When the National Assembly approved the dispatch of troops to Iraq I could only think of the title of a famous newspaper column, written about a century ago by Chang Ji-yeon, about the Japanese takeover of diplomatic priorities.
A country that was once colonized by Japanese imperialism, and that suffered numerous civilian massacres during the Korea War, is now complicit with U.S. imperialism’s indiscriminate carnage against the Iraqi people. Sending troops to Iraq will reduce South Korea to a hired hand of the aggressor, decimating the historical legitimacy of the country. Whatever government apologia, April 2nd, 2003, the day the National Assembly passed the approval, will go down in history as a day of national humiliation. What will history teachers across the nation be able to teach their students when their soldiers begin to aid the aggressor? I feel the pulse of history is beginning to cease. The pro-war administration of Roh Moo Hyun likely refrains it from using the false pretexts promoted by Bush & Co.: the threats of “weapons of mass destruction”, or the “elimination of the Hussein Dictatorship.” Probably, government officials tacitly admit that there is no legitimate case for this war. What they attempt to sell once and again is national interest, and a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis.
To translate their diplomatic rhetoric into layman’s terms, if we line up with Bush & Co. in its invasion of the Middle East and its diplomatic standoff with Europe and China, Bush will not attack North Korea, and spare our lives. In more blunt terms, we have capitulated to the intimations by Mr. Bush, the mob Don who said, “The conflict with North Korea will spill over into war, wiping the Korean peninsula off the map, unless you help us in Iraq.” I understand well why they bowed to the pressure. However, what matters is that our submission to Washington’s honcho will not guarantee that his henchmen would not level our streets. On the contrary, if we say no to his threats, this would not be a cue for territorial war in our backyard.
What is the nature of the North Korean nuclear crisis? Like in the war in Iraq, weapons of mass destruction themselves are not an issue. The government in Washington knows all too well that North Korea cannot attack the U.S., even if it has several nuclear warheads, and that it really wants to talk with Washington. Washington’s plans are aimed at pressing potential military rivals, China and Russia, by occupying North Korea or through launching a “preemptive strike” on China that has yet to implement military modernization, by provoking it into conflict. Mr. Bush couldn’t care less about hundreds of thousands of American soldiers and millions of Korean civilians who would be killed in the process. For wealthy racists in Washington and on Wall Street, the “second class” races outside the West and members of the U.S. underclass who are offering their bodies to the military are no more than expendable.
Will Mr. Bush shelve war plans for North Korea — which would turn out to be a second Korean War by turning the peninsula into wasteland — if South Korea supports the U.S. against Iraq? He never will. As long as the U.S. sees China’s rise as the second largest superpower of the world as a threat, the high possibility of U.S. war using the North Korean nuclear issue as a pretext is here to stay. If there is anyone who believes that our efforts to build trust with the U.S. with a docile attitude would stop the war of aggression, he or she should take a fresh look at the last decade of Iraq. Look at how much energy Mr. Hussein has put into reconciling with the U.S. Could he stop the invasion?
I don’t believe that the second Korean War is inevitable. If two U.S. bulwarks in the Far East, South Korea and Japan, begin to revamp their U.S.-related security issues in toto, if South Korea and Japan emphatically say no to the U.S.’s war of aggression, its war drive will run into severe difficulties. Would the U.S. invasion of Iraq take place with such ease if Kuwait, following the lead taken by Turkey, did not allow the U.S. military to use its bases? The problem at a deeper level is that rulers of South Korea and Japan, who have internalized their submission to the U.S., consider any independent action heretical. Particularly, the fact that Korean policymakers cannot think outside the terms set by the U.S. leads me to weep bitterly.
Vladimir Tikhonov, a naturalized Korean of Russian origin also known as Pak Noja in South Korea, teaches Korea studies at the University of Oslo in Norway.
Originally published in the April 7 issue of Jugan Jinbo Jeongchi [Progressive Politics Weekly], a publication published by the Korean Democratic Labor Party (web address: www.kdlp.org)
Translated and edited by Kap Su Seol