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Trouble in North Korea

Stephen Tuttle - December 6th, 2010
Trouble in North Korea
The crazy people who run North Korea, or more to the point, the crazy
family, is at it again, lobbing artillery shells on a South Korean
The Korean War, the Forgotten War, has become the Longest War, now in
its 60th year. Most of us don’t remember how or why it started and
almost no one understands what the hell is going on there now.
From 1910 until 1945, the Korean Peninsula was under the control of
the Japanese. They weren’t especially kind overseers. Once the
Pacific portion of World War II was concluded, the Soviet Union and
United States divvied up Korea as they later did with much of Europe.
The idea at the time was some kind of single, unified Korea but the
Soviets occupied the territory north of the 38th parallel and were
averse to any hint of democratization. When the north refused to hold
elections, North Korea was born. Their George Washington was Kim
Il-sung, the country’s founder and first and only president.
(Technically, he’s still the president having been declared the
“Eternal President” when he died in 1994.)
Kim was a strange ruler from the beginning, a bellicose paranoid who
was an absolute dictator at home while being a financial and political
puppet of the Soviets and Chinese.
In June of 1950, the North Korean military poured across the border in
a full-blown invasion of South Korea. The back-and-forth that
followed, in horrendous conditions, bedeviled President Truman. The
North bludgeoned their way to Seoul before United Nations troops, led
by the United States, forced them back up the peninsula. We probably
could have gone nearly to the border with China but Chinese Red Army
forces joined the fray along with Soviet air support and pushed the
U.N. troops back to Seoul.
In 1953, an armistice was declared and the line of separation between
north and south ended up exactly where it started – at the 38th
parallel. The United States lost more than 54,000 killed in action
with another 104,000 wounded. South Korea lost more than 224,000 and
715,000 were wounded. The numbers for the North, though never
officially released, are presumed to be at least as bad.
The North Koreans never signed the peace agreements and have always
believed, or at least been told by their government, that a state of
war still exists with the South. Kim Il-sung was a master of
fear-based propaganda. The presence of 30,000 American troops in
South Korea fed his metastatic paranoia. The demilitarized zone
between the two countries is the most heavily fortified and mined
strip of land on the planet.
North Korea today is one of the most isolated and mysterious places in
the world. Ostensibly governed on a political theory of
self-reliance, they’ve moved from a brief dalliance with Stalin-era
communism into what is a family dynasty of dictators.
Kim Il-sung was replaced by his son, Kim Jong-il, a diminutive
megalomaniac with elevator shoes and tall hair. While his country
periodically faces mass starvation, he’s reputed to enjoy fine dining,
fine liquor, his choice of drugs, American pornography and Russian
hookers. He’s a tough talking little guy who has turned his country
into a military state with the fifth largest standing army in the
They are believed to have at least one or two nuclear weapons and are
developing a long-range ballistic missile system that may be able to
reach western Europe. We only recently discovered they have a uranium
enrichment plant far more advanced than we had previously believed.
They are the world’s leading exporter of illicit nuclear weapons
technology and have been assisting Iran as they attempt to develop
their nuclear and missile programs.
All the while they continue to pound their populace with relentless
propaganda claiming an imminent invasion from the South or the United
States or both.
Kim Jong-il, suffering from some kind of undisclosed illness, has
named his successor, his completely unknown son, Kim Jong-un. If the
entire family is suffering from a genetic predisposition to lunacy
that worsens with each successive generation, and that seems to be the
case, this third Kim in line should be a real doozy.
It’s possible the North’s latest little act of war is nothing more
than an attempt to prove to their own population that the new kid in
charge is a tough guy like his daddy. And they might be warning their
enemies, real and imagined, not to mess with them while they move
through their leadership transition. It’s also possible they are on
the verge of doing something incredibly dangerous and bizarre.
China is the most important actor in this melodrama. They have the
closest ties, or at least as close as any country can get, to North
Korea and provide them with the most aid. There is hope they have
sufficient influence to calm the jittery North Korean leadership since
China gains nothing by allowing military instability on their
doorstep. The world needs the Chinese to step up here since the
sanctions already imposed by the United Nations seem to have done
little other than add to the deprivation suffered by the average North
We’ve expressed our concerns and outrage and all the rest that passes
for diplomatic communication. We currently have an aircraft carrier
in the waters nearby and engaged in some splashy war games maneuvers
with the South Korean military but there isn’t much we can do beyond
that. It’s difficult to negotiate with folks who are unreliable,
untrustworthy and apparently unstable.
So, six decades after this “police action” (Congress never issued a
declaration of war so it’s a police action) began, after hundreds of
thousands of deaths including more than 54,000 Americans, we find
ourselves still confronted by an unpredictable and intransigent North
Korean leader armed to the teeth and threatening anyone in range.
Our only hope is that the newest branch breaks off the family tree and
grows some sanity in this unpleasant little corner of the world.

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