North Korea, the forgotten bombing

The North Korean government, as the above video shows, is a oppressive dictatorship based on a racist, totalitarian ideology.  But that’s not the only reason for North Korean anti-Americanism.

The US did in fact do something terrible, even evil to North Korea, and while that act does not explain, much less forgive, North Korea’s many abuses since, it is not totally irrelevant either.

That act was this: In the early 1950s, during the Korean War, the US dropped more bombs on North Korea than it had dropped in the entire Pacific theater during World War II.

This carpet bombing, which included 32,000 tons of napalm, often deliberately targeted civilian as well as military targets, devastating the country far beyond what was necessary to fight the war. Whole cities were destroyed, with many thousands of innocent civilians killed and many more left homeless and hungry.

via Vox.

“Over a period of three years or so, we killed off — what — 20 percent of the population,” Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, told the Office of Air Force History in 1984.

Dean Rusk, a supporter of the war and later secretary of state, said the United States bombed “everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.” After running low on urban targets, U.S. bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams in the later stages of the war, flooding farmland and destroying crops.

via The Washington Post.

Most Americans remember the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and many remember the saturation bombing of the German cities during World War Two.  But hardly any of us—not me until I read Max Fisher’s article—recall the massive bombing and indiscriminate killing during the Korean Conflict.

I don’t think the bombing was based on a precise calculation of military advantage vs. civilian death.  Rather the United States and its allies were at war, we were in the right and they were in the wrong, this was something we could do, so we did.

I remember the Korean Conflict and I don’t remember anybody questioning indiscriminate bombing on moral grounds.  I never gave it a second thought myself.

The only facts that seemed relevant to me at the time were that Kim Jong Il was a cruel tyrant who started a war, and who made false charges that the United States was engaged in germ warfare.   These false charges, as often happens, obfuscated the real moral issue.

Unlike in Korea, there were restrictions on bombing of civilian targets during the Vietnam Conflict.  I don’t know whether they had any effect beyond putting American fliers at greater risk.  The use of drone warfare in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East almost certainly results in proportionately fewer civilian casualties.

I suppose this reflects an increase in moral sensitivity, but I don’t think I’d be grateful if I lived in the target areas.


The U.S. war crime North Korea won’t forget by Blaine Harden for The Washington Post.

Americans have forgotten what we did to North Korea by Max Fisher for Vox.

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