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70th anniversary of the korean armistice agreement

Last Thursday, July 27, 2023, North Korea’s leader Kim Jon Un presided over a military parade that celebrated the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean conflict, from June 25, 1950, to July 27, 1953.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry announced, in bellicose language, that “the 21st century would see the irrevocable termination of the U.S.

“Should the U.S. choose to offend our Republic, we will annihilate them by using all our military power that we have gathered so far.”

The 1953 armistice called for “a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed forces in Korea, until a final peaceful settlement is achieved.” No official ever achieved a peaceful settlement. No official ever drafted or approved a treaty.

The armistice created a demilitarized zone (DMZ) that runs at an angle through the 38th parallel and separates North Korea from South Korea. It is 2.5 miles wide and is the most heavily defended national border in the world.

Two U.S. / NATO officers, William K. Harrison and Mark W. Clark signed the armistice; as did two North Korean officials, Kim Il Sung and General Nam Il; and Peng Dehuai, a Chinese military official.

No South Korean signed the armistice because South Korea’s leader in 1953, Syngman Rhee, refused. He held fast to a dream that with U.S. help he could recapture the entire Korean peninsula. That never happened.

Because the armistice was only a military document intended to stop the bloodshed, a unique feature of the armistice is that “No nation is a signatory to the agreement.” The armies agreed to an armistice, “a cessation of hostilities.” Nothing more.

The DMZ across the Korean peninsula sticks out like a gaping wound in international affairs, a potential trigger point of conflict with lethal, possible nuclear weapons poised on both sides, aimed at each other. For 70 years, it has remained an unresolved issue.

Two weeks ago, on Tuesday, July 18, a U. S. serviceman, Travis T. King sprinted across the DMZ, into North Korea, “willfully and without authorization.”

A possible motivation for his rash act was that he was facing disciplinary action once back in the U.S. His action raises tensions to a high level again on the Korean peninsula.

A close-to-home story.

On September 1, 1950, in Sterling, Colorado, my dad and mom married. In mid-October, my dad left for basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, because the 45th Infantry Division of the Oklahoma National Guard had drafted him.

During the month of April 1951, a ship carried him and his fellow servicemen through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific Ocean to Hokkaido, Japan, where they trained.

By December 1, 1951, he and his unit were based at a U.S. Army camp near the front lines in Korea, and there he remained for the next eight months, working on jeeps in the motor pool. By September of 1952, he was back home, done with the military forever.

The war, the army, and the months away from my mother embittered my dad, but it was his memories of his commanding officers that drove him into paroxysms of rage. He often said, “I never saw one of the officers sober. They were always drunk.”

If he ever heard someone talking in a cantankerous or unreasonable manner, my dad would say, “He talks just about like a first sergeant in the army.”

It is likely that others who served on that cold Korean peninsula came away with a similar bitter attitude. He may have suffered from PSTD, but there was no treatment.

Instead, my dad dealt with his memories his own way, hard work in construction.

Months after those five officials signed that armistice in Korea, I was born.