Remembering the Devastation of the Korean War

As tensions between North Korea and the US remain at their highest levels in years, it’s worth recalling the brutality of the Korean War.

The Story

Over at The Intercept, Mehdi Hasan has a new article that provides some stark facts and observations on the Korean War. This war often gets little attention in most renderings of American history, but it’s not for a lack of casualties. As Hasan notes, the Korean War was a full-scale conflict. It killed an estimated 20% of the North Korean population, or 3 million people. The US relied heavily on carpet-bombing in the conflict and participated in a number of war crimes, a few of which Hasan highlights in the piece. Read the full story here:

Why Do North Koreans Hate Us? One Reason — They Remember the Korean War

Why It Matters

None of this history justifies Kim Jong Un’s depredations against his own people, and by itself, it doesn’t tell us much in terms of a path forward on US-North Korean relations. However, it does give us some insight into the mentality of the North Korean people and leadership. They are certainly paranoid about the prospect of a war with the US. But that paranoia is, in part, a product of actual history, not just propaganda.

The casualty figures from the Korean War are difficult to comprehend from an American perspective. In modern times, a 20% casualty rate in the US would be roughly equivalent to wiping out all residents of California and Texas (> 60 million people). Given that the US government launched multiple wars and dramatically expanded its security apparatus in response to a much smaller casualty count from 9/11 (~3,000 people or .001% of the US population), it’s horrifying to imagine what the response would be to a calamity on the scale of North Korea.

All of this is worth keeping in mind as we read about the news from North Korea. Officially, the Korean War never actually ended, and the memory of that conflict is still likely to influence the actions of North Korea today.

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