The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Hidden History of Korea’s Division, North & South

Jun 17, 2018

So what was the purpose of Trump’s quickie visit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un? Only months before he had called him, “a madman who starves and kills his people.” Today, he calls Kim, “strong, a funny guy and intelligent.”

Trump loves to shift gears, keeping the spotlight on himself. But his visit with Kim might be something more than a Trump whim. It might be a signal that U.S. imperialism intends to change its policy toward Korea, North and South.

Whatever happens, Korea’s fate will not be determined by a handshake between a vicious dictator and a reality-show con man. Korea’s fate will be determined, just as it has been for the past 73 years, by the aims U.S. imperialism sets for itself.

The Korean War

Korea came under U.S. control at the end of World War II. It had been a colony of Japan, occupied since 1910. In 1945, with Japan on the edge of defeat, the U.S. proposed to divide Korea at the 38th parallel, similar to the division of Viet Nam. U.S. troops would occupy the southern half, while troops of the Soviet Union occupied the north. The Korean people had no say in the division.

In 1948, the U.S. installed a puppet military dictatorship in South Korea, using U.S. armed forces to keep it in power. It was to be a U.S. bastion against the rising anti-colonial tide that was sweeping much of Asia, including China and India.

The North established its own state, whose goal became the reunification of the whole Korean peninsula. Soviet troops pulled out of the North. But U.S. troops stayed in the South.

By 1950, the new South Korean military, armed with U.S. weapons, was carrying out a series of provocations and raids against the North at the 38th parallel. Northern troops crossed the parallel and quickly pushed south, seeking to unify Korea through military force. The Southern army crumbled, and the U.S. poured in more troops.

It was the beginning of a horribly destructive war, which raged back and forth from the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, up to Korea’s northern border with China. In less than three years, three million Koreans, North and South, were killed. The North was left devastated by U.S. bombing. Its cities were destroyed by carpet bombing. In the midst of this savage bombing, the U.S. threatened to use nuclear weapons on the North. Nearly 40,000 U.S. troops died, as did 400,000 Chinese.

China had entered the war when U.S. troops pushed all the way up to China’s border. With masses of Chinese troops joining the battle, U.S. troops were forced back south, down beyond the 38th parallel. It was at that point that the U.S. called for negotiations to end the fighting, reinstating the old division at the 38th parallel. Chinese troops would leave from the North, but the U.S. would stay in the South – which it has done up until today, with major bases and nearly 30,000 troops still there. Korea would remain divided. And the North would continue to pay.

Trade Embargoes, Famine & Nuclear Weapons

In the 65 years since, the U.S. has used its position as the world’s strongest economic power to cut North Korea off from most international trade. U.S. embargoes starved the North for the supplies it needed to recover from the war, the bombing, and years of colonization. Its population paid dearly, including in years of famine.

North Korea did not turn to developing nuclear weapons until the U.S., after 2001, tightened trade sanctions against any country that traded with the North. The Northern regime pushed its nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip to get the suffocating trade embargo lifted.

Today, it’s possible that U.S. corporate interests, for their own reasons, might be ready for the U.S. to negotiate a settlement. A unified Korea, under U.S. tutelage, could be an economic beachhead against China. Today, we can’t know what will happen. But we can be sure it won’t be in the interests of the Korean population, North or South – nor of the American working class.