Drumbeating For War: Clinton’s ‘Tonkin’ Incident?

The American media’s tendency for replicating official government propaganda as a means of justifying US government-initiated warfare, has a long established history that pre-dates Iraq by at least 40 years. On August 5, 1964 a Washington Post headline announced “American Planes Hit North Vietnam After Second Attack on Our Destroyers; Move Taken to Halt New aggression” (http://www.cah.utexas.edu/services/finding_items/newspapers_gannett.php).

On the same day, the front page of the New York Times reported: “President Johnson has ordered retaliatory action against gunboats and ‘certain supporting facilities in North Vietnam’ after renewed attacks against American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin” (ibid).

But there was no “second attack” by North Vietnam — no “renewed attacks against American destroyers.” By reporting official claims as absolute truths, American journalism opened the floodgates for the bloody Vietnam War and the  over 50,000 American deaths and millions of Vietnamese casualties that followed.

The official story was that North Vietnamese torpedo boats launched an “unprovoked attack” against a U.S. destroyer on “routine patrol” in the Tonkin Gulf on August 2 — and that North Vietnamese PT boats followed up with a “deliberate attack” on a pair of U.S. ships two days later.

The truth was very different.

Rather than being on a routine patrol, the U.S. destroyer Maddox was actually engaged in aggressive intelligence-gathering maneuvers — in sync with coordinated attacks on North Vietnam by the South Vietnamese navy and the Laotian air force in “retaliation” for a North Vietnamese torpedo attack that never happened.

One of the Navy pilots flying overhead on the night of the alleged North Vietnamese attack was squadron commander James Stockdale, who gained fame later as a POW and then Ross Perot’s vice presidential candidate. “I had the best seat in the house to watch that event,” recalled Stockdale, “and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets — there were no PT boats there…. There was nothing there but black water and American fire power” (http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/coldwar/interviews/episode-11/stockdale1.html).

On the night of 26 March, 2010, 40 years or so later, the South Korean navy ship Cheonan split in half and sank while patrolling not far from the North Korean coast. Although the definitive cause is still unclear, the South Korean and US governments are keen to convince the world that North Korea was responsible.

On 20 May, South Korea announced it had “overwhelming evidence” that a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine sank one of its warships, the Cheonan, in March with the loss of 46 sailors (http://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/27/nk).

The Korea Times reported the “overwhelming evidence” to be a propeller that “had been corroding at least for several months,” In April, the director of South Korea’s national intelligence, Won Se-hoon, told a parliamentary committee that there was no evidence linking the sinking of the Cheonan to North Korea. The defence minister agreed. And the head of South Korea’s military marine operations said, “No North Korean warships have been detected [in] the waters where the accident took place.” The reference to an “accident” suggests the warship struck a reef and broke in two (http://watchingthewarmakers.org.uk/).

US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, urged Pyongyang to halt its “policy of belligerence.” She went on to say that this amounted to “unacceptable provocation by North Korea” and urged China to back the international community and chastise North Korea for its actions (http://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/27/nk).

Hillary Clinton-JKZ-003178.jpg

Meanwhile, the world’s media have been virtually silent about the fact that the US and South Korea were holding a joint naval exercise around 60 miles to the south of where the alleged incident occured, and that Hillary Clinton has been backing the regime of South Korean president Lee Myung-bak who has been ratcheting up tensions on the peninsula (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=21402).

This is the same language that was used when the US accused the North of unprovoked aggression when the Korean War started sixty years ago. Then, as now, tensions are being ratcheted-up to the extent that, according to historian Bruce Cumings, a second Korean War is a possiblity (http://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/27/nk).

One possible explanation of the North’s alleged attack, not apparently being considered by the US government and the media, is that the North Korean’s had fired on the Cheonanin in response to having initially been fired on themselves. A second outcome not being considered, is North Korea’s denial that it was involved in the sinking, and the parallel with the lies used to justify the occupation of Iraq (http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6581TW20100609?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews).

What is certain is that US government had failed to point out the background to the tragedy which has a bearing on what happened. For instance, in 1999, a North Korean ship went down with thirty sailors lost and maybe seventy wounded. And last November, a North Korean ship went down in flames. Both happened in a no man’s land, or waters, off the west coast of Korea that both North and South claim and where the US and South Korea demarcated a so-called Northern limit line unilaterally.

The North has never accepted this demarcation line which it claims is under the joint jurisdiction of the North and South Korean militaries. Moreover, US intelligence is aware that North Korean and South Korean fishermen continually fight over the issue of who is entitled to the fishing rights in this area.

The Cheonan ship was sailing in these disputed waters when it was allegedly hit by the North Korean’s.

Furthermore, the US recently completed Operation Full Eagle, an annual joint military exercise with the South Koreans, including naval exercises south of this particular region involving 26,000 soldiers. According to historian Bruce Cumings, these exercises are regarded by the North Koreans as a prelude to a possible attack (http://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/27/nk).

These contextual issues have rarely, if at all, been reported in the corporate mainstream media.

The greatest of all the “elephants in the room” however, is the fact that US imperialism lies behind the 1945 division of the Korean peninsula and the ongoing conflict between the two Koreas described above. Using its huge military bases in Japan and South Korea, the US wants to maintain its increasingly precarious dominance in East Asia and keep China hemmed in (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=21402).

But North Korea has remained a thorn in America’s side, continuing to “defy the international community” over its nuclear testing and maintain its independence despite its economic collapse (http://www.onebigdog.net/north-korea-defies-international-community/).

Essentially, the US is using its ally South Korea in a dangerous game of  “imperial chess” in the region. The South is one of the world’s biggest military spenders and second only to Israel as a buyer of US arms. Under these circumstances, the South is aware that it is able to flex its political and military muscle in the region with impunity.

But the South is also caught in a vortex of power relations between other powerful players – Japan, Russia and China. Hillary Clinton is aware that the latter is a veto-wielding member of the Security Council and a North Korean ally. Hence, as the New York Times reported, the US would be unlikely to impose new sanctions on the North (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/27/world/asia/27diplo.html).

Nevertheless, South Korea and the US are using this latest incident to put pressure on the North whether the North was involved or not. After flying to Seoul on the 26 May, where she demanded that the “international community must respond” to “North Korea’s outrage”, Clinton flew on to Japan. Here the new “threat” from North Korea conveniently eclipsed the briefly independent foreign policy of Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, elected last year with popular opposition to America’s permanent military occupation of Japan (http://www.newstatesman.com/middle-east/2010/06/north-korea-vietnam-pilger).

To the American media, North Korea’s guilt is beyond doubt, just as North Vietnam’s guilt was beyond doubt, just as Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, just as Israel can terrorise with impunity. However, unlike Vietnam and Iraq, both North Korea and South Korea have nuclear weapons. This is why, the US games are dangerous and the consequences of  a war therefore unimaginable for all of the 70 million Koreans caught in the crosshairs.

Copyright: Daniel Margrain.

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