KOREAN CEASE FIRE LASTS 62 YEARS

Believe it or not, I have been writing about the North Korean threat to the free world for 70 years. In reviewing my prior commentaries covering three generations of the Kim Dynasty, not much has changed.

Why have I pursued this evasive topic so long? For starters, I was in Korea twice, once for a brief step into North Korean territory. My first visit was as a guest of the U.S. Army Infantry for ten months in 1946. The second trip was 50 years later with a group of American veterans of the Korean War. It was a 5-star tour hosted by the South Korean government and various agencies showing their gratitude for the military services rendered (and to promote tourism).

I was not in the Korean War (1950-1953) but qualified for the tour having served there. There were only two of us from that earlier period in the group of about 90. We received in-depth briefing about the tensions on the 38th parallel separating two countries with two completely different ideologies.

A day spent in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a strip of land cutting the Korean peninsula in half, with the U.S. troops on guard there for 70 years, was revealing. The tour included a brief entry to North Korean soil to see the structure where the cease fire was negotiated in 1953. The North Korean soldiers, with fire arms in ready position, were curious to watch us through the windows and inside the building.

That’s why I consider my encounters at the source to qualify my observations of the North Korean crisis that the Western nations face with a nuclear launch now possible from the Kim regime.

I will begin my composite of commentaries with the recent ones posted to my blog. Following those is a lengthy compilation of many editorial published over the years by The San Diego Daily Transcript.

 

 IS NORTH KOREA PUSHING TOO FAR?

Tensions between the United States and its Asian trade partners with North Korea are accelerating rapidly. It is serious enough that Vice-President Pence was dispatched to Korea to observe the anxiety on the 38th parallel separating North from South Korea. To show that we mean business, a naval group including an aircraft carrier is expected to move into the Sea of Japan near North Korea.

I find it curious that the news media describes the recent stand-off with North Korea as a possible second Korean War. Actually, the first Korean War 1950-1953 never ended. Yes, there was a cease-fire truce negotiated on July 27, 1953, but a treaty was never reached. Technically we have been at war for 63 years.

This is an historic fact that most commentators do not know because they were born after the “Forgotten War” ended hostilities. I remember, since I was posted with the U.S. Army in South Korea in 1946 and barely missed being recalled back into service in 1950 when North Korean forces swept into South Korea jeopardizing the U.S. occupation troops.

I did hear an interview on PBS with a history professor who validated that we were still at war with the rogue nation. The speaker also confirmed that North Korea could have missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland. Columnist Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post wrote that Pyongyang is not bluffing.

The six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear intentions were on again, off again over a decade ago and have never resumed despite the concessions given to North Korea to secure its cooperation. There seems no way to stop the threatening missile launches except a show of military persuasion.

Do we want a renewal of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula? Relations with China and even Russia would be strained by military force. South Korea and even Japan would be brutally attacked. It is time for China to take a leadership role and use its economic influence over North Korea to keep peace in Northern Asia.

A few commentators are now predicting that the only way North Korea can be subdued is a regime change. That seems unlikely as the three generations of the Kim dynasty have brained washed the population into a robotic state. Although Kim Jong Un is young, most of his dictatorial insider-command are old-guard military leaders carried over from Kim’s father regime.

It has been so many years since the Korean War, there are few South Koreans still living that remember the devastation and loss of lives. The young citizens of Seoul living just 40 miles from a massed military force ready to strike go about their lives with a rather indifferent attitude.

The same can be applied to a potential unification of the Korean Peninsula. The cost of rehabilitation of the North Korea economy would be staggering. So what is the future of this compromised nation?

Somehow a final treaty must be negotiated with China becoming a partner in preventing Kim from pushing for nuclear capability. A civil rebellion would help, but the citizens mistakenly believe they are better off than the developed nations. What a job of brainwashing.

President Trump’s leadership with the military’s guidance might lead the way. It is definitely Trump’s first diplomatic challenge, all within his 100-day honeymoon period. His call for China to take a leadership role in subduing North Korea’s intentions needs to be answered before an explosive goes off.

Japan has joined the naval “exercise” in the Western Pacific. It is uncertain where and when the strike force will be within range of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s military threatens to destroy any enemy force coming into their territory. Fortunately, the last two missile launches failed on liftoff.

Despite international sanctions and scarce reliable data, North Korea’s economy shows growth. The famine in the 1990’s that killed an estimated two million people created some market activity for entrepreneurs despite the strict socialist regime. Today the government-authorized market places for food and home-made goods are growing, but 80% of consumer goods still come from China.

The black market thrives from smugglers peddling Hollywood movies, South Korean television dramas and smart phones, according to a South Korean correspondent. These products are contraband as the government prevents any access to better conditions in the developed countries.

Until China decides that North Korea is a serious threat to peace and trade in North Asia, the military status will be uneasy. President Trump must play the diplomacy game carefully and not act unilaterally.

 

KOREA IS A PAWN IN CHINA DIPLOMACY

As tensions heat up on the Korean Peninsula, the news commentators on both broadcasting and print media are sending alarming signals about the threat of a nuclear confrontation with the North Korean regime. I was drawn to this subject after hearing a radio broadcast referring to “Preparing for Judgment Day.” It got me to thinking about a nuclear holocaust.

I revisited my previous commentary about the unfinished war in Korea. For over 60 years there has been an uneasy truce between the U. S. and North Korea that has threatened the sovereignty of South Korea and subjecting Japan to missile attacks from the unruly North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

I pondered over the reference to judgment day and tried to imagine what would happen if there was actually a nuclear war in Asia, or perhaps even in the near East as Iraq continues to develop its nuclear capability. The leaders of these two foreign countries are not humanitarians and could be provoked into firing their destructive weapons. At home there are many citizens who likewise do not trust Donald Trump in dealing with this very sensitive diplomatic issue.

Much of a diplomatic safety net to avoid nuclear attack rests with China, the only nation that has an open door to North Korea. Even a sight nudge from China to the Kim regime would help cool the international crisis that implicates America. We are presumed to be the guardians of South Korea and Japan and yet do business with China.

China likes a buffer for its northern border to keep its distance from U.S. and South Korean face-to-face contact. China also likes its trade with North Korea, the only country not imposing trade sanctions. Without Chinas’ source of materials for military and civilian goods, North Korea could not display so much bluster.

President Trump has not helped ease the tension with both North and South Korea. Already he has angered the new president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, with demands for payment for the U.S.  missile-defense system recently installed 135 miles southeast of Seoul. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) is a sophisticated radar system that is capable of intercepting missiles fired from North Korea or China.

Further complicating diplomatic relations is China’s concern that THAAD is a threat by installing a military weapon in the zone that China believes it should control. However, President Moon is trying to juggle diplomacy between the U.S. and China realizing South Korea needs American military support.

A panel discussion on events unfolding on the Korean Peninsula was a timely presentation by UCSD’s School of Global Policy and Strategy in June. The speakers included a former ambassador to South Korea and a professor from a university in Seoul, among other Korean experts. The hot topic of the day was nuclear proliferation by North Korea with frequent missile launches over recent months.

China is the linchpin in diplomacy among the three nations dealing with North Korea’s aggressive defiance. One panelist referred to a peaceful resolution being America’s fantasy and China’s nightmare. All the speakers agreed that China can be either an arbitrator or a deal breaker.

Currently there needs to be a re-alignment of each nation’s strategy to reflect the changes in U.S. and South Korean governments. The impeachment of the president and a newly elected President Moon Jae-in reverses South Korea’s prior strategy in dealing with North Korea. A similar switch from the Obama administration to Trump’s more aggressive response to the missile crisis is underway.

That is the reason the U.S. deployment of the THAAD missile defense system was stopped by President Moon as soon as he took office. Part of his decision was appeasement of China’s leaders who are skittish about U.S. weapons in their domain. Also, THAAD is a direct defense against North Korea’s aggressive missile activity. U.S. military presence makes Moon’s appeasement efforts with the Kim Il Un regime difficult.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, speaking at a defense summit in Singapore, borrowed a phrase used by President Clinton to defend the military action against Saddam Hussein in 1998. Mattis said North Korea “is a clear and present danger” recalling bad memories of a strategy that thrust America into an endless war in the Near East.

The delicate diplomacy among the U.S., South Korea and China dealing with North Korea’s aggression will continue until one of the leaders blinks.

 

AN ODYSSEY SPANNING  60 YEARS OF KOREA’S

 STRUGGLE FOR A DEMOCRATIC REUNIFICATION

AND ECONOMIC STABILITY AS OBSERVED BY A G.I. JOE

AND LATER AS A COMMENTATOR AFTER A 50-YEAR REVISIT

 

CONTENTS

Introduction and summary           

Korea Pushes the Envelope – published January 2003

Blame it on Bangkok

Dual Korean Crises –  Composite of commentaries published in 1997 and 1998

 Korea Then and Now

 Veteran Revisit to the DMZ – Prepared after visit to Korea in 1996

  Korean Time Bomb – Published 1994

 

Note: All commentaries were published in The San Diego Daily Transcript

 

KOREAN KALEIDOSCOPE

My connection with Korea was a chance encounter because of my service in the U.S. Army 1945-1947. If the atomic bomb had not been used to end World War II in the Pacific, I surely would have been in one of the first invasion forces on the Japanese mainland. It was planned for early Spring 1946. I was being prepared for overseas service after completing the full 19-week combat basic training at Camp Roberts and final deployment at Fort Ord. for shipment out of Fort Lewis, Seattle in February.

Instead of fighting the Japanese, I was posted in the army of occupation in Korea. Our troopship of young G.I. Joes had little idea of where we were headed. The country was then known by its Japanese name, Chosun. We called the capital city “Su-ool” rather than “Soul.”

The war had ended so abruptly in August that little planning for occupation of a foreign nation and repatriation of Japanese nationals in Korea was available to the battle-weary troops.

My year there was divided between routine guard duty and reassignment to the 20th Infantry Regimental Headquarters to edit the weekly newspaper. I was also occasionally involved in patrol duty for the Military Government stationed in Kwangju, South Korea. I managed a trip to Seoul and Tokyo as a representative of the army information services to attend an editors’ conference.

Over the next 50 years, I monitored the Korea’s progress through war, economic and political crises, and the cultural change of South Korea into a Western-style, capitalistic key player in global trade. I began writing editorial material after retirement and found my experience in Korea helpful in understanding the issues in the Pacific. A veterans’ Korean revisit trip in 1996 on my 50th anniversary year gave me some new insights into the Korean Peninsula Cold War that developed out of the Korean War of 1950-1953 but actually began during my tour of duty before hostilities permanently split the nation.

With the nuclear arms crises re-emerging in 2003, I prepared updates on the Korean situation for my column in the San Diego Daily Transcript. This was a good excuse to dust-off my old manuscripts and previously published commentaries back to 1994. Following is a compilation of these writings with some editing for redundant text and some bridging of related columns into a composite essay.

January 2003

 

KOREA PUSHES THE ENVELOPE

A crisis on the Korean Peninsula is back in the headlines, again. For over 50 years, the problems created by partition of a nation keep coming back to haunt U.S. diplomacy in the Far East. That’s because South Korea is a western capitalistic clone while North Korea clings to an archaic Marxist doctrines. They could hardly be more diverse, yet of one culture.

The only change this time in the delicate standoff is deteriorating relationships with America by both countries. North Korea rattles its nuclear saber to extort more economic aid while South Korea is nipping at the hand that saved the nation from communist takeover in 1950. American blood was spilled on Korean soil for three miserable years that ended with the ungrateful epitaph, “the forgotten war.”

Twice I visited South Korea – just fifty years apart. My first time was an all-expense-paid tour of duty by courtesy of the U.S. Army. My outfit was the guardian of democracy whileposted in a liberated nation divided by civil strife. The communists wanted the Americans out. After I departed, the 1950 Korean War came very close to doing just that.

My second time out to the Far East was on a bargain tour as a guest of the Korean government under a veteran re-visit program. I saw amazing changes in fifty years, except that the country was still divided into two incompatible ideologies and economies.

This condition will probably remain status quo until the North Koreans overthrow their communist dictatorship and consummate a peace treaty with their old enemies. Very little notice is given today to the fact that technically South Korea and the U.S. are still at war with North Korea.

The cease-fire agreement that ended hostilities in 1953 governs the international zone cutting Korea in half. When our allies in the Far East protest the presence of 37,000 American military personnel in South Korea, they forget that we still have a commitment to keep the peace in this land that we defended with so many casualties.

Domination of the North Asian Pacific caught Korea in a tug of war for centuries.  It is often referred to as the “Balkans of the Orient.” Korea lies in the center of the Far East triangle, a strategic buffer position for China, Japan, and Russia. It is a pawn for its neighbors’ imperialistic ambitions.

The Korean people have experienced invasions, interventions, foreign occupations and internal rebellion.  For self-protection, Korea was often forced into unsought wars which left the  country exhausted and despaired.  Foreign policy was little more than survival.

Yet amid the ruins, Koreans never lost their quest for self-determination.  They maintained their national identity and never accepted the idea that their land was a colony of China or Japan nor swallowed by Communism.

The last century of Korea’s five-thousand-year history started as a colony of Japan in a near state of slavery and exploitation.  A few years of partial self-government in South Korea following the Second World War collapsed after three years of hostility with North Korea and China. The country lay in ruins and suffered the loss of over three million lives on both sides.

Split into two nations, the north was largely industrial and the south agricultural.  One-third of Korea’s population was displaced and in poverty for the beginning of an Asian Cold War that still festers fifty years later.

Koreans had little political or administrative experience when self-rule was restored.  The situation was ripe for corrupt and autocratic leadership, along with constant infiltration of terrorists from the communist north.  Political-party warfare existed since the last monarchy in the late 19th century producing inefficient and corrupt governments that opened the door to Japanese annexation in 1910.

The transformation of South Korea during the second half of the 20th century must be seen to be appreciated. Energized by the high-tech boom of the 1980s and political reform, the capitalistic prospects thrust the Republic of Korea into a first-world nation. Today it is an icon of modern, western-style democracy.

In contrast during the same number of years, North Korea spent its meager resources on armaments and nuclear research to terrorize its Asian neighbors. Communist rule propagated a standing army of one million conscripts. Meanwhile, infrastructure of their cities and a decent standard of living stagnated. Today twenty-two million North Koreans are without enough food to eat. Still their Red masters refuse any humanitarian assistance for fear of admitting failure of the communist system. It’s a classic case of self-denial.

This is the legacy that Kim Il Sung passed on to his son and their henchmen when he died in 1994 after almost fifty years’ of iron-fist rule. The one-time guerrilla warlord who resisted the Japanese occupation became a threat to U.S. authority when I was doing patrols with the U.S. military government.  His persistence kicked off the Korean War leaving a threadbare economy and near-bankrupt government to Kim Jong Il who continues militant relations with the free world. Apparently the deceased dictator still rules from the grave.

Since 1994, the United Nations’ efforts to enforce inspection of North Korea’s nuclear sites have been tenuous. This created yet another international schism and forced the U.S. to negotiate foreign aid concessions without many assurances of compliance from North Korea.

President Clinton received a luke-warm response to his pleas for a final peace treaty and officially end the Korean War. Unauthorized North Korean military movements in the DMZ, linked with continuous defections to the south, keep the hostile fires smoldering.

On tour of the Panmunjom peace village where the conference table straddles the precise line of demarcation, our U.S. veteran group saw virtual reality. Here we met face-to-face with armed North Korean guards casting their impassive, yet quizzical, stares at us, their designated enemies. Fifty years vaporized in my memory as I witnessed the young U.S. and R.O.K soldiers in starched and pressed uniforms face off with the communists with automatic weapons ready to fire.

Any future for Korean unification puts an onerous financial burden on South Korea that they no longer can afford. If Germany thought absorption of their eastern states was an economic and political nightmare, a Korean merger will be a shocker by comparison.

Then there is China publicly shunning any plan to put a Western-influenced nation on their borders. North Korea is their firewall against Western heat. However, China offers scant aid for the economic recovery of their impoverished wartime ally.

Big Brother should be equally concerned about North Korea’s nuclear capability. The recent withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty drew only a statement of “concern” while the United Nations admonished North Korea. Since 1994, the U.N. commission was mandated by international agreement to monitor nuclear activity above the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the 38th parallel.

This austere “peace” zone that splits the Korean Peninsula is hardly demilitarized. It is packed with combat-ready troops from both sides staring each other down. Korean War II has been only a blink away for fifty years.

In changing hats from a military presence to a civilian tourist, I was treated to a kaleidoscope of very up-scale transportation, architecture, and industry in the showcase capital city of Seoul. Prosperity in the young republic was dazzling when compared to the poverty of its neighbor.

I was astonished to realize how many South Koreans share a similar lack of anxiety over potential military hostility. More than a million armed soldiers lurk only forty miles away from Seoul with 8000 reservists on standby. Yet the predominately youthful southerners live and work near the DMZ without apparent fear.

So life goes on below the DMZ where barbed-wire fences contain the highways to the north and surround the Kimpo International Airport near Seoul. Guard towers spaced along the fences bristle with weapons and military on the alert. Lining the DMZ border are land mines, electrified fences, and anti-tank barriers that spread from sea to sea across the peninsula.

Threat of nuclear capability coupled with an aggressive and well-armed military regime certainly defines North Korea as a component of the axis of evil.. The nation suffers a minimal standard of living without support from the former Soviet. Like East Germans before unification, North Koreans look across the border at a glittering South Korea and wonder why the system is not providing for their needs. The time bomb is waiting to be set.

Looking back to the village insurrections in 1946, Americans must evaluate our past record of involvement in the affairs of Korea. U.S. occupation forces after World War II bungled the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule. The military government in charge consisted of battle-weary combat soldiers fresh from action in the Pacific. They brought with them little background in Oriental culture and history. Occupation of a foreign nation was not a procedure covered in the 1945 edition of the GI manual.

General Douglas MacArthur further complicated the job by encouraging retention of Japanese bureaucrats and security forces during the transition to a self-rule provisional government. This was a slur on Korean patriots who greeted their American liberators with hope for a new order of democracy after fifty years of bondage to Japan.

Appointments to key Korean government positions were made by an U.S. Army general whose father had been a missionary in Korea.  Important posts went to conservative Christian Koreans and ignored the popular liberals and moderates.  In shock, the majority of South Korean political groups joined with infiltrating Communists to form an opposition to the military-sponsored provisional government.

Meanwhile, north of the 38th parallel, the Russians recognized the wartime guerrillas who became the Peoples’ Party headed by Kim. They were used as an instrument of the Soviet while creating the illusion of self-rule in North Korea.

Seeking Asian allies to join America’s economic sanctions against North Korea is not succeeding. Neither Japan nor China were willing to hold our coat while we played hard ball with Kim. Prolonged appeasement in Korea only repeats history. Let’s not forget another tyrant who lured the negotiators to Munich with promises of peace.

Published in two installments January 24 and 27, 2003

 

                         

 BLAME IT ON BANGKOK

The promise of a Pacific Century for 2000 dimmed at the close of 1997 with the brownout of high-voltage Asian Tiger economies. The sky seemed to fall about the time Britain turned over its prize trading post, Hong Kong, to China on July 1st. During the formal ceremonies commemorating 150 years of English Imperial rule, the skies did open up in a deluge of rain. Was it an omen of catastrophes to come?

Later that same month, Thailand was hit with a currency meltdown that toppled their bloated stock market and real estate values. The virus spread quickly to neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia under the popular media catch-word “Asian Flu.” Bangkok is not entirely at blame for the fiscal crises in the Asian Tiger circuit. It was merely the first fat cat to learn that free-world financial markets cannot be manipulated by authoritarian governments who support their currency exchange with staggering debt and run-away speculation.

By the end of 1997, the Asian contagion spread to one of the miracle emerging nations of the Far East, South Korea. I observed the transformation of this ancient culture from 19th century feudalism into the eleventh largest global economy. This amazing feat happened in only two generations, most of the growth since 1980. I gathered up writings from different years of this period to form an anthology to reflect an overview of Korea’s 20th century military and economic history. It begins with my most recent commentary on the status of South Korea’s monetary collapse and North Korea’s plight as a starving nation seeking a reward to settle a war fought forty-five years ago.

 

DUAL KOREAN CRISES

No one expected South Korea to hit the economic skids and lose face by asking for massive loans to bailout its teetering financial markets. Since 1980, the Asian clone of U.S. capitalism  managed a brilliant turn around from the third world into a dynamic emerging nation. It was not easy to recover from a war-torn pawn in the 50-year struggle to halt communism on the Korean Peninsula.

Crisis is a way of life in this ancient Asian culture. Caught for centuries between imperial ambitions of Russia, China, and Japan, Koreans hoped for independence after the Japanese colonials were repatriated in 1945. It did not happen. Communism in the north merely replaced governing tyrants who keep the people in bondage and poverty. Democracy in the south is corrupted with greed that collapsed the vibrant economy. Both crises now need incalculable global charity to reverse economic meltdown.

What happened in South Korea to force its leaders to seek a staggering currency transfusion from the International Monetary Fund? It was a tough choice for imperious businessmen and cowering politicians, reports The Economist. Bailout loans from the IMF come with humiliating strings attached. For the cocky Koreans, the most painful sanction will be foreign surveillance of their monetary policies. The IMF insists on reforming traditional chaebol, or industrial conglomerates, subsidized by soft-government loans and cronyism.

Asian Tiger economies were global miracles until battered by adverse financial market last year. Addicted to a glut of debt that was manipulated by self-regulated currencies, it was a harsh lesson in economics for emerging countries. Despot rulers flouted their style of elite monopolies and learned that global markets cannot be played like puppets on a string.

Despite periodic corrupt governments (two past Korean presidents were just released from prison by a political amnesty), the ambitious wannabes in the south work hard to achieve prosperity by creating their own niche in world markets. American-style capitalism and ample U.S. economic aid make South Korea a showcase for developing nations around the world. By contrast, communism in the north spawned a repressed society with shortages of energy and food to keep 22 million (give or take 2 million) people alive.

Now that South Korea lost much of its fiscal luster and China is moving closer to center politically, perhaps the threadbare North Koreans will ease up on their refusal to negotiate a treaty. Talks that stalled for four decades are under way again in Geneva. Expectation of emergency food rations and oil supplies from benevolent nations is the bait drawing North Koreans to the peace table.

Any future for Korean unification puts an onerous financial burden on South Korea that they no longer can afford. If Germany thought absorption of their eastern states was an economic and political nightmare, a Korean merger will be a shocker by comparison. This option is no longer feasible in this century.

Then there is China publicly shunning any plan to put a Western-influenced nation on their borders. North Korea is their fire wall against Western heat. Recent press leaks to establish China’s territory for the Geneva talks hinted of their demand to keep the North Korean regime in power. The problem is, China is not offering any significant aid for economic recovery of their impoverished wartime ally.

Big Brother probably is equally concerned about North Korea’s nuclear capability. That is a secret still not penetrated by the United Nations commission mandated by international agreement to monitor nuclear activity above the DMZ. This austere “peace” zone that splits the Korean Peninsula is hardly demilitarized. It is packed with combat-ready troops from both sides staring each other down. Korean War II has been only a blink away for forty years.

In changing hats from a military presence to a civilian tourist, I was treated to a kaleidoscope of very up-scale transportation, architecture, and industry in the showcase capital city of Seoul. Prosperity in the young republic was dazzling when compared to the poverty of its neighbor only forty miles away.

Military experts now concur that North Korea cannot sustain any aggression against the Seoul government. Nor can they rely on help from China or Russia in this post-Cold War twilight zone. Thus, starvation is the plight forcing communists to talk treaty replacing the old crisis of a military stand off.Their new bargaining chips will be vast economic aid, diplomatic status, and removal of trade sanctions and foreign troops. Whatever is granted to North Korea in exchange for a peace treaty will cost the U.S. in dollars and prestige.

Rejuvenation of a stable currency in South Korea is the concurrent crisis facing world banks. Already, the IMF committed $57 billion to bailout two Asian Tigers, Thailand and Indonesia. Korea asked for another $57 billion for themselves. Some economists say this is only half of what is needed to rescue their conglomerates that are teetering dominos bloated with debt.

Meanwhile, Japan and the U.S. stand by to write checks after the IMF-World Bank salvage team gets into the tent. They need to assess how bad the foreign loan defaults are going to be. While banks and brokerages are shutting their doors as the Korean won plummets, many government ministers insist that they are not charity cases and refuse outside governance.

Late in December, jolted Korean voters went to the polls to put out the incestuous ruling political party. They elected a new president who campaigned for rescission of the IMF deal if the loans require reform of the chaebol conglomerates. It appears Kim Dae-jung is obliged to the elite bureaucracies and trade unions who crafted Korea’s surprise monetary collapse.

President-elect Kim and his new administration have little room to maneuver. At the end of January, refinancing of national debt needs $1 billion and another $100 billion over the next twelve months. “The reality is that we have no money,” Kim told stunned U.S. officials and triggered another currency decline.

With the value of the won down 54 percent since June and ratings for new bond issues at junk-bond levels, where will the 1998 refinancing come from? It doesn’t take a math major to realize that the IMF $57-billion-bailout package is not enough.

Equally troublesome will be a politically-incorrect reform of the chaebol system. Combined with higher interest rates and a scale back of economic growth, dismantling the conglomerates may cost at least one million jobs. Can Kim and his ministers survive the workers’ backlash?

An Associated Press correspondent in Seoul described  conglomerates as the engines of South Korea’s meteoric economy. I see them as run-away trains set on a collision course with world banking and foreign investors. The impact could be fatal.

(Published January 2, 1998)

 

KOREA THEN AND NOW 

A convoy of U.S. Army jeeps rattled along the dirt road, breaking the pre-dawn silence.  Ponds of dormant rice paddies and villages of straw huts rested under the icy haze of a November night. The Korean countryside near the 38th parallel was quiet, cold and bleak in front of the probing lights of the caravan crossing the desolate landscape.

Young GIs on a military patrol clutched their M-1 rifles and adjusted their helmets joggled by the potholes along the cart road leading to a farmers’ village. Their mission was to seek out and apprehend Communist dissentients working the neighborhood for the overthrow of military occupation forces. The agitators planned a Soviet-inspired take over with the support of oppressed Korean peasants.  The year was 1946.

Fast-forward to 1996. Fifty years later, the same military readiness is mobilized to oppose Communist forces in a stand-off at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) splitting North from South Korea.  A mere four-mile strip of hostile land separates a totalitarian dictatorship from a prosperous, emerging democracy. The contrasts observed in landscape and ideaoligy are awesome.

;I was one of those young GIs on patrol fifty years ago and returned to Korea this year for a pilgrimage of curiosity and remembrance. The transformation of South Korea  must be seen to be appreciated. Emerging in 1946 from a serfdom subjected to Japanese colonization for thirty-five years, then ravished by a war with Communist North Korea and China, South Korea today is an icon of modern, western-style democracy.

In contrast during the same number of years, North Korea spent its meager resources on armaments and nuclear research to terrorize its Asian neighbors.

Fifty years of communist rule propagated a standing army of one million conscripts. Meanwhile, infrastructure of their cities and a decent standard of living stagnated. Today twenty-two million North Koreans are without enough food to eat. Still their Red masters refuse any humanitarian assistance for fear of admitting failure of the communist system. It’s a classic case of self-denial.

This is the legacy that Kim Il Sung passed on to his son and their henchmen when he died in 1994 after fifty years’ of iron rule. His son inherited a threadbare economy and near-bankrupt government which continues its militant relations with the free world. Apparently the deceased Stalinist dictator still rules from the grave.

The Far Eastern Economic Review observed in July 1994, “Son also rises, but for holong?”  Kim Jong Il took over his father’s domain and immediately waged a verbal war with the president of South Korea. Heating up the slow simmer of discord, he retaliated by closing the border and refusing exit to South Koreans wishing to attend Kim Il Sung’s funeral.    The tension was so great by July 19, 1994 that South Koreacalled its military stationed at the border to active alert.  This was only one of many “incidents” in the DMZ that kept unification of the two nations from consummation over the last fifty years.

Since 1994, the United Nations’ efforts to enforce inspection of North Korea’s nuclear sites have failed. This created yet another international schism and forced the U.S. to negotiate foreign aid concessions without many assurances from North Korea of compliance.

President Clinton received a lukewarm response to his pleas for a final peace treaty and officially end the Korean War started so many years ago. More recently unauthorized North Korean military action in the DMZ, linked with a communist jet pilot defection to the south, keeps the hostility fires smoldering.

On tour of the Panmunjom peace village where the conference table straddles the precise line of demarcation, our U.S. veteran group saw virtual reality. Here we met face-to-face with armed North Korean guards casting their impassive, yet quizzical, stares at us, their designated enemies. Fifty years vaporized in my memory as I witnessed the young U.S. and R.O.K soldiers in starched and pressed uniforms face off with the communists with automatic weapons ready to fire. Diplomatic crises recur so frequently that the world-wide news value fades to back-page coverage after a day or two.  It is no surprise that two generations of Americans give scant attention to the aftermath of that long-ago war. The later tragedy of Vietnam is more painful for younger Americans.

I was astonished to realize how many South Koreans share a similar lack of anxiety over potential military hostility. More than a million armed soldiers lurk only forty miles away from Seoul. Yet the predominately youthful southerners live and work near the DMZ without apparent fear.

So life goes on below the DMZ where barbed-wire fences contain the highways to the north and surround the Kimpo International Airport near Seoul. Guard towers spaced along the fences bristle with weapons and military on the alert. Lining the DMZ border are land mines, electrified fences, and anti-tank barriers that spread from sea to sea across the peninsula.

Looking back over the fifty-year interval between my visits to South Korea, I find many tangible changes but few ideological innovations. The standard of living improved dramatically in South Korea, but the military stance only intensified.  The shooting war in Korea ended forty-five years ago. Sadly, the struggle for peace continues now as it did then when I rambled over that dirt road on patrol.

(Prepared after the May 1996 visit to South Korea and edited for redundant text)

 

 VETERAN REVISIT TO THE DMZ

Perched on a remote hilltop swept by a light breeze, I squint through the summer haze to better focus on the forbidden frontier below me. The rugged mountains of North Asia shimmer on the bleak horizon. Our curious military group penetrates the bamboo curtain into a politically sensitive demilitarized zone known as the DMZ.  This strip of land, a mere four miles wide, severs the Korean peninsula into two diverse social ideologies.

Here on a lonely military outlook I sense the tension of American-brand capitalism facing off against a redundant style of Communism. North Korea is the sole remaining bastion of radical Marxism.

The DMZ is a cooled-down battleground where the shooting war stopped forty-five years ago. But the battle of wills drags on while North Korea stubbornly refuses to parley for a permanent peace treaty.  It’s a time warp that propels a visitor like me back to the 1950s.

Our tour to the Korean DMZ is a somber experience for the group of American veterans who served there. Viewing formidable military and propaganda installations in the Joint Security Area and the Panmunjon “peace village” recalls some bitter memories of the Korean War (called the June 25th War by the South Koreans).

Not everyone has visitation access to the DMZ because of the combustible border mood. Security clearance is limited to foreign nationals and nearly impossible for most native Koreans on both sides of the invisible wall. Our group of honored U.S. armed forces veterans are easily approved. Passage for others is denied due to extreme terrorist action and persistent North Korean infiltration along the border.

Standing on that ridge after eye-ball contact in Panmunjon with armed North Korean soldiers left me with a sense of angst. Perhaps it is the tense environment during the briefing for our conduct while present on the JSA: stay in a tight groups, no suggestive gestures, traditional dress code, etc.  Or maybe it is the solemn and strict protocol that our young American and Korean escorts reveal as we progress among the fortifications.

To grasp some insight to the Korean dilemma, a brief primer on the nation’s complex history is helpful. For centuries, Korea was destined to be in a tug of war for mastery of the northern Pacific of Asia. Often referred called the “Balkans of the Orient”, Korea lies in the center of the Far East triangle, a strategic buffer for centuries and coveted by neighbors, China, Japan, and Russia.

Korea still struggles for peace and independence after 5000 years of uncertain sovereignty. This latest century of national strife started with Korea as a colony of Japan. The Second World War released their yoke of subservient exploitation. A few years of partial self-government promised democracy at last for South Korea, then collapsed during three years of hostilities with North Korea and China.

At mid-century, remote and unknown Korea lay in ruins having suffered the loss of over three million lives on both sides during the June 25th War. Failure to achieve a definitive peace treaty at Panmunjon provoked the start of an Asian Cold War. One-third of Korea’s population was displaced and put into poverty when the uneasy truce began in 1953.

No doubt this century will end as it began in Korea.  Back then, the oppressed nation felt the sting of Japanese annexation.  Now Communist stagnation in the north still clouds the quest for unified independence and freedom from foreign intervention.

Yet amid the ruins, Koreans never lost their sense of self-determination. They maintain their national identity and never except the notion that their land is a colony of China or Japan.

With an U.S. military presence in North Asia, sovereignty is assured but not unification. Foreign intervention still permeates the south, while Communism strangles the north and keeps on the cutting edge of Asian diplomacy.

As a revisit veteran to Korea, I am disturbed to realize these industrious and friendly people still endure an uneasy truce in the DMZ. Fifty years is a long holding pattern.  Two generations of Koreans were born and grew up in the shadow of troubled self-government.

(Prepared after the May 1996 visit to South Korea)

 

KOREAN TIME BOMB

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites, Korea has the dubious distinction of being the last military frontier standing against Communism.  China was the evil empire of the Orient for fifty years. Opening diplomatic relations and granting the most-favored-nation doctrine for trade broke the ice in communist Asia, and now change is in the wind.

Korea, for centuries a colonial slave to both China and Japan, has had little history as a sovereign nation. Before World War II brought the Western Allies to this remote land, the imperialist ambitions of Japan dominated Korea. Almost a century of war, foreign occupation, and economic remission records the dismal  history of this isolated nation.

The old order in most of the Far East did not survive the passing of its founding leaders, except in North Korea. The objectives of the North Korean leaders are directed more for personal immortality than for the best interest of the Korean people and the world.

Communist dictator Kim II Sung kept North Korea isolated during the Cold War with assistance from China and the former Soviet Union. Historically, this is a nation always seeking seclusion from foreign interference. Kim surely realized that to emerge from behind the silk curtain of isolation would destroy his regime.

In 1994, the old ruler of North Korea since 1945 died but planned to keep control from the grave by nepotism.  His son, Kim Jong Il, continues in a game of diplomatic poker with a nuclear hold card. With the Jimmy Carter-inspired diplomatic talks in Geneva suspended, the direction of the next move by Kim’s regime is unchartered by Asia watchers.

Threat of nuclear capability coupled with an aggressive andwell-armed military regime puts North Korea on the top of the world-crisis list. The nation suffers a minimal standard of living without support from the former Soviet. Like East Germans before unification, North Koreans look across the border at a glittering South Korea and wonder why the system is not providing for their needs. The time bomb is waiting to be set.

Looking back to the village insurrections in 1946, Americans must evaluate our past record of involvement in the affairs of Korea. U.S. occupation forces after World War II bungled the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule. The military government in charge consisted of battle-weary combat soldiers fresh from action in the Pacific.

They brought with them little background in Oriental culture and history. Occupation of a foreign nation was not a procedure covered in the 1945 edition of the GI manual.

General Douglas MacArthur further complicated the job by encouraging retention of Japanese bureaucrats and security forces during the transition to a self-rule provisional government. This was a slur on Korean patriots who greeted their American liberators with hope of a new order of democracy after fifty years of bondage to Japan.

Appointments to key Korean government positions were made by an U.S. Army general whose father had been a missionary in Korea.  Important posts went to conservative Christian Koreans and ignored the popular liberals and moderates.  In shock, the majority of South Korean political groups joined with infiltrating Communists to form an opposition to the military-sponsored provisional government.

Meanwhile, north of the 38th parallel, the Russians recognized the wartime guerrillas who became the Peoples’ Party headed by Kim. They were used as an instrument of the Soviet while creating the illusion of self-rule in North Korea.

A weak Western position in Korea finally evolved by 1950 into an all-out war between the U.S and China disguised as an United Nations police action to put down a Korean rebellion.

Experienced Communist guerrillas moved in rapidly to take over democratic South Korea as Americans withdrew by treaty. The end of the three-year Korean War split the nation permanently in half. Today Korea continues to be an ideological battleground – the last frontier of redundant Communism. This Oriental Cold War is the most dangerous, yet questionable, military threat confronting First-World nations.

Without support of former Chinese and Soviet allies, how long could a Korean War II last? American military forces  stationed in South Korea would be overrun, as they were in 1950, during the initial onslaught. Would the U.S. send more troops back to this old battlefield, or let the crisis pass as a civil war a `la Yugoslavia?

If there was any doubt of Kim’s intentions, we might wonder why North Korea keeps a mobilized armed force of 1.2 million and an arsenal of deadly weapons. What enemy do they expect to invade this little country? With few trade prospects from a poor economy, the nation can exist only by the sale of illegal weapons to oil-rich aggressors in the Middle East.

It should be no surprise to U.S. diplomats that Kim intended to raid South Korea’s wealth and to unify the nation under his communist regime. The late dictator committed to his people that the 50th anniversary of liberation from Japan (1995) will be the first year of Korean unification under his domination. Kim II ceased sending these aggressive signals as the nation’s economic recession deepened. The time bomb is now ticking.

This aggressor has struck before without suffering sanctions. After the Korean War ended in stalemate in 1953, Kim’s military forces hijacked the U.S. gunboat Pueblo and shot down a Korean Airlines aircraft. Lately he defied the nuclear inspections and threatened to overthrow sovereign South Korea.  Tensions along the 38th parallel darken the tone of all relations on the Pacific Rim. Traditional trade alliances and diplomatic links appear insecure.

After forty years of blind loyalty to the U.S., South Korea is embarking on a “Yankee go home” season.  They resent the presence of 37,000 American troops and prefer to maintain the wobbly peace with their northern brothers.  In the present environment, there is little hope of Korean unification until the Communist regime is ousted by dissatisfied citizens seeking a better world.

Meanwhile, the select commission from the International Atomic Energy Agency traveled to North Korea to inspect sites and was sent away without satisfaction. It seems this commission is toothless, with no bite and only some bark.  While U.S. diplomats press for international trade sanctions in retaliation, the CIA fans the fire and defense contractors see new-business prospects.  Despite Americans’ penchant for re-runs and sequels, a Korean War II should not be provoked or undertaken to save face.

This impasse amounts to diplomatic meltdown for the Clinton policy in Korea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                 }

            Korea Then and Now}

 

            Veteran Revisit to the DMZ – Prepared after visit to Korea in 1996

 

            Korean Time Bomb – Published 1994

 

 

Note: All commentaries were published in The San Diego Daily Transcript

 

 

 

 

 

 

KOREAN KALEIDOSCOPE

 

 

My connection with Korea was a chance encounter because of my service in the U.S. Army 1945-1947. If the atomic bomb had not been used to end World War II in the Pacific, I surely would have been in one of the first invasion forces on the Japanese mainland. It was planned for early Spring 1945. I was being prepared for overseas service after completing the full 19-week combat basic training at Camp Roberts and final deployment at Fort Ord. for shipment out of Fort Lewis, Seattle in February.

Instead of fighting the Japanese, I was posted in the army of occupation in Korea. Our troopship of young G.I. Joes had little idea of where we were headed. The country was then known by its Japanese name, Chosun. We called the capital city “Su-ool” rather than “Soul.”

The war had ended so abruptly in August that little planning for occupation of a foreign nation and repatriation of Japanese nationals in Korea was available to the battle-weary troops.

My year there was divided between routine guard duty and reassignment to the 20th Infantry Regimental Headquarters to edit the weekly newspaper. I was also occasionally involved in patrol duty for the Military Government stationed in Kwangju, South Korea. I managed a trip to Seoul and Tokyo as a representative of the army information services to attend an editors’ conference.

 

Over the next 50 years, I monitored the Korea’s progress through war, economic and political crises, and the cultural change of South Korea into a Western-style, capitalistic key player in global trade. I began writing editorial material after retirement and found my experience in Korea helpful in understanding the issues in the Pacific. A veterans’ Korean revisit trip in 1996 on my 50th anniversary year gave me some new insights into the Korean Peninsula Cold War that developed out of the Korean War of 1950-1953 but actually began during my tour of duty before hostilities permanently split the nation.

With the nuclear arms crises re-emerging in 2003, I prepared updates on the Korean situation for my column in the San Diego Daily Transcript. This was a good excuse to dust-off my old manuscripts and previously published commentaries back to 1994. Following is a compilation of these writings with some editing for redundant text and some bridging of related columns into a composite essay.

 

 

Prepared by John Patrick Ford

January 2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KOREA PUSHES THE ENVELOPE

 

A crisis on the Korean Peninsula is back in the headlines, again. For over 50 years, the problems created by partition of a nation keep coming back to haunt U.S. diplomacy in the Far East. That’s because South Korea is a western capitalistic clone while North Korea clings to an archaic Marxist doctrines. They could hardly be more diverse, yet of one culture.

The only change this time in the delicate standoff is deteriorating relationships with America by both countries. North Korea rattles its nuclear saber to extort more economic aid while South Korea is nipping at the hand that saved the nation from communist takeover in 1950. American blood was spilled on Korean soil for three miserable years that ended with the ungrateful epitaph, “the forgotten war.”

Twice I visited South Korea – just fifty years apart. My first time was an all-expense-paid tour of duty by courtesy of the U.S. Army. My outfit was the guardian of democracy while

posted in a liberated nation divided by civil strife. The communists wanted the Americans out. After I departed, the 1950 Korean War came very close to doing just that.

My second time out to the Far East was on a bargain tour as a guest of the Korean government under a veteran re-visit program. I saw amazing changes in fifty years, except that the country was still divided into two incompatible ideologies and economies.

This condition will probably remain status quo until the North Koreans overthrow their communist dictatorship and consummate a peace treaty with their old enemies. Very little notice is given today to the fact that technically South Korea and the U.S. are still at war with North Korea.

The cease-fire agreement that ended hostilities in 1953 governs the international zone cutting Korea in half. When our allies in the Far East protest the presence of 37,000 American military personnel in South Korea, they forget that we still have a commitment to keep the peace in this land that we defended with so many casualties.

Domination of the North Asian Pacific caught Korea in a tug of war for centuries.  It is often referred to as the “Balkans of the Orient.” Korea lies in the center of the Far East triangle, a strategic buffer position for China, Japan, and Russia. It is a pawn for its neighbors’ imperialistic ambitions.

The Korean people have experienced invasions, interventions, foreign occupations and internal rebellion.  For self-protection, Korea was often forced into unsought wars which left the  country exhausted and despaired.  Foreign policy was little more than survival.

Yet amid the ruins, Koreans never lost their quest for self-determination.  They maintained their national identity and never accepted the idea that their land was a colony of China or Japan nor swallowed by Communism.

The last century of Korea’s five-thousand-year history started as a colony of Japan in a near state of slavery and exploitation.  A few years of partial self-government in South Korea following the Second World War collapsed after three years of hostility with North Korea and China. The country lay in ruins and suffered the loss of over three million lives on both sides.

Split into two nations, the north was largely industrial and the south agricultural.  One-third of Korea’s population was displaced and in poverty for the beginning of an Asian Cold War that still festers fifty years later.

 

 

Koreans had little political or administrative experience when self-rule was restored.  The situation was ripe for corrupt and autocratic leadership, along with constant infiltration of terrorists from the communist north.  Political-party warfare existed since the last monarchy in the late 19th century producing inefficient and corrupt governments that opened the door to Japanese annexation in 1910.

The transformation of South Korea during the second half of the 20th century must be seen to be appreciated. Energized by the high-tech boom of the 1980s and political reform, the capitalistic prospects thrust the Republic of Korea into a first-world nation. Today it is an icon of modern, western-style democracy.

In contrast during the same number of years, North Korea spent its meager resources on armaments and nuclear research to terrorize its Asian neighbors. Communist rule propagated a standing army of one million conscripts. Meanwhile, infrastructure of their cities and a decent standard of living stagnated. Today twenty-two million North Koreans are without enough food to eat. Still their Red masters refuse any humanitarian assistance for fear of admitting failure of the communist system. It’s a classic case of self-denial.

This is the legacy that Kim Il Sung passed on to his son and their henchmen when he died in 1994 after almost fifty years’ of iron-fist rule. The one-time guerrilla warlord who resisted the Japanese occupation became a threat to U.S. authority when I was doing patrols with the U.S. military government.  His persistence kicked off the Korean War leaving a threadbare economy and near-bankrupt government to Kim Jong Il who continues militant relations with the free world. Apparently the deceased dictator still rules from the grave.

Since 1994, the United Nations’ efforts to enforce inspection of North Korea’s nuclear sites have been tenuous. This created yet another international schism and forced the U.S. to negotiate foreign aid concessions without many assurances of compliance from North Korea.

President Clinton received a luke-warm response to his pleas for a final peace treaty and officially end the Korean War. Unauthorized North Korean military movements in the DMZ, linked with continuous defections to the south, keep the hostile fires smoldering.

On tour of the Panmunjom peace village where the conference table straddles the precise line of demarcation, our U.S. veteran group saw virtual reality. Here we met face-to-face with armed North Korean guards casting their impassive, yet quizzical, stares at us, their designated enemies. Fifty years vaporized in my memory as I witnessed the young U.S. and R.O.K soldiers in starched and pressed uniforms face off with the communists with automatic weapons ready to fire.

Any future for Korean unification puts an onerous financial burden on South Korea that they no longer can afford. If Germany thought absorption of their eastern states was an economic and political nightmare, a Korean merger will be a shocker by comparison.

Then there is China publicly shunning any plan to put a Western-influenced nation on their borders. North Korea is their firewall against Western heat. However, China offers scant aid for the economic recovery of their impoverished wartime ally.

Big Brother should be equally concerned about North Korea’s nuclear capability. The recent withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty drew only a statement of “concern” while the United Nations admonished North Korea. Since 1994, the U.N. commission was mandated by international agreement to monitor nuclear activity above the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the 38th parallel.

This austere “peace” zone that splits the Korean Peninsula is hardly demilitarized. It is packed with combat-ready troops from both sides staring each other down. Korean War II has been only a blink away for fifty years.

In changing hats from a military presence to a civilian tourist, I was treated to a kaleidoscope of very up-scale transportation, architecture, and industry in the showcase capital city of Seoul. Prosperity in the young republic was dazzling when compared to the poverty of its neighbor.

I was astonished to realize how many South Koreans share a similar lack of anxiety over potential military hostility. More than a million armed soldiers lurk only forty miles away from Seoul with 8000 reservists on standby. Yet the predominately youthful southerners live and work near the DMZ without apparent fear.

So life goes on below the DMZ where barbed-wire fences contain the highways to the north and surround the Kimpo International Airport near Seoul. Guard towers spaced along the fences bristle with weapons and military on the alert. Lining the DMZ border are land mines, electrified fences, and anti-tank barriers that spread from sea to sea across the peninsula.

Threat of nuclear capability coupled with an aggressive and well-armed military regime certainly defines North Korea as a component of the axis of evil.. The nation suffers a minimal standard of living without support from the former Soviet. Like East Germans before unification, North Koreans look across the border at a glittering South Korea and wonder why the system is not providing for their needs. The time bomb is waiting to be set.

 

Looking back to the village insurrections in 1946, Americans must evaluate our past record of involvement in the affairs of Korea. U.S. occupation forces after World War II bungled the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule. The military government in charge consisted of battle-weary combat soldiers fresh from action in the Pacific. They brought with them little background in Oriental culture and history. Occupation of a foreign nation was not a procedure covered in the 1945 edition of the GI manual.

General Douglas MacArthur further complicated the job by encouraging retention of Japanese bureaucrats and security forces during the transition to a self-rule provisional government. This was a slur on Korean patriots who greeted their American liberators with hope for a new order of democracy after fifty years of bondage to Japan.

Appointments to key Korean government positions were made by an U.S. Army general whose father had been a missionary in Korea.  Important posts went to conservative Christian Koreans and ignored the popular liberals and moderates.  In shock, the majority of South Korean political groups joined with infiltrating Communists to form an opposition to the military-sponsored provisional government.

Meanwhile, north of the 38th parallel, the Russians recognized the wartime guerrillas who became the Peoples’ Party headed by Kim. They were used as an instrument of the Soviet while creating the illusion of self-rule in North Korea.

Seeking Asian allies to join America’s economic sanctions against North Korea is not succeeding. Neither Japan nor China were willing to hold our coat while we played hard ball with Kim. Prolonged appeasement in Korea only repeats history. Let’s not forget another tyrant who lured the negotiators to Munich with promises of peace.

Published in two installments January 24 and 27, 2003

 

 

                 BLAME IT ON BANGKOK

 

The promise of a Pacific Century for 2000 dimmed at the close of 1997 with the brownout of high-voltage Asian Tiger economies. The sky seemed to fall about the time Britain turned over its prize trading post, Hong Kong, to China on July 1st. During the formal ceremonies commemorating 150 years of English Imperial rule, the skies did open up in a deluge of rain. Was it an omen of catastrophes to come?

 

Later that same month, Thailand was hit with a currency meltdown that toppled their bloated stock market and real estate values. The virus spread quickly to neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia under the popular media catch-word “Asian Flu.” Bangkok is not entirely at blame for the fiscal crises in the Asian Tiger circuit. It was merely the first fat cat to learn that free-world financial markets cannot be manipulated by authoritarian governments who support their currency exchange with staggering debt and run-away speculation.

 

By the end of 1997, the Asian contagion spread to one of the miracle emerging nations of the Far East, South Korea. I observed the transformation of this ancient culture from 19th century feudalism into the eleventh largest global economy. This amazing feat happened in only two generations, most of the growth since 1980. I gathered up writings from different years of this period to form an anthology to reflect an overview of Korea’s 20th century military and economic history. It begins with my most recent commentary on the status of South Korea’s monetary collapse and North Korea’s plight as a starving nation seeking a reward to settle a war fought forty-five years ago.

 


 

             DUAL KOREAN CRISES

 

No one expected South Korea to hit the economic skids and lose face by asking for massive loans to bailout its teetering financial markets. Since 1980, the Asian clone of U.S. capitalism  managed a brilliant turn around from the third world into a dynamic emerging nation. It was not easy to recover from a war-torn pawn in the 50-year struggle to halt communism on the Korean Peninsula.

 

Crisis is a way of life in this ancient Asian culture. Caught for centuries between imperial ambitions of Russia, China, and Japan, Koreans hoped for independence after the Japanese colonials were repatriated in 1945. It did not happen. Communism in the north merely replaced governing tyrants who keep the people in bondage and poverty. Democracy in the south is corrupted with greed that collapsed the vibrant economy. Both crises now need incalculable global charity to reverse economic meltdown.

What happened in South Korea to force its leaders to seek a staggering currency transfusion from the International Monetary Fund? It was a tough choice for imperious businessmen and cowering politicians, reports The Economist. Bailout loans from the IMF come with humiliating strings attached. For the cocky Koreans, the most painful sanction will be foreign surveillance of their monetary policies. The IMF insists on reforming traditional chaebol, or industrial conglomerates, subsidized by soft-government loans and cronyism.

 

Asian Tiger economies were global miracles until battered by adverse financial markets last year. Addicted to a glut of debt that was manipulated by self-regulated currencies, it was a harsh lesson in economics for emerging countries. Despot rulers flouted their style of elite monopolies and learned that global markets cannot be played like puppets on a string.

 

 

Despite periodic corrupt governments (two past Korean presidents were just released from prison by a political amnesty), the ambitious wannabes in the south work hard to achieve prosperity by creating their own niche in world markets. American-style capitalism and ample U.S. economic aid make South Korea a showcase for developing nations around the world. By contrast, communism in the north spawned a repressed society with shortages of energy and food to keep 22 million (give or take 2 million) people alive.

 

Now that South Korea lost much of its fiscal luster and China is moving closer to center politically, perhaps the threadbare North Koreans will ease up on their refusal to negotiate a treaty. Talks that stalled for four decades are under way again in Geneva. Expectation of emergency food rations and oil supplies from benevolent nations is the bait drawing North Koreans to the peace table.

 

Any future for Korean unification puts an onerous financial burden on South Korea that they no longer can afford. If Germany thought absorption of their eastern states was an economic and political nightmare, a Korean merger will be a shocker by comparison. This option is no longer feasible in this century.

 

Then there is China publicly shunning any plan to put a Western-influenced nation on their borders. North Korea is their fire wall against Western heat. Recent press leaks to establish China’s territory for the Geneva talks hinted of their demand to keep the North Korean regime in power. The problem is, China is not offering any significant aid for economic recovery of their impoverished wartime ally.

 

 

 

 

 

Big Brother probably is equally concerned about North Korea’s nuclear capability. That is a secret still not penetrated by the United Nations commission mandated by international agreement to monitor nuclear activity above the DMZ. This austere “peace” zone that splits the Korean Peninsula is hardly demilitarized. It is packed with combat-ready troops from both sides staring each other down. Korean War II has been only a blink away for forty years.

 

 

In changing hats from a military presence to a civilian tourist, I was treated to a kaleidoscope of very up-scale transportation, architecture, and industry in the showcase capital city of Seoul. Prosperity in the young republic was dazzling when compared to the poverty of its neighbor only forty miles away.

 

Military experts now concur that North Korea cannot sustain any aggression against the Seoul government. Nor can they rely on help from China or Russia in this post-Cold War twilight zone. Thus, starvation is the plight forcing communists to talk treaty replacing the old crisis of a military stand off.Their new bargaining chips will be vast economic aid, diplomatic status, and removal of trade sanctions and foreign troops. Whatever is granted to North Korea in exchange for a peace treaty will cost the U.S. in dollars and prestige.

 

Rejuvenation of a stable currency in South Korea is the concurrent crisis facing world banks. Already, the IMF committed $57 billion to bailout two Asian Tigers, Thailand and Indonesia. Korea asked for another $57 billion for themselves. Some economists say this is only half of what is needed to rescue their conglomerates that are teetering dominos bloated with debt.

 

Meanwhile, Japan and the U.S. stand by to write checks after the IMF-World Bank salvage team gets into the tent. They need to assess how bad the foreign loan defaults are going to be. While banks and brokerages are shutting their doors as the Korean won plummets, many government ministers insist that they are not charity cases and refuse outside governance.

 

Late in December, jolted Korean voters went to the polls to put out the incestuous ruling political party. They elected a new president who campaigned for rescission of the IMF deal if the loans require reform of the chaebol conglomerates. It appears Kim Dae-jung is obliged to the elite bureaucracies and trade unions who crafted Korea’s surprise monetary collapse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

President-elect Kim and his new administration have little room to maneuver. At the end of January, refinancing of national debt needs $1 billion and another $100 billion over the next twelve months. “The reality is that we have no money,” Kim told stunned U.S. officials and triggered another currency decline.

 

With the value of the won down 54 percent since June and ratings for new bond issues at junk-bond levels, where will the 1998 refinancing come from? It doesn’t take a math major to realize that the IMF $57-billion-bailout package is not enough.

 

Equally troublesome will be a politically-incorrect reform of the chaebol system. Combined with higher interest rates and a scale back of economic growth, dismantling the conglomerates may cost at least one million jobs. Can Kim and his ministers survive the workers’ backlash?

 

An Associated Press correspondent in Seoul described  conglomerates as the engines of South Korea’s meteoric economy. I see them as run-away trains set on a collision course with world banking and foreign investors. The impact could be fatal.

 

 

 

(Published January 2, 1998)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KOREA THEN AND NOW

 

A convoy of U.S. Army jeeps rattled along the dirt road, breaking the pre-dawn silence.  Ponds of dormant rice paddies and villages of straw huts rested under the icy haze of a November night. The Korean countryside near the 38th parallel was quiet, cold and bleak in front of the probing lights of the caravan crossing the desolate landscape.

 

Young GIs on a military patrol clutched their M-1 rifles and adjusted their helmets joggled by the potholes along the cart road leading to a farmers’ village. Their mission was to seek out and apprehend Communist dissentients working the neighborhood for the overthrow of military occupation forces. The agitators planned a Soviet-inspired take over with the support of oppressed Korean peasants.  The year was 1946.

Fast-forward to 1996. Fifty years later, the same military readiness is mobilized to oppose Communist forces in a stand-off at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) splitting North from South Korea.  A mere four-mile strip of hostile land separates a totalitarian dictatorship from a prosperous, emerging democracy. The contrasts observed in landscape and idealogy are awesome.

 

I was one of those young GIs on patrol fifty years ago and returned to Korea this year for a pilgrimage of curiosity and remembrance. The transformation of South Korea  must be seen to be appreciated. Emerging in 1946 from a serfdom subjected to Japanese colonization for thirty-five years, then ravished by a war with Communist North Korea and China, South Korea today is an icon of modern, western-style democracy.

 

In contrast during the same number of years, North Korea spent its meager resources on armaments and nuclear research to terrorize its Asian neighbors.

 

 

Fifty years of communist rule propagated a standing army of one million conscripts. Meanwhile, infrastructure of their cities and a decent standard of living stagnated. Today twenty-two million North Koreans are without enough food to eat. Still their Red masters refuse any humanitarian assistance for fear of admitting failure of the communist system. It’s a classic case of self-denial.

 

This is the legacy that Kim Il Sung passed on to his son and their henchmen when he died in 1994 after fifty years’ of iron rule. His son inherited a threadbare economy and near-bankrupt government which continues its militant relations with the free world. Apparently the deceased Stalinist dictator still rules from the grave.

 

The Far Eastern Economic Review observed in July 1994, “Son also rises, but for how long?”  Kim Jong Il took over his father’s domain and immediately waged a verbal war with the president of South Korea. Heating up the slow simmer of discord, he retaliated by closing the border and refusing exit to South Koreans wishing to attend Kim Il Sung’s funeral.    The tension was so great by July 19, 1994 that South Korea

called its military stationed at the border to active alert.  This was only one of many “incidents” in the DMZ that kept unification of the two nations from consummation over the last fifty years.

 

Since 1994, the United Nations’ efforts to enforce inspection of North Korea’s nuclear sites have failed. This created yet another international schism and forced the U.S. to negotiate foreign aid concessions without many assurances from North Korea of compliance.

 

 

President Clinton received a lukewarm response to his pleas for a final peace treaty and officially end the Korean War started so many years ago. More recently unauthorized North Korean military action in the DMZ, linked with a communist jet pilot defection to the south, keeps the hostility fires smoldering.

 

On tour of the Panmunjom peace village where the conference table straddles the precise line of demarcation, our U.S. veteran group saw virtual reality. Here we met face-to-face with armed North Korean guards casting their impassive, yet quizzical, stares at us, their designated enemies. Fifty years vaporized in my memory as I witnessed the young U.S. and R.O.K soldiers in starched and pressed uniforms face off with the communists with automatic weapons ready to fire. Diplomatic crises recur so frequently that the world-wide news value fades to back-page coverage after a day or two.  It is no surprise that two generations of Americans give scant attention to the aftermath of that long-ago war. The later tragedy of Vietnam is more painful for younger Americans.

 

I was astonished to realize how many South Koreans share a similar lack of anxiety over potential military hostility. More than a million armed soldiers lurk only forty miles away from Seoul. Yet the predominately youthful southerners live and work near the DMZ without apparent fear.

 

 

So life goes on below the DMZ where barbed-wire fences contain the highways to the north and surround the Kimpo International Airport near Seoul. Guard towers spaced along the fences bristle with weapons and military on the alert. Lining the DMZ border are land mines, electrified fences, and anti-tank barriers that spread from sea to sea across the peninsula.

 

Looking back over the fifty-year interval between my visits to South Korea, I find many tangible changes but few ideological innovations. The standard of living improved dramatically in South Korea, but the military stance only intensified.  The shooting war in Korea ended forty-five years ago. Sadly, the struggle for peace continues now as it did then when I rambled over that dirt road on patrol.

 

 

 

(Prepared after the May 1996 visit to South Korea and edited for redundant text)

 

 

 

 


 

             VETERAN REVISIT TO THE DMZ

 

Perched on a remote hilltop swept by a light breeze, I squint through the summer haze to better focus on the forbidden frontier below me. The rugged mountains of North Asia shimmer on the bleak horizon. Our curious military group penetrates the bamboo curtain into a politically sensitive demilitarized zone known as the DMZ.  This strip of land, a mere four miles wide, severs the Korean peninsula into two diverse social ideologies.

 

Here on a lonely military outlook I sense the tension of American-brand capitalism facing off against a redundant style of Communism. North Korea is the sole remaining bastion of radical Marxism.

 

The DMZ is a cooled-down battleground where the shooting war stopped forty-five years ago. But the battle of wills drags on while North Korea stubbornly refuses to parley for a permanent peace treaty.  It’s a time warp that propels a visitor like me back to the 1950s.

 

Our tour to the Korean DMZ is a somber experience for the group of American veterans who served there. Viewing formidable military and propaganda installations in the Joint Security Area and the Panmunjon “peace village” recalls some bitter memories of the Korean War (called the June 25th War by the South Koreans).

 

Not everyone has visitation access to the DMZ because of the combustible border mood. Security clearance is limited to foreign nationals and nearly impossible for most native Koreans on both sides of the invisible wall. Our group of honored U.S. armed forces veterans are easily approved. Passage for others is denied due to extreme terrorist action and persistent North Korean infiltration along the border.

 

 

Standing on that ridge after eye-ball contact in Panmunjon with armed North Korean soldiers left me with a sense of angst. Perhaps it is the tense environment during the briefing for our conduct while present on the JSA: stay in a tight groups, no suggestive gestures, traditional dress code, etc.  Or maybe it is the solemn and strict protocol that our young American and Korean escorts reveal as we progress among the fortifications.

 

To grasp some insight to the Korean dilemma, a brief primer on the nation’s complex history is helpful. For centuries, Korea was destined to be in a tug of war for mastery of the northern Pacific of Asia. Often referred called the “Balkans of the Orient”, Korea lies in the center of the Far East triangle, a strategic buffer for centuries and coveted by neighbors, China, Japan, and Russia.

Korea still struggles for peace and independence after 5000 years of uncertain sovereignty. This latest century of national strife started with Korea as a colony of Japan. The Second World

War released their yoke of subservient exploitation. A few years of partial self-government promised democracy at last for South Korea, then collapsed during three years of hostilities with North Korea and China.

 

At mid-century, remote and unknown Korea lay in ruins having suffered the loss of over three million lives on both sides during the June 25th War. Failure to achieve a definitive peace treaty at Panmunjon provoked the start of an Asian Cold War. One-third of Korea’s population was displaced and put into poverty when the uneasy truce began in 1953.

 

No doubt this century will end as it began in Korea.  Back then, the oppressed nation felt the sting of Japanese annexation.  Now Communist stagnation in the north still clouds the quest for unified independence and freedom from foreign intervention.

 

Yet amid the ruins, Koreans never lost their sense of self-determination. They maintain their national identity and never except the notion that their land is a colony of China or Japan.

With an U.S. military presence in North Asia, sovereignty is assured but not unification. Foreign intervention still permeates the south, while Communism strangles the north and keeps on the cutting edge of Asian diplomacy.

 

 

As a revisit veteran to Korea, I am disturbed to realize these industrious and friendly people still endure an uneasy truce in the DMZ. Fifty years is a long holding pattern.  Two generations of Koreans were born and grew up in the shadow of troubled self-government.

 

 

 

(Prepared after the May 1996 visit to South Korea)

 

 

 

 

 

         KOREAN TIME BOMB

 

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites, Korea has the dubious distinction of being the last military frontier standing against Communism.  China was the evil empire of the Orient for fifty years. Opening diplomatic relations and granting the most-favored-nation doctrine for trade broke the ice in communist Asia, and now change is in the wind.

 

Korea, for centuries a colonial slave to both China and Japan, has had little history as a sovereign nation. Before World War II brought the Western Allies to this remote land, the imperialist ambitions of Japan dominated Korea. Almost a century of war, foreign occupation, and economic remission records the dismal  history of this isolated nation.

 

The old order in most of the Far East did not survive the passing of its founding leaders, except in North Korea. The objectives of the North Korean leaders are directed more for personal immortality than for the best interest of the Korean people and the world.

 

Communist dictator Kim II Sung kept North Korea isolated during the Cold War with assistance from China and the former Soviet Union. Historically, this is a nation always seeking seclusion from foreign interference. Kim surely realized that to emerge from behind the silk curtain of isolation would destroy his regime.

 

In 1994, the old ruler of North Korea since 1945 died but planned to keep control from the grave by nepotism.  His son, Kim Jong Il, continues in a game of diplomatic poker with a nuclear hold card. With the Jimmy Carter-inspired diplomatic talks in Geneva suspended, the direction of the next move by Kim’s regime is unchartered by Asia watchers.

 

 

 

 

 

Threat of nuclear capability coupled with an aggressive and

well-armed military regime puts North Korea on the top of the world-crisis list. The nation suffers a minimal standard of living without support from the former Soviet. Like East Germans before unification, North Koreans look across the border at a glittering South Korea and wonder why the system is not providing for their needs. The time bomb is waiting to be set.

 

Looking back to the village insurrections in 1946, Americans must evaluate our past record of involvement in the affairs of Korea. U.S. occupation forces after World War II bungled the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule. The military government in charge consisted of battle-weary combat soldiers fresh from action in the Pacific.

 

They brought with them little background in Oriental culture and history. Occupation of a foreign nation was not a procedure covered in the 1945 edition of the GI manual.

 

General Douglas MacArthur further complicated the job by encouraging retention of Japanese bureaucrats and security forces during the transition to a self-rule provisional government. This was a slur on Korean patriots who greeted their American liberators with hope of a new order of democracy after fifty years of bondage to Japan.

 

Appointments to key Korean government positions were made by an U.S. Army general whose father had been a missionary in Korea.  Important posts went to conservative Christian Koreans and ignored the popular liberals and moderates.  In shock, the majority of South Korean political groups joined with

infiltrating Communists to form an opposition to the military-sponsored provisional government.

 

Meanwhile, north of the 38th parallel, the Russians recognized the wartime guerrillas who became the Peoples’ Party headed by Kim. They were used as an instrument of the Soviet while creating the illusion of self-rule in North Korea.

 

 

 

A weak Western position in Korea finally evolved by 1950

into an all-out war between the U.S and China disguised as an

United Nations police action to put down a Korean rebellion.

Experienced Communist guerrillas moved in rapidly to take over democratic South Korea as Americans withdrew by treaty.

 

The end of the three-year Korean War split the nation

permanently in half. Today Korea continues to be an ideological

battleground – the last frontier of redundant Communism. This Oriental Cold War is the most dangerous, yet questionable, military threat confronting First-World nations

 

Without support of former Chinese and Soviet allies, how long could a Korean War II last? American military forces  stationed in South Korea would be overrun, as they were in 1950,

during the initial onslaught. Would the U.S. send more troops back to this old battlefield, or let the crisis pass as a civil war a `la Yugoslavia? If there was any doubt of Kim’s intentions, we might wonder why North Korea keeps a mobilized armed force of 1.2 million and an arsenal of deadly weapons. What enemy do they expect to invade this little country? With few trade prospects from a poor economy, the nation can exist only by the sale of illegal weapons to oil-rich aggressors in the Middle East.

It should be no surprise to U.S. diplomats that Kim intended to raid South Korea’s wealth and to unify the nation under his communist regime. The late dictator committed to his people that the 50th anniversary of liberation from Japan (1995) will be the first year of Korean unification under his domination. Kim II ceased sending these aggressive signals as the nation’s economic recession deepened. The time bomb is now ticking.

This aggressor has struck before without suffering sanctions. After the Korean War ended in stalemate in 1953, Kim’s military forces hijacked the U.S. gunboat Pueblo and shot down a Korean Airlines aircraft. Lately he defied the nuclear inspections and threatened to overthrow sovereign South Korea.  Tensions along the 38th parallel darken the tone of all

 

 

relations on the Pacific Rim. Traditional trade alliances and diplomatic links appear insecure.

 

After forty years of blind loyalty to the U.S., South Korea is embarking on a “Yankee go home” season.  They resent the presence of 37,00 American troops and prefer to maintain the

wobbly peace with their northern brothers.  In the present

environment, there is little hope of Korean unification until the Communist regime is ousted by dissatisfied citizens seeking a better world.

 

Meanwhile, the select commission from the International Atomic Energy Agency traveled to North Korea to inspect sites and was sent away without satisfaction. It seems this commission is toothless, with no bite and only some bark.  While U.S. diplomats press for international trade sanctions in retaliation, the CIA fans the fire and defense contractors see new-business prospects.  Despite Americans’ penchant for re-runs and sequels, a Korean War II should not be provoked or undertaken to save face.

 

This impasse amounts to diplomatic meltdown for the Clinton policy in Korea. Unfortunately, Jimmy Carter’s visit created more chaos in the U.S. stance. Kim II should be pleased about the moratorium gained to consolidate his new position and to delay diffusion of the time bomb.  Asian experts agree that a parting of the Silk Curtain by foreign intervention would break the fifty-year regime founded by the late Kim.

 

Seeking Asian allies to join America’s economic sanctions against North Korea is not succeeding. Neither Japan nor China

were willing to hold our coat while we played hard ball with Kim. Prolonged appeasement in Korea only repeats history. Let’s not forget when the world was promised peace by another armed tyrant who lured the negotiators to Munich?

 

 

(Published on July 28, 1994 and edited to reflect subsequent events or redundant text)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KOREAN CEASE FIRE FOR 65 YEARS

Believe it or not, I have been writing about the North Korean threat to the free world for 70 years. In reviewing my prior commentaries covering three generations of the Kim Dynasty, not much has changed.

Why have I pursued this evasive topic so long? For starters, I was in Korea twice, once for a brief step into North Korean territory. My first visit was as a guest of the U.S. Army Infantry for ten months in 1946. The second trip was 50 years later with a group of American veterans of the Korean War. It was a 5-star tour hosted by the South Korean government and various agencies showing their gratitude for the military services rendered (and to promote tourism).

I was not in the Korean War (1950-1953) but qualified for the tour having served there. There were only two of us from that earlier period in the group of about 90. We received in-depth briefing about the tensions on the 38th parallel separating two countries with two completely different ideologies.

A day spent in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a strip of land cutting the Korean peninsula in half, with the U.S. troops on guard there for 70 years, was revealing. The tour included a brief entry to North Korean soil to see the structure where the cease fire was negotiated in 1953. The North Korean soldiers, with fire arms in ready position, were curious to watch us through the windows and inside the building.

That’s why I consider my encounters at the source to qualify my observations of the North Korean crisis that the Western nations face with a nuclear launch now possible from the Kim regime.

I will begin my composite of commentaries with the recent ones posted to my blog. Following those is a lengthy compilation of many editorial published over the years by The San Diego Daily Transcript.

 

 IS NORTH KOREA PUSHING TOO FAR?

Tensions between the United States and its Asian trade partners with North Korea are accelerating rapidly. It is serious enough that Vice-President Pence was dispatched to Korea to observe the anxiety on the 38th parallel separating North from South Korea. To show that we mean business, a naval group including an aircraft carrier is expected to move into the Sea of Japan near North Korea.

I find it curious that the news media describes the recent stand-off with North Korea as a possible second Korean War. Actually, the first Korean War 1950-1953 never ended. Yes, there was a cease-fire truce negotiated on July 27, 1953, but a treaty was never reached. Technically we have been at war for 63 years.

This is an historic fact that most commentators do not know because they were born after the “Forgotten War” ended hostilities. I remember, since I was posted with the U.S. Army in South Korea in 1946 and barely missed being recalled back into service in 1950 when North Korean forces swept into South Korea jeopardizing the U.S. occupation troops.

I did hear an interview on PBS with a history professor who validated that we were still at war with the rogue nation. The speaker also confirmed that North Korea could have missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland. Columnist Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post wrote that Pyongyang is not bluffing.

The six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear intentions were on again, off again over a decade ago and have never resumed despite the concessions given to North Korea to secure its cooperation. There seems no way to stop the threatening missile launches except a show of military persuasion.

Do we want a renewal of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula? Relations with China and even Russia would be strained by military force. South Korea and even Japan would be brutally attacked. It is time for China to take a leadership role and use its economic influence over North Korea to keep peace in Northern Asia.

A few commentators are now predicting that the only way North Korea can be subdued is a regime change. That seems unlikely as the three generations of the Kim dynasty have brained washed the population into a robotic state. Although Kim Jong Un is young, most of his dictatorial insider-command are old-guard military leaders carried over from Kim’s father regime.

It has been so many years since the Korean War, there are few South Koreans still living that remember the devastation and loss of lives. The young citizens of Seoul living just 40 miles from a massed military force ready to strike go about their lives with a rather indifferent attitude.

The same can be applied to a potential unification of the Korean Peninsula. The cost of rehabilitation of the North Korea economy would be staggering. So what is the future of this compromised nation?

Somehow a final treaty must be negotiated with China becoming a partner in preventing Kim from pushing for nuclear capability. A civil rebellion would help, but the citizens mistakenly believe they are better off than the developed nations. What a job of brainwashing.

President Trump’s leadership with the military’s guidance might lead the way. It is definitely Trump’s first diplomatic challenge, all within his 100-day honeymoon period. His call for China to take a leadership role in subduing North Korea’s intentions needs to be answered before an explosive goes off.

Japan has joined the naval “exercise” in the Western Pacific. It is uncertain where and when the strike force will be within range of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s military threatens to destroy any enemy force coming into their territory. Fortunately, the last two missile launches failed on liftoff.

Despite international sanctions and scarce reliable data, North Korea’s economy shows growth. The famine in the 1990’s that killed an estimated two million people created some market activity for entrepreneurs despite the strict socialist regime. Today the government-authorized market places for food and home-made goods are growing, but 80% of consumer goods still come from China.

The black market thrives from smugglers peddling Hollywood movies, South Korean television dramas and smart phones, according to a South Korean correspondent. These products are contraband as the government prevents any access to better conditions in the developed countries.

Until China decides that North Korea is a serious threat to peace and trade in North Asia, the military status will be uneasy. President Trump must play the diplomacy game carefully and not act unilaterally.

KOREA IS A PAWN IN CHINA DIPLOMACY

As tensions heat up on the Korean Peninsula, the news commentators on both broadcasting and print media are sending alarming signals about the threat of a nuclear confrontation with the North Korean regime. I was drawn to this subject after hearing a radio broadcast referring to “Preparing for Judgment Day.” It got me to thinking about a nuclear holocaust.

I revisited my previous commentary about the unfinished war in Korea. For over 60 years there has been an uneasy truce between the U. S. and North Korea that has threatened the sovereignty of South Korea and subjecting Japan to missile attacks from the unruly North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

I pondered over the reference to judgment day and tried to imagine what would happen if there was actually a nuclear war in Asia, or perhaps even in the near East as Iraq continues to develop its nuclear capability. The leaders of these two foreign countries are not humanitarians and could be provoked into firing their destructive weapons. At home there are many citizens who likewise do not trust Donald Trump in dealing with this very sensitive diplomatic issue.

Much of a diplomatic safety net to avoid nuclear attack rests with China, the only nation that has an open door to North Korea. Even a sight nudge from China to the Kim regime would help cool the international crisis that implicates America. We are presumed to be the guardians of South Korea and Japan and yet do business with China.

China likes a buffer for its northern border to keep its distance from U.S. and South Korean face-to-face contact. China also likes its trade with North Korea, the only country not imposing trade sanctions. Without Chinas’ source of materials for military and civilian goods, North Korea could not display so much bluster.

President Trump has not helped ease the tension with both North and South Korea. Already he has angered the new president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, with demands for payment for the U.S.  missile-defense system recently installed 135 miles southeast of Seoul. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) is a sophisticated radar system that is capable of intercepting missiles fired from North Korea or China.

Further complicating diplomatic relations is China’s concern that THAAD is a threat by installing a military weapon in the zone that China believes it should control. However, President Moon is trying to juggle diplomacy between the U.S. and China realizing South Korea needs American military support.

A panel discussion on events unfolding on the Korean Peninsula was a timely presentation by UCSD’s School of Global Policy and Strategy in June. The speakers included a former ambassador to South Korea and a professor from a university in Seoul, among other Korean experts. The hot topic of the day was nuclear proliferation by North Korea with frequent missile launches over recent months.

China is the linchpin in diplomacy among the three nations dealing with North Korea’s aggressive defiance. One panelist referred to a peaceful resolution being America’s fantasy and China’s nightmare. All the speakers agreed that China can be either an arbitrator or a deal breaker.

Currently there needs to be a re-alignment of each nation’s strategy to reflect the changes in U.S. and South Korean governments. The impeachment of the president and a newly elected President Moon Jae-in reverses South Korea’s prior strategy in dealing with North Korea. A similar switch from the Obama administration to Trump’s more aggressive response to the missile crisis is underway.

That is the reason the U.S. deployment of the THAAD missile defense system was stopped by President Moon as soon as he took office. Part of his decision was appeasement of China’s leaders who are skittish about U.S. weapons in their domain. Also, THAAD is a direct defense against North Korea’s aggressive missile activity. U.S. military presence makes Moon’s appeasement efforts with the Kim Il Un regime difficult.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, speaking at a defense summit in Singapore, borrowed a phrase used by President Clinton to defend the military action against Saddam Hussein in 1998. Mattis said North Korea “is a clear and present danger” recalling bad memories of a strategy that thrust America into an endless war in the Near East.

The delicate diplomacy among the U.S., South Korea and China dealing with North Korea’s aggression will continue until one of the leaders blinks.

 

AN ODYSSEY SPANNING  60 YEARS OF KOREA’S

 STRUGGLE FOR A DEMOCRATIC REUNIFICATION

AND ECONOMIC STABILITY AS OBSERVED BY A G.I. JOE

AND LATER AS A COMMENTATOR AFTER A 50-YEAR REVISIT

 CONTENTS

 Introduction and summary – January 2003          

Korea Pushes the Envelope – published January 2003

Blame it on Bangkok

Dual Korean Crises –  Composite of commentaries published in 1997 and 1998

            Korea Then and Now}

            Veteran Revisit to the DMZ – Prepared after visit to Korea in 1996

            Korean Time Bomb – Published 1994

 Note: All commentaries were published in The San Diego Daily Transcript

 

KOREAN KALEIDOSCOPE

My connection with Korea was a chance encounter because of my service in the U.S. Army 1945-1947. If the atomic bomb had not been used to end World War II in the Pacific, I surely would have been in one of the first invasion forces on the Japanese mainland. It was planned for early Spring 1945. I was being prepared for overseas service after completing the full 19-week combat basic training at Camp Roberts and final deployment at Fort Ord. for shipment out of Fort Lewis, Seattle in February.

Instead of fighting the Japanese, I was posted in the army of occupation in Korea. Our troopship of young G.I. Joes had little idea of where we were headed. The country was then known by its Japanese name, Chosun. We called the capital city “Su-ool” rather than “Soul.”

The war had ended so abruptly in August that little planning for occupation of a foreign nation and repatriation of Japanese nationals in Korea was available to the battle-weary troops.

My year there was divided between routine guard duty and reassignment to the 20th Infantry Regimental Headquarters to edit the weekly newspaper. I was also occasionally involved in patrol duty for the Military Government stationed in Kwangju, South Korea. I managed a trip to Seoul and Tokyo as a representative of the army information services to attend an editors’ conference.

Over the next 50 years, I monitored the Korea’s progress through war, economic and political crises, and the cultural change of South Korea into a Western-style, capitalistic key player in global trade. I began writing editorial material after retirement and found my experience in Korea helpful in understanding the issues in the Pacific. A veterans’ Korean revisit trip in 1996 on my 50th anniversary year gave me some new insights into the Korean Peninsula Cold War that developed out of the Korean War of 1950-1953 but actually began during my tour of duty before hostilities permanently split the nation.

With the nuclear arms crises re-emerging in 2003, I prepared updates on the Korean situation for my column in the San Diego Daily Transcript. This was a good excuse to dust-off my old manuscripts and previously published commentaries back to 1994. Following is a compilation of these writings with some editing for redundant text and some bridging of related columns into a composite essay.

 

Prepared   January 2003

 

 

 

KOREA PUSHES THE ENVELOPE

A crisis on the Korean Peninsula is back in the headlines, again. For over 50 years, the problems created by partition of a nation keep coming back to haunt U.S. diplomacy in the Far East. That’s because South Korea is a western capitalistic clone while North Korea clings to an archaic Marxist doctrines. They could hardly be more diverse, yet of one culture.

The only change this time in the delicate standoff is deteriorating relationships with America by both countries. North Korea rattles its nuclear saber to extort more economic aid while South Korea is nipping at the hand that saved the nation from communist takeover in 1950. American blood was spilled on Korean soil for three miserable years that ended with the ungrateful epitaph, “the forgotten war.”

Twice I visited South Korea – just fifty years apart. My first time was an all-expense-paid tour of duty by courtesy of the U.S. Army. My outfit was the guardian of democracy while

posted in a liberated nation divided by civil strife. The communists wanted the Americans out. After I departed, the 1950 Korean War came very close to doing just that.

My second time out to the Far East was on a bargain tour as a guest of the Korean government under a veteran re-visit program. I saw amazing changes in fifty years, except that the country was still divided into two incompatible ideologies and economies.

This condition will probably remain status quo until the North Koreans overthrow their communist dictatorship and consummate a peace treaty with their old enemies. Very little notice is given today to the fact that technically South Korea and the U.S. are still at war with North Korea.

The cease-fire agreement that ended hostilities in 1953 governs the international zone cutting Korea in half. When our allies in the Far East protest the presence of 37,000 American military personnel in South Korea, they forget that we still have a commitment to keep the peace in this land that we defended with so many casualties.

Domination of the North Asian Pacific caught Korea in a tug of war for centuries.  It is often referred to as the “Balkans of the Orient.” Korea lies in the center of the Far East triangle, a strategic buffer position for China, Japan, and Russia. It is a pawn for its neighbors’ imperialistic ambitions.

The Korean people have experienced invasions, interventions, foreign occupations and internal rebellion.  For self-protection, Korea was often forced into unsought wars which left the  country exhausted and despaired.  Foreign policy was little more than survival.

Yet amid the ruins, Koreans never lost their quest for self-determination.  They maintained their national identity and never accepted the idea that their land was a colony of China or Japan nor swallowed by Communism.

The last century of Korea’s five-thousand-year history started as a colony of Japan in a near state of slavery and exploitation.  A few years of partial self-government in South Korea following the Second World War collapsed after three years of hostility with North Korea and China. The country lay in ruins and suffered the loss of over three million lives on both sides.

Split into two nations, the north was largely industrial and the south agricultural.  One-third of Korea’s population was displaced and in poverty for the beginning of an Asian Cold War that still festers fifty years later.

Koreans had little political or administrative experience when self-rule was restored.  The situation was ripe for corrupt and autocratic leadership, along with constant infiltration of terrorists from the communist north.  Political-party warfare existed since the last monarchy in the late 19th century producing inefficient and corrupt governments that opened the door to Japanese annexation in 1910.

The transformation of South Korea during the second half of the 20th century must be seen to be appreciated. Energized by the high-tech boom of the 1980s and political reform, the capitalistic prospects thrust the Republic of Korea into a first-world nation. Today it is an icon of modern, western-style democracy.

In contrast during the same number of years, North Korea spent its meager resources on armaments and nuclear research to terrorize its Asian neighbors. Communist rule propagated a standing army of one million conscripts. Meanwhile, infrastructure of their cities and a decent standard of living stagnated. Today twenty-two million North Koreans are without enough food to eat. Still their Red masters refuse any humanitarian assistance for fear of admitting failure of the communist system. It’s a classic case of self-denial.

This is the legacy that Kim Il Sung passed on to his son and their henchmen when he died in 1994 after almost fifty years’ of iron-fist rule. The one-time guerrilla warlord who resisted the Japanese occupation became a threat to U.S. authority when I was doing patrols with the U.S. military government.  His persistence kicked off the Korean War leaving a threadbare economy and near-bankrupt government to Kim Jong Il who continues militant relations with the free world. Apparently the deceased dictator still rules from the grave.

Since 1994, the United Nations’ efforts to enforce inspection of North Korea’s nuclear sites have been tenuous. This created yet another international schism and forced the U.S. to negotiate foreign aid concessions without many assurances of compliance from North Korea.

President Clinton received a luke-warm response to his pleas for a final peace treaty and officially end the Korean War. Unauthorized North Korean military movements in the DMZ, linked with continuous defections to the south, keep the hostile fires smoldering.

On tour of the Panmunjom peace village where the conference table straddles the precise line of demarcation, our U.S. veteran group saw virtual reality. Here we met face-to-face with armed North Korean guards casting their impassive, yet quizzical, stares at us, their designated enemies. Fifty years vaporized in my memory as I witnessed the young U.S. and R.O.K soldiers in starched and pressed uniforms face off with the communists with automatic weapons ready to fire.

Any future for Korean unification puts an onerous financial burden on South Korea that they no longer can afford. If Germany thought absorption of their eastern states was an economic and political nightmare, a Korean merger will be a shocker by comparison.

Then there is China publicly shunning any plan to put a Western-influenced nation on their borders. North Korea is their firewall against Western heat. However, China offers scant aid for the economic recovery of their impoverished wartime ally.

Big Brother should be equally concerned about North Korea’s nuclear capability. The recent withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty drew only a statement of “concern” while the United Nations admonished North Korea. Since 1994, the U.N. commission was mandated by international agreement to monitor nuclear activity above the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the 38th parallel.

This austere “peace” zone that splits the Korean Peninsula is hardly demilitarized. It is packed with combat-ready troops from both sides staring each other down. Korean War II has been only a blink away for fifty years.

In changing hats from a military presence to a civilian tourist, I was treated to a kaleidoscope of very up-scale transportation, architecture, and industry in the showcase capital city of Seoul. Prosperity in the young republic was dazzling when compared to the poverty of its neighbor.

I was astonished to realize how many South Koreans share a similar lack of anxiety over potential military hostility. More than a million armed soldiers lurk only forty miles away from Seoul with 8000 reservists on standby. Yet the predominately youthful southerners live and work near the DMZ without apparent fear.

So life goes on below the DMZ where barbed-wire fences contain the highways to the north and surround the Kimpo International Airport near Seoul. Guard towers spaced along the fences bristle with weapons and military on the alert. Lining the DMZ border are land mines, electrified fences, and anti-tank barriers that spread from sea to sea across the peninsula.

Threat of nuclear capability coupled with an aggressive and well-armed military regime certainly defines North Korea as a component of the axis of evil.. The nation suffers a minimal standard of living without support from the former Soviet. Like East Germans before unification, North Koreans look across the border at a glittering South Korea and wonder why the system is not providing for their needs. The time bomb is waiting to be set.

Looking back to the village insurrections in 1946, Americans must evaluate our past record of involvement in the affairs of Korea. U.S. occupation forces after World War II bungled the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule. The military government in charge consisted of battle-weary combat soldiers fresh from action in the Pacific. They brought with them little background in Oriental culture and history. Occupation of a foreign nation was not a procedure covered in the 1945 edition of the GI manual.

General Douglas MacArthur further complicated the job by encouraging retention of Japanese bureaucrats and security forces during the transition to a self-rule provisional government. This was a slur on Korean patriots who greeted their American liberators with hope for a new order of democracy after fifty years of bondage to Japan.

Appointments to key Korean government positions were made by an U.S. Army general whose father had been a missionary in Korea.  Important posts went to conservative Christian Koreans and ignored the popular liberals and moderates.  In shock, the majority of South Korean political groups joined with infiltrating Communists to form an opposition to the military-sponsored provisional government.

Meanwhile, north of the 38th parallel, the Russians recognized the wartime guerrillas who became the Peoples’ Party headed by Kim. They were used as an instrument of the Soviet while creating the illusion of self-rule in North Korea.

Seeking Asian allies to join America’s economic sanctions against North Korea is not succeeding. Neither Japan nor China were willing to hold our coat while we played hard ball with Kim. Prolonged appeasement in Korea only repeats history. Let’s not forget another tyrant who lured the negotiators to Munich with promises of peace.

Published in two installments January 24 and 27, 2003

 

BLAME IT ON BANGKOK

The promise of a Pacific Century for 2000 dimmed at the close of 1997 with the brownout of high-voltage Asian Tiger economies. The sky seemed to fall about the time Britain turned over its prize trading post, Hong Kong, to China on July 1st. During the formal ceremonies commemorating 150 years of English Imperial rule, the skies did open up in a deluge of rain. Was it an omen of catastrophes to come?

Later that same month, Thailand was hit with a currency meltdown that toppled their bloated stock market and real estate values. The virus spread quickly to neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia under the popular media catch-word “Asian Flu.” Bangkok is not entirely at blame for the fiscal crises in the Asian Tiger circuit. It was merely the first fat cat to learn that free-world financial markets cannot be manipulated by authoritarian governments who support their currency exchange with staggering debt and run-away speculation.

By the end of 1997, the Asian contagion spread to one of the miracle emerging nations of the Far East, South Korea. I observed the transformation of this ancient culture from 19th century feudalism into the eleventh largest global economy. This amazing feat happened in only two generations, most of the growth since 1980. I gathered up writings from different years of this period to form an anthology to reflect an overview of Korea’s 20th century military and economic history. It begins with my most recent commentary on the status of South Korea’s monetary collapse and North Korea’s plight as a starving nation seeking a reward to settle a war fought forty-five years ago.

 DUAL KOREAN CRISIS

No one expected South Korea to hit the economic skids and lose face by asking for massive loans to bailout its teetering financial markets. Since 1980, the Asian clone of U.S. capitalism  managed a brilliant turn around from the third world into a dynamic emerging nation. It was not easy to recover from a war-torn pawn in the 50-year struggle to halt communism on the Korean Peninsula.

Crisis is a way of life in this ancient Asian culture. Caught for centuries between imperial ambitions of Russia, China, and Japan, Koreans hoped for independence after the Japanese colonials were repatriated in 1945. It did not happen. Communism in the north merely replaced governing tyrants who keep the people in bondage and poverty. Democracy in the south is corrupted with greed that collapsed the vibrant economy. Both crises now need incalculable global charity to reverse economic meltdown.

What happened in South Korea to force its leaders to seek a staggering currency transfusion from the International Monetary Fund? It was a tough choice for imperious businessmen and cowering politicians, reports The Economist. Bailout loans from the IMF come with humiliating strings attached. For the cocky Koreans, the most painful sanction will be foreign surveillance of their monetary policies. The IMF insists on reforming traditional chaebol, or industrial conglomerates, subsidized by soft-government loans and cronyism.

Asian Tiger economies were global miracles until battered by adverse financial markets last year. Addicted to a glut of debt that was manipulated by self-regulated currencies, it was a harsh lesson in economics for emerging countries. Despot rulers flouted their style of elite monopolies and learned that global markets cannot be played like puppets on a string.

Despite periodic corrupt governments (two past Korean presidents were just released from prison by a political amnesty), the ambitious wannabes in the south work hard to achieve prosperity by creating their own niche in world markets. American-style capitalism and ample U.S. economic aid make South Korea a showcase for developing nations around the world. By contrast, communism in the north spawned a repressed society with shortages of energy and food to keep 22 million (give or take 2 million) people alive.

Now that South Korea lost much of its fiscal luster and China is moving closer to center politically, perhaps the threadbare North Koreans will ease up on their refusal to negotiate a treaty. Talks that stalled for four decades are under way again in Geneva. Expectation of emergency food rations and oil supplies from benevolent nations is the bait drawing North Koreans to the peace table.

Any future for Korean unification puts an onerous financial burden on South Korea that they no longer can afford. If Germany thought absorption of their eastern states was an economic and political nightmare, a Korean merger will be a shocker by comparison. This option is no longer feasible in this century.

Then there is China publicly shunning any plan to put a Western-influenced nation otheir borders. North Korea is their fire wall against Western heat. Recent press leaks to establish China’s territory for the Geneva talks hinted of their demand to keep the North Korean regime in power. The problem is, China is not offering any significant aid for economic recovery of their impoverished wartime ally.

Big Brother probably is equally concerned about North Korea’s nuclear capability. That is a secret still not penetrated by the United Nations commission mandated by international agreement to monitor nuclear activity above the DMZ. This austere “peace” zone that splits the Korean Peninsula is hardly demilitarized. It is packed with combat-ready troops from both sides staring each other down. Korean War II has been only a blink away for forty years.

In changing hats from a military presence to a civilian tourist, I was treated to a kaleidoscope of very up-scale transportation, architecture, and industry in the showcase capital city of Seoul. Prosperity in the young republic was dazzling when compared to the poverty of its neighbor only forty miles away.

Military experts now concur that North Korea cannot sustain any aggression against the Seoul government. Nor can they rely on help from China or Russia in this post-Cold War twilight zone. Thus, starvation is the plight forcing communists to talk treaty replacing the old crisis of a military stand off.Their new bargaining chips will be vast economic aid, diplomatic status, and removal of trade sanctions and foreign troops. Whatever is granted to North Korea in exchange for a peace treaty will cost the U.S. in dollars and prestige.

Rejuvenation of a stable currency in South Korea is the concurrent crisis facing world banks. Already, the IMF committed $57 billion to bailout two Asian Tigers, Thailand and Indonesia. Korea asked for another $57 billion for themselves. Some economists say this is only half of what is needed to rescue their conglomerates that are teetering dominos bloated with debt.

Meanwhile, Japan and the U.S. stand by to write checks after the IMF-World Bank salvage team gets into the tent. They need to assess how bad the foreign loan defaults are going to be. While banks and brokerages are shutting their doors as the Korean won plummets, many government ministers insist that they are not charity cases and refuse outside governance.

Late in December, jolted Korean voters went to the polls to put out the incestuous ruling political party. They elected a new president who campaigned for rescission of the IMF deal if the loans require reform of the chaebol conglomerates. It appears Kim Dae-jung is obliged to the elite bureaucracies and trade unions who crafted Korea’s surprise monetary collapse.

President-elect Kim and his new administration have little room to maneuver. At the end of January, refinancing of national debt needs $1 billion and another $100 billion over the next twelve months. “The reality is that we have no money,” Kim told stunned U.S. officials and triggered another currency decline.

With the value of the won down 54 percent since June and ratings for new bond issues at junk-bond levels, where will the 1998 refinancing come from? It doesn’t take a math major to realize that the IMF $57-billion-bailout package is not enough.

Equally troublesome will be a politically-incorrect reform of the chaebol system. Combined with higher interest rates and a scale back of economic growth, dismantling the conglomerates may cost at least one million jobs. Can Kim and his ministers survive the workers’ backlash?

An Associated Press correspondent in Seoul described  conglomerates as the engines of South Korea’s meteoric economy. I see them as run-away trains set on a collision course with world banking and foreign investors. The impact could be fatal.

(Published January 2, 1998

 

KOREA THEN AND NOW

 A convoy of U.S. Army jeeps rattled along the dirt road, breaking the pre-dawn silence.  Ponds of dormant rice paddies and villages of straw huts rested under the icy haze of a November night. The Korean countryside near the 38th parallel was quiet, cold and bleak in front of the probing lights of the caravan crossing the desolate landscape.

 

Young GIs on a military patrol clutched their M-1 rifles and adjusted their helmets joggled by the potholes along the cart road leading to a farmers’ village. Their mission was to seek out and apprehend Communist dissentients working the neighborhood for the overthrow of military occupation forces. The agitators planned a Soviet-inspired take over with the support of oppressed Korean peasants.  The year was 1946.

Fast-forward to 1996. Fifty years later, the same military readiness is mobilized to oppose Communist forces in a stand-off at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) splitting North from South Korea.  A mere four-mile strip of hostile land separates a totalitarian dictatorship from a prosperous, emerging democracy. The contrasts observed in landscape and idealogy are awesome.

I was one of those young GIs on patrol fifty years ago and returned to Korea this year for a pilgrimage of curiosity and remembrance. The transformation of South Korea  must be seen to be appreciated. Emerging in 1946 from a serfdom subjected to Japanese colonization for thirty-five years, then ravished by a war with Communist North Korea and China, South Korea today is an icon of modern, western-style democracy.

In contrast during the same number of years, North Korea spent its meager resources on armaments and nuclear research to terrorize its Asian neighbors. Fifty years of communist rule propagated a standing army of one million conscripts. Meanwhile, infrastructure of their cities and a decent standard of living stagnated. Today twenty-two million North Koreans are without enough food to eat. Still their Red masters refuse any humanitarian assistance for fear of admitting failure of the communist system. It’s a classic case of self-denial.

This is the legacy that Kim Il Sung passed on to his son and their henchmen when he died in 1994 after fifty years’ of iron rule. His son inherited a threadbare economy and near-bankrupt government which continues its militant relations with the free world. Apparently the deceased Stalinist dictator still rules from the grave.

The Far Eastern Economic Review observed in July 1994, “Son also rises, but for hong?”  Kim Jong Il took over his father’s domain and immediately waged a verbal war with the president of South Korea. Heating up the slow simmer of discord, he retaliated by closing the border and refusing exit to South Koreans wishing to attend Kim Il Sung’s funeral.    The tension was so great by July 19, 1994 that South Korea called its military stationed at the border to active alert.  This was only one of many “incidents” in the DMZ that kept unification of the two nations from consummation over the last fifty years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since 1994, the United Nations’ efforts to enforce inspection of North Korea’s nuclear sites have failed. This created yet another international schism and forced the U.S. to negotiate foreign aid concessions without many assurances from North Korea of compliance.

President Clinton received a lukewarm response to his pleas for a final peace treaty and officially end the Korean War started so many years ago. More recently unauthorized North Korean military action in the DMZ, linked with a communist jet pilot defection to the south, keeps the hostility fires smoldering.

On tour of the Panmunjom peace village where the conference table straddles the precise line of demarcation, our U.S. veteran group saw virtual reality. Here we met face-to-face with armed North Korean guards casting their impassive, yet quizzical, stares at us, their designated enemies. Fifty years vaporized in my memory as I witnessed the young U.S. and R.O.K soldiers in starched and pressed uniforms face off with the communists with automatic weapons ready to fire. Diplomatic crises recur so frequently that the world-wide news value fades to back-page coverage after a day or two.  It is no surprise that two generations of Americans give scant attention to the aftermath of that long-ago war. The later tragedy of Vietnam is more painful for younger Americans.

I was astonished to realize how many South Koreans share a similar lack of anxiety over potential military hostility. More than a million armed soldiers lurk only forty miles away from Seoul. Yet the predominately youthful southerners live and work near the DMZ without apparent fear.

So life goes on below the DMZ where barbed-wire fences contain the highways to the north and surround the Kimpo International Airport near Seoul. Guard towers spaced along the fences bristle with weapons and military on the alert. Lining the DMZ border are land mines, electrified fences, and anti-tank barriers that spread from sea to sea across the peninsula.

Looking back over the fifty-year interval between my visits to South Korea, I find many tangible changes but few ideological innovations. The standard of living improved dramatically in South Korea, but the military stance only intensified.  The shooting war in Korea ended forty-five years ago. Sadly, the struggle for peace continues now as it did then when I rambled over that dirt road on patrol.

(Prepared after the May 1996 visit to South Korea and edited for redundant text)

 

  VETERAN REVISIT TO THE DMZ

Perched on a remote hilltop swept by a light breeze, I squint through the summer haze to better focus on the forbidden frontier below me. The rugged mountains of North Asia shimmer on the bleak horizon. Our curious military group penetrates the bamboo curtain into a politically sensitive demilitarized zone known as the DMZ.  This strip of land, a mere four miles wide, severs the Korean peninsula into two diverse social ideologies.

 

Here on a lonely military outlook I sense the tension of American-brand capitalism facing off against a redundant style of Communism. North Korea is the sole remaining bastion of radical Marxism.

 

The DMZ is a cooled-down battleground where the shooting war stopped forty-five years ago. But the battle of wills drags on while North Korea stubbornly refuses to parley for a permanent peace treaty.  It’s a time warp that propels a visitor like me back to the 1950s.

 

Our tour to the Korean DMZ is a somber experience for the group of American veterans who served there. Viewing formidable military and propaganda installations in the Joint Security Area and the Panmunjon “peace village” recalls some bitter memories of the Korean War (called the June 25th War by the South Koreans).

 

Not everyone has visitation access to the DMZ because of the combustible border mood. Security clearance is limited to foreign nationals and nearly impossible for most native Koreans on both sides of the invisible wall. Our group of honored U.S. armed forces veterans are easily approved. Passage for others is denied due to extreme terrorist action and persistent North Korean infiltration along the border.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standing on that ridge after eye-ball contact in Panmunjon with armed North Korean soldiers left me with a sense of angst. Perhaps it is the tense environment during the briefing for our conduct while present on the JSA: stay in a tight groups, no suggestive gestures, traditional dress code, etc.  Or maybe it is the solemn and strict protocol that our young American and Korean escorts reveal as we progress among the fortifications.

 

To grasp some insight to the Korean dilemma, a brief primer on the nation’s complex history is helpful. For centuries, Korea was destined to be in a tug of war for mastery of the northern Pacific of Asia. Often referred called the “Balkans of the Orient”, Korea lies in the center of the Far East triangle, a strategic buffer for centuries and coveted by neighbors, China, Japan, and Russia.

Korea still struggles for peace and independence after 5000 years of uncertain sovereignty. This latest century of national strife started with Korea as a colony of Japan. The Second World

War released their yoke of subservient exploitation. A few years of partial self-government promised democracy at last for South Korea, then collapsed during three years of hostilities with North Korea and China.

 

At mid-century, remote and unknown Korea lay in ruins having suffered the loss of over three million lives on both sides during the June 25th War. Failure to achieve a definitive peace treaty at Panmunjon provoked the start of an Asian Cold War. One-third of Korea’s population was displaced and put into poverty when the uneasy truce began in 1953.

 

No doubt this century will end as it began in Korea.  Back then, the oppressed nation felt the sting of Japanese annexation.  Now Communist stagnation in the north still clouds the quest for unified independence and freedom from foreign intervention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet amid the ruins, Koreans never lost their sense of self-determination. They maintain their national identity and never except the notion that their land is a colony of China or Japan.

With an U.S. military presence in North Asia, sovereignty is assured but not unification. Foreign intervention still permeates the south, while Communism strangles the north and keeps on the cutting edge of Asian diplomacy.

 

 

As a revisit veteran to Korea, I am disturbed to realize these industrious and friendly people still endure an uneasy truce in the DMZ. Fifty years is a long holding pattern.  Two generations of Koreans were born and grew up in the shadow of troubled self-government.

 

 

 

(Prepared after the May 1996 visit to South Korea)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         KOREAN TIME BOMB

 

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites, Korea has the dubious distinction of being the last military frontier standing against Communism.  China was the evil empire of the Orient for fifty years. Opening diplomatic relations and granting the most-favored-nation doctrine for trade broke the ice in communist Asia, and now change is in the wind.

 

Korea, for centuries a colonial slave to both China and Japan, has had little history as a sovereign nation. Before World War II brought the Western Allies to this remote land, the imperialist ambitions of Japan dominated Korea. Almost a century of war, foreign occupation, and economic remission records the dismal  history of this isolated nation.

 

The old order in most of the Far East did not survive the passing of its founding leaders, except in North Korea. The objectives of the North Korean leaders are directed more for personal immortality than for the best interest of the Korean people and the world.

 

Communist dictator Kim II Sung kept North Korea isolated during the Cold War with assistance from China and the former Soviet Union. Historically, this is a nation always seeking seclusion from foreign interference. Kim surely realized that to emerge from behind the silk curtain of isolation would destroy his regime.

 

In 1994, the old ruler of North Korea since 1945 died but planned to keep control from the grave by nepotism.  His son, Kim Jong Il, continues in a game of diplomatic poker with a nuclear hold card. With the Jimmy Carter-inspired diplomatic talks in Geneva suspended, the direction of the next move by Kim’s regime is unchartered by Asia watchers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Threat of nuclear capability coupled with an aggressive and

well-armed military regime puts North Korea on the top of the world-crisis list. The nation suffers a minimal standard of living without support from the former Soviet. Like East Germans before unification, North Koreans look across the border at a glittering South Korea and wonder why the system is not providing for their needs. The time bomb is waiting to be set.

 

Looking back to the village insurrections in 1946, Americans must evaluate our past record of involvement in the affairs of Korea. U.S. occupation forces after World War II bungled the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule. The military government in charge consisted of battle-weary combat soldiers fresh from action in the Pacific.

 

They brought with them little background in Oriental culture and history. Occupation of a foreign nation was not a procedure covered in the 1945 edition of the GI manual.

 

General Douglas MacArthur further complicated the job by encouraging retention of Japanese bureaucrats and security forces during the transition to a self-rule provisional government. This was a slur on Korean patriots who greeted their American liberators with hope of a new order of democracy after fifty years of bondage to Japan.

 

Appointments to key Korean government positions were made by an U.S. Army general whose father had been a missionary in Korea.  Important posts went to conservative Christian Koreans and ignored the popular liberals and moderates.  In shock, the majority of South Korean political groups joined with

infiltrating Communists to form an opposition to the military-sponsored provisional government.

 

Meanwhile, north of the 38th parallel, the Russians recognized the wartime guerrillas who became the Peoples’ Party headed by Kim. They were used as an instrument of the Soviet while creating the illusion of self-rule in North Korea.

 

 

A weak Western position in Korea finally evolved by 1950

into an all-out war between the U.S and China disguised as an

United Nations police action to put down a Korean rebellion.

Experienced Communist guerrillas moved in rapidly to take over democratic South Korea as Americans withdrew by treaty.

 

The end of the three-year Korean War split the nation

permanently in half. Today Korea continues to be an ideological

battleground – the last frontier of redundant Communism. This Oriental Cold War is the most dangerous, yet questionable, military threat confronting First-World nations

 

Without support of former Chinese and Soviet allies, how long could a Korean War II last? American military forces  stationed in South Korea would be overrun, as they were in 1950,

during the initial onslaught. Would the U.S. send more troops back to this old battlefield, or let the crisis pass as a civil war a `la Yugoslavia?

 

If there was any doubt of Kim’s intentions, we might wonder why North Korea keeps a mobilized armed force of 1.2 million and an arsenal of deadly weapons. What enemy do they expect to invade this little country? With few trade prospects from a poor

economy, the nation can exist only by the sale of illegal weapons to oil-rich aggressors in the Middle East.

 

It should be no surprise to U.S. diplomats that Kim intended to raid South Korea’s wealth and to unify the nation under his communist regime. The late dictator committed to his people that the 50th anniversary of liberation from Japan (1995) will be the first year of Korean unification under his domination. Kim II ceased sending these aggressive signals as the nation’s economic recession deepened. The time bomb is now ticking.

 

 

 

 

 

This aggressor has struck before without suffering sanctions. After the Korean War ended in stalemate in 1953, Kim’s military forces hijacked the U.S. gunboat Pueblo and shot down a Korean Airlines aircraft. Lately he defied the nuclear inspections and threatened to overthrow sovereign South Korea.  Tensions along the 38th parallel darken the tone of all

 

relations on the Pacific Rim. Traditional trade alliances and diplomatic links appear insecure.

 

After forty years of blind loyalty to the U.S., South Korea is embarking on a “Yankee go home” season.  They resent the presence of 37,000 American troops and prefer to maintain the

wobbly peace with their northern brothers.  In the present

environment, there is little hope of Korean unification until the Communist regime is ousted by dissatisfied citizens seeking a better world.

 

Meanwhile, the select commission from the International Atomic Energy Agency traveled to North Korea to inspect sites and was sent away without satisfaction. It seems this commission is toothless, with no bite and only some bark.  While U.S. diplomats press for international trade sanctions in retaliation, the CIA fans the fire and defense contractors see new-business prospects.  Despite Americans’ penchant for re-runs and sequels, a Korean War II should not be provoked or undertaken to save face.

 

This impasse amounts to diplomatic meltdown for the Clinton policy in Korea. Unfortunately, Jimmy Carter’s visit created

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                 }

            Korea Then and Now}

 

            Veteran Revisit to the DMZ – Prepared after visit to Korea in 1996

 

            Korean Time Bomb – Published 1994

 

 

Note: All commentaries were published in The San Diego Daily Transcript

 

 

 

 

 

 

KOREAN KALEIDOSCOPE

 

 

My connection with Korea was a chance encounter because of my service in the U.S. Army 1945-1947. If the atomic bomb had not been used to end World War II in the Pacific, I surely would have been in one of the first invasion forces on the Japanese mainland. It was planned for early Spring 1945. I was being prepared for overseas service after completing the full 19-week combat basic training at Camp Roberts and final deployment at Fort Ord. for shipment out of Fort Lewis, Seattle in February.

Instead of fighting the Japanese, I was posted in the army of occupation in Korea. Our troopship of young G.I. Joes had little idea of where we were headed. The country was then known by its Japanese name, Chosun. We called the capital city “Su-ool” rather than “Soul.”

The war had ended so abruptly in August that little planning for occupation of a foreign nation and repatriation of Japanese nationals in Korea was available to the battle-weary troops.

My year there was divided between routine guard duty and reassignment to the 20th Infantry Regimental Headquarters to edit the weekly newspaper. I was also occasionally involved in patrol duty for the Military Government stationed in Kwangju, South Korea. I managed a trip to Seoul and Tokyo as a representative of the army information services to attend an editors’ conference.

 

Over the next 50 years, I monitored the Korea’s progress through war, economic and political crises, and the cultural change of South Korea into a Western-style, capitalistic key player in global trade. I began writing editorial material after retirement and found my experience in Korea helpful in understanding the issues in the Pacific. A veterans’ Korean revisit trip in 1996 on my 50th anniversary year gave me some new insights into the Korean Peninsula Cold War that developed out of the Korean War of 1950-1953 but actually began during my tour of duty before hostilities permanently split the nation.

With the nuclear arms crises re-emerging in 2003, I prepared updates on the Korean situation for my column in the San Diego Daily Transcript. This was a good excuse to dust-off my old manuscripts and previously published commentaries back to 1994. Following is a compilation of these writings with some editing for redundant text and some bridging of related columns into a composite essay.

 

 

Prepared by John Patrick Ford

January 2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KOREA PUSHES THE ENVELOPE

 

A crisis on the Korean Peninsula is back in the headlines, again. For over 50 years, the problems created by partition of a nation keep coming back to haunt U.S. diplomacy in the Far East. That’s because South Korea is a western capitalistic clone while North Korea clings to an archaic Marxist doctrines. They could hardly be more diverse, yet of one culture.

The only change this time in the delicate standoff is deteriorating relationships with America by both countries. North Korea rattles its nuclear saber to extort more economic aid while South Korea is nipping at the hand that saved the nation from communist takeover in 1950. American blood was spilled on Korean soil for three miserable years that ended with the ungrateful epitaph, “the forgotten war.”

Twice I visited South Korea – just fifty years apart. My first time was an all-expense-paid tour of duty by courtesy of the U.S. Army. My outfit was the guardian of democracy while

posted in a liberated nation divided by civil strife. The communists wanted the Americans out. After I departed, the 1950 Korean War came very close to doing just that.

My second time out to the Far East was on a bargain tour as a guest of the Korean government under a veteran re-visit program. I saw amazing changes in fifty years, except that the country was still divided into two incompatible ideologies and economies.

This condition will probably remain status quo until the North Koreans overthrow their communist dictatorship and consummate a peace treaty with their old enemies. Very little notice is given today to the fact that technically South Korea and the U.S. are still at war with North Korea.

The cease-fire agreement that ended hostilities in 1953 governs the international zone cutting Korea in half. When our allies in the Far East protest the presence of 37,000 American military personnel in South Korea, they forget that we still have a commitment to keep the peace in this land that we defended with so many casualties.

Domination of the North Asian Pacific caught Korea in a tug of war for centuries.  It is often referred to as the “Balkans of the Orient.” Korea lies in the center of the Far East triangle, a strategic buffer position for China, Japan, and Russia. It is a pawn for its neighbors’ imperialistic ambitions.

The Korean people have experienced invasions, interventions, foreign occupations and internal rebellion.  For self-protection, Korea was often forced into unsought wars which left the  country exhausted and despaired.  Foreign policy was little more than survival.

Yet amid the ruins, Koreans never lost their quest for self-determination.  They maintained their national identity and never accepted the idea that their land was a colony of China or Japan nor swallowed by Communism.

The last century of Korea’s five-thousand-year history started as a colony of Japan in a near state of slavery and exploitation.  A few years of partial self-government in South Korea following the Second World War collapsed after three years of hostility with North Korea and China. The country lay in ruins and suffered the loss of over three million lives on both sides.

Split into two nations, the north was largely industrial and the south agricultural.  One-third of Korea’s population was displaced and in poverty for the beginning of an Asian Cold War that still festers fifty years later.

 

 

Koreans had little political or administrative experience when self-rule was restored.  The situation was ripe for corrupt and autocratic leadership, along with constant infiltration of terrorists from the communist north.  Political-party warfare existed since the last monarchy in the late 19th century producing inefficient and corrupt governments that opened the door to Japanese annexation in 1910.

The transformation of South Korea during the second half of the 20th century must be seen to be appreciated. Energized by the high-tech boom of the 1980s and political reform, the capitalistic prospects thrust the Republic of Korea into a first-world nation. Today it is an icon of modern, western-style democracy.

In contrast during the same number of years, North Korea spent its meager resources on armaments and nuclear research to terrorize its Asian neighbors. Communist rule propagated a standing army of one million conscripts. Meanwhile, infrastructure of their cities and a decent standard of living stagnated. Today twenty-two million North Koreans are without enough food to eat. Still their Red masters refuse any humanitarian assistance for fear of admitting failure of the communist system. It’s a classic case of self-denial.

This is the legacy that Kim Il Sung passed on to his son and their henchmen when he died in 1994 after almost fifty years’ of iron-fist rule. The one-time guerrilla warlord who resisted the Japanese occupation became a threat to U.S. authority when I was doing patrols with the U.S. military government.  His persistence kicked off the Korean War leaving a threadbare economy and near-bankrupt government to Kim Jong Il who continues militant relations with the free world. Apparently the deceased dictator still rules from the grave.

Since 1994, the United Nations’ efforts to enforce inspection of North Korea’s nuclear sites have been tenuous. This created yet another international schism and forced the U.S. to negotiate foreign aid concessions without many assurances of compliance from North Korea.

President Clinton received a luke-warm response to his pleas for a final peace treaty and officially end the Korean War. Unauthorized North Korean military movements in the DMZ, linked with continuous defections to the south, keep the hostile fires smoldering.

On tour of the Panmunjom peace village where the conference table straddles the precise line of demarcation, our U.S. veteran group saw virtual reality. Here we met face-to-face with armed North Korean guards casting their impassive, yet quizzical, stares at us, their designated enemies. Fifty years vaporized in my memory as I witnessed the young U.S. and R.O.K soldiers in starched and pressed uniforms face off with the communists with automatic weapons ready to fire.

Any future for Korean unification puts an onerous financial burden on South Korea that they no longer can afford. If Germany thought absorption of their eastern states was an economic and political nightmare, a Korean merger will be a shocker by comparison.

Then there is China publicly shunning any plan to put a Western-influenced nation on their borders. North Korea is their firewall against Western heat. However, China offers scant aid for the economic recovery of their impoverished wartime ally.

Big Brother should be equally concerned about North Korea’s nuclear capability. The recent withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty drew only a statement of “concern” while the United Nations admonished North Korea. Since 1994, the U.N. commission was mandated by international agreement to monitor nuclear activity above the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the 38th parallel.

This austere “peace” zone that splits the Korean Peninsula is hardly demilitarized. It is packed with combat-ready troops from both sides staring each other down. Korean War II has been only a blink away for fifty years.

In changing hats from a military presence to a civilian tourist, I was treated to a kaleidoscope of very up-scale transportation, architecture, and industry in the showcase capital city of Seoul. Prosperity in the young republic was dazzling when compared to the poverty of its neighbor.

I was astonished to realize how many South Koreans share a similar lack of anxiety over potential military hostility. More than a million armed soldiers lurk only forty miles away from Seoul with 8000 reservists on standby. Yet the predominately youthful southerners live and work near the DMZ without apparent fear.

So life goes on below the DMZ where barbed-wire fences contain the highways to the north and surround the Kimpo International Airport near Seoul. Guard towers spaced along the fences bristle with weapons and military on the alert. Lining the DMZ border are land mines, electrified fences, and anti-tank barriers that spread from sea to sea across the peninsula.

Threat of nuclear capability coupled with an aggressive and well-armed military regime certainly defines North Korea as a component of the axis of evil.. The nation suffers a minimal standard of living without support from the former Soviet. Like East Germans before unification, North Koreans look across the border at a glittering South Korea and wonder why the system is not providing for their needs. The time bomb is waiting to be set.

 

Looking back to the village insurrections in 1946, Americans must evaluate our past record of involvement in the affairs of Korea. U.S. occupation forces after World War II bungled the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule. The military government in charge consisted of battle-weary combat soldiers fresh from action in the Pacific. They brought with them little background in Oriental culture and history. Occupation of a foreign nation was not a procedure covered in the 1945 edition of the GI manual.

General Douglas MacArthur further complicated the job by encouraging retention of Japanese bureaucrats and security forces during the transition to a self-rule provisional government. This was a slur on Korean patriots who greeted their American liberators with hope for a new order of democracy after fifty years of bondage to Japan.

Appointments to key Korean government positions were made by an U.S. Army general whose father had been a missionary in Korea.  Important posts went to conservative Christian Koreans and ignored the popular liberals and moderates.  In shock, the majority of South Korean political groups joined with infiltrating Communists to form an opposition to the military-sponsored provisional government.

Meanwhile, north of the 38th parallel, the Russians recognized the wartime guerrillas who became the Peoples’ Party headed by Kim. They were used as an instrument of the Soviet while creating the illusion of self-rule in North Korea.

Seeking Asian allies to join America’s economic sanctions against North Korea is not succeeding. Neither Japan nor China were willing to hold our coat while we played hard ball with Kim. Prolonged appeasement in Korea only repeats history. Let’s not forget another tyrant who lured the negotiators to Munich with promises of peace.

Published in two installments January 24 and 27, 2003

 

 

                 BLAME IT ON BANGKOK

 

The promise of a Pacific Century for 2000 dimmed at the close of 1997 with the brownout of high-voltage Asian Tiger economies. The sky seemed to fall about the time Britain turned over its prize trading post, Hong Kong, to China on July 1st. During the formal ceremonies commemorating 150 years of English Imperial rule, the skies did open up in a deluge of rain. Was it an omen of catastrophes to come?

 

Later that same month, Thailand was hit with a currency meltdown that toppled their bloated stock market and real estate values. The virus spread quickly to neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia under the popular media catch-word “Asian Flu.” Bangkok is not entirely at blame for the fiscal crises in the Asian Tiger circuit. It was merely the first fat cat to learn that free-world financial markets cannot be manipulated by authoritarian governments who support their currency exchange with staggering debt and run-away speculation.

 

By the end of 1997, the Asian contagion spread to one of the miracle emerging nations of the Far East, South Korea. I observed the transformation of this ancient culture from 19th century feudalism into the eleventh largest global economy. This amazing feat happened in only two generations, most of the growth since 1980. I gathered up writings from different years of this period to form an anthology to reflect an overview of Korea’s 20th century military and economic history. It begins with my most recent commentary on the status of South Korea’s monetary collapse and North Korea’s plight as a starving nation seeking a reward to settle a war fought forty-five years ago.

 


 

             DUAL KOREAN CRISES

 

No one expected South Korea to hit the economic skids and lose face by asking for massive loans to bailout its teetering financial markets. Since 1980, the Asian clone of U.S. capitalism  managed a brilliant turn around from the third world into a dynamic emerging nation. It was not easy to recover from a war-torn pawn in the 50-year struggle to halt communism on the Korean Peninsula.

 

Crisis is a way of life in this ancient Asian culture. Caught for centuries between imperial ambitions of Russia, China, and Japan, Koreans hoped for independence after the Japanese colonials were repatriated in 1945. It did not happen. Communism in the north merely replaced governing tyrants who keep the people in bondage and poverty. Democracy in the south is corrupted with greed that collapsed the vibrant economy. Both crises now need incalculable global charity to reverse economic meltdown.

What happened in South Korea to force its leaders to seek a staggering currency transfusion from the International Monetary Fund? It was a tough choice for imperious businessmen and cowering politicians, reports The Economist. Bailout loans from the IMF come with humiliating strings attached. For the cocky Koreans, the most painful sanction will be foreign surveillance of their monetary policies. The IMF insists on reforming traditional chaebol, or industrial conglomerates, subsidized by soft-government loans and cronyism.

 

Asian Tiger economies were global miracles until battered by adverse financial markets last year. Addicted to a glut of debt that was manipulated by self-regulated currencies, it was a harsh lesson in economics for emerging countries. Despot rulers flouted their style of elite monopolies and learned that global markets cannot be played like puppets on a string.

 

 

Despite periodic corrupt governments (two past Korean presidents were just released from prison by a political amnesty), the ambitious wannabes in the south work hard to achieve prosperity by creating their own niche in world markets. American-style capitalism and ample U.S. economic aid make South Korea a showcase for developing nations around the world. By contrast, communism in the north spawned a repressed society with shortages of energy and food to keep 22 million (give or take 2 million) people alive.

 

Now that South Korea lost much of its fiscal luster and China is moving closer to center politically, perhaps the threadbare North Koreans will ease up on their refusal to negotiate a treaty. Talks that stalled for four decades are under way again in Geneva. Expectation of emergency food rations and oil supplies from benevolent nations is the bait drawing North Koreans to the peace table.

 

Any future for Korean unification puts an onerous financial burden on South Korea that they no longer can afford. If Germany thought absorption of their eastern states was an economic and political nightmare, a Korean merger will be a shocker by comparison. This option is no longer feasible in this century.

 

Then there is China publicly shunning any plan to put a Western-influenced nation on their borders. North Korea is their fire wall against Western heat. Recent press leaks to establish China’s territory for the Geneva talks hinted of their demand to keep the North Korean regime in power. The problem is, China is not offering any significant aid for economic recovery of their impoverished wartime ally.

 

 

 

 

 

Big Brother probably is equally concerned about North Korea’s nuclear capability. That is a secret still not penetrated by the United Nations commission mandated by international agreement to monitor nuclear activity above the DMZ. This austere “peace” zone that splits the Korean Peninsula is hardly demilitarized. It is packed with combat-ready troops from both sides staring each other down. Korean War II has been only a blink away for forty years.

 

 

In changing hats from a military presence to a civilian tourist, I was treated to a kaleidoscope of very up-scale transportation, architecture, and industry in the showcase capital city of Seoul. Prosperity in the young republic was dazzling when compared to the poverty of its neighbor only forty miles away.

 

Military experts now concur that North Korea cannot sustain any aggression against the Seoul government. Nor can they rely on help from China or Russia in this post-Cold War twilight zone. Thus, starvation is the plight forcing communists to talk treaty replacing the old crisis of a military stand off.Their new bargaining chips will be vast economic aid, diplomatic status, and removal of trade sanctions and foreign troops. Whatever is granted to North Korea in exchange for a peace treaty will cost the U.S. in dollars and prestige.

 

Rejuvenation of a stable currency in South Korea is the concurrent crisis facing world banks. Already, the IMF committed $57 billion to bailout two Asian Tigers, Thailand and Indonesia. Korea asked for another $57 billion for themselves. Some economists say this is only half of what is needed to rescue their conglomerates that are teetering dominos bloated with debt.

 

Meanwhile, Japan and the U.S. stand by to write checks after the IMF-World Bank salvage team gets into the tent. They need to assess how bad the foreign loan defaults are going to be. While banks and brokerages are shutting their doors as the Korean won plummets, many government ministers insist that they are not charity cases and refuse outside governance.

 

Late in December, jolted Korean voters went to the polls to put out the incestuous ruling political party. They elected a new president who campaigned for rescission of the IMF deal if the loans require reform of the chaebol conglomerates. It appears Kim Dae-jung is obliged to the elite bureaucracies and trade unions who crafted Korea’s surprise monetary collapse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

President-elect Kim and his new administration have little room to maneuver. At the end of January, refinancing of national debt needs $1 billion and another $100 billion over the next twelve months. “The reality is that we have no money,” Kim told stunned U.S. officials and triggered another currency decline.

 

With the value of the won down 54 percent since June and ratings for new bond issues at junk-bond levels, where will the 1998 refinancing come from? It doesn’t take a math major to realize that the IMF $57-billion-bailout package is not enough.

 

Equally troublesome will be a politically-incorrect reform of the chaebol system. Combined with higher interest rates and a scale back of economic growth, dismantling the conglomerates may cost at least one million jobs. Can Kim and his ministers survive the workers’ backlash?

 

An Associated Press correspondent in Seoul described  conglomerates as the engines of South Korea’s meteoric economy. I see them as run-away trains set on a collision course with world banking and foreign investors. The impact could be fatal.

 

 

 

(Published January 2, 1998)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KOREA THEN AND NOW

 

A convoy of U.S. Army jeeps rattled along the dirt road, breaking the pre-dawn silence.  Ponds of dormant rice paddies and villages of straw huts rested under the icy haze of a November night. The Korean countryside near the 38th parallel was quiet, cold and bleak in front of the probing lights of the caravan crossing the desolate landscape.

 

Young GIs on a military patrol clutched their M-1 rifles and adjusted their helmets joggled by the potholes along the cart road leading to a farmers’ village. Their mission was to seek out and apprehend Communist dissentients working the neighborhood for the overthrow of military occupation forces. The agitators planned a Soviet-inspired take over with the support of oppressed Korean peasants.  The year was 1946.

Fast-forward to 1996. Fifty years later, the same military readiness is mobilized to oppose Communist forces in a stand-off at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) splitting North from South Korea.  A mere four-mile strip of hostile land separates a totalitarian dictatorship from a prosperous, emerging democracy. The contrasts observed in landscape and idealogy are awesome.

 

I was one of those young GIs on patrol fifty years ago and returned to Korea this year for a pilgrimage of curiosity and remembrance. The transformation of South Korea  must be seen to be appreciated. Emerging in 1946 from a serfdom subjected to Japanese colonization for thirty-five years, then ravished by a war with Communist North Korea and China, South Korea today is an icon of modern, western-style democracy.

 

In contrast during the same number of years, North Korea spent its meager resources on armaments and nuclear research to terrorize its Asian neighbors.

 

 

Fifty years of communist rule propagated a standing army of one million conscripts. Meanwhile, infrastructure of their cities and a decent standard of living stagnated. Today twenty-two million North Koreans are without enough food to eat. Still their Red masters refuse any humanitarian assistance for fear of admitting failure of the communist system. It’s a classic case of self-denial.

 

This is the legacy that Kim Il Sung passed on to his son and their henchmen when he died in 1994 after fifty years’ of iron rule. His son inherited a threadbare economy and near-bankrupt government which continues its militant relations with the free world. Apparently the deceased Stalinist dictator still rules from the grave.

 

The Far Eastern Economic Review observed in July 1994, “Son also rises, but for how long?”  Kim Jong Il took over his father’s domain and immediately waged a verbal war with the president of South Korea. Heating up the slow simmer of discord, he retaliated by closing the border and refusing exit to South Koreans wishing to attend Kim Il Sung’s funeral.    The tension was so great by July 19, 1994 that South Korea

called its military stationed at the border to active alert.  This was only one of many “incidents” in the DMZ that kept unification of the two nations from consummation over the last fifty years.

 

Since 1994, the United Nations’ efforts to enforce inspection of North Korea’s nuclear sites have failed. This created yet another international schism and forced the U.S. to negotiate foreign aid concessions without many assurances from North Korea of compliance.

 

 

President Clinton received a lukewarm response to his pleas for a final peace treaty and officially end the Korean War started so many years ago. More recently unauthorized North Korean military action in the DMZ, linked with a communist jet pilot defection to the south, keeps the hostility fires smoldering.

 

On tour of the Panmunjom peace village where the conference table straddles the precise line of demarcation, our U.S. veteran group saw virtual reality. Here we met face-to-face with armed North Korean guards casting their impassive, yet quizzical, stares at us, their designated enemies. Fifty years vaporized in my memory as I witnessed the young U.S. and R.O.K soldiers in starched and pressed uniforms face off with the communists with automatic weapons ready to fire. Diplomatic crises recur so frequently that the world-wide news value fades to back-page coverage after a day or two.  It is no surprise that two generations of Americans give scant attention to the aftermath of that long-ago war. The later tragedy of Vietnam is more painful for younger Americans.

 

I was astonished to realize how many South Koreans share a similar lack of anxiety over potential military hostility. More than a million armed soldiers lurk only forty miles away from Seoul. Yet the predominately youthful southerners live and work near the DMZ without apparent fear.

 

 

So life goes on below the DMZ where barbed-wire fences contain the highways to the north and surround the Kimpo International Airport near Seoul. Guard towers spaced along the fences bristle with weapons and military on the alert. Lining the DMZ border are land mines, electrified fences, and anti-tank barriers that spread from sea to sea across the peninsula.

 

Looking back over the fifty-year interval between my visits to South Korea, I find many tangible changes but few ideological innovations. The standard of living improved dramatically in South Korea, but the military stance only intensified.  The shooting war in Korea ended forty-five years ago. Sadly, the struggle for peace continues now as it did then when I rambled over that dirt road on patrol.

 

 

 

(Prepared after the May 1996 visit to South Korea and edited for redundant text)

 

 

 

 


 

             VETERAN REVISIT TO THE DMZ

 

Perched on a remote hilltop swept by a light breeze, I squint through the summer haze to better focus on the forbidden frontier below me. The rugged mountains of North Asia shimmer on the bleak horizon. Our curious military group penetrates the bamboo curtain into a politically sensitive demilitarized zone known as the DMZ.  This strip of land, a mere four miles wide, severs the Korean peninsula into two diverse social ideologies.

 

Here on a lonely military outlook I sense the tension of American-brand capitalism facing off against a redundant style of Communism. North Korea is the sole remaining bastion of radical Marxism.

 

The DMZ is a cooled-down battleground where the shooting war stopped forty-five years ago. But the battle of wills drags on while North Korea stubbornly refuses to parley for a permanent peace treaty.  It’s a time warp that propels a visitor like me back to the 1950s.

 

Our tour to the Korean DMZ is a somber experience for the group of American veterans who served there. Viewing formidable military and propaganda installations in the Joint Security Area and the Panmunjon “peace village” recalls some bitter memories of the Korean War (called the June 25th War by the South Koreans).

 

Not everyone has visitation access to the DMZ because of the combustible border mood. Security clearance is limited to foreign nationals and nearly impossible for most native Koreans on both sides of the invisible wall. Our group of honored U.S. armed forces veterans are easily approved. Passage for others is denied due to extreme terrorist action and persistent North Korean infiltration along the border.

 

 

Standing on that ridge after eye-ball contact in Panmunjon with armed North Korean soldiers left me with a sense of angst. Perhaps it is the tense environment during the briefing for our conduct while present on the JSA: stay in a tight groups, no suggestive gestures, traditional dress code, etc.  Or maybe it is the solemn and strict protocol that our young American and Korean escorts reveal as we progress among the fortifications.

 

To grasp some insight to the Korean dilemma, a brief primer on the nation’s complex history is helpful. For centuries, Korea was destined to be in a tug of war for mastery of the northern Pacific of Asia. Often referred called the “Balkans of the Orient”, Korea lies in the center of the Far East triangle, a strategic buffer for centuries and coveted by neighbors, China, Japan, and Russia.

Korea still struggles for peace and independence after 5000 years of uncertain sovereignty. This latest century of national strife started with Korea as a colony of Japan. The Second World

War released their yoke of subservient exploitation. A few years of partial self-government promised democracy at last for South Korea, then collapsed during three years of hostilities with North Korea and China.

 

At mid-century, remote and unknown Korea lay in ruins having suffered the loss of over three million lives on both sides during the June 25th War. Failure to achieve a definitive peace treaty at Panmunjon provoked the start of an Asian Cold War. One-third of Korea’s population was displaced and put into poverty when the uneasy truce began in 1953.

 

No doubt this century will end as it began in Korea.  Back then, the oppressed nation felt the sting of Japanese annexation.  Now Communist stagnation in the north still clouds the quest for unified independence and freedom from foreign intervention.

 

Yet amid the ruins, Koreans never lost their sense of self-determination. They maintain their national identity and never except the notion that their land is a colony of China or Japan.

With an U.S. military presence in North Asia, sovereignty is assured but not unification. Foreign intervention still permeates the south, while Communism strangles the north and keeps on the cutting edge of Asian diplomacy.

 

 

As a revisit veteran to Korea, I am disturbed to realize these industrious and friendly people still endure an uneasy truce in the DMZ. Fifty years is a long holding pattern.  Two generations of Koreans were born and grew up in the shadow of troubled self-government.

 

 

 

(Prepared after the May 1996 visit to South Korea)

 

 

 

 

 

         KOREAN TIME BOMB

 

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites, Korea has the dubious distinction of being the last military frontier standing against Communism.  China was the evil empire of the Orient for fifty years. Opening diplomatic relations and granting the most-favored-nation doctrine for trade broke the ice in communist Asia, and now change is in the wind.

 

Korea, for centuries a colonial slave to both China and Japan, has had little history as a sovereign nation. Before World War II brought the Western Allies to this remote land, the imperialist ambitions of Japan dominated Korea. Almost a century of war, foreign occupation, and economic remission records the dismal  history of this isolated nation.

 

The old order in most of the Far East did not survive the passing of its founding leaders, except in North Korea. The objectives of the North Korean leaders are directed more for personal immortality than for the best interest of the Korean people and the world.

 

Communist dictator Kim II Sung kept North Korea isolated during the Cold War with assistance from China and the former Soviet Union. Historically, this is a nation always seeking seclusion from foreign interference. Kim surely realized that to emerge from behind the silk curtain of isolation would destroy his regime.

 

In 1994, the old ruler of North Korea since 1945 died but planned to keep control from the grave by nepotism.  His son, Kim Jong Il, continues in a game of diplomatic poker with a nuclear hold card. With the Jimmy Carter-inspired diplomatic talks in Geneva suspended, the direction of the next move by Kim’s regime is unchartered by Asia watchers.

 

 

 

 

 

Threat of nuclear capability coupled with an aggressive and

well-armed military regime puts North Korea on the top of the world-crisis list. The nation suffers a minimal standard of living without support from the former Soviet. Like East Germans before unification, North Koreans look across the border at a glittering South Korea and wonder why the system is not providing for their needs. The time bomb is waiting to be set.

 

Looking back to the village insurrections in 1946, Americans must evaluate our past record of involvement in the affairs of Korea. U.S. occupation forces after World War II bungled the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule. The military government in charge consisted of battle-weary combat soldiers fresh from action in the Pacific.

 

They brought with them little background in Oriental culture and history. Occupation of a foreign nation was not a procedure covered in the 1945 edition of the GI manual.

 

General Douglas MacArthur further complicated the job by encouraging retention of Japanese bureaucrats and security forces during the transition to a self-rule provisional government. This was a slur on Korean patriots who greeted their American liberators with hope of a new order of democracy after fifty years of bondage to Japan.

 

Appointments to key Korean government positions were made by an U.S. Army general whose father had been a missionary in Korea.  Important posts went to conservative Christian Koreans and ignored the popular liberals and moderates.  In shock, the majority of South Korean political groups joined with

infiltrating Communists to form an opposition to the military-sponsored provisional government.

 

Meanwhile, north of the 38th parallel, the Russians recognized the wartime guerrillas who became the Peoples’ Party headed by Kim. They were used as an instrument of the Soviet while creating the illusion of self-rule in North Korea.

 

 

 

A weak Western position in Korea finally evolved by 1950

into an all-out war between the U.S and China disguised as an

United Nations police action to put down a Korean rebellion.

Experienced Communist guerrillas moved in rapidly to take over democratic South Korea as Americans withdrew by treaty.

 

The end of the three-year Korean War split the nation

permanently in half. Today Korea continues to be an ideological

battleground – the last frontier of redundant Communism. This Oriental Cold War is the most dangerous, yet questionable, military threat confronting First-World nations

 

Without support of former Chinese and Soviet allies, how long could a Korean War II last? American military forces  stationed in South Korea would be overrun, as they were in 1950,

during the initial onslaught. Would the U.S. send more troops back to this old battlefield, or let the crisis pass as a civil war a `la Yugoslavia? If there was any doubt of Kim’s intentions, we might wonder why North Korea keeps a mobilized armed force of 1.2 million and an arsenal of deadly weapons. What enemy do they expect to invade this little country? With few trade prospects from a poor economy, the nation can exist only by the sale of illegal weapons to oil-rich aggressors in the Middle East.

It should be no surprise to U.S. diplomats that Kim intended to raid South Korea’s wealth and to unify the nation under his communist regime. The late dictator committed to his people that the 50th anniversary of liberation from Japan (1995) will be the first year of Korean unification under his domination. Kim II ceased sending these aggressive signals as the nation’s economic recession deepened. The time bomb is now ticking.

This aggressor has struck before without suffering sanctions. After the Korean War ended in stalemate in 1953, Kim’s military forces hijacked the U.S. gunboat Pueblo and shot down a Korean Airlines aircraft. Lately he defied the nuclear inspections and threatened to overthrow sovereign South Korea.  Tensions along the 38th parallel darken the tone of all

 

 

relations on the Pacific Rim. Traditional trade alliances and diplomatic links appear insecure.

 

After forty years of blind loyalty to the U.S., South Korea is embarking on a “Yankee go home” season.  They resent the presence of 37,00 American troops and prefer to maintain the

wobbly peace with their northern brothers.  In the present

environment, there is little hope of Korean unification until the Communist regime is ousted by dissatisfied citizens seeking a better world.

 

Meanwhile, the select commission from the International Atomic Energy Agency traveled to North Korea to inspect sites and was sent away without satisfaction. It seems this commission is toothless, with no bite and only some bark.  While U.S. diplomats press for international trade sanctions in retaliation, the CIA fans the fire and defense contractors see new-business prospects.  Despite Americans’ penchant for re-runs and sequels, a Korean War II should not be provoked or undertaken to save face.

 

This impasse amounts to diplomatic meltdown for the Clinton policy in Korea. Unfortunately, Jimmy Carter’s visit created more chaos in the U.S. stance. Kim II should be pleased about the moratorium gained to consolidate his new position and to delay diffusion of the time bomb.  Asian experts agree that a parting of the Silk Curtain by foreign intervention would break the fifty-year regime founded by the late Kim.

 

Seeking Asian allies to join America’s economic sanctions against North Korea is not succeeding. Neither Japan nor China

were willing to hold our coat while we played hard ball with Kim. Prolonged appeasement in Korea only repeats history. Let’s not forget when the world was promised peace by another armed tyrant who lured the negotiators to Munich?

 

 

(Published on July 28, 1994 and edited to reflect subsequent events or redundant text)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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