Old Chinese saying: "when elephants battle, ants get crushed." Think of the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula in which the government in Seoul has been all but ignored. South Korea’s newly elected president, Moon Jae-in, keeps insisting that the US must not launch war against North Korea without South Korea’s agreement.
President Donald Trump and the US media appear not to have heard Moon’s pleas, or are simply disregarding them. Amazingly, six decades after the end of the 1950 Korean War, South Korea’s 650,000-man active armed forces and 4.2 million-man reserves remain under the command of a US four-star general.
This neo-colonial arrangement was supposed to have ended years ago, but successive conservative South Korean governments maintained their nation’s acceptance of Washington’s Asian Raj. So does Japan. The most recent South Korean rightist leader, Park Guen-hye, was ousted for alleged corruption and is now in jail awaiting trial.
Many of South Korea’s rightists are Protestant Christians – as was the US-backed Korean War leader, strongman Syngman Rhee. South Korea’s Christians are ardently anti-Communist and support war against North Korea. Whatever happened to turn the other cheek?
President Moon, an anti-war moderate leftist, keeps calling for a peaceful solution to the present crisis. Most South Koreans back him. As I’ve found on my many assignments in Korea, most Southerners shrug off the threat from North Korea – or even laugh it off. They certainly don’t want a full-scale war on their front door. The 1950-53 conflict left at least 2.5 million Korean civilians dead and most of the peninsula’s major cities bombed flat by US B-29’s.
North Korea, by contrast, constantly harangues South Koreans that their nation is a US "puppet" and "colony" run by traitors. Pyongyang insists that North Korea is the authentic Korean state while the South is a mere US/Japanese colony. Many young South Koreans absorb such claims; some are even proud of North Korea for standing up to the mighty United States even though South Korea’s economy is 45 times larger than that of threadbare North Korea.
Kim Jong-il’s bombastic challenge to President Trump is emboldening Korean nationalists. Many point to the fact that North Korea developed nuclear weapons and delivery systems on its own while South Korea was stopped from doing so by US pressure in the 1970’s.
At the same time, North Koreans are jumping for joy that their nation just launched a medium-range missile over Japan that panicked and humiliated the much hated Japanese. The missile launch came on the anniversary of Japan’s takeover of Korea as a colony in 1910. Imperial Japan exploited and humiliated the proud Koreans, treating them as sub-humans. Koreans have never forgotten. Many long for revenge.
That’s what Kim Jong-un is doing.
The second North Korean missile to fly over Japan makes painfully clear that Japan must have nuclear weapons to defend itself, something this writer has been urging for years.
Otherwise, the world’s number three economy is utterly naked to its foes, who include North Korea and China. Emphasizing the point, this week air raid sirens wailed in various parts of Japan, giving the population a big scare and undermining respect for its conservative government.
Point defense missiles – Japan’s current response – won’t give it adequate protection. As France’s Maginot Line so dramatically showed, fixed defenses can be overcome by spirited, innovative offensives. To defend itself, Japan – and perhaps South Korea – need massive retaliatory capability. But even then, if there is a north Asian nuclear conflict, it’s likely North Korea will save at least one or two nuclear missiles for revenge against Japan.
China’s Foreign Ministry has proposed the obvious, sensible solution to this trumped-up crisis: the US to cease its provocative annual air, land and naval demonstration around North Korea’s borders in return for the North outing a moratorium on its provocative missile tests. So far, Washington has refused this sensible solution.
Meanwhile, in a little-noticed, menacing statement, China’s Ministry of Defense just warned that China "would not allow" US or South Korea troops to enter North Korea. This is a very serious warning that deserves utmost attention in Washington.
It reminds me of Imperial Russia’s warning Austro-Hungary not to invade Serbia in the fall of 1914 – or else. The "or else" came: World War I. And, of course, Mao’s China warning US Gen. Douglas MacArthur not to cross the Yalu River in 1950 – or else. Soon after, 500,000 Chinese troops invaded Korea.
Reprinted with permission from EricMargolis.com.