Christine Hong> U.S. versus North Korea: the Hunger Games

“Never in the mainstream US media do you hear that North Korea has asked the United States for a peace treaty more than 100 times.”

Excerpted from a talk by Christine Hong

WAMM Newsletter  May 2013  WomenAgainst Military Madness.org

The US uses South Korea in playing dangerous war games aimed at China. What is the connection to the food crisis the people of North Korea experience and their leader’s nuclear threats against the West?North Korea has always served as a “devil function,” an enormously useful enemy for the United States. The Korean War, coming as it did on the heels of World War II, sparked an economic boom domestically and legitimated the unprecedented worldwide garrisoning of large numbers of American troops in a network of bases around the world. In essence, it furnished the occasion for a remilitarized remapping of the globe that in turn enabled the reconstruction of the world market under American auspices.

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South Koreans on JeJu Island respond with creative resistance to the construction of a U.S. naval base, part of the “Pivot” to the Asia Pacific.
Art by Woomi and Bomal.

It began in 1945 when the occupation line was drawn at the 38th parallel. Two junior US Army officers, Charles Bonasteel and Dean Rusk, armed with nothing more than a National Geographic map, split Korea in two within half an hour. This separated one in three families and prompted a war of national reunification.

During a three-year window, 3.5 million North Koreans, the majority of them civilians, were killed. At the hands of the United States, North Koreans suffered one of the most appalling, unrestrained bombing campaigns in our genocidal 20th century, and ever since they have been shouting themselves hoarse at a nation of amnesiacs [the United States] who aren’t listening.

For Americans, the Korean War may have slipped into the ash heap of history and is, at best, a vague footnote. For the North Koreans, the so-called “Forgotten War” has had indelible consequences.

Never in the mainstream US media do you hear that North Korea has asked the United States for a peace treaty more than 100 times. The image of North Korea as a country that actively seeks peace is not consonant with the jingoistic caricature that we’re typically confronted with in mainstream media policy discourse.

Sanctions are no less devastating than bombing in their effects. Although they’re regularly tightened, fortified, and expanded with each North Korean nuclear test and attempted satellite or rocket launch, sanctions—including financial, trade, and investment restrictions—have been in place against North Korea since mid-century.

The UN and US sanctions are primarily aimed at dissuading North Korea from further developing its nuclear and missile programs, but they have failed this objective. In fact, a recent UN report evaluating implementation of UN Security Council sanctions that were leveled against North Korea in 2006 and 2009 following these nuclear tests attests to just the opposite.

It’s also ludicrous for pundits to believe that China would align itself with US interests when US strategies in the region involve the military encirclement of China.

Far from a surgical strike on North Korea’s leadership, the effects of US sanctions, despite the State Department’s repeated assertions to the contrary, are borne by the people of North Korea. In fact, as many scholars have acknowledged, sanctions signal the likelihood of humanitarian catastrophe.

Sisyphus Resist: Antiwar activists carry rocks up a hill and pile them in formations to block construction of a U.S. naval base on South Korea’s JeJu Island, only to have them removed again by authorities.  
From photo series, “Repeatedly Destroyed, but Continuously Constructed Art” by Emily Wang, Sung-Hee Choi

We have to understand North Korea’s situation in the post-Cold War world order in order to grasp the lethal implications of sanctions. No country in the world is food self-sufficient, but North Korea had eradicated hunger by the 1970s. But during the post-1990s period it lost concessionary fuel and fertilizer when the Socialist Bloc broke up. During that time it lost anywhere from 600,000 to a million people from famine.

Those of us in the West tend to think of famine or food crises in North Korea as a result of something sinister caused by the North Korean regime. But in broader historical perspective, what explains the recurrence of food shortages in North Korea? David Austin, program director for the humanitarian aid organization Mercy Corps, had this to say about North Korea:

The food security situation is a symptom of the greater political problem… which is that the US is still at war with North Korea. And so there are sanctions on North Korea. They are not allowed to get fuel. There is no fertilizer. And so the greater political situation has a tremendous effect on the lives of the ordinary people…

Sanctions must be considered as particularly cynical levers of influence when considered in conjunction with the deliberate withholding of food aid by the United States. Sanctions policies have been steadfastly pursued by US administrations with the hope that prolonged economic pressure will inspire North Korea’s government to succumb, its citizenry to rebel, or the state to collapse.

The people of North Korea were viewed as collateral damage with the goal of regime collapse.

About a year prior to his death, Kim Jong-il reached out to the US through back channel negotiations—this happens all the time, whether or not we hear about it. And he said, “My meteorologists tell me that the forecast is grim. Next year is going to be terrible. We need food aid.”

And the US responded: Make the request formal, and open up your country to unprecedented food assessment inspections. North Korea made the request formal. It opened the country up to unprecedented inspections by four teams: one was of US NGOs; one was from the US government; one was from the UN World Food Program, FAO and UNICEF; and the fourth was from the EU’s Echo program. They went to North Korea and every single report, except for the US government’s report, concluded that things were moving from a chronic to an acute crisis.

The Obama adminstration has done away with ever-dwindling US food aid, even as it has applied sanctions.*

When you think about North Korea being under siege for all these decades, when you think about all these war games that are annually performed by the US and South Korea—can you imagine something like that happening on the Canadian or Mexican border against the United States?

Christine Hong presented the talk, sponsored by the WAMM Middle East Committee, Macalester-Plymouth Peacemakers, Korean Quarterly and Merriam Park Neighbors for Peace on November 29, 2012. She is with the Korean Policy Institute and an assistant professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz, specializing in Korean diaspora and critical Pacific Rim studies.

Editor’s Note: On April 26, 2012 a report “Foreign Assistance to North Korea,” written by US specialists in Asian Affairs and Nonproliferation, was completed for Congress, demonstrating that Congress was aware of the food crisis in North Korea and that there is linkage to political issues and nuclear weaponry. In March 2013, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that the food situation is dire and “must not be contingent on political developments.” But then last month Secretary of State Kerry pressured China, an important trade partner, to tighten sanctions on North Korea, as a way of persuading it to abandon its nuclear ambitions—a tricky proposition since China is the target of the US pivot into the Asia Pacific.

© 2013 Women Against Military Madness.

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