The DMZ is probably one of the tensest locations on the planet where North and South Korea have faced each other down since 1953. Against a complicated foreign policy challenge Southern Baptist’s Robert Jeffress in the summer of 2017 claimed that God gave Donald Trump the authority to go to war and take out Kim Jung Un. This post is an overview of the Korean War, touches on Christian nationalism and asks the question. Is Robert Jeffress any different than Osama Bin Laden in making such claims? What could a Korean War look like in 2018 or 2019?
“When I was six, the Korean War broke out, and all the classrooms were destroyed by war. We studied under the trees or in whatever buildings were left.“
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon
“We do not want to see the conflict in Korea extended. We are trying to prevent a world war–not to start one….But you may ask why can’t we take other steps to punish the aggressor. Why don’t we bomb Manchuria and China itself? Why don’t we assist Chinese Nationalist troops to land on the mainland of China? If we were to do these things we would be running a very grave risk of starting a general war….If we were to do these things, we would become entangled in a vast conflict on the continent of Asia and our task would become immeasurably more difficult all over the world. I believe that we must try to limit the war to Korea for these vital reasons: To make sure that the precious lives of our fighting men are not wasted, to see that the security of our country and the free world is not needlessly jeopardized and to prevent a third world war. A number of events have made it evident that General MacArthur did not agree with that policy. I have, therefore, considered it essential to relieve General MacArthur so that there would be no doubt or confusion as to the real purpose and aim of our policy.“
Harry Truman on firing Douglas MacArthur
“In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un.”
Robert Jeffress on August 8, 2017
“Pastor: I suggest that you pick up a rifle, and take your children to the DMZ. It is so easy for phonies like you to advocate military action when you don’t have skin in the game. As a Viet combat Vet I can speak with credibility. I suspect that the good pastor has no military service. Otherwise, he would not speak so carelessly.”
Comment in the Washington Post comment section.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Isaiah 2:4 NIV
The Battle for Seoul, exhibit in the US Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia
This is a post that I have been sitting on for a while, that I have been meaning to publish. With the tension in North Korea high I still believe its a relevant topic as ever. North Korea has been a strong challenge to the stability of Asia. Its also a tense situation since the armistice in 1953. Many governments have struggled to deal with North Korea and its been trying. North Korea, if I am correct, is the only Communist government that has been passed down in one family over three generations. Even Cuba has not done that with the Castros. Its with this in mind that Robert Jeffress who is a strong supporter of Donald Trump said something that bothered me. He claimed that God had given authority to Donald Trump to take out Kim Jung Un. This post will touch on a number of issues, as it will give you some history and look at some possible corollaries in theology between Robert Jeffress and Osama Bin Laden. In writing this post the part I struggled with is Christian nationalism. For those of you in the know I invite correction. But before we get into what Robert Jeffress of First Baptist in Dallas said, let’s learn about the Korean War from 1950 until 1953.
Documentary on the Korean War
An Overview of the Korean War
Harry Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson once described Korea in the following manner. “If the best minds in the world had set out to find us the worst possible location in the world to fight this damnable war, the unanimous choice would have been Korea.” At the end of World War II the Korean peninsula was divided by the Soviet Union in the north and the United States in the south. The dividing line became the 38th parallel. In the north the Soviet Union installed Kim Il Sung while in the south Sygmann Rhee eventually came to power. Rhee was deeply corrupt at the time. Kim Il Sung in the north sought the support of Joseph Stalin to allow him to invade the south and reunify the Korean peninsula. Stalin agreed under the condition that the Soviets would not engage and that China would support North Korea if necessary.
At dawn on June 25, 1950 some 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army (KPA) poured across the 38th parallel. It came as a total surprise and the South Koreans began losing ground quickly. Two days after the invasion Rhee abandoned the capitol of Seoul and the bridges were detonated as the Republic of Korea (ROK) army moved south. By June 30 the ROK forces which had numbered 95,000 was decimated down to about 25,000 men. On June 25 the United Nations Security Counsel (UNSC) condemned the invasion. On June 27 the UNSC passed Resolution 83 which encouraged member states to provide military assistance to the Republic of Korea That same day Harry Truman committed United States forces to the Korean peninsula. The first United States involvement in the Korean War occurred in the Battle of Osan on July 1, 1950. By August of 1950 United States forces along with UN troops were cornered in a small part of the Korean Peninsula known as Pusan. It became the Pusan Perimeter which was waged in August and September of 1950. UN forces were cornered on the southeast part of the peninsula. Douglas MacArthur organized and led a landing of troops deep behind KPA forces on the western side of South Korea at Inchon on September 15, 1950. The goal of the Inchon landing was to relieve the Pusan Perimeter. The landing at Inchon was well over 100 miles behind enemy lines. 40,000 troops did an amphibious landing at Inchon and 222 were killed and 800 wounded. The landing worked and the KPA found themselves at a disadvantage. Joseph Stalin was concerned and dispatched a Soviet general to advise Kim Il Sung to halt his offensive around the Pusan Perimeter and redeploy around Seoul. On September 25 Seoul was recaptured by South Korean forces. The U.S. Air Force conducted air raids which caused extensive damage to KPA troops and destroyed most of its tanks and artillery. As Seoul was secured the KPA retreated to the north. Only about 25,000 to 30,000 North Korean soldiers reached KPA lines. Meanwhile in Moscow an upset Joseph Stalin convened an emergency session of the Politburo. At that meeting Soviet military advisers were condemned for being incompetent.
MacArthur was reminded that he was to conduct operations north of the 38th parallel only if the Soviet and/or Chinese military did not intervene. The government of Syngman Rhee was restored on September 29. The following day Zhou Enlai who was the Premier of China warned the United States not to take the conflict above the 38th parallel. On October 1, the UN Command had driven the KPA past the 38th parallel. Douglas MacArthur called for the KPA to surrender unconditionally. Shortly thereafter UN forces proceeded north on the peninsula. The North Korean capitol of Pyongyang was captured on October 19, 1950. There were two goals that developed one was to prevent North Korean leaders from fleeing to China, and the second was to rescue U.S. prisoners of war. Near the end of October UN forces were near the Sino-Korean border, but they were divided by extremely mountainous terrain. Douglas MacArthur wanted to take the Korean War into China. Harry Truman refused and ordered him to stop. In China Mao Zedong wanted to intervene in Korea. Stalin encouraged Chinese intervention while Kim Il Sung begged for help. The Soviets agreed to provide limited arms and air cover only on the Chinese side of the Yalu River. The Chinese had to reorganize its army. After all the Chinese were preparing to cross the Taiwan straits when the Korean conflict broke out. One has to remember that communist China was young and had just won the civil war. On October 1, 1949 Mao ZeDong proclaimed the existence of the People’s Republic of China in Tienanmen Square. To stop UN forces 200,000 Chinese troops, known as the People’s Volunteer Army (PVA), crossed the Yalu River. Due to how the Chinese moved in using denial and deception techniques they were not detected. After-all they marched in the dark and used camouflage during the day. On October 25 they swarmed into battle in the first phase of their offensive. The Chinese were effective in their first battle with ROK forces. On November 1, 1950 the Chinese fought the Americans for the first time in the Battle of Unsan. Many thought the Korean War was ending when the Chinese became involved. The plan was to “bring the boys home for Christmas.” Mao Zedong appointed Zhou Enlai to oversea the Chinese commander and coordinator of the war effort. On November 25, 1950 on the western front the PVA attacked and overran ROK in the Battle of the Ch’ongch’on River. The US 2nd Infantry Division took heavy losses and was forced to retreat. What would become the longest retreat in U.S. Army history began as the Eighth Army started to down south on the peninsula. On November 27, 1950 the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir began when the Chinese conducted a three pronged encirclement. This battle would become known in Marine Corps history as 12,000 to 15,000 escaped under Air Force support. It is also important to note that the Korean War is the first war when the jet age began in the skies between competing powers. The UN refereed to the skies above North Korea from the Yalu River to the Yellow Sea as “MiG Alley.” Numerous dogfights between UN forces and Soviet and Chinese Migs took place.
By late November the U.S. Eighth Army was driven from northwest Korea by Chinese PVA forces. The retreat was faster then the original invasion of the north, and by mid December they were south of the 38th parallel. UN forces in the eastern part of the peninsula which held Hungnam were ordered to evacuate and help the Eighth Army in the south. The United States evacuated all supplies and razed Hungnam so that its port or infrastructure could not be used by the North Koreans. On December 16, 1950 Harry Truman declared a national emergency to the quickly developing Korean War situation. At this point the Chinese took the lead in the war and launched another offensive against UN forces at the end of 1950. It was called the “Chinese New Year Offensive.” The reason why is because Chinese troops went forward blowing trumpets and banging gongs. It threw UN forces off balance and scared troops as they never experienced this kind of combat. Due to Chinese developments Douglas MacArthur began to consider using nuclear weapons in response on China. The UN tried to force negotiations and in a resolution condemned the Chinese as being an aggressor. On April 11, 1951 Harry Truman fired Douglas MacArthur as the Supreme Commander and replaced him with Matthew Ridgeway. Truman fired MacArthur for bringing the Chinese into the conflict and his belief that a general should make the final decision about using nuclear weapons and not the president. Ridgeway regroups forces and counter-attacked. In response in April of 1951 the Chinese counter-attacked with another offensive. This offensive is known as the Chinese Spring Offensive. From July 1951 until the armistice was signed in 1953 very little was accomplished. A stalemate developed and land did not exchange hands. During the Korean War the tonnage of bombs dropped on North Korea by the United States was equal to the tonnage dropped on the Japanese in World War II. The United States had bombed so aggressively that in 1952 the Air Force had run out of targets. The Chinese had overextended and had logistical problems as they fought UN forces. It was during this time that the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge, Battle of White Horse Hill, and the Battle of Pork Chop Hill took place. The North Korean war became very unpopular politically and when Dwight Eisenhower ran for President in 1952 he promised to visit Korea and work to end the war.
The armistice negotiations became an on again and off again situation for two years during the fighting. The sticking point was the issue of POW repatriation. India came up with the proposal for an armistice and it was accepted by the UN, the KPA and the PVA. The armistice made the 38th parallel the demarcation in the form of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ.) The United States, North Korea and China signed the armistice on July 27, 1953. As a part of the armistice the KPA and the ROK, UN and US patrol and monitor the DMZ. The Korean War never officially ended and technically both sides are still at war with each other. What has transpired is basically a ceasefire. After the war Operation Glory took place from July to November 1954 which allowed combatants to exchange their dead. North Korea turned over the remains of 4,167 U.S. Army and Marine Corps for 13,528 KPA and PVA troops and 546 civilians who died in UN POW camps. When it was over the total of casualties was quite high. For the United States 33,739 troops were killed in combat. 103,284 were wounded in in theater. For South Korea 217,000 military were killed and 1,000,000 civilians lost their lives. For North Korea it is estimated that 406,000 military and 600,000 civilians were killed. Some believe that 15 percent of the population of the North Korea was killed in the war. China had at least 600,000 causalities in the conflict.
What Robert Jeffress is Saying about Donald Trump and Korea
Robert Jeffress is a controversial pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, Texas. He has said a lot of things that are off the wall. For example he has claimed that September 11 happened because of abortion, or that gay sex will make a person explode, and he thought that Barack Obama paved the way for the anti-Christ. He also has claimed Christians in the United States face the same challenges that Jews faced in pre-war Germany. If you would like to read a list of all that he has said this Dallas Observer article has a few of his beliefs.
In early August of 2017 Robert Jeffress released a statement to David Brody of CBN News about Donald Trump and the situation in North Korea. You can read that statement in its entirety below.
“When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un. I’m heartened to see that our president — contrary to what we’ve seen with past administrations who have taken, at best, a sheepish stance toward dictators and oppressors — will not tolerate any threat against the American people. When President Trump draws a red line, he will not erase it, move it, or back away from it. Thank God for a President who is serious about protecting our country.”
Robert Jeffress claims that Romans 13 gives Donald Trump the authority to go into North Korea and take out Kim Jong Un. This created quite a stir with newspapers such as the Washington Post and USA Today reporting on this topic. Jeffress comments came the same day Trump promised fire and fury on North Korea.
If you want to read what other newspapers have said you can read the following articles.
- USA Today, “Trump’s evangelical adviser: God’s OK with U.S. bombing North Korea.“
- Washington Post, “‘God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un,’ evangelical adviser says.”
- Huffington Post, “Why Robert Jeffress Is Wrong About Romans 13 (And North Korea)”
Is this Theology any Different than What Osama Bin Laden Taught?
The founder of Al Qaeda, which is Arabic for “the Base” is Osama Bin Laden. One of the only western journalists who met Bin Laden is CNN’s Peter Bergen. In 1997 Bergen interviewed Bin Laden in Afghanistan. In preparing for the meeting Bin Laden and CNN staff were blind folded, traveled a great distance and could not bring any camera or any other equipment. All they could bring is the shirts on their backs. In this historic television interview Osama Bin Laden declared war on the United States. He issued a fatwa earlier in 1996 and declared jihad because of the “threats” as he deemed them due to westerners being in the Saudi Arabia peninsula. You can see a segment of that interview up above.
One of the questions that I would like to pose is the following. Is what Robert Jeffress doing any different than what Osama Bin Laden did? Is Robert Jeffress acting like a Islamic Mullah calling for “Jihad” in his own way? Does he have a private phone line to God? When I first heard of what Robert Jeffress did the image of Osama Bin Laden is the first one that popped into my head. So does this make Robert Jeffress a terrorist and a threat to national security? In my mind if Donald Trump acts on Robert Jeffress advice then I would say yes.
The Issue of Christian Nationalism
Before I get into the topic of Christian nationalism let me start out and clarify that there is a huge difference between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism is good and healthy, whereas nationalism is not and leads to war. Patriotism is simply the love and defense of one’s country. It was patriotic after September 11 to go enroll in the USMC, Army, Navy and more. It is patriotic to trade careers and want to serve the CIA or FBI. It is patriotic to serve your country out of love. Also, when you consider our economic system, it is patriotic to serve and help build our economy so that it stays strong. Patriotism is good, and necessary for a healthy country. In contrast nationalism is fraught with problems. Nationalism is when one part of the population demonizes or marginalizes another part of the population or nation. Nationalism for the sake of gain pits people against each other. Nationalism led to World War I in Europe. The Japanese appealed to nationalism before invading China in World War II. Russia appealed to nationalism before seizing Crimea from the Ukraine. Germany in World War II used nationalism as a means to invade Poland and a year prior (in 1938) carve up Czechoslovakia) The by-product of nationalism in its purest sense will be war. That is because in order to marginalize another population or nation state you have to go to war to accomplish your aims. War is the ultimate form of politics. Here is an article or even a letter to the editor that explain the difference between the two.
In the American Revolution some of the earliest strains of Christian nationalism was born. Some believed that the United States is a new “Canaan.” However these individuals lost to the deists of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. You also had the issue of manifest destiny which some people used to justify westward expansion. During the Civil War there were some who believed slavery was Biblical and that God looked down on the Confederacy. Fundamentalists and society clashed from time to time, but the newer segment of Christian nationalists grew out of the 1970’s. In the that time period you had Jerry Falwell Sr. and Pat Robertson claiming that the United States was a “Christian nation” which needed to return to its roots. Opposition to abortion, euthanasia, and gay rights became the core of this group. Under the Presidency of George W. Bush this group accelerated. The home school community became a fermenting ground for this theology. You had people wanting to create an alternative reality that they chose to live in. A Christian world view that was conservative as they defined it. Some of this came out of a fringe theology called “Christian Reconstructionism.” Preachers such as Rousas John Rushdoony and Gary North advocated turning the United States into a theocracy. Public schools should be closed and private schools should take their place. Rushdoony even suggested that gay people should face the death penalty along with women who had sex outside of marriage and others whom he believed to be sinners. Another group that existed is the “dominionism” movement. Dominionism as I interpret it is the God given right to rule. Dominionists grew in influence and they would pop up in the news from time to time. An example of one is Roy Moore who was removed from the Supreme Court in Alabama. I wrote about Moore in, “The United States Senate Race in Alabama and the Culture Wars; Plus the Issues Dogging Roy Moore and the Problem of Evangelical Christians Embracing an Alleged Child Molester.” Then in 2008 Barack Obama was elected. Many of these people who were living in an alternative reality flipped and became unhinged. As society changed they could not deal with those changes. Thinking back on all this I think a lot of people from my former church Wooded Hills in Milwaukee would fall into this camp. The stuff I saw some sharing on social media was way off in right field. Trish Stern’s Facebook page for example who did adult education revealed someone whom I believe is delusional. When Donald Trump came along some viewed him as a “Cyrus President” or a “King David.” In the course of time many evangelical leaders came around to rally around Donald Trump. From David Barton of Wallbuilders to Franklin Graham.
The characteristics of Christian nationalism as I interpret it are mostly domestic. Christian nationalism are opposed to immigration and are very xenophobic. They also want to repeal the Johnson Amendment and make Christianity political. They are opposed to both abortion and same sex marriage. Another characteristic of Christian nationalism is the fear of minority rule and they elevation of white people. In some ways you could say that Christian nationalism is about preserving power. For the most part Christian nationalists are not focused as much on foreign policy it appears. The lone exception to that seems to be the issue of supporting Israel. Other than that foreign policy is not as important. I may re-visit this in the course of time but if I am mistaken on any of this please correct me below. While speaking of foreign policy Robert Jeffress comments on North Korea seem to be unusual. But in stating that Donlad Trump has the authority by God to kill Kim Jong Un is another claim of another aspect of Christian nationalism playing out. I am going to leave you with some articles about Christian nationalism for you to read.
- NPR, “From Roy Moore To Tax Debate, A Spotlight On Christian Nationalism.”
- Think Progress, “Why Christian nationalists love Trump.”
- Huffington Post, “Roy Moore And The Dangerous Rise Of Christian Nationalism.“
What Would War on the Korean Peninsula Look Like Today? My Thoughts on Robert Jeffress’ Beliefs
Robert Jeffres words on Donlad Trump and Korea deeply trouble me. Please understand I am not a pacifist. I have no problem with a nation-state going to war. What does trouble is that I don’t think Robert Jeffres has a clue as to what he is saying. War in Korea would be hell. I actually think war in a globalized world order such as we have today would have far reaching implications that would go far beyond Asia. First of all I think the casualties from a new Korean War would be frightening. Here in the United States the fatalities from Iraq and Afghanistan combined are about 6,938. The casualties from a Korean conflict would be far worse. If anything I believe they would be in the realm of casualties that we saw in World War II. Seoul is just south of the DMZ, what could happen to that city in a day if it were shelled? Especially when you consider the population density there? In a brief amount of time I believe the casualties could easily be in the tens of thousands. If the American public is uncomfortable with the casualties from Iraq, just wait to what casualties would be from Korea. The other factor is that Korea was a battle that tested the United States Marine Corps. Some of the battles that took place in Korea are a part of the Corps legend. While civilians would take a huge loss of life in a conflict so would our forces. Since September 11, we have been focused on insurgency operations. In Korea we would have a state on state conflict. It would be a huge adjustment. According to Worldmeters the population of South Korea today is at 51,164,435. In 1950 when the Korea war broke out the population of South Korea was 20,356,000. If war broke out in Korea how many would be killed? 5 million civilians? What would happen if nuclear or biological weapons enter the picture? Would the fatalities balloon significantly further?
Here is another thought to consider. What could happen to Japan or the west coast of the United States? Would they be targeted by North Koreans? After all North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile over Japan in September of 2017. So would North Korea, in the event of war, do what Iraq did in Desert Storm in 1991 when they attacked Israel. Or in other words would North Korea attack Japan if it were attacked? What about cities on the west coast? Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, Anchorage or Seattle? Would North Korea attack one of them? We haven’t had nuclear conflict since the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What would North Korea do with nuclear weapons?
Here is something else that should be considered. What about China? What would China do? After all China intervened in the first Korean War in 1950. Would they intervene again? In 1950 you did not have a globalized economy. China was not holding a significant amount of debt in the last Korean conflict. Today China holds $1.15 trillion dollars. What would happen in the event of a conflict if China used its will to force a stop and called in the debt? Sometimes you can accomplish a lot more by imposing a big presence, but if you fail on such a world stage would that cement the fall of the American empire? After all empires rise and fall and they had points that signaled their decline or end. For example for the Spanish empire it was the defeat of their “invincible Armada” on July 29, 1588 that signaled the decline of the Spanish. If we get into a conflict with China what will that mean?
These are all serious questions I am asking for a specific reason. Has Robert Jeffress in his office at First Baptist Dallas stopped to consider them? Has he considered the immense loss of life that could take place? Considered what a Korean war could mean for the American economy? Has he considered what it can mean for the Japanese? Has his mind stopped to think of any of that before he called on Donald Trump to wage war in the Korean peninsula? No probably not. I would be impressed if Robert Jeffress could talk about the Battle of Pork Chop Hill, the seizure of the Pueblo or more recently the axe murder incident that took place in 1976 when the United States came close to war with North Korea. Its times like this that my contempt for some evangelicals bothers me. Robert Jeffress I look at as a fool. He is someone who does not know what he is talking about. His theology is bad. And its just further confirmation of the scandal of the evangelical mind. That is all he is. The best advice I would give him is to stick to his own little bubble and live in his own fantasy realm. If his comments or beliefs lead to something then his hands will be dripping with the blood of South Koreans, Japanese and Americans. Is that the legacy he wants? My advice to Robert Jeffress is this. Butt out of foreign affairs. You don’t know what you are talking about son. In closing this post out I will leave you with the theme song from the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. That is it for the day guys.