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First Monday

Public Affairs


BECA professor: North Korea conflict an 'Incomplete War'

July 25, 2003

Photo of the signing of the armistice that ended the Korean War 50 years agoAfter co-producing a documentary on the possibility of a war between the United States and North Korea, Chul Heo -- an assistant professor of broadcast and electronic communication arts -- is concerned that President Bush will commit to a war if he is re-elected in 2004.

"After facing criticism of the Iraq war, he doesn't want to face more," says Heo, a Seoul, South Korea, native who has taught at SFSU since 2000.

Heo believes that the only reason Bush doesn't move forward with pre-emptive strikes now is that it would hurt the president's odds of being re-elected.

The four-hour documentary aired nationwide on a major South Korea television network earlier this month. The title, translated into English, is "Incomplete War: 50 Years After the Korean War."

The conflict between the United States and North Korea elevated in October, when alleged evidence was found that North Korea had launched a program to enrich uranium, which can be used in nuclear weapons. If true, this violates a 1994 agreement, when North Korea promised to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for oil and energy assistance. When the uranium evidence was found, the United States immediately stopped shipping oil to North Korea.

Photo of Chul Heo and anti-war activist Brian WilsonHeo says that tensions between North Korea and the United States can be traced to the Korean War, which ended 50 years ago on July 27. Although the United Nations (led by the United States), North Korea and China signed an armistice that ended the fighting, there has been no permanent resolution. The temporary armistice was meant to pave the way for a peace treaty, but it never happened. Violent clashes between North and South Korea continue to occur near a designated demilitarized zone at the border of the two countries.

Because there is still no peace treaty, the United States can attack unilaterally without U.N. approval. About 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

Heo doesn't agree with arguments by President Bush and Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle, who Heo interviewed for "Incomplete War," in favor of an attack on North Korea. They claim that North Korea's alleged possession of nuclear weapons and North Korea leader Kim Jong-il's oppression of the country's citizens are justifications for war.

"These 'hardliners' have a very simplistic view. They are using the same rhetoric as with the Iraq war," Heo says, noting that Israel possesses nuclear weapons, but is a U.S. ally. "The whole rhetoric is based on the U.S. government's information and the huge influence of right-wing politicians in D.C."

Heo, who moved to the United States in 1992 and now lives in Burlingame, believes war and destruction can be prevented if the United States withdraws its military presence from the Korean peninsula in exchange for North Korea pulling back its military from the South Korea border.

For the documentary, Heo interviewed about 30 prominent journalists, university professors, anti-war activists, American war veterans, and politicians. He hopes that through the documentary South Koreans are able to gain a better understanding of the many views that Americans have of the conflict and help stem a growing anti-American sentiment.

Heo, who teaches courses in media aesthetics, plans to revise the documentary for a U.S. audience on PBS by December. Ultimately, he hopes it helps Americans better understand the conflict and influences foreign policy.

"I am wishing for peace and genuine democracy both in America and Korea," he says.

-- Matt Itelson


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Last modified July 25, 2003, by the Office of Public Affairs