Koreas | Pressing germ warfare charges, Pyongyang exchanges old story for new

Pressing germ warfare charges, Pyongyang exchanges old story for new

June 5, 2015 1:53 PM (UTC+8)

 

By Bradley K. Martin

Nagano, Japan – Responding to the news that the American military – accidentally, it said – had shipped live samples of anthrax to a U.S. Air Force base in Osan, South Korea, among other places, North Korea’s official media lost no time in alleging “a U.S. criminal scenario to exterminate the entire Korean nation even by resorting to an evil bacteriological weapon made of anthrax germ.”

The charge by Rodong Shinmun, the official Korean Workers’ Party newspaper, was predictable enough. Much less predictable was that in conveying that charge abroad in English, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency mentioned nothing about six-decade-old charges that the U.S. had engaged in biological warfare during the Korean War.

Previously Pyongyang had stuck tenaciously to its version of the Korean War story – even after American historians in 1998 reported having obtained copies of what they determined were official Soviet documents showing that the charges from the early 1950s were a hoax, part of a disinformation plan.

As recently as 2010, North Korea invited reporters from Al Jazeera and Britain’s Telegraph to interview alleged surviving witnesses to American germ-bombing.

One possibility is that Pyongyang’s propagandists are wising up. Maybe they have realized that recycling the Korean War allegations is a bad idea when evidence keeps piling up against them and fewer and fewer foreigners any longer credit them. Historian Kathryn Weathersby, updating her 1998 report, emailed Friday that, although the originals of the documents in question still have not been released in Russia, “we received verbal confirmation from a Russian archivist that the copies are accurate.”

But there’s also another factor. South Korean press reports say that the anthrax shipment in question, whether it was accidental or not, fits into a broader and currently ongoing U.S. program at Osan and elsewhere to prepare defenses against North Korean chemical-biological weapons.

Biochemical warfare experiments at U.S. bases in South Korea? Yippee! Pyongyang – whose strategy focuses on splitting South Korean and American public opinion – is having great fun stirring that pot without any immediate need to hark back to the ancient Korean War allegations.

Veteran Asia correspondent Bradley K. Martin is the author of Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty

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