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Korean War Revisited

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    Posted: 24 Dec 2010 at 08:02

Bruce Cumings has written a book about the Korean War that offers quite an alternative history of those times. Rather than an invasion by North Korea that came out of the blue in 1950, fomented by a conspiracy of a monolithic communist movement, Cumings offers a rationale for the war based on local history and sentiment. Many of the events mentioned in the book have been whitewashed from history, or have simply been forgotten about.

 

The Japanese colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945 was an event that left quite an emotional scar on the Korean psyche. Once they were gone, Koreans quickly began retaking their society. Not too surprisingly, considering the vast disparity in wealth in the country, leftists were in the forefront of this movement. When the American occupation force arrived, they soon began to calculate that their national interests did not necessarily coincide with the Korean populace. The color red was a dazzling one for the Americans, and they began to see building a wall to contain communism as the core priority. If this meant returning hated Korean collaborators- police, military, and civil administrators- to their posts, as the quickest way to get a firm hold on the country, then so be it. To many Koreans, this was their worst nightmare. It looked like they were going to be stepped on again, their only value to be a minor piece in a geopolitical game. And to rub salt into the wound, it would be Japanese collaborators- many of whom had committed atrocities under the colonial regime- that would be back in charge.

 

There were a number of uprisings during the period 1945-50. On of the most serious was on Cheju Island, where from 30,000-80,000 were killed in bitter fighting in 1948-9. There were similar rebellions around the south during that time. The American backed regime tended to label them all communists, as this assured them of US support, but this blanket designation was dubious. Many were angry that a neo-fascist regime seemed to be returning, under the approving nod of the Americans. In fact, the US had by then decided that an independent South Korea would best be tied economically to Japan, and that many former pro-Japanese, right wing figures would take places of authority.

 

This was the real backdrop for the North Korean invasion of 1950. Monolithic communism had little to do with it. Kim Il Sung had secured support from China and the Soviet Union, although the latter gave it reluctantly and with some ambivalence.

 

It is sad to think that, even if the book is reasonably accurate, how much mayhem was caused by misunderstanding, cultural and historical ignorance, and the American xenophobic fear of the left. Doubly so when one considers a similar episode was repeated in Vietnam.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Korean-War-History-Library-Chronicles/dp/0679643575/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1293141409&sr=8-1

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guest Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Dec 2010 at 09:01
Hi Captain Vancouver.

 An interesting thought exercise into alternative history. Unfortunately, the once super secret Soviet and Chinese diplomatic documents do not support this theory. At least that has been my take on it. Here are quite a few links too explore on the Koreans war and the Cold War:

This link ought to be explored in detail for the wealth of knowledge it contains
http://www.php.isn.ethz.ch/collections/index.cfm

North Korea in the cold war. This is a different site form the link above. As are the ones that follow come from the same site as this link.
http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=1409&fuseaction=va2.browse&sort=Collection&item=North%20Korea%20in%20the%20Cold%20War

The Korean war
http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=1409&fuseaction=va2.browse&sort=Collection&item=The%20Korean%20War

The Cold War International History Project: The Virtual archives. A lot of documents related to cold war diplomacy from the Communists viewpoint.
http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=1409&fuseaction=va2.browse&sort=Collection

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Dec 2010 at 05:13
Very accurate and objective notes from captain Vancouver, thanks!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Captain Vancouver Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Dec 2010 at 05:52
Originally posted by Panther Panther wrote:

Hi Captain Vancouver.

 An interesting thought exercise into alternative history. Unfortunately, the once super secret Soviet and Chinese diplomatic documents do not support this theory. At least that has been my take on it. Here are quite a few links too explore on the Koreans war and the Cold War:

This link ought to be explored in detail for the wealth of knowledge it contains
http://www.php.isn.ethz.ch/collections/index.cfm

North Korea in the cold war. This is a different site form the link above. As are the ones that follow come from the same site as this link.
http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=1409&fuseaction=va2.browse&sort=Collection&item=North%20Korea%20in%20the%20Cold%20War

The Korean war
http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=1409&fuseaction=va2.browse&sort=Collection&item=The%20Korean%20War

The Cold War International History Project: The Virtual archives. A lot of documents related to cold war diplomacy from the Communists viewpoint.
http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=1409&fuseaction=va2.browse&sort=Collection

Regards,
Panther

 
 

Thanks for those interesting links, panther. Maybe I haven’t been thorough, but I failed to find anything on those sites that contradict the Cumings book.

 

The impression often generated in the west of the Korean War, is one of drawing a line to stop a red tide flowing over the world. Moscow gave the orders, and the periphery responded, robot like, whether this was in their own national interests or not.

 

Cumings makes a very credible case that this was not the real situation. The origins of the war were in Korean society, and in the bitter legacy of the Japanese colonial occupation. Yes, the north drew support from China and the Soviet Union, but really what other choice was there if the US was going to place itself in direct opposition to-as they saw it- their national goals. Stalin originally, according to the book, was not keen on a Korean invasion of the south, but only relented later, after lobbying by Kim Il Sung, and after assurances that it could be pulled off without sparking a larger conflict.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Dec 2010 at 06:49
Three points here:
 
First of all, with hind sight we could now easily know what was good for Koreans on the long run and it is definitely not the country that has a dead man for its eternal president and I doubt that any sane SK would argue otherwise.
 
 
Second point, Korea was divided in 45, that was done because the USSR occupied the Northern parts in the final days of WWII (operation August Storm) and there was a general agreement to unify the country. However since uncle Joe didn't stick to the agreements with the allies about europe there was no way they could trust him in Korea and their fears turned out to be true. As soon as the Americans left (leaving only a small marine force in Pusan which is why the country was overrun so quickly) the North invaded. The American fear of communism was not based on paranoia but on actual precedent.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Dec 2010 at 06:59
Alternatives to a stated position do not necessarily mean the conclusions derived from them are correct. Then, within the context of historiography, the application of "alternative" is often shorthand for damnation. In this instance, word-view vis a vis the Cold War does not raise specters, however Captain Vancouver's slant is not necessarily those of the author of this interesting analysis. After all, even The Cato Institute gave this book a "thumbs up"-- http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=12520 .
 
The caveat there, however, is sufficient warning and Cummings narration of events demands a closer analysis of the assumptions supporting the theme. In other words: Skepticism is a two-way street. The major premise behind the book is not so much an actual synthesis of North Korea in terms of its own realities, but its whitewashing by assailing the ghosts of the pasts. None more so than assigning all positions as a function of the Japanese interlude between 1910 and 1945. To do so required as much a caricature of the Rhee and Park governments in Seoul as the painting of Kim Il-sung as a dedicated freedom fighter. After all "nationalism" as rejection of Japanese phantoms is as much a characteristic of the Republic of Korea as that of the DPRK.
 
One may become as introspective as one wishes with regard to the personal warts of one's own interpretative flows by noting personal sins (in both attitudes  and national perspectives). But let us be honest here, a good dose of hypocrisy or worse, myopea for the sake of elitist New Left politics, is required in view of what has to be "swallowed" as captured by this classic promenade down contemporary agitprop in grand Stalinist style:
 
 
Who did serve as the better catalyst for a modern national Korea is the more appropriate question. And the correct answer to that query can not be found in Pyonyang. One can not serve the present by rationalizing petty points drawn from history--or worse alluding to Vietnam as Cummings constantly did--and nothing discredits the thesis more than this snippet from the "official line" of the Dear Leader:
 
 
I am not saying that the Cummings analysis makes him a "running dog" of the Kim dynasty. Instead, I believe that his sanguine approach to the ills of the ROK leadership in the years 1948-1960 can not be employed as apologia for the contemporary disaster north of the 38th parallel, which after all is said and done, is the principal objective sought since Cummings boldly asserts that it was American opportunism in the peninsula that forged the base for the Korean War and that the US was little more than the heir of Japanese imperialism that Kim I was honor-bound to resist!  
 
Sorry, but that will not wash save among the "usual suspects". 


Edited by drgonzaga - 26 Dec 2010 at 06:59
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Dec 2010 at 21:15
I agree in general with al Jassas and the doctor. I doubt very strongly that anyone in the two Korea leaderships was motivated by the 'national interest' or nationalism in general. At best they wre tools to justify the assumption of personal power. That marks a complete difference between Korea and Vietnam where the colonial power was left in occupation well after 1945.
 
Moreover, no matter who was supporting them, I don't think Kim was any more of a Communist than Rhee was a dedicated democrat.
 
As T.H.White puts it, when you strip away all the propaganda and special pleadings about 'provocation' it is always easy to see who actually starts a war. In this case only a sensation-seeking revisioist could claim it was not North Korea.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guest Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Dec 2010 at 18:48

You are more than welcome Captain. Though the linked sources and documents are more useful the more you acquaint yourself with the documents. I'll say no more than that for now.



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Dec 2010 at 02:49
While I have great respect for Cumings scholastic achievements, largely his learning to read, write, and speak Korean, that does not carry over to his status as a 'historian' despite the fact that I applaud his view of the Korean War as a civil war, which it was. He picks and chooses his facts to support his arguments, ignoring contrary facts. Ergo, he could be a very fine historian, but he chooses to border on polemics. As noted, his long association with leftist, so-called anti-War, politics  in the U.S. has colored his judgment.

He and his compatriots are best summed up in these recent postings by Korean Scholar K.M. Lawson at Frog in a Well (hint, scroll down to the first Left Flank Guard posting. Also Cumings is one of the key members of the ACSK cited):  http://www.froginawell.net/korea/

     "In politics, a direct attack is not always the most effective. One way to proceed is to target someone or something that is seen to represent a more extreme, a more pure representation of your opponent’s ideas and concentrate at least some of your efforts here. Let us call this the “politics of envelopment.” One of the most misguided responses to such a threat of a politics of envelopment, however, is what I will call a “flank guard” form of active defense. Alas, on the political left, and especially among those who, including myself, might be described as democratic socialists, this approach is all too common. The “left flank guard” often takes the form of a spirited defense of even the most indefensible extremes on our flank. The most common ways this is actually carried out is by means of evasion (of accusations), dramatic reversals (“On the contrary, you are the terrorist!”), distraction (“Look at those literacy rates!”), and good old fashioned omission of inconvenient truths."

     "With the end of the cold war, the “left flank guard” has mostly been deployed in the defense of authoritarian leaders who emit that nostalgic socialist scent (e.g. Venezuela), historical figures who are seen as worthy leaders of revolution but who lost in their struggle for power (e.g. Trotsky), or any resistance or liberation movement that is seen as the best current option for opposing some hated regime (e.g. Hamas). The important point to make here is that few of those in the left flank guard really believe that freedom of expression should be curtailed as it is in Venezuela, that enemies of the revolution should be mercilessly slaughtered, as did Trotsky, or that theocracy is a good supplement to generous social policies. Yet, for some reason, their defenders believe that the survival of our political cause requires us to take a stand and vigorously defend those whose oppressive policies and brutal violence often far outmatch those of our current opponents. I, on the other hand, find this tendency nothing short of repulsive, but more importantly, of no benefit to the cause of social justice."

"In the academic world of Korean studies, we might call this phenomenon the “North flank guard,” because the form it takes is:

1) A mobilization of scholarly efforts against opposition to the North Korean regime or those who highlight its human rights issues.

2) A refusal to clearly acknowledge North Korean responsibility for the escalation of tensions at numerous points in the last few years. This treats North Korea as a passive force, reacting only to provocation, rather than as an active composite subject which carefully calculates the potential domestic and international gains to be made from any new crisis.

3) The minimization or sometimes omission of any mention or substantive detail of the oppressive characteristics of the North Korean regime.

4) The fallacious pursuit of a historical argument which seeks to trace all contemporary woes back to the sins of Japanese colonialism, or to US and Soviet military occupations. Let’s call this, “The argument of original imperial sin.”"





Edited by lirelou - 28 Dec 2010 at 02:50
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Dec 2010 at 03:08
Captain V:  I read a number of posts translated into English on the old Kimsoft site, which apparently no longer exists. Mr. Kim was a former North Korean anti-Communist guerrilla and fervent Korean nationalist who grew up in the area where Kim Il-sung operated (Gapyong), emigrated to the U.S>, and became a U.S. citizen. His site was useful for dredging up myriad documents on the Japanese Colonial period and the post war period. The interesting thing was that many of Kimsoft's documents contradicted each other. In regards to the Cheju-do rebellion, he depicts numbers much as you do. However he also placed a translated account by the ROK Regimental Commander on Cheju-do in 1947-48. This officer describes how his battalion, for one understrength battalion was all the manpower he had, was armed with Japanese Arisaka rifles, and had a mere one Japanese light machinegun. They had no ammo, and had to call upon the island's girl divers to go down and retrieve ammunition that the Japanese had dumped in the ocean at the end of the war. His unit was not as well armed as the local police, who had American arms. And, of course, other ROK elements were brought in once the populace rose up against the police in an incident fanned over control of the island's cigarette smuggling networks, which the police and their auxiliaries, North Korean antiu-communist refugees, hoped to control.

Simply stated, I failed to see a military machine that was capable of inflicting 30,000 to 80,000 casualties in that document. To do so, the population would have had to be extremely passive, and merely stood there while ROK forces gunned them down. Something I find highly suspicious. To my knowledge, no one has ever unearthed any mass graves on Cheju-do that would justify such charges. There is general agreement that much of the population fled, and others were forcibly relocated after the rebellion. That in itself evidences an environment where rumor and exaggeration thrive. Remeber that in this period, the ROK had only Constabulary Forces. What would become the ROK Army was still in its incipient stage, and it was already faced with a Communist directed insurgency (mostly in the Taebaek mountains and in the Southwest). Joe Bermudez has covered that insurgency in the initial chapter of his "North Korean Special Forces" book. Bermudez' facts contradict any idea that the rebellions in the South were not directed from Pyongyang (and Haeju, where their training and infiltration base was.)

Now, I would agree with you that the war did not simply 'start out of the blue'. In fact, it started after pretty much a two year period of what we are seeing today. However, no one now disagrees that Kim Il-sung made a pilgrimage to both Moscow and Beijing to get permission before he launched his war. Cumings has taken a long time to acknowledge that.

p.s., the last US combat unit (a Regimental Combat Team from the 7th Infantry Division) was withdrawn from Korea in June 1949. All that was left was the 500 man Korean Military Advisory Group, which did include a few Marines and Naval personnel.  One KMAG Captain was killed while advising ROK troops in anti-guerrilla operations, but not on Cheju-do, where no U.S. troops were involved.

Also, if we are going to use the term "American backed" why not also the "Soviet backed" for any ROK opponents, which would be equally accurate.
  

Edited by lirelou - 28 Dec 2010 at 03:23
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Dec 2010 at 03:51
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

 
 
Second point, Korea was divided in 45, that was done because the USSR occupied the Northern parts in the final days of WWII (operation August Storm) and there was a general agreement to unify the country.
 
 
and because Americans occupied the southern part of Korea... Otherwise, pointing just at the USSR occupying North Korea doesn't make sense. It was an artificial division imposed by two superpowers.
 
 
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

However since uncle Joe didn't stick to the agreements with the allies about europe
 
 
What do you mean?
 
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

there was no way they could trust him in Korea and their fears turned out to be true. As soon as the Americans left (leaving only a small marine force in Pusan which is why the country was overrun so quickly) the North invaded. The American fear of communism was not based on paranoia but on actual precedent.
 
 
What precedent?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Dec 2010 at 04:52
Originally posted by Sarmat Sarmat wrote:

Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

 
 
Second point, Korea was divided in 45, that was done because the USSR occupied the Northern parts in the final days of WWII (operation August Storm) and there was a general agreement to unify the country.
 
 
and because Americans occupied the southern part of Korea... Otherwise, pointing just at the USSR occupying North Korea doesn't make sense. It was an artificial division imposed by two superpowers.
 
 
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

However since uncle Joe didn't stick to the agreements with the allies about europe
 
 
What do you mean?
 
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

there was no way they could trust him in Korea and their fears turned out to be true. As soon as the Americans left (leaving only a small marine force in Pusan which is why the country was overrun so quickly) the North invaded. The American fear of communism was not based on paranoia but on actual precedent.
 
 
What precedent?
 
Poland's free elections that never happened and the coups in Hungary and Czechslovakia should be enough proof on how good  Stalin's (not Soviet mind you) word that he gave in Yalta.
 
The Americans weren't saints either but at least they kept their word in Yalta. When communists won in Italy they didn't depose them in a coup but through elections.
 
As for American occupation of SK, it came after WWII ended and according to the peace treaty Americans and British troops entered Korea south of the 38th parallel to disarm the Japanese who were there and repatriate them to Japan. However to fill the power vaccuum Americans agreed with the Soviets to stay until things cooled down.
 
To be fair to the Russians they didn't want another war so they delegated Korea to China and it was the Chinese who dragged them to war but make no mistake about it, Stalin wanted a communits satillite state in Korea to keep the Americans away.
 
Al-Jassas


Edited by Al Jassas - 28 Dec 2010 at 04:54
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Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

 
The Americans weren't saints either but at least they kept their word in Yalta. When communists won in Italy they didn't depose them in a coup but through elections.
 
All the parties more or less kept their words. Everybody knew that the occupation of certain European territories meant "control" by default. The most important agreement was terrritorial delimination and both Stalin and the Allies kept what had been agreed on.
 
And there were no precedents of attacking by some Soviet contolled entity of another entity before Korea. A similar precedent would be something like Eastern Germany attacking Western Germany and such never happened. So, "precedent" dicussion isn't really relevant here.
 
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

To be fair to the Russians they didn't want another war so they delegated Korea to China and it was the Chinese who dragged them to war but make no mistake about it, Stalin wanted a communits satillite state in Korea to keep the Americans away.
 
That's not accurate. Chinese didn't need that war either. In fact, it were they who were dragged in it after the collapse of North Korea was certain in the late 1950.
 
And nobody seriously believed that it would escalate into a major war. Everybody thought it would be something similar to the late Chinese civil war after 1945 i.e. quick and smooth defeat of anti-communist forces, which had been actually happening until the American intervened and changed everything.
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Captain Vancouver Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Dec 2010 at 07:45
Originally posted by lirelou lirelou wrote:

Captain V:  I read a number of posts translated into English on the old Kimsoft site, which apparently no longer exists. Mr. Kim was a former North Korean anti-Communist guerrilla and fervent Korean nationalist who grew up in the area where Kim Il-sung operated (Gapyong), emigrated to the U.S>, and became a U.S. citizen. His site was useful for dredging up myriad documents on the Japanese Colonial period and the post war period. The interesting thing was that many of Kimsoft's documents contradicted each other. In regards to the Cheju-do rebellion, he depicts numbers much as you do. However he also placed a translated account by the ROK Regimental Commander on Cheju-do in 1947-48. This officer describes how his battalion, for one understrength battalion was all the manpower he had, was armed with Japanese Arisaka rifles, and had a mere one Japanese light machinegun. They had no ammo, and had to call upon the island's girl divers to go down and retrieve ammunition that the Japanese had dumped in the ocean at the end of the war. His unit was not as well armed as the local police, who had American arms. And, of course, other ROK elements were brought in once the populace rose up against the police in an incident fanned over control of the island's cigarette smuggling networks, which the police and their auxiliaries, North Korean antiu-communist refugees, hoped to control.

Simply stated, I failed to see a military machine that was capable of inflicting 30,000 to 80,000 casualties in that document. To do so, the population would have had to be extremely passive, and merely stood there while ROK forces gunned them down. Something I find highly suspicious. To my knowledge, no one has ever unearthed any mass graves on Cheju-do that would justify such charges. There is general agreement that much of the population fled, and others were forcibly relocated after the rebellion. That in itself evidences an environment where rumor and exaggeration thrive. Remeber that in this period, the ROK had only Constabulary Forces. What would become the ROK Army was still in its incipient stage, and it was already faced with a Communist directed insurgency (mostly in the Taebaek mountains and in the Southwest). Joe Bermudez has covered that insurgency in the initial chapter of his "North Korean Special Forces" book. Bermudez' facts contradict any idea that the rebellions in the South were not directed from Pyongyang (and Haeju, where their training and infiltration base was.)

Now, I would agree with you that the war did not simply 'start out of the blue'. In fact, it started after pretty much a two year period of what we are seeing today. However, no one now disagrees that Kim Il-sung made a pilgrimage to both Moscow and Beijing to get permission before he launched his war. Cumings has taken a long time to acknowledge that.

p.s., the last US combat unit (a Regimental Combat Team from the 7th Infantry Division) was withdrawn from Korea in June 1949. All that was left was the 500 man Korean Military Advisory Group, which did include a few Marines and Naval personnel.  One KMAG Captain was killed while advising ROK troops in anti-guerrilla operations, but not on Cheju-do, where no U.S. troops were involved.

Also, if we are going to use the term "American backed" why not also the "Soviet backed" for any ROK opponents, which would be equally accurate.
  
 
 

An articulate and informed response as usual, colonel. I’m not completely invested in either one side or the other of the viewpoint raised by Cumings, but it seems to me he has raised some valid points; indeed ones often overlooked by mainstream historians. This is the only book I have read by this author, and I have to admit that, implicitly, there is a certain leaning to his work. In fairness though, he does state in the book that he does not support the North Korean regime, or wish to make any apologies for it. Actually, my interest in the book is not North Korea, as its failings are blatant and obvious, but a part of history that, it seems to me anyway, has been dropped from the view of the general public, perhaps with a push, perhaps not.

 

My ears perk up when I hear the term: communist directed insurgency. It seems to me that to get people to go out and kill, and risk being killed themselves, and to perform a reasonable job at their task, they either have to have some strong motivation, or else be incredibly stupid and easily coerced. This seems to be a common theme in the US viewpoint of history: a radio signal is emitted from Moscow, or Beijing, or Hanoi, and somewhere distant, men (and women) become savagely violent, and foolhardy in regard to their own survival, for little apparent reason. It seems to be so hard to accept that many, most of these individuals have some- as they see it anyway- real grievances, and their own personal beliefs. It also seems so hard to believe that anyone labeled as communist could have any civilized intent. Yet, despite its failings throughout the twentieth century, many did have a lot of hope for this system. Many far left candidates have been freely elected in the world, in local government in Europe, in Chile, and in other places. Cumings quotes sources in the book (some American) that state that there were many local grievances that motivated the early uprisings, rather than a simple signal from the north.

 

In the Cumings book, I think a good case is made that other serious factors were at work, beyond the geopolitical hopes of the communist leadership in China or the Soviet Union, in Korea. You can try a little though experiment: Suppose the Japanese had been wildly successful after Pearl Harbor, and eventually colonized the US for a period of 35 years, brutalizing Americans and attempting to squelch out American culture and society. The ends comes, there is liberation, and change is in the air. Americans are quite capable of running things, and so they start reclaiming society at the local level. The liberating power now, amazingly, starts making moves that suggest a return of the Japanese collaborator officials to power, the very ones up to their elbows in atrocities. How much of a raw nerve do you think this would touch? Do you think only the far left of the Democratic Party would take a stand against this policy? Or would protest by widespread?

 

There is also the issue of extreme poverty, and the disparity of wealth in the country at the time. Action breeds re-action, and it is not too surprising that many were inspired by a vision of a greater equality of resources, among other aspirations.

 

One can say, certainly, that the Soviets and the Chinese “backed” North Korea. But Cumings presents evidence that this enterprise was really Kim Il Sungs, and his mentors would of course take whatever morsels of political gain that were offered, rudely grab at them perhaps, but it was not their original idea. Soviet troops left, and didn’t come back. The Chinese intervened yes, but was this really all in the plan? The consensus seemed to be that the north would have a quick and easy victory. China didn’t jump in under their border was within firing range. What’s ascribed to the communist monolith can be more simply explained by simple insecurity. Try another thought experiment: A coalition of communist countries is supporting a like-minded revolution in Mexico. Against expectations, they are doing very well. In fact, their armies are now approaching the Rio Grande, and they have publicly proclaimed that the world would be better off if the regime in Washington was gone. Do you think the US army would go over the border? If they did, would it be merely in the spirit of international capitalist solidarity, or because of what they saw as a clear and dangerous threat?

 

An essential point that I took from the book is how the west in general, and America in particular, has repeatedly taken an overly simplistic view of world events, or in some cases a narrow, self-serving view. As we have seen, this has often come back around on a kind of karmic wheel. Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Afghanistan- the actual list is long. One has to wonder how things would have turned out if the US had gone with regimes that had actual popular support and legitimacy, rather than taking the fast and easy ticket that would back self-interest, or at the lest deny communism.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Dec 2010 at 08:42
Captain V.

Regarding the Communist insurgency in pre-1950 Korea, some points.  First, the Russians too, started in the North with a constabulary. But they had both a goal (a Soviet friendly state on their border) and the means to carry it out (over 5,000 Soviet Korean veterans). And by 1950 they had left North Korea the most modern national military force in East Asia. (I exclude the U.S. and the USSR as neither are East Asian.) In the meanwhile, Kim Il-sung had remained in Pyongyang to become the Soviet's right hand man, while Pak Hon-Yong (one of several romanizations of that name), whose Party credentials far outshone Kim Il-sungs, went South to organize resistance to Kim Koo and Singman Rhee. In 1947, he returned North to direct an 'Institute" that directed the implantation of Party cells and Resistance in the South. There was indeed sympathy for the Communists, supposedly stronger inthe SOuth than the North, primarily because the only real resistance to the Japanese in the immediate period prior to the Pacific War came from the Korean Communists, both those with Mao Zhe-dong (such as Mu Chong, his artillery commander and a Korean veteran of the Long March), and those within the Comintern organized, CCP directed North-east Asia Anti-Japanese United Army (which included no less than six Kim Il-sungs.)  However, the implantation of cells, and the rebellions which occurred between 1945 and 1950, were centrally directed. Indeed, Kim Il-sung invaded South Korea when he did in response to Pak Hon-yong's glowing description of the support they had in the South. And after the war, he was charged with being a CIA stooge and executed by KIS, the first of the native Korean Communists that KIS was to purge, before turning on the Korean PLA vets. Yes, there were local grievances, as at Cheju-do (which likely had few Communists involved).

The plan was Kim Il-sungs. But guaranteeing that there was a Plan B if it failed was ample evidence of Chinese-Soviet commitment. (By the by, the singular most important Soviet contribution to the war was the education and training of both the North Korean and Chinese Armies in battlefield logistics sustainability.

Let's leave aside China's willingness to intervene. From hindsight, it was a no brainer. After all, their government had only been in existence since October 1949, there were still Nationalists fighting in remote area of China, and Chiang Kai-shek could always (theoretically) have convinced the Americans to back his return.

Extreme poverty and disparity of wealth:  Under the Japanese, life expectancy improved dramatically in Korea, and they helped set up the Korean capitalist system that survives today (see:   http://www.amazon.com/Offspring-Empire-Capitalism-1876-1945-International/dp/0295975334)  There is no evidence that common everyday Koreans of 1950 worried about disparity of wealth.

As for:  "An essential point that I took from the book is how the west in general, and America in particular, has repeatedly taken an overly simplistic view of world events, or in some cases a narrow, self-serving view."

I agree that the Cumings book is useful in Korean studies. I can even agree that America saw the Korean War in overly simplistic terms. But at the time, I don't see how they could have viewed it otherwise. Indeed, look at what General Van Fleet was doing before his assignment to Korea. (heading a successful US assistance effort to the Greek government in their Communist inspired Civil War). These were the years that the "Iron Curtain descended across the continent", the beginning of the Cold War. Prior to the invasion, we did not define Korea as being within our area of interest. But the Cold War, the failure of our China Policy, Russian A bombs, and the sudden loss of our ROK ally changed all that. The fact that we are now afforded the luxury of slightly different views from our lofty perch of 20/20 hindsight and access to Soviet archives, does not render you or I any more capable of judging current events than our predecessors were.

As for regimes with "actual popular support". I defy you to provide any real evidence that the North Korean regime enjoyed any more popular support than its southern counterpart. Yes, you never heard that there was a totally indigenous anti-Communist resistance in the North. Well, surprise, neither had the U.S.. But in Feb 1951, as the U.N. forces retreated South, those North Koreans who opposed Kim Il-sung fought a read guard action to the coast in Hwanghae-do province, and were evacuated to the islands off the coast by the British Navy. They fought on under their own command with U.S. assistance until 1953, and are the reason that the Northern Limit Line exists today. Likewise Vietnam: when Ho Chi Minh declared the DRVN on 2 Sept 1945, no one had ever elected him to that position outside a possible small handful of his followers. It was hardly "a fast and easy ticket". Under Roosevelt, the U.S. had taken a stance of opposing French return to Indochina. But realities, and Roosevelt's death, changed that. Did the U.S. screw up in Iran? Perhaps. In Guatemala? More likely. How about Cuba? Remember that until 1959, most Americans liked what little they knew of Castro. (hint for Penguin: Uncle Fidel's father was a genuine 'gallego')
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Dec 2010 at 09:57
Sarmat, in re your: "And nobody seriously believed that it would escalate into a major war. Everybody thought it would be something similar to the late Chinese civil war after 1945 i.e. quick and smooth defeat of anti-communist forces, which had been actually happening until the American intervened and changed everything."

I'm wondering who the 'nobody' refers to. The only one who knew that war was coming to Korea prior to Kim Il-sing and Pak Hyon-yon's trip to Moscow was Kim Il-sung. But you are correct in that Stalin, KIS, and Mao all presumed it would be a short war, over once the Norks had entered Seoul, which was the traditional capital. Their first nasty surprise was when the ROK Army fought far better than they expected, despite the fact that it was still largely armed as a Constabulary. Their second nasty surprise was the reaction of the Southern populace, which was hardly the massive support they had expected. And the third was their relative lack of logistics capabilities, which  made even ammunition hard to move to the front-line division. The Norks were as surprised by the U.S. intervention as the U.S. side was surprised by Chinese intervention, though that should not have been the case.

As for the Chinese civil war, that too was hardly a walk-over. After an initial offensive in Manchuria in 1945, the PLA had to revert to guerrilla operations until 1947, when they were able to resume large conventional operations. Of minor interest, sionce this thread concerns Korea, some 45,000 ethnic Koreans were serving in the Chinese Army, mostly in Manchuria recruited units. SOme 35,000 of them were transferred to the North Korean Army after Mao's victory in October 1949, and the experience and training they brought into the KPA was a crucial factor in its early successes.

But you are quite correct that China did not 'need' the Korean War. But from their perspective, Korea was a dagger aimed at the heart of China. In 1592-98 and 1894-95, the Chinese had fought the Japanese in Korea in efforts to avoid an invasion in the first case, and to limit Japanese penetration of China in the second.
 


Edited by lirelou - 28 Dec 2010 at 10:01
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Dec 2010 at 10:13
Al Jass: In re your: "As for American occupation of SK, it came after WWII ended and according to the peace treaty Americans and British troops entered Korea south of the 38th parallel to disarm the Japanese who were there and repatriate them to Japan. However to fill the power vaccuum Americans agreed with the Soviets to stay until things cooled down."

That is only partially accurate. The Americans and Soviets had agreed upon the mutual disarmament of the Japanese in Korea, and joint control of Korea until such time as a Korean government could be formed. And it was only the Americans who entered South Korea (The British disarmed the Japanese in the Southern half of French Indochina). The Americans envisioned a 10 to 15 year tutelage period for the emerging Korean government and were totally unprepared for thier mission. Thus, instead of LTG Stillwell's Xth Corps, which had been designated for Korea after fighting ended on Okinawa, Hodge's XXIVth Corps went in. Hodge was a fine combat commander, but a poor choice to govern a newly liberated former Asian colony. Communications between Hodge's command and the Koreans were conducted in Japanese. Whereas the Soviet 25th Army entered Korea with several thousand Soviet Koreans, and a smaller number of Korean nationals who were serving in the Soviet Army (KIS among them). The evidence is that they intended to set up a state friendly to the Soviet Union, but not necessarily under its thumb as was the case in Eastern Europe. But, both zone commands soon came to the conclusion that no joint effort was ever going to succeed, and thus the ROK and DPRK were declared in 1948. The Koreans on both sides of the 38th parallel had no intention of undergoing 'tutelage' in government, and with KIS and his 88th Strelnaya Brigade veterans in the driver's seat, they were able to bow out earlier.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Dec 2010 at 20:56
Why does everyone keep referring to the 'US intervention' rather than the 'UN intervention'? It seems, oddly enough, to be in the propaganda interests of both sides to do so.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Dec 2010 at 22:40
Naturally, Gcle, the UN has to be ignored because the theme is revisionist but within the context of contemporary geopolitics. Hence, the reflections and descriptives of that era are studiously avoided so as to internalize the entire situation as if the international perspective was totally irrelevant. Therein the flaw of the Cumings analysis in his efforts to assert a nationalist perspective. However to do so he appeals to the wrong ghosts. The counterpoints can be found here:
 
 
 
Despite all of the rhetoric one does have to acknowledge that reaction to the 1947 UN Resolution [The Problem of the Independence of Korea] is a necessary backdrop:
 


Edited by drgonzaga - 29 Dec 2010 at 07:30
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Dec 2010 at 22:43
Oops...now comes the expected revisionist premise: In the early Cold War period the UN was "under the thumb" of the United States.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Dec 2010 at 06:02
Agreed.
It's interesting though that both sides require the South to be an American pawn to fit their preferred image: on one side that the North was merely standing up against US puppetmasters and on the other that the US was defending the world against communism.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Dec 2010 at 08:53
I must've missed something, as I fail to see how 'standing up to Communism" necessarily renders the ROK a U.S. pawn in anyone's eyes. First, it was the U.S. who had the ability to respond to the North Korean invasion, and they were prepared to do so with or without U.N. authorization. Indeed, had the Soviets been present, there is good reason to believe that it never would have been given. Second, only the U.S. was in any position to build up the ROK Army to where it could adequately field the force necessary to defend their country. At the beginning of the War, ROK Corps lacked artillery, and ROK divisional artillery was severely lacking. Furthermore, the great majority of ROK troops were untrained. The very best officers and NCOs were those who were legacies of the Japanese Imperial Army. The ROKs took two measures that had never been seen in the history of the U.S. Army. First, they assigned large numbers of their personnel to U.S. units as fillers, thus giving them a chance to gain experience with U.S. Forces. These "KATUSA's" remain very much a part of U.S. experience in Korea today. Second, they created an Asian labor corps, called the Korean Service Corps, formed along military lines whose mission was to carry the supplies and perform labor in support of the U.N. forces, thereby eliminating the need for the mules that had sustained U.S. forces in the CBI theater just five years earlier. Thus, combat in Korea was very much a symbiotic effort the likes of which the U.S. Army had never experienced. It is understandable how true believers of the left could label the Koreans pawns (not that they needed such evidence when Uncle Joe was alive), but from the anti-Communist perspective, it beggars comprehension.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Dec 2010 at 09:43
I do not believe, Lirelou, that Gcle was denying an internal dynamic to South Korean society and the shaping of an effective nationalism vis a vis events subsequent to 1947. Instead, I believe that his reference goes to the political establishment of the US and how they "sold" the remilitarization of the United States to an American public weary of war. Think of it as the rhetoric of Liberation meets the phantom of the Iron Curtain. Consequently, whatever the South Korean perspective was it was irrelevant in the need to portray a victim in the maws of the Red Menace. It is this attitude that does provide the fodder for Cumings most egregious exaggerations.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Dec 2010 at 21:31
Originally posted by lirelou lirelou wrote:

I must've missed something, as I fail to see how 'standing up to Communism" necessarily renders the ROK a U.S. pawn in anyone's eyes.
I think what you missed is the word 'alone'.
 
The factual situation is somewhat irrelevant to the portrayal of it by the propagandists.
 


Edited by gcle2003 - 29 Dec 2010 at 21:36
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