by Austin Bay
July 19, 2023
The Korean War Armistice agreement was signed July 27, 1953 -- 70 years ago this month.
It's a very iffy anniversary, for the Korean War remains unfinished business.
Internet factoids claim the armistice concluded the war with "a complete cessation of hostilities."
Dub those factoids "faketoids" -- disinformation posing as historical fact.
First point: an armistice is not a peace treaty. Second point: along the Korean peninsula's Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the fighting has never stopped.
Examples abound. The DMZ Conflict is a collective name for skirmishes, raids and assassination attempts that occurred from October 1966 to October 1969. The fighting cost South Korea 299 dead and 550 wounded. Forty-three Americans were killed and 111 wounded.
The fighting included the January 1968 Blue House Raid. Thirty-one North Korean commandos infiltrated South Korea to assassinate South Korea's president. They attacked the president's residence (the Blue House) but failed to kill the president. Ultimately South Korea suffered 26 killed and 66 wounded; 29 communist commandos were slain, one captured. Call it "gray zone war" and you nail it.
At this immediate moment we see a kinda-sorta conflict lapse, except for nuclear warfare threats and missile launches.
This July 12 North Korea test fired an intercontinental ballistic that traveled some 650 miles and splashed into the Sea of Japan. The missile's loft trajectory and flight time indicates it can hit Guam and Hawaii -- a nuclear Pearl Harbor. Seattle, San Francisco and Phoenix, stay tuned.
The Biden administration's Afghanistan skedaddle debacle has ongoing security consequences. The Taliban, however, hasn't tested ballistic missiles and acquired nukes.
Was North Korea's test a bluff? The Wall Street Journal quoted Sung-Yoon Lee (Korea expert at Tufts University) as saying "North Korea excels in pretextual provocations... resorting to illegal and menacing behavior while blaming the U.S. or South Korean actions or statements as the pretext for its kinetic 'protest.'"
Lee believes North Korea "is gearing up for a major provocation."
Which makes my third point: The Korean War isn't over. When you hear TV talking heads call Afghanistan America's longest war, click the remote and silence the ignorant poseurs.
On the armistice's 70th anniversary, North Korea's major export is the threat of war magnified by potential nuclear holocaust. It's an international version of an alley bully's extortion game. "Pay me off," the punk waving the pistol says, "or I'll burn your store." The analogy, however, goes only so far. North Korea's Kim waves a nuclear weapon as his miserable people suffer from endemic communist famine.
Maybe North Korea's nuke is still a primitive fizzle nuke. But quick tech help could modernize the Kim regime's nukes. Next door China is a possible culprit. Historical point: At its height the Korean War was a war between the U.S. and communist China.
The more likely nuke upgrade culprit-- a desperate Vladimir Putin seeking political leverage. A nuke detonation in Asia might shake Ukraine.
Far-fetched? Let's hope so. However, dictators experiencing a crisis of authority grasp at horse hairs -- an indirect reference to the Sword of Damocles.
Twenty years ago, I wrote a column reflecting on the Korean War armistice's 50th anniversary. In 1951 my father was in combat in Korea. My mother told me that year more than anything she wanted a quick end to the Korean War."
Dad fought in the Punch Bowl, a collapsed volcano where the Chinese and American armies slugged it out in a series of bitter attrition battles. He censored his own letters. He didn't tell Mom about the human wave assault that overran his bunker, with Chinese soldiers racing past him as he fired his pistol at fast shapes in the night.
For years, Dad's commentary on Korea amounted to little more than "I was always too damn cold."
Korea wasn't the first post-World War Two "war of integration and disintegration." That distinction arguably goes to China, where the fighting never stopped.
Red China still wants to invade Taiwan.