Episode 02: The North Korea Memory Hole

Forgotten war crimes, broken promises, and the making of an official enemy

This is the video game-style image that accompanied a new cover article in The Atlantic entitled, “How to Deal With North Korea.”

Welcome to Episode 2 of the new media criticism podcast, Citations Needed.

The show is hosted by Adam Johnson and Nima Shirazi, political commentators and media analysts working to call bullshit on (usually corporate) media’s ubiquitous reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes and stereotypes.

Episode 2 features our first foray into the realm of the Official Enemy™, a staple of United States foreign policy discourse.

Citations Needed is produced by Josh Kross and Florence Barrau-Adams. Our theme song is ‘Nonphenomenal Lineage’ by Grandaddy.

The past few months have seen a significant increase in media coverage of North Korea, mainly — if not, exclusively—focused on its nuclear and missile programs. Emblematic of the tone of nearly all reports and commentary is a new cover story in The Atlantic, entitled “How to Deal With North Korea,” written by the magazine’s national correspondent Mark Bowden. In typically alarmist fashion, the piece opens with a horror story:

Thirty minutes. That’s about how long it would take a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launched from North Korea to reach Los Angeles. With the powers in Pyongyang working doggedly toward making this possible — building an ICBM and shrinking a nuke to fit on it — analysts now predict that Kim Jong Un will have the capability before Donald Trump completes one four-year term.

This narrative of a maniacally single-minded nuclear menace working tirelessly toward our annihilation is pervasive in the media. It is no wonder then that the American public continues to hold overwhelmingly negative attitudes towards North Korea. Recent polling indicates that four out of five Americans (80%) consider North Korea to be a threat to the security of the United States. Approximately 60% believe North Korea poses a “major” threat, while 37% think of the threat as “immediate.” One survey from May found that a whopping 87% of US voters were either very or somewhat concerned about “the situation in North Korea.”

Polls from this past Spring, even before the most recent ramp up in coverage and political posturing, found that two-thirds of respondents (66%) would favor US action to “stop and search North Korean ships for nuclear materials or arms,” while 43–48% would support “air strikes against military targets and suspected nuclear sites in North Korea.”

This North Korea “crisis” is a knotty one and, to be understood, requires a good primer on a history we aren’t often taught to fully appreciate. For this we turn to — among others — no-bullshit University of Chicago historian and author Bruce Cumings. Definitely check out his book. Many of our figures on early war casualties and recaps of New York Times racism comes from this book — many more details like it.

Another commentator who’s not affraid to buck conventional wisdom is our guest, veteran investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing.

Tim was raised in Japan and South Korea and has been covering the intersection of US foreign policy, national security and capitalism for over three-and-a-half decades. Tim is a contributor to The Nation and his work has appeared in many other publications, including Salon, Mother Jones, The Progressive, The Daily Beast and The New York Times. He’s also on Twitter.


Show Notes

Here’s some stuff mentioned or referenced during the show, or related to the topic in general. You know, in case you wanted to dig deeper.

The Crime of Korea

US Signal Corps | 1950 | Narrated by Humphrey Bogart

Lindsey Graham casually calling for mass slaughter in East Asia:

There’s No Evidence North Korea Has an H-Bomb — but NYT Knows Fear Sells Papers

Jim Naureckas | January 6, 2016 | Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting

A Lot of What You Know About North Korea Is Racist Nonsense

Andrew Dobbs | April 18, 2017 | Defiant

Western propaganda draws from a deep well of racist “yellow peril” prejudice to stoke irrational fears against this tiny, poor, isolated country, and it amplifies this paranoia with long-standing stereotypes of East Asian “oddity” to dehumanize North Koreans and justify U.S. aggression against them. [READ MORE…and this follow-up.]

Why Do North Koreans Hate Us? One Reason — They Remember the Korean War.

Mehdi Hasan | May 3, 2017 | The Intercept

How many Americans, for example, are aware of the fact that U.S. planes dropped on the Korean peninsula more bombs — 635,000 tons — and napalm — 32,557 tons — than during the entire Pacific campaign against the Japanese during World War II? How many Americans know that “over a period of three years or so,” to quote Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, “we killed off … 20 percent of the population”? [READ MORE]

Lockheed Martin-Funded Experts Agree: South Korea Needs More Lockheed Martin Missiles

Adam H. Johnson| May 8, 2017 | Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting

The U.S. war crime North Korea won’t forget

Blaine Harden | March 24, 2015 | The Washington Post

The story dates to the early 1950s, when the U.S. Air Force, in response to the North Korean invasion that started the Korean War, bombed and napalmed cities, towns and villages across the North. It was mostly easy pickings for the Air Force, whose B-29s faced little or no opposition on many missions. The bombing was long, leisurely and merciless, even by the assessment of America’s own leaders. [READ MORE]

Imperialism and The Interview: The Racist Dehumanization of North Korea

Jakob Pettersson | December 27, 2014 | Monthly Review Online

The Interview is not an innocent movie. Originally, the movie didn’t feature the DPRK, and was meant to portray a fake dictator and country, as in Sasha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator. A leaked confidential email from the hack, however, revealed that Sony had been in contact with the US-funded RAND Corporation, a key think-tank of the US “national security” establishment. The movie was also, according to the leaked conversations, discussed with a “very senior [official] in [the] State.”

Who’s Talking?

These are the hosts of Citations Needed

Adam H. Johnson is a media analyst for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. His writing has been featured in The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, Alternet and elsewhere.

Nima Shirazi is an editor for Muftah, a digital foreign affairs magazine. His political analysis has appeared in Salon, Truthout, Mic, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting and Al Jazeera English, among other outlets.