June 16, 2000


If events are allowed to take their course, the historic summit between the leaders of the two Koreas signals the beginning of the end of US hegemony in the region. For this reason alone, you can be sure that events will not be allowed to take their natural course – the US foreign policy establishment, supported by both parties in Congress, will see to that. US weapons contractors – especially the designers of the "missile defense shield" now being marketed by the Clinton administration – have too much invested in our massive military presence in Korea to give it up quite so easily. But they may have little choice in the matter. . . .


In April of 1997, defense secretary William Cohen declared, in a visit to Seoul, that American troops would stay stationed on the peninsula even if North and South Korea were reunified – a statement that was met with widespread shock, not only by the Chinese but by the South Koreans, who increasingly view the GIs in their midst as more of a threat than North Korea's million-man army. Nationalism is on the rise throughout East Asia, but Korea – once known as the "Hermit Kingdom" – is a special case. Proud to the point of arrogance, insular to the point of xenophobia, Koreans north and south have injected their own national characteristics into whatever social system was forced on them by outsiders. Kim Il Sung gave Stalin plenty of trouble, launching the Korean war without authorization from the Kremlin and playing the Chinese against the Russians. South Korean strongman Gen. Park Chung-hee, who seized power in 1961, was even less docile. . . .


Having watched the US abandon its South Vietnamese ally, Gen. Park decided that it was time for South Korea to acquire nuclear weapons – just in case. Shortly afterward, on October 16, 1979, Park met the chief of the KCIA (South Korea's intelligence service) Kim Jae-kyu for dinner: as they got to the cocktails, instead of proposing a toast, Kim pulled out a pistol and shot Park dead. His alleged motive was anger at the General's "repression" of the people – a repression that had been enforced by none other than his assassin. A more likely motive, in the eyes of many, was that Park was too independent for the Americans, who wanted him out of the way. The KCIA chief, as Park's chief link to the US government, was widely perceived – by Koreans, at any rate – as acting at the behest of his US overlords.


Park was an authoritarian nationalist whose chief concern was the survival of his nation: in Park's day, the chief threat was from North Korea, and the Chinese Communists, and he was willing to play the role of the dutiful satellite – but only up to a certain point. Park was an implacable anti-Communist, but he was a Korean first. This has been the leitmotif of Korean history: a stubborn independence that Western commentators invariably call "isolationism." It is the heritage of a long series of attempted Japanese invasions, beginning in the 1590s, what our politically correct journalists call "xenophobia" which has persisted to this day – and even been accelerated, in the south, by the US army of occupation.


The main concern of South Korea's rulers in the post-cold war world is not the danger of an invasion from the north, but a provocation from Washington that would turn the entire peninsula into a flaming battleground. In June 1994, reports former South Korean President Kim Young-Sam, he stopped Mad Bomber Clinton from launching a strike against North Korea's alleged nuclear facilities – and only a last-minute phone conversation prevented the incineration of the Korea nation. "At the time," said Kim to the Hankyoreh Daily, "the situation was really dangerous. The Clinton government was preparing a war." With a US aircraft carrier positioned off the eastern coast, the plan was to hit the North Korean facility at Yongbyon. "One day I heard [then US Ambassador James] Laney was about to hold a press conference the following day and announce the withdrawal of relatives of US embassy staff" – a step taken only on the eve of war. Kim called in Laney, and pointed out that between 20 to 30 million people would die in a war. "I told him that I would not move even a single soldier of our 650,000 troops in case a war broke out." Then he got on the phone with Clinton and argued for 32 minutes, standing up to the American Caligula and telling him in no uncertain terms that "there would be no inter-Korean war while I was the president. Clinton tried to persuade me to change my mind, but I criticized the United States for planning to stage a war with the North on our land."


Our land, he says emphatically – but is it? In a village not far from a US military base, the fishermen call American jets "shriekers" as they engage in target practice 550 yards away. "The whole house shakes. I can't watch TV. Babies are startled. It gets worse in the summer when I have to leave the windows open," complains Choi Joon-bin, a 64-year-old resident of the South Korean village of Mae Hyang, some 50 miles south of Seoul. Protests over the effects of US bases on the quality of life in surrounding communities have hit an all-time high, and demonstrations calling for US withdrawal from the country were an almost daily occurrence: leading up to the two Koreas summit. What's more, the peak of rising anti-American sentiment in South Korea has yet to be reached. As the prospects of reunification become more tangible, and the north undergoes a "soft" collapse with some form of federation uniting these long-lost halves of a nation, the momentum of revitalized Korean nationalism will run smack up against secretary Cohen's unilateral announcement of a permanent "Pax Americana" in the Far East.


Former President Kim Young-Sam sent a message to Kim IL Sung, the north Korean dictator, through Jimmy Carter, warning him that the maniac Clinton was on the warpath – and the message got through. This was the catalyst that set off the chain of events leading up to the summit, the beginning of the "conversion" process whereby we subsidized the conversion of Soviet-style nuclear reactors to the "lighter" model that can only be used for industrial purposes. This, and the election of Kim Dae Jung, led to renewed contacts and created an unlikely (but perfectly logical) alliance. In order to save the nation from foreigners who would unleash a bloodbath, the two leaders were in effect uniting against the main danger to the independence and even the existence of Korea – Mad Bomber Clinton. This working alliance, tentatively taking shape under President Young-Sam, continued when Kim Dae-Jung, the democratic reformer who was jailed under the military regime, was elected to the Presidency. The Korean military rulers initially sentenced Kim Dae-Jung to death for alleged pro-North Korean sympathies. Ronald Reagan personally interceded to spare Kim Dae-Jung's life, who was instead sentenced to life imprisonment: the price was a visit to the White House by South Korea's then ruler Gen. Chun. The election of this former prisoner of the US puppet regime, who has come up with his own reunification plan, marked a turning point that culminated in this truly historic summit. The covert North-South alliance against the foreign occupiers is now coming out into the open: this is the real meaning of the two Koreas summit – and the reason why the US has been distinctly cool toward the prospect of anything coming of it.


The skeptics are already out in droves, predicting that the optimism and personal rapport between the two Korean leaders on prominent display at the summit will run up against the intransigence of the North: an advisor to the Bush campaign opined that the North Koreans are focused on our electoral process: "He [Kim Jong IL] has made a determination there's not much more he can get from the United States, because of the elections," says Richard L. Armitage, a former Pentagon official. "He's not stupid." And the Clinton administration, while formally hailing the talks, downplayed their significance in any but the long term sense. In the official US view, this could be the beginning of a reunification process that could (and should) take decades. The Koreans, however, may have other plans. . . .


The collapse of Communism took the US intelligence community, and both "right" and "left" wings of the foreign policy establishment, completely by surprise. Even as the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, and the Soviet bloc was imploding, the US government (and "expert" opinion) oscillated wildly between disbelief and sheer panic over the possible "destabilizing" consequences. The US initially opposed the reunification of Germany, as well as the rollback of Soviet power in Eastern Europe and Balkans. Who can forget then secretary of state James Baker admonishing Gorbachev when the Soviet leader refused to send in Russian troops to keep "order" in Romania as the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown and executed? It was Christmas, 1989, when Romanians decided to give themselves a Christmas present: freedom. But the Grinch soon showed up in the person of Baker, who, in a December 24 Meet the Press interview, announced his approval in advance of a Warsaw Pact intervention to support "pro-democracy" forces – who would simultaneously restore order. While he was sympathetic, he said, because Romanians were "attempting to put off the yoke of a very, very oppressive and repressive dictatorship," nonetheless "I think that we would be inclined probably to follow the example of France, who today has said that if the Warsaw Pact felt it necessary to intervene on behalf of the opposition, that it would support that action." When Gorbachev balked, and cracked down in the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, the Bush administration sided with the Soviet dictator and tried to push the subject of independence into the indefinite future. It didn't work there, and it won't work in Korea.


The collapse of North Korean communism, while not exactly a secret, has nonetheless taken everyone by surprise in the sense that the so-called "playboy" and "recluse" – an odd characterization of Kim Jong IL, Kim IL Sung's son and successor, for how can you be both? – has turned out to be neither a lightweight nor a mini-Stalin, but essentially an old-fashioned Korean patriot. Desperate to save his nation from mass starvation – which has radically reduced the caloric intake and physical condition of ordinary people and even decimated the military – the North Korean dictator is clearly moving toward some kind of de facto merger with the south – and in pretty short order. For the stricken economy of the north is in free fall, and the price of delay could be high. But the North Koreans have moved quickly to avert disaster: the long awaited invasion from the north has come in the form of a peace offensive, a desperate last measure to ensure that the collapse of Stalinism in North Korea will not follow the Romanian example.


While the language of the agreement reached at the summit – signed, sealed, and delivered after only three hours of formal negotiations – has been described in the American news media as "vague" (the New York Times so characterized the agreement in their headline) its language is striking. The very first point is the declaration that: "The South and the North, as masters of national unification, will join hands in efforts to resolve the issue of national unification independently." Independently of whom – or of what? China certainly poses no threat of intervention, and Japan lacks the will if not the capacity: this leaves only the US, the dominant power in the region, as the one and only possible threat to Korean national self-determination.


The other aspects of the agreement – the exchange of dispersed relatives, the renewal of cross-border ties, the reopening of the old railroad system that used to connect prewar Korea – can only lead to the erasure of the border, and this could happen as rapidly and dramatically as the downing of the Berlin Wall. However, the wall that divides the two Koreas in not made of brick and mortar, but of tens of thousands of US soldiers stationed at the edge of the so-called Demilitarized Zone. Will these troops be caught in the middle of a joyous reunion, unwanted foreigners who could easily become the focus of a new Korean nationalism? That possibility is clearly imminent, and this raises an important question: why must US troops remain in Korea even after reunification, as secretary Cohen insists? The war between Soviet-style Communism and capitalism is over, and even the heirs of Kim IL Sung, the last Stalinist dictator on earth, are finally coming in from the cold. Now is the time to bring our own troops home – before they are asked to leave.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).

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