Friday, March 26, 2010

60 Years Later

June 25 marks the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.  Over 60 years have passed since Korea was divided at the 38th parallel, following the end of World War II and the Japanese relinquishing control of the peninsula.  The northern half of Korea was occupied by Soviet troops, while the southern half was occupied by the U.S.  But the inability for free elections throughout Korea caused tensions between the two halves, and border skirmishes resulted along the 38th parallel.  This all came to head on June 25, 1950, when forces from the North invaded the South.  The U.S. vowed to help the southern half of Korea against any invasion or attack by communist forces, and quickly retaliated.  Fighting went on for 3 years until July 27, 1953, when came a cease fire and an armistice was signed.  The president of South Korea at the time, Syngman Rhee, never signed it, so South Korea has never participated in the armistice agreement.  North Korea withdrew from the armistice agreement on May 27 of last year--around the time they began testing their missile technology.  (Thus, the Koreas are in a de jure state of war.)  Along with the armistice agreement came the creation of the Demilitarized Zone, a 2.5 mile wide buffer of land between the two Koreas.

Despite the Korea peninsula still being at war (technically), people here are not overly concerned about the North attacking the South.  The military is on guard at all times--especially so when actions from the North are deemed hostile--but people don't really bat an eye when it comes to what the North is doing.  According to this article I read on Chosun Ilbo today, much of South Korea's younger generation doesn't know much about the Korean War.  And interestingly enough, about 26 percent of people polled said that they like the current state of things with the two Koreas and don't wish for reunification.

I visited the Korean War Memorial in Seoul during a trip in October 2008, and the experience was quite sobering.  I can't even begin to imagine what people went through who lived during that time, either as a civilian or part of the fighting.  My step-grandfather fought in the war, and thankfully, returned home to his family.  But he never talked about his time there, as my other grandfather never speaks about being in Vietnam during the war there.

It will surely be interesting to see what happens between the Koreas in the next 60 years.

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