A Plea for Peace in Korea

Koreans demonstrate in Seoul against US-South Korean war games.

Koreans demonstrate in Seoul against US-South Korean war games. The signs read “Stop War Preparation Drill.”

The wars drums are beating in Pyongyang and Washington, and the official media in both North Korea and the United States are eating it up. Time for a little sanity: a guest post by my colleague Simone Chun.

“Heart speaks to heart.”

By Simone Chun

The latest sanctions on North Korea are having immediate effects, including jingoistic reports from the foreign media on Korea and the halting of humanitarian aid to the North from international NGOs. Now is the time to bolster efforts to promote humanitarian and people-to-people exchange with North Korea: it’s the only channel left under the current political climate. Here’s the latest:

The bellicose and jingoistic U.S. media’s spin on recent events on the Korean peninsula: Mark Thompson in Time: “Is It Time to Attack North Korea?”

Taking out North Korea’s two major nuclear sites with air strikes would be dangerous but probably not too difficult, U.S. officials say. The possibility of North Korean retaliation against Seoul, South Korea’s capital of 10 million and only 35 miles from North Korea, would be a complicating factor, they concede.

The latest humanitarian crisis for North Korea: The Washington Post on North Korean tuberculosis patients at risk as sanctions hamper medicine shipments:

The lives of more than 1,500 North Korean tuberculosis patients are at risk, an American-run humanitarian foundation said Wednesday, because tough new sanctions are stopping medicine from getting to sick people.”…“Unless something is done quickly, our patients will fail treatment and die,” said Stephen W. Linton, chairman of the foundation. “Short of all-out war, I cannot imagine a greater tragedy for the Korean people.”…“These people need additional medication to finish the program, and if they don’t get it, they run the risk of developing additional resistance and dying,” Linton said. “Should they return home to die, everyone who comes into contact with them will be at risk of contracting this particularly dangerous type of ‘super-TB’?” he said.

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“Heart speaks to Heart” – From the Catholic HeraldFather Gerard Hammond, American Maryknoll missionary, visits North Korea as a silent ‘apostle of peace’

Maryknoll Father Gerard Hammond, 81, who has lived in South Korea since 1960, first crossed over into the North in 1995 and since then has made 51 trips. During Pope Francis’s visit to South Korea this month the Pope met Fr Hammond and personally thanked him for his work in the North…. “You’re present to a people whom you cannot speak to and they can’t speak to you, but it’s the old adage: ‘heart speaks to heart,’” he said. “They see compassion. Well, they’re in a country where they’re told that [the late dictator] Kim Jong Il gives them everything. But then they see, well, in this case he isn’t. So you’re also creating a thought pattern in their own life: ‘What do these people help bring us? What are they doing here?’

Pay attention: the real story is not being told by the U.S. media. Don’t let pro-war reporters lead us into another conflagration. Over 3 million Koreans died in the Korean War. Here’s some thoughts from the Korea Peace Network, an initiative of the American Friends Service Committee and other peace organizations.

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Chomsky on Korea, U.S. Foreign Policy, Sanders and Clinton

chomskyNoam Chomsky has long had a deep interest in Korea. Ever since his involvement in the antiwar movement of the 1960s, he’s paid close attention to the country and the controversial role played by the United States on the peninsula since 1945.

This interview on the Korean War and its origins illustrates the depth of his knowledge and clarity – both of which are sadly missing from most discussions about the peninsula. In his 1993 book “Year 501,” Chomsky wrote in detail about the U.S. backing for the dictatorships of Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan – and, to my astonishment, quoted from articles I’d written for various publications during the 1980s.

In 2010, some of his writings were banned by the South Korean military because, according to officials quoted by TIME, “the literature in question sympathizes with communist North Korea and criticizes the economic systems of South Korea and the U.S.” In South Korea, that usually covers pretty much everything the government doesn’t like.

Professor Chomsky has also been outspoken in his support for the democratic movement in South Korea, and in 2013 was one of the first signers of a petition I worked on condemning the South Korean government and its National Intelligence Service for “launching a witch hunt to purge progressive voices from the political process.” 

Last month, Professor Chomsky was interviewed in Boston by the writer and activist Simone Chun for the Hankyoreh newspaper. Here is the English translation of the interview, courtesy of Ms. Chun. She was accompanied in her first meeting with Prof. Chomsky in November 2015 (pictured) by Christine Ahn, the founder of Women Cross DMZ, which led a historic march across the North-South Korean border last May (full disclosure, Ms. Chun, Ms. Ahn and myself are all affiliated with the Korea Policy Institute). 

Ms. Chun’s interview took place on January 19th, 2016, at Professor Chomsky’s office at MIT. Here is the Q&A. chomsky christine simone

Chun: Do you feel that there will be any significant change in the foreign policy of the United States after President Obama?

Chomsky: If Republicans are elected, there could be major changes that will be awful. I have never seen such lunatics in the political system. For instance, Ted Cruz’s response to terrorism is to carpet-bomb everyone.

Chun: Would you expect that Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy would be different from President Obama’s?

Chomsky: Judging by the record, she is kind of hawkish—much more militant than the centrist democrats, including Obama. Take for instance Libya: she was the one pressing the hardest for bombing, and look at what happened. They not only destroyed the country, but Libya has become the center for jihad all over Africa and the Middle East.  It’s a total disaster in every respect, but it does not matter.  Look at the so-called global war on terror. It started in 15 years ago with a small cell in a tribal sector in Afghanistan.  Now it is all over, and you can understand why. It’s about comparative advantage of force.

petitionsChun: How about Bernie Sanders–what do you think his foreign policy will be?

Chomsky: He is doing a lot better than I expected, but he doesn’t have much to say about foreign policy. He is a kind of New Deal Democrat and focuses primarily on domestic issues.

Chun: Some people in South Korea speculate that if Bernie Sanders gets elected, he may take a non-interventionist position towards foreign policy, which would then give more power to South Korea’s right-wing government.

Chomsky: The dynamics could be different. His emphasis on domestic policy might require an aggressive foreign policy. In order to shore up support for domestic policies, he may be forced to attack somebody weak.

Chun: Do you believe that Americans would support another war?

Chomsky: The public is easily amenable to lies: the more lies there are, the greater the support for war. For instance, when the public was told that Saddam Hussein would attack the U.S., this increased support for the war.

Chun: Do you mean that the media fuels lies?

Chomsky: The media is uncritical, and their so-called the concept of objectivity translates into keeping everything within the Beltway. However, Iraq was quite different. Here, there were flat-out lies, and they sort of knew it. They were desperately trying to make connections between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.

Chun: Do you think that the Iran nuclear deal is a good thing?

Chomsky: I don’t think that any deal was needed: Iran was not a threat. Even if Iran were a threat, there was a very easy way to handle it–by establishing a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, which is something that nearly everyone in the world wants. Iran has been calling for it for years, and the Arab countries support it. Everyone except the United States and Israel support it. The U.S. won’t allow it because it means inspecting Israel’s nuclear weapons. The U.S. has continued to block it, and in fact blocked it again just a couple of days ago; it just wasn’t widely reported. Iran’s nuclear program, as U.S. intelligence points out, is deterrent, and the bottom line is that the U.S. and Israel don’t want Iran to have a deterrent. In any case, it is better to have some deal than no deal, but it’s interesting that Obama picked the day of implementing of Iran deal to impose new sanctions on North Korea.

Chun: And do you think that the same can be said about North Korea?

Chomsky: You can understand why. If North Korea doesn’t have a deterrent, they will be wiped out.

Chun: What is the most constructive way to address the nuclear issue in the Korean peninsula?

Chomsky: In 2005, there was a very sensible deal between the U.S. and North Korea. This deal would have settled North Korea’s so-called nuclear threat, but was subsequently undermined by George W. Bush, who attacked North Korean banks in Macau and blocked the North’s access to outside the world.

Chun:  Why does the United States undermine efforts to reach an agreement with North Korea?

Chomsky: I don’t think that the United States cares. They just assume that North Korea will soon have nuclear weapons.

Chun: Can you elaborate?

Chomsky: If you look at the record, the United States has done very little to stop nuclear weapons. As soon as George W. Bush was elected, he did everything to encourage North Korea to act aggressively.  In 2005 we were close to a deal, but North Korea has always been a low priority issue for the United States. In fact, look at the entire nuclear weapons strategy of the United States: from the beginning, in the 1950s, the United States didn’t worry much about a nuclear threat. It would have been possible to enter into a treaty with the one potential threat—the Soviet Union—and block development of these weapons. At that time, the Russians were way behind technologically, and Stalin wanted a peace deal, but the U.S. didn’t want to hear the USSR’s offer. The implication is that the U.S. is ready to have a terminal war at any time.

Chun: What do you think about U.S. “Pivot to Asia” policy?

Chomsky: It is aimed at China. China is already surrounded by hostile powers such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Guam, but the United States wants to build up more tension. For example, few days ago, a B-52 nuclear bomber flew within a couple of miles of China.  It is very provocative. Nuclear war ends everything, but the United States always plays with fire.

Chun: What do you think about Japan? Do you think Japan is remilitarizing, and if so, does this pose a threat to the region and the world?

Chomsky: Yes, Japan is trying very hard, but it is not certain that it will succeed. Take for instance Okinawa. There is no actual military purpose, but the United States insists on maintaining a base there.

Chun: As you know, part of my work centers on supporting individual activists in South Korea who do not tend to receive media attention.  Your statements of solidarity in support of them enable them to receive much-needed attention by the Korean media.  It has been very effective.

Chomsky: I hope that my support has been helpful. Is there any hope or mood in Korea in support of Sunshine Policy?

Chun: It is difficult due to the incumbent right-wing government.

Chomsky: How about South Korean public opinion?

Chun: As you know, successive conservative governments have obstructed engagement with the North, and this has greatly deflated the public mood on the matter. Opposition parties remain divided and ineffective, and the current government exercises tight control over the media and represses any activists who would express criticism. South Korea appears to be heading back to the authoritarianism of the 1960s and 1970s.

Chomsky: Part of the reason why the United States doesn’t care about North Korea is that the North Korean threat provides justification for the right-wing conservative regime in the South.

Chun: Yes, many people argue that the biggest obstacle in dealing with North Korea is South Korean right-wing politics.

Chomsky: Relaxation with North Korea would mean conservatives losing power in the South. That’s why, for instance, we have to keep the war on terrorism.

Chun: Professor Chomsky, thank you again for your time and your support.



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Zounds! US military contracting is up! Way up!

Screenshot 2016-02-24 16.32.42That’s the word yesterday from Defense Onea military publication that’s itself funded by Honeywell and other big defense contractors.

The number of private contractors working for the U.S. Defense Department in Iraq grew eight-fold over the past year, a rate that far outpaces the growing number of American troops training and advising Iraqi soldiers battling Islamic State militants.

The sharp increase, disclosed in a recent Pentagon report to Congress, underscores the military’s reliance on civilians even for missions with relatively small troop presence.

“If you look at the size and the composition of the forces that have been deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, that’s changed markedly in the past year,” said Rick Brennan, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corp. and a retired Army officer.

As of January, 2,028 contractors were in Iraq, up from just 250 one year earlier, according to the Pentagon’s data. There are roughly 3,700 American troops there now, compared to 2,300 in January 2015.

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This is all according to a report to the Pentagon from the Central Command that’s supposed to improve “DoD efforts to improve management of contractors accompanying U.S. forces.” As Defense One points out,

That number of military contractors represents just a fraction of the contractors employed by the U.S. in Iraq. In addition to the 2,028 Pentagon contractors, another 5,800 are employed by other agencies, including the State Department.

But as you can see from this chart in the report, less than half of the contractors are U.S. citizens. The rest are from the host countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, or other nations.

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 Also interesting is the breakdown by mission category. As you can see, the vast majority of contractor jobs are for maintenance.
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If you’re a reader of this blog or my posts at The Nation, you already know that Obama’s wars are being increasingly fought by contractors and, in some cases, mercenaries. You also know that it’s a highly dangerous occupation, as the recent kidnapping of three U.S. contractors working as military trainers for General Dynamics in Iraq shows (that case has yet to be unresolved, and the three are presumably still being held). Here’s some of my recent posts on this phenomenon, from The Nation and Salon:


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South Korean opposition fights draconian anti-terrorism law


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Opposition lawmakers in South Korea’s National Assembly are staging a marathon filibuster against a so-called Anti-Terrorist Act being pushed by the Park Geun-Hye government in the wake of North Korea’s latest rocket launch and nuclear test. As the independent Hankyoreh reports:

National Assembly speaker Chung Ui-hwa asserted his authority on Feb. 23 to bring a controversial anti-terror bill to the floor for a vote, describing the recent tensions on the Korean Peninsula provoked by a nuclear test by North Korea as a “national state of emergency corresponding to a war or incident.”

To prevent the legislation from being passed, the opposition parties have launched a filibuster on the floor of the National Assembly, in which it is pointing out problems with the anti-terror bill put forward by the ruling party. This is the first filibuster in South Korea since 1969.

Civic groups also strongly objected to Chung’s decision to bring the bill to the floor, expressing their concern that the NIS would abuse its authority and infringe on civil rights.

On Tuesday evening, Chung Ui-hwa called a session of the National Assembly and asserted his authority to bring the Anti-Terror Act for Protection of the People and Public Safety, a bill submitted by the Saenuri Party (NFP), to the floor. Chung defined the current situation as “a public safety emergency” and said that “the anti-terror bill cannot be put off any longer.”

Anybody concerned with civil liberties and government surveillance should pay attention to this draconian law (scroll down for a cartoon, published today, that illustrates how it will work, with the man in the suit representing South Korean intelligence).

Simone Chun, a colleague of mine at the Korea Policy Institute, has analyzed the bill and its implications. Here is her dispatch, published with her permission.

Making South Korea into a National Security State

By Simone Chun

The so-called Anti-Terrorist Act will give unprecedented and extraordinary power of illegal surveillance of Korean citizens (both domestic and foreign), political leaders and private companies to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service.

The NIS is South Korea’s top spy agency and the successor to the Korean CIA, which had a history of gruesome torture and human rights violations, and buttressed South Korea’s authoritarian regimes from the 1960s to the early 1990s.

This bill provides NIS with:

  • The power to investigate citizen without appropriate legal processes
  • The power to access financial information, electronic transactions, and communications
  • The power to eavesdrop and wiretap
  • The power to use the military to end protests, if necessary
  • The power to impose prison sentence on citizens without any due process
  • The power not to keep its budget secret

Most importantly, according to the bill, the head of the NIS, not the President, will have the ultimate power and authority to enforce the laws, transforming South Korea into a National Intelligence State. That is unconstitutional.

An update on the filibuster so far:

  • Kim Kwang-jin had spoken more than 5 hours and 30 minutes.
  • Kim Kwang-jin had spoken almost 2 hours.
  • Un Soo-mee had spoken for 10 hours and 30 minutes. Representative Un mentioned her own experience of being tortured 20 years ago by the Korean CIA.

Outside the National Assembly, citizens are holding their own filibuster in solidarity with the lawmakers inside the parliamentary buildings.

As you know, Korea is one of the safest countries in the world, and is free of any history of terrorism. Many of you have visited or lived there. In fact, most acts of “terror” have been committed by state authorities, i.e., the NIS. Although South and North Korea are in a state of war with only an armistice, that conflict is between states and is not “terrorism” as generally understood in the world.

Worse, South Korea already has a strict and rigid National Security Law that severely restricts and limits our citizens’ freedom and liberty. For that reason, critics argue that the new law is just the latest attempt by President Park Geun-hye and her ruling Saenuri Party, with the help of the National Intelligence Service, to secure a long-term seizure of power.

Elections for the National Assembly are scheduled in April 2016, and for President in December 2017. President Park and the ruling party are using the latest crisis with North Korea to manufacture an unnecessary crisis that tarnishes Korea’s international branding (democratic, orderly, safe, stable and sophisticated civic culture). It disguises President Park’s failed economic policies and dysfunctional government. Most importantly, it hurts Korea’s already depressed economy which than ever, requires the confidence of investors and consumers.

South Korean citizens’ groups opposed to the bill make the following requests:

  • Help defend Korea’s democracy–the safest insurance against all threats.
  • Stop politicizing the serious issue of terrorism.
  • Support Korean lawmakers’ and citizens’ courageous struggle to defend democracy.
  • No democracy, no individual liberty and freedom means no security and no peace.

International media’s attention to this historic and epic struggle to defend Korea’s democracy is urgently needed!

For background, please read the following:

The New York Times on South Korea’s “invasion of privacy

The New York Times on “how South Korea is targeting dissent”

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Republican and Media Idiocy on North Korea

Screenshot 2016-02-21 11.10.43Democracy Now! has published the full transcript of my February 8 interview on North Korea’s latest satellite launch. Since that day, President Obama has dispatched nuclear-armed F-22s into Korea as a “warning” to Pyongyang and signed tough sanctions passed unanimously by the US Senate. Meanwhile, South Korea has shut the doors of the Kaesong Industrial Zone just north of the DMZ, bringing to a close the last project from the days of Kim Dae Jung’s Sunshine policy. All in all, a pretty depressing turn.

I begin here with a scathing critique of ABC reporter Martha Raddadz for the idiotic question she asked at the beginning of a Republican debate in which most of the candidates pushed for an all-out war with North Korea. This pretty much sums up what I think:

Well, first of all, Martha Raddatz’s question was completely irresponsible and shows the militarism that’s endemic in the U.S. media toward North Korea. They did not launch an ICBM. They put a satellite in orbit. And even the Pentagon has confirmed this, that it was a satellite. You can track this satellite going around the world on the Internet right now. They’ve been developing missiles for many years, and they’ve been testing them. They haven’t tested one for about four years. To say this was a ICBM ready to launch a nuclear attack is ridiculous.

The response by the Republicans is scary and frightening, that they would call for a preemptive strike on North Korea when there’s a situation highly—you know, highly volatile situation on the Korean Peninsula, with millions of innocent people within a hundred miles of the DMZ between North and South Korea. To call for a war that could affect—kill hundreds of thousands of people in the first few minutes is ridiculous.

Correction: Dangerous and criminal, not only ridiculous. To hear the full interview, click here.

Meanwhile, US and South Korean forces are preparing for a major military drill in March when they will once again practice invasion and regime change in North Korea.

The two allies will try to boost their capability to infiltrate deep into North Korean territory and destroy the North’s key facilities, such as its nuclear and missile test sites, the official said.

The two countries will double the period of the exercise and widen the area covered from last year.

The drill will involve some 10,000 South Korean sailors and 7,000 U.S. ones, the largest scale since the drill, known as Ssangyong, was launched in 2012.

This risks and dangers grow greater by the day. It’s about time for some peace talks, don’t you think?

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