WASHINGTON – Having already invented “thousands” of parents who begged him to bring home the bodies of their Korean War veteran children, President Donald Trump is now inventing hundreds of such repatriations that haven’t actually happened.
The return of the remains of American service members who were killed in that war has become a major “victory” Trump likes to claim from his June 12 meeting in Singapore with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
“It was the last thing I asked,” he told a gathering of Nevada Republicans on Saturday. “I said, ‘Do you mind, would I be able to get the remains back of all those great heroes from so many years ago?’ And he said, ‘I will do that.’ And you probably read, they have already done 200 people. Which is so great.”
On Monday, Trump told a rally audience in South Carolina: “We’re getting the remains of our great heroes back.”
The only problem: No remains have yet been returned, and it is unclear when that might happen. “We have not yet physically received them,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, but said that he is “optimistic” it would take place “in the not-too-distant future.”
That explanation was not sufficient for Iraq War veteran Will Fischer, with the progressive veterans group VoteVets.
“It’s beyond the pale to lie about remains of fallen service persons already being returned, when they, in fact, haven’t been,” Fischer said. “Remains like these aren’t some prize, where you can make up some big fish stories. These are troops who died in war, and whose families have had no closure. He disrespected Gold Star families during the campaign, and he’s doing it now.”
“It’s beyond the pale to lie about remains of fallen service persons already being returned, when they, in fact, haven’t been. Remains like these aren’t some prize, where you can make up some big fish stories.”
The White House press office did not respond to HuffPost’s queries Thursday about why Trump was falsely claiming that bodies had been returned. They also did not provide the name of a single parent of a Korean War service member who had lobbied Trump.
Such parents, if they exist, would be of extremely advanced age. Fighting in Korea ended in 1953. A parent with a child killed there likely would have been at least 35 years old then ― and at least 100 years old today. Trump nevertheless claimed in a June 13 Fox News interview that “thousands” of such parents had asked him on the 2016 campaign trail for his help getting their children’s bodies home should he win the presidency. (According to the U.S. Census, there were only 53,364 centenarians alive in the entire country in 2010.)
Trump, whose penchant for falsehoods appears to have ramped up in recent weeks, has spun an entire series of unsubstantiated claims about the June 12 summit with Kim to portray it as a tremendous success.
“There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” he boasted in a June 13 tweet upon his return to Washington from Singapore.
Since then, Trump has, on numerous occasions, said that Kim has begun to “denuclearize,” thanks to the short communique they signed. “We signed a piece of paper and it was a beautiful piece of paper, it said we will denuke, we will this, we will that, we will get the remains back, we will do all of these things, a lot of things,” he told the South Carolina crowd.
North Korea, however, has not yet taken any steps to “denuclearize,” and, to the contrary, appears to be continuing work on a nuclear research facility. Further, the very word “denuclearize” is a North Korean term of art stretching back decades through the tenures of Kim’s father and grandfather, the two previous dictators. They had defined it as meaning that North Korea would give up its nuclear program when the rest of the world did so, or when the United States withdrew its troops from South Korea.
Trump also boasts that he was able to secure the release of three American hostages held by Kim’s totalitarian regime ― but fails to point out that it was Kim’s regime that took them hostage in the first place.
“He’s in his own private universe on this one,” said Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “He believes it’s all basically happened.”
In his Senate appearance Wednesday, Pompeo acknowledged that North Korea was still, in fact, a nuclear threat. But he defended Trump’s decision to give Kim a summit meeting ― something Kim’s father and grandfather had also wanted for the increased worldwide stature it would bring them.
“What the president intended there, I’m confident ― I’m confident what he intended there was: ‘We did reduce the threat,’” Pompeo told senators. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. We took the tension level down.”