On June 24, 1950, the Communist armies of North Korea crossed the thirty-eighth parallel: the Korean war had begun. The Cold War was at its height, and the Korean imbroglio brought it to a fever pitch. Conservatives and "liberals," as well as many left-liberals who had previously opposed the Cold War, all rushed to endorse Truman's unilateral decision to send in the troops. On the Right, many ex-isolationist Republicans forgot their fealty to the foreign policy of the Founders, who warned against entangling alliances, and demanded that we go all out and launch an invasion that could take us deep into China. But the acclaim for and support of the war was not quite unanimous: aside from the usual suspects on the far Left, such as the American Communist Party and its immediate periphery, Truman's war evoked a small but vocal opposition from the last remnants of the Old "isolationist" Right that was not so easy to dismiss. In retrospect, their warnings are irrefutable and chillingly accurate.
The Chicago Tribune averred that the battle for the Korean peninsula was not worth the life of a single American and wondered why we were going to war over the fate of a small nation when we had not done so over the fate of a much larger one China. Conservative columnist John O'Donnell doubted whether the entire nation of South Korea was "worth a black eye on the face of one American soldier."
Lawrence Dennis, the isolationist intellectual and accused "seditionist," who had been put on trial by FDR and smeared as a "fascist" by the War Party, remarked that the battle between the Korean factions reminded him "of the Battle of Tippermuir in 1644, when the Knoxite Presbyterians fought the Cromwell religious fanatics, the two gangs being as much alike as two peas, under the banner proclaiming 'Jesus and No Quarter.'" The dictatorship of Syngman Rhee differed from the North Korean Communists only in their choice of slogans, leaders, and foreign sponsors.
Senator Robert A. Taft who supported the war, albeit reluctantly and tentatively noted that Truman had failed to ask Congress for a declaration of war: a precedent was set, and from that moment forward the power to unleash American military might once reserved to the people's representatives was usurped by the chief executive. At the time, with war hysteria obscuring most conservatives' devotion to the Constitution, this omission was little noted: we are paying for it, today, and it spades. Let those Republican congressmen who demanded to know by what authority President Clinton was taking us to war in Kosovo investigate the complicity of their Republican predecessors.
George Morgenstern, a writer and journalist with the Chicago Tribune, presciently declared that the American occupation of the Korean peninsula would reward us with "a ravaged country on our hands, a discredited Korean government, and a Korean army impotent to fight its own battles." Even worse, the start of the Korean conflict augured a new and dangerous course for the United States: we were, Morgenstern predicted, well along on the road to "world power, aggrandizement, and exploitation of everyone else." Writing in the conservative newsletter Human Events, Henry Beston noted that American pilots spoke of a bombing raid as "a perfect peach of a big fire" and sadly commented that "it is the talk of a culture which has lost its natural humanity."
Fifty years after Beston's comment, the Associated Press has documented the brutality and atrocities carried out by American "liberators" in that unwinnable and entirely avoidable war. As the AP reporters, in interviews with veterans and the survivors of the massacres, show: American soldiers machine-gunned hundreds of civilian refugees under a railroad bridge near the South Korean village of No Gun Ri, some 100 miles southeast of Seoul. The AP report demonstrates that the cultural rot that had inured us to the destruction of Dresden and the atomic bombing of the two Japanese cities really began to set in during the Korean war.
This is big news in America: it is old news in South Korea. For years, the survivors of the massacre have been petitioning the South Korean and U.S. governments, demanding recognition of the crime and compensation. They were simply ignored, or brushed off, and told that there was no evidence pointing to war crimes committed by American soldier's, either at No Gun RI or anywhere else. Now, the Associated Press has unearthed that evidence, and it seems Beston's diagnosis "of a culture which has lost its natural humanity" is optimistic, at best. The Korean War seems to have been the beginning of a descent into barbarism a retrogression that has devolved quite naturally into the carpet-bombing of Iraq and the "humanitarian" devastation of the former Yugoslavia.
Eugene Hesselman, of Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, was there that day in late July. He quotes his captain as saying: "The hell with all those people. Let's get rid of all of them." Norman Tinkler, of Glascoe, Kansas, was there too. He says, "We just annihilated them." Yet another veteran of that noble war, Edward L. Daily, of Clarksville, Tennessee, sums up the whole grisly episode with a bit of prose worthy of Stephen King: "On summer nights when the breeze is blowing, I can still hear their cries, the little kids screaming."
No one knows how many South Koreans were murdered in this way: the incident at No Gun RI alone involves several hundred. "The command looked at it as getting rid of the problem in the easiest way," says Daily, and "that was to shoot them in a group. How many North Koreans were in there, I can't answer that. But we ended up shooting into there until all the bodies we saw were lifeless." We were slaughtering the very people we were telling the world were in danger from the "Communist threat" when the real and most immediate threat to them was from their own "liberators."
I will not dwell on the numerous horrifying details, amply supplied in the original Associated Press article, but merely point out the lesson for today: that the goal of governments in wartime is the same as it is in peacetime to cover up their crimes and even give them a gloss of necessity if not nobility. Even today, with the evidence broadcast around the world, the Pentagon continues to deny any knowledge of what was apparently military policy in the Korean non-war, aptly and succinctly summed up by Mr. Hesselman's nameless captain: The hell with all those people. Let's just get rid of them.
As the AP story dryly put it, "From the start of the Korean war, there were numerous reports of North Korean atrocities, including the killing of civilians and summary executions of prisoners. But the story of No Gun RI was not told, beyond sketchy news reports in 1950 implying that American troops might have fired on refugees. The reports were apparently not pursued." As the editorial Jannisaries of the Cold War until the Vietnam debacle, most reporters were not inclined to follow up any story that would put the war effort in a bad light just as, today, they are not inclined to pursue the story of just what is happening to the people of Iraq, and how US bombers rained death on helpless Yugoslav civilians from 30,000 feet.
Oh, you say, that couldn't happen today, what with all this wonderful technology we have: why, the Internet has abolished secrecy and the story of US atrocities would immediately get out. The reality is that it has already happened in the two above-mentioned cases and it is likely to happen again. Sure, the truth is out there, somewhere, on the Internet: right here, to be exact, @ Antiwar.com. But so what? The War Party is not exactly sleeping: they never sleep. Their propaganda fills the airwaves, just as it did in 1950: the same bipartisan gang of internationalist Republicans and Democrats who set up tripwires from the thirty-eighth parallel to the Berlin Wall cross this line, and it is war. Will we have to wait fifty years before the crimes of the NATO-crats are uncovered, documented, and publicized?
Those tripwires bedevil us yet, even decades after the collapse of Communism and the complete isolation of the North Korean regime. Unable even to feed its own people, racked with famine, with less than half the population and resources of its Southern rival in Seoul, the North Korean regime cannot last and has no interest in provoking a war with the US, which, to this day, stations tens of thousands of troops to protect the South Koreans from an invasion that will never come unless we provoke it.
In any case, the presence of the US army in the wake of these revelations of atrocities committed against the Korean people is likely to become much more problematic. American troops are going to be caught in the crossfire between a rising Korean nationalism in the South and the increasing instability and desperation of the Communist regime in the North. While very little news comes out of North Korea, it is not unlikely that the worsening famine and increased isolation has created rifts in the leadership. In the South, the opposition to the US presence will only increase, and these divisions could, in themselves, provoke war. The favorite diversion of endangered elites is always to discover some foreign enemy, whose eradication must be accomplished at all costs a diversion away from their troubles on the home front.
That is what the so-called Cold War was all about: for fifty years, anti-Communist conservatives were diverted from the main enemy, which was in Washington, DC, and not in any foreign capital, including the Kremlin. Conservatives need to learn the real lesson of the Cold War, and not just the Korean episode: as in of World Wars I and II, and for the same reasons, we should never have intervened. For the past few weeks, I have been writing in defense of Patrick J. Buchanan's wonderful book, A Republic, Not an Empire, which dares to suggest that the US should never have allowed itself to be dragged into World Wars I and II and that the world would have been a better place for it. I have defended this important book because this is a big and bold step forward for the legions of conservatives who are now coming to reclaim their Old Right heritage of noninterventionism and America First. But now they need to take another big step, though not such a giant step as they have taken initially.
For if we are to question the whole rationale for the two World Wars that destroyed our Old Republic and ushered in the age of Empire, then we need to see how that Empire was formalized and made a permanent part of the "capitalist" economy and the policy of the elites during the Cold War. Pat Buchanan's revisionist history of two world wars is an excellent introduction to the general subject of how and why the real story of those fateful conflicts was buried, distorted, and denied. Now you owe it to yourself to get acquainted with the revisionist history of the Cold War.
And I'm not just talking about William Appleman Williams and the "leftist" school, but the conservative and libertarian opponents of the Cold War. Their analysis stands the test of time. The libertarian polemicist Frank Chodorov penned what he titled "A Jeremiad" in the summer of 1950, as the Cold War turned hot, which drew a bleak portrait of a wartime regime that had effectively eliminated dissent, seized control of the economy in the name of "national security," and ushered in a new age of collectivism and perpetual war. The Korean war, he believed, meant the death knell of liberty in America, the final consolidation of what had been a republican form of government into the Warrior State. "There will be a resurrection," he wrote, "for the spirit of freedom never dies. But its coming will take time and much travail."
Fifty years later, after much more travail than Chodorov could have imagined, the resurrection of the movement known as America First or the Old Right seems imminent. The creation of an organized and self-consciously noninterventionist movement on the Right is a development that would have given even the pessimistic Chodorov hope. Buchanan's book is a great beginning but he, unfortunately, explicitly endorses the Cold War as, all-in-all, justified, in spite of errors made along the way. As I noted in my original review, while Buchanan covers the history of America's wars in great detail, from the Spanish-American War to the annexation of Texas to World Wars I and II, he glosses over the Cold War in a few pages, attributing the collapse of Communism to Ronald Reagan and the US military buildup. That was one crusade that worked but this contradicts the rest of his book, as at least one reviewer other than myself has pointed out, an anomaly that stands out like a sore thumb in an otherwise closely reasoned argument against imperial overstretch.
Just as the Treaty of Versailles and the Draconian "peace" imposed on Germany led directly to the conditions that gave rise to Hitlerism and the planted the seeds of World War II, so the crimes of the Cold War have planted new seeds from which new Myrmidons will rise out of the blood-soaked earth. Buchanan, to his great credit, sees this happening, in Russia and in China, and is bravely sounding the warning: "For god's sake, let's don't start World War III," he said, speaking against NATO expansion. But you can't argue against NATO expansion without understanding and critiquing its origins. Buchananites have taken the first step on the road to a consistent America First-ism now they need to take another.
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