A war song that can’t be forgotten

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A war song that can’t be forgotten

Kim Su-jeong
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

U.S. President Harry Truman kept a plaque on his desk that read “The Buck Stops Here” when he was president from 1945 to 1953. A replica of the plaque was given to President Yoon Suk-yeol by U.S. President Joe Biden during their summit last month. The phrase indicates a president’s determination to take all responsibilities. Truman served as president during the turbulent period at the end of World War II, the start of the Cold War and the Korean War. When he approved the atomic bombing of Japan, he reiterated, “The buck stops here.”

But his most difficult decision was something else. After his term, Truman returned to his hometown in Missouri and frequently met with students. Asked what was his hardest decision to make as president, he repeatedly stressed that it was when he decided on the U.S. participation in the Korean War. Although he declared that the Korean War was an unlawful invasion by Communist forces and vowed to defend freedom at all cost, it was impossible for him to forget the deaths of 36,940 American soldiers during the war. The Korean military suffered 137,899 deaths.

At 4 a.m. on June 25, 1950, led by 242 T-34 Soviet-built tanks and 170 fighter jets, seven divisions of the North Korean People’s Army crossed the 38th parallel that divided the two Koreas. It was the start of a 1,129-day tragedy. On the previous day, the South Korean military lifted an emergency alert and sent soldiers on special leaves to help rice farming across the country. The military leadership had a drinking party until early morning. The South was left completely unguarded.

Truman, who was resting in his hometown that weekend, was briefed by State Secretary Dean Acheson about North Korea’s invasion of South Korea. He told Acheson that the North must be stopped at all cost. Seeing that Joseph Stalin was behind the North’s aggression, Truman wrote in his diary that he spent the night thinking what Mao Zedong would do and what would be the Soviet Union’s next move.

War historian Samuel Marshall called the Korean War “the most devastating small-scale war in the 20th century” due to the participation of the Chinese military, the rough terrain and notoriously cold winter. Tanks were useless because of the rough land. The Chinese soldiers, surrounding the frozen Chosin Reservoir with temperatures of minus 40 degrees Celsius (minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit), approached the American troops like a nightmare, Larry Davis, who fought the battle as a 19-year-old staff sergeant, remembered, according to the book, “The Coldest Winter.”

North Korean leader Kim Il Sung told Stalin in April 1950 that if the North sent the first signal, the South Korean people would stage mass uprisings. Stalin and Mao erroneously figured that the United States would not intervene. On Oct. 19, 1950, 180,000 Chinese troops crossed the Yalu River and another 120,000 crossed the river in early November to support the North.

Later this month, we will mark the 72nd anniversary of the Korean War. The war was gradually forgotten in the South. The society is dominated by the argument of unification. Despite decades of efforts by past governments in the South from different political realms, current affairs remind us that we must remember the war.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who is even mimicking his late grandfather’s look, is overtly making nuclear threats to the South, relying on China and Russia. North Korean nuclear weapons are an existing threat.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to invade Ukraine. But after the West united, the idea of a New Cold War grew. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech was a déjà vu of a speech delivered at the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council at 2 p.m. on June 25, 1950 by the Korean Ambassador to the United States Chang Myon. At that time, Chang made a strong request for support and troops. Sixteen countries sent troops and 60 countries offered support to the South during the Korean War.

Until recently, China protested UN Security Council sanctions on the North for its missile tests, warning that it would take a decisive action if fuel was added to fire. The situation is similar to that in 1950, except that Kim Il Sung, Stalin and Mao have been changed to Kim Jong-un, Putin and Xi.

But one thing is different: the South’s prestige. It was a country without a single tank, but is now the world’s 10th largest economy and a country with a fully blooming democracy and strong culture. This is all because the young men and women of this country and many others defended freedom with their bare hands and blood.

On Facebook, former President Moon Jae-in recently recommended a book, “The Birth of Anti-China Sentiment.” He said his recommendation was not meant to express his agreement or support. But the move explains why Moon had never mentioned who started the Korean War and why he said, “China is a high mountain while Korea is a small country,” and why he gave unfair treatment to the late Korean War hero General Paik Sun-yup.

National interests and pragmatism must be the basis of diplomacy for any country. But how we treat the North Korean regime is a completely different matter. It is directly linked to national security and the survival of the people. In Poet Park Du-jin’s song for the Korean War anniversary, he wrote: “We will make sure that we will never again see a day like this.” Peace will only arrive when we remember that determination, as our security front has not changed since 1950.
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