What troubles me most about a movie such as The Interview is that, rather than spur debate about the U.S.'s role in the world, it actually shuts down and forecloses such discussion. It does so by setting up a paper tiger in Kim Jung Un, the leader of North Korea, and allowing Americans to feel morally superior in terms of human rights and freedom.
Such self-congratulations were on full display Sunday night at The Golden Globes where North Korea -- including through a racist sketch involving Margaret Cho dressed as a North Korean soldier and engaging in offensive Asian stereotyping -- was the butt of a number of jokes.
First of all, it seems to me that while many seem to believe otherwise, setting up Kim Jung Un as a target of derision is not exactly a courageous or controversial thing to do in this country where there seems to be universal disdain of Mr. Kim.
However, the process of demonizing Mr. Kim, and making his gruesome murder the punchline of a joke as The Interview does, allows Americans to do what they have been doing for decades -- ignoring the terrible and gruesome things that the U.S. did to the people of Korea and others in the Asian continent, such as in Vietnam.
Many have described the Korean conflict of the 1950s as the "forgotten war." And, the truth is that most in the U.S. would like to forget the Korean war because the U.S. conducted itself in an unforgivable way during that conflict, carrying out what a number of scholars believe was genocide against Korean civilians. It is that reality which Americans must come to grips with -- as we self-righteously urge so many others to come to grips with their own human rights violations -- but it is that reality which movies like The Interview actively encourage us to keep ignoring.
If one would like to start thinking about the U.S.'s own misdeeds in Korea, a good place to start is a paper written by Dong Choon Kim, a Professor of Sociology at Sungkonghoe University in Seoul, South Korea, and former Standing Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Korea. This paper, published in the Journal of Genocide Research, and entitled, "Forgotten War, forgotten massacres - the Korea War (1950-1953) as licensed mass killings," challenges long-held beliefs in the U.S. that the Korean War was somehow a good and righteous war that the U.S. fought. As Dong Choon Kim shows, it was anything but.
Professor Kim illuminates forgotten truths about the Korean War. Thus, he explains that (1) the war was greatly inspired by the U.S.'s efforts in Korea from 1945 to 1950 to restore fascist and dictatorial military leaders who had been trained by the Japanese, just as the U.S. had supported fascist restoration in Greece after World War II; (2) the U.S. provided critical military support to these rightist leaders in South Korea to carry out a "white terror" which included the murder of at least 100,000 Koreans between 1945 and the outbreak of the war in 1950, and the jailing of about 20,000 more who were later summarily killed; and (3) the U.S., fueled by anti-Asian racism, engaged in the indiscriminate slaughter of thousands of Korean civilians, numerous rapes of Korean women and the wholesale destruction of major Korean cities through massive aerial bombardment which included the large-scale use of napalm and incendiary bombs.
As Professor Kim explains:
According to the witnesses, US air and ground forces shot at children, women and aged people who were easily distinguishable as unarmed civilians. North Korean authorities have long accused American troops of 'criminal acts' before and after the outbreak of the Korean War. They maintained that the US army killed more than a million innocent civilians by bombing, shooting, and the use of napalm and chemical weapons. . . . [And] the facts on the ground force us not to discount their veracity.
Professor Kim further notes that, "the U.S. soldiers killed civilian refugees lacking even a modicum of self-defense, including women and children, even when no North Korean soldiers or grass-root guerilla forces threatened them." And, he emphasizes "that the number of unarmed civilians killed under ROK [South Korean] and US command overwhelms those killed at the hands of North Korean command, contrary to the public knowledge about the Korean War atrocities."
Professor Kim quite rightly concludes that the whole-sale atrocities committed by the U.S. during the Korean War foreshadowed, and help us to understand, the U.S.'s countless atrocities in later wars, such as in Vietnam (for example at Mai Lai and in other numerous massacres) and in Latin America as well. A recent book by Korean scholar, Bruce Cummings, entitled, The Korean War: A History fully supports the conclusions of Professor Kim, and opines that the U.S. was engaged in a racist, genocidal campaign in Korea.
As Cummings poignantly notes,
What hardly any Americans know or remember . . . is that we carpet-bombed the North for three years with next to no concern for civilian casualties. Even fewer will feel any connection to this. Yet when foreigners visit North Korea, this is the first thing they hear about the war. The air assaults ranged from the widespread and continual use of firebombing to threats to use nuclear and chemical weapons, finally to the destruction of huge North Korean dams in the last stages of the war. It was an application of the air campaigns against Japan and Germany, except that North Korea was a small Third World country that lost control of the air to the United States within days of the war's start.
In short, the U.S. has absolutely nothing to be proud of when it comes to its treatment of the Korean people. And, to use a low-brow film such as The Interview as an occasion to somehow feel morally superior to a poor nation which has suffered greatly at our hands, but which we have never compensated for our crimes, simply demonstrates our own moral failings and, in truth, primes the American public for the next unjust war against Third World peoples.