Anyone who has seen a satellite image of the Korean peninsula taken at night can see the stark contrast. The cities of South Korea glow with the light produced by technology, prosperity and freedom. North Korea is shrouded in the darkness of fear, poverty and repression.
This is the difference that President Obama alluded to when he addressed Korean War veterans Saturday at a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the end of fighting in that conflict. While the fighting stopped with the signing of an armistice on July 27, 1953, no treaty ending the war was ever signed. The boundary between North Korea and South Korea remains among the most tense borders on Earth.
“Here today we can say with confidence that war was no tie,” Obama told the veterans and others assembled at the Korean War Memorial on the National Mall. “That is a victory and that is your legacy.”
Some call the three-year conflict in Korea “The Forgotten War”, lost between the great cause of World War II and the long national nightmare of Vietnam that was yet to come. But the veterans of this war are not forgotten. We honor them, their service and their sacrifice in the cause of freedom.
“Let it be said that Korea was the first battle where freedom held its ground and free peoples refused to yield,” Obama said. “You have the thanks of a grateful nation and your shining deeds will live now and forever.”
The Korean War had its origins in the occupation of the peninsula by Japan that began in 1910 and continued through the end of World War II. After Japan’s defeat, the troops of the Soviet Union occupied the northern portion of Korea while the U.S. administered the territory south of the 38th parallel. The stated goal of both superpowers was that the Korean peninsula was to be unified under a single government. However, the division soon solidified with a communist government controlling the North and a U.S.-backed, anti-communist regime in the South.
After a few years of border skirmishes, the North Korean army poured over the border on June 25, 1950, and routed the ill-prepared South Korean forces. The United Nations intervened, with the overwhelming majority of its fighting forces coming from the United States. But the North Korean army had swept all before it, and by the time UN troops arrived in force they were left with just a tiny perimeter in the southeast corner of the peninsula.
It was Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s daring amphibious assault on Inchon, far behind enemy lines, that turned the tide. Now, it was the North Korean army retreating in disarray. UN forces pushed them back into the North, to within sight of the Yalu River. Chinese forces then poured across the border, joining the fight in support of the North Koreans and pushing the allied forces back to the vicinity of the 38th parallel, where the war essentially remained a stalemate for the next two years.
In all, 1.7 million Americans fought in Korea and 36,574 lost their lives. Their legacy is a free, independent and prosperous South Korea while the North remains a hermit kingdom, ruled by a succession of eccentric lunatics slowly starving their citizens to death while building monuments to their own vanity.