on 14 August 2012
This is a fascinating study of the media portrayal of war, in particular, of the Korean War. Bruce Cumings is Professor of East Asian and International History at the University of Chicago and author of the best book on the Korean War, the two-volume Origins of the Korean War.
He argues that the supposed `objectivity' of the camera is a myth, and that television is a medium that necessarily makes points and takes sides, whatever its claims to impartial coverage of news events.
Cumings tells the story of the production of the Thames Television/Public Broadcasting System series, Korea: the unknown war, for which he was the main historical consultant.
He notes, "Then there was John Burton, mild-mannered professor of Political Science at George Mason University, who had been the very young head of the Australian Foreign Office in 1950. He told us of telegrams coming from South Korea to the Foreign Office just before the war broke out, reporting South Korea patrols crossing the border, trying to provoke the North Koreans. Dr Burton took these straight to the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister, `and we sent a very strongly worded telegram to the State Department', asking them to curb South Korea adventurism. Before a reply came back from Washington, the war began. ... Thereafter the telegrams, according to Dr Burton, disappeared from Australian Foreign Office files."
Cumings confirms, "in the British Foreign Office records, ... you'll find a cable, nicely preserved, saying that the Americans were trying to restrain hot-headed South Korea officers along the parallel, a few weeks before June 25."
The South sought to invade the North. Cumings points out that "the southern army had sought to occupy it [Haeju] more than a year earlier [i.e. in 1949], attacking across the parallel from Ongjin."
Cumings writes of "three years of genocidal bombing by the US Air Force which killed perhaps two million civilians (one-quarter of the population), dropped oceans of napalm, left barely a modern building standing, opened large dams to flood nearby rice valleys and kill thousands of peasants by denying them food, and went far beyond anything done in Vietnam in a conscious program of using air power to destroy a society ..." He rightly calls it "one of the most appalling, unrestrained, genocidal bombing campaigns in our genocidal twentieth century ..."