Raymond Matison Blog | North Korean Quagmire: Part 2. Bombing, Nuclear Threats, and Resolution | Talkmarkets

Mr. Matison earned a B.S. in engineering physics and a M.S. in Actuarial Science.  He worked in the actuarial field for six years, and then became registered representative at Hayden Stone.  Later, while working as a financial analyst at Legg, Mason Inc., he was recognized by ... more

North Korean Quagmire: Part 2. Bombing, Nuclear Threats, and Resolution

Date: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 8:58 PM EDT

Continued from Part 1: The North Korea Quagmire: A Contest Of Colonialism And Communism

After much experimentation and scientific study by Germany, Britain, and the United States, by 1943 it became clear that “a city was easier to burn down than to blow up.”

George Ball had been a member of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey team that was charged with studying the effects of bombing Germany and Japan.  It found that the resolve of both the German and the Japanese population to resist the enemy had not been broken by intensive bombing.  Despite this knowledge, what hardly any Americans know or remember is that we carpet-bombed North Korea for three years with next to no concern for civilian casualties.

Ignoring George Ball’s conclusion regarding the effects of bombing related to the resolve of people, in the fall of 1951 incendiary raids reminiscent of those during WWII were carried out against the North with such effectiveness that Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt Vandenberg complained, “We have reached the point where there are not enough targets left in North Korea to keep the air force busy.”  

With the Chinese offensive, as U.S. troops were falling back from northern North Korea, General Walker ordered the evacuation of Pyongyang with a “scorched earth policy” to destroy everything that might be of use to the enemy.  We set on fire most of the villages we passed through.  We weren’t going to give the Chinese too many places to shelter in during the rest of the winter.

An all-out assault on Pyongyang on July 11, 1952, involved 1,254 air sorties by day and 54 B-29 assaults by night, the prelude to bombing thirty other cities and industrial objectives under “operation PRESSURE PUMP”.  Highly concentrated incendiary bombs were followed up with delayed demolition explosives.  Cities were razed “because the bombing offensive had long ago become an end in itself, with its own momentum, its own purpose, devoid of tactical or strategic value, indifferent to the needless suffering and destruction it caused.”

As a result, the Korean War from 1950 to 1953 leveled a lot of the North’s inherited advantages. Kim Il-sung’s mistaken calculation to invade the South led, among other things, to U.S. carpet-bombing of the country which essentially wiped out all Japanese-built industries.  U.S. dropped more bombs on the North than they had done in all air campaigns in WWII.

The air assaults ranged from the widespread and continual use of firebombing to threats to use nuclear and chemical weapons, and finally to the destruction of huge North Korean dams in the last stages of the war.  In 1953, US Air Force hit huge irrigation dams that provided water for 75% of the North’s food production.  In the end the scale of urban destruction quite exceeded that in Germany and Japan, according to U.S. Air Force estimates.  The United States dropped 635,000 tons of bombs in Korea (not counting 32,557 tons of napalm, compared to 503,000 tons in the entire Pacific theater in World War II.

Charles Joy, chief of the Korean mission of CARE and witness to World War I and II, wrote, “In twelve successive years of relief work in different parts of the world, I have never seen such destitution and such widespread misery as I have seen here.

Hungarian charge d’affaires, Maria Balog, reported in February 1951 Korea has become a pile of ruins.  There are no houses or buildings left.  Cities and villages have been blown up, or destroyed by bombings, or burned down.  The population lives in dugouts in the ground.

Freda Kirchwey, senior editor of The Nation, angrily observed, ‘Someday soon the American mind, mercurial and impulsive, tough and tender, is going to react against the horrors of mechanized warfare in Korea … liberation through total destruction cannot be the answer to the world’s dilemma.  Upton Sinclair, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and social activist, worried that devastation by bombing was counterproductive because it fomented a “hatred of Americans in Asia.”

United Nation’s Genocide Convention defined the term saturation bombing as acts committed ”with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.  Under this definition and under the aegis of the United Nations Command, the USAF was inflicting genocide.

McNamara who had a minor planning role in the firebombing of Japanese cities in WWII asked of himself and Curtis LeMay, the commander of the air attacks:  “What makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?” “We were behaving as war criminals.”

This unhindered machinery of incendiary bombing was visited on the North for three years, yielding a wasteland and a surviving mole people who had learned to love the shelter of caves, mountains, tunnels, and redoubts, a subterranean world that became the basis for reconstructing the country and a memento for building a fierce hatred through the ranks of the population.

With the front under constant air attack the Chinese and North Koreans were forced to go underground.  Tunnels, bunkers, and trenches became the backbone of Chinas defensive strategy.  By August 1952, the Chinese had dug 125 miles of tunnels and 400 miles of trenches.  By the end of the war the Chinese had built an astonishing 780 miles of tunnels that comprised eleven thousand tunnels and caves which formed underground cities.

In Pyongyang, by the end of the war in 1953, only three major buildings remained standing.  Simply “there were no more cities in North Korea.”  When foreigners visit North Korea this is the first thing they hear about the war.  One needs to ask as to how we would feel if some foreign power came in and leveled all of Washington DC - leaving only three buildings standing, and required its populace to dig out and live in underground shelters?  How long would we be antagonistic to the power responsible for this destruction?  How long would we remember?


Juche ideology

During the Cold War nothing epitomized the North Koreans’ view that they were the true defenders of Korean ethnic identity and nationalism more than Kim Il-sung’s ideology of juche.  Self-determination in the North Korean context meant that as a small country surrounded by ravenous large powers, it had to practice juche, or self-reliance, and independence, in its internal and external policies. North Korea could not rely on the good graces of others, it had to fend for itself and preserve true Korean identity.

In this regard, juche greatly differed from Marxism-Leninism in its privileging of the state and sovereignty.  For Marx, the nation-state would eventually “wither away” as workers united against capitalism.

Juche, by contrast, was all about the Korean state, Korean sovereignty, and Korean identity and independence.  At the Fifth Party Congress in 1970, juche was formally adopted as the sole guiding principle of the state.  Juche’s “self-reliance” did not mean autarky, but independence and freedom from the pressures and influence of external powers.   According to juche, South Korea was a foreign occupied country, allowing U.S. and Japanese imperialists to use it to aggress against the North. With juche North Koreans saw themselves as the authentic Koreans, claiming that they were not “foreign occupied” like the South.

This ideology appears to have accomplished something remarkable.  It has allowed the Kim dynasty to take hold of a country in a fashion that while being extremely repressive has allowed it to maintain its nationalism, reduced the influence of Communism, and excluded foreign dominance.  This has come at the high cost of creating a military state, which because of few alliances has been economically suppressed, and tyrannically governed.  The regime remains intact despite famine, global economic sanctions, a collapsed economy, and almost complete isolation from the rest of the world.

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Harry Goldstein 3 years ago Member's comment

Everything I ever wanted to know about North Korea and more, thank you.

Craig Newman 3 years ago Member's comment

I think we should just nuke North Korea. They are a major threat to world stability.

David J. Tanner 3 years ago Member's comment

That's insane, not to mention criminal being that the average citizen hasn't done anything wrong. However, their leadership is crazy. I would support a surgical strike to take out Kim Jong-un because he is a major threat to world stability and could very well launch a nuclear strike first. His people would likely thank us. As we've learned from the recent defectors, people are literally starving to death over there.

Ayelet Wolf 3 years ago Member's comment

A far better response.