Korea, historically, has benefited and suffered from being located between two major civilizations, China and Japan. These last couple of days Korea, or at least the northern Kingdom (let's call it what it is), the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, has been in the news because it detonated a nuclear device. President Barack Obama made vague threats to do something about this terrible evil.
In North Korea they probably are concerned, because they know Barack Obama's party, the Democratic Party, is the only political party in the world to ever actually use a nuclear device in a war. Not only that, but there was a conscious decision by former President Harry Truman to use the first atomic bombs against civilian targets with only symbolic military significance.
To the extent that Americans have historical memories of Korea at all, they start after World War II, when we invaded southern Korea, thus taking it from the Japanese empire and adding it to our own. In 1948 the North Korean government almost succeeded in freeing South Korea, but the United States invaded again and captured almost all of Korea, for a few days. Then the Chinese caught General MacArthur napping, and drove the U.S. troops back to about the midpoint of the Peninsula. There an uneasy armistice emerged that has left Korea divided in half to this day.
American interest in Korea long predates Harry Truman. It was seen as another part of Asia ripe for trade, exploitation, and perhaps even conquest at about the same time long-sighted, greedy Americans began coveting Japan and China. By 1900, when Theodore Roosevelt was elected Vice-President (he became President when Saint Czolgosz took out the war criminal William McKinley), some business men based in the United States had large businesses in Korea. Notable among them were Collbran and Bostwick, which also operated in China, and Leigh Hunt in mining, who was a sometimes guest Theodore Roosevelt at the White House. In 1900 Russia and Japan were struggling for control of Korea, but the British and Germans were also interested in its commercial exploitation.
Roosevelt decided that Russia was the greater threat to the overall interests of the United States. He encouraged Japan to fight with Russia over Manchuria, resulting in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, which Japan won. Recall that the U.S. was still in the genocide business in the Philippines at that time. In order to keep Russia out of North China, secure Japan as a regional ally, and secure the Philippines, Theodore Roosevelt gave his permission to the Japanese to take over Korea [See Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power by Howard K. Beale p. 279].
Attitudes of the U.S. ruling class towards Japan changed as Japan became a more powerful economic and military competitor. At the end of World War II the U.S. thought it would gobble up the Japanese empire, but it was not so easy. Nationalist sentiment in Asia resulted in a long transition from colonial states to independent states.
What actually happened between 1880 and 1950 has been obscured by the economic separation of the two Koreas since then. South Korea was built up as an economic powerhouse by Japan (then a U.S. underling) and the United States. North Korea's promise was stifled by an increasingly rigid ruling class that put most of the country's resources into its defense budget.
The common appraisal of the North Korean nuclear development program is that both its first and second nuclear explosions were substandard even compared to the primitive U.S. explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It sounds like making a nuclear bomb is simple: just get enough fissionable material together for a few microseconds. But in fact the teams that developed the original atomic bombs for the U.S. had to confront multiple technological problems in diverse areas such as electronics, metallurgy, conventional explosives, as well as atomic physics. They included the world's best scientists of that era. But sooner or later, if they keep at it, the Koreans will have an atomic bomb. The problem with having an atomic bomb is that if you use it, you no longer have it as a deterrent. I don't see how a nation with North Korea's resources could ever mass manufacture atomic weapons.
What should President Obama do? Instead of enlarging upon the over 100 year history of the U.S. threatening and betraying Korea, he should say:
"On behalf of the Democratic Party I sincerely apologize for our long history of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including our use of atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and our invasion of Korea after World War II. I welcome northern Korea into the community of nations. I am pulling all U.S. troops out of Korea and promise that the U.S. will allow Korea to follow its own destiny. I hope that Korea will refrain from continued development of nuclear weapons, but in any case I am ordering an immediate major reduction of the U.S. arsenal. If Russia, China and other nuclear powers follow this path, we can eliminate nuclear weapons from the global arsenal by 2010."
The chances of that happening?
Can we serve Democratic Party brand militarist swill and say it is a Change from Republican Party brand militarist swill?
Yes We Can!