February 24, 2003



Glenn D. Paige
Professor Emeritus of Political Science
University of Hawai'i
Author of Nonkilling Global Political Science (Xlibris, 2002)
Center for Global Nonviolence

When I interviewed former President Harry S Truman in Independence in 1957 for my book The Korean Decision: June 24-30, 1950, I asked, "Mr. President, as a devout Baptist, when you made the decision to engage the United States in the fourth largest war in its history [now fifth after Vietnam] did you pray?" "Hell no!" he replied, "There's right and wrong going back to Greece and Rome. It was the right thing to do. I made the decision and went to sleep."

War-fighting United States Korea policy has been deep in righteous sleep for more than fifty years. But now events raise alarm that it is long overdue time to wake up. Confronted with the threat of nuclear weapon development in the North and rising youthful challenges to continued American military presence in the South, it is time to exercise some empathy and creativity in United States-Korean relations.

Empathy for both Koreas should recognize that the exercise of United States power on the peninsula, however benevolently or demonically portrayed, is seen as a foreign intrusion. Korean patriots do not want their nation to be a perpetual protectorate, dependency, or target of any country--not Japan, not China, nor Russia, and not the United States.

Empathy for the South should recognize that U.S. Cold War support for repressive regimes associated it with violations of human rights and atrocities such as the 1980 Kwangju City slaughter that would have brought outraged American protest if committed in a Soviet satellite. Also must be recognized the fact that Koreans credit themselves with progress toward electoral democracy, such as through courageous student demonstrations in 1960 and 1987, despite lagging and ambiguous U.S. policy. A reservoir of goodwill, of course, is associated with assistance in repelling the 1950 North Korean invasion and in postwar reconstruction. But this is tempered with criticism of the 1945 role of the United States and the Soviet Union in tragic division of the country.

For North Korea it is essential to empathize with the fact that its people were subjected to massive U.S. Air Force bombing--as well as Navy bombardment --throughout the 1950-53 war. Pyongyang, Wonsan, and other cities were flattened Industrial and transportation facilities were destroyed. People were forced to work and live underground. There was great loss of civilian and military life, including several hundred thousand Chinese soldiers. In contrast, the South was not bombed except by American and allied planes. To such experience must be added the unambiguous American threat since 1953 to repeat that devastation, including continuing threat to employ nuclear weapons.

People subjected to such devastation can be expected to exhibit both defensive bellicosity and a striving for credible removal of the threat of its repetition. Thus becomes understandable the current DPRK move to acquire a deterrent nuclear weapons capability combined with a call for a nonaggression pact and peace treaty with the United States.

Another key to understanding the current nuclear crisis is to recognize North Korean frustration that numerous peacemaking overtures directed to the United States have been ignored for at least 30 years. In 1973 the DPRK claimed at the UN that it had made 131 unanswered peace proposals to the United States. A Cold War maxim cited by American policy makers was "The only thing that Communists understand is force." But regrettably this also seems to apply to the anti-Communist superpower United States. Only after signs of North Korean atomic weapons development in 1993-94 did the United states break its longstanding refusal to negotiate with the DPRK. Rather than "blackmail," the North's present nuclear message can be interpreted as, "We want to talk to you about a nonaggression pact, a peace treaty, and diplomatic relations."

Among several peacemaking opportunities missed by the United States and the ROK was the 1980 proposal by Kim Il sung to reduce the size of the DPRK and ROK armed forces to 100,00-150,000 men as part of a federal co-existence proposal. Another was the DPRK proposal to co-host with Seoul the 1988 Olympic Games. This was rejected by the IOC on grounds that the Games are awarded to cities not countries, missing the chance to recognize Pyongyang as a city that had already invested in extensive Olympic-class sports facilities.

Another point for empathy is that DPRK actions, like those of the United States,

are not only proactive but reactive as well. The bloody 1983 Rangoon assassination attempt on President Chun Doo Hwan can be interpreted as revenge for General Chun's role in the 1980 military killing of civilians in Kwangju. Similarly the 1987 atrocity bombing of the KAL airliner can be seen as a frustrated reaction to exclusion from the upcoming Seoul Olympic Games. In the same vein, the revived DPRK atomic weapon program can be seen in part as deriving from fear of a U.S. Iraq-type preemptive strike to achieve "axis of evil" regime change as well as from frustrated attempts to achieve a peace pact and diplomatic recognition.

This is not to excuse such atrocities but to try to understand them. All parties to the Korean tragedy, including the two Koreas and the intervening Four Big Powers, have blood on their hands and have yet to master the art and science of nonkilling politics. But it can be done.

If a nuclear-weapon-free united Korea is a primary goal of U.S. policy it should simultaneously do three things. First, engage the North directly on nuclear and mutual security issues. Second, move resolutely to establish diplomatic relations. China and Russia have recognized the two Koreas to advantage. Why should the United States and Japan remain in disadvantageous self-imposed exclusion? Third, strongly support South Korean initiatives for reconciliation and peaceful relations with the North. After all, Korea is their country.

It is time for the United States to wake up. It must shift from its Cold War mindset of paternalism and enmity to become a constructive partner in helping all Koreans to achieve their historic task of independent peaceful reunion.

P.S. A shorter 648 word version was published in English-language newspaper The Korea Times of Seoul on February 25 on historic occasion of the Inauguration of President ROH Moo Hyun. The Korea Times is one of two main English language newspapers--The Korea Herald is the other

Let's hope the article is read by Secretary Powell, his entourage, the U.S. Embassy, the diplomatic community, and all the dignitaries and press that have come to felicitate and cover the Inauguration. Including from China, Japan, and Russia.


Put on the internet by M. Reichl 25.02.2003