The Korean Genocide Part 3: June 1950 – Who Started It?

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(In Part 2 of this post I detailed the US propensity for installing and maintaining
corrupt and brutal clients as leaders, and their preference for those with a limited
popular base of support amongst their own countrymen. I showed that south of the 38th parallel on the Korean peninsula, whilst under US military occupation, this immediately unfolded as a combination economic, political and military repression. The inevitable resistance prompted massacres at the hands of US or US-led proxy forces. I now continue with the subject of the outbreak of “major hostilities” on the 23rd or 25th of June 1950. I think the thing that will interest readers most in this is the significant circumstantial evidence which indicates the real possibility of a tacit or explicit agreement to foment war by US and USSR leaders.)

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We now come to the vexed issue of the events of 25 June 1950, or as the North Koreans would have it the 23rd of June when, according to them, the ROK initiated major hostilities.1 This is when “major hostilities” broke out – the start of “The Korean War”.
However, one defensible stance is that it is a nonsense to state that the war broke out on that day. Not only had guerrilla conflict and mass-murder already claimed over 100,000 lives south of the 38th parallel, but there was ongoing extensive border fighting which was particularly intense in 1949. It was mostly, but not solely by any means, the ROK which was the initiator of hostilities.2 As Stueck writes: “Who started the firing in the predawn hours of this dreary morning remains in doubt. The Ongjin region had long been the setting for border skirmishes between North and South Korean troops, and often the South had initiated the combat. The evidence for this day in June is ambiguous, even contradictory.”3 Peter Lowe concludes that it is “impossible to determine” who attacked first.4
The conundrum of the outbreak of major hostilities tends to suggest that simple
solutions of either a “South attacks North” or “North attacks South” scenario do not fit the unusual circumstances. To begin with, as Cumings points out with regard to the question of aggression this amounts to “Korea invades Korea”.5 Yes, there were two different armies with two different associated territories, but his was not anything like the German invasion of Poland. It wasn’t even like a normal civil war. The only reason that there were two armies in the first place was the US decision to unilaterally divide the country and the subsequent US and USSR actions which destroyed the normal intercourse between the two parts. There is no historical precedent to this, but as unusual a background as this provides to June 1950, it is only the tip of the iceberg. There are what Stueck terms “ambiguous, even contradictory” factors. As will be described, both sides had plans for military unification and were building forces towards that end, but neither was actually prepared for the sudden outbreak of a major war when it did happen. I would go so far as to suggest that the unusual circumstances themselves tend to necessitate a more complex answer than simply one side attacked the other.
In this work, of course, the point of interest is the US role in the outbreak major
hostilities. Those who concern themselves with this question often characterise US
actions as a “failure of deterrence” or “failing to deter” or virtually invariant phrases.6
One writer in The Journal of Conflict Resolution, (not where one would normally expect
the advocacy of more robust militarism) wrote: “By strongly implying that it would not defend Korea… the United States had invited attack”’7 It is also in the canon of failed deterrence as standing alongside the “failure to deter” Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.8 The problem with this is that it relies on an assumption which seems to be contradicted by the evidence, the assumption that an entity called the US actually did not want a war. One can compare this thesis with a counter-thesis thus: 1) the “failed deterrence” thesis in which a monolithic US undertook insufficient actions to prevent war; 2) the “successful provocation” thesis in which individuals from the US (including those in the Rhee regime) successfully caused the outbreak of major hostilities at a time which was entirely propitious for the US in strategic terms. An intriguing potential corollary to the latter is that, whether through coordinated collusion or merely coincident interests, this seems to have occurred with crucial support from the USSR.
It is interesting to note here that if the US failed to deter the DPRK, then the logical
implication is that it must have been the DPRK which attacked first on 25 June 1950.
Thus Stueck, who is unable to directly confirm DPRK initiation of hostilities, is able to write at great length about a “failure of deterrence” which constantly reinforces this nonfact as being factual in the reader’s mind. When dealing with only the “failure of deterrence” DPRK initiation is assumed9 and never is the possibility of deterring the ROK discussed, except to suggest that success in deterring the ROK was partly behind the failure to deter the DPRK.10 If evidence comes to light that the ROK did launch an offensive on 23 June then all of this “failed deterrence” discourse will be revealed as rather silly propaganda akin to the Germans suggesting that they had failed to deter Polish aggression in 1939, and since we can’t actually discount that possibility – it is silly propaganda. There are those who claim that we can in fact conclude that it was the DPRK which initiated major hostilities, and I will weigh such claims shortly. But before I do, I should emphasise that the only evidence we have is circumstantial, and
furthermore is violently contradictory.

Former secretary of state Dean Acheson in 1965. (Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum)
In 1981 and 1990 Bruce Cumings released the two seminal volumes of his work The
Origins of the Korean War. I have been unable to acquire this work, however some have
interpreted it as pointing to a US/ROK initiation or deliberate provocation of the Korean War.11 Another viewpoint is that: “In contrast to many historians… who maintained that by his remarks, Acheson unintentionally gave North Korea the green light to invade South Korea, Cumings argues that Acheson knew precisely what he was doing and that the speech had little to do with why North Korea invaded South Korea. ‘The Press Club Speech,’ he remarks, ‘was … consistent with his conception of Korean containment in 1947, and with his world view: and so was the intervention in June 1950’ (p. 423).”12
Marilyn Young writes that Cumings largely rejects the relevance of “who started it” but outlines three hypotheses in what seem to be roughly ordered as least to most likely: an unprovoked ROK attack; an unprovoked DPRK attack; or a successfully provoked
DPRK attack which young describes as “the preferred Achesonian stance: the offence demonstrably defensive.”13
I mention this work of Cumings at this point because the traction that this work might have gained was interrupted to some extent in 1993 (not long in academic terms after the publication of the more relevant second volume of The Origins of the Korean War) by the publication of a book seized on by many as the definitive proof of an unprovoked DPRK attack. Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao and the Korean War14 is a diplomatic history of Sino-Soviet relations and, despite its name, only the final two chapters (about 35% of the main body) deal with the Korean war directly. One deals with the DPRK build-up to military reunification, the last with China’s entry into the war.
It is difficult to decide how much space to devote to a critique of Uncertain Partners,
but I think I must confine myself to a symptomatic exemplar. For reasons which are not at all apparent to me, several pages are devoted to describing two meetings that never occurred. The reason given?

We do so partly to suggest the kinds of information that appear to have been exchanged between Moscow and Pyongyang in these months (on which the archives do have significant documents) and partly to indicate how pseudohistory can become widely implicated in efforts to explain the origins of one of history’s tragedies.15

Their actual interest in the role of “pseudohistory” ends right there never to be
mentioned again. Instead the narrative of these meetings is simply incorporated (with a couple of reminders that these were fictional meetings) into the general flow of the chapter. One might wonder why they did not instead utilise the “significant documents” as their sources, but these are neither cited here, nor are they to be found among the 82 documents appended. In fact none of these documents deals with the subject of Korea before one dated 28 June 1950.16 Indeed throughout the chapter there was only one point made which seemed at first to support the conclusion that the DPRK attacked on 25 June, mention made of the “fact” that Mao was “in no doubt” that Kim Il Sung had launched the war.17 The supporting citation, however, merely quotes a Chinese official noting the Korean Workers Party’s determination to “wage a revolutionary war of liberation”.18 Intent, however, is not the issue, as will be shown.
The gist of this chapter of Uncertain Partners (either with or without the inclusion of
clearly unreliable sources) is that Stalin, Mao and Kim Il Sung had developed a coordinated plan of attack. This proves little, however, because Rhee also planned a
military reunification, and made no secret of the fact. He seems to have originally
envisioned invading at some time early in 1950, saying on 7 October 1949 that it would be only “3 days to Pyonyang”, while defence minister Shin Sung-Mo, after 25 October meeting with MacArthur, stated that the ROKA was “ready to drive into North Korea, If we had had our own way we would have started already….”19 Dean Acheson’s Press Club speech on 12 January 1950 explicitly rejected an US force being used to protect the ROK, putting Rhee’s plans on hold, but invasion plans were revived after Rhee met with MacArthur in February.20


Truman and Acheson had both effectively stated early in 1950 that the US would not
defend Korea militarily (even MacArthur had said as much in March 1949),21 and, on 2 May 1950, Senator Tom Connally, chairman of Committee on Foreign Relations, said that a communist take-over of Korea and Taiwan was inevitable: “the US would not go to fight for Korea”.22 However, Rhee must have either been given contrary assurances in private or have correctly read between the lines of these statements which were shown by subsequent events to be complete falsehoods. On 11 January the ROK ambassador to the US sent the following to Rhee:

I give you some encouraging news which I have received confidentially from a top level, reliable source in the Pentagon. I am informed that the State Department and the Pentagon are planning a firm stand with respect to the U.S. Oriental policy. In this anti-Communist plan, Korea will occupy an important position…President Truman will sign, very soon, authorization which will grant permission for armament for Korean ships and planes.23

Around March 1950 the DPRK achieved military superiority over the ROK24 and thus
US involvement became essential. Aware that the US could not support an attack north, the focus in the ROK became an effort to “provoke an ‘unprovoked assault’”.25
In the DPRK, meanwhile, preparations for military unification had begun in earnest in late April with major arms shipments from the USSR.26 This followed Stalin’s assent to conduct an offensive.27 Here’s where things get a little contradictory, because the Soviets sent a group of advisers to Pyongyang, supposedly as a response to Kim Il Sung’s determination to conquer the whole peninsula, but it seems that it was the Soviet advisers who took the initiative in making this happen. In Uncertain Partners a lengthy testimony from KPA Operations Director Yu Sung Chul states that the Soviet advisers took an operations plan (“[e]very army, of course, has an operations plan”) and unilaterally rewrote it entirely. The Soviets considered it too “defensive”. The original
operations plan was for a counteroffensive, but the new Soviet plan was entitled the
“Preemptive Strike Operations Plan”, though the DPRK leadership insisted immediately that it only be referred to as the “counterattack” plan.28 Goncharov et al. maintain that Kim Il Sung was the driving force behind the offensive, suggesting effectively that Kim was the tail wagging the Soviet dog29 despite also claiming that the DPRK was a “wholly dependent… Soviet satellite”.30 The story of the operations plan, however, suggests instead that this was Stalin’s war, not Kim’s, just as was claimed by the US government at the time.31
Kathryn Weathersby deals with this issue and this is how she concludes:

From 1945 to early 1950, Moscow’s aim was not to gain control over the Korean peninsula. Instead, the Soviet Union sought to protect its strategic and economic interests through the traditional Tsarist approach of maintaining a balance of power in Korea. However, in the context of the postwar Soviet-American involvement on the peninsula, such a balance could only be maintained by prolonging the division of the country, retaining effective control over the northern half.
The North Korean attempt to reunify the country through a military campaign clearly represented a sharp departure from the basic Soviet policy toward Korea. The initiative for this departure came from Pyongyang, not Moscow. In the spring of 1950 Stalin approved Kim’s reunification plan and provided the necessary military support, but only after repeated appeals from Kim and only after having been persuaded that the United States would not intervene in the conflict. Conclusive evidence of Stalin’s reasons for finally supporting the North Korean reunification plan has not yet been released, but it appears that Stalin’s motive may well have been to tie the Chinese communists more firmly to the USSR, to prevent a rapprochement between the PRC and the United States. If this interpretation is correct, it means that it was Soviet weakness that drove Stalin to support the attack on South Korea, not the unrestrained expansionism imagined by the authors of NSC-68.32

Indeed, Weathersby reveals that from the latter stages of World War II the Soviet Union was utterly consistent in recognising that it was best served by a divided Korea and that unification would risk that advent of a hostile entity in a threatening position: “Given the impossibility of establishing a ‘friendly’ government for the entire country, Moscow sought to protect Soviet security by maintaining a compliant government in power in the northern half of the country and shoring up the military strength of that client state.”33
The situation was mirrored on the US side, as has been suggested.
The obvious question here is why, if the USSR considered its interests best served by a divided Korea, did it force an aggressive “preemptive strike” plan on the DPRK and
begin immediately making substantial arms shipments beyond those required for
defence? In the situation there was ample scope for temporising and prevarication. But Soviet concerns also seem to have revolved around the situation of China and Taiwan, and here too the interests coincided to a great degree with those of the US. Here, I am sad to say, the picture gets even more confused.

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I return again to the narrative of Uncertain Partners wherein the contradictions of the
circumstances are unwittingly laid bare by the authors. Their understanding is that Kim Il Sung was single-mindedly driven to unify Korea by force, and that the plan was assented to by Stalin and Mao. The Chinese were focussed on finishing their civil war by eliminating the final GMD stronghold in Taiwan, but at the same time faced an urgent need to improve the desperate domestic economic situation which they believed necessitated massive demobilisations of troops. The Chinese were convinced that a DPRK offensive would bring about the direct involvement of the US and allow the US to prevent their final offensive against the GMD, while many feared that it would allow the US to attack the PRC itself.34 According to the authors “a race had begun between Kim and Mao. Each rushed to fire the first volley, an act that could doom the other’s plans.”35 The problem here is that it is difficult to see how a PRC conquest of Taiwan would have negatively affected DPRK plans. There was no claim on any side that there was such a state as Taiwan, this was a civil conflict between two formations which each claimed to be the legitimate government of China. On 5 January 1950, Truman had acknowledged Taiwan as being part of China and pledged not to intervene in the civil war, while Acheson’s 12 January Press Club speech omitted not just Korea but Taiwan from the perimeter which the US claimed as its right to defend.36 The US people, by and large, viewed the Taiwan issue as part of a civil war, not any business of the US.37
Moreover, the PRC did not act very much like it was in a “race”. To be certain it wished to take Taiwan as soon as possible, but it had every reason to do so without any consideration of possible events in Korea. The other major offshore island, Hainan, had been taken in April 195038 and in that month PLA forces began to amass for the invasion of Taiwan, but demobilisations were also an ongoing priority. Early in June the invasion of Taiwan was postponed until the summer of 1951. On June 15 Mao ordered a previously planned demobilisation of 1,500,000 troops to commence.39 On June 23, less than 48 hours from the putative outbreak of the Korean War, orders were made out to transfer 3-4 corps out of the northeast sector.40 It is true that the Chinese had transferred 40,000 Koreans from the PLA to the KPA beginning at the end of 1949, and these battlehardened troops probably gave the KPA more of an advantage over the ROKA by June 25 than the increased arms supply from the USSR, which had commenced only two months prior.41 But, the Chinese may have expected these personnel to be used defensively or to create a deterrent, after all it makes little sense for them to have knowingly provided crucial support for an offensive which they quite correctly predicted would be a disastrous setback for themselves.
From the US and USSR perspective, however, the defeat of the GMD in Taiwan was not a pleasing prospect. Stalin appears to have firstly hoped that the US would prevent the PRC conquest of Taiwan42 and secondly he hoped that China and the US would be drawn further into enmity. Weathersby recounts: “A Russian scholar who has seen the relevant documents has recounted to me that Stalin calculated that even though the United States might not defend the ROK, once it lost South Korea it would not then allow itself to suffer the additional loss of Taiwan. The United States would move in to protect Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek), thereby preventing a rapprochement between the US and the PRC. Mao would thus be forced to continue to turn to the Soviet Union for economic and military aid.”43
So the US and USSR interests regarding the dispositions of Korea and Taiwan were identical. Additionally one might argue that it was in the US interest that China remain for the time being a comparatively weak state tied to the USSR, rather than an independent left-wing non-aligned state. What then would be the optimal outcome for both imperial powers? That somehow, against all odds, Korea would be overcome by a major war but not unified, leaving two weakened dependencies divided much as they were in 1945; that the US be given a serviceable pretext/distraction allowing it to intercede in the final stages of China’s civil war; and, perhaps more than anything else, that China, so ripe with potential, be prevented from demobilisation and an end to nearly a century of destruction and instead be drawn into even greater enfeebling conflict. No outside observer would have picked this as the likely outcome, but this is exactly what happened.

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All accounts agree that 3 a.m. 25 June 1950 Kim Il Sung announced to his cabinet that the ROKA had launched an offensive and that in 1 hour the KPA would launch its planned counterattack. Whether there was or was not an ROKA provocation, the one thing that can be said with certainty is that either Kim was fooled, or he fooled himself.
The planned campaign to unify Korea is widely understood to have been intended to have been enacted at a later date, possibly in early August when it was expected that Rhee would refuse to comply with a DPRK proposal of nationwide elections.44 Gye-Dong Kim points to the following indications of unpreparedness: 1) the mobilisation plan was not put in place, only 6 full divisions were ready when plans called for 13 to 15; 2) “the North Koreans were not sufficiently well equipped at the time” having mostly Japanese weapons of pre-1945 manufacture.45 I would add that given that the DPRK’s military build-up was proceeding faster than that of the ROK, premature action, whether offensive or counter-offensive, must have been powerfully motivated.
The explanation given by Gye-Dong Kim is that the offensive/counter-offensive was launched at this unpropitious time because Kim sought to take advantage of the unpopularity and instability of the Rhee regime.46 The Soviet, Chinese and defector sources used by the likes of Goncharov et al., are consistent in claiming that when touting his plans for a military unification Kim would evince a conviction that 200,000 guerrillas would rise up to defeat the Rhee regime.47 In the most widely known account, given by Khrushchev, Kim claimed that he wished to “touch the south with the tip of a bayonet” which would spark internal explosion.48 One way of looking at things, therefore, is that Kim, an autocrat with unquestioned authority, was possessed of a longstanding idée fixe, an obsessive and (in the circumstances) irrational belief that demonstrative military action on the part of the KPA would spark a southern revolution.
But, another way of looking at things, one which throws very serious doubts on the “tip of the bayonet” hypothesis, is that Kim was an experienced and successful guerrilla leader who was surrounded by and incredible wealth of knowledge gained by fighting the Japanese and the GMD for decades. Along with those of Moscow faction, the Yenan faction and Kim Il Sung’s faction, these included indigenous fighters such as the the southerner Pak Hon-yong,49 who was the foreign minister.50 The leaders of Cumings’s “guerrilla state” also had some experience, in China, of conventional and mixed warfare and were advised by Soviets from an army which had fought its way from Stalingrad to Berlin. These were hard-nosed experienced leaders who had won very hard fought desperate wars, and they had not done so by being prone to wishful thinking.
Guerrilla activity in the south was at this time hugely diminished. According to US intelligence “small bands of fifteen to thirty still operated in various areas but were generally quiet.”51 The political situation in the south may have provided the opportunity for reconstituting a more formidable guerrilla movement, but such things take time.52 It seems very unlikely that the DPRK leadership really believed that 200,000 guerrillas would arise spontaneously which is what a defector claimed to have been stated by Pak Hon-yong to a secret conference on 11 May 1950.53 In fact, Goncharov et al. claim that it was the failure of the guerrilla movement which prompted the DPRK to begin planning a major military effort,54 as do Stueck,55 and Kim.56 If the DPRK really was pinning its hopes on a southern uprising, it also seems rather odd that those guerrillas that remained were not informed or prepared in any way.57
A salient matter which I have not yet mentioned is an aspect of the “counterattack” plan.
This plan, which, as will be recalled, was written by Soviet advisers without consultation, stopped at Seoul. That is to say that the planning did not extend any further than the capture of Seoul which lies only about 50 kilometres from the 38th parallel.58 The war was supposed to “only last a few days” according to Yu Sung Chul and others. Continuing after the capture of Seoul required a completely new offensive plan (again authored by the Soviets) and a complete reorganisation of the KPA into two distinct corps which were lacking in communications leaving, according to one defector, “divisions, corps and armies… disconnected” to the extent that “[e]ach unit moved on its own and each had its own plan.”59 Gye-Dong Kim’s explanation is that the actual plan was to seize Seoul as a prelude to opening negotiations. He cites a 20 June 1950 decree by the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly in the DPRK which contained demands which could be read as a basis for negotiations.60 Given that the “counterattack” plan was drafted in early April, and that it replaced another that was too “defensive”, this must in fact have been the basis of planning from the beginning. This contradicts a great deal of the tenor and detail of the narrative of the planning phase constructed from various sources by Kim himself (along with Stueck, Weathersby, Goncharov et al.). The fact is that whether attack or counter-attack, there are many questions arising about the KPA’s actions on 25 June, but to even attempt answers I must first turn to the events occurring on the other side of the 38th parallel, and in Taiwan, Japan and the US.
Direct evidence is slim that the ROKA launched an attack somewhere between 10 pm on 23 June (the time claimed by the DPRK and PRC to this day)61 and 4 am on 25 June (when all parties agree the KPA guns opened fire, though not in any account along the whole front). The ROKA 17th regiment claimed to have captured Haeju by 11 am of 26 June.62 As William Blum points out, this feat would have been impossible if the KPA really were launching a co-ordinated all-out attack.63 This unit was commanded by a committed right-wing ideologue,64 and its actions may have fitted a scenario of a unilateral attack without a broader mobilisation designed to “provoke an unprovoked” response from the DPRK. This may or may not have been accompanied by over 24 hours of preliminary artillery barrage as claimed by the DPRK. There is also the possibility, however, that the capture of Haeju was simply a lie. The ROK government later retracted its claim to have captured Haeju and claimed that it was all an exaggeration by a military officer.65

Rhee, Hodge and Kim Koo
One town south of the 38th parallel was prepared for fighting to break out on the 25th.66
However, in more general terms, the ROKA was even less prepared than was the KPA for the outbreak of major hostilities. A UN inspection on 23 June found the ROKA unprepared for war and they began writing a report detailing as much on the 24th which, by the 26th, had become a report claiming an unprovoked attack by the DPRK. Of course, this is rather astonishingly suspicious timing and, as Halliday and Cumings point out, their sources were purely ROK and US officials,67 but subsequent events show that the ROKA really was unprepared for the KPA onslaught even though we can quite confidently say that the KPA itself was not bringing its full potential force to bear.
What does this all mean? Well, if the thesis tested with regard to DPRK, USSR and PRC actions was that of a co-ordinated unprovoked attack at a time of USSR and/or DPRK choosing, then the thesis I will test with regard to ROK, US and GMD actions is one of a successful provocation taking place at a time of ROK and/or US choosing. Of necessity this would mean that the Rhee regime and/or the US deliberately left their own forces unprepared for an offensive which was both expected and desired. In fact, there would have to be posited a cultivated unpreparedness, both as an alibi and as a means of luring the DPRK into attacking.
I will set the tone here with a lengthy quote, with lengthier subquotes, from Peter Dale Scott. This is what he culls from Cumings’s Origins of the Korean War:

The historian Bruce Cumings, in a volume of 957 pages, has recalled the curious behavior in previous weeks of high levels in Washington:
The CIA predicts, on June 14, a capability for invasion [of South Korea] at any time. No one disputes that. Five days later, it predicts an impending invasion. . . . Now, Corson … says that the June 14 report leaked out to “informed circles,” and thus “it was feared that administration critics in Congress might publicly raise the issue. In consequence, a White House decision of sorts was made to brief Congress that all was well in Korea.” . . . Would it not be the expectation that Congress would be told that all was not well in Korea? That is, unless a surprised and outraged Congress is one’s goal.
In his exhaustive analysis of the war’s origins, Cumings sees this U.S. deception by high level officials as a response to manipulated events, which in turn were the response to the threat of an imminent expulsion of the Chinese Nationalist KMT68 from Taiwan, together with a peaceful reunification of Korea. ….
By late June, [U.S. Secretary of State Dean] Acheson and Truman were the only high officials still balking at a defense of the ROC [the “Republic of China,” the KMT Chinese Nationalist remnant on Taiwan]….Sir John Pratt, an Englishman with four decades of experience in the China consular service and the Far Eastern Office, wrote the following in 1951: “The Peking Government planned to liberate Formosa on July 15 and, in the middle of June, news reached the State Department that the Syngman Rhee government in South Korea was disintegrating. The politicians on both sides of the thirty-eighth parallel were preparing a plan to throw Syngman Rhee out of office and set up a unified government for all Korea.”….Thus the only way out, for Chiang [Kai-shek, the KMT leader], was for Rhee to attack the North, which ultimately made Acheson yield and defend Nationalist China [on Taiwan].
Meanwhile, in South Korea,
an Australian embassy representative sent in daily reports in late June, saying that “patrols were going in from the South to the North, endeavouring to attract the North back in pursuit. Plimsoll warned that this could lead to war and it was clear that there was some degree of American involvement as well.” [According to former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam,] “The evidence was sufficiently strong for the Australian Prime Minister to authorize a cable to Washington urging that no encouragement be given to the South Korean government.”
Cumings also notes the warning in late April from an American diplomat, Robert Strong, that “desperate measures may be attempted by [the Chinese] Nationalist Government to involve [U.S.] in [a] shooting war as [a] means of saving its own skin.” In chapters too complex to summarize here, he chronicles the intrigues of a number of Chiang’s backers, including the China Lobby in Washington, General Claire Chennault and his then nearly defunct airline CAT (later Air America), former OSS chief General William Donovan, and in Japan General MacArthur and his intelligence chief Charles Willoughby. He notes the visit of two of Chiang’s generals to Seoul, one of them on a U.S. military plane from MacArthur’s headquarters. And he concludes that “Chiang may have found …on the Korean peninsula, the provocation of a war that saved his regime [on Taiwan] for two more decades:”
Anyone who has read this text closely to this point, and does not believe that Willoughby, Chiang, [Chiang’s emissary to Seoul, General] Wu Tieh Cheng, Yi Pōm-sōk, [Syngman] Rhee, Kim Sōkwon, Tiger Kim, and their ilk were capable of a conspiracy to provoke a war, cannot be convinced by any evidence.
He adds that anti-conspiratorialist Americans “are prey to what might be called the fallacy of insufficient cynicism”69

(Yi Pom-sok, Kim Sok-won and Tiger Kim were all involved in the 17th regiment which may, or may not, have captured Haeju on or before 26 June.)70

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Police Chief Chang Taek-sang with a man who may be Tiger Kim (left)
Indeed, there was a flurry of diplomatic activity centred around the ROK which seems very suspiciously timed in retrospect. I can add one more prominent diplomatic event to those mentioned above. The event that looms (and loomed) large in DPRK propaganda was the visit of John Foster Dulles in mid-June 1950. In particular, a photograph of Dulles with the ROK defence minister and military officers peering across the 38th parallel has been used as the iconic visual signifier of aggressive intent.71 Lowe writes that the “murky” talks leave room for “legitimate speculation”,72 adding later that:
“Mystery surrounds the precise motives for Dulles’s visit to Seoul”73 On 6 April 1950, John Foster Dulles was reappointed as an adviser to the State Department. The Republican hard-liner had been chosen reluctantly by Democrat Truman administration as a salve to “the explosion of McCarthyism”. In a broadcast dated 14 May 1950 he suggested that the US needed to “develop better techniques’ because the Soviets ‘could win everything by the Cold War they could win in a hot war.’”74https://i1.wp.com/www.kingsacademy.com/mhodges/03_The-World-since-1900/09_The-Cold-War/pictures/EVN-420-1_Dulles-at-the-38th-parallel_1950.jpgJohn Foster Dulles peers across the 38th parallel.

I. F. Stone in his 1952 classic The Hidden History of the Korean War wrote:

Chiang Kai-shek and Rhee…feared that peace would be the end of them. Dulles feared that peace would fatally interfere with the plan to rebuild the old Axis powers for a new anti-Soviet crusade…the dominant trend in American political, economic and military thinking was fear of peace. General Van Fleet summed it all up in speaking to a visiting Filipino delegation in January, 1952: ‘Korea has been a blessing. There had to be a Korea either here or someplace in the world.’ In this simple-minded confession lies the key to the hidden history of the Korean War.75

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Generalissimo Jiang Jieshi (Chang Kai-Shek)

On the 18th Dulles addressed the ROK national assembly, pledging US support “both moral and material”.76 The next morning Rhee requested an unscheduled interview with Dulles. According to the official US State Department history:

Mr Dulles went to considerable lengths to explain that formal pacts, allegiences or treaties were not necessary prerequisites to common action against a common foe and that the important thing was for a government to prove by its actions that it was in fact a loyal [my emph.] member of the free world in which case it could count on the support of other members of the free world against the forces of communism.77

This is, of course, quite a testament in itself to the power that the not-as-yet fully realised Cold War paradigm, Dulles, a mere adviser to the Secretary of State, felt he could openly demand loyalty (and one may pause here to think what it could mean to be “a loyal member of the free world”) in exchange for protection.
Dulles was in Tokyo on 25 June, able to communicate directly with MacArthur as events unfolded. He was thus able to advocate an immediate aggressive response.78
What evidence, then, exists that the US actively sought to bring about war? If one hypothesises that the desirable way to bring about war would be to make the ROK an attractive target for a DPRK offensive, there are certainly considerable factors which accord with such a course of action.
To begin with, there are the “failures of deterrence” embodied in US officials’ declarations that they would not intervene militarily if either the ROK or Taiwan were attacked. On 5 January 1950, at a press conference, Truman stated: “The United States has no predatory designs on Formosa, or on any other Chinese territory. The United States has no desire to obtain special rights or privileges, or to establish military bases on Formosa at this time. Nor does it have any intention of utilizing its Armed Forces to interfere in the present situation. The United States Government will not pursue a course which will lead to involvement in the civil conflict in China.”79
On 12 January Dean Acheson gave his speech to the Press Club: “Beyond Japan, the Ryukyus, and the Philippines, the United States could not guarantee areas in the Western Pacific ‘against military attack.’ The people in such areas must rely initially on their own efforts to defend themselves, but then on ‘the United Nations which so far has not proved a weak read to lean on by . . . [those] who are determined to protect their independence against outside aggression.’”80 Mention of the United Nations is interesting because the USSR had a veto over UNSC resolutions and yet, as will be seen, failed to use it under rather strange circumstances, thus allowing the US to intervene directly but under a UN mandate.
As has already been mentioned, in May Senator Tom Connally was even more explicit that “the US would not go to fight for Korea”. Yet the US committed forces to fight in Korea and to intervene to save Taiwan with extreme alacrity. In fact, in Japan the response seems to have started some days before 25 June when “many vehicles were taken out of store facilities and… American military activities increased.”81 After less than 48 hours the US had decided on committing troops. Halliday and Cumings state that the “United Nations was used to ratify American decisions,” quoting an official JCS study: “Having resolved upon armed intervention for itself, the US government the next day sought the approval and the assistance of the United Nations.”82 On 27 June, Truman announced that the US 7th Fleet was in the Taiwan strait.83 On that same day the US began aerial and naval bombardments which included targets above the 38th parallel. On 28 June the 24th US Infantry Division had landed and took command of all ground forces in Korea.84
A threat is when party a informs party b that if b undertakes action set x then a will undertake action set y which will cause a negative impact on b. If a does not actually intend to undertake action set y then this is commonly referred to as a bluff. It is intended to deter b from doing x. If a leads b to believe that it will not undertake y and then does so this, is the opposite of a bluff. In practical terms it is a form of inducement.
Most commentators suggest that probably neither Stalin nor Kim Il Sung took US implications of non-intervention seriously, but it is absolutely clear that if the DPRK had anticipated the actual US reaction that eventuated they would not have ventured in force below the 38th parallel.
There is another manner by which the ROK was made a more tempting target than might have otherwise been the case, and that is the restrictions placed on its military build-up. The ROKA was even more poorly equipped than the KPA on 25 June 1950. The following table is taken from a Russian history of the war:85

TypeofUnit KPAForces

ROKforces

ForceRatio

Battalions

51

39

1.3:1

GunsandMortars

787

699

1.1:1

TanksandSPGuns

185

31

5.9:1

Aircraft

32

25

1.2:1

Ships

19

43

1 : 2.2

(The KPA had 172 combat aircraft, but only 32 trained pilots,86 another factor suggesting a mysteriously premature action on 25 June.)
The failure to provide tanks, aircraft and self-propelled artillery is entirely consistent with deterring any ROK offensives, but the ROKA lacked more defensive armaments also. The most noted factor is the lack of usable anti-tank weapons, something which must assuredly be of more use in deterring KPA offensive action than it would be in facilitating ROKA offensive action.87
There are hints then that the DPRK may have been deceived into thinking that the time was ripe for a push south when in fact this was most advantageous to their enemies.
I have already mentioned the ways in which the USSR, US, GMD (Guomindang) and Rhee regime benefited from an outbreak of war at this time, but it is worth elaborating further on the benefits to the US. To begin with, there is the matter of NSC-68 and the rearmament of the US. The outbreak of the Korean War is held to have been crucial in bringing about the implementation of NSC-68. The importance of this document is amply demonstrated by the fact that its fundamental structuring of the US political economy has lasted now for over 60 years, more than 2 decades longer than the
“Communist threat” it was putatively created to address. Chris Floyd describes it as “the document that more than any other engineered the militarisation of America”.88 David
Fautua writes: “Truman finally approved NSC 68 as a national security policy on 30 September 1950. By 31 May 1951, the military budget swelled to $48,000,000,000,
nearly quadrupling the prewar authorization [of $13.5 billion].”89 Winston Churchill considered that the entire importance of the Korean War was that it led to US
rearmament.90 Not only that, but the outbreak of the Korean War prompted the rearmament of NATO turning it into “an effective alliance”,91 and prompting an increase
of 3 million personnel.92 By 1953 the US had achieved and enormous “strategic asymmetry” in its favour over the Soviet Union to an extent “approaching absolute
strategic dominance”.93

https://i2.wp.com/www.history.com/images/media/slideshow/korean-war/kim-il-sung-speaks-at-mass-rally.jpg
Nor was it only the Rhee regime that was looking unsustainable on 25 June. Jiang Jieshi’s grip on power had become so tenuous that the US covert officers were themselves planning a coup against him. This, however, was a move of desperation, the GMD were widely considered to be a lost cause.94 The US had led the effort to prevent the PRC from being recognised the legitimate Chinese state in the UN,95 but the sheer ridiculousness of leaving the GMD in place as “China” while the PRC constituted the entire mainland had brought about a tide of international opinion which was getting hard to resist.96 If the PRC gained UN membership there would be absolutely no way that the US could intervene in its civil war without attracting condemnation as an aggressor. It should be noted too that, unlike Korea, Taiwan was considered to have considerable military strategic significance: “’An unsinkable aircraft carrier’ positioned 100 miles off the China coast, as General MacArthur characterized it, Taiwan was regarded by military leaders as more important than South Korea.”97 Of course, it would be inconsistent of me not to point out that such strictly military strategic matters are less significant than broader economic, geographical and demographic strategic concerns of imperial hegemony, but nevertheless this sort of “power projection” asset has a key role such considerations as well as in its own right .
UNSC Resolutions 82 to 85 are all titled “Complaint of aggression upon the Republic of Korea”. UNSCR 82, which was passed on the 25 June no less, “notes with grave concern the armed attack on the Republic of Korea by forces from North Korea” and “determines that this action constitutes a breach of the peace.”98 Two days later UNSCR 83 recommended that “members of the United Nations furnish such assistance to the Republic of Korea as may be necessary to repel the armed attack….”99 UNSCR 84 (7 July) arrogated unified command of UN forces to the US.100 There was no hurry, of course, because no other troops would arrive for a month or so, and at all stages of the war US troop numbers far outnumbered the combined numbers of other UN forces.101 In all practical senses this was a unilateral US intervention, but one occurring under a UN banner, an interesting eventuality when one reflects on Acheson’s words of January the 12th.
In fact the US was only able to obtain such timely UN facilitation due to a couple of rather felicitously timed events. The aforementioned UN report revealing, largely on the say-so of US and ROK personnel, that the ROK was not engaging in offensive actions, had actually been commenced on the 24th and a draft was available by the 26th. Halliday and Cumings summarise the circumstances of the writing process:

UNCOK members woke up in Seoul on Sunday morning to a war, wrote a report based on the limited observations of two people and whatever the Koreans and Americans chose to tell them, and then were in the care of the American military for the next three days. They left all their archives behind in Seoul, making it impossible to verify the information that UNCOK had at its disposal.102

The other fortuitous circumstance is the absence of the USSR from the UNSC. “In mid-January the Soviets walked out of the UN Security Council, allegedly to protest its failure to seat Communist China but probably actually to freeze the Mao regime out of the international organization….”103 Had the USSR been sitting it would have seemed very odd had it not vetoed UNSCRs 82 to 85. As it is, the Soviet ambassador was perfectly capable of attending just the sessions in question to exercise a veto but did not do so on direct instructions from Stalin himself, against objections from Andrei Gromyko.104 Goncharov et al. speculate that allowing UN cover obviated the risk that a subsequent formal declaration of war between the US and China would draw the USSR into World War III due to its treaty obligations.105 The US did not need to start such a war, but whether Stalin feared that they wished to or not, he was once again going above-and-beyond the call of prudent enmity and providing crucial support for the US in its attacks on those who were the Soviet Union’s supposed allies by dint of ideology, and (in this case) formal ties.
The question still remains then, why did the KPA advance south of the 38th in force at a time so propitious to the US, so seemingly crucial to the survival of Rhee and Jiang, so disadvantageous to the PRC, and so premature with regard to its own preparations? The anomaly does not disappear if one assumes that there was in fact an ROKA offensive against Haeju, or anywhere else. It would seem that some unknown factor caused the DPRK to send its forces south. A logical suspicion would be that the DPRK leadership were victims of a ruse, and exploring this option may clarify matters. Imagine, for example, that the USSR had fed false intelligence to the DPRK suggesting that the ROKA was on the verge of mutiny or ready to disintegrate with only the slightest push.
This is almost exactly what the US did with its unruly quasi-client Saddam Hussein when it supplied false intelligence to his regime in 1980, as Barry Lando explains:

To encourage Saddam to attack, the United States passed on intelligence reports exaggerating the political turmoil in Iran. All Saddam had to do was to dispatch his troops across the border and the regime would collapse. According to Howard Teicher, who served on the White House National Security Council, ‘the reports passed on to Baghdad depicted Iran’s military in chaos, riven by purges and lack of replacement parts for its American-made weapons. The inference was that Iran could be speedily overcome.’
‘We were clearly stuffing his head with nonsense, to make conditions look better than they were,’ commented Richard Sale, who covered the intelligence community for United Press International at the time. ‘The information was deliberately fabricated to encourage him to go in.’106

Such a deception would resolve the enigma of the DPRK attack, and an equivalent ruse would not be beyond the capabilities of the US. Another matter that is both suggestive and offers a shard of illumination is the sudden change of plan by the KPA on reaching Seoul. Whatever they had originally planned to do on reaching Seoul, by its fall on the 28th it was apparently obsolete and, as outlined above, a new plan to take the entire peninsula had to be hastily created. This would suggest that whatever misapprehension the DPRK laboured under was belied very rapidly after the 25th. Given what we understand of the DPRK plan it seems to me most likely that it was the sudden intervention of the US which was the unwelcome surprise. The weight of evidence suggests that the DPRK sought to seize the pretext of some ROKA action to launch a quick offensive with the optimal aim of seizing Seoul. This is how Bruce Cumings describes what some documents related to such planning reveal:

Kim Il Sung’s basic conception of a Korean War, originated at least by August 1949: namely, attack the cul de sac of Ongjin (which no sane blitzkreig commander would do precisely because it is a cul de sac), move eastward and grab Kaesong, and then see what happens. At a minimum this would establish a much more secure defense of P’yôngyang, which was quite vulnerable from Ongjin and Kaesong. At maximum, it might open Seoul to his forces. That is, if the southern army collapses, move on to Seoul and occupy it in a few days.107

In other words the plan to attack Ongjin reinforces that fact that this was intended to be a short offensive leading to negotiations from a position of superiority or, at worst, consolidated territorial gains. This would explain why full preparation and mobilisation was considered less important than seizing a pretext. The DPRK, in this case, must have been very confident that the US would not intervene. The ROK, abandoned by the US and riven by internal discontent and political instability, could be forced to negotiate terms which would lead to eventual political union. If negotiations fail to bring this about, or even while they are ongoing, the DPRK would retain its territorial gains and facilitate the relaunch of a revolutionary guerrilla war in the south which would assure eventual victory. Instead, once it was clear that the US was going to bring as much force to bear as it could as quickly as it could, the DPRK had no choice but to commit the KPA to a blitzkrieg assault, a race to the tip of the peninsula before the US could commit enough forces to prevent such a conquest. This would also explain why, following the sudden change of plan, the KPA was forced, despite being well aware of the dangers posed, to stretch its improvised communications and its supply lines in an attempt to decide the issue before it was too late.
This is all somewhat speculative, but bear in mind that it is the only way of resolving the contradictions and anomalies that appear in our current understanding of these events.
The reader may wonder why I have devoted so much effort to exploring the events culminating on 25 June 1950 when I cannot provide absolute answers as to what happened. What the reader is required to understand is that the balance of probability is firmly on the side of US foreknowledge of these events and, indeed, that it acted in some manner to bring them about. There are far too many putatively coincidental circumstances which favoured the US, and they are far too closely timed to avoid serious suspicion. The means, motive and opportunity are there. The surprise evinced by the US is belied by that haste of its commitment of forces and such postures end by looking more like conscious efforts at establishing alibis. Consider this passage from Cumings:

With all this bubbling activity, the last weekend in June 1950 nonetheless dawned on a torpid, somnolent, and very empty Washington. Harry Truman was back home in Independence. Acheson was at his Sandy Spring country farm, Rusk was in New York, Kennan had disappeared to a remote summer cottage without so much as a telephone, Paul Nitze was salmon fishing, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were occupied elsewhere, and even the United Nations representative, Warren Austin, was not at his post.108

Knowing that there is a strong likelihood of a US role in instigating the “Korean War” is
important in what follows.
1 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 71.
2 Ibid, p 54.
3 Stueck, The Korean War, p 10.
4 Lowe, The Origins of the Korean War, p 178.
5 Cumings, The Korean War, p 22.
6 William Stueck, for example, is the leading proponent of this view. See: Stueck and Yi, ‘An Alliance Forged in
Blood….’, p 204; Stueck; The Korean War, p 29; Stueck, Rethinking The Korean War, p 78; Stueck, “The United
States and the Origins of the Korean War: The Failure of Deterrence”, in International Journal of Korean Studies,
24:2, Fall 2010, pp 1-18; for others who echo this see Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 42, and below.
7 Robert Jervis, “The Impact of the Korean War on the Cold War”, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 24:4,
December 1980, p 581.
8 Austin Long, Deterrence: From Cold War to Long War: Lessons from Six decades of Rand Deterrence Research,
Santa Monica, Arlington, Pittsburg: RAND, 2008, p 9.
9 Stueck, “The United States and the Origins of the Korean War…”, pp 1-2 et passim.
10 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, pp 42-3.
11 Peter Dale Scott, “9/11, Deep State Violence and the Hope of Internet Politics”, Global Research, 22 June 2008.
Retrieved 25 June 2008 from http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=9289.
12 Burton I. Kaufman, “Review: Decision-Making and the Korean War”, in Reviews in American History, 20:4,
December 1992, p 564.
13 Young, “Sights of and Unseen War”, p 500.
14 Sergei Goncharov, Lewis, and Xue Litai, Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War, Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 1993.
15 Ibid, p 137.
16 Ibid, p 270.
17 Ibid, p 159.
18 Ibid, p 334, n 140.
19 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 39.
20 Ibid, p 40.
21 Stueck, The Korean War, p 30.
22 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 42.
23 Quoted in Appendix to S. Brian Willson, “Korea, Like Viet Nam: A War Originated and Maintained by Deceit”, 1
December 1999. Retrieved 3 November 2011 from http://www.brianwillson.com/korea-like-Viet Nam-a-waroriginated-
and-maintained-by-deceit/.
24 Ibid, p 41.
25 Cumings, The Korean War, p 144.
26 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 147.
27 Ibid, p 144.
28 Ibid, p 150.
29 Ibid, pp 132-3 et passim.
30 Ibid, p 131.
31 Kathryn Weathersby, “Soviet Aims in Korea and the Origins of the Korean War, 1945-50: New Evidence
From Russian Archives”, Cold War International History Project, Working Paper No. 8, p 7.
32 Ibid, p 36.
33 Ibid, p 27.
34 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 154.
35 Ibid, p 147.
36 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 35.
37 Stueck, The Korean War, p 75.
38 Anthony Farrar-Hockley, “The China Factor in the Korean War”, in James Cotton and Ian Neary (eds), The Korean
War in History, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989, p 5.
39 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 152.
40 Ibid, p 153.
41 Farrar-Hockley, “The China Factor”, p 5.
42 Stueck, The Korean War, p 36.
43Weathersby, “Soviet Aims in Korea….”, p 35.
44 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 35.
45 Ibid, pp 37-8.
46 Ibid, p 38.
47 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 144.
48 Ibid, p 138.
49 Lowe, The Origins of the Korean War, p 12.
50 Ibid, p 58.
51 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 50.
52 Mao can be used as an authority on the ‘gradual’ nature of the process in which critical developments are said to
occur ‘eventually’ (Mao Tse-tung, Guerrilla Warfare, (Brigadier General Samuel B. Griffith, trans) Fleet Marine
Force Reference Publication (FMFRP) 12-18, Washington D.C.: United States Marine Corps, Department of the
Navy, 1989, passim).
53 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 37.
54 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 136.
55 Stueck, The Korean War, p 31.
56 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 36.
57 Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 155.
58 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 38.
59Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 155.
60 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 38.
61 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 71.
62 Ibid.
63 Blum, Killing Hope, p 46.
64 Korea, p 71.
65 Blum, Killing Hope, p 46.
66 Korea, p 73.
67 Ibid, p 76.
68 KMT, deriving from Kuomintang, is an alternative acronym to GMD, which derives from the differing
transliteration Guomindang.
69 Scott, “9/11 and Deep State Politics….”
70 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, pp 76-7.
71 Ibid, p 66.
72 Lowe, The Origins of the Korean War, p 174.
73 Ibid, p 183.
74 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 49, n 57.
75 Quoted in S. Brian Willson, “Korea, Like Viet Nam: A War Originated and Maintained by Deceit”.
76 Kim, ‘Who Initiated…’, p 43.
77 FRUS (1950) Vol. 7, pp 107-8.
78 Ibid, p 186.
79 Harry S. Truman, The President’s News Conference, 5 January 1950. Retrieved 6 November 2011 from
http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=13678#ixzz1csnKlJI8.
80 Stueck, The Korean War, p 30.
81 Drifte, “Japan’s Involvement in the Korean War”, p 121.
82 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, pp 74-5.
83 Farrar-Hockley, “The China Factor…”, p 6.
84 I. V. Petrova, The War in Korea 1950-1953, Saint Petersburg: Izdatel’stvo Poligon, 2000, p 65.
85 Ibid, p 59.
86 Ibid.
87 See for example Bong Lee, The Unfinished War: Korea, New York: Algora, 2003, p 67; Norman Friedman, The
Fifty-Year War: Conflict and Strategy in the Cold War, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000, p 152; Gordon
Tullock, Open Secrets of American Foreign Policy, Singapore: World Scientific, 2007, p 30.
88 Floyd, “The Slander that Launched….”
89 David T. Fautua, “The ‘Long Pull’ Army: NSC-68, the Korean War, and the Creation of the Cold War U.S. Army,”
Journal of Military History, Vol. 61, no. 1 (January 1997).
90 M. L. Dockrill, “The Foreign Office, Anglo-American Relations and the Korean Truce Negotiations July 1951 –
July 1953”, in James Cotton and Ian Neary (eds), The Korean War in History, Manchester: Manchester University
Press, 1989, p 114.
91 Jeremy Black, War Since 1945, London: Reaktion Books, 2004, p 32.
92 Stueck, The Korean War, p 5.
93 Porter, Perils of Dominance, p 5.
94 Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 67.
95 Stueck, The Korean War, p 45.
96 Kim, “Who Initiated…’, p 34.
97 Stueck, “The United States and the Origins…”, p 9.
98 UNSCR 82: Complaint of aggression upon the Republic of Korea, 25 June 1950. Retrieved 3 November 2011 from
http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/064/95/IMG/NR006495.pdf?OpenElement.
99 UNSCR 83: Complaint of aggression upon the Republic of Korea, 27 June 1950. Retrieved 3 November 2011 from
http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/064/95/IMG/NR006495.pdf?OpenElement.
100UNSCR 84: Complaint of aggression upon the Republic of Korea, 7 July 1950. Retrieved 3 November 2011 from
http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/064/97/IMG/NR006497.pdf?OpenElement.
101Malkasian, The Korean War, p 17.
102Halliday and Cumings, Korea, p 76.
103Stueck, The Korean War, pp 34-5.
104Goncharov et al., Uncertain Partners, p 161.
105Ibid, pp 161-2.
106Lando, Web of Deceit, pp 52-3.
107Bruce Cumings, “Cumings and Weatherby – An Exchange”, Cold War International History Bulletin, 6/7, 7 July
2011, p 121.
108Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 260.

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The Korean Genocide – Part 1, Before the US Occupation.

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(Author’s note: I was intending to be writing a long overdue piece about why the one should never refer to “The Iraq War” but rather “The Iraq Genocide”. It is daunting. You cannot simply make such a case in 1000 words, at least not in any way that convince or even empower anyone who was not already firmly of that opinion.  In these circumstances I feel it is worth going back to another enormous brutal US genocide which is never, ever discussed as such – the Korean Genocide. A Korean had commented on my facebook page that my cover photo, Picasso’s Massacre in Korea depicted the “genocide of antiimperialists”.
It is no coincidence that I chose that painting. Korea saw the development of a style of genocide which was later to be repeated by the US in Laos, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq. In a four part series (adapted from an even longer work) I will detail 1) Korea before US Occupation, 2) US Occupation Period and the US Imperial Context, 3) June 1950: Who Started It?, and (by far the longest part) 4) Korean War or Korean Genocide?)

PicassoMassakervonKorea1951
The premise of this blog is that the most significant post-World War II US military actions are acts of genocide. Genocide can be said to mean “war” undertaken against a whole population, not against its military nor, in any immediate sense, its military capacity (see my previous post about the nature and meaning of genocide). Further, the manner in which the US commits genocide is under the guise of fighting wars. In fact, these are best viewed as “war systems” in that, far from seeking military victory, the US sought to avoid decisions (even victorious decisions) in favour of extending the period of violence for as long as was feasible. The prototypical example was the Korean War, wherein attempts to achieve a military decision were abandoned in favour of an “attrition” strategy. This was putatively aimed at forcing a negotiated settlement, but the US itself was clearly the greatest impediment to reaching a settlement.
Korea, like Viet Nam and Iraq, was targeted because of two crucial circumstances. Firstly, it was potentially strong independent nation state and, secondly, it was vulnerable. The Korean Genocide served the ends of both the US and the USSR. The origins of the military advance south by DPRK forces on June 25, 1950 that initiated the “Korean War” are still surrounded by impenetrable mysteries and unanswered questions, and there is legitimate space for the intriguing possibility of tacit or conspiratorial collusion between the US and USSR.
The reader may well object already to my misuse of the term genocide, but allow me to anticipate some objections and make some observations. Genocide does not mean extermination or even intended extermination. The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNCG) specifically uses the phrase “in whole or in part”, and for good reason.
Consider what is generally held as the ultimate exemplar of genocide, the Judeocide committed by Germany in Europe. The Germans never intended to exterminate all of the world’s Jews. Even confining the matter to European Jewry, there was a huge problem simply in defining who was and was not a Jew. They had to rely ultimately on confessional identification to define an alleged ‘race’.
As Yehuda Bauer wrote: “One can see how confused Nazi racism was when Jewish grandparents were defined by religion rather than so-called racial criteria.”1 As well as the fact that many with Jewish heritage would inevitably successfully evade detection, in the Nuremburg Laws (and later when deciding who to kill at Wannsee), exemptions were made on various criteria, such as being a decorated war hero. In fact, when it comes to the killing aspect of genocide, inconsistency, hypocrisy and schizophrenic dissonances are the norm.
Equally, genocide is not the exclusive domain of irrational and evil perpetrators. The very point of coining the term genocide, as will be explained, was to indicate a strategic paradigm with a functional logic. Irrationality is therefore a moot point and I prefer to distinguish between “functional” and “dysfunctional” genocides. Equally, “evil” is in the eye of the beholder. The hateful and racist rhetoric of the Nazis is an unavoidable feature of their existence, but in most instances of genocide there is a predilection for highlighting the evidence of fanaticism and hatred for the official villains (those at odds with Western interests)2 while ignoring identical statements made by Western personnel or their allies. In the case of the US there are plenty of instances of significant officials using fanatical, hateful or exterminationist language regarding communists, Asians, Arabs or Muslims.
Racism is a consciously inculcated trait used by the US, as by others, to harness not just hateful and violent tendency, but also infantilisation and a elevated sense of self which conveys both the right and duty of intervention and the wielding of imperial power (the “White Man’s Burden”). Racism also has its own logic, which may cause dysfunction when applied by the overzealous. On the whole, however, US genocides are highly functional strategically oriented imperial genocides. A point I neglected to make in my previous post about the meaning of genocide, and one well worth remembering, is that genocide is employed in order to achieve goals that cannot be achieved by military means. Lemkin related this back to the “imposition of [the genocidal power’s] national pattern” on the victim group, or on the land which they inhabit (after they have been cleansed therefrom). That is, however, to impose a predetermined end to genocide, whereas in empires which are not based around contiguous land formations it is not exceptional for genocide to be used simply as a way of weakening and immiserating a local population to facilitate the imposition of imperial power (which is itself often defined as the replication of power structure not dissimilar to Lemkin’s description but without reference to “nation”). In King Leopold’s Congo, for example, of an estimated 30 million there was a population decline of ten to thirteen million people from 1885 to 1908 from “murder, starvation, exhaustion and exposure, disease, and plummeting birth rates.”
There was little effort, at that stage, to impose a national pattern on the people or the land (although that did come later when Belgium took over). In fact, further to what has already been mentioned with regard to genocide being used for ends which cannot be achieved with military means, it may be obvious to some readers that in fact there is more strategic incentive to commit genocide in instances of informal imperialism or neocolonialism. Formal imperialism can be imposed by military means, taking over the reins of power from above. It only runs into trouble when it is imposed on a genos with enough consciousness to expect self-determination. This is what occurred in Iraq under the British (which I will discuss at some future time) and Korea poses similar challenges to imperial power.

Korea has a long stable history of political unity dating from 668 CE until it was divided in 1945.3
As impressive as that is, the Koreans go further, tracing the origins of their nation to the 3rd millennium BCE,4 and their written history (albeit initially written by Chinese) precedes political unity by a millennium.5 Relations with neighbours Japan and China have varied considerably over the centuries, but it is fair to say that, as with many other Asian polities a national identity cohered sharply in reaction to the inescapable presence of China. Before there even was a Korea, there was an established tradition of heroic resistance to foreign incursion,6 and another, seen by some as portentous, of drawing foreign powers into internecine conflict.7 The 16th and 17th centuries saw Korea fight off major Japanese and Manchu invasions.8 By the time Western interests turned their eyes towards Korea, there was a general hostility towards all foreigners, which probably had its first inklings in the Mongol invasions of the 13th century.9 The attitude of what is referred to as the “Hermit Kingdom” is summarised by Cumings as: “We have nothing. We need nothing. Please go away.”10

Council_of_War_USS_Colorado_June_1871
Western liberal imperialists did not, and do not, recognise anyone’s right to be left alone. Kanghwa Island, near Inchon, became a magnet for foreign gunboats. The French landed in 1866 and were pushed back. A heavily armed US schooner in that same year sailed up the Taedong river towards Pyongyang, opening fire on the angry crowd which gathered on the banks only to be grounded by the tide, the crew massacred. Five years later this provided the pretext for a US attack on Kanghwa.
650 Koreans were killed in what was referred as the “Little War with the Heathen”.11 Japan, like the Western powers, also sent gunboats to Kanghwa.12 In the end it was the US that succeeded first in “opening” the Hermit Kingdom. Britain, France and the US imposed conditions, such as extraterritoriality for their citizens (meaning they weren’t subject to Korean law when in Korea), which violated Korean sovereignty. In Cumings’s words: “Korea was now fully hooked into the system of unequal treaties….”13
Cumings makes the following comparison between liberal imperialism and the long-standing tributary relationship between Korea and China, a summary which works equally well for contemporary neocolonialism:

“The Sino-Korean tributary system was one of inconsequential hierarchy and real independence, if not equality. The Western system that Korea encountered, however, was one of fictive equality and real subordination. It was the British who did the most to propel the doctrine of sovereign equality around the world, confounding and undermining their imperial practice with an abstract, idealist theory that transferred notions about the free market to international politics…. [A]s Karl Polanyi put it, ‘in the liberal theory, Great Britain was merely another atom in the universe… and ranked precisely on the same footing as Denmark and Guatemala.'”14

It was Japan, however, that came to dominate, albeit in a very Western mode of domination, based on “unequal treaties” and economic “advisers”.15 Japan felt that to even keep pace with the West, it had to dominate Korea.16 Its initial inroads were made in pursuing the same policy as the British in exploiting late 19th century droughts to subvert Korean sovereignty, establishing the ability to force Korea to export food during subsequent droughts, causing devastating suffering.17 From the 1880s onwards Japan aspired to complete domination of Korea.18 This led to war with China in 1894-5,19 and Japan’s acquisition of Taiwan.20 Russia was the next obstacle, rebuffing a Japanese offer of accommodation over Manchuria and Korea due to what is generally held to be racist arrogance.21
The 1904-5 Russo-Japanese war, fought mostly over Manchuria,22 ended in Japanese victory. The door was open to complete Japanese domination, and in 1910 Korea was annexed.23 Western powers extended their blessing in exchange for Japanese recognition of their own colonial privileges.24
The Japanese occupation of Korea was brutal and it was hated. Gavan McCormack poses the question of whether it could be considered genocide:

In the Korean context, Japanese colonialist policy was undoubtedly designed to destroy “Korea” as a “national group” by assimilating it within Japan. However, such measures by other twentieth-century colonialist regimes have not elsewhere been held genocidal. There has been, so to speak, a colonialist exemption, and if that exemption is to be now closed, both logic and morality demand that it be closed against all colonialist powers, not just Japan. In the overall context of the century, the use of the term “genocide” carrying as it does extreme legal and moral oppobrium, to describe acts committed by imperial Japan but not to describe any acts committed by the Western powers must be problematic. If Japan was genocidal in China or elsewhere in Asia, what then shall we say of the French in Algeria or Indochina, the Americans in Korea and Indochina and the Gulf, the Russians in Chechyna?25

For obvious reasons I do not believe that there should be or is a “colonialist exemption”. People do not exempt Germany for colonialist genocide in Southern Africa nor in Eastern Europe which was an equally colonial enterprise. What they exempt is the acts of the Western powers who were victors in WWII which and thus have to be circumspect when (accurately) accusing Italy and Japan of genocides which bear such a close resemblance to these unmentionable instances. McCormack is suggesting that the norm of a politicised discourse is a definitional norm because one simply cannot apply “extreme legal and moral opprobrium” to the actions of Western imperialists, notwithstanding the immense death and suffering brought about. Once again “genocide” loses all meaning and becomes simply another term for “evil” reserved for those who are official enemies.
Prior to annexation the Japanese faced considerable guerilla resistance, but this was all but wiped out by 1910.26 When the annexation did take place:

At least half a million Koreans took part in demonstrations in March and April, with disturbances in more than six hundred different places. In one of the most notorious episodes, Japanese gendarmes locked protesters inside a church and burned it to the ground. In the end Japanese officials counted 553 killed and over 12,000 arrested, but Korean nationalist sources put the totals at 7,500 killed and 45,000 arrested.27

Once annexation had taken place there was a decade of particularly oppressive rule:

…[T]he Government General had grown into a powerful machine of centralized bureaucratic control that undertook the wholesale transformation of Korea’s political, educational, and social structures. It also created the institutions of a modern economy by building a transportation and communications network linking the entire country and creating new monetary and financial systems. In the process of these modernizing efforts, the Koreans were effectively deprived of freedom of assembly, association, press, and speech, and initial efforts were made to liquidate the very concept of a Korean identity. Under the draconian administration of Governor General Terauchi, Korea now entered that dark epoch of developmental shock known to its chroniclers as the “period of military rule,” a term that in English hardly conveys the crushing impact of the Japanese army and police on every aspect of Korean life.28

March_1st_movement

The memorial tablet for March 1st Movement in Pagoda park, Seoul.

The military rule period culminated in a mass mobilisation of protest in 1919 and a particularly bloody repression, but one which provoked international outrage and a backlash in Japan itself.29
After this period the level of oppression gradually and unevenly diminished – “if neither the depth nor the tempo of colonial reform went far in meeting the Koreans’ legitimate demands, the more overtly arbitrary and oppressive aspects of Japanese administration were at least muted throughout the empire during this decade, and the effort to construct modern economic facilities and institutions in the colonies continued apace.”30 The Koreans were not to be “assimilated” as McCormack suggests, but rather incorporated, as Koreans, under Japanese hegemony (another indication that the “national pattern” imposed by genocide does not need to be that of the nation of those who commit genocide). In light of this, Japan was now viewed as a “respectable colonial power”31 which tells us something about the standards of the time. If anything the promise of assimilation into a “Greater Japanese Race” was a false one akin to British promises to coloured people that they too could essentially become British though they would never be accepted as such.
Even now “Koreans” who have lived in Japan for multiple generations are denied citizenship and “Japanese families still pore over genealogies to make sure their daughters’ fiancés have no ‘Korean blood.’”32 There were however, significant efforts to degrade Korean culture (and emplace aspects of Japanese culture) which amply fulfil Lemkin’s cultural criteria for genocide.33
The Japanese brought considerable economic infrastructure, industrial development and education.
They acted in the developmentalist manner often falsely attributed to Western imperialists more inclined to extraction of raw materials and the destruction of local economies. Even this, however, was of little or no immediate benefit to the mass of Koreans whose national economy was enslaved to the needs of Japan. Indeed, it seems inevitable that this colonial developmentalism had nothing to do with paternalistic ideologies of empire (although the Japanese did have their own equivalent of the White Man’s Burden) and everything to do with strategic considerations. One of two strategic approaches in Japanese thought was the “northern advance” strategy which held sway in the Army.
This would see the Japanese project power into North East Asia, ostensibly as a defence against Russian/Soviet threats.34 The obvious role for the Korean peninsula in such a scenario was as a form of beachhead with a developed industrial and transport infrastructure along with a native population capable of operating such.

Groundbreaking_ceremony_of_Gyeongbu_Line_at_Busan,_1901
Groundbreaking ceremony of Gyeongbu Line at Busan, 1901.
World War II saw an elevation of some loyal Koreans by the manpower hungry Japan to positions of bureaucratic power and to commissions within the military.35 Simultaneously there was a surge of active resistance with Koreans making up the largest single ethnic group among the guerillas resisting the Japanese in Manchuria.36 Anti-Japanese activity was to become the key source of legitimacy in the post-war era based on perceived dedication, sacrifice and efficacy. As Keith Pratt puts it the Koreans populated their world with heroes and villains and up until June 1950 (and to a large extent thereafter) the only significant factor in terms of leadership (notwithstanding differences in ideology) was whether one had been a resistor (hero) or a collaborator (villain).37 This greatly favoured Kim Il Sung, who was particularly effective as an anti-Japanese guerilla leader and whom the Japanese had inadvertently boosted by media features pitting him against Korean quislings such Kim Sok-won [later an important General in the Army of the Republic of Korea (ROKA)] who was part of the “Special Kim Detachment” of the Japanese Army (specifically formed to combat Kim Il Sung).38
The communists were aware of Kim’s standing and “just before the Manchurian guerrillas returned to Korea, the top leaders such as Kim Il Sung, Kim Chaek, Choe Hyon, Kim Il, and Choe Yong-gon agreed among themselves to promote Kim Il Sung as the maximum figure, for reasons that included his wider reputation and his personal force. By some indexes the others outranked him; Kim Chaek and Choe Hyon stood higher than Kim in Chinese communist hierarchy.”39 Kim wasn’t in the same completely unrivalled position that Ho Chi Minh was consolidating in Vietnam, but he was a clear front runner and was both charismatic and politically able. Years of bitter violent struggle alongside disparate inchoate guerillas “left Kim Il Sung with a conviction: unity above all else, and by whatever means necessary….”40 That is to say, Korean unity, not proletarian and/or peasant unity.

Undated-KimIlSungwithAntiJapaneseGuerillaArmy
Something of the significance of Kim’s success as a guerilla can be gleaned from the fact that the ROK insisted that the DPRK leader was an imposter, a criminal who had taken the famous guerilla’s name. This lie was adhered to and believed by South Koreans until 1989.41 Indeed, it was not only Kim who sported such nationalist credentials in the DPRK regime. The DPRK would become what Cumings refers to as a “guerilla state” with positions of authority occupied by those who had fought the Japanese and had “impeccable credentials” of suffering and loss.42
The DPRK regime came about due to the Soviet occupation of North Korea. The day after the bombing of Nagasaki, the US unilaterally declared a division of Korea along the 38th parallel and an intention to occupy the southern part.43 From the Soviet perspective this meant ceding control of Seoul to the US. It meant that the greatest concentration of communists, in the South, would be under US occupation while the greatest concentration of Christians would be under Soviet occupation. It meant dividing the agricultural South from a North which was not, and is still not, able to even securely feed its population. Yet the Soviets acceded with great willingness. To understand why this occurred in such a manner and to understand subsequent US/USSR actions is quite straightforward. All of these events make perfect sense if one abandons notions of the relevance not only of ideology, but of culture and, for that matter, of leader’s personalities. If it helps, one might abandon the baggage that is attached when discussing state acts by envisaging instead competing criminal syndicates engaged in a constant dialectic of conflict, accommodation and co-operation in various areas of interest.
The Soviets stood to gain access to ice free ports. This was more tangible than anything the US might want, but fundamentally less important. Hence Stalin was quite prepared to cede the entire peninsula to the US rather than risk the consequences of a US defeat after the Chinese entered the war in force.44 The USSR was faced with a problem in that they stood to gain precisely nothing, in all likelihood, from a unified Korea under Kim Il Sung. Though Kim’s faction of communist guerillas had been based in the Soviet Union for a time, he was fiercely nationalistic and, for good reasons, had no great love or trust for Stalin’s regime (even though Stalin was officially the “Great Leader” to all Korean and Chinese Communists).45 Further, all Korean Communist factions had, to a greater or lesser extent, very strong bonds with the CCP and PLA in China, whose potentially dangerous independence was soon to loom much larger in Soviet calculations than access to Korean ports. Thus the Soviets stood to gain far more from a constrained and dependent Communist regime ruling a fragile half-state than it would gain with an officially ideologically aligned, but fully independent, Communist regime ruling over a potentially strong state of unified Korea. As William Stueck comments, “…for the present a divided peninsula served Soviet interests better than a unified one….”46 Where I would differ from Stueck is in his clear implication that a unified Korea would ever be likely to serve “Soviet interests” in the Cold War paradigm of imperialism.

1 Yehuda Bauer, “The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, 1933-1938,” excerpt from A History of the Holocaust, New
York: Franklin Watts, 1982. Reprinted in Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide:
Analyses and Case Studies, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990, p 345.
2  I will use the notion of “the West” which has connotations of Eurocentric culture (and cultural
imperialism), whiteness, liberalism/”capitalism” and material/economic hegemony; as well being redolent of a
hegemonic/imperial history. For consistency I do not use the alternative terminology of “the North” even in instances
where it might be more relevant.
3 Peter Lowe, The Origins of the Korean War (2nd ed.), London and New York: Longman, 1997, p 2.
4 Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, New York: W. W. Norton, 1997, p 23.
5 Ibid, p 25.
6 Ibid, p 33.
7 Ibid, p 34.
8 Ibid, pp 76-9.
9 Ibid, p 89.
10 Ibid, p 87.
11 Ibid, pp 96-7.
12 Ibid, p 99.
13 Ibid, p 107.
14 Ibid, p 95-6.
15 Mark R. Peattie, “The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895-1945” Peter Duus (ed.), The Cambridge History of Japan:
Volume 6, The Twentieth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988, p 225.
16 Akira Iriye, “Japan’s Drive to Great Power Status” in Marius B. Jansen (ed.), The Cambridge History of Japan:
Volume V, The Nineteenth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, p 758.
17 Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World. London, New York: Verso, 2001 , p 92.
18 Peattie, “The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895-1945”, p 224.
19 Iriye, “Japan’s Drive to Great Power Status”, p 759.
20 Ibid, p 767.
21 Peattie, “The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895-1945”, p 226.
22 William C. Fuller Jr., “The Imperial Army” in Dominic Lieven (ed.), The Cambridge History of Russia: Volume II,
Imperial Russia, 1689-1917. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, p 542.
23 Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 145.
24 Hata, “Continental expansion, 1905-1941”, p 278.
25 McCormack, “Reflections on Modern Japanese History in the Context of the Concept of Genocide”, p 270.
26 Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 146.
27 Ibid, p 145.
28 Peattie, “The Japanese Colonial Empire, 1895-1945”, pp 230-1.
29 Ibid, p 234.
30 Ibid, p 235.
31 Ibid.
32 Bruce Cumings, “Why Memory Lingers in East Asia”, Current History, September 2007, p 259.
33 Keith Pratt, Everlasting Flower: A History of Korea, London: Reaktion Books, 2006, p 225 et passim.
34 ‘Northern advance and southern advance were somewhat more ambiguous terms. The first was generally understood
to mean a policy of continental expansion from the Korean peninsula through Manchuria into China proper; the
second was understood to mean expansion from Taiwan into south China and Southeast Asia. Army-first meant that
the army would carry the main burden of expansion, whereas navy-first implied that the navy would. There was a
tendency for greater Japanism [which sought to make Japan a Great Power] to go hand in hand with northern
advance, which in turn implied continental expansion and an army-first policy. Little Japanism tended to be
associated with the southern advance and navy-first positions.’ Hata, “Continental expansion, 1905-1941”, p 271.
35 Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 176.
36 Ibid, p 160.
37 Pratt, Everlasting Flower, pp 235-40.
38 Bruce Cumings, The Korean War, New York: The Modern Library, 2010, pp 53-4.
39 Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun, p 195.
40 Cumings, The Korean War, p 55.
41 Ibid, p 46.
42 Ibid, p 56.
43 Ibid, p 104.
44 Ibid, p 30.
45 Ibid, p 57.
46 William Stueck, Rethinking the Korean War: A New Diplomatic and Strategic History, Princeton and Oxford:
Princeton University Press, 2002, p 33.