Sunday, November 28, 2010


Via The Telegraph, in my opinion the best UK journal:

I am currently reading David Halberstam's The Coldest Winter, on the origins of the Korean conflict. It's extremely good and, following a lengthy introductory phase presenting the grounds of the conflict and the key players on both sides, deals primarily with military operations in the first year, summer 1950 to summer 1951. The war would last two more years but after July 1951 warfare on the Korean peninsula eerily began to resemble World War I trench warfare.

The involvement of the US military and the troops provided by a number of UN countries was more often than not received not very well by the citizenry back at home. People simply did not understand what the sacrifices their loved ones brought in an unknown country far, far away were for. This was especially true for the American troops since they bore the brunt of the fighting. The sentiment was not confined to civilians alone, for among the enlisted men too there was great scepticism as to the meaning of their engagement. Few things illustrate this better than a quote by the actor William Holden, playing Harry Brubaker, a US Navy F9F fighter bomber pilot in the 1954 movie The bridges at Toko-Ri. Towards the end, when he has been forced to crash-land his jet and is in a doomed firefight with North Korean or Chinese infantry, he is asked by a rescuing helicopter pilot who himself is now grounded (played by Mickey Rooney) "what the hell he's doing in a smelly ditch in Korea". To which Brubaker responds: "yeah, I'm asking myself that question too". A few moments later both are dead.

It is damn easy for armchair generals - to which I have to count myself too, I fear - to say that today it's clear what US and UN troops were doing in smelly ditches in Korea. Nevertheless, the fact that I can state it from the warmth and safety of my house does not detract from the truthfulness of it. In 1953, at least South Korea was free from the horrors of communism. From there it would go on to become, in time, a model democracy with one of the highest standards of living in the whole of Asia, with a proud and well equipped workforce that would give the world the products of Daewoo, Kia, Ssangyong and Hyundai, to name but a few. Tens of millions of South Koreans have had the opportunity, or are taking that opportunity each and every day - to live happy and healthy lives. There are no young women there eating grass.

There are in North Korea though - and I'm pretty sure the truth is even far more uglier than what can be seen in that Telegraph video.

The war in Korea is sometimes called The Forgotten War. It shouldn't be forgotten, and it's a good thing that currently there seem finally to be a couple of decent volumes around dealing with the war. I hope they find their way to the broader public - people will understand better then that the evil regime which unleashed terror and sowed misery and death on that fateful June day in 1950 - is still there, essentially unaltered. Still as evil as it was then, and not caring a jolt for its own people - the late nineties famine in NK possibly claimed a million lives.

Only now do they have nukes.


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