UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

May 15, 2009

RECOVERED HISTORY: OUR WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION AGAINST KOREA

Le Monde Diplomatique - The media claim that North Korea is trying to obtain and use weapons of mass destruction. Yet the United States, which opposes this strategy, has used or threatened to use such weapons in northeast Asia since the 1940s, when it did drop atomic bombs on Japan.

The forgotten war - the Korean war of 1950-53 - might better be called the unknown war. What was indelible about it was the extraordinary destructiveness of the United States' air campaigns against North Korea, from the widespread and continuous use of firebombing (mainly with napalm), to threats to use nuclear and chemical weapons, and the destruction of huge North Korean dams in the final stages of the war. Yet this episode is mostly unknown even to historians, let alone to the average citizen, and it has never been mentioned during the past decade of media analysis of the North Korean nuclear problem.

Korea is also assumed to have been a limited war, but its prosecution bore a strong resemblance to the air war against Imperial Japan in the second world war, and was often directed by the same US military leaders. The atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been examined from many different perspectives, yet the incendiary air attacks against Japanese and Korean cities have received much less attention. . .

Napalm was invented at the end of the second world war. It became a major issue during the Vietnam war, brought to prominence by horrific photos of injured civilians. Yet far more napalm was dropped on Korea and with much more devastating effect, since the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had many more populous cities and urban industrial installations than North Vietnam. . .

In a major strike on the industrial city of Hungnam on 31 July 1950, 500 tons of ordnance was delivered through clouds by radar; the flames rose 200-300 feet into the air. The air force dropped 625 tons of bombs over North Korea on 12 August, a tonnage that would have required a fleet of 250 B-17s in the second world war. By late August B-29 formations were dropping 800 tons a day on the North. Much of it was pure napalm. From June to late October 1950, B-29s unloaded 866,914 gallons of napalm. . .

Without even using such novel weapons - although napalm was very new - the air war leveled North Korea and killed millions of civilians. . .

Over the course of the war, Conrad Crane wrote, the US air force "had wreaked terrible destruction all across North Korea. Bomb damage assessment at the armistice revealed that 18 of 22 major cities had been at least half obliterated." A table he provided showed that the big industrial cities of Hamhung and Hungnam were 80-85% destroyed, Sariwon 95%, Sinanju 100%, the port of Chinnampo 80% and Pyongyang 75%. A British reporter described one of the thousands of obliterated villages as "a low, wide mound of violet ashes. . .

This was Korea, "the limited war" The views of its architect, Curtis LeMay, serve as its epitaph. After it started, he said: "We slipped a note kind of under the door into the Pentagon and said let us go up there . . . and burn down five of the biggest towns in North Korea - and they're not very big - and that ought to stop it. Well, the answer to that was four or five screams - "You'll kill a lot of non-combatants' and "It's too horrible'. Yet over a period of three years or so . . . we burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea, too . . . Now, over a period of three years this is palatable, but to kill a few people to stop this from happening - a lot of people can't stomach it"

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