Editor’s note: for those of you urgently expecting another installment in our ongoing examination of the rise of American fascism, please let me assure you that I am even as we speak working on another Amerikan Musik essay about “the week of long knives” we’ve just experienced. Unfortunately the amount of work that goes into these types of long-form essays makes it somewhat difficult to publish them as fast as the American news cycle revolves and as a result of a recent illness, I have been shamefully neglecting an issue of extreme importance to pretty much the entire planet – the escalating nuclear tensions between North Korea and the United States.
If you’ve turned on a television or opened a newspaper in the past three days, you are undoubtedly aware that North Korea has reportedly tested a hydrogen bomb; an act which has sent much of the pro-war US establishment and many of its media lackeys into a suicidal battle frenzy that threatens to plunge half the planet into a nuclear conflict that would almost certainly result in millions of deaths. Despite disingenuous western propaganda about the “madness” of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un however, this horrifying situation is primarily the result of longstanding US foreign policy and nuclear war is hardly an unavoidable outcome if western nations are prepared to bargain in good faith with the DPRK.
In today’s edition of Recommended Reading we’ll take a look at twenty articles you need to read to avoid falling victim to paranoid scaremongering and imperialist bloodlust in this admittedly still terrifying situation. Afterwards, I’ll offer some brief thoughts on why I believe ending sanctions and normalizing relations with North Korea is the only reasonable option left if the United States wants to avoid a catastrophic nuclear exchange and why the DPRK’s “hostility” is in many ways a fairly rational (if unpleasant) response to Western imperial aggression towards North Korea.
Why North Korea still hates the United States: The legacy of the Korean War – this factually accurate, but still largely US-slanted piece by Joshua Berlinger at CNN offers a brief overview of the long term effects American atrocities in the Korean War continue to have on US-DPRK relations to this very day. While I feel the overall framing of some of Berlinger’s conclusions about modern DPRK propaganda contains at least a whiff of western bias, his review of the staggering destruction the United States wrought on both the North and South portions of Korea is surprisingly frank for mainstream corporate media. It’s hardly a complete history, but in light of the fact that many Americans have effectively forgotten the wanton destruction and indiscriminate slaughter the US military has already unleashed on the people of Korea, this article provides a necessary and sobering reminder of the consequences of US imperialism.
How History Explains the Korean Crisis – part one of a two part series, this lengthy but extremely rewarding piece by former Kennedy administration policy advisor and State Department official William R. Polk at Consortium News takes an expansive and refreshingly balanced look at the entire history of American relations with the DPRK as well as prior historical factors that are likely to influence modern negotiations between the two countries. In particular, Polk’s focus on Korea’s status as a pawn in the Cold War between the United States, the Soviet Union and eventually the People’s Republic of China is required reading for those looking to understand North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s seemingly hostile (but utterly justifiable in light of Korean history) stance towards the interference of imperialist powers on the Korean peninsula.
A Lot of What You Know About North Korea Is Racist Nonsense – although it was written back in April of this year (and at a time when it appeared far less likely that North Korea could hit US targets with a nuclear weapon) this straightforward essay by Andrew Dobbs at Defiant breaks down the falsehoods, slander and latent racism the American propaganda machine has exploited to sell the idea that North Korea is solely responsible for a possible military conflict between the US and the DPRK. Although Dobbs himself smacks a little bit of “cosplay revolutionary liberalism” his essential point that western propaganda actively seeks to dehumanize North Koreans and thereby “justify U.S. aggression against them” is fundamentally sound. Be sure to check out his follow up article “North Korea’s Government Is Terrible — And That’s Beside the Point” for a look at how this same US propaganda machine uses tropes about the DPRK’s repressive government to generate a conditioned response from media covering US-North Korean relations.
There Are Several Military Options to Attack North Korea — All of Them Bad – while it is undoubtedly very easy for any functionally sane person to think of literally millions of humanitarian reasons for the United States to avoid going to war with North Korea, this essay by Dave Majumdar at War is Boring presents a dispassionate but convincing argument that a preemptive military strike against the DPRK should be off the table because it would be a gross violation of international law, such an attack would immediately jeopardize the security of every nearby American ally and there’s simply no guarantee US forces could stop North Korea from launching a nuclear attack in retaliation. As this August 11th piece by Markus Gann points out, even a limited nuclear exchange “would be an ecological disaster felt throughout the world.” Indeed, these realities are so obvious to all but the most casual media observers that this Time article by Charlie Campbell bluntly questions if Defense Secretary James Mattis’s “open bluster” towards the DRPK is simply a “strategic bargaining” tactic.
We Can Stop North Korea From Attacking Us. All We Have to Do Is Not Attack Them – while this August 14th piece looking at the numerous structural and political reasons why nuclear war is extremely unlikely unless the United States attacks the DPRK is excellent, this is really more of a group listing for Jon Schwarz’s coverage of the “Korean Nuclear Crisis” over at the Intercept. From discussions about the very rational reason Kim Jong-un is unlikely to give up North Korea’s nuclear ambitions (remember Libya?) to exposing how pro-war elements in the media are selling the public a disastrous war by omission, Schwarz’s writing about the unfolding “crisis” is fair, thoughtful and most importantly accessible to readers who haven’t spent the past ten years closely tracking US foreign policy.
Diplomacy With North Korea Has Worked Before, and Can Work Again – this highly detailed piece by exceptional foreign policy and national security writer Tim Shorrock over at The Nation examines the largely successful history of actually negotiating with North Korea and why it is primarily the United States (specifically, Bush era Republicans) not the DPRK that is largely responsible for the collapse of Bill Clinton’s 1994 Agreed Framework to avoid a nuclear North Korea. Between failing to send agreed-upon heavy oil shipments in a timely manner, failing to normalize diplomatic relations as promised to a DPRK government then looking to end its isolationist stance and finally David Frum’s ill-timed “Axis of Evil” speech, the path that ultimately pushed Kim Jong-il and then his son towards developing a functional nuclear arsenal is laid out in heartbreaking detail. Readers are also advised to check out Shorrock’s August 23rd piece “The Only Sensible Way Out of the North Korea Crisis” that discusses a possible solution to end the nuclear standoff and remains one of the few quasi-mainstream western media articles to properly assess the devastating impact recent joint US-South Korean war games (including a simulated invasion of North Korea) have had on US-DPRK negotiations.
As those of you who’ve followed me on social media and read my previous articles about American saber rattling and the so-called “Hermit Kingdom” are no doubt already aware, I am neither supportive of American warmongering and brutal western imperialist sanctions against the people of the DPRK nor a dewy–eyed tankie convinced that Kim Jong-un is any less ruthless than our own military leaders and politicians (of which, he is essentially both for North Korea.) Despite my serious objections to shocking domestic abuses by the North Korean government however, I find it very difficult to describe Kim Jong-un’s foreign policy posture towards America as anything but completely rational; even if it is couched in language western media finds distasteful. Whether the young leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea looks towards his past, his present or his future, he will find few if any reasons to trust American promises and virtually no logical reasons to surrender his long-oppressed country’s nuclear capabilities.
To appreciate North Korea’s tenuous position, it is not enough to simply acknowledge US atrocities against the Korean people in a war that left every building in the DPRK in rubble and conservatively killed as many as one in five Koreans, both North and South. Although the horrors of our “Forgotten War” have indelibly altered the national character of a Korean people defined by their longstanding resistance against colonial oppression, the signing of the 1994 Agreed Framework and decision to stay in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty reveal a nation prepared to put aside arguably the most savage war in human history; under the condition that North Korea maintains the sovereignty its people have fought so bitterly for generations to obtain. More than perhaps any American, Kim Jong-un will understand the profound act of trust his father undertook to negotiate with a hated, genocidal enemy who essentially maintains an occupying military force in the southern portion of what the North believes should be a united Korea. He will also assuredly remember that his family’s hopes to secure a permanent voice in international diplomacy were thrown into ruin so that a murderous ghoul like John McCain could score Cold Warrior points and George Bush got to pretend his “War on Terror” wasn’t about punishing Muslim countries who opposed American corporate interests.
Even if North Korea were again prepared to put aside past atrocities and the shameful failure of American leadership to keep its negotiated promises however, Kim Jong-un would still find little reason to take western offers to negotiate a peaceful settlement seriously. How could he when the US and South Korean war machines continue to openly practice mock invasions of the DPRK? Would you trust a militant imperialist nation if they were publicly leaking hints that the very same Seal Team that assassinated Osama bin Laden was currently practicing to kill you personally? Setting aside swine emperor Trump’s belligerent threats and the continued demonization of North Korea in pro-western imperialist media, why the fuck would anyone on the American hit list give up nuclear weapons once they had them after what happened to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi when they largely complied with western demands to cease pursuing weapons of mass destruction?
The simple truth is that despite the terrifying rhetoric of the American national security establishment, the United States has no real options left except to negotiate in good faith with North Korea; a negotiation that cannot begin with and is indeed unlikely to end with the nuclear disarmament of the DPRK. It has taken numerous profound acts of cruelty, arrogance and treachery by the US and it’s Pacific allies (Japan and South Korea) to put America and the DPRK on the brink of nuclear war; now it may well take numerous acts of profound kindness, tolerance and trust by the west to walk us back from the edge of mutual destruction. At a very minimum, ending brutal UN sanctions that actively contribute to starving the people of North Korea has to be on the table here and US military war games practicing for an invasion of the DPRK from South Korea must almost certainly also hit the chopping block. In exchange for normalizing relations and accepting a nuclear North Korea, the US could seek to end atomic brinkmanship in Asia, obtain formal recognition of a sovereign South Korea from the DPRK and improve the region’s woeful human rights record.
Send heating oil, send food, send Dennis Rodman if you think it’ll help; whoever America sends however, to have any hope of success they must approach North Korean negotiations with an open hand and a trusting heart – just as the DPRK did once before, so many years ago. If the price of peace even after the disastrous US War on Terror is eating a little crow and treating Kim Jong-un with the same respect we offer King Salman or Paul Kagame then America should happily pay that price and call it a bargain.
Anything less would be to court disaster, devastation and ruin.
- Nina Illingwoth
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