I have long advocated that we on Guam stopped looking at the world through the eyes of the United States. It is tragic and pointless sometimes for us to the nations and the islands that are right beside us through the gaze of the United States which literally sits on the other side of the Pacific and the world. We see other islands through our privileged relationship to the United States. We see countries around us through the enemies, allies and interests of the United States. It is hilarious to the point of tragedy that we talk endlessly about how we are "America in Asia" and so close to Asia, but actually know so little about "Asia." What we do know comes imported from the United States and we learn little for ourselves.
In the recent controversy over North Korea and its potential threat to Guam we could perceive this in crystal clear fashion. For all the discussion and concern and worry over North Korea, what did we actually know about it? How much were we actually thinking about the situation as opposed to reacting in fearful ways simply because it makes us feel more "American."
Here is an interview with Christine Hong from The Hawaii Independent. The interview was conducted by Dennis Bernstein. To link to the interview click here.
B: There’s a lot of disinformation and patriotic reporting coming out
of the U.S. Why don’t you tell us what is going on right now. What is
the situation and how dangerous is it?
CH: You put your finger on it. All we see is media reporting that
singularly ascribes blame to North Korea, which is portrayed as a kind
of unquestionable evil, so what the U.S. is doing in response to the
supposed provocation seems eminently justified. I think we are in a
crisis point. It doesn’t feel dissimilar to the kind of media rhetoric
that surrounded the run-up to the U.S. invasion in Iraq. During that
time also, there was a steady drumbeat to war. …
If we were to look at the facts, what do those facts tell us? I will
give one example of the inverted logic that is operative, coming out of
the media and U.S. administration. In a recent Pentagon press
conference, [Defense Secretary] Chuck Hagel was asked whether or not the
U.S. sending D2 stealth bombers from Missouri to fly and conduct a
sortie over South Korea and drop what the DOD calls inert munitions in a
simulated run against North Korea could be understood as provocative.
He said no, they can’t be understood as provocative. And it was
dutifully reported as such.
What we have is a huge informational landscape in which the average
person who listens to these reports can’t make heads or tails of what is
happening. What has happened since Kim Jong Un has come into his
leadership position in North Korea is that the U.S. has had a policy of
We tend to think of regime change operations and initiatives as a
signature or hallmark policy of the Bush administration. But we have
seen under President Barak Obama a persistence of the U.S. policy of
getting rid of those powers it finds uncooperative around the world. To
clarify what I mean, after Kim Jong Il passed away [in December 2011],
the U.S. and South Korea launched the biggest and longest set of war
exercises they ever conducted. And for the first time it openly
exercised O Plan 5029, which is a U.S. war plan that essentially
simulates regime collapse in North Korea. It also envisions U.S. forces
occupying North Korea.
What is routine during these war exercises, which are ongoing right
now, as we speak, is they simulate nuclear strikes against North Korea.
These workings are a combination of simulated computer-assisted activity
as well as live fire drills. Last year, the first year of Kim Jong Un’s
leadership, a South Korean official was asked about the O Plan 5029 and
why he was exercising this regime collapse scenario. He said the death
of Kim Jong Il makes the situation ripe to exercise precisely this kind
of war plan.
It’s almost impossible for us in the United States to imagine Mexico
and the historic foe of the U.S., Russia, conducting joint exercises
that simulate an invasion of the United States and a foreign occupation
of the United States. That is precisely what North Korea has been
enduring for several decades.
DB: For some time now, the press has been stenographers for the State
Department. There is no independent reporting about this. You don’t see
it in either the conservative or the liberal press. We do not
understand the level and intensity of the so-called war games that
happen offshore of North Korea. You made a dramatic point about
imagining if North Korea wanted to conduct war games off the coast of
the United States. The press plays a key role here in fanning the flames
of a dangerous situation. How dangerous do you perceive the situation
CH: I think that it’s hair-trigger dangerous. There are many reasons
for this. Even the commanding general of the U.S. armed forces in Korea,
James Thurman, said that even the smallest miscalculation could lead to
catastrophic consequences. Even though many blame North Korea, I think
everyone realizes this is a very volatile situation that has gone
entirely unreported in the U.S. media.
China has stepped up its military presence. You have a situation
where China is amassing its forces along the North Korea-China border,
sending military vehicles to this area, conducting controlled flights
over this area. It’s also conducted its own live fire drills in the West
Sea. So you have a situation which is eerily reminiscent of the Korean
War, in which you can envision alliances like the U.S. and South Korea,
with China in some echo that slips into a relationship with North Korea.
I think it’s a very dangerous situation we are in right now. The
abysmal nature of the reporting is that all you hear is jingoistic. One
thing we need to understand is that U.S. and North Korean relations must
be premised on peace. For over six decades, the relations have been
premised on war. U.S. policy toward North Korea throughout the existence
of North Korea has been one of regime change.
If you understand the basis of the relations of war, you realize that
war doesn’t just get conducted on the level of battles or simulated
battles. It gets conducted on terrain of information. So when you think
about it that way, it’s easy to understand why misinformation and
disinformation prevails with the reporting of U.S. and North Korean
DB: Secretary of State John Kerry called North Korea’s actions
dangerous and reckless and he continues to be part of a policy to send
the most advanced stealth fighting weaponry, as if they could name
enough weapons that would back down the North Koreans.
You can’t document this, but what is your take on the many countries
in the world who are cheering, maybe not in the foreground, that
somebody finally said, “no, you can’t make believe that we are an
aggressor. You can’t turn us into an enemy when you are having exercises
with 60,000 troops. You can’t plan to invade us and expect us to just
stand by.” I’m sure there are many countries and leaders, many
revolutionaries in this world, who are taking note.
CH: Of course. That is the other inverted reality. There is the
reality of those of us who are in the U.S. and locked into the
limitations of our positions here, and the rest of the world. This is
classic U.S. Cold War foreign policy. … So much of what goes on in our
name in U.S. foreign policy is far from pretty. It is a blood-soaked
If you pause to think about the lived reality of those people who are
unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of U.S. foreign policy,
then you realize that George Bush had that plaintive cry, “Why do they
hate us?” It was a kind of soul-searching incapacity to understand the
causes of anti-Americanism around the world. But as you say, if we are
going to have a sensible approach to procuring any kind of common future
with the rest of the world, we are going to have to reckon with our
foreign policy. And that is something that has yet to be done.
DB: I do get the feeling that the U.S. foreign policy is at least in
part predicated on keeping a divide between the North and the South.
CH: Let’s go back to history. You nailed it. Since the inception of
something called North Korea and South Korea, the U.S. has been
instrumental throughout. If you go back to 1945, you see that scarcely
three days after the bombing of Nagasaki, two junior U.S. army officers,
Dean Rusk and Charles Bonesteel retired to a small room armed with
nothing more than a National Geographic map of the Korean peninsula,
through which, in a 30-minute session, with absolutely no consultation
of any Korean, divided the Korean peninsula. This division of the Korean
peninsula at the 38th parallel into north and south, and the creation
of a southern government, had no popular legitimacy.
North Korea had a very long anti-colonial history relative to the
Japanese. What was created is a divided system in which one in three
Korean families at that time were separated. So a kind of state is
visited on the Koreans who were colonized by the Japanese and were not a
war aggressor during WW II. What this eventually assured is that there
would be a civil war of national unification that would be fought by
both sides, the North and South.
That tension has hurt U.S. purposes. The U.S. claims that it is doing
all these very provocation actions, the stealth bombers, etc, because
it needs to give a show of support to its South Korean ally. But of
course, this fundamentally misunderstands history and the fact that the
U.S., from the beginning, has exploited the division for its own
DB: What do we know about what is happening in the South? Is there a
grassroots movement that includes unity and shows concern for this kind
of U.S. hegemony in the region?
CH: Absolutely. The specter of a nuclear war and a U.S. nuclear
strike against North Korea would not just impact those people who live
above the 38th parallel. It would inevitably impact the rest of the
peninsula, environmentally, and in every way. These are two countries
that are very much tied through families, communities, etc. This is an
When the South Korean people have been polled as to which country
they think is the greater threat, the United States or North Korea, they
point to the United States. In the South, as well as in the North, 60
years represents a full lifetime. …
South Korean progressive activists have said “We had 60 years of a
war system.” 2013 will be the 60th anniversary of the signing of the
Korean War armistice that brought the Korean War to a temporary halt,
but did not end the Korean War. After six decades of a war system, they
have said 2013 is the first year of Korean peace. We’ve had 60 years of
war, and we are inaugurating a new era of peace.
Heaven forbid the U.S. continues its strategy for de-nuclearizing
North Korea. North Korea believes that nuclear power is the basis of its
sovereignty. Heaven forbid that the U.S., rather than finding a way of
co-existing with North Korea, actually deploys nuclear power to stop
nuclearization. That would be the greatest irony of all.
DB: Amazing. If you had ten minutes to advise Barak Obama about what U.S. foreign policy might be helpful, what would you say?
CH: I would say that the U.S. would secure so many gains were it
seriously to consider peace. Both Donald Gregg, the head of CIA in South
Korea for many years and also the former U.S. ambassador to South
Korea, and Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, and someone who
actually runs a humanitarian aid organization that provides food relief
in North Korea, both said, after Dennis Rodman returned from North
Korea, that the message he was conveying to Obama was “Call me. We don’t
want war.” They both stated that however irregular the form of the
message, it could not be ignored.
Most U.S. presidents get a vision in their second term. In regard to
North Korea, even G.W. Bush said engagement and diplomacy was the only
way forward. I would only hope that Barack Obama would come to his
senses about North Korea as well.
Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio
network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.
You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.