Korea still problem 60 years later

Published 3:49 pm Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I have been in South Korea only once.

I landed there early one morning, laid over for a few hours, before catching a flight to Manila.

I ordered a cup of coffee in the terminal to stay awake: $5. Got a refill: $5. No more coffee.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

I flew out, and then later in northern Luzon, a friend pointed out to me the brightness on the night sky’s horizon. Those were the lights from South Korea.

Southeast Asia seems a large place to us, but many of its residents are used to boarding a plane and being in another country in just a few hours. Many Filipinos work in Korea, and fly back and forth.

I talked with former Korean War POW “Junior” Penton last week about his experiences. He was a POW of the Chinese and North Koreans for 32 months and 17 days during the Korean War.

His one word for the mess, “Politics!”

But aren’t all wars political?

In Korea a general, MacArthur, and a President, Truman, would butt heads on how to fight the communists.

MacArthur, an American Caesar, wanted to “bomb hell” out of ‘em, and Truman and his advisors preached caution, that the last thing the U.S. wanted was a land war involving Russia and China on the Asian mainland. MacArthur even urged use of tactical nuclear weapons.

Truman fired MacArthur, and MacArthur came home to a hero’s welcome, and told a joint session of Congress, that Americans would never fight nor support a “war of attrition.” Vietnam proved MacArthur right.

But America has struggled on with these “twilight wars” since World War II ended.

And now we don’t know how to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, another of these post-World War II attempts at nation-building.

Columnist Patrick Buchanan asked this week, in the wake of the latest hostilities in Korea, what are we doing there, 57 years after the armistice. And what are we still doing in Germany, 65 years after the end of World War II.

There are 28,000 GIs on the South Korean peninsula,, and if war broke out there, we would be right in the middle of it, and our men would sustain heavy casualties, making Afghanistan look like a tea party.

Some are saying that with our financial condition, we can’t afford any more of these “twilight war” adventures, that Iraq and Afghanistan has broken us financially.

I will never forget that in 1952 or 1953 my mother and I were driving through Picayune, and I saw a color guard marching down the street, and I asked mother: “What’s that?”

I recall her saying, “They are honoring the troops. There’s another war going on.” I was seven or eight at the time.

I recall when I was in about the 10th grade along about 1960 or 61, and I had homeroom in the library, and I always got a copy of Time magazine and read it. I liked to read the foreign news reports, which Time was noted for.

I remember reading an article about how North Vietnam soldiers were accused of infiltrating South Vietnam, and American policy makers were attempting to figure out how to handle the new situation there. They were afraid it was going to be another Korea.

Then I remember that when Goldwater and Johnson squared off in 1964 (I was attending PRCC), and it was the first time I could vote in an election, and I remember Johnson saying that if you voted for Goldwater you would get a war, and if you voted for him (Johnson) you would get security and peace.

I voted for Goldwater.

Then in 1968 I was drafted by Johnson and on Christmas Day 1968, I was hunkering down in a bunker at Cu Chi, South Vietnam, under a rocket and mortar attack after being assigned to the 25th Infantry Division base camp.

I thought about Johnson’s comment. “He was right,” I said to myself. “I voted for Goldwater, and, yep, I got a war.”