Although it is referred to as “The Forgotten War” in the US, where it has become little more than a footnote in the annals of 20th century American military conflicts, it is a daily, lived reality for the people of Korea who have seen their nation divided and their people torn apart largely due to the manipulations and machinations of foreign powers. Now, 60 years after the armistice that brought the fighting to an end, the two sides are still no closer to signing a peace treaty to formally bring the war to an end.
There are some things you can never really know until you experience them for yourself. This piece of common sense wisdom struck home with me once again as I sat in the middle of Seoul Plaza on a rainy Saturday night surrounded by 20,000 protesters in a candlelight vigil for peace in Korea. This is exactly the type of event you might read about on the internet or watch a clip of on TV (assuming it gets press coverage at all), but you just don't get a sense of what it really means unless you're there on the plaza, perched uncomfortably on a thin styrofoam pad with candle wax dripping out of the paper cup container and onto your pants leg.
As readers of this column will likely know by now, I've been away on assignment for Global Research TV the past two weeks. I was in South Korea for much of that time, filming the events taking place in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that halted open hostilities between the combatants in the Korean war. The armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, marking a break in the bloody carnage that defined the conflict between the South—backed primarily by the United States—and the North—backed primarily by the Chinese, which supplied a staggering 1,350,000 troops in the effort.
The Korean war formally began in June 1950 with the North Korean invasion of the South on June 25th of that year. But as with so many other conflicts of the modern era—and, sadly, so much of Korean history in general—the seeds of the conflict were sown by foreign occupiers. In this case, Korea, which had waged a bloody guerrilla war against its Japanese occupiers from 1910 until the end of WWII, did not have time to savor the overthrow of the Japanese, as the nation was immediately placed under the military administration of their Allied “liberators.” This international trusteeship of the country had been worked out in a series of summit deliberations between the Americans, Brits, Chinese and Soviets in the months before the end of the war, and the decision to divide the country at the 38th parallel—the south administered by the US and the north by the Soviets—was formalized by the American military administration in the wake of the Japanese surrender in August 1945. To this day, the 38th parrallel more or less marks the boundaries between the South and the North, which are still technically at war in the absence of a completed peace treaty.
This decision set in motion the chain of events that led to the Korean War five years later. Although never intended to be a permanent division, the 38th parallel quickly became the political border between the Soviet-backed Northern puppet regime under Kim Il-Sung and the US-backed Southern puppet regime under brutal dictator Syngman Rhee. The Korean nation effectively became the first square on the chessboard of the Cold War, and it was the supposed fear of the toppling of an important domino in East Asia to the “Red Menace” that persuaded the American public to back yet another war just five years after the end of the largest war in the history of mankind.
Although it is referred to as “The Forgotten War” in the US, where it has become little more than a footnote in the annals of 20th century American military conflicts, it is a daily, lived reality for the people of Korea who have seen their nation divided and their people torn apart largely due to the manipulations and machinations of foreign powers. Now, 60 years after the armistice that brought the fighting to an end, the two sides are still no closer to signing a peace treaty to formally bring the war to an end. North Korea remains one of the most diplomatically remote nations on the planet, cut off from much of the world by crippling sanctions and demonized to the point where even most on the American “anti-war” left feel there is little left to do than to nuke Pyongyang off the face of the planet and start over.
In an effort to combat this mentality and to bring together the various strands fighting for peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula, a number of groups, including the Korean Alliance for Progressive Movements and the Unified Progressive Party in South Korea's National Assembly, put on an international symposium to mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice and to push for a peace treaty. The symposium took place in Seoul, Pyongyang and Tokyo, with similar events organized by the Korean community in over 20 countries around the world. It brought together prominent scholars, journalists and activists from across Korea and around the world, including Michel Chossudovsky of Global Research in Canada, Gregory Elich of the Korea Policy Institute in the US, Brian Becker of the ANSWER Coalition in Washington, Prof. Kiyul Chung of Tsinghua University, Xiong Lei of CCTV in China, and Ramsey Clark, the former Attorney General of the United States. Together they delivered a series of talks deconstructing the various myths of the Korean war, from the myth of “UN Command” (the forces fighting alongside North Korea were never technically under UN command, as admitted by no less than former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali), and the myth of the North Korean nuclear threat (North Korea's estimated 6 to 8 nuclear devices with no intercontinental delivery systems are firecrackers compared to the 1600 nuclear warheads that the US has deployed and capable of targeting Pyongyang). These myths help to perpetuate the war by fostering fear, uncertainty and hatred on both sides, driving a wedge behind every serious round of attempted peace negotiation. For more on these topics and the speeches delivered at the symposium I refer readers to the Global Research TV website (grtv.ca) where the speeches are being posted individually.
The conference did more than just talk about these problems, however; the participants also took to the streets of Seoul for massive demonstrations at the doorstep of the DMZ, where a press conference and public demonstration was held, and at the Yongsan US Army Garrison in central Seoul. The march and rally outside Yongsan proved to be particularly eyeopening, as I have never seen so many police in one place in my life. A solid line of police ringed the roads all around the garrison, and as we marched the two or three kilometers toward the rallying point outside the War Memorial of Korea, those police made their presence felt. At two or three points along the march, some protesters broke off from the main demonstration to stick a protest sign on the gate surrounding the garrison, prompting dozens upon dozens of police to rush past me (filming the proceedings) to rip them down again. I am told that the police presence at this march pales in comparison to marhces held in the past, where pepper spray and violent clashes were not uncommon.
At the rally point the protesters sat down and enjoyed a celebration of resistance, listening to speeches and musical performances and voicing their resistance to the US military presence just a stone's throw away. I'm told that the rally drew significantly more people than those who came there earlier that day to hear current President Park Geun-Hye's speech to assembled representatives and leaders from around the world thanking them for the bloodshed and violence they engaged in during the Korean war.
After that, we were whisked off to Seoul Plaza, where we joined up with an even larger crowd of protesters including many who are incensed by the latest scandals to engulf the Park Geun-hye administration. As it turns out, the Korean equivalent of the CIA has been caught up in a huge vote-rigging scandal that is rocking Korean politics right now, threatening to destabilize the Korean government. And so it was that I came to be sitting on the ground with 20,000 other people at a protest in Seoul Plaza on a rainy Saturday night. The concept of such a rally is almost unthinkable to a Canadian living in Japan who is used to political apathy as the status quo. Getting 20,000 Canadians to assemble for anything on a Saturday night other than a hockey game seems unlikely at best. But there we were, some Americans, Canadians, Chinese and Japanese in a sea of Koreans, united in our hope for peace and reunification of the Korean people.
It's difficult to summarize my experiences in Korea, but if anything, the trip really brought home the simple fact that the Koreans have almost never been masters of their own destiny. Dominated through much of their history by the Chinese, and alternately under the rule of the Mongols, Japanese and even the American military administration after WWII, the fate of the Korean peninsula has almost never been left to the Koreans. After 60 years of Chinese, American, Japanese, and Russian interference in the peace process, perhaps it is finally time that the world steps back and allows the Koreans to begin the process of healing and reunification themselves. In the end, that will be the necessary first step toward any real and lasting peace between the two halves of this divided nation.