Letter to the Editor

I walked away from the Sept. 4 panel on North Korea’s nuclear activity with more concerns than answers. Foremost of these was on the alternative perspective on the relationship between the United States and the secluded state that was presented by some of the panel, most memorable being Professor Zhihong Chen’s historical narrative, which she presented as a “full history.” This was a narrative that did not provide hindsight objectivity, but instead was a selective history that tended to frame the U.S. as the perpetual aggressor to a lone North Korea in the post World War II era.

Among the argument’s selections, it argued the U.S. alone set the playing field on the 38th parallel to a complicit and harmless Soviet Union, one made without at all acknowledging the rationale for American communist containment foreign policy, namely in the threat to human life, human rights and democracy the Stalin-led political system posed. The argument also seemed to point the causes of the Korean War on an imperialist-style United States, rather than a dictatorial, Soviet-proxy North Korea launching a surprise offensive on the South in 1950. This was an act which was quickly condemned by the UN with the body passing a resolution encouraging members to militarily assist South Korea. It then went on to frame the war as a conflict simply between the U.S. and North Korea, not mentioning the other UN member states fighting for the South or the intelligence and air support provided to the North by the USSR. Most significantly of all, it discredited the importance of the tide-turning entrance of millions of Chinese soldiers into the war beginning at the end of 1950 which prolonged the conflict for another two years, and ultimately led to hundreds of thousands more deaths and the modern armistice we know today.

The historical argument’s core came across as an academic indifference for the millions of lives lost at the hands of North Korean leadership since before and after the Korean War, and to the instability the rogue state continues to siphon into the region.

The author of last week’s Guilfordian article on the panel concluded with this: “The takeaway from the night was jarring in its simplicity. In order for a productive negotiation to take place, the U.S. must yield their demands and instead begin to listen. Realistic resolution comes with compromise and perhaps letting go of some of that American pride.” And in response I argue similarly to the moderator of the discussion, Eric Mortensen. Just as we should not “simplistically demonize (our) adversaries,” we should also not simplistically demonize ourselves in a crisis where we’re protecting more than just our “pride,” but the liberal values of our nation and, most importantly, the lives of our friends.

Caleb Anderson