Troops’ service in Korea not in vain

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 28, 2010

This July 25 will mark the 60th anniversary of North Korea’s invasion of South Korea that ignited the three-year Korean War. Some one million Koreans died in that war and also tens of thousands of American and other allied soldiers fighting under the U.S. and United Nations flags. Recently I visited the Korean National War Memorial in Seoul where the names of every soldier who died in that war is inscribed. Among them are the names of 423 Mississippians, including several from Adams County. Thousands more served in Korea and returned with terrible memories of a cold, dangerous and desperately poor country. These included some of my own relatives.

But I can tell all of those Mississippians who served in Korea that their sacrifice of life, limb and peace of mind was not in vain. The war, though it ended in a stalemate, preserved the option for freedom and democracy on the Korean peninsula, and South Koreans have taken full advantage of that opportunity. Today South Korea has joined the ranks of the advanced economies and has a dynamic and robust democratic government. In fact, South Korea now sends volunteers and aid to developing countries that want to follow its lead. At the request of the American government, Korea has also sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, the only Asian country to do so. South Korea is America’s strongest ally in Asia and one of our best friends in the world.

The recent sinking of a South Korean warship, apparently by North Korea, has shown the strength of our alliance, and it reminds us that the war has never completely ended. This tragic incident has also demonstrated the stark contrast between North Korea and America’s ally in the South. In the North ordinary people are scrambling to find enough to eat. They are totally isolated from global society — no newspapers, no Internet, no TV or radio other than government stations. Meanwhile South Korea is a dynamic member of the world community. It is a leader in technology, manufacturing and of course sports, as demonstrated by the South Korean team’s success at the World Cup games in South Africa.

The reason I know something about Korea is that the Peace Corps sent me there in 1970 when I was only 23 years old. I was intrigued by the unique culture and the energy of the people, and I was angered by the division of the country and alarmed by the continuing danger of war. This led me to follow a career in international relations and development, and now I find myself back in Korea.

From the headlines, you might think not much has changed here. But actually almost everything has changed. Most of the people of South Korea are living a comfortable life while they are also contributing to the development of other countries. And most are calm and confident in the confrontation with the North. It is really a revolutionary change from the country that our soldiers saw during the Korean War. What the Koreans have built is a fitting tribute to everyone who has assisted Korea along the way.

Ed Reed is a 1964 graduate of Cathedral High School. Since 2004 he has been the Country Representative in Korea for The Asia Foundation. A complete list of the Mississippians who gave their lives in the Korean War can be found at http://www.archives.gov/research/korean-war/casualty-lists/ms-alpha.pdf.