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Maj. Gen. Thomas Kane has served nearly two years as deputy chief of staff for U.S. Forces Korea and the United Nations Command, as well as the American representative for the U.N. Command Military Armistice Commission. His job involves executing U.S. military strategies and serving as a representative from the American military to Korea and other nations that maintain the 1953 armistice between North and South Korea.

Kane recently talked with Stars and Stripes about his time in Korea, both as a two-star general and as a colonel during a tour in the mid-1990s as the U.S. transportation command liaison officer for USFK. Following are excerpts of that conversation:

On the relationship between the United States and the Republic of Korea:

“There’s always the analogy of the big brother, little brother. And I will tell you, [South Korea] isn’t a little brother at all. This country knows what it stands for, maybe more so today than when I was here the first time. [South Koreans] are capable of standing on their own. … They are the 11th strongest economy in the world. They have what I would portray as a military that is highly sophisticated and very well led. They stood by us, arm-in-arm, throughout the history of the post-Korean war. … And despite the fact that some people think that the relationship ebbs and flows or has been on a rocky road, I would say that there’s still, in my opinion, 70 percent of the Korean people that clearly recognize the importance of the relationship with our nation.”

On meeting with North Koreans to discuss recovery of the remains of more than 8,000 servicemembers from various countries who died north of the 38th Parallel:

“I’ve had three meetings with my counterpart, Col. Gen. Ri Chan Bok. … I would portray him as a statesman. My colleagues may be upset with that, but I think he is a person who’s dealt with the American generals since the ’70s. … My comment is that he is a wise man committed to the goals of his country. Yet he’s a soldier, and you know there’s a unique relationship between soldiers, even when we’re at war.”

On the way the Pyongyang regime communicates to its people and the world:

“It’s insane from the perspective of those [from] the West, or … South Korea, who know there’s a better life. But it’s a carefully orchestrated plan in the North to maintain their internal audience’s attention, to focus on the North Koreans as a society who is repressed under what they always term ‘U.S. hostile policy.’ But rational people don’t buy that. This is misplaced priorities by a government that wants the elites to enjoy a certain lifestyle. … This is feudalism, I hate to say. It’s disturbing.”

On the humanitarian aid shipments that go to North Korea:

“They are bright spots. But the question is: How is this then portrayed by the North Koreans? A lot of ambassadors are dual accredited, both for the North and the South … They will all tell you that the elites continue to live well, that some of the basic needs are still lacking. And that the resource prioritization that the governments there make are out of balance. And so what happens is some people continue to starve in some ways, some people continue to suffer. But it’s the engagement policy of the Republic of Korea that’s giving hope to some more Korean workers in the North. And I think we should all take great pride in that."


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