Mon, 26 Jun 2000

Real changes in Korea must start with Koreans

By Park Won

SEOUL: The Korean War broke out on June 25, l950, which I shall never forget. History tells us that the North Korean army, 90,000 strong, with 150 Russian built T-34 tanks and ample artillery, launched a surprise attack across the 38th parallel.

The poorly equipped Republic of Korea (ROK) army was not deployed for immediate combat. The North Korean infantry captured the capital city of Seoul after three days and continued to move southward to a line along the Naktong River.

The United Nations authorized a unified command for Korea. The nations that dispatched ground forces, naval vessels, air forces, or medical units on the UN side were Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Colombia, France, Greece, Ethiopia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and the United States of America.

The Americans took the initiative in committing air support, ground forces and sea power.

Seoul was recaptured on Sept. 28 after the U.S. 10th Army Corps and the ROK marines conducted an amphibious landed at Inchon under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. There was a fierce naval bombardment and American air strikes hammered everything that moved. The North Korean units gave up their attempt to cross the Naktong River and began a miserable retreat.

When the ROK 6th Army division and the U.S. 7th Army division reached the Yalu River, the border between Korea and China, 30 Chinese Communist divisions attacked United Nations forces across the entire front.

The fighting ended when a truce agreement was reached between the United Nations and the Communist forces on July 27, l953.

It is hard to find measures to adequately describe the losses of the Korean War. The war was death's feast. The ROK military forces lost over 400,000 dead, and about an equal number wounded or missing. Nearly 35,000 Americans died in action and more than 100,000 were wounded.

There were about 32,000 of dead and wounded among the other UN forces. North Korea's forces suffered over 510,000 dead. There were about 500,000 civilian deaths in the North and tens of thousands were wounded.

But the losses of South Korean civilians were far greater. As many as half of the people in some hamlets were killed.

Many people were betrayed by old friends. Thousands, especially professional people, were carried to the North as slaves or went because of their associations with communism. There were around 200,000 children who lost both parents.

Thousands of mothers with small children became widows. Great numbers of men, women and children were crippled or maimed, received injuries, or had diseases which left them far less capable than they were prior to the war.

Property damage was also enormous. Not only bridges, roads and railroads were ruined, but farmers' fields were strewn with mines, broken military equipment, bombs and debris of every sort. Altogether, eight million people lost their homes or possessions or both.

Seoul was 85 percent uninhabitable when the UN liberated the city for the last time. One-third of the entire population was displaced. Homes, factories, workshops, stores, small businesses and machines tools -- all of the structures of habitation or economic production were so ravaged even when they were not destroyed, as to render the entire country unproductive and helpless. About 65 percent of all of the oxen in South Korea were destroyed.

Such is the price we have paid for the Korean War.

The Korean War was such a devastating tragedy that we are likely to overlook any careful considerations of the lessons we may be able to learn from it. It has left a terrible mark on Korea and upon every Korean. Therefore, we tend to react emotionally, disregarding all logic and perspective.

Or we heatedly blame this person or that country for various unfortunate situations. Many have suggested that various countries or the UN should have done certain things different.

Yet, those of us who have taken the trouble to examine the situation in an objective, intellectual manner, realize that any real changes in Korea must start with the Koreans.

We are sometimes jubilant with our progress in some fields since the days of the war. We can easily become preoccupied with our own individual pursuits and neglect to remember how vicious and insidious our closest neighbor might be.

We must soberly remember the war and realize that the power that brought it about still lurks, waiting for the opportunity to spring again and destroy all that is ours if it can.

What we learned in time of war, we will not to forget in time of peace. Wishing for a peaceful reunification of the two Koreas, I have recalled the memory of the Korean War.

The writer is dean of the College of Education at Inha University.

-- The Korea Herald/Asia News Network