The manner in which this past Saturday’s anniversary of the Korean War’s armistice was celebrated by the two sides — North Korea and South Korea — is but one indication of the challenges we face in ending this 60-year-old war.
We’ve been lulled into a belief the war is over when in fact the armistice signed on July 27, 1953, merely was a cessation of hostilities, a ceasefire and end of the killing we hoped would lead to peace.
Communist North Korea put together an elaborate celebration this past Saturday of its alleged (by only them) "win" in 1953 with a giant military parade, tens of thousands of flag-waving automatons and goose-stepping soldiers marching, tin-soldier like, in precise unison reminiscent of Nazi Germany, and a massive fireworks display.
Its democratic, and obviously more confident neighbor to the south settled for, according to the Washington Post, a reserved speech at a war memorial by South Korean President Park to memorialize the anniversary. Her speech, attended by only several thousand people, called for the end of hostilities between the two sides.
Humans fail too often to take a long view and settle instead for a near-sighted view of success, a view that is often wrong. Even if the Korean War had been a victory for the North, it sure was a short-lived one. In the 60 years since, South Korea has grown into one of the freest and economically vibrant democracies on earth. Its citizens enjoy one of the world’s best standards of living. Compare that success to North Korea, one of the poorest, saddest, most repressed nations in the world.
A nighttime satellite photo of the two Koreas shows the stark difference in standard of living. North Korea is clearly a failed, darkened pit compared to the bright beacon of its successful brother to the south.
The current border, oxymoronically called the "demilitarized zone" or DMZ, between the two sides is the most heavily defended border in the world. Seeing it and the North Korean troops defending it are to witness hate incarnate.
For 60 years, we’ve listened to the propaganda, lies, and threats emanating from North Korea, the backward, impoverished, little brother of its southern sibling. We’re all familiar with the Napoleon Syndrome, a psychological condition displayed usually in men who lack one physical attribute or another, generally stature. It’s also known as the Little Man’s Complex. The condition is characterized by overly-aggressive behavior that compensates for the subjects’ lack of size or abilities. There isn’t a better example of the Little Man’s Complex than that displayed by North Korea.
So the North’s aggressive, domineering, even fanatical behavior displayed in the way it celebrated the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice on Saturday is one example of how difficult it will be to achieve peace between the countries. Another example is one I personally witnessed during a trip to Panmunjom and the so-called Truce Village along the demilitarized zone during 2011.
There at the Truce Village stand three simple wooden buildings — sheds really — painted in "United Nations Blue." It was the United Nations that came to the aid of South Korea when it was attacked by the North in 1950, and it was in these sheds that negotiations and the signing of the cease-fire occurred 60 years ago. The sheds were and still are designated T-1, T-2, and T-3. The "T" stands for temporary because the sheds were intended to be torn down after the armistice transitioned to a full peace treaty.
Peace never happened. Instead, Americans have been dying for 60 years since the signing of the armistice, including some 1,500 Americans who were killed in action. Some cease-fire.
The buildings straddle the borderline between North and South Korea. One can step across and into North Korea inside these sheds, an unsettling act knowing that you’re stepping into a crushing dictatorship. Thankfully you can step back across the border and into South Korea and freedom, the doors to the sheds guarded by handpicked South Korean soldiers skilled in marshal arts.
The sheds are simply furnished on the South Korean side with mementos such as small U.S. and South Korean flags and a polished conference table and chairs. On one of the conference tables is the outline of a bare foot indelibly impressed on the otherwise polished table top.
In Korea, like in many oriental and Middle Eastern countries, baring the bottoms of your feet — especially putting your feet on a table — is considered rude and disrespectful.
A South Korean described his northern brothers and sisters as "angry little children" and very difficult to deal with on a rational basis, unreasonable. "Little Napoleons" if you will.
The footprint left contemptibly by a North Korean "guest" on the conference table in T-2 is another reminder of the difficulties the world faces in dealing with the angry children of North Korea. While we discard the inevitability of war, it is difficult to see another way given the DMZ’s tinderbox tensions, the overheated political rhetoric, and the unprincipled and spoiled nature of North Korea’s leaders.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.