27 July 2013 marks the 60th anniversary of the Korean people’s great victory in their Fatherland Liberation War against US-led imperialism. The great success of the Korean people and their Soviet and, above all, Chinese allies in fighting US imperialism and the combined forces of 15 countries, including British imperialism, to a standstill is rightly regarded as among the most significant events in the global anti-imperialist calendar.
Korea had been colonised by Japan in the early part of the twentieth century. Faced with brutal oppression, all sections of the Korean people rose in resistance, but their efforts ended in failure until the outstanding communist leader Comrade Kim Il Sung organised and waged a dynamic armed struggle, based among the people and closely allied with the Chinese and Soviet revolutions.
That struggle was victorious in the context of the global defeat of fascism, with the massive and decisive intervention of the Soviet Red Army precipitating imperial Japan’s ignominious collapse and liberating the Korean peninsula.
According to agreements made among the big powers, who had joined together to defeat fascism, and which aimed to establish the contours of the post-war international order, Korea was to be temporarily divided into north and south, with Soviet troops in the north and US troops in the south, until such time as a democratic government of an independent and united Korea could be smoothly established.
However, whilst the Soviet Union observed this agreement to the letter, withdrawing its armed forces in 1948, with the onset of the Cold War, the United States intensified its occupation of south Korea, suppressed the People’s Committees that had formed the nucleus of a progressive regime, launched vicious repression against all left-wing and patriotic forces, and rigged up a puppet government, largely composed of those who had collaborated with the previous Japanese occupation.
On 25 June, the United States unleashed a war aimed at destroying the infant Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which had been declared on 9 September 1948 and which was engaged in carrying out the tasks of the democratic revolution.
For the next more than three years, the Korean people were plunged into a war of atrocious imperialist savagery and an abyss of misery. Four million Koreans were killed out of a then population of 23 million. Every town and city of any significance on the peninsula was destroyed, napalm was used on an industrial scale, bacteriological weapons were unleashed, and the use of nuclear weapons was repeatedly threatened.
Writing about the Korean War, the US scholar Bruce Cumings observed:
” What was indelible about it was the extraordinary destructiveness of the United States’ air campaigns against north Korea, from the widespread and continuous use of firebombing (mainly with napalm), to threats to use nuclear and chemical weapons, and the destruction of huge north Korean dams in the final stages of the war .”
For a time, the US and its allies succeeded in occupying nearly the whole of north Korea, bringing the threat of war and invasion right to the door of the newly formed People’s Republic of China as well as the far east of the Soviet Union. But they were rapidly driven back, with the decisive intervention of hundreds of thousands of Chinese People’s Volunteers, who succeeded in turning the tide of the war. The Korean and Chinese armed forces were also ably supported by Soviet air force pilots as well as by all the socialist countries and progressive and peace-loving forces throughout the world.
Still, after the Korean and Chinese forces had expelled the US aggressors from the north of the country, the war was still to drag on for another two-and-a-half years.
On 8 November 1950, 79 B-29 bombers dropped 550 tons of incendiaries on Sinuiju, a city separated from China by just a river, thereby ” removing it from the map“, in the words of a contemporary account cited by Cumings.
Faced with a major Korean-Chinese offensive, on 14-15 December 1950, the US hit the DPRK capital Pyongyang with 700 bombs, each weighing 500 pounds. 175 tons of delayed-fuse demolition bombs were also dropped – packed with napalm, they then exploded when survivors were trying to pull the dead from the already ignited fires.
US General Matthew Ridgway ordered further devastating air raids on Pyongyang in January 1951, ” with the goal of burning the city to the ground with incendiary bombs” – a goal that was largely accomplished; by the end of the war just two buildings in the entire city had escaped bomb damage.
The Americans continued their scorched earth policy as they retreated, far into the south of the country.
Use of atom bombs was first considered by the Americans just two weeks into the war, on 9 July 1950, with chief of operations General Charles Bolte mooting the use of 10-20 such weapons “in direct support [of] ground combat“.
Again, on 30 November that year, President Truman himself threatened recourse to atomic weaponry in a news conference.
In a posthumously published interview, US commander MacArthur said he had a plan that would supposedly have won the war in 10 days: ” I would have dropped 30 or so atomic bombs . . . strung across the neck of Manchuria…[then] spread behind us, from the Sea of Japan to the Yellow Sea, a belt of radioactive cobalt . . . It has an active life of between 60 and 120 years. For at least 60 years there could have been no land invasion of Korea from the north .”
Yet, despite MacArthur’s avowed genocidal tendencies, the closest the US came to using atomic weapons during the Korean War was in April 1951 and again in June 1951 – both occasions after Truman had relieved MacArthur of his command, proving once again that the real criminals are not one or two deranged individuals, but the entire imperialist system itself.
Cumings concludes: “Over the course of the war, [US military historian] Conrad Crane wrote, the US air force ‘had wreaked terrible destruction all across north Korea. Bomb damage assessment at the armistice revealed that 18 of 22 major cities had been at least half obliterated’. A table he provided showed that the big industrial cities of Hamhung and Hungnam were 80-85% destroyed, Sariwon 95%, Sinuiju 100%, the port of Nampo 80% and Pyongyang 75%…General William Dean, who was captured after the battle of Taejon in July 1950 and taken to the north, later said that most of the towns and villages he saw were just ‘rubble or snowy open spaces’. Just about every Korean he met, Dean wrote, had had a relative killed in a bombing raid .” (‘Korea: forgotten nuclear threats’ by Bruce Cumings, Le Monde Diplomatique, December 2004.)
Long dismissed as ‘communist propaganda’, recent years have also seen the steady uncovering of the details of unprovoked massacres of defenceless Korean civilians and refugees by US ground forces. In 2011, BBC History reported:
” Declassified military documents recently found in the US National Archives show clearly how US commanders repeatedly, and without ambiguity, ordered forces under their control to target and kill Korean refugees caught on the battlefield. More disturbing still have been the published testimonies of Korean survivors who recall such killings, and the frank accounts of those American veterans brave enough to admit involvement …
“On 26 July  the US 8th Army, the highest level of command in Korea, issued orders to stop all Korean civilians. ‘No, repeat, no refugees will be permitted to cross battle lines at any time. Movement of all Koreans in group will cease immediately’. On the very same day the first major disaster involving civilians struck .
” The stone bridge near the village of No Gun Ri spans a small stream. It is similar to a great many others that cross the landscape of south Korea, except that the walls of this bridge were, until very recently, pockmarked by hundreds of bullet holes. On the very day that the US 8th Army delivered its stop refugee order in July 1950, up to 400 south Korean civilians gathered by the bridge were killed by US forces from the 7th Cavalry Regiment. Some were shot above the bridge, on the railroad tracks. Others were strafed by US planes. More were killed under the arches in an ordeal that local survivors say lasted for three days …
“‘ There was a lieutenant screaming like a madman, fire on everything, kill ’em all’, recalls 7th Cavalry veteran Joe Jackman. ‘I didn’t know if they were soldiers or what. Kids, there was kids out there, it didn’t matter what it was, eight to 80, blind, crippled or crazy, they shot ’em all ‘…
” Since the original AP report, more documents detailing refugee ‘kill’ orders have been unearthed at the US national archives. They point to the widespread targeting of refugees by commanders well after No Gun Ri. In August 1950 there were orders detailing that refugees crossing the Naktong River be shot. Later in the same month, General Gay, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division (of which the 7th Cavalry Regiment involved at No Gun Ri was part) actually ordered artillery units to target civilians on the battlefield. And as late as January 1951, the US 8th Army was detailing all units in Korea that refugees be attacked with all available fire including bombing .” (”Kill ’em all’: The American military in Korea’ by Jeremy Williams, BBC History, 2 February 2011)
It was in the face of such savagery, and overwhelming odds, that the Korean people fought US imperialism to a standstill, forcing them to sign an armistice, which established an uneasy peace, on July 27 1953.
This was the first war waged by US imperialism in which it did not emerge as the victor, proving beyond doubt that a small nation can indeed defeat a big, especially when it is led by a Marxist-Leninist party that mobilises all the people around itself, fighting in close unity with the socialist countries and all progressive humanity, a lesson that was later to be reinforced by the Vietnamese revolution and others.
The solidarity displayed with the Korean people at the time of the Fatherland Liberation War is still needed today. Sixty years after the armistice was signed, Korea remains divided, with the US military still occupying the south. In direct violation of the armistice agreement, which specified that no major new weapons systems be introduced to the Korean peninsula, US imperialism first introduced nuclear weapons to south Korea in the late 1950s. The DPRK has consistently been, and remains, on the USA’s nuclear first strike list. Earlier this year, US nuclear war exercises threatened to unleash another conflagration in Korea. It is in response to such constant threats that the people of the DPRK, by dint of enormous sacrifice, have successfully developed their own self-defensive nuclear deterrent. It is a powerful factor in defending peace, not only in Korea but throughout Asia.
In extending our warmest fraternal greetings to the Korean people on their auspicious anniversary, we reiterate our full solidarity with their struggle to expel US imperialism from the whole of their country and to reunify their divided homeland.