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The Real Korean Question

by | Jul 15, 2019

The Real Korean Question

by | Jul 15, 2019

Last year in June, Donald Trump met with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, in Singapore. Said Trump,

We’re very proud of what took place today. I think our whole relationship with North Korea and the Korean Peninsula is going to be a very much different situation than it has been in the past.

We both want to do something. We both are going to do something. And we have developed a very special bond. So people are going to be impressed. People will be very happy and we’re going to take care of a very big and very dangerous problem for the world. I want to thank Chairman Kim.

Earlier this year, in February, Trump met with Kim Jong Un in Vietnam. However, their summit ended early when no agreement on ending sanctions and denuclearization was reached between the two heads of state. “Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that,” said Trump. “He wants to denuke; he just wants to do areas that are less important than what we want,” he said of Kim. He described his relationship with the Korean dictator as still “very warm.”

Just recently, Trump met for the third time with Kim Jong Un and became the first U.S. president to set foot on North Korean soil. The two leaders then spoke for nearly an hour at the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Although Trump initially claimed that his invitation to meet Kim was spontaneous, he later acknowledged that it was “long planned.”

Some of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates took issue with Trump’s recent meeting with Kim Jong Un. The Joe Biden campaign released a statement saying, “President Trump’s coddling of dictators at the expense of American national security and interests is one of the most dangerous ways he’s diminishing us on the world stage and subverting our values as a nation.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted, “Our President shouldn’t be squandering American influence on photo ops and exchanging love letters with a ruthless dictator. Instead, we should be dealing with North Korea through principled diplomacy that promotes US security, defends our allies, and upholds human rights.”

Some Republicans took issue with President Trump as well. Meghan McCain criticized Trump for being “chummy” with “the closest thing to Hitler’s Germany that exists in modern time.” But others defended him, even though they previously criticized Barack Obama for saying that he would meet with Kim Jong Un.

Liberals and conservatives of every variety all across the country are asking a number of questions that express many concerns about Trump, Kim, and North Korea:

Should Trump have met with Kim in Singapore and Vietnam?

Should Trump invite Kim to the United States?

Should Trump have set foot on North Korean soil?

Should Trump have met with Kim in the DMZ?

Is Trump too friendly with dictators?

Should Trump be more firm with North Korea?

Should Trump go back to North Korea?

Is Kim another Hitler?

Is the United States appeasing Kim?

Should Trump meet again with Kim in a neutral country?

Should the United States and North Korea make some kind of an agreement?

Can Kim be trusted to keep any agreement he signs?

Should the United States impose more sanctions on North Korea?

Should the United States lift its sanctions on North Korea?

Is North Korea a threat to South Korea?

Is North Korea a threat to the United States?

Should the United States continue to conduct joint military exercises with South Korea?

Should Trump have made an issue of human rights abuses in North Korea?

Should Trump have pressed Kim more forcefully on what happened to Otto Warmbier when he was imprisoned by North Korea?

Should the United States pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons?

Some of these questions are no doubt legitimate questions that even otherwise like-minded people will disagree on. But in the grand scheme of things, they are all utterly irrelevant. When it comes to Korea, there is one far more important question that needs to be asked: What are U.S. troops still doing in South Korea? That is the real Korean question.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the United States encouraged Japanese dominance in Korea and Manchuria. Later, during World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union collaborated in driving Japan out of Korea and occupying the Korean peninsula. Korea was divided at the 38th parallel, with the Soviets occupying the north and the Americans occupying the south. Separate governments were eventually established. After months of repeated incursions across the 38th parallel by forces from the north and south, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) invaded the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in 1950.

President Harry Truman responded by sending U.S. troops to fight for South Korea in a “police action.” There was no U.S. declaration of war against North Korea. There was not even a congressional authorization for the president to use force, as when George W. Bush invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. Sen. Robert Taft (R-Ohio), one of the few Republicans in Congress who objected to Truman’s unconstitutional action, remarked, “The president is usurping his powers as commander in chief. There is no legal authority for what he has done. If the president can intervene in Korea without congressional approval, he can go to war in Malaya or Indonesia or Iran or South America.”

The war ended in a stalemate in 1953 with the country still divided at the 38th parallel, but not until more than 36,000 American soldiers died for absolutely nothing. The United States has had its troops in South Korea ever since. There are currently about 30,000 U.S. soldiers stationed there.


According to The World Factbook, published by the CIA, North Korea “faces chronic economic problems”:

Industrial capital stock is nearly beyond repair as a result of years of underinvestment, shortages of spare parts, and poor maintenance. Large-scale military spending and development of its ballistic missile and nuclear program severely draws off resources needed for investment and civilian consumption. Industrial and power outputs have stagnated for years at a fraction of pre-1990 levels. Frequent weather-related crop failures aggravated chronic food shortages caused by on-going systemic problems, including a lack of arable land, collective farming practices, poor soil quality, insufficient fertilization, and persistent shortages of tractors and fuel.

The mid 1990s through mid-2000s were marked by severe famine and widespread starvation.

A large portion of the population continues to suffer from prolonged malnutrition and poor living conditions.

Compared with North Korea, South Korea has a much larger population, a much larger military, a much higher life expectancy, a much lower infant mortality rate, and a huge advantage in GDP.

All U.S. troops should have left South Korea decades ago. The United States should not concern itself in any way with anything that happens on the Korean peninsula. If South Korea thinks it needs more weapons to protect itself against North Korea, then U.S. defense contractors will be more than happy to sell them. If South Korea thinks it needs more soldiers to defend itself against North Korea, then former U.S. soldiers will be willing to hire themselves out as mercenaries.

What are U.S. troops still doing in South Korea? That is the real Korean question. It is the real Korean question in 2019 just as it was the real Korean question in 1999, 1979, and 1959. Will U.S. troops ever leave the Korean peninsula? They are still in Germany years after the demise of communist East Germany and the reunification of Germany.

Republished from

Laurence Vance

Laurence Vance

Laurence M. Vance is a columnist and policy adviser for the Future of Freedom Foundation, an associated scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and a columnist, blogger, and book reviewer at He is also the author of Social Insecurity and The War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom. His newest books are War, Christianity, and the State: Essays on the Follies of Christian Militarism and War, Empire, and the Military: Essays on the Follies of War and U.S. Foreign Policy.

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