President Donald Trump answers a final question while departing a press conference following his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12, 2018, in Singapore. Trump described his meeting with Kim as “better than anyone could have expected.” Win McNamee/Getty Images
A few hours after Presidents Trump and Kim completed five hours of unprecedented high-level diplomatic negotiations over security and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula at the Capella hotel resort on Santosa Island in Singapore, President Trump held a lengthy (83 minutes) press conference detailing his discussions
Amongst the many matters he stressed in a barrage of questioning from the US and international media, was that dealing with nuclear weapons were his highest presidential problem and priority.
He observed:“ “I had an uncle who was a great professor for 40 years at MIT.I used to discuss nuke with him all the time. He was a great expert. A great brilliant genius. Dr. John Trump. MIT sent me a book on my uncle. We used to talk about nuclear. You talk about a complex subject. It is not just get rid of the — rid of the nukes. When you hit a certain point, you cannot go back.
New York Times reporter David Sanger asked Trump: “I wonder if you could give us some sense of chairman Kim told you how many nuclear weapons he believes he has made and whether he is willing to turn those over first and then whether in your mind you need to do more than done in the Iran deal for actually dismantling the uranium and plutonium processes and if you had a sense if Chairman Kim understood what that involves and a timetable in his mind of shutting that?
Trump retorted: “I can tell you he understands. He understands it so well. He understands it better than the people that were doing the work for him. That is an easy one. As far as what he has, it is substantial. The timing will go quickly…. It is a substantial arsenal. I used to say maybe it is all talk and no action. We have pretty good intelligence into that, although probably less than any other country. You probably understand that. We have enough intelligence to know what they have is substantial.”
In a positive, almost lyrical passage, unusually sensitive for the usually brash US President, Trump said
“Chairman Kim has an opportunity like no other. To be remembered as the leader who ushered in a glorious new era of security and prosperity for his people. Chairman Kim and I just signed a joint statement which he reaffirmed his unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
We also agreed to vigorous negotiations to implement the agreement as soon as possible. He wants to do that. This is not the past. This is not another administration that never got it started. And therefore never got it done. Chairman Kim says North Korea is also destroying a major missile engine testing site. That’s not in your signed document. We agreed to that after the agreement was signed. That’s a big thing. The missiles they were testing. The site will be destroyed very soon.
We dream of a future where all Koreans can live together in harmony and where families are reunited and hopes are reborn and where the light of peace chases away the darkness of war. This bright future is within and this is what is happening. It is right there. It is within our reach. It’s going to be there. It will happen. People thought this could never take place. It is now taking place. It is a very great day.”
Another US Presidential press conference on Korea, almost 70 years earlier, on November 30, 1950 contained much different revelations.
On Nov.30 in 1950, President Harry S. Truman declined to rule out using nuclear weapons to prevent South Korea from being overrun by Chinese troops.
President Harry S. Truman declined to rule out using nuclear weapons to prevent South Korea from being overrun by Chinese communist troops. At the time, China had recently joined North Korea in a fierce counterattack on United Nations military forces, most of them from the United States.
During a news conference, Truman accused the Soviet Union of orchestrating the Chinese incursion over the Yalu River into North Korea in a bid to spread communism throughout East Asia. The president pledged to “increase our defenses to a point where we can talk — as we should always talk — with authority.”
A reporter asked Truman what he would do if the Chinese nationalists on Taiwan became involved in the Korean conflict. The president declined to respond. Instead, he asserted that the United States would take “whatever steps were necessary” to stop the Communist onslaught.
Another reporter then asked, “Will that include the atomic bomb?”
“That includes every weapon that we have,” Truman replied. The president, however, went on to say that he wanted to see the bomb never used again, saying “it is a terrible weapon, and it should not be used on innocent men, women and children.”
Before leaving office in 1953, with the war mired in a stalemate, Truman told Congress, “we are being hurried forward, in our mastery of the atom … toward yet unforeseeable peaks of destructive power [when humans could] destroy the very structure of a civilization. … Such a war is not a possible policy for rational men.” https://www.politico.com/story/2017/11/30/truman-leaves-nuclear-option-on-the-table-in-korean-conflict-nov-30-1950-264580
Korea was run by a US Military Government from 1945 to 1948, a situation that inevitably deeply shaped post-war Korean history . Historian Bruce Cummings of the University of Chicago stresses the importance of the atrocious massacres of war on the peninsula, and the American incendiary bombing campaigns.
The Korean War, which officially began in 1950, ended with a tense armistice in 1953, and saw as many as 327,000 US troops were engaged there. Today, with Korea still partitioned into a democratic south and a communist north, 37,500 U.S. troops remain in South Korea, most of them stationed near the demilitarized zone that divides the two countries.
According to Professor Cumings, the United States became mired in a civil war between the North, whose leader Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong-un, had gallantly fought against the Japanese in Manchuria starting in 1932, and the South, whose leadership consisted largely of collaborators with the Japanese occupation. According to Cumings, the North Koreans “essentially saw the war in 1950 as a way to settle the hash of the top command of the South Korean Army, nearly all of whom had served the Japanese.”
(‘The 38th Parallel, book review, New York Times, September 8, 2010; https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/12/books/review/Heilbrunn-t.html)
A New York Times review of Cumings’s book demonstrates that the Korean War was a civil war with long, tangled historical roots, one in which the US had little business meddling. He notes how “appallingly dirty” the war was. In terms of civilian slaughter, he declares, “our ostensibly democratic ally was the worst offender, contrary to the American image of the North Koreans as fiendish terrorists.”
(‘The Korean War: A History’, by Bruce Cumings; New York Times, July 21, 2010; https://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/22/books/22book.html)
President Trump’s team still has much delicate fence mending to do
Bruce Cumings is a historian at the University of Chicago; the author of several books, including a doorstop two-volume history entitled “The Origins of the Korean War”; and a gifted controversialist. He distills his work in his primer, “The Korean War,”