Why Does North Korea Want War With The United States

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North Korean soldiers take part in a military parade. (Reuters)SEOUL — Any day of the week, the North Korean propaganda machine can be relied upon to spew out anti-American vitriol using some formulation of “imperialist” and “aggressor” and “hostile.” The Kim family has kept a tight grip on North Korea for some seven decades by perpetuating the idea that the Americans are out to get them.

From the earliest age, North Korean children are taught “cunning American wolves” — illustrated by fair-haired, pale-skinned men with huge noses — want to kill them. [North Korea showed off a lot of missiles. What might be its targets?] Kindergartens and child-care centers are decorated with animals holding grenades and machine guns. Cartoons show plucky squirrel soldiers (North Koreans) triumphing over the cunning wolves (Americans).

“North Koreans live in a war mentality, and this anti-American propaganda is war-time propaganda,” said Tatiana Gabroussenko, an expert in North Korean propaganda who teaches at Korea University in Seoul. The thing is: there is some element of truth to the North Korean version of events. It’s only a kernel, and it is grossly exaggerated, but North Koreans remember very well what most Americans have forgotten (or never knew): that the Korean War was a brutal one.

Kim Hak-song, who worked for the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, was detained Saturday, May 6, according to North Korea's state news agency. Kim is one of three U.S. citizens being held by Kim Jon Un's regime. (Jason Aldag/The Washington Post) ‘Utter ruin and devastation’ “Korea is called the forgotten war, and part of what has been forgotten is the utter ruin and devastation that we rained down on the North Korean people,” said John Delury, a professor in the international relations department at Yonsei University in Seoul.

“But this has been ingrained into the North Korean psyche.” First: a little history. The Korean Peninsula, previously occupied by Japan, was divided at the end of World War II. Dean Rusk — an Army colonel at the time, who went on to become secretary of state — got a map and basically drew a line across at the 38th parallel. To the Americans’ surprise, the Soviet Union agreed to the line, and the communist-backed North and the American-backed South were established in 1948 as a “temporary measure.

” On June 25, 1950, Kim Il Sung, installed by the Soviets to lead North Korea, decided to try to reunify the peninsula by force, invading the South. (Although in the North Korean version of events, the South and their imperialist patrons started it.) The push south was surprisingly successful until Gen. Douglas MacArthur landed his troops on the mudflats at Incheon, sending the northern troops back.

Then the Chinese got involved, managing to push them back to roughly where they started, on the 38th parallel. All this happened within the first six months or so. For the next two-and-a-half years, neither side was able to make any headway. The war was drawn to a close in 1953, after exacting a bloody toll. “The number of Korean dead, injured or missing by war’s end approached three million, 10 percent of the overall population,” Charles K.

Armstrong, a professor of Korean history at Columbia University, wrote in an essay. “The majority of those killed were in the North, which had half of the population of the South.” But the war ended with an armistice, not with a peace treaty. That means that, to this day, North and South Korea remain in a technical state of war. [With both the U.S. and North Korea saber rattling, is conflict imminent?] Making the war ‘a most unpopular affair’ for the North Koreans American military leaders at the time called the Korean War a “limited war” because they did not let it expand outside the Korean Peninsula.

But on the peninsula, it was total devastation, particularly for the North. The United States dropped 635,000 tons of bombs in Korea, not counting the 32,557 tons of napalm, Bruce Cumings, a University of Chicago professor who’s written several books on North Korea, wrote in “The Korean War: A History.” This compared with 503,000 tons in the entire Pacific theater in World War II. “If we keep on tearing the place apart, we can make it a most unpopular affair for the North Koreans,” Defense Secretary Robert Lovett said after the napalm and aerial bombing campaigns of 1950 and 1951, according to Cumings.

“We ought to go right ahead,” Lovett said. Rusk said the United States 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, former Post correspondent Blaine Harden wrote on these pages in 2015.

Air Force commanders complained that they’d run out of targets. “The physical destruction and loss of life on both sides was almost beyond comprehension, but the North suffered the greater damage, due to American saturation bombing and the scorched-earth policy of the retreating U.N. forces,” Armstrong of Columbia wrote. A North Korean propaganda video, from March, splices together Korean War and modern footage, culminating in young North Korean sports shooters firing at the heads of American soldiers.

(TWP) Fueling the North Korean narrative The Kim regime keeps its people afraid by constantly blaming the United States for its situation, especially sanctions for its economic plight. But this also helps it unify the populace against a supposed external threat. “Anti-Americanism is an ideological tool of the government,” said Peter Ward, a North Korea researcher affiliated with the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.

“They need an enemy and a villain to blame for the division of the country, a scapegoat for the situation they are in.” When the United States loses, it’s less likely to become the bogeyman, Ward said. “Look at Vietnam. Americans used much more napalm on the Vietnamese, but they’re on good terms today." As tensions between North Korea and the United States have escalated in recent months, the North has turned up the volume on its propaganda machine, in addition to launching a series of missiles.

[North Korea puts out new video showing the White House in crosshairs and carriers exploding] In response, President Trump has repeatedly threatened to use force to punish North Korea (although he has also said he’d be “honored” to meet Kim Jong Un.) “When a new and untested American president starts dangling out the prospect of a surprise missile attack as the solution to the North Korean problem, it plays directly into their worst narrative that the regime tells its people,” Delury said.

And the worst narrative is bad. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the United States is working on more sanctions targeting North Korea to be implemented if necessary. (Reuters) From the very real events of the Korean War, North Korea’s propagandists have created a version of history that is designed to keep the shock and horror alive more than six decades later. North Korea’s discourse on the Korean War — which it calls the “Victorious Fatherland Liberation War” — was constructed along the lines of Soviet propaganda against Nazi Germany during and after World War II.

“North Korea’s propaganda writers were educated in the Soviet Union,” which portrayed its defense against the German invasion as “The Great Patriotic War,” said Gabroussenko, who grew up in the U.S.S.R. “So, according to the North Korean version of the Korean War, they were also fighting a great patriotic war against American intruders.” Take the Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities south of Pyongyang, one of many museums in North Korea designed to keep the regime’s narrative alive.

It recalls what North Korea says was a massacre carried out by U.S. troops. There was fighting and death in Sinchon during the Korean War, but North Korea is widely held to have vastly exaggerated them with its claim that 35,000 “martyrs” were killed by U.S. soldiers during a massacre there. This is one of what Ward calls the “fake atrocities” that North Korea has created to bolster anti-American nationalism.

Kim Jong Un has visited it several times since he became leader at the end of 2011. During a visit after a major expansion of the museum in July 2015, turning it into “a center for anti-U.S. class education,” Kim celebrated “the victory day when the Korean people defeated the U.S. imperialists.” “No matter how crafty the U.S. imperialists become in their moves to cover up their crimes, they can never erase the traces of massacre of Koreans left in this land,” Kim said, according to a state media report.

He also ordered his cadres to “intensify the anti-imperialist and anti-U.S. education.” The Korean Central News Agency reported in March, that “more than 18,000 service personnel, working people and youths and students visited the museum” in the first 10 days of the month, “their hearts burning with the resolution to punish the U.S. imperialists and the South Korean warmongers.” Read more:  Twenty-five million reasons the U.

S. hasn’t struck North Korea Another American citizen is detained in North Korea, taking total to four North Korea accuses CIA and South Korea of plotting to assassinate Kim Jong Un

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You might have heard that North Korea and the United States are not getting along. We mock their lack of electricity, they threaten to annihilate us with thermonuclear weapons, that sort of thing.But why are we enemies? I’ll sort it all out for you here. Obviously the largest source of friction is that the United States and North Korea want very different things. And those different things are mutually exclusive.

For example, we want to avoid nuclear war and they. . . okay, they also want to avoid nuclear war. But on most other issues, we want different things. For example, North Korea doesn’t want the U.S. to invade their country. The United States, on the other hand, wants to invade North Korea about as much as we want rabid porcupines shoved up our asses. I guess you could say we’re on the same page on that too.

But that’s only two points of agreement in this whole mess. You have to look at the big picture. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants to establish himself as a credible nuclear power, partly for defense, and partly as a vehicle for national pride. So far, they have succeeded on the national pride part. The United States wishes they had not, but we agree it was an impressive achievement. So we’re on the same page about the national pride.

They earned it. Where we differ is that the United States and its ally, South Korea, would like to see a unified Korean peninsula someday, but we realize there is no-way-in-hell it can happen in our lifetimes. North Korea, on the other hand, wants to see a unified Korean peninsula someday, but they realize there is no-way-in-hell it can happen in their lifetimes. If you strip away the magical thinking and hard-wishing, we’re of the same opinion on unification: Nice, but not gonna happen while we’re alive.

Okay, okay, we’re mostly on the same page about all of the stuff I mentioned so far. But consider that North Korea would like to feed its people and grow its economy. The United States would like for them to do that too, so long as they leave us alone. Okay, I guess we’re on the same page there too. The biggest problem the United States has with North Korea is that Kim Jong Un wants to avoid being killed or deposed and we don’t give a shit about him one way or another so long as he leaves us alone.

So I guess we aren’t too far apart on that either, unless we want to be total dicks about it and kill him just for fun. One of the biggest sticking points is that the United States has massive military assets in South Korea. North Korea doesn’t like that. Contrast that opinion to the normal citizen in the United States who doesn’t understand why-the-hell we have even one soldier in South Korea.

What is the point of it? Are we preparing for the big push to conquer China? (Probably not.) Is South Korea unable to deter an attack from the North? (Not as long as they can afford American weapons systems, and the U.S. still has a navy.) So I guess Kim Jong Un and American voters are mostly on the same side about our presence in South Korea. We all understand that American military presence in South Korea once had a purpose, but not so much in 2017.

I confess to being under-informed about the situation with North Korea, but it seems to me that the issue boils down to magical thinking about future unification. North Korea wants to be on the winning side of any unification and so does South Korea. The problem is that no one knows how both sides could be the winners. Except for me. This is right in my wheelhouse. Let me reframe this for you. I won’t change any of the data, just the filter you apply to it.

The situation in North Korea involves a number of what I’d call “real” problems, such as the very real risk of nuclear war, and the very real artillery batteries in North Korea pointed at South Korea. When your security risks are the “real” kind, you hire an experienced military person to deal with it. General Mattis seems to have a good handle on the “real” risks. Now let’s talk about the stuff that isn’t “real” in any physical sense.

The first issue is North Korean national pride. I’m sure any negotiated settlement could keep that intact. For example, having direct talks with the United States would be a point of honor. And one can imagine a negotiated agreement that lets them keep nuclear power for energy while not building any ICBMs. Everyone’s pride stays intact. But what about all the magical thinking about unification? That requires a magical-thinking solution.

That’s where I come in. As a trained persuader, I have a suggested solution. I call it the hundred-year-plan for unification. Both sides would simply agree to work out the details over the next hundred years. The details might include loosening travel, establishing trade, eventual amnesty for leaders, that sort of thing. That way, both sides could claim victory. The victory would be in the imagination of both sides, not in the real world.

But it still works, because a change in imagination is all you need to cure magical thinking. And unification in our lifetimes is, for all practical purposes, just magical thinking. For more details on my 100-year-plan for Korean unification, see this blog post. For my regular readers, recall that a year ago I was one of the few voices saying Kim Jong Un was rational while most pundits and “experts” were saying he was a total nut job.

Today, most “experts” have evolved to my view that Kim Jong Un is a rational player. Recall also that in 2015 I was one of the first public voices to proclaim candidate Trump was far more than the “clown” the public and pundits widely believed him to be. I mention both cases to bolster my credibility. In summary, if you have “real” security problems, call General Mattis. But if your problems are in the realm of imagination and magical thinking, call a Master Persuader.

Better yet, elect him president. Check! You’re in better hands than you know. That doesn’t mean everything will turn out well with North Korea, but it does mean you have the right team in place for the first time, capable of managing both the “real” and the imaginary dimensions. And in Kim Jong Un I suspect we have a negotiating partner who understands all dimensions. We are closer to war with North Korea than at any time in recent memory.

But we are also closer than we have ever been to a permanent solution. My optimism about North Korea is that for the first time in history we have players on the field who understand the nature of the problem as partly real and partly imaginary, and they have the tools to deal with all of it. I don’t think we’ve had the right people on the job until now. Have you noticed that our Insulter-in-Chief has been going easy on Kim Jong Un in the verbal sparring? President Trump has been downright respectful.

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