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Meanwhile, in North Korea

Host: Good evening. This is GNN, Global News Network, with another edition of "Interview with History." GNN is committed to recovering our hidden history, lost during the Dark Decades. Tonight, our guests are retired Army Gen. Samuel Spears, who served two tours of duty in Persian Gulf War II and commanded the U.S. forces in Korean War II. He answers questions from his grandson, Adam Spears, a senior at Lowell High School. Adam, why don't you begin?

Adam: Well, we're studying the causes of the second Korean War and I just don't get it.

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Gen. Spears: As I've explained before, Adam, President George W. Bush was obsessed with Saddam Hussein, not to mention with Iraq's oil reserves. He managed to convince most Americans that Iraq was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington. So, people just weren't paying much attention to the North Korean threat.

Adam: But didn't anyone notice what was going on in North Korea?

Gen. Spears: Oh, yes. Almost every day the media reported North Korea's escalating attempts to get America's attention. But few people seemed to care.

Adam: But what I don't understand is why North Korea was so afraid. Why did it want a nonaggression pact with the United States so badly?

Gen. Spears: You've got to remember, Adam, that North Korea was a completely isolated, paranoid, Stalinist dictatorship. When President Bush took office, he cut off diplomatic talks, included North Korea in a group of nations he called the "axis of evil" and declared a new doctrine of "pre- emptive war." In short, he fulfilled North Korea's worst fears.

Adam: But did the North Koreans really think the United States would attack them?

Gen. Spears: So it seems. By 2003, much of the world feared the United States. Don't forget, Adam, the Bush administration had withdrawn from the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention and the International Criminal Court. The president had also decided to deploy an anti-missile system, which everyone knew was aimed at North Korea and China.

Adam: So why didn't the United States just negotiate with North Korea? It seems like they were working hard to get our attention.

Gen. Spears: They certainly were. After they admitted to developing a nuclear weapons program, they disconnected the International Atomic Energy Agency's monitoring cameras, kicked out the weapons inspectors, withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, restarted an atomic reactor and threatened to end the armistice that halted the first Korean War.

When the United States still ignored them, they shadowed our surveillance planes and started testing missiles, but Bush simply dismissed North Korea as a "regional problem." But as soon as the Persian Gulf War II began, the North Koreans started reprocessing enough plutonium to build nuclear weapons.

Adam: So is that how Yemen got its nuclear weapons?

Gen. Spears: Yes. The people in North Korea were starving and Kim Jong Il was desperate to raise money to buy food. So he sold most of the plutonium on the black market. But he kept enough to build at least five bombs.

Adam: It just doesn't make any sense. Why didn't the United States try to prevent this?

Gen. Spears: Officially, the United States said it refused to reward nuclear blackmail. But many critics believed that our government, driven by a providential sense of destiny, was no longer willing to negotiate with anyone.

Adam: So what do you think actually triggered the war?

Gen. Spears: Hard to say, Adam. North Korea got pretty testy when the United States started planning cruise missile surgical strikes and openly talked of using tactical nuclear weapons to destroy North Korea's artillery positions. When the U.S. government began debating whether to withdraw its 37, 000 troops from South Korea, North Korea realized that, after Iraq and Iran, it was next.

Adam: But didn't South Korean President Roh rule out any military action against North Korea, and even offer big bucks in exchange for the North ending its nuclear program?

Gen. Spears: He sure did, but that didn't matter to President Bush and unfortunately. . ..

Host: I'm sorry, we've run out of time. On that somber note, we'll have to end this conversation. Thank you, Sam and Adam Spears, we hope to have you back again.

This article first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and is reprinted with permission.