Sunday, July 28, 2013

Korea #16 The 60th Anniversary of the Korean War

662 words, reading time three minutes

This last weekend was the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War.  It is called "the forgotten war" in the U. S. and many South Koreans seem uninterested in it.  The war is remembered quite differently in the South, in the North and in the 21 countries who came to Korea's rescue in l950.

  South Korea has many museums and memorials commemorating the war and its heroes.  Jets flew over the major battlefields on this day.  However it seems that South Korea “celebrated” the event by having fun. 

I started the anniversary day in Busan, site of the  "Pusan Perimeter."   North Korea invaded with such superior force and resistance was so woeful that all but the 10 percent of the country around Pusan had been capture.  U. S. blew up the bridges leading into Pusan."  Busan was also where the South Korea government punished thousands of postal workers for striking, one of many acts of resistance against the right wing government.

These are pictures were taken outside the Busan Train Station on the day of the anniversary.  Elsewhere in the city, 400,000 were out on the beaches.

As a boy growing up I enjoyed “playing war,” as all kids did following World War II.  We dug foxholes at “the dump” at the back of our ten acres, shot each other and played dead.  I collected toy military planes and soldiers and can see them still in my mind.  My first political awakening took place in junior high school in l951.  I defended President Truman for firing General Douglas MacArthur for insubordination, defying the Constitution and waging war badly, the first of many unpopular positions I would take, as it turned out.  Then came the prospect I would be drafted for the next war and my decision to join the ROTC, thinking I'd have a little longer to live as an officer. 

There are many to reasons to “forget” the Korean War.  Truman and Stalin cynically divided up the Korean peninsula at the 38th parallel at Potsdam without any participation from Koreans.  This set up everything that has followed.  The U. S. mis-administered South Korea in many ways from l945 to l948 and supported the right-wing government of Syngman Rhee who massacred a large number of his own people for allegedly being sympathetic to the communists.  The United States failed to warn Russia, China and North Korea that it would defend the south against invasion. 


The war consisted of an intense year in which the north invaded the south, occupying all but 10 percent of the country whose forces were locked down around Pusan.  Then a counterattack by a United Nation’s authorized force (Russia was boycotting the UN when the vote was taken because it had seated Chang KaiChek instead of the communists so the Security Council could vote to take up arms).  The UN forces broke out of “The Pusan Perimeter.”  They then rapidly pushed the north back to its northern border on the Yalu River.  The Chinese sent hundreds of thousands of troops into Korea, driving the UN forces back to roughly the original 38th parallel.  It was deep winter and brutally cold.  David Halberstam book "The Coldest War" told of the blunders and bad decisions on both sides and the tragedy of the biggest retreat in American history.  Everyone suffered.  Some North Koreans and Chinese starved; some refused to return home after the war.

Of the America's POW, 43 percent died in prisons.  Koreans on both sides were eating bark for food toward the end.

This intense first year was followed by two years of stalemate which left many more died.  I remember the “Battle of Pork Chop Hill” which was particularly bloody, heroic and fruitless, for example.  Eventually, an armistice was signed on July 25, l953—an armistice which has never resulted in a permanent solution and which North Korea renounced earlier this year as being of no effect.  

Pusan (called Busan in Korean) was also the placewhen the anniversary began last Friday.  South Korean government forces brutally repressed a strike of railroad workers in l948, one of several acts against leftist elements.  

I ended the day in Seoul, going north on Korea's "bullet train" which hit 180 MPH.

During the first year of the war, control of Seoul changed four times.  Its population of 1.2 million was reduced to 200,000 and the city lay in ruin.  It is hard to believe.  Today greater Seoul has 26 million people and it is prosperous beyond all imagining 60 year ago. 

North Korea killed everyone they could find in the south who might constitute an intelligencia or serve as leaders in the future.  Some estimate that number at 500,000.  Korea began life as an independent country with many of its best potential leaders dead.


North Korea invited anyone who would come to celebrate a great victory over the United States, as it has done many times.  There was a big military parade and probably tens of thousands of synchronize dancers, for which it is become famous.  This same week North Korea again walked out of talks to reopen a special business and manufacturing center on the border which has provided thousands of badly needed jobs for the North particularly.

However the vice president of China went to North Korea last week and, according to press reports, received assurances that North Korea will return to talks to make the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free.  To the extent this is true, the 60th Anniversary of a terrible war might have one promising outcome. 


The weekend was touching for stories that appeared in Korean papers about aid the country has given over 60 years to countries which came to its aid.  Sixteen countries sent combatants and five non-compatants.  Of 23,000 Phillipinos who service, less than 100 are alive today.  Similar ratios in Ethiopia and Columbia.  Yet some these veterans or their families were in Seoul for the celebration.  Those who hadn't been back were excited and proud to see what had become of the poor country they defended.  "Ethiopia was better off than Korea back then," said one veteran.  The same story from other countries. 

At the end of their lives, seeing what Korea has become made them proud and excited to have fought for its freedom.

We don't know much about Korea's foreign aid but what we now know is that it has been of long duration in most of those 21 countries.  The Ethiopians, for example, had been in Korea for training in the electronics industry and many of them intended to stay (being descendants of the Korean fighters).  Korea, like Japan, will need immigrant to sustain its economy over time.




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