The Korean War started in 1950, and was in essence a battle between China (occupying North Korea, and assisted by Russia), and the United States (occupying South Korea). The Korean War was a product of the larger Cold War—because of its geographic strategic relevance, Korea became split into two regions as these superpowers battled. And while the Korean War effectively ended in 1953, the Cold War continued, and so the Korean War remained technically ongoing (i.e. no peace treaty was signed).
For 70 years now the Koreas have been stuck between these superpowers—effectively North Korea is China's Southern border, and South Korea is the United States' Northern border. South Koreans often refer to themselves as "the 51st state" (not entirely jokingly), and wonder if they will ever get their sovereignty back. North Korea is obviously quite dependent on China, and used as a China-proxy. This situation has solidified over the decades, and the lines are now firmly established.
Once you have a macro-view of history, and understand the basic motivations of the two major players, you can see current events are really just a continuation (rebirth) of this 70 year old Cold War.
A Lack of Reality-based Media Coverage
Likely because of America’s national interests — media coverage is filled with nonsense, more so than usual. I’m not aware of any Western media outlet where you can find dry fact-based news on what his happening on the Korean Peninsula. All accounts, from CNN to Breitbart, are filled with false narratives to shape public perceptions. This makes the news on Korea yet another example of how corporate media coordinates, including with government.
It’s a situation where a big lie is easier to pull off than a small one. If it were just one contradiction with reality, that would be easier to disprove. But when it is a dozen contradictions, some told for decades, that together contradict facts and reason — how do you disprove that entire fabricated reality? This is what the fake news does, from “WMDs” to “Trump-Russian collusion,” it fabricates entire realities, by leveraging its oligopic market structure. After-all, most people have never been to Korea, and can only know what the media tells them. They can not process a dozen new data points simultaneously, and they have no way of verifying anything. Besides, reality contradicts deeply held nationalist beliefs, the same sort of beliefs the North Koreans hold. Humans are tribal, and so no matter how absurd their national story, in the end they must believe. So, I wonder why even write this? Anyhow, don’t cry later that nobody told you “WMDs 2.0” was fake.
I’ve had some amusing conversations with people in Seoul over the years. One Korean friend recounted his confused reaction when reading American news — he was reading the New York Times, and he just kept thinking “is this for real? Or is this satire? Or what?” From the perspective of people on the ground who have known the situation their entire lives, it’s just so odd to read these parallel realities. They can’t both be correct.
As an analyst who has spent nearly a decade living in Seoul—talking to high ranking businessmen, military intelligence guys, regular everyday Koreans, and analyzing global economics — I’m just going to bluntly report the realnews myself. I acknowledge this does require some reading between the lines, but it’s a lot closer to reality than the corporate/governmental propaganda.
Media’s 12 False Korea Narratives
“WMD” threatening America: The narrative that Kim technically could, or ever would, attack a US city is preposterous. You need a whole lot of fake news fear-mongering to convince people of something that crazy. This actually might be crazier than the “Trump-Russia” conspiracy theory. The great hilarity of this fake news, is that Americans are actually more afraid of the North Korean “threat,” than South Koreans!
“WMD” threatening South Korea: South Koreans are not concerned about North Korea, and haven’t been for decades. The narrative that they are “living in fear,” or that there is some “problem,” is outright false. There was no fear in Seoul until news came that Trump was considering “doing something” about the situation. For the first time since I’ve been here, there was actual slight fear, “doing what exactly?” people asked. As everyone here knows, the situation is not resolvable. The Korean common sense understanding of the situation is that Kim has a good situation up there and would never jeopardize it with an unprovoked attack. Also, SK told the US directly their help was not requested, and that they should not be talking about unilateral action.
“Madman” narrative: In order for the US to make the “immediate threat” of “WMDs” believable, it requires the “madman” narrative. Every country has defenses, and so you have to sell people on the idea that Kim is crazy and thus might do something ill thought thru with his. But this is contrary to the facts— Kim family has been in charge for 50+ years, with no such incidents. The Kim family have demonstrated themselves to be measured, sane, and quite strategically brilliant, or they wouldn’t have survived this long against the world’s largest military/economy. The South Koreans view Kim Jong-un as quite an eloquent speaker, internationally educated, nobody actually believes he is a madman. Only Americans think that. This is orderly East Asia, not the chaotic Middle East, and there are no madmen running countries here.
Korean Reunification: The reality is reunification is simply not possible without the United States leaving the region. For the US to talk as if their interest is to unify the Koreas in nonsensical. America’s interest has always been to keep the Koreas divided. Any occupation of North Korea by America, the way it has done in South Korea, would trigger WW3 with China. It would be like having China occupy Mexico, the US would have no choice but to go to war.
Ending the Korean War: Similarly it is nonsensical for the US to talk as if they want to sign a peace treaty and end the war. If they had wanted that, they would have done it a long time ago (North Korea and China are in favor). The reason America has not, is because they need to keep this war technically ongoing, in order to justify their military bases in South Korea (which are directed at China). If a peace treaty were signed, the next logical question would be, then why is America still in the region? And from there global hegemony could go down like dominoes, as SK is an important strategic location.
Denuclearization of North Korea: Apparently NK is expected to just lay down their defenses, against the world’s largest military? If NK had not diverted so much resources to their military, they would have ended up like some devastated Middle East country a long time ago. Instead, the Korean peninsula is peaceful (or was). As Xi has reasonably pointed out — if you want NK to ramp down their military development, then remove THAAD and aggressive military posturing from SK. The US of course won’t even consider that, and so there is no honest communication here, and no possibility of a deal. For those who don’t know the history, there has been decades of political posturing and fake deals (from the 1985 Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty forward).
Xi Jinping is “helping” narrative: This is truly absurd narrative—that Xi could somehow be persuaded into attacking his own Southern border, so the US could advance North, at a time when the US is rapidly losing global influence. This is the US corporate media (which has a dotted line to the USG) trying to create a narrative, that hopefully creates events, in the direction they would prefer. Xi stalls because time is on his side, politely plays along, but he works for Chinese interests.
Moon and Trump are “working together” narrative: In SK “conservative” means pro-US, and “liberal” means pro-NK/CN. Park, the prior president, was a conservative who allowed THAAD in, which put SK at risk; they were yet again caught in the middle, and hit by CN sanctions. The new president Moon is a liberal with a long history of NK-friendliness, and was in part elected due to changing global dynamics. At some point SK may need to decide how to cut their ties to the US sinking ship, which necessarily means allying up with Beijing. Talk of this is still rare, but accelerating. Moon works for Korean interests, which are not the same as American interests. And this is likely why the US has inserted itself back into the region, to break up, or control, NK/SK talks.
Media silence on THAAD: Lying by omission, US media almost completely ignore the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) gear which the US installed in SK under shady circumstances. It is this aggressive move which started the entire chain of events (bet you didn’t know that). The common view in SK is that this gear was placed in their country to spy on CN using powerful radar, which places SK in a risky position. This is why SK refuses to pay for this “defense,” as it’s not their war. They say giving the US use of their land for free is generous enough. Also, the idea that THAAD is defense is nonsensical, why would the US spend money to protect Koreans? They don’t care about them. They are spending money to spy on CN, and perhaps some minimal defense of their military bases, if these things can even intercept a missile under real life circumstances. Discussing THAAD is clearly something the US media wants to avoid, no investigative journalism here.
South Koreans “eagerly awaiting” outcome: The US media narrative says Koreans are on the edge of of their seats worried about the outcome of the Trump/Kim talks, which again is flat out false. Koreans have lived thru 50 years of such political posturing and pay it no mind. Both Trump and Kim had a 10% approval rating before this topic heated up (Korean Gallup), the remaining 90% is more of a “just don’t care” than active disapproval. Koreans are busy living their lives, and don’t care much about politics.
South Korean and United States are “allies”: The word “ally” is too strong. It implies SK has sovereignty, and has chosen, and wishes to continue, the relationship. But the reality is SK gets no choice. THAAD was pushed thru dishonestly during political turmoil. Many trade deals have been forced on SK over the years, with the threat that the US will economically crush them if they do not go along. If SK starts acting too independently, the US only needs to stir up war (see current events) in order to make SK dependent on US defense (i.e. create a problem, and then play the white knight). South Korea is a pawn in the American empire, there is no equal and voluntary relationship as “allies” implies. Views on America are split here, with the older generation more believing the “allies” narrative, and the younger generation seeing themselves more realistically as a used pawn.
“Peacemaking” narrative: This is media spin, because Trump’s base was originally against this sort of globalism, interventionism, nation-building and warmongering (see Bannonism). So these same activities have been rebranded as “aggressive peacemaking” (very Orwellian). And the Trump base goes along. But in reality, it’s the same old global hegemony game.
What’s NOT Happening On the Korean Peninsula
This US media cycle illustrates how effective tribal divisionism can be in controlling the masses. Americans bicker back and forth about if Trump will accomplish his goals (“peacemaking,” reunification, ending “WMD threats”) — the left says “no, he’s a fraud and sucks at deal making,” while the right says “maybe he can make it happen, let’s be optimistic.” But both arguing sides end up duped into accepting an underlying narrative of noble intentions, when those are not America’s objectives.
Over and over again, American corporate media uses this strategy of presenting a false binary, and then baiting the citizens into dividing themselves along those lines. Of course it’s a trap, and both sides false.
A Realistic View—What’s Happening?
The realist view—with the fewest assumptions, and which fits the observations — we are seeing a continuation of the 70 year old Cold War between China/Russia and the United States, with the two Koreas as helpless pawns stuck in the middle. Again.
The US restarted the Cold War shortly after Trump took office with increased military spending, and simultaneous attacks on China (trade war), Russia (sanctions), and North Korea. There was lots of fake news on all three, and you’ll notice, a lack of connecting the dots. Regarding Trump, I don’t actually believe presidents wield material control, he’s just the front office sales guy. It seems likely he may be viewed as a convenient tool, and fall guy that can be optioned later if it all goes wrong. But these events are definitely not something a single person did, Obama talked about it on his way out, it’s the US as a whole doing it.
In summary, the United States is present on the Korean peninsula to militarily pressure and gather information on China, while keeping South Korea on the leash so they don’t form too many bonds with North Korea and China. The moves against China, Russia and North Korea are happening now, because 1) global hegemony is starting to show serious cracks, 2) internally, financially instability is past the point of no return, with desperate monetary policy, government debt, and approaching peak Boomer retirement, 3) of growing revolution risk at home from both the left and right, and 4) the economic center is moving East. Note these four factors are interrelated. America is likely trying stop or control the rise of Asia, reassert global dominance, while uniting their people behind a multi-decade war, all while somehow escaping their financial implosion.
This seems like a long shot, not to mention Machiavellian — but again, they have Trump to blame when it all goes horribly wrong. Actions like this in such a key region could be the beginning of what eventually becomes full-on economic warfare between the world’s two largest economies, or even World War III (with various parties in the West allying, and various parties in Asia doing the same).
If “fake news” is fake, then you have to consider it all fake, you can’t weed thru and expect to figure out which parts are real.