Sheng Li (gmachine1729) wrote,
Sheng Li
gmachine1729

Some thoughts on Korean War and the Cold War in general

Originally published at 狗和留美者不得入内. You can comment here or there.

In a documentary, esteemed historian Shen Zhihua claims that it was only after Stalin’s death in March 1953 that the Soviet leadership wanted to end the war, while Mao much due to finished upgrades in the PVA wanted to continue it. However, knowing that Soviet could withdraw aid, Mao agreed with some regret on the armistice. Shen claims that after Battle of Kumsong, Mao was confident that his army could eventually at least push the UN forces to the Nakdong River.

Given that Eisenhower did threaten to use nuclear weapons on the northeast of China near Korea, some believe that it contributed much to signing of the armistice. I however doubt that Mao would have taken that threat seriously and may well have called the bluff. As for the reason, in spite of all the media hype about the possibility of nuclear war destroying the world and even the entire human race, one ought to realistically consider that the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombs had a radius of total destruction of about 1.5 km. Nobody had a deployable hydrogen bomb in 1953, which has a radius of total destruction about 10x higher. There is also that I doubt America would have actually used nuclear weapons despite threatening so, out of international relations concerns, especially with Western Europe. Reality is that the atomic bombs on Hiroshima/Nagasaki did not do as much to end the war as the allied naval blockade and the Soviet invasion of Manchuria. They did however result in the American public’s gross overestimation of the extent of destruction of nuclear weapons. At the same time, they resulted in general overestimation of America’s military might in much of world. It was publicized in 1982 that America’s nuclear delivery capability between 1945-1950 was rather limited in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. See https://sci-hub.scihubtw.tw/10.1080/00963402.1982.11455736. Some even wonder why America did not use nuclear weapons on USSR before USSR got the bomb in 1949. The answer is that America was not able to. I have written about this in detail at https://gmachine1729.wpcomstaging.com/2021/02/07/why-america-was-not-capable-of-using-nuclear-weapons-against-ussr-in-1945-1950/. Only 13 bombs in mid-1947, perhaps fewer aircraft able to deliver them.

According to Shen Zhihua and that documentary, by 1953, the PRC army had acquired significant military hardware (from USSR), and military experience and logistical support had been vastly improved. Navy and air force had been deployed too, producing some PRC ace pilots. While many might talk about how much worse equipped the Chinese were in the war, I am inclined to believe that was only so in its earlier stage. The situation vastly changed once PRC acquired much better military hardware and associated training from USSR.

The documentary did mention that none of Stalin’s possible successors, which included Malenkov, Molotov, Beria, and Khrushchev were as strong as Mao, as a leader (albeit of two countries of vastly different strength). Mao did not take them as seriously as he took Stalin. This reminds me of how I had been told by a person in the old generation that had Stalin lived 10 more years, China would have developed much better. Now, I am thinking maybe if Stalin had lived 5 more years, South Korea would have ended up entering the socialist camp. It happened with South Vietnam, which Soviet/PRC backed North Vietnam eventually won over militarily. However, that was during period of Sino-Soviet split, if not for which USSR/PRC may well have won the Cold War.

Certainly, Russia/China is poised to win the Second Cold War. Ironically, after the USSR disintegrated, many Chinese in PRC turned towards America, while Fukuyama’s “end of history theory” became mainstream. Many Chinese only saw how much poorer China was than America, and it never occurred to them how much could change in 30 years. The Cold War was considered won by America, and the socialism/Marxism/Leninism was regarded by many to have been discredited. But maybe that the Cold War is not over but fought in a different way, as professed by former East German leader Egon Krenz, is a more realistic view. Though China and Russia have incorporated private enterprise into their economies, the system at the core remains socialist. There are billionaires, but they don’t have all that much of a say in media or politics, and unpopular ones like Jack Ma are widely cursed on the internet. Socialism vs capitalism is not binary; instead it is a complex spectrum. Moreover, in spite of growing American influence in Russia and China after 1990, the legacy of socialist system remains strong. Russia tried American economic advice in 90s and ultimately rejected it. Moreover, the disastrous Russian experience in the 90s, which made clear that America simply cannot be trusted, only made Sino-Russian rapprochement and near-alliance more durable. This, along with American post-Cold War hubris, has precipitated long term American decline.

Though America seemed mostly ahead during Cold War, one ought to note that given how USSR and especially PRC had much lower starting points in addition to arguably an advantage in land and population size, the socialist bloc in some sense had much more growth potential. This only became more so the more development of science and technology reached its bottleneck. Considering how the scientific and industrial revolutions had originated in the West, it was more or less expected that in 1945, the West would remain visibly ahead.

In the Anglo world at least, the Cold War is much centered on the idea of proof of the superiority of capitalism and liberal democracy to “communism”. Seldom mentioned is that the socialist system took root in Russia and China much due to their backwardness in development. After all, the economic and political systems of capitalism and liberal democracy were very much products of the Scientific Revolution and Industrial Revolution that had put the West leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the world. So in some sense, the inherent superiority of capitalism and liberal democracy towards socialism and Leninism cannot be proved by America’s “winning the Cold War” when the latter began much lower in its level of science, technology, industry, and economic wealth. In fact, that Russia and China since 1990 when the difference in level of development with the West and Japan was much lower than in 1945 and especially so for China have more or less fully caught up and even surpassed the West in many respects signals otherwise.

In light of how Scientific Revolution and Industrial Revolution spawned capitalism and liberal democracy in the West, and industrial backwardness and military loss spawned Leninism and socialism in USSR/PRC, the former superficially seems like an inherently superior system. However, if one looks more closely and solely at the direction of causation in the aforementioned, it is apparent the economic and political systems and their associated ideologies are not responsible for neither development or wealth nor backwardness or poverty. Moreover, if one restricts to after the October Revolution in 1917, one cannot but reach the conclusion that capitalism coupled with liberal democracy has mostly resulted in more backwardness and poverty while socialism coupled with Leninism has resulted in rapid development. As for the former’s destructiveness, one can look at the Great Depression in the West and the 90s in Russia. As for the rapid development brought about by the latter, one can look at Stalinist USSR and Maoist PRC. Another such contrast is post-2000 Russia/China vs West.

It is well arguable that from the economic depression in the 30s to about 1980, America and Western Europe, which began well ahead in accumulated wealth and technical expertise, adjusted themselves more to the Soviets economically and culturally than the other way round. This was much due to the experience of economic depression that was a major catalyst for Nazism and World War II, and later Cold War pressure from the Soviet Union. Once Cold War pressure was perceived to be gone, America in domestic and foreign policy in a sense much regressed. From all this, one can argue that as an antidote to Russia’s backwardness in science, industry, and wealth, Lenin and the Bolsheviks drawing upon ideas of Marx founded a revolutionary political and economic system in Russia, one which was initially met with skepticism by many. However, after USSR rapidly industrialized and modernized under Stalin, a product of which was the ultimate defeat of the advanced and powerful Nazi war machine mostly by the USSR, the Anglo-Americans who at the core resented the USSR and its ideology were threatened by it. The very same system and ideology was indirectly exported to China, which the Chinese communists adapted to Chinese conditions. Under it, the initially utterly backwards PRC succeeded militarily against US in Korea and later in rapid industrialization and modernization. Despite disintegration of the USSR that came with much loss of confidence worldwide, China with strong remnants of this system and ideology intact continued to develop very successfully, which alongside reestablished Sino-Russian ties became an even bigger headache for the West. This is more evidence for the durability, resilience, and adaptability of the socialist system and its ideology, the genius of both the vision and actual political execution of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, and what could be argued as a more advanced economic and political system.

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