The Irrepressible Rothbard
Essays of Murray N. Rothbard
Edited by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
KOREAN WAR REDUX?
Sometime last summer, I was talking to my old friend and libertarian
colleague, the historian Joe Peden, about where, against what "Hitler,"
would the crazed William Jefferson Clinton strike next? Which of
dozens of possible Bad Guys, "aggressors," or "non-democrats," would
be next on the receiving end of American sanctions, bombs, missiles,
or troops? I went down the list: would it be Bosnia, Somalia, Colonel
Khaddafy, Saddam, the Iranian mullahs, etc.? "Nah," said Joe, who
is very perceptive in these matters. "It's going to be North Korea."
I was startled, but as I mulled it over, the prospect became ever
more likely. And so I was not totally bewildered when I turned on
the tube and had the bad luck to catch that beefy face and that
hoarse Arkansas voice I detest so much: "North Korea will cease
to exist as a nation." Ye gods! What better way for Willie to put
together the pieces of his shattered and incoherent foreign policy:
the image of weakness, the Bosnian, Somalian, Haitian disasters?
North Korea! The very name reeks of the Golden Age of the Cold War.
The "last good war" that united both liberals and conservatives
was not World War II, but Korea, in which the U.S. got the United
Nations to mobilize "the free world" against the Commie aggression
by the North. And here was a war that was never really finished,
was it? By harping on Korea, Slick Willie might sucker conservatives
into reviving Cold War memories and rallying behind his foreign
policy. North Korea, after all, is indisputably Commie as well as
indisputably a dictatorship. And they're supposedly working on a
possible nuclear weapon. Ye gods! Time for the U.S.A., which only
has nuclear weapons strong enough to destroy the old Soviet Union
many times over, to go into its old fear-and-trembling act. We cannot
allow it! Nuclear strike!
The hope is that this is largely hot air and hype. On the part
of the U.S., that is. For the new North Korean threat is, as usual,
totally bogus. I refer the reader to a man who is probably the foremost
expert on the Korean War, author of the massive two-volume The
Origins of the Korean War (Princeton University Press). This
man, University of Chicago historian Bruce Cumings, is admittedly
a leftist, but his analysis of the current phony "crisis" makes
a great deal of sense. (Bruce Cumings, "Crazy Kim," the Nation;
Cumings points out that the latest "crisis" began with stories
on the weekend of November 5-7, coinciding with the visit of our
defense secretary, the klutz Les Aspin, to Seoul. Suddenly a spate
of U.S. stories descended upon us: crazed North Koreans were readying
a nuclear bomb, they were forbidding access to international inspectors,
and they were massing a full 70 percent of their troops on the South
Korean border. All this, of course, was heavy with the implication
that North Korea was imminently going to attack our beloved South;
hence Clinton's "cease to exist as a nation," supposedly a warning
that the U.S. would retaliate massively against a North Korean attack
on the South, presumed to be coming at any moment. Major source
of these stories: Pentagon officials flying home from Seoul along
The truth, as Cumings reveals, presents us with a very different
picture. First: more than 75 percent of North Korean troops have
been "massed" near the South Korean border ever since the
late 1970s, in response to new and threatening U.S. nuclear strategies!
Second: North Korea has allowed numerous international inspections
of its nuclear facility at Yongbyon, and is only balking at "special
inspections" of a supposed nuclear waste dump for various technical
and minor reasons. Aspin himself admitted that there is "no evidence
that North Korea is now producing or reprocessing plutonium." A
third aspect of this supposed crisis is that the North Korean forces
would be led either by the "dying" despot Kim II Sung or, even worse,
by his "unstable" and "possible psychotic" son, Kim Jong II.
But here again, the story about the younger Kim's alleged psychosis
has been put about by South Korean intelligence for the last quarter
century, and the guy has apparently not flipped as yet.
The real story, Cumings shows, is that hysterical alarms about
imminent North Korean attacks have been trumped up for the past
four decades, usually accompanying one of two periodic events: the
annual Congressional debates on defense appropriations; and talks
between the secretary of defense and South Korean defense officials.
This last scare is in the glorious U.S.-South Korean talk-crisis
tradition. The last time a U.S. defense secretary visited South
Korea was in November 1991, when Secretary Dick Cheney went to Seoul,
and an anonymous U.S. defense official rattled the missiles: asserting
that if North Korea "missed Desert Storm, this is a chance to catch
Professor Cumings concludes his dash of realistic cold water on
the latest hysteria on Korea: "No one knows the state of Kim Jong
II's mind, but if I were Kim I'd be a bit paranoid too, since on
any given day there is someone in Washington willing to say that
we might wipe his country off the face of the earth and sometimes
it's the president himself."