Threat to the U.S.-Korea alliance
National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa met with former U.S. Forces Korea Commander John Tilelli, far right in the photo, on March 6 at a luncheon in Washington, D.C. General Tilelli emphasized the importance of the Korea-U.S. alliance and said that wherever the United States sends troops, the Korean Armed Forces are there with them.
He mentioned that Korea sent the second-largest number of troops into the Vietnam War after U.S. Forces and suffered many casualties. A total of 320,000 Korean soldiers were sent to Vietnam from 1964 to 1973. More than 5,000 were killed.
This was when popular singer Kim Chu-ja’s song “Sergeant Kim Returned from Vietnam” became a hit. While the United States paid for the expenses to maintain Korean forces in Vietnam and the assistance after the war helped the Korean economy, the Korean army made a significant sacrifice.
But there is a very different view on the Vietnam War and Korea’s role. At a think tank seminar in Washington last August, Dennis Blair, former director of National Intelligence, suggested that the Korean forces were more ruthless than the U.S. forces or other armies. The topic of the seminar was that history issues are hindering the progress of Northeast Asia, and during the lecture, Blair pointed out that Korea, China and Japan all have painful parts in their pasts.
Of course, Blair did not hide the United States’ shameful past, such as its enslavement of Africans and racial discrimination. At another seminar in January, he, again, mentioned the ruthlessness of the Korean forces while discussing the Vietnam War.
However, Blair citing the Vietnam War to call Korea into facing its historical faults is hardly a suitable example. Facing the past directly is not hiding these faults, and former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun have already expressed apologies and regrets to the Vietnamese government. It is unreasonable to compare Koreans’ concern for hurting relations with Vietnam by openly discussing the Vietnam War to Japan’s attitude of denying wartime sex slavery and its fabrications in an attempt to whitewash its history.
More importantly, we need to understand the background of Korea’s decision to send troops to Vietnam. In retrospect, Korea exercised its collective right to self-defense and supported U.S. efforts to prevent the expansion of Communism. While Korea’s national interests, such as economic development and concerns over U.S. withdrawal, are factors, Korea sent troops because it had a military alliance with the United States. If it weren’t for the alliance, Korea would have had no reason to participate in the U.S.-led war.
Blaming Korea for its part in the Vietnam War as a shameful part of its history without properly addressing the context of why it deployed its troops could undermine the current Korea-U.S. military alliance. In every way, the Vietnam War is not a suitable topic to mention when discussing the history disputes of Korea, China and Japan.
*The author is the Washington correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 17, Page 30
by CHAE BYUNG-GUN