a million and 1.3 million South Korean soldiers and about 2 million foreign
troops fought in the Korean War. The death toll was 152,000 South Korean
soldiers and 37,000 U.N. forces, including 33,000 Americans. The 50 million
people of the Republic of Korea owe their liberty and prosperity to those who
gave their lives in the war."
Sixty years ago, on the
evening of Saturday, June 24, 1950, the South Korean Army top brass, including Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chae Byong-duk, threw a party to celebrate the
opening of an officers' club. Front line division commanders in Seoul’s Yongsan
district were all invited and they drank and danced into the wee hours of the
morning. A third of South Korea's troops were on leave or off base at the time.
When South Korean Army leaders were drunk and half conscious, North Korean troops,
led by Soviet-made T-34 tanks, crossed the 38th parallel and captured Seoul in
just three days.
After the post-WWII withdrawal
of U.S. forces from the Korean Peninsula, South Korean forces were unprepared,
so they retreated to the Nakdong River. The fate of a free Republic of Korea
was like a flickering candle. Had it not been for the immediate denunciation of
the North’s act of aggression by the U.N. Security Council, the decision to
deploy U.N. forces - deployments by 21 countries, 16 countries contributing
combat troops and five medical aid - and the Incheon landing led by the head of
the U.N. Command, General Douglas MacArthur, South Koreans would have been
doomed to live a harsh existence under a communist regime.
Between a million and 1.3
million South Korean soldiers and about 2 million foreign troops fought in the
Korean War. The death toll was 152,000 South Korean soldiers and 37,000 U.N.
forces, including 33,000 U.S. troops. The 50 million people of the Republic of
Korea owe their liberty and prosperity to those who gave their lives in the
war. Without the courageous soldiers who defended liberty and our nation, South
Korea would never have achieved its remarkable economic growth and its young
people couldn't have cried “Dae-hanminguk (Republic of Korea)” to cheer
on their national football team at the World Cup.
Many of our young, however,
remain unaware of when the war broke out and who started it. Left-leaning
youths with a poor understanding of the conflict say that the war was an
attempt to unify or liberate the Korean Peninsula. Late North Korean leader Kim
Il-sung claimed that South Korea had triggered the war, and left-leaning South
Korean scholars argue that the war broke out amid inter-Korean skirmishes. Such
claims lost ground after Soviet documents were declassified in the 1990s, which
clearly showed that North Korea had begun the war with Soviet backing. Seoul
must understand that teaching younger generations the true meaning of the
Korean War is directly tied to the establishment of our national identity.
The Korean War and the March
26 sinking of South Korean naval vessel Cheonan
have something in common: a lapse of national security readiness. In the early
1950s, with Pyongyang launching frequent military provocations to check Seoul’s
preparedness, South Korea put its military on alert three times. Last November,
the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered the South Korean Navy to prepare for
retaliation by the North after an inter-Korean naval clash in the Yellow Sea. But
the Navy ignored the order and the Joint Chiefs of Staff never checked. And though
the Cheonan was notified of the disappearance of three North Korean
submarines from a North Korean base just days before its sinking, the vessel
took no action.
Since the Korean War, the
North has never abandoned its goal of communizing the entire Korean Peninsula.
Pyongyang will welcome the transfer of wartime operational command from
Washington to Seoul, which scheduled for April 17, 2012. Fortunately, the U.S.
and South Korea are discussing a delay. [Plans are to give Seoul control of its own forces in case of war. Since
the end of the Korean War, this has been the domain of the United States military].
The South Korea-U.S. alliance
is based on the operational command that former President Rhee Syng-man transferred
to General Douglas MacArthur shortly after the war broke out in July 1950; the
South Korea-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty signed in October 1953; and the South
Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command established by former President Park Chung-hee. The
concept of a U.S.-dependent defense is likely to change after 2020. South Korea
is facing the huge challenges of national defense, preparation for a sudden
change in North Korea, and reunification.
The Korean War was a battle
to protect free democracy. The Korean Peninsula should be reunified based on
free and open democracy and the market economy rather than the communism that
the North sought to impose through invasion. South Korean leftists have
recently stressed peace in dealing with North Korea. But they have replaced the
slogan “within the same nation” with "peace," because [given the
condition of North Korea], the former no longer appeals to people. No one would
refuse peace, but without a strong and prepared national defense, peace cannot
Seoul and the rest of our people
must do what's is necessary to live up to the noble sacrifice of the Korean
War's fallen and continue to care for the wounded and their families. In
addition, the South should never give up the fight to win the return of over
500 South Korean POWs still believed to be in North Korea. The Republic of
Korea’s mission is to end the Kim Jong-il dictatorship that starves its people
to death and threatens peace on the Korean Peninsula and the world, and to reunify
the Korean Peninsula.
Time can heal wounds and dampen
the memory of painful events. South Koreans, however, mustn't allow the Korean
War to vanish from memory at a time that North Korea continues to develop
nuclear weapons and launch military provocations.
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