It was on 27 June 1950, a Sunday, that President Truman ordered U.S. Military resources to support South Korea against the invasion from the Soviet-backed North. Ultimately a successful check in the geo-political chess game of the Cold War, it was a costly decision. Tens of thousands of American and other United Nations’ troops lost their lives. As is so typical with such ventures, the commitment was a major one and the U.S. forces’ stay has lasted these 62 years to this day.
South Korea has remained independent from the North during this time, and it has enjoyed a far superior economic and material propserity than the North; while its record on Democracy is far from unblemished, the South Korean people have enjoyed a far greater degree of political freedom and autonomy than the people of the North. The people of North Korea are essentially enslaved and starved in the name of a professed political ideal. The people of South Korea have accepted some abridgement of, and limitations on, their civil rights in order to gain stability and prosperity. While the South Koreans have gained greater freedom in the past twenty years, the North Koreans have lost much of what they had been promised: that nation has starved and been imprisoned, a virtual outcast in the community of nations.
And through all of the changes of the last 62 years, U.S. troops have stood guard in Korea, from the DMZ which divides the Korean Peninsula to the southern port of Pusan, and from Inchon to Taegu. It has been an enormous committment of men, materiél, and money for more than two generations, but it has helped to ensure that South Korea has remained independent, and reasonably free.
In the Summer of 1987, I spent several weeks teaching at Youngsan in Seoul. One weekend I travelled to Panmunjom to tour the DMZ. Across from the United Nations Forces post stood the most astonishingly unconvincing “Potemkin Village,” erected by the North Koreans to convince those across the border that North Korea is prosperous and healthy. The structures in the village were nothing more than false fronts, and not very well done at that. Unlike a Hollywood set, there was no “camera angle” to control, so the one-dimensionality of these fake buildings was immediately and painfully evident, as was lack of interiors behind the windows. As I say, unconvincing. It would have been comical if it were not done in such deadly ernest by the North. But there was a really huge North Korean flag flying from a flagstaff that resembled a small-scale Eiffel Tower, which was indeed impressive.
One positive aspect is that the talks held at Panmunjom are even today carried on. Nothing much gets accomplished with these talks, it seems, but talking is a better way to deal with conflict than actual fighting, I think.
The war-rent Korean nation is still technically at war with itself. Sadly, there is no peaceful end yet in sight. And given the latest mad-man who now runs North Korea, things are unlikely to get better while that herditary monarchy masquerading as a “People’s Republic” remains in power.
Flower Mound, Texas
To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war. — Winston Churchill