Peace Comes to Korea: Let’s Understand Why

When peace shows its face, and weapons companies’ stocks plummet, we have to do more than just cheer. We have to avoid misunderstanding where peace comes from. We have to recognize the forces that want to destroy it. We have to work to make it last and expand.

There’s something very twisted about the belief that the primary cause of tension between the United States and North Korea is what has reduced tension there. On a personal scale I think we could grasp this. If you yell insults and threats across the street at someone and they return the favor, and this carries on until a third party intervenes and proposes resolving the conflict, you can’t then proclaim that the person you were yelling at finally gave in and shut up because you yelled loudly enough. In fact, proclaiming that runs the risk of starting the yelling back up again.

Applying the same understanding to Korea is hindered by a couple of truly insane but widespread habits of thought. First, there’s the belief that because I’m a U.S. citizen and not an aggressive bully and not interested in any way with North Korea and none of my friends are either, why then the same must be true of the U.S. government. This mistake is compounded by the notion that history doesn’t matter and the crazy concept of a “national interest” understood as something everyone in a nation and its government all share in common. If you own stock in Lockheed Martin and want peace, your interests don’t even line up with your own interests, never mind those of John Bolton and Bill Gates.

Second, there’s the belief that worrying about nuclear apocalypse has gone out of style, that it is just oh so 1980s, because that’s what television makes it seem like, even though the risk has increased and understanding of the risk has changed so that in fact we understand that fewer nukes would do more damage than most people imagined in the 1980s.

If history and facts do matter, then we have to take these facts seriously. The United States government divided Korea in half. The United States government imposed a brutal dictatorship on South Korea. The United States’ South Korean dictator helped start a war in which the United States destroyed most of North Korea’s cities. The United States prevented the war from officially ending or the two Koreas from reuniting for over half a century. The United States imposed brutal sanctions on the people of North Korea for over half a century. The United States threatened North Korea and militarized South Korea over whose military it maintained war-time control for over half a century.

North Korea negotiated a disarmament agreement with the United States in the 1990s and for the most part abided by it, but the United States did not. The United States called North Korea part of an axis of evil, destroyed one of that axis’s other two members, and has threatened to destroy the third member ever since. And ever since, North Korea has said that it would re-negotiate but has built the weapons it thinks will protect it. It has said it would renegotiate if the United States will commit to not attacking it again, will stop putting missiles in South Korea, will stop flying practice nuking missions near North Korea. Instead of halting these behaviors, the United States has ramped up the threats, while North Korea has reciprocated.

Now a third party has intervened: the South Korean government, with a big boost from the South Korean people who threw out the previous government which refused to stand up to the United States — and with a big boost from South Korean and North Korean (let’s start just saying Korean) peace activists and peace activists from around the world. South Korea has agreed to no more threats of war and to disarmament. That will mean, if followed through on, no more practice flights, no more presidential death tweets from hell, no more bases built and weapons installed — in fact the gradual removal of those weapons and bases and troops that are there. (We can of course give every single person impacted a better and better-paying job for less money in peaceful enterprises.)

Now if anyone in the U.S. government wants to take credit for peace, by all means let them. Make it a positive thing to be for peace. Peace is extremely easy to choose when you control the means to war, and we should make those in power consider the advantages to their immediate selves of choosing it. But if anyone wants to pretend that peace has come about through threats and sanctions, the very things that created the problem, they are risking all of our lives. That’s not hyperbole. That’s what nuclear war means, even a small nuclear war.

And if North Korea gets rid of its nukes, and then the United States attacks it, we can all forget about any small country ever giving up its nukes again anywhere on earth — and we can probably forget the earth.

The United States would never do such a thing, you say, but I would encourage you to ask the Libyans, the Iraqis, the Afghans, Yemenis, Somalis, Vietnamese, most of Latin America, the Filipinos, the . . . well, just ask the other 96%, any of them.

When the United States made a nuclear agreement with Iran, it was an agreement that the United States would stop immorally, illegally, catastrophically, moronically, and sadistically — and bipartisanly — threatening war on Iran. It wasn’t justified by anything else, although there’s never any harm in ever-greater restrictions on nukes, which ought to be applied globally, not just to Iran.

According to Gallup, most nations polled view the United States as the greatest threat to peace on earth. Certainly the people of Korea (all of Korea) understand that. The people of the United States need to understand it too.

If U.S. government employees swore a Hippocratic oath, the United States would immediately get its missiles, its military, and its nose out of the Korean peninsula and let peace proceed.

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