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Korean War Redux

Posted by Don McLenaghen on April 5, 2013


Unless you have been hiding in a bomb shelter or perhaps were visiting another planet, you probably have heard that it appears that North Korea and South Korea are at a state of war…again!

To be fair, they have been at war ever since North Korea attempted a ‘manual’ unification of the Korean Peninsula in 1950.


“Let’s drive the US imperialists out and reunite the fatherland!”
North Korean propaganda poster

I say war but definitions differ depending on who you are. The North Koreans see it as ‘liberating’ their own people/territory from capitalist imperialism. China and Russia think it an ‘internal dispute’. The USA sees it as the prelude to Vietnam (and then gets very sad and introspective). And then there are the South Koreans who see it as…well a war.

The rest of the world though sees it as something unique. It’s a police action. North Korea was charged with a “breach of the peace” by the UN and member nations were asked to help restore the peace…with of course… their guns.

Security-Council-reformIt is unique in that it is one of the few times the Security Council has authorized what most of us would call a war, especially when the belligerent is/was a strong ally of the USSR which has a veto on the Security Council. The only other comparable example I could find was the 1990 ‘police action’ after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq.

This happened because the USSR was boycotting the Council at the time in protest of Taiwan being given the ‘China’ seat on the Council. So the USA managed to get the Council to pass Resolution 82…and ensured that the USSR would be present at every Council vote thereafter.

The Korean conflict, as those who watched the classic show MASH are familiar… had the North reduce the South to a few hundred square KM, then the UN forces pushed back to the Chinese border only to be repelled well south of the 48th parallel to end up with a stable front about at the 48th parallel.


Now, most of us think that the war is old news…I mean, didn’t it end in 1954? Well, yes and no.

What happened in 1953 was an armistice…which is NOT a peace treaty but an agreement on the cessation of hostilities. The idea of course being that the parties would then sit down and come up with a permanent solution to their problems and then sign a for-real peace treaty.

It’s been 60 plus years and there is still no peace treaty, so North Korean and South Korea are still technically at war. I say technically but more than that and this leads to a lot of the current headlines in the news today.

The border between the two nations is an armed no-man’s land 4 miles wide with each side having thousands of troops ready to resume battle.

DMZ looking SouthIronically enough, the KDMZ or Korean Demilitarized Zone has created one of the most important ‘wild life’ preserves because no one is allowed to live in the zone (there are two minor exceptions…but mostly no-man’s land). So, endangered creatures like the Korean Leopard have found safe refuge on the world oldest war front.

Okay, so besides the presence of military forces, the USA has regularly held joint military exercises with the South Korean military.

From the South’s point of view, this is to ensure that the North will never catch the South flat-footed like it did in 1950.

Conversely, the North has seen the exercise as the South’s preparation for an attack on the North.


“Do not forget the US imperialist wolves!”
North Korean Anti-US propaganda poster

The North has always seen itself as the David of David and Goliath fame. Before the Vietnamese, the North Koreans stood up to the US and its UN allies and, in its eyes, won. And it only did this by being aggressive and showing the world it will not be pushed around.

AXISThere was a rocky warming of relationships between North and South during the 90’s but when in 2002, GW Bush included North Korea in its “Axis of Evil” the recent downward spiral began.

With the collapse of the USSR and the ever closer relationship between the US and China, North Korea figured it was time to renew serious efforts to develop the ultimate deterrent to the American provocations – the bomb!!

The US has organized a global effort to impose sanctions on North Korea to stop it developing nuclear weapons…an effort we know failed.

In the last few years, and especially with the ascension of Kim Il-Un, there has been a ratcheting up of tensions between the North and South.

It is a common belief that North Korea is a backwards, poor, isolated nation ruled by a cadre of fanatical nut-bags.


Well, they maybe many things but they are not crazy.

North Korea has managed to remain staunchly independent by a very flexible, pragmatic and at times Machiavellian diplomatic policy. The current leadership of Kim Jung Un has managed to consolidate power internally while keeping US and Chinese imperialist at bay.

The USA has tried to cut North Korea off but it has not isolated the nation.

North Korea has a large disparage between the urban and rural people and the farmers still experience starvation…but rarely.

South Korea bans trade with NorthThat said, it has a higher GDP than Nicaragua, Niger, Bahamas, Kenya, Cambodia…don’t get me wrong, compared to Canada or even South Korea, their economy is nothing but considering the international sanctions, one must be impressed with how well it is doing

And it is not China that is propping it up. The constant refrain that North Korea is isolated and must ‘lock in’ its people ignored the fact that thousands travel to China and Mongolia to work in factories. Others work in Russia’s lumber industry. Kuwait hires them for major construction projects. The North Koreans are building the visitor pavilion at Amkor Watt in Cambodia.

Part of that project includes 3D interactive attractions which leads me to mention one of the areas North Korea has gained a favourable reputation is in computer programming  Pyongyang is the center of an information technology sector that is an outsourcing destination for other countries, even developing software and apps for the iPhone.

They are still famous for their animation…just check out the Simpsons for proof.

167856051It’s also important that from day one, North Korea believed in the philosophy of self-reliance…that it should be able to supply all of its own needs. This is one of the reasons that when natural disasters hit the North, there is such great suffering.

The flip side of this coin is when ‘international sanctions’ are applied, their effect on the North is limited at best. It literally doesn’t need anyone’s business. Unlike China, Canada or the USA.

Of course some assume that China could just snap its fingers and North Korea…apparently dependent, as we just said this is not completely true…one snap and North Korea would act nice.

Well, again North Korea has been playing this game a long time and knows how to play one side against the other and work on the insecurities of countries like China who only want stable borders with peaceful neighbours. North Korea has been using the “loud bark” and hinted bit for generations to punch FAR FAR above its weight.

In its eyes, it has defeated a super power…the US…cow-towed another…China…and feels very much in a corner where only more the same will ensure its independence and prosperity…

Last word, should we be afraid of North Korea?

As Canadians, no. Although they brag they have rockets that could hit the lower 48 States, evidence shows the technology they have could barely reach the USA (and accidentally hit Canada)…and that tech would be limited in numbers and likely easily shot down.

As a Korean…not that I am but let’s pretend…or even Japanese; well then I would say yes, be afraid. I don’t think Pyongyang WANTS a war, but when you play chicken, sometimes you get hit.

north-korea-parade-missile-660North Korea has nuclear weapons that could hit Seoul maybe even parts of Japan. North Korea has a military of over a million and reserves that number above 8 million. If it wanted to smother South Korea, it has the manpower.

South Korea has a large army itself and much more advanced weapons. Although outnumbered, the North Korean army may turn out to be the paper tiger Saddam Hassan army proved to be.

The nightmare scenario is that North Korea will launch a surprise…with US surveillance tech, I am unsure HOW they could, but let’s again pretend. Like in 1950, they swamp the South Koreans but this time there is no Inchon and the whole country falls.

The North installs a new puppet government in the South that either surrenders or calls for reunification.

spreadthin_500Of course the rest of the world will condemn the action but there will be no UN Security Council resolution. The US will not be able to ‘come to the rescue’ if too much of the South is lost, it is already involved in three war fronts, not to mention its Global ‘war on terror’.

China will welcome the increased stability a unified Korea would offer. And depending on how North Korea deals with the South…will it be like Israel and bleed it into submission or like China and Hong Kong where given enough rope to subdue itself…only time will tell.


Note: I was looking at one of the photos of North Korean border guards and I noticed he was filming the photographer…well, you would think film…that cellulite they used in the old days but what passes as high-tech in the backwards north…well, he was using a current model Sony camcorder.

120409030549-north-korea-cameraman-map-horizontal-gallery e9f1111220051615-north-korea-dmz-story-top
       We think their
tech in 1950’s
      But the reality is
they have modern tech

Note: In late 2009 North Korea revalued its currency, effectively confiscating all privately held money above the equivalent of US$35 per person. The revaluation effectively wiped out the savings of many North Koreans. Days after the revaluation the Won dropped 96% against the United States Dollar. Pak Nam-gi, the Director of the Planning and Finance Department of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, was blamed for the disaster and later executed in 2010. And what did the US do when its financial leaders did something like this? Nothing! No, they gave them bonuses….

Note: It’s important to note that the US use of the B-52 and the B-2 Stealth bomber signals a significant ‘raising of the stakes’. North Korea has stated that “Nuclear weapons were the life’s blood of the nation” and threatened to use them in “self-defense”. This is the first time that the US and South Korea has threatened ‘right back’ and threatened to use their bombers to drop nuclear bombs on North Korea.


3 Responses to “Korean War Redux”

  1. Stephen said

    Don says, “Note: I was looking at one of the photos of North Korean border guards and I noticed he was filming the photographer…well, you would think film…that cellulite they used in the old days but what passes as high-tech in the backwards north…well, he was using a current model Sony camcorder… We think their tech in 1950′s… But the reality is
    they have modern tech”

    You’re claiming that the reality is [that] they [North Korea] have modern tech based on one photo of one guy with one Handycam? I’ve never been to North Korea but I’m going to assert that he did not, nor can anyone in North Korea, go to his local Future Shop to buy that Handycam. Nor did he order it from It was most likely smuggled in or stolen from a tourist.

    I think you’re only seeing the Potemkin village. I think these satellite images of the Korean Peninsula at night give a more accurate view as to whether North Korea has entered into modernity or not:

    or from the Wikipedia:

    • I think you missed my focus. I am NOT saying that the average person in North Korea has anything like the tech or standard of living we do…they don’t. Most reports have them stuck in the mid 1950s to mid 1970s.

      The focus of the comment was the military…it would be mistake to think that if a war broke out the North Koreans would be using the same military tech they had in the 1950s.

      One of the reasons for the deprivation of the masses is to ensure that the military get the best that can be procured or manufactured. The foreign $ they do make (including in the areas of modern engineering and information technology) gets funneled into developing up-to-date tech for the army (et al)…purchasing (black or grey market) tech.

      It cannot be underestimated what an existential threat North Korea faces from the USA (and to a slightly lesser degree South Korea) and to that end they are willing to sacrifice all to ensure its effectiveness. A sacrifice most think that has lived up to that threat.

      So, to repeat, I don’t think that many (if any) regular person in North Korea has a modern camcorder, but its obvious from the picture that they can and do get it.

      With regards to Potemkin village, yes Pyongyang is the “show case” and not representative, but then again maybe it is. The comparison we are often told to make is of the famine of the mid 1990s to Vancouver today. Admittedly the information is very very very limited and what does come out if from a very biased (pro or con) source but most commentaries i have listened to (mass media and alt-media) say life is comparable to developing nation in South America. That urban life, although nowhere near a ‘prosperous’ as our lives, are not that bad…again 1970s…which also explains the dark night shots (one could argue, they are forced to be more ‘green’ because of fuel shortages). Things are tough in the country but not famine…more akin to its neighbour China (if that good or bad, that up to you).

  2. Stephen said

    Your article talks about the history of the Korean War and then North Korea’s current geo-political position. You talk about their GDP, their labour going to other countries, their software development, their animation studio. I don’t think I can be blamed for missing your focus since only a third of your article talks about military capability.

    So let’s go on to North Korea’s military capability. I agree we should not underestimate them and I agree they are not still using the same technology from the 1950s, but how does a camcorder prove that they have modern 21st century military technology? Camcorders are easy to come by – it takes hardly any effort to get one.

    In my opinion, some better indicators of modern technology that is relevant to an army would be:
    – do the soldiers have satellite maps of the terrain they’re going to fight on?
    – are the soldier’s helmets made of steel or Kevlar (or similar material)? Do they have body armour with ceramic plates?
    – do they have night-vision and/or infrared goggles/monocles?
    – are their field radios digital and have encryption? Or do they just broadcast insecure in the clear?

    Granted all these could be bought too but would be tougher to come by. But even if they found a supplier could North Korea even afford them?

    So my conclusion is that there is no evidence that North Korea has a modern 21st century military. But not that that matters. Just with tiny nuclear capability and a haphazard delivery system and an army of millions each with a rifle (which I do believe they have, be it only a basic model AK-47) – that is enough to warrant concern over.

    If you’re forced to turn out the lights because you don’t have the electricity to power them then you’re not being ‘green.’ If you’re forced to turn them off it means you’re impoverished.

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