Paul  Kengor

North Korea is not an easy issue. I’ve dealt with it since the early 1990s, beginning at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. I had few answers then, and I still have few today.

It also is not a partisan issue. For over 60 years, Democrat and Republican presidents alike have suffered the daunting challenges posed by this belligerent dictatorship. Some responded weakly, some hawkishly, with neither party characterized by a single response. The first president to deal with North Korea, Harry Truman, a Democrat, was anything but timid, sending massive U.S. troops into a major war on the Korean peninsula, one that killed tens of thousands of American boys. It was just the start of a 60-year nightmare.

What is interesting, however, has been the long battle within the American left over North Korea. The left has suffered two threats in particular—call them “internal:” First, there was the deception and manipulation by the communist left, which, by its nature, refused to acknowledge it was serving the Communist Party line. Second, there was dangerous self-delusion and gullibility among some leading Democrats. As to the first, consider the instructive example of Frank Marshall Davis; on the second, consider Jimmy Carter.

As I’ve written before, Frank Marshall Davis was a mentor to Barack Obama, and an actual member of Communist Party USA. (Click here to view documents.) He did pro-Soviet propaganda work, particularly in his weekly Honolulu Record column. I have all of Davis’s columns for 1950, the year Korea erupted into war.

Many American liberals/progressives were unsure where to stand on U.S. involvement in Korea, even as President Truman, a Democrat, sent troops. For communists, however, this was a no-brainer: They wanted no U.S. involvement because they wanted all of Korea to be communist. This was the Stalinist line, the Maoist line, and the worldwide communist line. Thus, American communists ridiculed the very idea of U.S. engagement as paranoid, excessive anti-communism, as an “inordinate fear” of communism, as U.S. imperialism, as capitalist exploitation, as … well, whatever worked.




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