by Gareth Wallace
History is a funny thing, it is amazing how quickly we forget, or we simply don’t learn our past.
Watching the news this evening (Tuesday 9th April) South Koreans were telling a British TV journalist that they wanted the British to come and help them with North Korea. Maybe they were old enough to remember the British contribution to the American lead UN force that defended the South against North Korean Communist Aggression all those years ago.
HMS Belfast moored on the Thames and famously recently restored by the Russians for her brave Arctic Convoy service also fired her guns in anger against the Russian backed Communist forces of North Korea and China.
The venerable Spitfire in navalised “Seafire” form flew some of its last missions in the Korean War.
The British Army Soldiers and Tank Crews of 1 Rifles, Queen’s Royal Hussars, The Royal Irish Regiment and The Royal Regiment of Scotland are serving in regiments whose antecedent units fought in Korea. But all of that seems ancient history….until a few weeks ago. North Korean rhetoric of impending nuclear war has now reached a level not seen for many years.
The outlandish threats of Armageddon seem designed to bolster the internal credibility of Kim Jung Un. If you can prove you have enemies outside the regime walls it might help boost his fledgling autocratic inherited leadership inside the world’s premier secret state.
Due to the frankly bizarre and irrational way North Korea is governed, unless these threats are handled with the utmost diplomatic care the US, and South Korea (with missile defence ally Japan) fear that some kind of conflict could take place.
However if the unthinkable happened, war would not have taken place by accident. Let me be as clear as I believe a certain former female Prime Minister would be in these circumstances. The responsibility would lie entirely with a reprehensible, evil and frankly absurd regime in North Korea which has blackmailed the world into relative silence with its aggressive nuclear weapons programme and frankly deliberately irrational behaviour designed to encourage appeasement.
This time around if there was a war, it would to misquote a famous philosopher, be nasty brutish and short. Today the ROK (South Korean) armed forces are large and well equipped. Alongside their US allies they are best placed to defend their homeland. The nation that builds the ships, cars and TV’s and mobile phones that we love in the West could match even the UK in the quantity and quality of its defences.
High tech US and South Korean weapons would be used to blunt any WMD threat while the world held its breath to see if North Korea’s vast Army could reach out the short distance and capture South Korea’s capital Seoul.
In the 1950’s South Korea was poor and had a weak army. It relied on the UN to defend it, with the UK sending powerful forces to stand alongside mainly US but also other UN units fighting under a UN mandate. Hero of the US Pacific Campaign in WW2 General MacArthur was also the initial commander in Korea. His mistake in the Korean War was to actually go for regime change in the North by invasion. That was when China counter invaded and the war was both prolonged and nearly lost.
This was a war that cost over 1 million lives, which seems even more shocking when some of the soldiers fighting it has taken part in World War Two only five years before, a war to end all thought of war if ever there was one.
This was the clearest example of the Cold War turning ‘Hot’ where with the backing of Stalin and the USSR, Communist China under Mao took on the might of the USA. The end result was bloody stalemate.
MacArthur wanted to use nuclear weapons against China to win a victory. He was removed by the US President for his insubordination. The UN fought the Chinese to a standstill on the 38th parallel and the uneasy ‘peace’ that lasts to this day was the end result. US President Truman perhaps wisely though that in a world were more than one nation had nuclear weapons an uneasy peace was preferable to a risk of a nuclear war. The two Koreas settled down to an unsettled freeze-framed existence where the rival communist and capitalist philosophies were granted free rein to reach their ‘peaceful’ zenith.
North Korea has thus turned into the most extreme Communist closed state, even surviving the fall of the USSR and the coming of capitalism to ‘Communist’ China.
Meanwhile South Korea is now democratic, has a thriving Christian Church, and is one of the most advanced economies in the world producing not just heavy industry such as ships and cars, but also advanced consumer electronics that are the equal of anything produced in the USA or Japan.
Political lobbyist for a
for a major UK charityTwitter @garethrwallace
The uneasy peace might have allowed the conflict on the Korean peninsula to escape serious public understanding for decades no peace treaty has been signed, and the North Korean regime has been allowed to build up WMD’s behind a cloak of relative secrecy for many years.
In the North the citizens live in poverty and even famine conditions. They are educated that the Kim dynasty is to be worshipped and that scientific development and progress have come from the regime.
Decades of brainwashing and mis-education has left the people of North Korea seemingly unable to resist either practically or even intellectually the totalitarianism of their leaders. They simply don’t know what truth is.
The future looks unstable, the current crisis is unnerving. The only certainty is that unless we seek to address the Korean question with more vigour and focus, it may once again rear its ugly head as it did back on the 25th June 1950.
Will the world be as unprepared now as it was then? We must not let our current problems blind us to the geopolitical realities of Korea, the greatest unresolved war left on this earth.
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Gareth Wallace is a political lobbyist for a major UK based charity. He has worked in public affairs for over 10 years including for the leader of the Conservative Party. His professional interests are mainly concerned with UK social policy. His private political interests are focused on defence and foreign affairs.The views in this article are his alone. He tweets his own views on politics and culture at @garethrwallace