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Monday, 17 July 2017 08:06

From Korea to Mosul, the US Tradition of "Collateral Damage" Drags On

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DMZ 0717wrpElectric fences in the Korean Demilitarized Zone. (Photo: Wikipedia public domain)June was the sixty-fourth anniversary of the Korean War. It began in 1950 and ended 1953. Did people at that time in this country, even today, know the truth about our destruction in North Korea?

South Korea did not sign onto the 1953 cease fire armistice agreement with the People's Republic of China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and the United Nations that established a demilitarized zone separated at the 38th parallel. The possibility of using the Atom Bomb was considered during this war. North Korea and South Korea, a country divided, become another proxy war. Today, the risk of nuclear weapons ignites again with the threat of even greater weapons capable of massive destruction.

The countries involved in Korea today are the same, the United States, China, and Russia – then still the Soviet Union. The U.S. still maintains 28,500 troops in South Korea, including a division headquarters, an armored brigade, an aviation brigade, and an artillery brigade. China and Russia have established troops on their borders with North Korea.

Two hot heads of state exchange dangerous rhetoric. Trump's simplistic assessment of the situation offers, "North Korea is looking for trouble." "If China decides to help, that would be great," the post continued. "If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A."

A DPRK Foreign Ministry spokesman in turn responds. "The DPRK will react to a total war with an all-out war, a nuclear war with nuclear strikes of its own and surely win a victory in the death-defying struggle against the U.S. imperialists."

Hopefully, we will deter the current White House generals from repeating another inhumane nuclear option − Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On July 7, 2017 122-members in the United Nations formally adopted a strong nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The US boycotted the historic process stating, "We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it." 

As the U.S panics about North Korea's possibility of nuclear capabilities, remembering the Korean War, the "forgotten war", reveals some understanding of the DPRK reactions.

At the time, President Truman and a few U.S. military generals − most vehemently General Douglas MacArthur − advocated use of nuclear weapons to end the Korean conflict. MacArthur, in interviews published posthumously, said he had a plan to drop 30 to 50 atom bombs across the northern neck of the Korean peninsula, to block further Chinese intervention.

The U.S. did not use the nuclear option in the Korean War of 1950-1953. Instead we bombarded 32,557 tons of napalm,  burning to the ground nearly every major city in North Korea. Between three to four million Koreans, a million Chinese and 37,000 American soldiers were killed in the three years of war. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, claimed U.S. bombs "killed off 20 percent of the population" and "targeted everything that moved in North Korea."

We do not protect civilians trapped in wars. Mosul today brings images of people returning to a city devastated by air bombings. The same images reflected in faces of people who returned to their cities after the Korean War. War reduces homes and infrastructure to rubble.

In Mosul, the  Airwars organization estimates thus far between 900 and 1,200 civilians were likely killed by coalition air and artillery strikes during the assault on the city of Mosul. The United Nations estimates about 400,000 people remain trapped in neighborhoods held by  Daesh − the preferred term of the global community rather than using ISIS, ISIL, or the Islamic State.

In Korea, we stretched definitions of "military targets" to justify the practice of targeting and killing of civilians. The "global war on terror" is a political phrase, not an armed conflict and therefore may be subjected to terms under International Humanitarian Law. Amnesty International has called for an independent investigation into the unnecessary loss of civilian life caused by the US-led coalition's air strikes.

General Croft, of the U.S. Air Force stated in an NPR interview, "…we use the most precise and discriminate weapons that we can ever use and are available in the world to avoid targeting civilians..." "And so this is the most precision, low-collateral level of warfare, especially in an urban environment like this, which has not been seen since World War II, that you could ever construct." Did he forget the history of devastating air strikes on civilians in the Korean War?  

The pattern continues. Targeting civilians, "collateral damage," followed by denials and justifications.

 "Low-collateral damage" escalates around the globe today through drone warfare.


Patricia Jackson is a community activist and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project