North Korea is not an easy issue. I’ve dealt with it since the early 1990s, beginning at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. I had few answers then, and I still have few today.
It also is not a partisan issue. For over 60 years, Democrat and Republican presidents alike have suffered the daunting challenges posed by this belligerent dictatorship. Some responded weakly, some hawkishly, with neither party characterized by a single response. The first president to deal with North Korea, Harry Truman, a Democrat, was anything but timid, sending massive U.S. troops into a major war on the Korean peninsula, one that killed tens of thousands of American boys. It was just the start of a 60-year nightmare.
What is interesting, however, has been the long battle within the American left over North Korea. The left has suffered two threats in particular—call them “internal:” First, there was the deception and manipulation by the communist left, which, by its nature, refused to acknowledge it was serving the Communist Party line. Second, there was dangerous self-delusion and gullibility among some leading Democrats. As to the first, consider the instructive example of Frank Marshall Davis; on the second, consider Jimmy Carter.
As I’ve written before, Frank Marshall Davis was a mentor to Barack Obama, and an actual member of Communist Party USA. (Click here to view documents.) He did pro-Soviet propaganda work, particularly in his weekly Honolulu Record column. I have all of Davis’s columns for 1950, the year Korea erupted into war.
Many American liberals/progressives were unsure where to stand on U.S. involvement in Korea, even as President Truman, a Democrat, sent troops. For communists, however, this was a no-brainer: They wanted no U.S. involvement because they wanted all of Korea to be communist. This was the Stalinist line, the Maoist line, and the worldwide communist line. Thus, American communists ridiculed the very idea of U.S. engagement as paranoid, excessive anti-communism, as an “inordinate fear” of communism, as U.S. imperialism, as capitalist exploitation, as … well, whatever worked.
For Frank Marshall Davis, this stance was evident in a February 9, 1950 column, where he accused Truman of “manufacturing crises” for the sake of Big Business and U.S. imperialism, with Korea merely the latest example. America, claimed Davis, wasn’t really “‘endangered’ in Korea.” This was a bunch of baloney by Truman, a phony “propaganda barrage.” “We manufacture crises so rapidly,” argued Davis, “that a new one is shoved in front of us before we can examine yesterday’s or the one rushed in this morning.”
Korea, insisted Davis, was another such case.
How many liberals/progressives fell for this communist line? A lot of them. How many Americans communists pushed the line? All of them.
The communist left didn’t stop pushing until the north was firmly in communist hands. It has been a murderous dungeon ever since, run by two lunatics from the Kim family.
These two men, of course, can’t be trusted, which brings me to my second case, involving Jimmy Carter.
In June 1994, Carter visited North Korea, hosted by Kim Il Sung. For the impressionable ex-president, Kim provided the full Potemkin village treatment. To say Carter was fooled is an understatement. Carter reported:
People are busy. They work 48 hours a week…. We found Pyongyang to be a bustling city. The only difference is that during working hours there are very few people on the street. They all have jobs or go to school. And after working hours, they pack the department stores, which Rosalynn visited. I went in one of them. It’s like Wal-Mart in American stores on a Saturday afternoon. They all walk around in there, and they seem in fairly good spirits. Pyongyang at night looks like Times Square. They are really heavily into bright neon lights and pictures and things like that.
Of course, in truth, North Korea is draped in darkness, as well-known satellite photos attest (click here). Worse, within just one year of Carter’s incredibly gullible appraisal, 10-15 percent of North Korea’s population (two to three million people) starved to death, the worst famine in modern times.
Adding insult to injury, a few years after that, North Korea announced it was a nuclear state, a direct violation of the “Agreed Framework” brokered by Carter in 1994. Then, Carter had triumphantly assured “the crisis is over”—words headlined by the New York Times and Washington Post.
Needless to say, the crisis was far from over.
I don’t have the answer for resolving the North Korea situation, but I do know what hasn’t helped. Jimmy Carter hasn’t, and neither did the communist left, embodied by the likes of Frank Marshall Davis.
In both cases, America has been poorly served. Delusion and deception have exacerbated an already complex situation.