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Saturday 12 August 2017
Twice as Many Americans View North Korea as a Critical Threat Than Can Find It on a Map
Media coverage has created a massive
gap between US desire to attack North Korea and an understanding of the crisis. Written by Adam Johnson and
first published at Alternet
poll conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 75
percent of Americans list North Korea as a “critical threat” facing the United
States, up from 55 percent just two years ago. The same poll found that 40
percent of Americans support
conducting preemptive air strikes on North Korean “nuclear facilities”—a
move that would effectively start and all-out war on the peninsula.
poll with another
one from March showing that just 36 percent of Americans can locate North
Korea on a map. This means that there are more people in the United States who
want to launch a unilateral, unprovoked war against North Korea than even know
where North Korea is. This massive gap—between our collective desire to bomb
something versus not having a clue what that something is—is stark evidence of
a colossal media failure in the United States, a media failure that, as a rule,
decontextualizes the “crisis” in North Korea and strips it of all political
the media frames the US as responding to North Korean bellicose as if they are
the ones initiating conflict out of thin air. Take, for example. President
Trump’s recent threats to reign “fire and fury” upon North Korea, which was
largely presented as a response to a hostile and unstable Kim regime.
North Korea: Stop Threats,” the Wall Street Journal front page read
Wednesday. This gives people the distinct impression the United States was just
minding its own business and some random lunatic decided to provoke an
otherwise benevolent and innocent Trump administration. Missing from this
narrative is that North Korea’s “threats” are almost always qualified as defensive
in nature, which is to say they are always on the condition of a US first
consistent with a broader historical context that’s never provided. Rarely does
the media mention that the Korean War never ended and the destruction the US
leveled against the peninsula—while largely forgotten stateside—is still very
fresh in the minds of both South and North Korea.
Rarely is it
mentioned in the media that during the US bombing of Korea from June 1950 to July
1953 the US military, according to their own figures, killed approximately 3
million Koreans—roughly 20 percent of the population—mostly in the North.
This is compared to 2.3 million Japanese killed in the whole of World War II,
and that included the use of two nuclear bombs.
Rarely is it
mentioned the US dropped more bombs and napalm on Korea in the early ‘50s than
it did during the entire
Pacific campaign against the Japanese during World War II—635,000 tons of
munitions and 32,557 tons of napalm.
Rarely is it
mentioned that, according to Dean Rusk, the Assistant Secretary of State for
Far Eastern Affairs, the United
States bombed “everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing
on top of another.” Rarely is it mentioned that after running low on urban
targets US bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams, flooding
farmland and wrecking crops. Rarely is it mentioned the CIA oversaw South
Korean death squads that killed thousands on suspicion of being communists.
Now, this may
not matter to the casual media consumer but it matters a great deal to the
North Korean government and this historical context goes along way explaining
the martial posture on display. If this seems like ancient history we can go
back to just 1994 when House Republicans helped torpedo
a nuclear deal then-President Clinton arrived at with the North Koreans in good
faith. Or to 2002 when George Bush listed North Korea in its “Axis
of Evil” hit list then proceed to invade and destroy one-third of that
list. Or to 2011 when NATO bombed Libya into a failed state six years after
Gaddafi gave up his nuclear ambitions in earnest. The US has, for decades,
given the North Koreans no reason not to pursue nuclear weapons and
contextualizing the situation as such would, perhaps, reduce the amount of
Americans eager to bomb Pyongyang without provocation or attack.
have to like or sympathize with a government to understand its motivation. Once
one understands the history of the US’s war on Korea and internalizes the fact
that the North Koreans don’t see the war as being over, their actions don’t
seem irrational or unhinged—they seem like the last resort of a country that
views itself, fairly or not, as under siege. If only the media could make an
effort to reflect this context far more often, perhaps it would reduce the
amount of people itching for war and—along with some useful visual
aids—significantly increase the number of Americans who at least know where or
what North Korea is.
is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow
him on Twitter @AdamJohnsonNYC.