This summer a Socialist Workers Party leadership delegation of Tom Baumann, James Harris, and me visited Pyongyang, the capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to join celebrations there of the July 27, 1953, cease-fire that registered that historic victory.
Among the anniversary events was the inauguration of a new building and park that substantially expand the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, first built in 1953. Although most of the new exhibits were not yet open to the public, we visited the outdoor pavilions displaying captured U.S. and South Korean planes, helicopters, tanks, armored vehicles and ordnance from the Korean War, as well as from military actions by Washington and Seoul right up to recent years.
The exhibits included several bombs dropped by U.S. planes during the war. More than 635,000 tons of bombs, as well as 32,557 tons of napalm, were unleashed against Koreans over those three years — 25 percent more than dropped by Washington in the entire Pacific theater during World War II. Some 428,000 bombs were hurled on Pyongyang alone, roughly one per person, according to museum figures.
In towns and cities across northern Korea, and in parts of the South as well, the vast majority of homes, hospitals, schools, factories and other structures were leveled. Only three major buildings were left standing in Pyongyang, and 18 of the 22 largest cities in the North were 50 to 100 percent destroyed.
After Chinese troops joined the DPRK’s fight against Washington’s war of conquest on the peninsula in October 1950, Gen. Douglas MacArthur ordered destruction of every “installation, factory, city and village” in the North up to the Yalu River. Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the U.S. Strategic Air Command at the time, later wrote, “We eventually burned down every town in North Korea … and some in South Korea too. We even burned down [the South Korean city] Pusan — an accident, but we burned it down anyway.”
And we’re not condemned to rely for facts on beribboned butchers like LeMay. A Pentagon-commissioned study while the war was still on documented U.S. firebombing in the South in summer 1950, as the DPRK’s troops rapidly advanced down the peninsula. “So we killed civilians, friendly civilians, and bombed their homes; fired whole villages with their occupants — women and children and 10 times as many hidden Communist soldiers — under showers of napalm,” the study reported, “and the pilots came back to their [aircraft carriers] stinking of vomit twisted from their vitals by the shock of what they had to do.”
The bombardment continued right up to the July 1953 cease-fire. In the final months, U.S. planes bombed five major dams in the North, causing massive flooding, drowning civilians, destroying the rice crop and livestock for millions and knocking out bridges, railroads and electrical power.
Korea divided in 1945In September 1945, after a four-decade-long struggle against Japanese colonial brutality and plunder, Korea was ripped in half by Washington and Moscow at roughly the 38th parallel. This trampling on the Korean people’s national sovereignty was the implementation of a joint “trusteeship” cooked up between President Franklin Roosevelt and Premier Josef Stalin as early as February 1945 at the Yalta conference of Allied Powers in World War II. Registering the military situation on the ground in September 1945, southern and northern Korea were occupied respectively by U.S. and Soviet troops.
Since 1905 Korea had been under de facto and then direct colonial rule by Japanese imperialism, with Washington’s connivance. The quid pro quo was that Tokyo acquiesced in U.S. imperialism’s colonial rule over the Philippines.
For decades Koreans had been required by Tokyo to speak Japanese rather than their own language, and in 1939 they were ordered to take Japanese names.
Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were enlisted as police or soldiers to enforce their people’s national oppression and, in the 1930s and ’40s, Japan’s occupation of Manchuria in northern China. Millions were transported against their will to Japan to serve as forced labor in mines and factories, or as “comfort women” sex slaves for Japanese soldiers. At the end of World War II, 10 percent of the Korean population was living in Japan.
Korean working people took advantage of Tokyo’s defeat in World War II in August 1945 to advance their fight for national independence and dignity, as well as for land reform, for trade unions and labor rights, women’s suffrage and the expropriation of factories and other workplaces. A revolutionary class struggle spread from one end of the peninsula to the other, pitting the vast working majority against Korean landlords and capitalists who had entrenched their own privileges and profits in collusion with the Japanese occupiers.
People’s Committees were organized across Korea by individuals and organizations long active in the fight against Japanese colonialism. The committees varied in their class composition. Many were dominated by workers and poor farmers, while others were led by businessmen and landlords who opposed Japanese rule.
Korean People’s RepublicOn Sept. 6, 1945, two days prior to the scheduled arrival of U.S. troops in Korea, delegates from these committees met and formed the Korean People’s Republic, with Seoul as its capital. Some three-quarters of those proposed for positions in the new government were from groups linked to Moscow and the Communist Party of China and radical petty bourgeois and bourgeois currents of the nationalist movement in Korea.
The assembly of the People’s Committees, however, also offered positions to a number of figures such as Syngman Rhee, who had spent all but a few years between 1905 and 1945 living in exile in the U.S. There, for close to four decades, Rhee’s increasingly reactionary political course had been distinguished by pleading on bended knee for Washington to press Tokyo to grant Korean independence — to absolutely no avail — and to forging ties with missionary and various other Protestant Christian institutions. (Aside from the Philippines, where more than 80 percent of the population is Catholic, South Korea has among the highest percentage of Christians, mainly Protestant, anywhere in East Asia: some 10 percent in 1945 and nearing a third today.)
The Korean People’s Republic released political prisoners, organized the distribution of food, and called for national elections as early as March 1946. It announced the confiscation of lands held by the Japanese occupiers and Korean collaborators; an agrarian reform on these and other lands; nationalization of mining, major industries, banking, and transportation; universal suffrage; and a minimum wage and eight-hour day.
But the U.S. ruling families weren’t about to allow the Korean people to establish a government that, as revolutionary struggles deepened, could develop into a workers and peasants power that would replace capitalist rule, and social relations based on class exploitation in countryside and city. They saw Korea as a prize for U.S. capitalism, as well as a stepping stone toward increased domination of China, with its vast lands, more than a half billion exploitable peasants and workers, and lucrative markets for the export of American capital.
U.S. military governmentSo on Sept. 7, the day before U.S. occupation forces landed on Korean soil, their commander, General MacArthur, decreed that the entire administrative power in Korea south of parallel 38 was under his jurisdiction. The U.S. general warned that, “All persons will obey promptly all my orders and orders issued under my authority. Acts of resistance to the occupying forces or any acts which may disturb public peace and safety will be punished severely.” During the period of military occupation, he said, Korea’s official language would be English.
The U.S. military government refused to acknowledge the Korean People’s Republic and continued enforcing the laws of the hated Japanese colonial administration. The U.S. occupiers even kept in place Tokyo’s officials, including Gov. Gen. Abe Nobuyuki.
The Jan. 5, 1946, issue of the Militant ran an account by a U.S. soldier stationed in Korea. The U.S. military government, the GI wrote, “decided that the best thing to do was to freeze the status quo … but the Koreans didn’t see it that way. They just could not understand why the American army employed their hated enemies to continue the oppression of a ‘liberated’ people.”
The establishment of the Korean People’s Republic, the soldier wrote, was seen by the U.S. occupiers as “nothing short of a revolution, and as these people were definitely socialist, it was a ‘communist’ revolution. So we sent in our troops and threw these over-patriotic Koreans out and put back the Japanese and the Japanese collaborators.”
(To be continued)
U.S. troops out of Korea! Korea is one!
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home