Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Honoring the Peace














"Nobody can get the truth out of me because even I don't know what it is. I keep myself in a constant state of utter confusion." -- Col. Flagg


I had an embarrassing moment this last weekend. I walked into a local store, a small ‘Mom and Pop’ that resells supermarket goods at twice the original sticker price (but has a great selection of cheap calling cards to Asia), and after I loaded up my basket with a few bachelor essentials (like a box of Kraft Dinner and a bottle of ketchup to wash it down with) I looked at the paper stand and I noticed that the storekeeper had Friday’s edition of our local paper, the Times Colonist, on display. I thought it was a little weird that Friday’s paper would still be available for sale, so I asked the clerk, who is also the owner of the store, if he had any Saturday editions left over. He looked at me with a bemused expression and politely informed me that today was Friday. I stuttered and laughed, trying to make a joke of it, but I could tell my face was getting hot and I just wanted to buy my junk food and get the hell out of there before I said or did anything else even more stupid.


I always chalk up these lapses in space/time/Gregorian calendar awareness to the “Groundhog Day” effect. Anyone familiar with that Bill Murray comedy classic will know what I’m talking about. When you work the night shift, as I do, and you follow a particular routine where nothing much of any significance occurs for long stretches, everyday is pretty much the same as any other and it is very easy to lose track of time. At least that’s what I tell myself. It also doesn’t help when spiritual and literary luminaries like Eckart Tolle, who's books I have enjoyed, reminds us all to live in the “now” and to stop being so concerned with temporal absurdities like Monday or Saturday, but I’m sorry Eckart, there is no excuse for not knowing what day it is. So shame on both of us.


I don’t feel so bad though, because when it comes to being blissfully unaware of external reality that can be categorized as important (however transient and unimportant in the grand scheme of things), I am by no means alone. I would argue that most of the planets 6.5 billion people fall into this category, or, at the very least, I would say most of us wage slaves toiling away in the developed world are guilty of putting our collective heads in the sand, but I’ll save that topic for another post.


Despite my notable lapse in memory last weekend, I won’t be making the same mistake this Friday. One side effect of being a news junkie and spending inordinate amounts of time reading online newspapers, is that once in a blue moon I will come to understand the historical significance of a particular date and when that date rolls around, I will respond accordingly.


While most people will be thinking of Michael Jackson on June 25th, I will be thinking of our Korean war veterans who will be marking the 60th anniversary of the North Korean invasion of South Korea. I know from my experience talking with many veterans while attending Remembrance day parades and ceremonies as a young sea cadet and reservist, anniversaries and occasions of remembrance can be bittersweet for veterans of any war. For those that fought in Korea, this is even more the case. That horrible war, once mislabeled a ‘police action’ and often referred to only as a ‘conflict’, was overshadowed and eclipsed in terms of recognition by the world war that had preceded it, which meant that many Korean war vets felt unappreciated, unrecognized and abandoned by their government and countryman once they returned home.


After three years of brutal combat, with atrocities committed by both sides (such as the mass slaughter of North Korean citizens by U.S. bombers), at least three million civilians and soldiers were left dead, including 561 Canadians. The Korean war, which was the first case of open warfare with the “Commies” during the cold war, was as nasty and real as it gets, but the episode is still relegated to the back pages of history and the public consciousness.


This phenomenon of mass amnesia and lack of awareness regarding the Korean conflict continues to this day. For example, I’m not sure the average person in the U.S. or any of the commonwealth countries realize that our respective nations (meaning all those countries that contributed to the United Nations war effort during the Korean war) remain, technically speaking, at war with both North Korea and (I presume) her ally China, which constituted the bulk of resistance after North Korea was all but defeated.


At the conclusion of hostilities back in 1953, an armistice, which is a fancy way of saying that both sides are tired of shooting at each other and want a ‘time out’ from the killing (that's according to Hawkeye Pierce), was signed and put in effect, but no peace treaty or formal declaration that war was officially ‘over’ has ever been agreed upon. In fact, combat operations (however small, sporadic, ineffectual, clandestine or covert) among both combatants have continued over the decades, leading right up until our present day.


This combat includes the recent sinking of the Republic of Korea naval vessel Cheonan (if the official version of events is to be believed) but also includes the sinking of a DPRK navy boat and the killing of sailors in 1999, which was followed by other 'battles' along the Northern Limit Line. To my way of thinking, this makes the big stink about the Cheonan sinking seem a little hypocritical. I realize the deaths of 46 sailors can not be dismissed, but ROK actions, DPRK losses and the ‘totality of the circumstances’ should also be taken into consideration. In point of fact, there has been countless skirmishes that occurred over the years, not all of which became publicly known I would guess, which have caused needless death and destruction.


Of course, some of these scraps are less deadly and even ‘border’ on the absurd. For instance, a friend of our family taught English in South Korea for a year or so and she recounts a story she heard while touring the most popular tourist attraction known as the DMZ. According to her guide, the Republic of Korea troops who guard the border engage in all sorts of head games with their DPRK counterparts and occasionally this leads to physical violence or even raids by DPRK troops.


The guide explained that there are buildings, which spans both sides of the 38th parallel, and one such building is guarded by fully armed DPRK troops who stand at full attention in the northern half, while fully armed ROK troops stand at attention in the southern portion. According to the guide, there is a door which separates the two rooms, and the responsibility of opening the door and performing some sort of physical check or perhaps exchange (I don’t remember all the details unfortunately but you might be able to google it) falls on one of the ROK guards. In order to accomplish this heroic feat of arms without being kidnapped by the DPRK goons, who reportedly have snatched ROK soldiers in the past during this check and subsequently sent them off to Pyongyang for ‘Yankee-Imperialist-Dog-Capitalist-Pig’ deprogramming, the guard has to tie a rope around his waist and have a section of his people hang on to him as he opens the door and enters the room.


I guess that’s a different twist on tug-of-war, but sadly not all border clashes are this comical, as many soldiers and citizens alike have been killed in or around the border areas. The 38th parallel remains the most fortified and heavily guarded border in the world, with the worlds 4th largest standing army squaring off against a smaller but more advanced South Korean/U.S. force, and this fact does not go unnoticed among Koreans on either side of the line.


In the context of this, it is not hard to believe that DPRK forces would sink a ROK ship and I believe, despite assertions to the contrary by so called “experts”, that the North Koreans were certainly capable of sinking the Cheonan. Of course, its possible that the Cheonan sinking was a hoax, a disguised friendly fire incident or a false flag attack,

and if it was a false flag, there is (beyond the obvious suspects) two or three other countries or perhaps even state sponsored, non-state actors, that might have the means and motive to conduct this kind of trickery.


In my opinion, unless some Wikileaks type expose' of documents is released that conclusively proves the existence of some “conspiracy”, I don’t think the public will ever know for sure, nor do I think its terribly productive to entertain alternative theories at this point. The fact of the matter is, both sides in this conflict have committed acts of war, espionage and even atrocities towards the other since the start of hostilities 60 years ago (and perhaps even before, which led to the war in the first place, if some scholars are correct) and in view of that reality, I think its more important to focus on trying to convince our world leaders that war with North Korea must be avoided.


As much as I loathe Kim Jong-il (from what I understand of him) and his regime, war with DPRK is not the answer. The cost in terms of blood and treasure is just too horrifying to contemplate. I also think our veterans, who answered the call to duty that our United Nations and government leaders of the day demanded of them, should be honored and the 60 years of relative peace they fought for should be observed and sustained with whatever diplomatic effort is necessary.


Anything short of that could be disastrous for millions of civilians caught in the crossfire, and would be an insult to the millions of civilians and thousands of veterans who have already suffered so much before those responsible decided to end the large scale bloodshed of our ‘forgotten war’ 57 years ago.



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