The power of imperialism complimented by the Cold War set the Koreans against themselves, marking what is seen as the most agonising side of human history. OMONU NELSON examines the pains, peril and grief of the Korean War.
The Cold War of the 50s and 60s between the United States and the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) climaxed in the Korean War of 1950-53. The war left huge material and human cost.
Approximately 150,000 troops from South Korea, the United States, and participating UN nations were killed in the Korean War, and as many as one million South Korean civilians perished. An estimated 800,000 communist soldiers were killed, and more than 200,000 North Korean civilians died.
Also, when the Korea was divided into separate countries, hundreds of thousands of Korean families where separated: while some were trapped in the north, others remained in the south.
Owning to the agony of separation and the frustration the people have to go through, the Red Cross, since 1988, has been organizing visits for family reunion. However, the number of the families so separated is so vast that the programme per time cannot accommodate all applicants.
Monday, 20 August, 2018, marked another ‘tearful’ reunion between the separated Korean families. As tears rolls freely down the cheek of the participating septuagenarians and nonagenarians, on meeting their lost loved ones, analysts say, almost 68 years after, technically, the war has not ended, since wounds, arising from the war are still wide open.
The latest batch were the 89 lucky families selected from the more than 57,000 who had applied for the three days reunions, agreed to under the Panmunjom Declaration signed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an historic summit earlier this year.
More than 60% of those seeking reunions are over 80 years old, and are being accompanied on the bus trip to north by their children and other relatives.
This latest efforts is the first of such family reunion in almost three years. They are to spend three days with their family members at Mount Kumgang, a scenic resort in North Korea.
Many of the North Korean women wore traditional dresses, known as hanbok in South Korea and joseon-ot in the North, and all wore the ubiquitous pins commemorating North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung or his son and successor Kim Jong-il, while the Southerners wore their best suits.
Since 1988, more than 132,000 people have registered with the Red Cross in South Korea for the reunion programme. Over half of them have died.
Over the next three days, the 89 families will spend only about 11 hours together, mostly under the watchful eyes of North Korean agents.
They will have only three hours in private before they are separated once again on Wednesday, in all likelihood for the final time.
In the decades since the Korean War, the Red Cross has reunited many families but thousands of others have missed out.
As family members age, each delay adds to fears that they’ll no longer be around to finally meet with their long lost relatives. More than 75,000 applicants have already passed away since the reunion process began.
Park Kyung-seo, president of the South Korean Red Cross, told newsmen that while he was overjoyed to be assisting in family reunions, the small number of those taking part was a “human tragedy.”
“I share fully with the disappointment of those who are not selected so I am trying with North Korean partners to try and find other solutions, huge numbers are waiting, the numbers are very much limited,” he said.
“Imagine 73 years long without knowing whether their family members are still alive or passed away — no news at all. The agony and anger, that’s an unthinkable human tragedy,”
In a statement Monday, the South Korean President Moon Jae-in, urged both Koreas to work towards more reunions in future, noting his own family history as the child of North Korean refugees.
“Expanding and expediting the reunion has the utmost priority out of all the humanitarian projects that both Koreas must conduct. The Koreas must more boldly make an effort towards solving the divided families issue,” he said. “
As a member of a divided family myself, I sympathize deeply with that sadness and pain. There really is no time”
The pain felt by the families split by the Korean War is one of the most visible legacies of the conflict which, 68 years after it began, still hasn’t technically ended.
An armistice agreement which paused fighting in 1953 never became a formal peace treaty, and small skirmishes have happened since on either side of the heavily fortified DMZ, even as North Korea has built up its nuclear armaments and the US has maintained a heavy military presence in the South.
Officially ending the war was a key element of the Panmunjom Declaration, and both North and South have said they are continuing to work towards that goal, even as negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington appear to have stalled.
North Korean state media called on the US to agree to an official end to the war last week, saying it was a “preliminary and essential process to pave the ground for detente and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
“The US should implement phased and simultaneous measures, like the end-of-war declaration, to build mutual trust and make a breakthrough in the security of the world,” state media Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary.
The latest family reunions is the fulfillment of another commitment made by Moon and Kim, which earlier this year, saw to a joint Korean team marched in the opening ceremony of the Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The move came after a unified Korean team took part in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea earlier this year, negotiations over which helped kick start a breakthrough in North-South relations and lead to the current detente on the Peninsula.
On June 25, 1950, the Korean War began when some 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean Peoples Army poured across the 38th parallel, the boundary between the Soviet-backed Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea to the north and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the south.
This invasion was the first military action of the Cold War. By July, American troops had entered the war on South Koreas behalf. As far as American officials were concerned, it was a war against the forces of international communism itself. After some early back-and-forth across the 38th parallel, the fighting stalled and casualties mounted with nothing to show for them.
Meanwhile, American officials worked anxiously to fashion some sort of armistice with the North Koreans. The alternative, they feared, would be a wider war with Russia and Chinaor even, as some warned, World War III. Finally, in July 1953, the Korean War came to an end. In all, some 5 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives during the war.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, Korea had been a part of the Japanese empire, and after World War II it fell to the Americans and the Soviets to decide what should be done with their enemys imperial possessions. In August 1945, two young aides at the State Department divided the Korean peninsula in half along the 38th parallel. The Russians occupied the area north of the line and the United States occupied the area to its south.
By the end of the decade, two new states had formed on the peninsula. In the south, the anti-communist dictator Syngman Rhee (1875-1965) enjoyed the reluctant support of the American government; in the north, the communist dictator Kim Il Sung (1912-1994) enjoyed the slightly more enthusiastic support of the Soviets. Neither dictator was content to remain on his side of the 38th parallel, however, and border skirmishes were common. Nearly 10,000 North and South Korean soldiers were killed in battle before the war even began.
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