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Lessons from the Korean War

 The psychology of forgetting and the reasons for memory lapses are exciting topics in the lives of individuals and nations. Cognitive psychology has given rise to many theories on this subject. The main theory, that of motivated forgetting, is the most charming because it is easy to understand: people forget things in the unforgiving flow of life because they don't want to remember, and painful and disturbing memories are thus rendered unconscious and very difficult to find, even if they remain stored somewhere in the attic of the mind.

The United States and the Korean War (June 25, 1950 – July 27, 1953) is a good example. In short, the war ended at a time when a "impasseprevailed, which in effect meant that defeat was looming on the horizon for UN forces – as happened in Afghanistan. In the chronicle of American wars, the Korean War thus became the "forgotten war», prone to oblivion and stored in the attic of the collective conscience.

However, the torches are shining on the attic, as the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Korean armistice agreement sneaked closer last Thursday. One of the main reasons for this curiosity must be the contemporary relevance of the Korean War, which was also a proxy war during the Cold War, much like the current war of the United States in Ukraine against Russia, which is also in a stalemate as NATO has failed to win the war, and another humiliating defeat, but far worse than in Afghanistan, is likely to come.

It is China that has the greatest interest in resurrecting the real lessons of the Korean War. What disturbs Beijing is that Washington's elite have not only learned the wrong lessons, but they are also "all targeted on China, especially on Taiwan».

The most notable revisionist theory was advanced by none other than Mike Gallagher, a 40-year-old former U.S. Marine intelligence officer, currently chairman of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the United States. Chinese Communist Party, a staunch critic of Chinese policies in Congress, and also an ambitious politician who is already a leading voice of the Republican right across the board – who has previously sought to legislate to ban federal agencies, such as the Departments of health and human services, veterans and defense, to buy medicines made in China; and who is currently advocating for President Biden to donate F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.

The hard truth about nuclear wars

What may have surprised China is that last Wednesday, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Korean armistice, the magazine Foreign Affairs published an article by Gallagher, which posits three "lessonsthat the Korean War taught the United States: First, "Washington must not neglect deterrence and preparationand should always be ready to fight and build up its military capabilities; second, "politics and combat are deeply intertwined» ; and third, once fighting breaks out anywhere with U.S. involvement, "excessive self-restraint may invite further aggression».

There is no doubt that theselessons"Coming straight from the"Beltwayare clearly aimed at China, and the publication of Gallagher's essay in a leading public diplomacy organ of the US foreign policy establishment is no coincidence.

Indeed, China is now far more capable of inflicting pain and damage on adversaries who flout its security interests and national sovereignty. The fact is that the United States has paid a heavy price for its intervention in a proxy war on the Korean Peninsula, based on faulty premises – starting with the mistaken perception of the conflict as the first stage of a Soviet plan under Stalin aimed to use military means to achieve world domination. (About 36 US servicemen were killed in Korea, out of a total of about 000 dead for all UN forces).

Likewise, the United States made the catastrophic error of treating Beijing's warnings as a bluff and blithely assumed that China would not intervene if American forces crossed the 38th parallel. General Douglas MacArthur, the American commander, assured President Harry Truman that China would not go to war. (But Mao had already decided to intervene after concluding that Beijing could not tolerate the United States questioning its regional credibility).

Similarly, the invasion of North Korea was an incredible blunder that turned a war that was supposed to last three months into a war that lasted three years.

However, a historically controversial detail has still not been definitively settled: the United States had considered using atomic weapons against North Korea (and perhaps also against China) in order to tip the military balance in their favor and to force them to sit down at the negotiating table. Indeed, President Truman and his successor Dwight Eisenhower continued to affirm that such an option was on the table, when it already appeared, at the end of the summer of 1950, that the "good guyswere going to lose the war.

Of course, an atomic attack by the United States never materialized, even though Soviet atomic capabilities were still extremely limited compared to American capabilities, Washington's nuclear monopoly was largely intact, and the United States remained the only nation capable of dropping an atomic bomb on a distant target.

In the end, although steps were taken to ensure the existence of an atomic option - through a series of threats, feints and even trials - whether this was just a bluff or not remains debatable.

Ultimately, in the Korean War, the United States was faced with the stark reality: the threat of nuclear attack was not enough to win a war. And the nuclear Korean War just stopped. This is a historical truth that is unlikely to be forgotten today as "lessonas the United States faces not one, but three nuclear powers in Northeast Asia, all of which have a deterrent capability.

That is why the visit of a US nuclear ballistic missile submarine to Busan, South Korea, on July 22, the first visit by a US submarine since 1981, which some members of US Congress interpret not only as a warning to North Korea, but also as a deterrent against China, can only be considered empty bravado.

It is in this complex historical context that a editorial du Global Times protested on Wednesday:

«China decided to resist US aggression and help North Korea during the Korean War. She repeatedly sent stern warnings that if US forces crossed the 38th parallel, China would not sit idly by. However, the United States did not take it seriously, thinking that China was just making empty threats and would not take action. So they were caught off guard when they encountered the Chinese People's Volunteer Army on the battlefield. Today, Washington is making a similar major miscalculation with regard to China. The biggest difference between now and the Korean War era is that China's power has grown tremendously. The consequences of undermining China's security interests and national sovereignty will no doubt be much more serious…However, it should be clear that if another strategic miscalculation occurs this time around, the price to pay will certainly be much higher than 70 years ago».

The aphorism frequently attributed to Mark Twain comes to mind:History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes". Certainly the history of the Korean War rhymes with that of the war in Ukraine. If the details, circumstances or contexts have changed, similar events have essentially repeated themselves.

Ukraine rhymes with Korean War

The fundamental difference is that, while even the worst critics of the United States would not claim that Washington precipitated the Korean War, when it comes to Ukraine, even the best apologists of the Western narrative derive vicious pleasure. that the United States has set a bear trap by its stubbornness not to negotiate Russia's legitimate security concerns and that it has brilliantly turned Ukraine into an anti-Russian state. In effect, the United States created the framework for a proxy war – unlike Korea where its direct intervention in the inter-Korean conflict and MacArthur's belligerent escalation turned it into a protracted war that lasted three years. .

The big question is whether it was US nuclear blackmail that spurred the peace talks and led to the armistice in July 1953. Let the facts speak for themselves. In the spring of 1953, Eisenhower drew up plans for nuclear attacks on China and passed them on to the Communists in order to intimidate them into agreeing to favorable terms for an armistice. Did Mao feel intimidated?

Didn't China (and Russia) know that frightened American allies in Western Europe had strongly opposed the use of nuclear weapons in Korea and that fears that the allies would withdraw from the theater Korea and leaving the Americans in limbo would have made it difficult to use nuclear weapons against China and North Korea? The bottom line is that, in any future war, a nuclear power would be more likely to use the atomic bomb than a power eager to retain the support of its allies. Wouldn't the Russians know that in Ukraine (see Nuclear Blackmail and the End of the Korean War by Edward Friedman, Modern China, Jan 1975)?

Be that as it may, today we are witnessing a paradigm shift. Russia now has a nuclear superiority over the United States and its allies. Unlike in the Korean War, North Korea and China now have nuclear weapons and the missiles to carry them. But a key difference in this paradigm shift is that neither Pyongyang nor Beijing developed nuclear weapons capabilities as part of plans to start a war, but rather to deter the United States from attempting to destroy them. The same goes for Russia in Ukraine.

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