The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com.
In 1945, Korea, then a Japanese colony, was divided into Soviet and U.S. occupation zones. The Koreans were promised independence and unity. However, the Korean peninsula was soon enveloped in the Cold War. Communist North Korea invaded non-Communist South Korea in 1950. The United Nations (largely U.S.) and South Koreans drove the North Koreans back to the Chinese border. Then China entered the war. The conflict stalemated, but the carnage continued.
The entire Korean peninsula, including Pyongyang and Seoul, respective capitals of North and South Korea, was devastated. Former Washington Post reporter Blaine Harden opined: “The (U.S.) bombing (of North Korea) was long, leisurely and merciless …. After running low on urban targets U.S. bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams in the later stages of the war, flooding farmland and destroying crops. … It is perhaps the most forgotten part of a forgotten war.”
Over 36,000 Americans, including 747 Wisconsinites, came home in body bags. About 100,000 Americans were wounded. 3 million Koreans (North and South) died, including 2 million civilians and a million soldiers. China lost 900,000 military dead. Both Truman and Eisenhower recklessly made threats to use nuclear weapons to end the war and punish North Korean aggression. Exhaustion and stalemate led to a ceasefire in 1953, but no peace treaty or Korean unification.
The conflict remains frozen. Moreover, an authoritarian and impoverished North Korea has not forgotten the war and is fearful of regime change. The North Korean military is huge, with many artillery pieces aimed at the Seoul metropolitan area (25 million, with some U.S. troops). But over the years the North Korean conventional military has grown obsolete, while the South Korean military has become more advanced. The North Koreans then began a nuclear weapons program, later renouncing the Non-Proliferation Treaty and a bilateral non-nuclear agreement with South Korea. And, defying United Nations sanctions, North Korea has an extensive missile program.
Fast forward. Trump and Pence are engaged in bluster and saber rattling. Trump said: “We are sending an armada.” However, the New York Times reported: “Aircraft carrier wasn’t sailing to deter North Korea, as U.S. suggested.” Pence warned that “all options are on the table.” And, he referenced U.S. bombing in Syria and Afghanistan. A threat? NBC News reported about a possible U.S. preemptive attack against North Korea if it conducts another nuclear test. There’s more.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said: “We don’t want to have military options employed, but we must keep all options on the table.” Fellow Wisconsin Republicans, Representative Sean Duffy and Senator Ron Johnson, concurred. Moreover, Johnson said that China should be cajoled into engineering regime change in North Korea, “or we’re going to do it for you.” Miscalculating and stumbling into war? Politico reports: “Senators to attend North Korea briefing at While House” (Wednesday).
Better to negotiate with North Korea: A peace treaty ending Korean War, diplomatic recognition, security guarantee (North and South) – in exchange for arms control for the Korean peninsula. A new Korean War would be horrific.
— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.