Korea Marks 60th Anniversary of Cease Fire Agreement

"July 27th marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the cease fire agreement that ended the Korean War."

AUTHOR / Jason Strother

Korea Marks 60th Anniversary of Cease Fire Agreement
Korea, Korea war, The Forgotten war, Jason Strother

July 27th marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the cease fire agreement that ended the Korean War. READ ALSO: Bridging The Deep Divides Between The Two Koreas

But it’s clear that there is still unfinished business for both countries.

Earlier this year, North Korea threatened to turn its’ neighbour into a “Sea of Fire” and the two Koreas have fought battles at sea.

In the west, the conflict is often referred to as the “Forgotten War”.

Some worry that young South Koreans are also forgetting the war’s legacy.
Lee Jong-yeon is searching for the names of his fallen comrades on plaques that adorn the Korean War Memorial.

But the 84-year old didn’t serve in the South Korean military after his nation was invaded by North Korea in 1950.

Because of his English skills, he was drafted by the US marines, given a carbine rifle and an officer’s uniform.
“Oh I have a number of close calls that I was lucky to survive.  At the same time I feel bad about those who were killed, particularly those who were not Korean. They knew nothing about Korea, they just called in, to an unknown place. They were just killed, I feel really bad about that.”
Lee served in General Douglas MacArthur’s Incheon landing, the re-capture of Seoul and the infamous Chosin reservoir campaign - one of the bloodiest battles in US Marine history.
Lee recalls the day when news came that a cease fire agreement had been signed on July 27th, 1953.
“Well, the marines were delighted; their risk of being killed was eliminated. At the same time, the war practically accomplished nothing; it just restored the pre war time status to that condition...”
Q. To division.
“So it’s kind of frustrating... Three and a half years of fighting of sacrifice, it was kind of worthless, how should I say.”
And if you’ve been watching the news for the past sixty years or so, you might get the impression that the fighting hasn’t stopped at all.
The Korean War still continues.  A peace treaty was never signed and for the moment, doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.
Korean War historian Andrew Salmon explains how the conflict’s legacy is seen differently between the East and West.
“In South Korea, the Korean War is still seen as a civil war between North Korea and South Korea.  I think most of the Western world sees it as the first hot war of the cold war and the first limited war, the first that America couldn’t win.”
And that could explain why in the US, it’s often referred to as the Forgotten War.

But Salmon says, six decades later, the war is much less important to South Koreans too.
“Certainly in South Korea, this is a very young country, people are very focused on the now and tomorrow, it’s a very future focused country. So perhaps more so than in most places, the legacy of the war is being forgotten.  Korea has changed so incredibly fast in every aspect of society in politics in economics in democracy in the last 50 or 60 years. It’s almost like it’s a war that took place in another country.”
Just down the street from Seoul’s City Hall is a photo exhibition from the Korean War. 

There are shots of war orphans and other refugees who survived the fighting, which killed around one million Koreans on both sides of the border. 

But not many people stop to check them out.
21 year old Lee Han-pyul says she hasn’t looked at photos from the war since middle school.
The university student says for many people of her generation, the Korean War and reunification with the North just aren’t relevant to their lives.
“I don’t see why we have to go through it, in a moral sense.  The people who have their relatives in North Korea are dying away, so if we don’t do it soon, then it’s never going happen.”
Lee says she’s never really spoken about the Korean War with her grandparents and marking the 60th anniversary of the cease fire agreement isn’t a big deal to her.
“Normally it would just be a normal day.  I wouldn’t notice any difference. There will be some news in the media, I would read about it, but it won’t feel any different.” 
The South Korean government is aware of the disinterest in unification. 

In recent years it’s tried reaching out to young Koreans via social networking campaigns.

And earlier this month President Park Geun-hye requested that history textbooks be re-written to give more emphasis to the Korean War.  
But analyst Jasper Kim of the Asia Pacific Global Research Group in Seoul isn’t so sure it will make any difference.
“University students today, the young generation... they live in a different Korea than their parents or especially their grandparents lived in.  I think people are more self-focused than group-focused.  In the old days, people were all about the country, country over individualism.  But I think you see a shift in that Confucian thinking, to more individualism.”
Kim says young Koreans are more concerned with practical things - like getting into a good school or finding a job.  They’re just too busy to care about the past.
Sitting inside Seoul’s War Memorial, surrounded by pictures and artefacts from the battles he fought in, veteran Lee Jong-yeon says he sympathizes with how competitive young Koreans’ lives are now.

But he says their apathy to the war stings.
“It’s kind of sad that their old generation’s sacrifice, it was not only rewarded but not recognized. It seems to me unfair and I feel bad about it.”  
Lee adds that he hopes there won’t be a need to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the cease-fire agreement. 

By that time he says, there will probably be only one, free Korea. 

  • Korea
  • Korea war
  • The Forgotten war
  • Jason Strother
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