South Korea: Legacy of the Cold War
North Korea: Endgame of the Cold War

excerpted from the book


The Costs and Consequences of American Empire

by Chalmers Johnson

Henry Holt, 2000


South Korea

... the South Korean armed forces-today, some 670,000 men, 461 combat aircraft, and a navy that includes 44 destroyers, frigates, and corvettes as well as 4 attack submarines, with a budget of around US $16 billion-is operationally part of a military command structure headed by an American general. No matter how hard the U.S. government tries to finesse the matter, the South Korean army, except for some elite paratroop and special forces units, is as much under American military control now as it was at the time of the Cheju massacre [1948].

When in 1961 and again in 1979 this South Korean army carried out military coups d'etat and in 1980 massacred civilians protesting military rule in the city of Kwangju, ordinary Koreans inevitably saw the Americans as co-conspirators.

[1980 in city of Kwangju - more than 3,000 students killed or injured by South Korean special forces under direction of military dictator Chun Doo-hwan and army commander Roh Tae-woo]

When asked about the 1996 convictions of Chun and Roh, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Nicholas Bums, replied, "This [the Kwangju massacre] is an obvious tragedy for the individuals involved and an internal matter for the people of the Republic of Korea." No one in the U.S. government seemed to remember that the events in Kwangju deeply implicated them and that Messrs. Gleysteen, Wickham, Holbrooke, Christopher, and others might well have belonged in the dock alongside their Korean colleagues.

... most Americans remain in the dark about what happened at Kwangju or the American role in it. They know much more about the Chinese government's violent clearing of protesters from Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989 than they do about their own govemment's cover-up of the costs of military rule in South Korea.




North Korea

Until the five Indian nuclear tests of May 1998, the United States had more or less refused to acknowledge that in addition to Britain, France, China, and the Soviet Union, proliferation had already occurred in Israel, India, Pakistan, and South Africa; that South Korea, Japan, Sweden, Brazil, Argentina, Algeria, and Taiwan had technologically proliferated without testing; and that Iraq-perhaps Iran, too-was almost surely pursuing a clandestine nuclear-weapons program. The U.S. doctrine of nonproliferation also ignores the fact that there is something odd about a principle that permits some nations to have nuclear weapons but not others and that the United States has been only minimally willing to reduce its own monstrously large nuclear strike forces.

Without any regard at all for Korean and East Asian realities, the American military leadership and its political backers seemed intent on having another "splendid little war" in Korea, a rerun of the 1991 Gulf War, with all of its medals, promotions, and new post Cold War assignments for the armed forces. Needless to say, the Pentagon strategists who abstractly think of [North] Korea as a potential East Asian Iraq give no heed at all to Korea as a real place in time and space-it is not, for example, an uninhabited desert, and any use of force there will produce catastrophic casualties on all sides.

Even though it remains a small, failed Communist regime whose people are starving and have no petroleum, North Korea is a useful whipping boy for any number of interests in Washington. If the military needs a . post-Cold War opponent to justify its existence, North Korea is less risky than China. Politicians seek partisan advantage by claiming that others are "soft" on defending the country from "rogue regimes." And the arms lobby had a direct interest in selling its products to each and every nation in East Asia, regardless of its political orientation.

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