September 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard
AFTER three years of war—the last two years of it accompanied by bargaining between the leaders of the two sides—an armistice has been signed in Korea. As the smoke drifts away from the last shell and the last bomb, as the last wounded are taken to hospital and the last dead are buried, the conflict is continued in the statements put out by each side. The boastfulness of the United Nations leaders claiming that the war has ended in a victory for them is equalled only by the boastfulness of the Russian and Chinese Governments claiming the same thing. But what are the real results of the war? Who has gained, and who has lost?
The Balance Sheet
On the Soviet side the war was fought by the soldiers of China and North Korea. On the United Nations side, the troops were supplied by South Korea, the United States, and sixteen other nations. One has only to read the casualty-lists to know that the peoples of these countries, at any rate, lost by the war. The Commonwealth countries lost one thousand dead and five times that number wounded and prisoners. The Americans had twenty-three thousand dead, and more than a hundred thousand wounded. The casualties of the Chinese and North Korean armies have been estimated at two million (The Times, 28-7-53; references which follow are also to The Times unless otherwise indicated). As for the North Korean people, they were subjected to one of the heaviest bombardments of modern times by American planes; and of the ten million North Koreans at the beginning of the war, John Foster Dulles, the U.S. Secretary of State, now calculates that one in three have died as a result of the war (28-7-53). It is difficult to find an estimate of the South Korean casualties, but they can scarcely be low, since the original South Korean Army was largely destroyed in the first North Korean advance; and towards the end of the war the South Korean Army, reconstituted by the Americans, was holding three-quarters of the line and was bearing the brunt of repeated Chinese attacks. Altogether, some five million people, at the very least, must have died in the Korean peninsula as the result of the war.
Not tomb enough
After three years of modern war, what is the gain and loss of territory? On the eastern side of the peninsula, the South Korean border has been pushed northwards to include about two thousand five hundred square miles of former North Korean land; on the western side, the Communists have gained about a thousand square miles. On balance, file United Nations have gained some fifteen hundred square miles—less than two per cent, of the area of Korea. It works out at more than three thousand people killed for each square mile of territory won. The net gain of territory is hardly enough to bury the dead. This is indeed
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause.
which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain.
Price per yew: Three thousand million dollars
The position in Korea now was outlined by an appeal on behalf of the United Nations Association Relief Fund (29-7-53). Of the people of Korea, it said, “Two and three-quarter million are refugees. Four million are destitute. Their homes and industries have been wrecked. Seventy per cent. of their agricultural implements have been destroyed, and over half the country’s rice-growing lands lie idle.” These figures are tragically significant especially when it is remembered that at the beginning of the war the total population of Korea was only about twenty millions. No less than three thousand million dollars’ worth of ammunition was used every year in the Korean fighting—and this means that factories and manpower were devoted to producing this vast quantity of bombs and shells instead of producing goods which the people of the world need. In a reasonable economic system this amount of productive capacity could have been devoted to consumer goods. But the facts remind us of the tremendous productive potentialities which must either remain latent or be used for destructive purposes under the capitalist system of society; we can only use the world’s productive power fully for our benefit under Socialism.
Who then gains from the Korean war? The Chinese and the American ruling classes have both gained to some extent. Neither has conquered and brought within its own sphere of influence the other half of Korea; but each has saved its own share for itself. In a future war China could use its Korean foothold to attack Japan, and America has kept South Korea as a base for any future assault on China. And each side has kept part of the valuable Korean mineral supply—gold, copper, coal, iron, mica and bauxite are all found in the peninsula. We have recently had a powerful reminder that the need for such raw materials, and the need for markets, does motivate foreign policy, in a speech delivered in America:—
A total struggle—let us never forget it—calls for a total defence . . . Again and again, we must remind ourselves that this is a matter not only of political principle but of economic necessity. It involves our need for markets for our agricultural and industrial products, our need to seek in return from the rest of the world such essentials as manganese and cobalt, tin and tungsten (11/6/53).
The speaker was President Eisenhower, who should know.
The Socialist attitude
To Socialists, Korea is a demonstration of the brutality of capitalist states struggling among themselves; a reminder that war is the only final arbiter of the differences which are inevitable under capitalism; and a foretaste of what is in store if the rulers of each side decide on another “big” war.