The Korean War, nearly forgotten, needs to be revisited to understand the war of insults being waged by President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. That war began in 1950, when North Korea, vowing to re-unite the country divided after WWII, invaded South Korea. President Truman, following the “Containment” policy of not allowing communists to take over more areas by force, got support from the UN to oppose the invasion. North Korea was supported by China and Russia. Fighting under the UN flag, the objective was not to conquer the North, but to restore the boundary to the 38th parallel. General Douglas Mac Arthur, a hero of WWII in the Pacific, was supreme commander, and proved again his military leadership by stopping the North’s advance—though the war went back and forth across the peninsula for three bloody years.
MacArthur wanted to attack China, but was fired by Truman when he publically disagreed with the Commander In Chief. Republicans in Congress mostly sided with MacArthur and criticized Truman for having “lost” China, when that country had been taken over by communists in 1949. It was the era of “McCarthyism,” when Republican Senator Joe McCarthy and others charged that Democrats were weak on defense, “soft” on communism—and near communists themselves.
Popular dissatisfaction with the Korean War was one reason General Dwight Eisenhower, hero of WWII in Europe, was elected President in 1952, ending 20 years of Democratic rule. He promised, “I will go to Korea,” which he did, and helped speed up the truce-making—though a final treaty was never signed. In 1953 he spoke in frustration about the growing arms race between America and the communists, saying: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
As he left office, in ’61, Eisenhower warned of the growth of what he called the “military-industrial complex”—a combination of the desire for corporate profit with super patriotism and military bravado, and the lobbying power of that combine in Congress. Nevertheless—and despite the millions of civilians and military killed in Korea—Eisenhower’s State Department refused to sign the 1954 Geneva Accords ending France’s war in Vietnam, and setting a temporary dividing line between North and South Vietnam. Eisenhower’s successors, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, continued the aid the US had begun to France and South Vietnam, as we were gradually pulled into another murderous war in Asia.
Vietnam, masterfully depicted on PBS in the recent Ken Burns special, reignited the hot war between our democratic-capitalist nation and the socialist-communist nations allied with the Russia and China. Our goal in Vietnam was to prevent Southeast Asia from becoming a part of the communist bloc. After spending over $160 billion, losing nearly 60,000 American lives, and over a million civilians killed, the US withdrew, letting the communists take over.
Vietnam was a disaster, not only in lives lost, money wasted, but in the way it tore our own country apart socially and politically. We might have learned a lesson, made more clear when socialist Vietnam became a “most favored nation” trading partner in 2001.
But the military-industrial machine kept chugging, and President George H. W. Bush led us into an attack on Iraq in 1991. Ostensibly, we were saving our ally, Kuwait, from takeover, but as Martin Yant in Desert Mirage pointed out, we had told Iraq we “took no position” in the border dispute between two Arab nations. So, after the invasion of 2003, 26 years and $3 trillion later—5000 Americans, millions of Middle Eastern people killed or made homeless—we’re still fighting the terrorism created in the Middle East, trying to impose our will militarily, as we failed to do in Southeast Asia.
The Trump administration threatens another war with North Korea, wants a huge increase in military spending–and a big tax cut, benefiting mostly the wealthy. If that isn’t enough, in Las Vegas we’ve now had the worst domestic shooting yet, using automatic weapons. As an old Army veteran, I wish we could learn to spend less on weapons–more on peace, health care, and public education.