 1990), pages 13-22. In his book, page 389, He states that it was he who initiated this practice.
15. CIA memorandum, 28 June 1950, Declassified Documents Reference System (Arlington, Virginia) Retrospective Volume, Document 33C.
16. Stone, pages 77-8.
17. The full text of the Security Council Resolution of 7 July 1950 can be found in the New York Times, 8 July 1950, P. 4.
18. Dwight Eisenhower, The White House Years: Mandate for Change, 1953-1956 (New York, 1963) page 340.
19. For a discussion of post-war politics in South Korea see:
a) Bruce Cumings, The Origins of the Korean War: Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes, 1945-1947 (Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1981) passim.
b) E. Grant Mcade, American Military Government in Korea (King's Crown Press, Columbia University, New York, 1951) chapters 3-5.
c) George M McCune, Korea Today (Institute of Pacific Relations, New York, 1950) passim, pages 46-50 (KPR). Professor McCune worked with the US Government on Korean problems during World War II.
d) D F Fleming, The Cold War and its Origins, 1917-1960 (Doubleday & Co, New York, 1961) pages 589-97.
e) Alfred Crofts, "The Case of Korea: Our Falling Ramparts", The Nation (New York) 25 June 1960, pages 544-8. Crofts was a member of the US Military Government in Korea beginning in 1945.
20. Crofts, page 545.
21. Gunther, page 165.
22. Crofts, page 545.
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid, page 546.
25. Collaborators: Cumings, pages 152-6; Mcade, page 61; McCune, page 51; plus elsewhere in these
sources, as well asin Fleming and Crofts. Japanese and collaborators retaining positions to thwart the KPR: Cumings, pages 138-9.
26. McCune, pages 83-4, 129-39, 201-9.
27. 1946 election: Mark Gayn, Japan Diary (New York 1948) page 398; 1948 election: Crofts, page 546; Halliday, pages 117-22; 1950 election and US warning; Fleming, page 594. For a discussion of Rhee's thwarting of honest elections in 1952 and later, and his consistently tyrannical rule, see William J. Lederer, A Nation of Sheep (W W Norton & Co, New York, 1961), chapter 4.
28. Gunther, pages 166-7.
29. Gayn, page 388.
30. Ibid, page 352.
31. John Kie-Chiang Oh, Korea: Democracy on Trial (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 1968) page 35.
32. The Nation (New York), 13 August 1949, page 152.
33. Gunther, page 171.
34. Oh, page 206; see also New York Times, 11 April 1951, page 4 for an account of a massacre of some 500 to 1000 people in March in the same place, which appears to refer to the same incident.
35. Jon Halliday, "The Political Background", in Gavan McCormack and Mark Selden, editors, Korea, North and South: The Deepening Crisis (New York, 1978) page 56.
36. New York Times, 11 April 1951, page 4.
37. Rene Cutforth, "On the Korean War", The Listener (BBC publication, London) 11 September 1969, page 343.
38. Gregory Henderson, Korea: The Politics of the Vortex (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass, 1968 page 167.
39. New York Times, 9 February 1951, George Barrett.
40. Goulden, pages 471-2. This information derives from Goulden's interview of Tofte.
41. New York Times, 27 November 1951, page 4.
42. Eugene Kinkead, Why They Collaborated (London, 1960) page 17; published in the US in 1959 in slightly different form as In Every War But One, The Army study was not contained in any one volume, but was spread out over a number of separate reports. Kinkead's book, written with the full co-operation of the Army, is composed of a summary of some of these reports, and interviews with many government and military officials who were directly involved in or knowledgeable about the study or the subject. For the sake of simplicity, I have referred to the book as if it were the actual study. It is to the Army's credit that much of the results of the study were not kept secret; the study, nonetheles contains some anti-communist statements of the most bizarre sort: lying is often punished in China by death ... communists live like animals all their lives ... [pages 1903 193)
43. Keesings Contemporary Archives, 5-12 January 1952, page 11931, an announcement on 31 December 1951 from General Ridgeway's headquarters.
44. Kinkead, page 34.
45. Robert J Lifton, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism; A Study of brainwashing in China (London, 1961) page 4.
46. John Marks, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control (New York, paperback edition, 1988), page 25, based on CIA documents.
47. Sunday Times (London), 6 July 1975, page 1. Narut at the time was working at a US naval hospital in Naples, Italy, and made his remarks at a NATO-sponsored conference held in Oslo, Norway the week before.
48. Kinkead, page 31.
49. Ibid, pages 17, 34.
50. Ibid, pages 105-6.
51. Ibid, page 197.
52. For a concise description of the "terror bombing" of 1952-53, see John Gittings, "Talks, Bombs and Germs: Another Look at the Korean War", Journal of Contemporary Asia (London) Vol 5, No 2, 1975, pages 212-6.
53. Air Force Communique, 2 February 1951, cited by Stone, page 259
54. Military Situation in the Far East, Hearings Before the Senate Committees on Armed Services end Foreign Relations, 25 June 1951, page 3075.
55. Louis Heren, "The Korean Scene", in Rear-Admiral H G Thursfield, editor, Brassey's Annual: The Armed Forces Year-Book 1951 (London, 1951) page 110.
56. San Francisco Chronicle, 15 December 1977, page 11, based on documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.
57. New York Times, 12 November 1951, page 3.
58. Ibid, 14 November 1951, page 1.

Bill Totten


  • This chapter is an important contribution to correcting the historical record.

    It is absurd to say that the Korean war was the result of an "aggression" by one part of Korea against another. How could the Korean people possibly commit "aggression" against themseves?

    The US always uses dubious pretexts to justify its interventions. During the Vietnam war it claimed that the north had somehow committed "aggression" against the south, just as American conservatives pretended, absurdly, that the civil-rights struggle in the south of the USA was caused by "outside agitators" from the north.

    The people, whose sons and loved ones have to fight the US and British rulers' dirty wars, such as the present bloody conflict in Iraq, are treated as idiots by those who control the propaganda. Let's hope that in future it will be more difficult to deceive us, and that the lies of our misrulers will be exposed, refuted and laughed out of court.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:18 PM, November 11, 2006  

  • Bill, thank you so much for posting this entire chapter of Killin Hope, very generous of you.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:56 AM, November 16, 2006  

  • Wow. Are you serious? Do you know anything about North Korea, you braindead, ignorant degenerate? Look at the hell hole that North Korea is and the success that South Korea is today, you mindless imbecile. Do you support North Korea? William Blum is a retard. He and you should be deported to North Korea.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 10:45 AM, September 15, 2015  

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