I haven’t written much about the Korean War so it’s time to correct that oversight. I included a little about the war dead in my first blogs. Incredibly, that topic is still current news 66 years after the Korean Armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. Notice I said armistice. No peace treaty exists. Technically the war continues, and judging by all the hot and cold military incidents on the Korean peninsula, it still does. On July 30, 2019, North Korea test-fired two ballistic missiles in another obvious provocation for which Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is so well known. On July 31, the Pentagon announced joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises are still on despite or maybe because they infuriate Kim.
The Latest …
Korea still makes headlines almost every week. In a July 25 interview with Fox News host Sean Hanity, President Trump said “We’re getting the remains back.” North Korea returned 55 cases of remains in 2018, and six soldiers were identified, but North Korea suspended communications with the Defense Department POW/MIA Accounting Agency last winter and no more remains are expected this fiscal year.
President Trump also told Hannity this about North Korea, “They really haven’t tested missiles other than, you know, smaller ones.” The launch on July 30 was North Korea’s third in as many months. Kim Jong Un was obviously trying to get the attention of President Trump to restart talks. The joint military maneuvers will complicate things in this the most complicated part of the world.
The Korean War is the first of two modern examples of American diplomacy sending the wrong signals to despots at exactly the wrong time. U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson in a major speech in the late 1940s did not include Korea in a strategic Asian defense perimeter. The Russians also broke the U.S. embassy codes and were reading communications between the Moscow embassy and Washington. Russian analysts told Soviet leader Stalin the U.S. did not consider the Korean peninsula vital to American interests. Stalin, who was at first reluctant to back a Korean conflict, then gave the green light to North Korea and China to launch an invasion.
By the way, much the same miscalculation or miscommunication happened before the first Gulf War. On July 25, 1990, eight days before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie met with Saddam Hussein and said the U.S. was concerned about Iraq’s troop buildup on the border, but had no opinion on Iraq’s quarrel with Kuwait. At the same time, an assistant secretary of state also seemed to tell Congress the U.S. would not intervene in Kuwait. Of course the U.S. did wind up going to war and ejecting the Iraqi forces in Desert Storm in January 1991.
Pork Chop Hill
My introduction to the Korean War was through the 1959 movie “Pork Chop Hill” seen on TV several years later. It looked like another WW II movie, and I missed all the nuances and musings on life and death and war and peace. The movie starring Gregory Peck, George Peppard and the recently deceased Rip Torn was based on a true battle. In many cases, the names of real people weren’t even changed for the movie.
Peck plays a lieutenant leading his company in recapturing a piece of high ground along the 38th parallel while peace talks are underway in Panmunjom. Peck carries on a running debate and commentary with some of his troops on the necessity of recapturing the hill and the cost. 10-year-old Johnny missed all that in the 1960s, but when I rewatched this summer the dialogue was quite compelling. Peck finally answers the question of why the hill is so valuable when he says “it became valuable when the first man died.”
That may be true, but history turned out a little different. The movie depicts the first Battle of Pork Chop Hill in 1953 when the U.S. poured in reinforcements to secure the ground from massed attacks by the Chinese. A few weeks later, when the Chinese renewed their attacks, American generals took a second look at the cost/benefit and withdrew our troops and let the Chinese move in. A few days later the armistice was signed, and Pork Chop Hill wound up in the demilitarized zone possessed by neither North or South Korea. It doesn’t get more ironic than that for warhistorybuffs, does it. And that perfectly sums up the enigma Korea remains today.