Two overlapping articles in the China Daily outline clearly the main Chinese position in relation to the Korean Peninsula (here and here). Apart from pointing out the uselessness of U.S. threats and sanctions, as well as the reasonableness of the freeze-freeze proposal (freezing US provocations and DPRK nuclear development), the articles also understand the perspective of the DPRK. Further, a simple point is made: the United States is not interested in a settlement. Thus, it is not interested in dialogue, adopting the Chinese-Russian proposal (freeze-freeze), or even the DPRK’s long-standing position concerning reunification: a bilateral system that recognises a communist north and a capitalist south, without international interference. Why? If a solution was found, people would ask: why is the United States is this part of the world, occupying another country?

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With the Korean peninsula in the daily news, it is worth recalling a few facts behind the situation today.

Let us begin with the Korean War, with none other than an observation from the U.S. air force. General Curtis LeMay, head of the U.S. Strategic Air Force Command, openly admitted in an interview in 1984:

So we went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea anyway, some way or another, and some in South Korea, too …. Over a period of three years or so, we killed off – what – twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure.

Or as Dean Rusk, later U.S. secretary of state, put it: we bombed “everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.” After running low on urban targets, U.S. bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams in the later stages of the war, flooding farmland and destroying crops. To do so, the U.S. dropped 650,000 tons of bombs, including 43,000 tons of napalm bombs (more napalm than they subsequently dropped on Vietnam).

But did the Korean War actually begin in 1950, with an “invasion” from the north? To begin an answer, on my visit to the DPRK, they maintained strongly that it was in fact the U.S. forces in the south that attacked first.

So who is correct? The situation is complex, of course, but as this article points out:

The attack by North Korea came during a time of many border incursions by both sides. South Korea initiated most of the border clashes with North Korea beginning in 1948. The North Korea government claimed that by 1949 the South Korean army committed 2,617 armed incursions. It was a myth that the Soviet Union ordered North Korea to attack South Korea.

But a fuller answer would point out that the Korean War actually ran from 1945 to 1953, coming to a crescendo in 1950. And that means war crimes extend throughout this period.

At this point, two useful accounts may be read. I copy here from one of them:

On August 15,1945, the Korean people, devastated and impoverished by years of brutality from Japanese occupation forces, openly celebrated their liberation and immediately formed the Committee for the Preparation of Korean Independence (CKPI). By August 28, 1945, all Korean provinces on the entire Peninsula had established local people’s democratic committees, and on September 6, delegates from throughout Korea, north and south, created the Korean People’s Republic (KPR). On September 7, the day after the creation of the KPR, General Douglas MacArthur formally issued a proclamation addressed “To the People of Korea.” The proclamation announced that forces under his command “will today occupy the Territory of Korea south of 38 degrees north latitude.”

The first advance party of U.S. units, the 17th Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division, actually began arriving at Inchon on September 5th, two days before MacArthur’s occupation declaration. The bulk of the US occupation forces began unloading from twenty-one Navy ships (including five destroyers) on September 8 through the port at Inchon under the command of Lieutenant General John Reed Hodge. Hundreds of black-coated armed Japanese police on horseback, still under the direction of Japanese Governor-General Abe Noabuyki, kept angry Korean crowds away from the disembarking US soldiers.

On the morning of September 9, General Hodge announced that Governor-General Abe would continue to function with all his Japanese and Korean personnel. Within a few weeks there were 25,000 American troops and members of “civil service teams” in the country. Ultimately the number of US troops in southern Korea reached 72,000. Though the Koreans were officially characterized as a “semi-friendly, liberated” people, General Hodge regrettably instructed his own officers that Korea “was an enemy of the United States … subject to the provisions and the terms of the surrender.”

Tragically and ironically, the Korean people, citizens of the victim-nation, had become enemies, while the defeated Japanese, who had been the illegal aggressors, served as occupiers in alliance with the United States. Indeed, Korea was burdened with the very occupation originally intended for Japan, which became the recipient of massive U.S. aid and reconstruction in the post-war period. Japan remains, to this day, America’s forward military base affording protection and intelligence for its “interests” in the Asia-Pacific region.

Seventy-three-year-old Syngman Rhee was elected President of “South Korea” on May 10, 1948 in an election boycotted by virtually all Koreans except the elite KDP and Rhee’s own right-wing political groups. This event, historically sealing a politically divided Korea, provoked what became known at the Cheju massacre, in which as many as 70,000 residents of the southern island of Cheju were ruthlessly murdered during a single year by Rhee’s paramilitary forces under the oversight of U.S. officers. Rhee took office as President on August 15 and the Republic of Korea (ROK) was formally declared. In response, three-and-a-half weeks later (on September 9, 1948), the people of northern Korea grudgingly created their own separate government, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), with Kim II Sung as its premier.

Korea was now clearly and tragically split in two. Kim Il-Sung had survived as a guerrilla fighter against the Japanese occupation in both China and Korea since 1932 when he was twenty years old. He was thirty-three when he returned to Pyongyang in October 1945 to begin the hoped-for era of rebuilding a united Korea free of foreign domination, and three years later, on September 9, 1948, he became North Korea’s first premier. The Rhee/U.S. forces escalated their ruthless campaign of cleansing the south of dissidents, identifying as a suspected “communist” anyone who opposed the Rhee regime, publicly or privately. In reality, most participants or believers in the popular movement in the south were socialists unaffiliated with outside “communist” organizations.

As the repression intensified, however, alliances with popular movements in the north, including communist organizations, increased. The Cheju insurgency was crushed by August 1949, but on the mainland, guerrilla warfare continued in most provinces until 1959-51. In the eyes of the commander of US military forces in Korea, General Hodge, and new “President” Syngman Rhee, virtually any Korean who had not publicly professed his allegiance to Rhee was considered a “communist” traitor. As a result, massive numbers of farmers, villagers and urban residents were systematically rounded up in rural areas, villages and cities throughout South Korea. Captives were regularly tortured to extract names of others.

Thousands were imprisoned and even more thousands forced to dig mass graves before being ordered into them and shot by fellow Koreans, often under the watch of U.S. troops.

The introduction of U.S./UN military forces on June 26,1950 occurred with no American understanding (except by a few astute observers such as journalist I.F Stone) that in fact they were entering an ongoing revolutionary civil war waged by indigenous Koreans seeking genuine independence after five years of U.S. interference. The American occupation simply fueled Korean passions even more while creating further divisions among them.

In the Autumn of 1950, when U.S. forces were in retreat in North Korea, General Douglas MacArthur offered all air forces under his command to destroy “every means of communication, every installation, factory, city and village” from the Yalu River, forming the border between North Korea and China, south to the battle line. The massive saturation bombing conducted throughout the war, including napalm, incendiary, and fragmentation bombs, left scorched cities and villages in total ruins. As in World War II, the U.S. strategic bombing campaign brought mass destruction and shockingly heavy civilian casualties. Such tactics were in clear violation of the Nuremburg Charter, which had, ironically, been created after World War II, largely due to pressure from the U.S. The Nuremburg Tribunal defined “the wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages” to be a war crime and declared that “inhumane acts against any civilian population” were a crime against humanity.

From that fateful day on September 8, 1945 to the present, a period of 72 years, U.S. military forces (currently numbering 37,000 positioned at 100 installations) have maintained a continuous occupation in the south supporting de facto U.S. rule over the political, economic and military life of a needlessly divided Korea. This often brutal occupation and the persistent U.S. support for the repressive policies of dictatorial puppets continues to be the single greatest obstacle to peace in Korea, preventing the inevitable reunification of the Korean Peninsula.

Until 1994, all of the hundreds of thousands of South Korean defense forces operated under direct U.S. command. Even today, although integrated into the Combined Forces Command (CFC), these forces automatically revert to direct US control when the US military commander in Korea determines that there is a state of war.

This account is really the short version. For the most insightful analysis, it is worth reading carefully Steven Gowans’s detailed account (I was drawn to this piece by Prole Center).

All of this makes sense of one of my initial impressions when I visited the DPRK. Time and again, they referred to the “brazen American imperial aggressors.” While this initially may have seemed like hyperbolic propaganda, our visit to the DMZ was revealing. We were free to walk about, joke and take photographs from the northern side. By contrast, on the southern side were but two forlorn South Korean soldiers. They were surrounded by numerous U.S. soldiers.

I am completely out of things for a while, cycling more than 1,000 km across Germany on the Mittelland Route (d4). But I did notice this intriguing Chinese take on what is happening in the United States, with statues being torn down, violent skirmishes, etc. The People’s Daily notes that more and more people in China are seeing what is evolving as a ‘Cultural Revolution‘, understanding the term as a wave of anger, violence and chaos.

Yesterday, the first of my articles was published in the People’s Daily, the CPC’s main newspaper in China. It is called ‘The Fundamental Limitations of US Democracy’, and may be found here and here (among a number of sites). However, since the article is in Chinese, below is the original text before it was translated.

The Fundamental Limitations of US Democracy

Roland Boer

Always be suspicious of anyone who claims to embody “democracy” without any qualifiers. Why? If they do make such a claim, they are trying to universalise their own particular form of democracy. The United States has been especially guilty of this claim, as we will see. But before I deal with the United States, let me analyse the types of democracy that are possible.

Types of Democracy

It has become clear that “democracy” does not exist as an absolute and universal term. Instead, we have particular types of democracy.

The ancient Greeks, especially in Athens, practised what may be called “Greek democracy.” It was exercised by the adult males in the small population of the polis. The term polis should not be translated as city, for it was really a town surrounded by fields used for agriculture. The populations of even the largest towns were no more than 30,000.

Another type of democracy is liberal or bourgeois democracy, which spread from Europe to some other parts of the world after the French Revolution of 1789. This form of democracy is restricted to adults over the age of 18 and follows a pattern of representation to a parliament, which does the real work. Notably, bourgeois democracy is, as the name suggests, the form preferred by the new ruling class, the bourgeoisie or middle class. It is also a mechanism developed to prevent the inroads of socialism.

A third form of democracy has arisen more recently in Eastern Europe and may be called “illiberal democracy.” We find it in Russia and Hungary today, where the ruling party in the parliament ensures its continued rule by hindering any serious opposition party.

The final type of democracy is socialist democracy, which is very different from the preceding types. Socialist democracy is found in varying shapes in socialist states where the communist party also forms the government.

Limits of Liberal Democracy

Much more may be said concerning the way these forms of democracy function. But in this article I focus on liberal (also called parliamentary or bourgeois) democracy, with the Unites States specifically in mind. The central point is that liberal democracy is not merely limited in extent (which would then simply entail an extension of that democracy) but that it is structurally geared to exclude significant groups from that liberal “democracy.” In fact, it requires such exclusions in order to constitute itself as “democracy.”

This pattern of exclusion already appears in the earliest theorists of liberalism. For example, John Stuart Mill writes in On Liberty that “despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians,” for liberty is only for “human beings in the maturity of their faculties” (Collected Works, vol. 18, p. 224). As for the rest of the world, they are little superior to the animals. Similar sentiments are found in the work of John Locke, who observed that slavery in the colonies was self-evident and indisputable (Political Essays, p. 180). In other words, liberalism and repression are two sides of the same coin.

Let us focus on today’s beacon of “democracy” and “liberty”: liberal democracy developed in the white community of the United States in direct relation to the enslaving of blacks and deportation of indigenous peoples (see Domenico Losurdo, Liberalism: A Counter-History). When Thomas Jefferson wrote in The Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” he did so as a slave owner. So also was George Washington, as were the other members of the team given responsibility for the declaration, as was John Madison who wrote the constitution, as were the presidents of the United States for 32 of its first 36 years. Indeed, for them a liberal and tolerant society was one that excluded the fanaticism of the slavery abolitionists.

How could these founders of the United States make such bold claims while being apparent hypocrites? “All men are created equal” relied on a crucial restriction to the sense of “all,” which certainly did not include slaves, women and “inferior” folk. One cannot understand “American liberty” without slavery and dispossession, for they grew together, one sustaining the other.

However, the way they understood of liberal democracy over time was subtle. The line between who should be included and who excluded always shifts; as some groups are included (slaves, workers, women), others are excluded. For instance, during the so-called Progressive Era, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, numerous “democratic” reforms took place: direct election to the Senate, secret ballot, primaries, referenda, and so on. Yet they all took place during a rise in ferocity of the Ku Klux Klan terrorist squads and a push to assimilate Indigenous people and deprive them of their residual lands.

So also with the treatment of “rogue” or “pariah” states outside the United States. “Rogue” was originally a term used for slaves, and when one had white semi-slaves, they were branded with an “R” to signify their status. Now the term is used for states: once declared a “rogue” or “pariah” state, the “world’s oldest democracy” (Clinton) and “model for the world” (Bush) tries to crush these “barbarians” (Mill) in the name of the war cry, “freedom and democracy.”

As a further example from our own time: the continued construction of a prohibitively expensive wall between the United States and Mexico serves as a physical reminder of the built-in limits of liberal democracy in the United States. Those who still manage to enter the southern United States are denied basic rights, with one exception: they may join the armed forces. Indeed, recruitment targets non-citizens, offering them the hope of fast track to citizenship. Indeed, if a non-citizen is killed in combat, he or she will be granted citizenship posthumously.

Outside the United States, the examples multiply. We may include the necessary role of beggars, vagrants, workhouses, white servants, kidnapping of poor children for the army and for colonial labour, and even the tendency towards eugenics in the development of liberalism and liberal democracy in England. Oppression is inherent in liberalism’s focus on the individual and the growth of master-race democracy in Europe as it engaged in colonial expansion. Further, to what do the oft-repeated and much-vaunted claims for “human rights,” “liberty,” and “freedom” amount? We may deploy Cecil Rhodes’s formula for the British Empire, which is still perfectly valid today: “philanthropy + 5 per cent,” where “philanthropy” is synonymous with “human rights” and 5 per cent the profits to be made by waving the flag of “human rights.”

Many of these details are reasonably well known, but the argument is usually one of hypocrisy: they do not live up to their ideals. Instead, I suggest that the very possibility of bourgeois “democracy” and “freedom” is directly dependent upon, and thereby unthinkable and unworkable without, systemic dispossession of the majority.

The United States Today

What about the situation in the United States today? A few facts will enable us to make a conclusion. To begin with, liberal or parliamentary democracy fosters systemic corruption. For example, a common practice in the American houses of parliament is “tagging” or “Christmas-treeing” a bill. The term designates a whole series of amendments that have little if any relation to the original bill – so that it looks like a Christmas tree covered in decorations. The purpose is to buy votes for the bill by including special requests from individual members of parliament. They are in fact legalised bribes in order to win enough votes for the legislation to pass. It may be a bill concerning the defence budget, but one person demands a special “tag” for his friends on Wall Street, another for sugar farmers, or another for a new freeway in his electorate. Such “tags” may run into the thousands, blowing out the budget for the initial bill out of all proportion.

The examples could go on, such as the legalisation of unlimited bribery – “secret money” – from the rich for political campaigns through the Political Actions Committees (PACs), the constant flow of undeclared money to influence political decisions by special interest groups such as the National Rifle Federation, and the fact that only the very rich can launch election campaigns. The most recent example is the campaign by Donald Trump in the Republican primaries. This outspoken racist now leads the Republican nomination list.

Second, voter participation appears to be at historic lows. By the 2014 mid-term elections, more than 60 percent of people did not bother to vote. When we consider low income earners and the young, the figure jumps to 80 percent. Many people cannot name the political parties and they do not know the name of their local member. When asked, people simply say that voting makes no difference. The extremely wealthy always get their way and it is in the interest of the ruling parties not to have a high turnout. Why? There is no political party in the United States that represents workers, so the Republican and Democratic parties have little interest in encouraging them to vote.

Some would regard this as evidence of a decline in interest in liberal democracy. If we take this view, then we could argue that the people of the United States have begun to realise that the system does not work. However, figures show that most presidential elections since 1920 have hovered around 50 percent of voter turnout. We may interpret this fact in two ways. First, for almost a century, the common people in the United States have largely been uninterested in its liberal democracy. Second, and picking up my earlier point, liberal democracy functions to exclude real participation by those who wish to change the system. Both points are true.