Most people are unaware of the number of civilian casualties inflicted on the people of North Korea during the Korean War from June 1950 until July 1953.

The allies in that war (United States, United Kingdom, Turkey, India, France, Greece, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Thailand, South Africa, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and of course South Korea) are responsible for the dropping of 635,000 tons of bombs including 32,557 tons of napalm on 78 cities, towns and villages of North Korea.

This compares with 503,000 tons of bombs dropped by the US in the entire Pacific war which included the bombing of Japan.

According to General Curtis LeMay this bombing killed 20 per cent of the North Korean population. According to some accounts only two modern buildings were left standing in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.


Take a moment to think about the consequences of having your city or town bombed in this manner. Nothing like this intensity of bombing was inflicted on the people of Germany and Japan during World War II.

I think it is arguable that the long-term effect of this ordeal by blast and fire on the psyche of the people of North Korea could be similar to the effect the holocaust had on the psyche of Jewish survivors of the holocaust and of Jewish people in general.

Jewish people were entitled to think that the world had abandoned them once, and one of the reasons Israel developed nuclear weapons was to cover the possibility that the world could abandon them yet again.

It is entirely understandable that after their ordeal by blast and fire that the North Koreans felt similarly vulnerable, and this explains why they have been prepared to suffer great material deprivation to enable them to develop nuclear weapons.

It is important to note that while the American Air Force actually carried out most of this bombing it was a combined decision of the combatants involved which authorised it. All of the countries mentioned above share the responsibility for what happened to the people of North Korea.

In the interests of providing a circuit breaker in the current stand-off between North Korea and the United States could now be the time for the Korean War combatants on the side of South Korea to issue a formal expression of regret for what happened to the people of North Korea as a result of the bombing campaign?

The purpose of this expression of regret would be to communicate to the people of North Korea that the world does now have an understanding of the ordeal they suffered.

Many countries, not just the combatants against North Korea, would almost certainly be prepared to join in the expression of sympathy for the North Korean people. This could be the first step in a pathway to some sort of independent mediation process between North Korea and the United States.

The current state of relations between North Korea and the United States has been pushed to a new level of seriousness by President Trump's utterly irresponsible comment that the present period is the "calm before the storm".

Fortunately the North Koreans have not been goaded by this blatant provocation into any rash action.

But the fact that President Trump is prepared to make such a risky and ill-judged comment indicates that it is time for the community of sensible nations (which normally includes the United States) to show some initiative in resolving what can now only be described as a crisis.

The first action of the New Zealand Government which will form in the next few days should be to seek support at the United Nations for the kind of circuit breaker process that could bring about mediation and hopefully resolution of the crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

• David Stevenson is a freelance writer in Wellington.