US whips up fears of North Korea

October 23, 1996

By Eva Cheng

Tension on the Korean peninsula is on the rise following alleged North Korean spying activities in South Korea. Seoul on September 19 presented a small North Korean submarine, apparently abandoned after running aground, and 18 bodies in North Korean military uniform as evidence of its charges.

The events were seized on by the western media to support US propaganda that North Korea is aggressive and dangerous, ruled by unpredictable and unstable tyrants. South Korean President Kim Young-sam condemned the incident as a military provocation.

The events were also a boost to Washington's campaign, never completely abandoned after reaching a crescendo in 1993-94, to whip up fears about North Korea's capability of producing nuclear weapons.

In fact, US hostility to North Korea goes back to 1945, and has been enforced by a crippling economic blockade and an enormous military threat.

The US engineered to split Korea along the 38th parallel in 1948 and held control in the south after failing to win submission from the resistance forces which led the Korean people's struggle against 35 years of Japanese colonial rule. These forces led the attempt to exercise popular control of Korea — extensive people's committees were set up as a result — shortly after the Japanese surrender in 1945.

Washington saw Soviet assistance to the north in the late 1940s as evidence of the "Communist threat" to South Korea (a brutal puppet regime with no popular support). This was the pretext for the US to lead a "United Nations" intervention in the 1950-53 Korean civil war.

US bombing literally flattened Korea. According to Major General Emmett O'Donnell, commander of US Far East Air Force Bomber Command, there were hardly any bombing targets left five months after the war started.

Since the truce, signed in 1953, Washington has waged a sustained ideological offensive against a "dangerous" North Korea, around which a massive military machine — extensive bases, troops and fleets — was justified, and from which South Korea must be "defended" by an effective "deterrent".

On this basis, the US has turned South Korea and the Japanese island of Okinawa into some of its biggest overseas bases. The US-Japan military alliance, established in 1952 when US occupation of Japan ended, was expanded as recently as April this year.

North Korea's economy is much smaller than South Korea's, and its population is only half of the south's. The north has not had western aid or investment to help in overcoming the devastation of the 1950-53 war, nor the access to international markets provided to the south. The US military budget alone is a dozen times the size of North Korea's entire GDP.

These facts undermine the myth that North Korea is a dangerous threat, though that conclusion never seems to be drawn by the establishment media. Similarly, the media and US propaganda trumpet the economic growth of South Korea in the 1980s — including its much more advanced technological bases in production and military capability — as proving the superiority of the "free" economy in the south, but ignore what this means for the balance of forces between south and north.

The ultimate danger of North Korea was supposed to be the backing by the Soviet Union and China. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union and dwindling trade and supplies from China on much harsher terms, this argument holds little water today. Yet the basic line of the propaganda has not changed.

Pyongyang's less than full cooperation in submitting to the world nuclear order defined by the imperialist powers led by the US — threatening to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993 after the US and South Korea resumed their massive annual joint military exercises — has given Washington new material to demonise it.

Since the 1970s, Pyongyang has appealed to the US for the negotiation of a peace treaty to replace the 1953 armistice. Washington has responded favourably to this suggestion only this year, but insisted on including South Korea as a negotiating partner, which Pyongyang strongly opposes.

Washington's hostility towards North Korea is not fundamentally different from the position it once held towards the Soviet Union and China and still holds towards Cuba. These countries stand for a social system fundamentally different from the one based on the rule of monopoly capital, internationally dominated by the US.

In recent years, Pyongyang has opened its doors to foreign capital very minimally, keeping intact the fundamental basis of its planned economy. Little changed also is the serious deformation caused by the existence of a ruling bureaucracy which makes democratic popular control of the economy and political life impossible and runs counter to the socialist principles that it claims it stands for. The elaborate and ridiculous personality cult manufactured for Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il has sown further confusion.

Kim Il Sung was a leader in the liberation struggle against the Japanese, and he and the forces behind him led the fight against Washington's postwar attempt to control Korea. This history has given North Korea — despite its bureaucratic deformation — even today a great deal of moral authority among progressive forces in South Korea. Pyongyang is seen as the partner for political reunification and the national liberation struggle against the control of the US.

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