North Korea: Trump’s Brutal Theatre of War
As Donald Trump cements his status as a war president, a savage conflict with North Korea seems more and more likely
When you hear older people reminiscing about the sense of fear generated by the Cuba missile crisis back in 1962 you know that the threat of war is once again a talking point for millions across the world. At an NUT conference fringe meeting last night that’s exactly what one delegate did. He recalled being an 8 year old at primary school where he and his friends seriously discussed whether there would be another war.
The missile crisis was perhaps the major confrontation between the U.S. And Russia in the Cold War. It brought the world to the brink of nuclear war where millions of people faced the threat of the most terrible destruction ever seen. My aunt in Suffolk phoned my mother to tell her to hitch a ride on a lorry with me and my two sisters and come to her because London was going to be under attack. Sheila Rowbotham describes being an Oxford student and phoning her mother in fear that the world would end.
It was then of course less than 20 years since the end of the Second World War, which our parents had all lived through, and which ended, let us never forget, with the deliberate use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. on Japan in the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Fast forward 55 years. Are we now seeing the growing confrontation between the U.S. and North Korea as the worst such crisis since 1962? It certainly has all the makings of it. The confrontation is over the development of nuclear missiles by North Korea and the response of Donald Trump in particular to this. It has long been a hypocrisy of the U.S. in particular and the other nuclear powers that they demand retention of their own weapons of mass destruction while refusing the same development of such weapons to anyone else. Those of us who oppose all nuclear weapons must oppose North Korea’s potential development and use of them, as we did with Iran. But to threaten a potential nuclear war on the basis of supposed concern to avoid nuclear war is a grotesque perversion of the truth. And to believe that war is avoided by deploying troops and aircraft carriers to the seas round China or to South Korea is to ignore the huge escalation of military tensions which are now in play.
We should be aware of what any war with North Korea would be like. Already both sides are talking this up, but even conventional warfare (and we should not allow our correct opposition to nuclear weapons to blind us to the terrible effects of non nuclear war in the 21st century) would have major effects on the whole of the Korean Peninsula and probably on Japan. The Korean people still live in the shadow of their terrible war in the 1940s and 50s and any war would threaten the future of millions of people. Back in the early 1950s the North Koreans were threatened with nuclear attack (and let’s remember the US is the only country to have actually used nuclear weapons).
But that is only part of the story, because nothing that Trump does militarily can be considered without looking at his relations with Russia and China. What Trump said this week is that if China doesn’t deal with North Korea then the US will. He wants to put more and more pressure on China to distance itself from North Korea but in reality knows that China can only go so far in this direction. Trump’s real problem here is with China itself, which he sees as the major rival militarily and economic power to the US.
His sabre rattling is not just about North Korea. He has, in the last just over a week, fired 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield – a target more about symbolism and less about military strategy. This was a message not just to Assad but mainly to Russia to demonstrate that Trump is willing to use the US’s predominant weaponry capability to enforce its views. Trump is also doing this for domestic consumption. Under attack over his and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s closeness to the Russian government and with accusations of collusion between him and Russia, Trump is making himself popular with some of his critics – including many of the liberals – for his supposed humanitarian intervention.
No doubt emboldened by all this praise from the New York Times and other surprising sources, Trump decided this week to also launch the Mother of all Bombs on IS in Afghanistan. The widespread revulsion at this act will not deter him. The claim that no civilians were killed in this attack is almost certainly untrue and even former president Karzai has attacked it.
Trump has cried crocodile tears for the children killed or wounded in the chemical attack in Syria two weeks ago but is rather more reluctant to do the same over the now thousands of people killed and injured in the US’s led bombing of Mosul in Iraq. Or the victims of his first military attack in Yemen. Engagement in theatres of war in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Korea is not what Trump claimed he signed up for. But he has embraced this engagement quickly and enthusiastically.
Opposition to his wars has to escalate too, with protests across the world and with a determination to confront him at every opportunity.
Apparently he is now demanding a trip in the queen’s gilded coach on his state visit here. He will be met with masses of people on the streets. What could possibly go wrong?