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Showdown in ‘The Land of the Morning Calm’


The Land of the Morning Calm is the phrase given to Korea as a reference to it’s splendid tranquility with picturesque high mountains and clear spring waters, especially in the mornings. It is derived from “Chaohsien” meaning “morning freshness,” a title bestowed upon it by an emperor of China’s Ming dynasty.

Six months into the administration of a new presidency, as our chief executive seems hell-bent on reinventing the American government (or at least reshaping it to his liking), it is perhaps fitting that he is simultaneously rekindling the flames of the long dormant Cold War. The world, of course, does not exist in a vacuum, and the progress of the next few months are dependent on the maneuverings of another world leader noted for provocative posturing.

On a mission from God: The man behind the threats

“I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.’ And I did, and then God would tell me, ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq.’ And I did. And now, again, I feel God’s words coming to me, ‘Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.’ And by God I’m gonna do it.’”

—President George W Bush in a June 2003 meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen, and Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath as reported by the BBC.

The urge to examine the psyche of some leaders goes at least as far back as Adolf Hitler (the subject of a 1939 study by Carl Jung). Among those engaging in this pastime are arm chair psychiatrists along with those who consider themselves mental health professionals.

Among the traits needed to assume the mantle of leadership over any sizable group, a fair amount of narcissism is arguably an asset. Once attaining these positions, the acquisition of power brings with it an almost hallucinogenic effect on the individual in charge. Former Iraqi head Saddam Hussein considered himself destined to correct his country’s many domestic problems. Muammar Gaddafi (1942-2011) rose to power in his native Libya on a platform of Arab Nationalism and socialism before declaring himself Africa’s “king of kings.”

In spite of his high profile in the global media and frequent use as the blunt for satire, little is known about Kim Jong Un, “the supreme leader” of North Korea, aside from his attendance at a Swiss boarding school and his degree in physics.

He is the current heir to the Kim dynasty, who rule the Marxist bastion of North Korea. Starting with his grandfather, Kim II-sung (1911-1994) this line of succession is considered to be almost god-like (within the country of North Korea).

Long time observers, like CIA and State Department veteran Joseph DeTrani suggest that his pampered upbringing and lack of exposure to the outside world might be responsible for heightened anxiety and inadequacy, which in turn compels him to prove himself on the world stage. This might explain the bombastic proclamations and bravado he exhibits on a regular basis.

A mixed blessing

“Thus far, it (the sanctions) has not deterred Mr. Kim Jong Un and his pursuit of missiles and other technologies that are very dangerous.”

—General Vincent K. Brooks, on diplomatic sanctions by the United Nations applied to North Korea in the wake of its ballistic missile tests.

The situation between the two Koreas, always a point of contention since the ceasefire of 1953, is notched up considerably in light of North Korea’s advances in its nuclear program, and launch tests of rockets able to deploy the devices.

In addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee during his nomination for the command of the United Nations Command/Combined Forces, Command/United States Forces Korea in April of 2016, Gen. Brooks alluded to the martial progress being made on that volatile peninsula, and its impact on U.S. security.

“I am concerned about the pursuit of submarine-launched ballistic missiles by North Korea,” he said.

“While they have not been successful, this is like watching someone ride a bike and falling off of it, but eventually they could become a BMX champion.”

Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, Kim II-sung came to power after World War II, and initiated the Korean War (1950-53) as a failed attempt to unify North and South Korea, which had been divided in 1948 as a result of the animosity between the communist led Soviet Union and the United States and it’s allies.

Kim Jong-il, the second in the Kim lineage, solidified his country’s autocratic rule and made a name for himself among the globe’s most flagrant violators of human rights. During his tenure the famine from 1994 to 1998 transpired, where between 240,000 and 3.5 million people died from mass starvation. Contributing factors included droughts coupled with floods, and general mismanagement of food production. During these harsh times, reports of cannibalism were documented by the Washington Post and other sources.

So Kwan-hui, the Minister of Agriculture, was accused of purposely ruining his country’s crop production as a reputed espionage agent for the U.S. government, leading to his execution in 1997. This is in sharp contrast to their brethren in the south, who (with American economic aide) have raised South Korea to become the 11th largest economy in the world as of 2015 (according to the World Bank).

American troops had been in the area since 1945 to counter Russian expansion. The 1953 armistice established a buffer zone (the DMZ or Demilitarized Zone) between the North and South, and the benign state of conflict that continues to this day. Activity along the DMZ consists of mutual harassment and intimidation by both sides, which occasionally escalates to exchanges of small arms fire. Within this area is the Joint Security Area, or “Truce Village” where negotiations are conducted in a neutral conference room.

The American presence in the following decades served a dual service to South Korea in that 1) it provided security from the threat of communist infiltration from the north, and 2) the financial contributions that helped repair the damages from the World War and Korean War.

During this aftermath, the country has been manned by thousands of American G.I.s throughout its boundaries, but especially with the Western Corridor, the main “avenue of approach” a military term describing the route by which the communist hordes would descend upon the civilian population to the south. Starting in 1958 with the “Honest John” rocket, the U.S. began deploying nuclear munitions of all configurations in the country.

The area is/was peppered with scores of installations manned by units of the 2nd Infantry Division (“the Second Eye Dee”), the primary force charged with slowing down the enemy’s advance. By the 1980s, such familiar icons as Burger King were found on military installations.

During the course of the now 64-year occupation of the country since the 1953 Armistice, U.S. tax payers have gone to considerable expense in providing creature comforts to American troops pulling duty in the “land of the rising sun.” These include business districts or “Villes,” commercial areas that have cropped up around any sizable military post. These bastions to the ingenuity of the capitalist spirit include tailor shops, food emporiums, bars and nightclubs catering to every musical and cultural taste, and, of course, houses of ill repute. Technically, these establishments are illegal-both by the Korean government and the U.S. military, but economic convenience and the desire to maintain troop morale have made them a constant well before the Americans came to roost.

The patronage of “comfort women” was a tradition at least as far back as the Japanese occupation of Korea between 1910 and 1945. Taking up after winning World War II, the Americans found it a useful adjunct as they buttressed the Asian flank against the Red Menace. As expected, the Yankee presence brought with it the appropriation of homegrown customs, not all of them benign.

Some governmental reports have the sex trade generating at least 4 percent of the country’s gross national product (to be fair, this is an issue that transcends American moral corruption, as the Korean Institute of Criminology estimates some 20 percent of young Korean men employ sex workers several times a month).

Jim Crow, Asian Style

The traditional habit of racial segregation carried over to the illicit relations between the sexes, and with it the ominous habit of discrimination. Racial uprisings followed, notably the Anjeong-ri race riots outside the garrison at Camp Humphreys, one of the Army’s largest, in 1971. This insurrection, in the western part of the country was supposedly instigated when G.I.s of color destroyed as many as four bars that refused to serve them. Jet Magazine reported that upwards of 2,000 Koreans chased down and attacked Black servicemen with sickles (short-handled bladed tools used for harvesting grain) in retaliation. Afterwards scores of Koreans marched around the base carrying placards with racist taunts like “You return to cotton fields.”

As a result, Park Chung-hee, the president from 1963 to 1979 (and a reported advocate for institutionalized prostitution) set up a series of reforms to 1) inhibit the spread of venereal diseases, and 2) to end discrimination against Black soldiers patronizing in these “special districts.”

All Black-Korean relationships during the American presence in that country have been negative. Currently, the commander of the 28,000 airmen, Marines sailors and soldiers comprising United States Forces Korea (USFK) is African American General Vincent K. Brooks. The scion of a military family, his father and older brother are retired generals, and he has been at his current posting since April of 2016, when he was nominated by then-President Barack Obama.

Among his numerous accolades are becoming the first Black valedictorian of a graduating class at his alma mater, West Point (class of 1980). A central component of the army’s strategic planning throughout the globe, he handled public affairs for the Pentagon, was spokesman at U.S. Central Command during Operation Iraqi Freedom, has served as Deputy Director for the War on Terrorism, and was past commander of the famed “Big Red One,” the 1st Infantry Division, among other assignments.

Brooks became familiar to the American public during the six week war in Iraq, circa 2003, as he briefed the media about the progress of the conflict. There, he stood out according to CNN, because he “…represent(s) the changing face of the American military.”

“It’s very clear in what direction Kim Jong-un is heading and that is to have a full arsenal of capability that can hold the United States at risk for deterrence purposes, but also for coercive diplomacy,” he said in a recent interview.

In spite of all the hardware for destruction at Gen. Brooks’ disposal, no more nuclear weapons are in the country. President George H.W. Bush removed all such devices from bases overseas (aside from Europe) in 1991. Presumably removing this ordinance from forward locations means the majority of “nukes” are in the continental United States (not including the hundreds of warheads arming the tips of missiles on submarines patrolling the oceans).