All eyes are now focused on North Korea. Kim Jong-un possesses atomic warheads and continues to develop intercontinental ballistic missile technology that could threaten the American homeland. An unstable situation seems to grow more dangerous on a daily basis. The North Korean dictator has already had various family members assassinated. His weaponry already poses an immediate threat to major population centers in Seoul and Tokyo.
North Korea has been described as being China's pit bull, but now the pit bull seems to have slipped off of his lead. How much leverage does China really have over North Korea?
Meanwhile President Trump, the new American Commander in chief, adds a measure of unpredictability. Trump must weigh the dangers of action and the perils of inaction as well. Will he order a decapitation strike against the regime of Kim Jong-un? Will US Special Forces be sent into the Hermit Kingdom on a desperate mission? Will Kim Jong-un launch some kind of suicide mission against the west? Will the rhetorical war become something far more dangerous?
While the future is difficult to predict we can still learn valuable lessons from our past.
It may surprise readers to learn that we Americans have invaded North Korea before. Our past interactions with North Korea have been costly in terms of blood, treasure and even political fortunes. In America Invades (www.americainvades.com) we wrote...
"North Korea is a land of mystery, a hermit kingdom whose intentions we struggle to understand.
Our first contact with what is now North Korea was not a happy one. In 1866, an American ship, the SS General Sherman, arrived off Korea and then proceeded to sail upriver to Pyongyang, now the capital of North Korea, in an attempt to start Western trade with Koreans. The Koreans were wary of Western traders, and a dispute arose that led to violence and the eventual burning of the SS General Sherman.
Our next major visit to North Korea was going to be pretty challenging as well...
After the liberation of Seoul by UN forces on September 26, 1950, the United Nations forces faced a strategic dilemma. Would they advance north of the thirty-eighth parallel and dispose of the regime that had started the conflict, or would they stop at the line that originally divided North and South Korea?
Two considerations—the discovery by the UN command that thousands of civilians in South Korea had been killed by the Communists between June and September of 1950 and the comparatively swift collapse of the North Korean Army after Inchon—were seized upon by those arguing in favor of crossing the thirty-eighth parallel. Ultimately, both the UN command and the Truman administration decided in favor of regime change in the North at this time.
As a result, United Nations forces swept north of the thirty-eighth parallel. On October 19, Pyongyang was captured, and Bob Hope even gave a USO performance for the troops in the North Korean capital!
United Nations forces drove north of the thirty-eighth parallel advancing towards the Chinese border. Kim Il Sung’s northern regime was in a state of near total collapse when suddenly the situation changed entirely.
Mao, mindful that North Korea had recently been the jumping-off point for the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in the 1930s, was determined to intervene in Korea on a huge scale. In late October of 1950, massive Chinese formations began to cross the Yalu River into North Korea. In the end, over 1.3 million Chinese would fight in the war.
|Korean War Memorial|
Among Mao’s forces were recently-surrendered Nationalist Chinese. This later complicated the negotiations over prisoner exchanges as many who had fought on the Communist side had no desire to be repatriated to North Korea or the People’s Republic.
The Chinese intervention was a hammer blow to the UN forces and totally changed the course of the war. During the Chosin Reservoir (December 1950) campaign, the commander of 1st Marine Division, O. P. Smith, famously remarked, “Gentlemen, we are not retreating. We are merely advancing in another direction.”
The autumn also saw the first MiG-15s deployed in the country in support of the North Koreans and Chinese, challenging UN dominance of the skies.
|General Douglas MacArthur|
US Army Academy, West Point, NY
The UN retreat continued through the bleak winter of 1950, and the Chinese tidal wave swept all in its path and threw the UN forces into chaos. Pyongyang was recaptured by the Communists on December 5, 1950, and Seoul was evacuated by UN troops on January 4, 1951. In desperation at the situation, MacArthur began to support drastic measures to stem the Chinese tide, including bombing the Yalu bridges across which the Chinese supply lines flowed, bombing targets of opportunity in Manchuria, taking Chiang Kai-shek up on his offer of deploying thousands of well-trained Nationalist Chinese troops to Korea, and even considering the use of atomic weapons. On April 5, 1951, MacArthur released a letter criticizing the Truman administration’s policy of limited war. In response, Truman, who never cared much for “Dugout Doug,” charged the supreme commander with blatant insubordination.
The wisdom, or otherwise, of Truman’s dismissal of MacArthur on April 11, 1951, remains a matter of controversy to this day. Some argue that Truman occupied the firmer constitutional ground and that MacArthur’s proposed escalation might have led to Russian retaliation, use of atomic weapons, and the start of World War III. Others point out that MacArthur’s departure may have led to two unnecessary years of war; in January of 1952, even Truman himself was considering an ultimatum to the Soviet Union and China over their support for North Korea.
Before MacArthur’s final removal, however, the Chinese onslaught had already been slowed and then halted. The Eighth Army under Matthew Ridgway, the commander of the 82nd Airborne in Operation Market Garden began to push north again, and in March 5, 1951, Seoul changed hands for the third time as his forces advanced towards the thirty-eighth parallel. Nevertheless, a grinding war still lay ahead with no apparent end in sight.
Out of over 1,319,000 Americans who served during the three years of the “forgotten war” in Korea, about thirty-six thousand were killed— comparable to the fifty-eight thousand claimed by Vietnam over ten years. Over one million Koreans from the north, south, and all ideologies, including many civilians, were also killed in the war. Truman’s ambition for a third presidential term was also a casualty of the war.
|Dwight David Eisenhower|
Grosvenor Square, London
The Eisenhower administration launched a high-stakes poker game designed to resume the stalled peace talks at Panmunjom. A tactical nuclear device, designed to be used by artillery, was tried out in January 1953. In May of that year, Allen Dulles, the secretary of state, visited Prime Minister Nehru of India and asked that a warning be conveyed to the Chinese: If a truce were not agreed to, bombing north of the Yalu would commence. The talks resumed and made rapid progress.
Finally, the Korean War ended with an armistice signed on July 27, 1953, which basically restored the antebellum status quo. But the truce has not been an unbroken one. Regular incidents have occurred, including in 1968 when North Koreans boarded and captured the USS Pueblo. The Pueblo remains today the only USN vessel in enemy hands.
And today, it is Kim Jong-un, the grandson of Kim Il Sung from the Korean War, who presides over secretive North Korea and keeps the rest of the world guessing about what he’s going to do next."
Could it be that Trump's political fortunes will be determined by success or failure on the Korean Peninsula just as Trumans' were around sixty-five years ago?
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