[Viewpoint]Koreas should gather remains togetherYesterday was the 57th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. The war was provoked by the invasion of South Korea by North Korean military forces. The fighting only ended after about three million people were killed.
It was the greatest tragedy in the history of Korea.
However, the scars of the war have been forgotten with the passage of time. A recent survey conducted by the Monthly JoongAng news magazine of children in seven elementary schools in Seoul revealed that a lot of students did not know about the Korean War.
About 37.8 percent of the students surveyed thought that it was a war that occurred during the Joseon Dynasty. One out of five students even thought it was a war between Japan and Korea.
Memories of the Korean War have been erased too quickly from the memory of the Korean people.
However, for the families of fallen soldiers, it is not a forgotten war at all.
It is certainly not a forgotten war for the families who have not yet been able to find the remains of their own war dead.
There are still about 130,000 Korean War dead whose remains have not been recovered.
Although they sacrificed their lives to defend their homeland, their bodies are still lost, their spirits wandering in the netherworld.
This is the reason the surviving family members of the fallen soldiers whose remains have not been found are commemorating the 57th anniversary of the Korean War with broken hearts and great pain.
The Remains Exhumation Agency of the Ministry of National Defense is at present promoting a significant project, working on a “burial ground map” of soldiers who died during the Korean War that will show presumed sites where their remains might be found.
According to the map, which will be published in July, more than 10,000 remains of South Korean soldiers are buried in the Demilitarized Zone.
The DMZ is a product of the armistice agreement. The DMZ was created along a 155-mile (250-kilometer) long, 2-kilometer wide military demarcation line between the South and the North to prevent conflict between the two sides.
It took two years from the start of negotiations until the signing of the armistice agreement in July 1953.
While the negotiations were going on, fierce fighting to secure hilltop strongholds took place at many strategic positions along the DMZ as each side tried to secure an inch more of land from the enemy.
Mountains of corpses piled up. About 60,000 soldiers died near Baekmagoji, a strategic stronghold on Baekma hilltop in Yeoncheon County, Gyeong-gi Province, and on the “Ridge of Blood,” which is in the DMZ.
The summits of some of the mountains in the DMZ are said to have been cut down by around a meter because of numerous bombardments from both sides.
Many hilltop strongholds were in one side’s hands by day, but by night were the other side’s land.
Once the armistice agreement was concluded after fierce offensives and defensive battles, neither side was allowed into the DMZ. That is the reason so many remains had to be left there.
It is presumed that tens of thousands of remains of North Korean, American, Chinese soldiers and South Korean soldiers are in the DMZ. An official at the Remains Exhumation Agency said, “Inside the DMZ, There is evidence to suggest that there are around 2,000 remains of American soldiers and at least some tens of thousands of remains of Chinese and North Korean soldiers.”
I would like to put forward a suggestion to North Korea: Let’s promote a joint remains exhumation project in which South and North Korea, the United States and China participate as the countries concerned with the Korean War.
President George W. Bush suggested in Hanoi, Vietnam last November that if North Korea abandoned its nuclear weapons, he would sign a declaration with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to end the Korean War.
Since then, discussions have become animated about the possibility that a peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula will be concluded.
It is my hope that a joint remains exhumation project in the DMZ will be launched to give momentum to such a peace treaty that will replace the armistice agreement.
The United States, which has supported remains exhumation work with North Korea since 1996, will actively support a joint DMZ remains exhumation project.
China has also showed an unofficial but positive reaction to the idea. And, of course, the South Korean government is looking forward to promoting it, too.
It is the attitude of North Korea that is the variable.
The recovery of Korean War remains is a historic project that can be launched at any time if North Korea makes up its mind.
If North Korea decides to participate in the project, it will change the image of the North for the better in international society.
After all, it will demonstrate to international society that North Korea intends to help transform the DMZ, the symbol of the Cold War confrontation between the South and the North, into a Peace Belt.
The sooner the North decides on it, the better its chances will be.
It is a matter of urgency because fellow soldiers of the war dead, who can confirm the sites where the remains might lie, are passing away. I look forward to hearing that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has made the bold decision.
*The writer is deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chul-hee
More in Columns
A new epicenter of social conflict
Lessons from a president
Tales of Chairman Lee
Chinese way of tackling challenges
Time to step up climate action