Korea , Never Ending War
(Published in May-June, 2019, issue of Graybeards Magazine: National Korean War Veterans magazine in Wachington D.C.)
On April 29th, PBS broadcast "Korea, The Never Ending War" nationwide. The description read: "For most Americans, the Korean Conflict is The Forgotten War, sandwiched between World War II and Vietnam War. It did not end with a (U.S.) victory as did World War II, nor did it stir passions and divisions like Vietnam; yet it had a profound impact on the United States and the world."
Now, as a U.S. senior citizen, who lived through the war as a Korean child in Busan, a port city at the southeast end of the Korean peninsula, I remember that horrid Sunday when the news of the communists' invasion reached us, at our parish church during the 9 o'clock Mass. "Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ," our pastor said, in a shaky voice, "North Korean communists launched a surprise attack across the 38th Parallel at dawn this morning with Russian tanks and are advancing toward the South, but no other details are available at this moment. Let us pray…Heavenly Father please look over our soldiers fighting to defend our country…"
Mass was cut short that morning, and our family of nine-- our parents and seven children from 3 to 15--returned home on foot, a distance of about 4 miles, only to face a group of our neighbors demanding to hear the news from our Zenith Radio. Back in those days, there was no other family in our neighborhood who owned a radio except us.
"Come in, come in!" Our father invited them.
At age nine, I didn't fathom the meaning of war, yet I understood the gravity of the situation as I watched adults gathered around our radio in the front room of our traditional Korean home; they were sighing, shaking heads or touching their eyes while the radioman spit out words. "…95,000 men, with Russian tanks and Russian air support… Without weapons, our soldiers are dying fast…" A woman openly cried and talked, saying that her son was a student at Seoul University and she might never see him again. Before the radio men finished, our neighbors vanished, one-by-one.
Nearly seven decades later, as an American senior citizen, watching the footage of the evil war here in the Midwest where I lived over 52 years, I was compelled to tell the American viewers that the producer(s) left out some important facts about the war.
Why didn't anyone mention the secret meeting between Kim Il-sung (Kim Jong-un's grandfather) and Joseph Stalin on the evening of March 5th, 1949, during which Kim Il-sung's plan to "rescue" his "Southern Brothers" from the "barbaric" Americans was approved by Stalin with enthusiasm. According to the digital archives at Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., all the details of the Korean war were mapped out that evening--what Russia could gain from helping North Korea to take over the South; what sort of resistance could meet them by American soldiers stationed there; how much military aid Kim would need from Russia to achieve Kim's goal to reunify the two Koreas, and how to pay back the loan and in what fashion; if Russian airplanes are necessary for this operation, how many would be enough?; Yes, Russians experts may be sent to Korea and Korean specialists may be received in the USSR, for practical training, including in production technology.
I agree with the producer; that No Gun-Ri incident, in which American security patrolmen along the 38th Parallel massacred 200-300 North Korean refugee hiding under a bridge, could have been avoided, only if the Americans had supernatural vision to identify the enemy snipers disguised as refugees and kill them. Destroying an estimated 200-300 refugees hiding under a bridge was horrifying, yet from a Korean's viewpoint, it was necessary when the snipers each carried body bombs (or satchel bombs) and threw at American servicemen, without a notice.
Compared to what South Korea's president, Syngman Rhee, had done to his people, 200-300 lives lost at the wake of the war by the defenders of Peace wasn't that grave. Did Syngman Rhee innocently believe that the invasion was another "border attack" on the 38th Parallel as he had told his citizens through the radio on June 25th 1950? Border Attacks had been occurring since the invisible wall 38th parallel was established between the two Koreas in August 1945, shortly after Russians entered North Korea on August 8th, with an excuse to disarm any Japanese soldiers remaining in the country, knowing that the second U.S. atomic bombs had struck Nagasaki.
According Stanley Weintraup, the author of "MacArthur's War," in the early morning of June 25, 1950, the telephone at MacArthur's bedside at Tai-chi Hotel (above the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo) buzzed loudly. When the general picked up the phone, his aid's voice rang in his ear, informing him that the North Korean communists have struck across the 38th Parallel at four in the morning and that the South Korean President Rhee wished to speak to him. The next thing the general heard was the old president's angry voice, saying, "Had your country been a bit more concerned about us, we'd not have come to this! We've warned you many times! Now you must save Korea!"
MacArthur had no authority to save Korea, according to Weintraup, but he promised Rhee he would immediately send ten fighter planes and airlift howitzers and bazookas to halt the Communist tanks. Rhee immediately ordered his forsaken people through KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) Radio not to panic, not to be agitated, and not to abandon their homes because Americans were on their way with fighter planes, howitzers, and rocket launchers. But on the third day, June 28, when the Russian tanks rumbled loudly on the streets of Seoul, Rhee escaped the capital in an unmarked vehicle, with 12 members of his Cabinet, ordering the military demolition squad to blow up the Han River Bridge when they crossed it.
American war-correspondent Frank Gidney witnessed the explosion. He and two other correspondents had been forced to retreat from Seoul, in a jeep, as it became apparent the North Koreans would occupy the city. When they reached the Han River, the traffic was heavy on the road with refugees running south to the big steel Han River Bridge. "There were no signs of a military rout," he wrote. "Guided by MPs, automobiles kept strictly in line. The only disorder was thousands of poor refugees on foot, women toting bundles on their heads, and men carrying household goods in wooden frames fastened to their backs. We reached the Han River Bridge around 2:15 a.m. The pace of our jeep slowed and then stopped. Without warning, the sky was lighted by a huge sheet of sickly orange flame… Our jeep was picked up and smashed back fifteen feet by the blast. All of the soldiers in the truck ahead of us had been killed. Bodies of dead and dying were strewn over the bridge, civilians as well as soldiers…two spans of the bridge had dropped to the river 30 feet below. With the cries of the wounded and the dying (in) the background, hundreds of refugees were running pell-mell off the bridge and disappearing into the night beyond."
According to the South Korean government record, more than one thousand men and women and children perished in the fast moving stream. Where was President Syngman Rhee at that moment? On the road to safety in Busan, in an unmarked car, with his cabinet members. Once there, he and his American wife hid in the port city of Chin-hae, the U.S. Naval Base in Korea at the time. Rhee was never impeached for betraying or leaving his countrymen in danger by telling them to remain in their homes when the communists advancing, nor did he apologize for his selfish behavior of fleeing to safety, letting the whole nation suffer in a dire quagmire.
Rhee's atrocities against his people didn't end there. It was a time only Communists and potential communists existed in South Korea. Hatred against communists consumed him. He trusted any man who vowed to destroy communists gained his trust and condemned anyone accused as possible communists, true of false. One of those who gained Rhee's trust was a military officer named Kim Chang-Ryong, who swore to destroy any communist in the country once and for all and persecuted thousands of his fellow military officers by accusing them as possible communists. He rose to be the director to CIC (Korea's CIA) but after three years, he was assassinated by a gun man waiting for him in a car on the road Kim routinely traveled.
In 1960, Rhee was forced to step down from his presidential seat when students nationwide demonstrated against the corrupt government, during which over two hundred students were shot to death by the policemen. South Koreans still commemorate April 19th each year and comforts the brave souls departed while shouting peace and justice.
Over all, "The Never Ending War" is a masterpiece that followed the footage of the Korean War veterans' sacrifices in Korea during the three year long war in the early 1950's, which also showed how much progress South Korea has made during the past seven decades, from the poorest of poor nation in the world to one of the strongest economy today. The comparison between the North Korea and South Korea today, is like light and darkness--North Koreans acting like puppets handled by the puppeteer--crying and dancing on demand, but the South Koreans acting and speaking as their spirit moved them. God knows South Koreans have been fighting all the wars the Americans are fighting—in Vietnam, in Iraq, the Gulf War, in Afghanistan--yet they demanded a U.S. apology about No Gun-ri Massacre.
Personally, I'm not overly anxious about seeing the two Koreas reunited, not that I won't live long enough to see the map of Korea without the 38th Parallel, but Kim Dynasty was build upon deception, dogmatism, and fanaticism by a former guerilla fighter during Japan's control of Korea in the earlier century.