Duped in North Korea: From Obama's Mentor to Jimmy Carter

The North Korea situation is not going away. Personally, I'm sympathetic to the complexities of the situation. I've dealt with it since the early 1990s, beginning at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. I had few answers then, and still few today.

What I do know, however, is that much of the American left has been misled on North Korea since the very division of the peninsula in the early 1950s. The left has suffered two threats in particular -- call them "internal": First, there was the deception and manipulation by the communist left, which, by its nature, refused to openly acknowledge that it was communist and serving the Communist Party line. Second, there was dangerous self-delusion and gullibility among some leading Democrats. As to the first, there's the case of Frank Marshall Davis; on the second, there's Jimmy Carter.

As I've written here and elsewhere, Frank Marshall Davis was a mentor to Barack Obama and an actual CPUSA member. The Senate Judiciary Committee asked Davis about that association in 1956, under oath, where Davis pleaded the Fifth Amendment. No matter -- the next year, the Senate, in a report titled "Scope of Soviet Activity in the United States," definitively listed Davis as an "identified member of the Communist Party." (Click here to view the documents at my website.)

Only recently, with the declassification of Davis's 600-page FBI file, can we see the evidence. In my book, Dupes, on page 507, I reprint an FBI document that features Davis's Communist Party number: 47544.

As to the point of Korea, I found all the columns Davis wrote for the Honolulu Record, the CPUSA organ in Hawaii, in 1950. That was the period when Korea erupted into a hot war that killed tens of thousands of American boys, with the peninsula divided into a communist north and non-communist south.

Many American liberals/progressives were unsure where to stand on U.S. involvement, even as President Harry Truman, a Democrat, sent troops. For communists, however, this was a no-brainer: They wanted no U.S. involvement because they wanted all of Korea to be communist, following Red China's recent path. This was the Stalinist line, the Maoist line, and the worldwide communist line. Thus, American communists ridiculed the very idea of U.S. engagement as a McCarthyite manifestation of paranoid anti-communism, as an "inordinate fear" of communism, as U.S. imperialism, as Uncle Sam sticking his nose where it didn't belong, as...well, whatever worked.

For Frank Marshall Davis, this stance is evident in a February 9, 1950 piece he wrote for the Honolulu Record, where he accused President Truman of "manufacturing crises" for the sake of Big Business and U.S. imperialism. This was the standard party line for Davis. Most interesting about this piece, however, is how Davis applied the assertion to two countries that today remain our most persistent challenges: North Korea and Iran.

"Temporarily balked but not defeated, our dividend diplomats, with the willing hands of President Truman, went into the crisis-making business," wrote Davis. "If Molotov coughed, it threatened our 'security' in Iran. If Vishinsky laughed, we were 'endangered' in Korea."

This was, maintained Davis, a bunch of bluster, a phony "propaganda barrage" by Truman, as were the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the creation of NATO, all of which Davis (following Moscow's lead) adamantly opposed. "We manufacture crises so rapidly," claimed Davis, "that a new one is shoved in front of us before we can examine yesterday's or the one rushed in this morning."

And Korea, insisted Davis, was the latest such case.

How many liberals/progressives fell for this communist line? How many Americans communists pushed the line?

Well, without delineating which were liberals/progressives or communists, dupes or dupers, among those strongly against our Korea involvement were playwright Arthur Miller, the ACLU's Corliss Lamont, and Hollywood writers like Dalton Trumbo and the snarling Lillian Hellman.

The communist left didn't stop pushing this line until the north was firmly in communist hands. It has been a murderous dungeon ever since, run by two lunatics from the Kim family. These two men, of course, can't be trusted, which brings me to my second case, involving Jimmy Carter.

In June 1994, Carter visited North Korea. He was hosted by Kim Il-sung, a tyrant, who died mere days later. And yet, Carter reported that Kim was "vigorous, alert, [and] intelligent" and had engaged in "very free discussions with his ministers." Kim spearheaded a militantly atheistic regime, which jailed Christians; Carter, however, discovered a Kim "very friendly toward Christianity."

For the impressionable ex-president, Kim provided the full Potemkin village treatment. To say Carter was suckered is an understatement. He wrote this report:

People are busy. They work 48 hours a week. ... We found Pyongyang to be a bustling city. The only difference is that during working hours there are very few people on the street. They all have jobs or go to school. And after working hours, they pack the department stores, which Rosalynn visited. I went in one of them. It's like Wal-Mart in American stores on a Saturday afternoon. They all walk around in there, and they seem in fairly good spirits. Pyongyang at night looks like Times Square. They are really heavily into bright neon lights and pictures and things like that.

Of course, in truth, North Korea is draped in darkness, as well-known satellite photos attest (click here). Worse, within just one year of this incredibly gullible appraisal by Carter, 10%-15% of the North Korean population (two to three million people) starved to death -- the worst famine in modern times.

Adding insult to injury, a few years after that, North Korea announced that it was a nuclear state, a direct violation of the "Agreed Framework" brokered by Carter in 1994. Then, Carter triumphantly assured us that "the crisis is over" -- words headlined by both the New York Times and Washington Post.

Needless to say, the crisis was far from over. And when George W. Bush, saddled with this agreement, which North Korea was clearly violating, declared the Kim regime part of an "axis of evil," Carter protested. "I think it will take years before we can repair the damage done by that statement," sniffed Carter.

No, it will take years before we can repair the damage done by Carter's mistakes, from North Korea to Iran.

I don't have the answer for resolving the North Korea situation, but I do know what hasn't helped. Jimmy Carter hasn't, and neither did the communist left, embodied by the likes of Frank Marshall Davis.

In both cases, America has been poorly served. It doesn't help that we've been duped, first by communists who concealed their loyalties and intentions from their liberal/progressive "friends" -- as Korea was split in two -- and then by the ever-present naïveté that has plagued Jimmy Carter's judgment for decades. Deception and delusion on the left have exacerbated an already complex situation.

Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism and the newly released Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.
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