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New International, July-August 1953


Notes of the Month

Aftermath of the Korean Truce


From The New International, Vol. XIX No. 4, July–August 1953, pp. 175–184.
Marked up up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The truce in Korea is a welcome one. It is welcome, in the first place, because the war to which it put an end (at least for the time being) was a futile war from its inception, a war nobody could gain from – neither its protagonists and instigators nor the peoples over whose bodies and lands it was fought – a war that could not solve a single one of the problems that caused it, a war which could not promise victory to either side. If warfare is in general a barbaric way of solving the problems and conflicts of society, a war in particular which does not even hold the possibility of solving a problem is both barbaric and senseless. It is welcome, in the second place, because any détente, as the diplomatists call it, any relaxation of the international tension, any postponement of the sinister all-out holocaust that World War III would be, is – provided it is not paid for by a decisive strengthening of the most reactionary social tendencies – of corresponding advantage to the working class and socialist movements of the world. They need above all else time to assemble the forces capable of preventing the war. Part of the task of assembling these forces lies in reconsidering the three-year Korean prelude, or small-scale rehearsal, of World War III.

According to the Republican Vice-President, in his address to the American Legion convention, Truman was right in committing the United States to armed intervention in the Korean war. A statesman discreet enough to have choked back this sensational opinion for the three years of the war, cannot be expected to be so indiscreet as to reveal prematurely the reasons why Truman was right. In general, most of the other statesmen and most newspaper, commentators explaining the war today, are either exceptionally discreet or exceptionally incoherent. No wonder the popular disgust and bewilderment over this most unpopular war in American history is greater than ever.

Why, after all, did the United States intervene in Korea? What were the results of its intervention? What other results could an intelligent and responsible person have expected?

Was the aim of the war the unification of Korea? This was not said at the very beginning, of course. But it was asserted more and more loudly as the fighting wore on, reached its peak with the peak of the MacArthur megalomania, and did not decline seriously until a short time before the Panmunjon negotiations ended. In any case, so far as that was the aim of the American intervention, the war was fought in vain. The unforgiveable and arbitrary partition of Korea is the joint responsibility of the two imperialist powers, the US and Russia, which divided the country at the end of the war with Japan without troubling over the trivial formality of consulting those through whose body the knife had been drawn, the Korean people. The last three bitter years have showed that neither side is capable of imposing its decision upon the other by armed force, at least not without extending the war on such a scale that the whole question of Korea and all of its problems would be reduced to the insignificance of Sarajevo in World War I. Only an imbecile could expect the coming peace treaty conference to dictate by palaver what could not be dictated by arms. That will not rule it off the agenda, to be sure, for the conference will be attended by not a few imbeciles or by propagandists who take the rest of the world for imbeciles. Actually, the unification of Korea is now further away, not closer, than it was on the eve of the war, and if it is that much more remote we have the war to thank for that. Not that either side is opposed to unification. Far from it! The Stalinists want to unify all of Korea the way they unified North Korea – under their bloody yoke; but unfortunately for them, the American military opposition which their armies could not break in the field is not likely to break under the spell of Stalinist oratory at the conference table.

Rhee, too, wants to unify all of Korea – but under the yoke of the police despotism he keeps fastened upon South Korea; but unfortunately for him, he faces no less an obstacle than the Stalinists do. The demolition of Korea after the coming political conference is a possibility; the unification of Korea is not. One might add that the unification of Korea, given the continued existence of either of the two present Korean regimes (let alone of both together), is realizable only in the dream world or as a shambles which would make the horror of Korea today look like serenity itself. That is the great and terrible tragedy of the country. We bear no responsibility for it; we do bear the responsibility for stating the truth. Only cruel, cynical or lightminded political adventurers could urge upon the Korean people the resumption today of a war under conditions which are exclusively and entirely disadvantageous to them, suicidally disadvantageous. This is clearer than ever today. But it was clear enough when the war began.

Was it the aim of the war to “stop aggression,” or to “teach the aggressor a lesson,” to show him that “aggression does not pay”? If that were true, then the war was surely fought in vain!

Firstly, both sides were aggressors, the Stalinists and the Rhee-ites. The Stalinists struck first, it is true. But not only was Rhee planning a military attack upon the North in due time but, as is the nature of this chauvinistic madman, he spoke about it openly, unashamedly and often, before the Stalinists launched their military attack. Even now, Rhee proclaims openly his intention of unleashing an attack upon the North as soon as he thinks it feasible. The Stalinists unquestionably have the same intention with regard to the South – as soon as they think it feasible.

SECONDLY, THE ONLY LESSON the Stalinist “aggressor” was taught by the war is the one he knew a long time before the lesson – the one that every aggressor knows – namely, that while unsuccessful aggression does not pay, successful aggression does. It is undoubtedly true that the carrying out of predatory, imperialist policies is infinitely more difficult in our time than ever before, for resistance to imperialism is so widespread and so powerful throughout the world that it bleeds imperialism white a good deal sooner than imperialism bleeds its victims white, as it used to be able to do with comparative ease in the past. But this truth only prompts the imperialists to plan the carrying out of their policies with a maximum of gain and a minimum of risk – not to abandon the policies. For example: the British imperialists. And for example: the French imperialists. And for example: the Stalinist imperialists.

Thirdly, the Stalinists have not given up for a moment their intention of annexing all of Korea (either to the Russians or to the Chinese, whoever become effective masters of the North Korean Quislings). Having political heads on their shoulders, they have long ago learned how to alternate political penetration and attack with military attack. To undermine Rhee, they not only have armies, but a social program which, for all its demagogy, appeals to wide masses of the people, particularly in Asia. To undermine the Stalinists, Rhee has an army of sorts, but no social program whatever with which to appeal to the masses.

Fourthly, if the Stalinists have “learned” that aggression “does not pay,” they can very well console themselves with the thought that, for their part, they have been teaching that “resistance to aggression” under the leadereship of the Rhees and Chiangs is not altogether rewarding, either.

Fifthly, if that was the aim of the war, it would seem obvious that whatever now happens in Korea, the war must be continued in other countries, starting, let us say, with Indo-China. There is clearly an aggressor in that war and he is clearly guilty of aggression. By our standards, the standards of democracy and socialism, French imperialism and its armies are the aggressors. By the standards of imperialism, the Vietnamese are guilty of a villainous attack upon the sacred soil of France. One of these two is surely the case. It is now to be assumed that an aggression must be stopped and an aggressor taught the lesson that aggression does not pay. Is it also to be assumed that another US “police action” is to be expected, even if belatedly, to be followed by another armed intervention under a United Nations Command, troops from Colombia included? The question is directed not only to the new Administration in Washington, but above all to the New Deal labor leaders and liberals who supported Truman’s intervention in Korea, with the warning that if this question is answered we have a whole series of the same sort of question in reserve.

Sixthly, let us assume that Kim Il Sung has learned his lesson and is prepared to retire his forces to North Korea. Was that worth the considerable cost to the teachers (to say nothing of the cost to the people of Korea themselves)? The same teachers taught – and rightly – that Kim is, after all. only a supine and unimportant vassal of the Kremlin, without whose inspiration, instigation, command and support he would never have dreamed of undertaking his aggressive action. What Kim has learned is of microscopic importance compared to what the Kremlin did or did not learn about aggression. But inasmuch as the Kremlin has not retired its forces from any of the countries it conquered, seized and held in the last ten years of its aggression, it obviously cannot be said that the real aggressor, i.e., Russia, has learned from the Korean war that aggression qua aggression does not pay. If, then, as the apologists so lamely say today, the aim of the war was to teach the aggressor a lesson – the war was fought, the land desolated, the economy destroyed, the mass graves and the unknown graves filled, the blood of the maimed and wounded drained, for nothing.

PERHAPS THE AIM OF THE WAR was the defense, even if somewhat late in the evening, of democracy? That would be conceivable under one of two headings: the defense of a democratic regime against a despotic regime, as was the case in the defense of the Spanish Loyalists against Franco, to take a familiar example; or the defense of the democratic right of a people to national integrity, sovereignty, independence from any assault upon it – regardless of the political regime of the people attacked – as was the case in the defense of the national rights even of semi-feudal, semi-slaveholding Ethiopia from the attack of Mussolini. In either case the duty of honest democrats (by which is meant nothing more than consistent democrats as distinct from those who use democracy as a hollow phrase or a deception) is clear, and the duty of socialists doubly clear.

So far as the first aspect is concerned, nothing need be said here about the democratic nature of the North Korean rdgime. It can be affirmed only by paid or volunteer Stalinists, by witting or unwitting or witless Stalinoids, but nobody is clever enough to trap them into giving proof of their affirmations. The other Korean government, Rhee’s, is hardly less notorious, and on this score there is no excuse for ignorance. The American press, for all of its support to the war, simply could not uniformly conceal the facts about the Rhee regime. The facts it did publish, infrequent and circumscribed though they were, should have sufficed to crush any illusions. One of the more recent pictures of the régime to whose rescue the United States was rushed in the name of defense of the “West” (i.e., democracy, the Judeo-Christian ethic, and General Motors), was provided by Robert Alden, the Seoul correspondent of the New York Times (September 6, 1953):

In this connection [intrigues in the struggle for the succession to 78-year-old Rhee] it is well, if not very pleasant, to remember that the republic, although it has the outward trappings of a democracy – an elected National Assembly and an elected President – as a matter of fact is in all its practical aspects a police state. Power politics rather than the popular will generally win the day.

Through a newsprint monopoly the Government controls all newspapers; it controls all radio stations, and no one could voice opposition to the President or any other important Government figure in public without almost certainly being taken away and imprisoned. There is a large national police force and its power is unquestioned.

As in a police state, false accusations frequently are enough to discredit an individual and effectively strip him of his freedom of action.

For example, one of the more conscientious Korean newspaper men has been in the habit of working with and gathering some of his news material from foreign correspondents here. A few weeks ago he was denounced by one of these political parties for “giving away state secrets” to the foreign press.

Since the denunciation, the Korean newspaper man has not dared to visit with American newspaper men and he even had to stay away from stories he would ordinarily cover because to do so he would have to mingle with foreign correspondents.

Other people who have mingled freely with American newspaper men have been subjected to a similar campaign of whispering instigated by the Republic of Korea Office of Public Information. As a result, rather than be charged with “selling state secrets,” many Koreans prefer to stay away from American newspaper men, and consequently other than official news sources are tending to dry up in Korea.

This gives us a glimpse, but an adequate one, of the black reality of the Seoul regime. For three grisly years, the “West” fought for the Judeo-Christian tradition and democracy by defending this Oriental police despotism from being conquered by that Oriental totalitarian despotism. Congratulations to the defenders of the “West,” the old ones.

THE OTHER ASPECT OF THIS QUESTION is a different matter, of course. Every nation has the fullest right to self-determination and national integrity, and therefore the right to defend itself from assailants. But possession of a right and exercize of it are not and cannot always be the same thing. In general it must be said that an oppressed nation should never relax its fight against its oppressor. But the. right of self-determination is no more an absolute right, transcending all other considerations, than is any other democratic right. If, for example, the leaders of a people fighting for their national integrity go to such lengths in their fight as to strengthen the hand of reaction around the throat of millions in other lands; or go to such lengths in their fight as to precipitate millions of other peoples into a reactionary war – then they are not democrats fighting for national democratic rights but blind, reckless, fanatical chauvinists who impudently place the interests of their nation above the interests of all others. That, for example, is why revolutionary socialists who have been passionate partisans of the right of national self-determination from the days of Marx and Engels to Lenin, have had little patience with extreme .chauvinists in the ranks of the generally progressive Irish, Polish, Alsatian, Indian and other national movements. One would think that such a viewpoint is so elementarily correct that no thoughtful person could fail to share it.

Therefore, even if the cause of Rhee were the democratic national unification of Korea – a daring assumption – it would be criminal to support him in a war which immediately involves hundreds of millions of other people in a bloody struggle and momentarily threatens to engulf the entire globe. We respect Korea’s right to full national integrity and sovereignty not one whit less than that of any other country; but only a lunar visitation like Rhee would demand that the world risk self-immolation to realize this right for him.

Therefore, even if the cause of the Korean Stalinists were the socialist revolution itself – an assumption which daring cannot make by itself or without the aid of a well-softened cerebrum – it would be no less criminal to support them in such a war, If, by our standards, even the socialist revolution has no absolute rights, the Stalinist counterrevolution has no rights at all, and police dictatorships like Rhee’s have as many.

After the Truce, What?

THERE IS THUS FAR ONLY AN ARMISTICE in Korea, a precarious suspension of the hostilities but not a peace. The peace is to be negotiated at the political conference scheduled to open toward the end of October. What proposals will the two chief protagonists make, what policies will they pursue, assuming that the conference ever actually convenes at some time within the. life-span allotted to sinless mortals,

The line of the Stalinists does not seem so difficult to indicate. They will use every opportunity offered them by Rhee – and Rhee will offer them more than one – to throw upon him the exclusive responsibility for any. resumption of the war, and therewith to accelerate the discreditment of the Rhee regime which is already as widespread outside of Korea as it is at home. They followed the same course toward Chiang in China and there is every sign that Rhee will continue to cooperate with them, even if unconsciously, in the same way that Chiang did. They will press for a united Korea under their rule, but not in the indefensibly and ludicrously crude way Rhee proposes for unification. It will be surprising if they do not propose “social reforms” for the South of the kind that are sure to outrage Rhee but not so sure to alienate the South Korean peasant. They will undoubtedly renew their efforts to widen the scope of the conference to take up “all-Asiatic” conflicts – which means, first, to invite to the conference table the Asiatic countries, primarily India, against whose attendance US diplomacy has set its face like flint; second, to bring Stalinist China into the United Nations and therewith deliver the coup de grâce to Chiang Kai-shek; and third, to make as profitable an interim deal on Indo-China as possible. This, at least, is a conscious, intelligent, well-worked-out political line. The mere elaboration of it is not enough to assure its victory, of course. But its advantage lies in the fact that, being based upon political realities and the political superiority of its authors over their opponents, it is guaranteed in advance to yield a considerable amount of political profit. It is as demagogical and hypocritical as the arguments that will be made at the conference table and all around the world in favor of it; but it is not trivial, it is not provincial, it is not stupid, and it is calculated to extract the maximum possible out of the given situation. The fact that even before the political conference takes place the Stalinists already have the support of most of the members of the United Nations and virtually all of the governments of Asia for a large portion of their program, is enough indication of the relative effectiveness of their political line.

What does the United States have in mind for the political conference? Does it have a plan, a political line, to present to the Stalinist delegates and therewith to the world at large? Up to now everything proposed by the United States through its diplomatic spokesmen, Dulles-Lodge, underlines the fact that, they have learned nothing of importance from the Korean events and confirms our view that they are politically incapable of learning. Virtually every one of their words and deeds betrays the belief that they have won the war not only against their adversaries but against their allies and they are now in a position to dictate terms to both of them. The belief is based on wishful thinking, on the deeply implanted tradition that the United States never did, never could and never will lose a war, but not on facts.

THE FACTS ARE SINKING into the reluctant minds of the American people slowly, but they are sinking in. The people are beginning to realize that the Stalinists did not lose the war and the United States did not win it. They are beginning to realize that the Stalinists have gained tremendous respect, if not prestige, throughout the world, the colonial and ex-colonial world in particular, because they proved able to pin down the armed forces of the most modern and powerful nation on earth. They have seen how, in spite of all the pathetic talk about how the United States must not and cannot “go it alone,” the United States was obliged to fight the Stalinists virtually alone for three years in Korea, alone except, of course, for the South Koreans and trifling nominal cooperation from only a few of the non-Stalinist governments of the world. Most important, perhaps, is the realization that although the United States must henceforth and for an indefinite period keep large armed forces in Korea, there is no way – absolutely no way – for it to win the war against the Stalinists in Korea. In other words, the USA can defeat the Stalinists in Korea only if the war in that country becomes a small episode in World War III or in a widely-extended war which brings us all to the very brink of World War III. The immensity of the dilemma of the United States makes its preoccupation with the stake of the present conflict seem grotesque by comparison.

Against the background of these realities, Dulles-Lodge have begun their preparations for the political conference with a line of action which would arouse in a suspicious mind the question; Is Dulles an agent paid by the Kremlin to deepen the discreditment and isolation of the United States, or is it just a series of astounding coincidences that his course is exactly the kind that suits the Kremlin to a hair? At a time when every American returning from a visit abroad reports that the prestige of the United States was never so low and the hostility against it never so great, Dulles-Lodge took the occasion to launch a battle, as idiotic as it was inflexible, against Indian participation in the political conference. After lashing into line every possible dependent in the UN Assembly, Dulles-Lodge emerged triumphant, having mustered the bare one-third plus required to veto India and arraying against the USA a majority of the Assembly, including the most important of Washington’s formal and near allies. The formalistic arguments for the position or against it, are of less than small importance. Of immense importance is the fact that Dulles-Lodge have given the Stalinists a powerful political weapon, above all in India and in general throughout Asia, without gaining a thing for the US except the approbation of McCarthy, Knowland and Rhee – which is like trading off a good harpoon for three sun-ripened herrings.

With this as the overture, it is not too much to expect the worst from the conference itself. If Dulles has not made public the proposals that the United States will make to the Stalinists, it is not because he does not want to tip his hand to the other side. The Secretary of State has, it may be safely assumed, nothing more clever in his sleeve than in his mind.

Will he propose the unification of Korea? If he does, his proposal must be accompanied by a way of achieving it. Rhee has his simple solution of the problem. Democratic elections, as he calls them, have already taken place, in his opinion, in South Korea. Seats in the National Assembly, as he calls it, have been left vacant for a corresponding number of representatives from North Korea. To unify the country, it is only necessary for North Korea to fill these vacant seats with the victors in a democratic election confined to that part of the country alone – naturally, Rhee’s type of democratic election (i. e., where opponents of Rhee are beaten to a pulp, imprisoned, murdered on their own doorsteps or otherwise discouraged from running against his nominees) as distinguished from the Stalinists’ type of democratic election (i.e., where opponents of the Stalinists are beaten to a pulp, imprisoned, murdered on their own doorsteps or elsewhere or otherwise discouraged from running against the “people’s candidate”). It is hard to believe that even Dulles, or his conference deputy, will have the courage to ask the Stalinist regime of the North to slit its throat on request of Rhee; it is hard to believe that there would be a single other country on the American side of the conference table that would support such a request. However, Rhee has shown absolutely no sign that any other means of “unifying” Korea would be considered, let alone accepted by him. The Stalinists have shown no sign of a readiness to abdicate power simply because it would be a feather in Dulles’ cap. On the American side, nobody has yet advanced, and there is no reason to believe that anyone will advance a more-or-less reasonable proposal for the unification of Korea that would be accepted by Rhee, no matter how many other conference delegates supported it. And since Rhee has absolute veto power over any of the conference proposals or decisions, unification in the foreseeable future is ruled out for Korea.

WILL DULLES PROPOSE THE DEMOCRATIZATION of Korea? This is the least likely possibility. Such a course, not ordered from above, but persistently proposed and popularized, would exert an increasingly powerful pressure on both Korean regimes, rallying around it more and more of the forces capable of cracking the two tyrannies and bring unity and peace to the country. It is hardly worth the words required to assert that there is no chance of Dulles proposing anything of the sort. In general, if there is one thing that American diplomacy, under Truman or under Eisenhower, flees from as if it were a pestilence, it is any line that would stimulate, mobilize, organize and direct a popular, democratic, mass movement, against despotic dictatorships – yes, even against the Stalinist dictatorship. The imperialist-democrats eschew a genuine popular movement like the devil is authoritatively said to eschew holy water. That’s in general. In Korea, in particular, any such proposal would be tantamount to a direct repudiation of Rhee and would therefore not be considered in the first place; and if it were proposed in the second place, it would be directly repudiated by Rhee. Will Dulles propose the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Korea – that is, both the Chinese Stalinist troops and the troops of what was called until recently the United Nations Command? It may be predicted with almost dead certainty that he will not only not make any such proposal but, if such a proposal should come from the Stalinists (who are far more easily capable of making it with tongue in cheek), he will reject it to the bitter end. Dulles-Eisenhower-Bradford have even less grounds for confidence in Rhee’s ability to resist a continuing Stalinist pressure than did Acheson-Truman-Bradley. The “United Nations” (i.e., the United States) armed forces once withdrawn from Korea, its permeation and conquest by the Stalinists could not be very far off, even without the open and direct presence of Chinese Stalinist troops. Washington has absolutely no intention of relinquishing this precious foothold on the Asiatic mainland – adjacent to both China and Russia. Indeed, the war in Korea has convinced it of the imperative necessity of maintaining the foothold and converting South Korea into a fortress. Will Dulles then confine himself to proposing simply that the status quo ante bellum be restored, more or less along the 38th Parallel, with the necessary assurances on both sides that the new partition will be observed? Modest though such a .proposal would be as the outcome of the three years of desolation of the country – even this proposal (assuming it is made) will not prove to be an easy one. The Stalinists would not find it too hard to accept, for they have obviously renounced any attempt at the military conquest of South Korea for the time being and adopted the line of political infiltration, corrosion and pressure. Here again, Rhee would be the obstacle. Dulles would then face the need of repudiating Rhee’s repeatedly announced intention to commit suicide by marching northward to unite the country by force, or of being repudiated by most if not all of the other countries on his side of the table.

Or is it, finally, possible that Dulles-Eisenhower will try to resolve the dilemma by pounding the table and terrifying the Stalinists with dire threats? Some such ominous significance has been attached to the Legion speech of Dulles, in which our pious Christian layman tried his best to sound a little like the doughty war captain in bivouac at Remington Rand. Vaguely and darkly he suggested that if the Stalinists fail to end the war or resume it, the “privileged sanctuary” beyond the Yalu will no longer be respected by Washington. This has been coupled with the other Dulles statement that if there is no “genuine progress” after three months of conference discussion, the United States will consider withdrawing from it.

The reference to the Yalu is a good four-fifths bluff, and one fifth bone cast to the frustrated furies of ultra-chauvinism in the country who see no reason why Eisenhower fails to send a few regiments of Marines straight into Peiping to teach the Chinese the kind of lesson they need. To be exact, it is safe to make this assertion on the hypothesis that even the present Administration is capable of retaining a weighed milligram of political and, military sanity in the present world situation. The hypothesis is admittedly audacious, but it may be allowed on the ground that our times call for a certain amount of audacity.

THE STALINISTS WILL SURELY NOT BE FOOL ENOUGH to take the responsibility for initiating the disruption or dissolution of the peace conference. Most surely they will not be the ones to initiate a resumption of military hostilities, even if the conference breaks up for one reason or another. Under such conditions, can or will the United States initiate the resumption of military action in Korea, or allow Rhee to break his neck by himself? If it comes down to South Korean action alone, the war would be tragic, but it would be limited. If the initiative and the burden of the action are taken by the United States, the war would not only be tragic and even more futile than heretofore, but its consequences would be incalculably disastrous. The idea that three months from now, or six months from now (or for that matter six years from now), the United States would be plunged by reckless and desperate imperialists into an unlimited and unending war across the cities and plains and mountains of the China mainland – and beyond it – is so fantastic and monstrous as to rob the mind of the ability to grasp it. We cannot say it is utterly impossible. It is unlikely, most unlikely.

But precisely because of that, the bankruptcy of American foreign policy is only more emphatically underscored. Washington is caught on the hook of the Korean adventure and does not know how to wriggle off it. The more deeply it commits itself to those of Rhee’s kidney, the greater grows its isolation not only from the millions who make up the little people of the world, the real deciders of the great questions of our time, but even from its present governmental allies and half-allies. The more vigorously it tries to fight Stalinism by the only methods available to a capitalist and imperialist regime, the more vulnerable its anti-Stalinist world structure becomes, and the longer grows the lease on life that Stalinism has been allowed to enjoy.



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