North Korea declared in 2003 that it had nuclear weapons, which not too many world leaders believed then, because the country basically remained as a “hermit kingdom” since its birth in 1945, after WWII ended and Korea was divided in two — the Russians controlling the northern part and Americans in the south until 1948.
Then, in July 2006, North Korea launched seven ballistic missiles, of which one failed. Again, in February 2013, North Korea had another test. And last week came North Korea’s claim that it tested a hydrogen bomb, which is 50 to 100 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, according to an online report.
The skepticism among the world leaders and scientists about North Korea’s ability to produce such a bomb is strong: One report says that the White House doubts the consistency of North Korea’s claims of a successful bomb test, another says a certain Russian lawmaker wasn’t sure whether North Korea had a thermonuclear bomb.
Although skepticism is a luxury of educated minds, it can be costly when worst comes to worst.
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During the pre-Korean War period, particularly in 1949, the American military leaders in South Korea and Gen. Dougas MacArthur, the supreme commander of the Far East in Tokyo, were skeptical of South Korean spies’ reports that North Korea was secretly preparing war against them. The reports showed the evidence of Russian tanks lined up along the north side of the 38th Prallel, how many more North Korean infiltrators they captured and what they confessed. But each time the Americans shrugged off by saying, “North Koreans are not capable of invading the South!”
After WWII ended, the U.S. temporary government faced many difficulties in dealing with South Koreans during its three-year trusteeship of the country. Most of the Korean men had just returned from the war front, their heads shaven, hungry, penniless and had nothing to claim as their own because MacArthur had declared to Koreans that anything that had belonged to Occupied Japan now belonged to the U.S. All factories, schools and stores that had belonged to the Japanese were shut down, robbing the Korean people’s lifeline. The borders were closed off, too, for security reasons, not even allowing some Koreans reenter their own country.
And the possibility of North Korea’s invasion of South? The Americans didn’t want to think about it.
In his book “MacArthur’s War,” American author Stanley Weintraup wrote, “By early June, in 1950, Kim Jong-un’s grandfather Kim Il-Sung’s army had infiltrated guerrilla units into the South, slipping ashore in small boats — some forces composed of as many as six hundred men (with) orders to disrupt transport and communications when the war began.”
Early morning on June 25, 1950, “the telephone at MacArthur’s bedside (at Tai-chi Hotel above the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo) rang. ‘General,’ the aide said, ‘we have just received a message from Seoul advising that the North Koreans have struck in great length across the 38th Parallel at four in the morning.’ And he put (South Korea President Syngman) Rhee on. ‘Had your country a bit more concerned about us,’ Rhee screamed, ‘we’d not have come to this! We’ve warned you many times! Now you must save Korea!’
“MacArthur had no authority to save Korea,” Weintraup wrote, “but he promised that he would immediately send ten fighter planes and airlift howitzers and bazookas to halt the Communist tanks. That got Rhee off the phone and MacArthur, for the moment, did nothing.”
Rhee must have believed the general. He ordered all Korean citizens through the radio not to panic, not to agitate and not to abandon their homes because Americans were on their way with airlift howitzers and rocket launchers to wipe out the communists. On the third day, June 28, when the Russian tanks rumbled loudly on the streets of Seoul, Rhee escaped the capital with 12 members of his Cabinet, ordering the military demolition squad to blow up the Han River Bridge as soon as they crossed it. More than a thousand refugees and soldiers perished in the fast-moving current that day.
Now, 65 years later, North Korea is at the verge of striking another war against the South. Though the 32-year-old North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been bluffing much, he has shown his unfaltering nuclear insanity to the world.
No one wants to think of another war today. And during his grandfather’s time in the 1950s, men fought against men. But today, the war will be between the nuclear power and men.
Retired musician and freelance columnist Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history. Reach her at email@example.com.