North Korea attacks South Korea…or is it the other way around?

By Stephen Gowans

If you read Mark McDonald’s article in The New York Times, “‘Crisis Status’ in South Korea After North Shells Island”, the answer depends on whether you paid attention to the headline, the expert commentary, and the tone of the article, or whether you paid attention to the facts.

If you paid attention to the former then North Korea attacked South Korea.

If you paid attention to the latter, the opposite is true.

Here are the facts McDonald reported.

o 70,000 South Korean troops were beginning a military drill…sharply criticized by Pyongyang as “simulating an invasion of the North” and “a means to provoke a war.”

o ROK artillery units fired toward the DPRK from a battery close to the North Korean coast. The South acknowledges firing the shots.

o The DPRK replied.

Shouldn’t the headline read: ‘Crisis Status’ in North Korea after South Korea Mobilizes 70,000 Troops and Shells the North’?

13 thoughts on “North Korea attacks South Korea…or is it the other way around?

  1. It is disingenuous to talk of firing on civilians. Initial BBC reports said that the island was uninhabited except for a military base. Subsequently we’ve received reports of around a thousand civvies being evacuated. This gives us a pretty clear picture of the situation on the island: it is a military base that has a non-military component, just as there are civilian workers in almost every military base on the planet. The entire island was and remains a valid military target.

    But that’s all beside the point, really. Regardless of who started it, and regardless of if NK should have responded the way it did, it has, and now it needs unconditional military defence against capitalist counter-revolution and imperialist subjugation.

  2. You’re mistaken about the North targeting civilians. Yeonpyeong Island houses an ROK military installation. This is a legitimate military target. The way you tell the story, the DPRK set out to shell civilians. The South Korean Defense Ministry said that two soldiers were killed, and 15 soldiers and 3 civilians were wounded.

    You say war games which mobilize 70,000 troops, 50 warships, 90 attack helicopters, 500 warplanes and 600 tanks and involve the US Marines and the US Air Force and an artillery barrage into the North’s territorial waters are only level 5 provocative, on what, a 100-point scale?

    If North Korea mobilized 50 warships and 500 warplanes and–with the backing of the Chinese navy and marines–fired “test” shots into New York harbor–would this merit a level 5 provocation rating, or something more?

    In your initial comments you noted that “The DPRK was informed that the war games would be taking place and even that those initial shots by the ROK forces would be made.” It is not all right–contrary to the view implied in your comment–for one country to turn its artillery on another so long as it announces its intentions in advance. An attack, whether made in the midst of war games exercises, or pre-announced, is still an attack, and cannot be excused because the victim was informed that war games would be taking place and that it would be fired upon. Indeed, large-scale war games exercises carried out in the vicinity of a disputed border accompanied by a pre-announced attack ought to be condemned for being highly provocative and war-like, not invoked to blame the victim.

  3. 1. I know I don’t generally tell my enemies what I’m doing if I’m going to invade them.

    2. Provocative, sure. But again, let’s look at “war games” as about Level 5 provocative and “firing on civilian targets” as about Level 56.

    3. Maybe something around Level 4? Say, fire back into ROK waters before firing on people?

  4. D,

    Three questions for you.

    1. How does one distinquish between war games and preparation for an invasion?

    2. South Korean “artillery units had been firing from a battery on the South Korean island of Baeknyeongdo, close to the North Korean coast” into waters the US unilaterally declared in 1953 to belong to South Korea but which North Korea claims as its own. Could this be considered a brazenly provocative act?

    3. How would you have advised the North Korean government to respond?

  5. The DPRK was informed that the war games would be taking place and even that those initial shots by the ROK forces would be made. While the ROK forces shouldn’t have fired those shots after the DPRK’s warning against doing so, there’s still a huge difference between running a war game and firing on civilian targets.

  6. WHY was S. Korea holding military exercises so close to N. Korea’s border? Why was S. Korea holding exercises in a disputed area?
    Either the S. Korean government and military are stupid, or their aim was to provoke the North. They had to know the tensions this would produce. If the South’s military exercises were just that, and not meant as a threat or provocation towards the North, then they should hold them in Japan or further South, away from the border.
    This is common sense!

  7. That scenario is very possible.

    American warmongering is a predictable tactic that can be used to prop up not only the flagging Obama regime but also the American Empire and its economy.

    Forget about going after Wall Street financial predators or questioning US casino capitalism itself.

    US Military Keynesianism + American war nationalism.

    That’s the answer!

    In fact, Washington Post shill David Broder offered this chilling advice to Obama with respect to Iran.

    David Broder’s Economic Rx: War With Iran

    An what’s even more chilling is that some Americans would embrace this criminal solution, without batting an eyelash.

  8. Australian ABC’s flagship current affairs program, AM, [audio and transcript]

    24 Nov 2010

    Mike Willacy reporting

    But on state-run TV it revealed exactly what this clash was all about.

    (North Korean news presenter speaking)

    “The South Korean puppets fired dozens of shells inside our waters and our forces reacted,” says this news presenter. “We had warned them against staging war exercises and escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Should the South Korean puppets dare intrude into our territorial waters by even .001 one of a millimetre we will take merciless military counter actions,” she says

    In recent days South Korea has held a naval drill near the maritime border in the Yellow Sea, an exercise Pyongyang had warned against.

    Elsewhere on the ABC, this vital fact was completely left out. Former Prime Minister, now Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd was quick to condemn North Korea’s provocation, and the Cheonan incident (brilliantly deconstructed here) was dragged up again as “further evidence” of North Korea’s evil intentions.

    If you tell a lie often enough …

  9. Just speculating, but I wonder if the US will move towards increasing threats of aggression and military intimidation against North Korea in the run up to the 2012 US election? Obama might see it as a way to prove what a tough guy he is before the election and raise his sinking approval ratings. Increased military expenditures are always an acceptable form of economic stimulus in the US. National security and intellectual hawks might also might see it as an ideal time to attack while the North Korean leadership transitions and to complete the preemptive encircling of a rising China? It will be interesting to see how the anti-war movement and fake left respond to such actions if they take place.

  10. If one was to pay attention to the markets while this was going on, while shares for many other reasons were decreasing, the shares towards weapons manufacturing went up. Looks like the South & Western defense industries were making quick bucks out of this provocation.

  11. The coverage is getting even worse with new articles popping up detailing the North’s “Pattern of Aggression” and calling it a “Nettlesome Neighbor.” The propaganda amp has been cranked to 11. Never mind the of 30,000 US troops just to the south who have been installed as another de-facto East Asian neighbor despite the fact that they are 4,500 miles from their own country.

  12. Brilliant, Stephen. Thank you for daring to point this out. So many people around us do not even make an effort to think for themselves and just swallow everything they are being fed by the media. My first question to any news is always: who’ll profit?

  13. yes, the NYT has given us another example of the camera obscura approach to north korea reporting, yet where the reporter and the paper failed in delivering the facts as facts, the clear-sighted reader stepped up. thank you, stephen gowans, for so astutely pointing out the alarmism and jingoism in the title to mark mcdonald’s piece.

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