The Korean War

Let me share some knowledge and views on one of the longest-running Cold War era dramas: the Korean War.

In the closing stage of World War II, the famous Yalta convention took place. In it, the Allies of convenience divided the victory pie. In August 1945 Russia declared war on Japan and liberated northern Korea up to the 38th Parallel as per the agreement made with the U.S. Consequently, the U.S. moved troops to the southern half of Korea.

By 1948 the Cold War began and Korea was effectively divided into North and South Korea, each with their own governments. The Americans planted Rhee Syng-Man to rule South Korea, the Russians planted Kim Il-Sung in Horth Korea. Neither side recognized the 38th Parallel.

On June 25th 1950 the North invaded South Korea and the Korean War started.

The U.S. rallied the support of the United Nations and hastily started organizing the defense. The remnants of the South Korean army and the U.S. led forces only managed to turn the tides at the Busan Perimeter, where natural defenses prevented the North Koreans to use the pincer tactics they had been using so successfully up to this point.

It all seemed hopeless until general MacArthur’s forces landed in Incheon on 15th September 1950. In just a few days the tide turned in favor of the U.N. forces and by the end of 1950 North Korea had lost their capital Pyeongyang and seemingly the war altogether.

At this point China joined the war and hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops pushed the U.N. back beyond the 38th parallel. Seoul would change hands a number of times but the war turned mostly into a static meat grinder until an uneasy truce was called in 1953.

After the war

Since this time, the truce has been violated many times by North Korea with more recently the shelling of Yeonpyeong island and the sinking of the frigate Cheonan both resulting in civilian and and military casualties.

And I’m not even mentioning the dozens of missiles fired into the East Sea, one of which nearly downed a South China Airlines jet.

While I can to some degree understand the anxiety stemming from the annual drills by U.S., South Korea and other countries, said drills have proven to be nothing but a show of force and deterrent when compared to actual aggression from the North.

Reunification in these circumstances would be extremely hard to achieve and remains a distant dream. And since both sides are technically still at war, this is one of the few remaining flash-points in the world.

Why is this still relevant? The Korean War must never be forgotten. Already called the Forgotten War, it was a very brutal post-WWII war involving many countries including the Netherlands, Suriname, the UK, even countries as far as Ethiopia and Turkey. And it was the first proxy-war between East and West in the Cold War era, resulting in Vietnam being divided in 1954, setting the stage for the war there.

The war brought South Korea down to its knees and it was the poorest country on the planet at that time with the capital bombed to pieces and many left homeless, wounded or otherwise crippled. North Korea, being more focused on heavy industries before the war, fared better only to be surpassed by the South in the 1970s according to this interesting article.

However, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea’s economy has hit a downward slope while South Korea went on to become one of the four Asian Dragons along with Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.

This Miracle on the Han River puts South Korea in an awkward position when it comes to their relationship with North Korea. Both sides want to be reunited but it is not on equal terms at all. The South has so much more to lose and the North knows it. Which is why the North insists on investing heavily in their nuclear arsenal and missile delivery systems, because that’s what they are. If only they were just a couple of Scuds…

I have visited the DMZ myself back in 2010 and went into a troop tunnel dug by the North. Being this close to the border was unsettling to say the least. On our way there we were greeted with the sounds of K9 Thunder 155mm self-propelled guns and F15K Slam Eagle jets flying low through the mountains. We also passed many military checkpoints along the way manned by soldiers in full battle dress in front of funky colored anti-tank walls.

Now more than ever we must remember what happened in 1950. Because the stakes are much higher today than they were back then.

For those of you that like dramas: Road Number One, Comrades, Taegukgi, 71: into the fire and Silmido all provide some insights. Of Hollywood-note is only the Bridges of Toko-Ri but that’s more of a psychological drama with the Korean War as a backdrop.

As recommended reading comes The Coldest War by James Brady which paints a very vivid picture of the war through the eyes of the author, a fresh lieutenant at the time.

In the fiction department there is Red Phoenix by Larry Bond which provides an interesting modern day what-if scenario even though it comes across a bit awkward in places.

For now, let’s keep walking Vagabonds