The 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War Satuday isn’t just a historical milestone. It’s also a chance to acknowledge the sacrifices of a fast-disappearing cohort of American veterans.
Soldiers who were in their 20s when the Korean War ended in 1953 would be in their 80s today. Thousands of them wound up settling in Pierce County after ending their military service at Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord).
Many of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren live in the South Sound – as do many Korean-Americans who are here because of South Korea’s close ties with the United States.
American troops fought in Korea under exceptionally harsh conditions. Their sacrifices were undervalued at the time – overshadowed by the global conflict of World War II and soon forgotten during the boom years of the 1950s. Commemorations can’t really give them their due, but it should help refresh the memory of a nation prone to amnesia.
The murkiness of the war’s end made it hard to celebrate or even understand.
There was no Victory in Korea Day, as there was a Victory in Europe Day and a Victory in Japan Day eight years earlier. The aggressor in Korea – the communist regime of Kim Il Sung – did not surrender, recognize the legitimacy of South Korea or even sign a peace treaty.
To this day, it technically remains in the state of war it triggered by invading the south in 1950. North Korea reminds the world of its hostile intentions on a regular basis by launching small-scale military attacks on South Korea and by threatening the region – and the United States – with nuclear weapons and missiles.
Despite the propaganda and blustering, North Koreans lost the war in every way that matters. Their worst catastrophe was the survival of their government, one of the most inhuman dictatorships in history.
Kim Il Sung and his dynasty – his grandson Kim Jong Un now rules the country – have repeatedly let their subjects starve as they diverted fortunes into a ridiculously large army. They have also presided over a system of slave camps that may be more cruel than Stalin’s gulags.
In North Korea, entire families of political prisoners – including children and grandchildren – have been enslaved for decades in wretched conditions.
Meanwhile, South Korea ultimately blossomed into a peaceful, prosperous democracy – one of America’s most important trade partners. It’s most valuable exports have been its own people: Korean immigrants have greatly enriched this region and the rest of the country.
To get an idea of what U.S. troops accomplished in Korea, look at South Korea. Then look north.