The current crisis with North Korea arises from the unresolved Korean War. Here are some facts about the Korean War unknown to most Americans.

1. Japan annexed Korea as a colony in 1910. Japan exploited Korea brutally. The Korean War actually began in the 1930s as a civil war against Japanese imperialism and against the Koreans who collaborated with Japanese imperialism. Kim Il Sung, the first head of North Korea (and grandfather of the current ruler), was a principal leader of the resistance movement against Japan.

2. During World War II, grassroots liberation movements sprang up throughout Korea. These movements aimed at redistributing land (which was owned by a tiny elite) and casting off Japanese domination. In addition, over 50,000 Koreans joined with the Chinese Communists to fight against Japan in Manchuria. These Korean soldiers subsequently helped Mao and his peasant army win the civil war in China. This motivated China to support North Korea in the Korean War.


3. Korea has been a single country for well over a thousand years. Nevertheless, the day after the Nagasaki bombing, U.S. government officials (among them Dean Acheson and Dean Rusk) chose the 38th parallel — which had no previous relevance in Korean history — as the dividing line between North and South Korea. The purpose was to prevent Soviet troops from occupying the whole of Korea. Neither the Koreans nor the Soviets were consulted about this crucial decision. The 38th parallel has never been an internationally recognized boundary.

4. In order to forestall social revolution in Asia, the Truman administration decided to resurrect Japanese influence within East Asia. In South Korea, the U.S. established a government consisting largely of people who collaborated with Japan during World War II. This regime brutally repressed all movements for progressive social change. Many thousands of men, women and children were murdered by government forces and their right-wing allies.

5. On June 25, 1950, North Korea launched a full-scale invasion of South Korea. Prior to the attack, there had been numerous border skirmishes, some of them substantial. The purpose of the invasion was (a) preventing renewed Japanese hegemony over Korea, (b) removing violent Japanese collaborators from power in South Korea and (c) unifying the country. Although the armies of North and South Korea were of about equal size, the North Korean army proved far superior and enjoyed considerable popular support within the south. Without U.S. military intervention, North Korean forces would likely have vanquished their foes and unified Korea in less than one month.

6. The United States carpet-bombed North Korea for three years with very little concern for civilian casualties. Every North Korean city was destroyed. The U.S. dropped more bombs on North Korea than were used in the entire Pacific theater during World War II. Extensive use was made of napalm, and employment of nuclear weapons was seriously considered. Neutral observers said that by 1952, North Korea resembled a moonscape.

7. North Korean forces were often ruthless toward civilians, but substantial evidence shows that America's South Korean allies were considerably more vicious and less discriminating. They frequently slaughtered entire families of anyone suspected of being a leftist. The U.S. high command generally ignored these atrocities and sometimes participated in them. This happened at Nogun Village in July 1950, when American soldiers machine gunned hundreds of helpless civilians under a railroad bridge.

8. The Korean War was one of the most destructive wars of the 20th century. About 3 million Koreans died in that war, at least half of whom were civilians. By comparison, Japan lost 2.3 million people in World War II. The Korean War was never officially ended and, as current events indicate, could easily be restarted.

The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's "Peace Train" runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.