The reassuring context of Korea tensions
By ARTHUR I. CYR | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: June 24, 2020
“Leaflets of punishment.”
That is how the weird hermit kingdom of North Korea describes new efforts to distribute propaganda-filled paper in South Korea. Apparently, the internet remains too avant-garde. Pyongyang blames defectors for provoking this move.
The South Korean military used to send propaganda north. However, that practice ended in 2010. Seoul discourages such efforts.
Meanwhile two important anniversaries for Korea occur near the end of June. On June 26, 1945, the Charter of the United Nations was signed in San Francisco. On June 25, 1950, the army of North Korea invaded South Korea in a surprise attack, launching the brutal Korean War.
In San Francisco, new U.S. President Harry S. Truman addressed delegates from literally around the world. He had assumed the office on April 12, following the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
World War II was still in progress. Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 8, but the costly total war with Japan would continue through the summer.
Truman early in his speech stated: “[I]n this most destructive of all wars, you have won a victory against war itself.” The new president generously praised President Woodrow Wilson, whose frustrated effort to bring the U.S. into the League of Nations following World War I nevertheless set the stage and began the national debate that culminated in the creation of the U.N.
In August 1941, FDR and Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill secretly met off the coast of Newfoundland. This was a daring venture: Most Americans remained committed isolationists, the U.S. was still formally a noncombatant, and German submarines then dominated much of the Atlantic Ocean. Killing Churchill would have been a singular victory.
After successful negotiation, the secret summit went public. Churchill and Roosevelt announced the U.N., also daring given that the Axis then had the military initiative.
In late June 1950, Truman immediately supported the U.N. decision to resist with force the North Korea invasion. The U.S. led the international effort to protect the South, and persevered until President Dwight D. Eisenhower finally secured an armistice in 1953.
The capstone of South Korea’s transition to democracy was the election of Kim Dae-jung as president in 1998. In 2000, he received the Nobel Peace Prize. Earlier, a principal symbol of democratic activism, he was imprisoned by the Park Chung-hee dictatorship. On another occasion, South Korean agents kidnapped and planned to kill him. Intervention by CIA official Don Gregg saved his life.
South Korea’s remarkable domestic accomplishments have unfolded while the country becomes increasingly influential in global arenas. Ban Ki-moon, a career South Korean diplomat, served as U.N. secretary-general from 2007 to 2016.
In March 2012, the Obama administration shrewdly nominated President Jim Yong Kim of Dartmouth College, who was born in Seoul Korea, as president of the World Bank. Despite challenges, the U.N. has expanded international cooperation since the end of the Cold War era.
The original vision of the United Nations combined competing goals of favoring the most powerful nations and inclusive global representation. Ban Ki-moon and Jim Yong Kim personify South Korea’s significant expanding role as a bridge between developed and developing nations.
South Korea remains a vital U.S. ally, dating from the Korean War. Through the American military involvement in South Vietnam, approximately 50,000 ROK (Republic of Korea) troops were also stationed in that country. Nearly all were combat troops, and they developed a deserved reputation for effectiveness.
The United Nations today is relatively strong, confirming the vision of two great visionary allied leaders early in World War II. The U.N. is no longer divisive in U.S. party politics.
Also confirmed is the decision in 1950 to defend South Korea.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Wisconsin and author of “After the Cold War.”