[Viewpoint]Forget your past, doom your futureThe photograph of a flag at half-mast at a U.S. government office carried on the front page of a few morning papers on Tuesday makes us think of many things. The lowering of the flag was observed in the United States following the designation of July 27, the day when the ceasefire that ended the Korean War was signed, as a national day by the U.S. government.
During the Korean War, more than 40,000 U.S. soldiers died in battle or went missing in action and more than 90,000 were injured.
The words engraved on the Korean War Memorial in Philadelphia, “A long time has passed, but we have not forgotten you,” are an example of the country’s attitude toward the sacrifices of its soldiers who participated in the war. To the people of the United States, war veterans are not people of the forgotten past but people who are alive and move people’s hearts even today.
But what about the Korean people who actually fought in the war?
It is frustrating because the war seems to be remembered in the minds of the people only as a historic event that has since passed.
In certain corners of Korean society, there are people who treat reminiscing about the war as an obsolete Cold War . This is unacceptable.
How is the remembrance of the war so that such a tragedy will never occur again evidence of a Cold War mentality?
Proper education for middle and high school students is essential if we are not to forget the Korean War.
Due to distorted and misguided education over the past 10 years, when the left-leaning progressives were in power, the truth about the war - who started it and how it was provoked - has become obscure.
In addition, we should let our younger generation know that the economic prosperity we enjoy now became possible as a result of the sacrifice and efforts of their elders, who established the foundation for development on the ruins of the war.
What could be better than not thinking of war and living in peace?
However, as war cut to the very bones of our society, we hope to create peace, not war, on the Korean Peninsula by thoroughly working to prevent another one.
North Korea still refuses to abandon its aggressive attitude toward South Korea. North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and long-distance missiles pose a serious threat to us. North Korea should respect the general norms of international society and participate actively in negotiating forums that aim to bring about peaceful coexistence.
The Korean War is not a forgotten war. It is a war that cannot be forgotten.
The lives of 138,000 Korean soldiers were sacrificed during the Korean War; around 24,000 disappeared; 450,000 were injured. Around 8,000 were held prisoner in the North.
Civilian casualties were around 1 million, and it is estimated that around 500 South Korean prisoners of war are still alive in North Korea.
Because North Korea does not acknowledge the existence of South Korean prisoners of war in the North, it is not easy to bring them back to the South.
However, we should pursue all possible means to bring back surviving prisoners.
If the government does not step forward and solve this problem, who will sacrifice themselves to overcome our next national crisis when it comes?
We have a lot to learn from the attitude of the United States, which takes all necessary measures to find the remains of Americans who sacrificed their lives for their country.
Although it is belated, we have started to excavate the remains of victims of the Korean War. The excavation and investigation corps of the Ministry of National Defense, which was established as a part of the commemorative project during the 50th anniversary of the Korean War, was established as a temporary organization, but it is now a legally supported permanent agency.
It has uncovered the remains of around 3,000 allied troops. It is sad that we turned our attention to starting excavation work only after half a century had passed since the armistice was concluded. We must not forget that the assistance we received from many countries, when the fate of our country was threatened by war, provided the foundation for Korea’s development into an economic power. We owe the attention we received around the world to their sacrifices.
We must promote projects through which we can pay back UN member states that participated in the war for the sacrifices of their soldiers who participated.
We especially need to share in the responsibility of keeping the peace in international society in a manner commensurate to the economic power of Korea.
*The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University.
by Hong Doo-seung
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